Saturday, March 29, 2008
It is bonding, religious identity. Several of my seminary friends come from AME or other predominately black churches. "It's one time of the week that I can come together with my people," they explain to me.
My people. I get that.
There is a lot to be said for group identity.
Some would argue that. Some would say that identity that comes from group membership is divisive. Maybe. But we still have the pull to it, don't we? Vegetarian, environmentalist, religious liberal, book lover, Star Trek fan ... it feels good, sometimes, to be with folks who are like you. To take a deep breath and say, I am with my tribe.
Not all the time. I am going to a non-UU seminary, a seminary where my race is not the majority and I love it. Of course, I am also around people like me -- people who want to make religion their profession.
People like me ... it changes as you move through groups. Heck, Saturday morning at Starbucks, you're with people like you ... people who want coffee in the morning.
So, once a week, it's good to be around people like you, religiously.
In our groups, we're still different. Watching the Democratic party right now is proof of that. Ye gods! Divide, divide, divide. Go to General Assembly and you're with people like you ... Unitarian Universalists. Divide, divide. UU Bloggers. UU Ministers. UU laiety. UU DREs.
But we are Unitarian Universalists.
It's not just the church I go to. It is part of my identity. I am a Unitarian Universalist. I am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist.
The Christian says proudly, I am a Christian. He feels that it explains something important about him.
Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?
I wear my UU shirts out in public. I want to be identified as a UU. I think it says something important about me. Only problem is, nobody around here knows what a Unitarian Universalist is.
First step: Shabbat Shalom! Glory in our Sunday mornings as a time in which people like us come together. Glory in our shared identity. (I want a short pithy phrase like Shabbat Shalom that we can say to each other. In two short words, it says: Celebration! Holiday! Proud to be a Jew! Joy to be together! When you figure out what this UU phrase is, please let me know.)
Second step: By their fruit you will recognize them. UU's ... get out, get out, get out. Go to church on Sunday morning, be refilled, but then get out into the world. Plant a tree, feed a child, build a house. Live life as a Unitarian Universalist, looking for the positive in others, listening to their words and their better intent before responding. By their fruit you will recognize them. Live life so that others say, I want to be one of them!
And let me know what the UU Shabbat Shalom is.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
“You know, you can always go to the convention. That’s what credential fights are for.” -- Hillary Clinton
I can't be the only one thinking about 1 Kings 3.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I can give you the inside view that a whole lot of moms-of-cancer-kids were PISSED to find out that Arlen Specter, who has been on the tv circuit hawking his book about how he defeated cancer with his super will (and copious amounts of chemo) ... was the only Pennsylvania congressperson to not support the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act.
Many parents contacted Specter, only to get a form letter response. Including Amy Bucher. So she contacted a reporter, to see if he could get more of an answer.
At first, he got the same as she -- the form response.
And then ... he got a call from Specter. Who had decided that he would co-sponsor the bill.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
"What?" they seem to say. "How dare he? Why is he so ... angry?"
Are we really that obtuse? Really that blind?
I'm not talking about historical atrocities that were really, not that long ago. I'm talking about attitudes today.
Like the mayor of Jasper. You remember Jasper, right? Where James Byrd was horrifically beaten then dragged to death ... his body literally ripped apart.
The current mayor of Jasper, David Barber, says that the killing of James Byrd was "blown up out of proportion."
So I get the anger. I don't get the shock. Haven't we heard worse in our own homes, or in the homes of extended family?
How many of us were nodding with Obama, as we, in that moment, all shared the experience of having cringed at something racist someone we loved said?
Someone we loved. Not just a racist mayor. Someone we loved.
In Thandeka's book, Learning to Be White, she speaks to those with white skin, hearing their stories of when they first realized their whiteness, many of them realizing that someone they loved held racist views. Hateful views.
I have that memory. I was, oh, about 11 or 12. I was visiting my beloved Great-Aunt while my mother was running errands. I excitedly told her about a new hit song by a band called INXS, it was sooo cool. I told her the lyrics I knew:
Dream on white boy
Dream on black girl
And wake up to a brand new day
I somehow didn't register the next line ... "To find your dreams have washed away." So to me, it was a song of hope and beauty. That's how I'd been raised. As I danced around and told her about the song, I still lived in a world where all of the people I loved believed in racial equity and fairness. A world where racism was wrong and bad and all the people I loved were right and good.
That world was shattered as she began a tirade about desegregation and about how "we" were supposed to lift "them" up but instead "they" pulled us down to "their level."
I just remember standing there in shock. I don't remember what I said, or discussing it later with my mother, or any of that. I could not have been more shocked if she had begun explaining why it was necessary to murder toddlers.
I loved her for the rest of her life. But I learned how to love someone with disappointment, how to love someone with a quiet sorrow.
It's still going on. In big ways, like the mayor of Jasper, and in little ways like my sweet little aunt who, when talking politics with my mother, said timidly, "You'd vote for a black man?"
(My mother enjoyed announcing, "I already did!")
Obama hit on a detail in all of this that is so pertinent ... that it is so easy to divide up the world into camps -- racist on this side, people I love on the other side. But it really doesn't work that way.
I am not a subscriber to the notion of white guilt, but I know I have carried the uneasy feeling that to keep loving someone who was racist was wrong. That I should have completely excised them from my life.
They are old. They may not change before they die. But we still love them. With a bit of sorrow, but we still love them.
But now, they're living in our world.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Richardson endorses Obama: Not significant.
Obama has won 30 states: Not significant.
Hmm. So if I get an "F" taking UU Congregational Polity, I'll just explain to the MFC that the class was not significant. If I forget to pay our mortgage for 3 months, I'll explain to the bank that those were not significant months. And if the police pull me over for going 60 in a 35, I'll explain that it was not a significant piece of road.
Think it'll work?
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I love the members of my church. I can't think of a single member whom I don't hold some love for, because of something about them.
Would that any time I met a new person, I could see that at some point, I will love them -- as I get to know them and discover the thing about them that I just love.
I can't always. As the person cuts me off in traffic, or huffs in front of me, or frankly, looks smooth and cool and polished when I am completely frumped out ... I am not mindful of the moment enough to understand that there is something in them that I would grow to love.
But it's there.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
From that, sprung this sermon I delivered today with the help of our really terrific music chair. He sang and played (keyboard) Hallelujah, each verse handpicked by me (pickin' and choosin' from both major versions) and put in whatever order I wanted. Poetic license, ya know. I spoke a little, he sang a little. Talk a little, sing a little. I had no idea if it would work, but judging from the feedback, it did.
What a high.
"Where Do You Find Your 'Hallelujah'"
A sermon by Lizard Eater
(musical introduction, no words)
What’s the meaning of life?
Each of us has the responsibility for finding that out, for ourselves, according to where we are at the time. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says that to ask what is THE meaning of life is like asking a chess master, “What is the best chess move?”
Well, there is no “best chess move.” It depends on what’s going on in the game. And it’s going to change with every game, it’s going to change with every turn, as another piece is moved.
The meaning that I find in life at 16 – and no jokes about our teens, because they have amazing insight and can find incredible meaning at 16 – but that meaning we find at 16 is not going to be our meaning at 25 … which will not be our meaning at 46, or 79 or 101. And so it’s up to us to be open to new revelations.
Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
The baffled King is King David, who realized the inspiration that music can give to people. He realized that it can lead to communion with, as we call it in our Unitarian Universalist sources, the “transcending mystery.” And so, according to the Book of Chronicles in the Hebrew bible, he went out and found families who could sing during the time of worship. Singing praises to God in worship. And in time, this became a major part of the synagogue service.
And in David’s joy, in his inspiration, he wrote, “Seek ye the Lord and His strength Seek His face continually Sing unto Him, sing praises unto Him Sing praises unto the Lord with the harp: With the harp and with voice of melody.”
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …
We find our meaning, and then we submit it to the tests that come from living life. And we find that what we thought was meaning … might not hold true anymore. We get disillusioned. By people, events. We discover that we held immature belief or naïve belief. We need more information, in order to figure out what has meaning. We venture out into life, to live life, to experience it, to gather information about what is our purpose and why are we here and we rush out to just have the sheer joy of experiencing life, in all its highs and lows.
And at some point, we say, why do I have to sing to the Lord? Why do I have to find meaning? Isn’t it enough that I just sing? Why does it have to be to the Lord, and who is that anyway? And we know that each of us has to find our own meaning in life, so how could we possibly have the same thing in mind when we say, “The Lord”?
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
Well I dont even know the name
But if I did, well really, whats it to you
Theres a blaze of light in every word
It doesnt matter which you heard
The holy or the broken, hallelujah
The Holy or the broken …
Life is hard. Does anyone here read the cartoon strip, “Pearls Before Swine?” You’re twisted individuals. Me, too.
Recently, there was a strip where Rat asks Pig why he’s still in bed at noon. Pig says, “I woke up depressed. I’m kinda hoping that if I lay real still, the day won’t notice and I can just try again tomorrow.”
We wake up and find that love has left, or pain has moved in, illness, divorce, unemployment, a troubled child, a parent’s death. Life is hard. And from the depths of it all, even with the covers pulled over our heads as we pray that if we don’t move, maybe the day just won’t see us … still, there is that voice from deep inside that says, “Hallelujah.”
The first hymn that we did today – We Are a Gentle Angry People – was written by Holly Near after the assassination of openly gay San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk and the mayor, George Moscone. As the people gathered in candlelight vigil at the City Hall, they sang that song together. In the midst of that anger and hurt and grief … still, Holly Near found the Hallelujah.
Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a complaint you hear tonight
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. But still … from deep in our soul, comes Hallelujah. Somehow, in even the worst of circumstances, we can find something to be grateful for. When our daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Tom and I would look at each other and say, “I really hate that I’m here. But if I have to be here, I’m glad you’re the one who is here with me.”
But here’s the thing … the Hallelujah comes from inside you. And now matter how much you want to, no matter how much you love another person, you can’t find their Hallelujah for them. Pointing out that yes, Job, you’ve lost everything, your children have all died, you’re covered in boils … but hey, you’re still alive! And you still have your hair! Will not be met with gratitude. You can only find your own Hallelujah.
But when we find our Hallelujah … when we find it …
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …
It is praise for something outside ourselves.
Writers – whether they be poets, or novelists, or songwriters, often speak of not just being inspired, but about the words seeming to come from somewhere else. Not just out of their own heads.
Paul Stookey, he of Peter, Paul and Mary, wrote perhaps the most popular contemporary wedding song, There is Love. He says, “Into every songwriter’s life comes a song, the source of which cannot be explained by personal experience." He felt so strongly that this song came through him, not by him, that he created a charity, the Public Domain Foundation, Music for Social Change,” and gave them all the royalties. Since that time, they have taken in and distributed to worthy causes nearly 2 million dollars.
Something outside of us, something more than just what we know and what we experience, moves in us, and inspires us. And even if our hearts have been broken, our spirits shattered, this transcending mystery teaches us hope and enables us to try it one more time. We may still carry bitterness in our soul, but we find it easier to carry. We learn to let go of the fairytales and say Hallelujah for the reality, the messy, disillusioning reality. And we again open ourselves up to love.
Well baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor,
You know, I used to live alone before I knew you
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
Well there was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
We often have little control over the circumstances of our lives. A move this way, a move that way, and we wouldn’t have wound up here. We can’t control other people. They may change, they may leave us, they may die. All we can control is how we respond. All we can control is if we continue to sing.
Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called, “He Went to Paris” about a young man filled with questions and thoughts, who falls in love, loses his wife and child in the blitz, thinks more about those questions and lives life. And at the end of it all, he says, “Some of it was magic, some of it was tragic. But I had a good life all the way.”
Just to be born, was an amazing gift, biologically, there was only a 1 in 40 million chance that you, just the way you are, would be born. And here you are. Finding meaning. Doing your best. Living life. No matter what happens, you were here. You are here. And you can sing Hallelujah.
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel so I learned to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my lips but hallelujah
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah.
At the end of it all, no matter what twists life takes, what better thing can there be to say than Leonard Cohen’s words – I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah.
Hymns: We Are a Gentle Angry People, My Life Goes On (How Can I Keep From Singing), Alleluia. Offeratory: There is Love (The Wedding Song). "Reading" 2 -- I announced it as Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, then our music chair did a low-key version of "Turn, Turn, Turn." As part of the meditation, I told the Zen parable about the tigers, the cliff, and the strawberry.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Vicki Iovine in her Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy says something similar, and she's right, about that.
The Husband and I just watched Knocked Up which brought up some weird realizations -- Oh My God, I will never pee on a test stick again! That phase of my life is gone! I am effectively middle-aged!
And some memories. Lizard Eater narrows her eyes at the hapless Husband. You never read the pregnancy books. "I did, a bit," he protests. Not when I was pregnant with our first. "That's true," he admits.
They say that there is labor-amnesia, that a woman can't remember the pain of labor. Apparently there is Father-Pregnancy-Amnesia ... The Husband swears that he can't remember what he was thinking or feeling during our first pregnancy.
I think he's lying, but my waterboard is being borrowed by the U.S. government at the moment.
So here's the deal ... we had been married 5 years, the pregnancy was completely and utterly planned ... no matter. It's still a Big Huge Shock to both.
I distinctly remember explaining to him that because of his indifference, that he would not be in the delivery room with me, that I would get someone else.
I can't even remember why. He was great with the appointments -- with my first pregnancy, he was there at every one. Afterwards, we'd go shop for maternity clothes, or baby furniture, or something else adorable.
And he was fine with childbirth classes. So what was it? Hmmm. I think it was those GD books. The guy who read about absolutely anything, would not read a single sentence about babies or pregnancy or childbirth. I don't know why. He says he doesn't know why, either.
I know that until they were born, he never felt that he had anything to do with their cause. When I was preggo up with #2 ... or was it #3? I asked him, "So, when I'm pregnant, do you feel kind of macho? You know, (Brooklyn tough guy accent), "Ey, I knocked up my woman."
He looked at me blankly. And it was then that I realized, and I said to him -- You don't really think you had anything to do with it?
He smiled sheepishly. You think that the great god Thor came down and caused this. He grinned wider.
In any case ... 4 kids later, I am here to tell you that he's the finest father on earth. He's there at the father-daughter dance and picking up from Girl Scouts and taking The Boy for haircuts. He makes their lunches every morning. He's putting LW to bed as we speak, as he does every single night. When he comes home, 4 little people run to the door shouting, "Daddy's home!" And one big person.
Just because we're different, doesn't mean one's wrong. Vive la difference!
Friday, March 07, 2008
Hillary Clinton, Fratricidal Maniac
"The only way to lessen that reluctance would be to destroy Obama's general election viability, so that superdelegates had no choice but to hand the nomination to her."
How does being a Unitarian bring comfort during a time of crisis? ... how does being UU help? What comfort is there in our religious faith? I am asking about the big things, death, why do bad things happen, war, famine, etc. Big trials and personal trials that are hard to accept. This is dark night of the soul kind of stuff and my question is what comfort is there in being Unitarian while you are struggling with these difficult situations...How does this work for you?First ... Moxie, I'm really sorry for what you're going through. Frankly, I despise the dark night of the soul and hope that I don't have to revisit it anytime soon. I had no idea how incredibly dark it was until I found myself trying to figure out what I would do with LW's body if she died.
So, what comfort was UUism to me during those dark, dark times? Was it a comfort?
Yes. A thousand times yes.
I can't speak for anyone else. Only myself. But Unitarian Universalism was exactly what I needed at that time. If you want to see it, start at January 25, 2006 and continue for 7 months. Or til today. (Next scans, April 8.)
I can't read them, myself. It still hurts too much. But I remembered a few posts and with one eye shut, searched them out:
Being a UU and a Parent of a Cancer Patient
Ours is no caravan of despair
Footprints in the Sand
It would be impossible for me to separate out people from the religion that brought me comfort. They are as inexorably intertwined as two old necklaces in my jewelry box.
I have become friends with other parents facing that same dark night ... parents who have gone farther; they did have to make a decision about their child's body.
Many of them have a more conservative theology to brace themselves with, a constant creed to turn to. They had a religion that claimed to have the answers.
It doesn't matter. UU or Catholic or Jew, we all come to the same place: I can't understand why things like this happen.
Whether we say, "God understands the reason," or "No one understands, for there is no reason," the end result is the same. Understanding why may be beyond our human comprehension.
Unitarian Universalism, as a religion, gave me the comfort that the questions I struggled with were not new. I was merely one in a line of humanity who has wept and shook my fist and questioned. Unitarian Universalism said, "There is wisdom in all religions. Rather than try to tie yourself in knots about why a certain belief doesn't ring true for you, you can sample from many."
And when I did what, spiritually, I had to do -- in my case, it was to strip away all of my beliefs about God, the universe, karma, puppy dogs and unicorns -- when I did all that, I still had Unitarian Universalism. I still had church people who cared about me, both real and "virtual" (my blogger friends, who were often privy to more of my head than those who knew me in real life). I had a religion that still welcomed me. Didn't believe in God? Didn't believe that there was meaning? It was not necessary to leave my religion as others find themselves compelled to do.
I have witnessed others, in their creed-full faiths, ripped apart with grief, rip further with guilt at their inability to toe their religious party line. Like me, they found no easy answers. But whereas my disillusionment was another element in my spiritual development, theirs became a source of shame.
Ultimately, it was in Unitarian Universalism that I found meaning again. My deep listening group met, and we discussed "Big Questions." No one provided answers. They provided stories of their experiences that led to their beliefs. And in listening to others, really listening to them, I found a way to listen to the quiet still voice in me. And I found some answers.
Holy Spirit: inherent in EVERYONE and connecting everyone. It is the spirit of love – the ability to love others unselfishly, the ability to receive love from others, the ability to love oneself. Everyone has the Holy Spirit in them, whether they know it or not. You can ignore the Holy Spirit, you can block it, but you can never get rid of it. It can be pushed down so far so as to make it invisible, but it’s still there.
God: a name used for accessing the Holy Spirit. We can communicate with the Holy Spirit, we can get guidance from the Holy Spirit. If we need to see God, one of the easiest ways is to look at another person. God is in every person.
Radical Universalism: the belief that all individuals, no matter what, have the Holy Spirit in them and that all individuals, no matter what, are capable of salvation.
Salvation: becoming the person whose life reflects their inmost values, which are guided by the Holy Spirit.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Huh? I ask.
My mom explains. Apparently Hillary aligned her experience with McCain's, putting Obama on the other side of the fence.
Mama is an old-school, Southern Belle, Democrat. You don't wear white shoes after labor day, you don't serve two starches at a meal, and you by-gum don't put a fellow Democrat below a Republican in a race.
"She doesn't care about Democrats," sez Mama. "All she cares about is winning."
Well, apparently, Hillary would agree with you. ("Winning. Winning. Winning. Winning. That's my measurement of success," she said. "Winning.")
Hmm. I won't get into my opinion about Hillary's negative campaigning. I'll just say that if you've managed to make a old-school, yellow-dog-Democrat like my Mama say that she won't vote for the Democratic candidate ... well, you've just already lost, hun'.
Capital Punishment and the Bible
I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!
You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.
Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
The Feminist Case for Obama
Election aside, I think that this is going to be the year in which a lot of feminists (3rd wave?) finally decided they wanted nothing to do with the second wave feminists of Gloria Steinem and Linda Hirshman's ilk. The so-called feminists who say if you don't vote for Hillary Clinton, you're being disloyal to feminism. Those who say feminism is about having abundant choices, but if you choose "wrong" by becoming a stay-at-home mother or voting for Barack Obama, then you're not really a feminist.
Here's what's going to happen ... keep telling us who isn't really a feminist. Keep expanding that circle. But don't be surprised when we shrug our shoulders and say, Okay. Fine. I'm not a feminist. I don't want that label anymore. The label you wear.
I rendered my class speechless. My professor, too.
I had to do a presentation for my Contemporary Ethics class on capital punishment. And it had to be from our textbook, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics by Norman Geisler.
This is not a good book. It is full of straw man arguments that the author then authoritatively knocks down. Eureka! It is poorly written and shows an appalling lack of citations. The author can just state something as fact ... no citation, no source.
But ya gotta do what you gotta do. So I covered the chapter, narrowing down each philosophy about capital punishment (according to Geisler) and delivering his conclusion.
And then I said, "I'm not done." I explained that the author left out one argument, and that for me, it's the deal breaker. "But what if someone innocent is given the death penalty?"
First I used the author's own words about mercy -- "the supremacy of mercy over justice in unavoidable moral conflicts.”
Then I had a slide with information from the Innocence Project --
- There have been 213 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history.
- About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are members of minority groups.
- Sixteen people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
(I explained that this was just DNA exonerations. According to The Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, there have been 127 death row inmates who have been exonerated.)
I go to a conservative Christian seminary. Everything must be justified by scripture. Okay.
"In the 18th book of Genesis, God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham says, but what if there are 50 righteous people there? And God says, if there are 50 righteous people, for their sake, I will not destroy it. And Abraham asks … what if there are 45? 40? 30? 20? And God keeps saying, for their sake, I will not destroy it."
Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?My last slide:
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." Gen 18:32
- The system is broken
- Death is irrevocable
- If God would grant mercy for all of Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 innocent people … Shouldn’t we?
Photographs courtesy InnocenceProject.org. All persons pictured were sentenced to death before being exonerated by DNA testing.
The professor finally laughed. "I've never seen you all speechless. Does anyone have any questions?"
A classmate said there was nothing to say. That it was powerful, and there was no argument for it.
And then ... the thing we always dream of hearing ...
"I've never thought of it that way."
It was a very good night.