Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Call to Action - Dreamers

Just as life throws us changes that we are not prepared for, and we have to adapt, so was the case with this service. Originally I had planned a long discussion about the story of the Secret Six. But due the immediacy of the issues that are facing these and many other DACA recipients, as well as many other undocumented residents in our community, I felt it imperative for us to hear their stories and to raise this issue as critical and immediate. 
Now I know some of you do not think we should be involved in politics. I respect that opinion, and although I say this is a moral issue, not a political issue. I don’t want to be cagey about it, I know it is also a political issue. To be human is to be political, and we come together to make meaning out of what it means to be human. Unitarian Universalism has always been at the forefront of progressive ideas and in order to implement them requires us to have what Buddhist Teacher Cheri Maples called a Fierce Compassion. Sometimes we stumble and fall and pick ourselves back up, sometimes we realize we start in the wrong direction and adapt, but I feel it is our responsibility and calling to be a prophetic religious voice for our community as we have so many times before. If not us, who, if not now, when!! If we wait and do nothing, many many people will suffer

Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his book The Strength to Love that: 
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority”

At some future date, I will get back to the Secret Six in more detail. But in short they were six leaders in the Boston Community, 5 of whom were Unitarians, 2 of whom were Unitarian Ministers who plotted with and raised money for John Brown in his violent work to end slavery in this country in the 19th Century. They were initially spurred on by the Fugitive Slave Act. It was a law passed by Congress in 1850 that required Northern Free States to return Escaped slaves to the Southern Slave states.  The fugitive slave law incensed many abolitionists, and led to riots in Boston. Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker called it “The formal federal Endorsement of kidnapping” Parker was known to carry a gun in the pulpit to protect fugitive slaves that were in his congregation and is quoted as saying “liberty is an end, and sometimes peace is not the means toward it” Now that is a much longer discussion then I have time for now, and I am not advocating violence, but suffice it to say that Unitarians have a long history of resistance against unjust laws and answering the call for justice. I want you to think about that this Congregation was founded only three years after the civil war ended.
And now we flash forward some 150 years later and our federal government is planning on kidnapping people who have lived here for most of their lives and send them out of country. If we will not support freedom, we do not support the very values this religion and this country were founded on. So I call on you just as Rev. Theodore Parker called on his Congregation in 1850, we must do everything in our power to resist the deportation of these human beings who just want to fulfill their potential, who yearn to be free, who came here just as my grandfather did as a child, escaping poverty and violence in his country of birth, and found a home here. We cannot shut the door on others just because we got here first. (and of course as I say that, let me recognize that of course the indigenous population in America were here first, until Europeans came and conquered the land)

We above all else value freedom, freedom to choose, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, but we are not free unless all of us are free, So I call on you to act. We have a group of people who are investigating becoming a Sanctuary Congregation to do what we can to help the Dreamers or others who are in peril of deportation. I implore you to let your values shape your actions and join them Wednesday Nov. 1st 6:30pm to discern our next steps as a Congregation. If you cant make it that night but are interested, please give your contact information to the Congregants who will be at a table during coffee hour. As well at the tables downstairs you can get cards to write your legislators to pass the Dream Act. If we choose to sit by and be comfortable, people will be kidnapped by our government and thrown out of our country, families will be separated, and the light will darken for all the dreamers. Let us shine our light so it is enough for all to see the beacon of freedom from our hill.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Review of Born to Run – Autobiography of Bruce Springsteen

I recently finished this 500 or so page book. I knew before I even started it, I would love it. Springsteen’s music was formative for me growing up and his concerts are moving and electrifying and he rightfully calls them revivals. In one way, I was curious about the man whose music affected me. I was also curious how much of my perception would be different then what he writes about himself.  Although I can nitpick here and there, the book is a well written book. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Springsteen is a great writer of songs which tell stories. The book is at times a series of vignettes that seem like Flannery O’conner short stories. He looks back on his life adding flourishing descriptors and with a psychological perspective trying to make sense of it all. I appreciated the stories of the struggle of his upbringing on the Jersey Shore, his persistence of breaking into music, his struggle to get the “right sound”, his struggle with the business side of the music industry, his struggles with relationships  and how he dealt with stardom. He goes into depth about his relationship with his Family, especially his father and how that was formative for him.  I also Shamelessly admit (although there was not much about it,) I enjoyed that he did write briefly about his first marriage and why it failed. (my perception was wrong about this)  Another important topic that he touched on was his battle with depression and his seeking help for it. Although he has mentioned it in interviews, he goes into a bit of depth about how it affected him. My nitpicking would be, he barely touched on the reason the E Street Band broke up. He alludes to a few things, but doesn’t go into depth about it. I imagine since they are back together he didn’t understandably want to open old wounds. It was interesting to see the development of his music from personal stories to a craft of songwriting. The second half of the book seemed to be a little rushed, but I imagine after page 400, he needed to start wrapping it up. Even if you are not a Bruce Springsteen fan, it is an easy and informative read about how and  what it takes to become and survive being a rock and roll star. My image of him has not been shaken. In fact as usual, his story and his writing inspire me.

The moral of the story is Know who you are and what you want, be authentic to who you are, be persistent and willing to sacrifice it all to maintain that authenticity, find people you can trust, and ask for help when you need it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The End of the Road

Honestly we have been kicking the can down the road with North Korea since the Truman Presidency. Truman’s firing of General MacArthur who wanted to expand the war with China and some say wanted to use nuclear weapons was the first step in a line of Presidents who just didn’t want to provoke conflict with China and in later years feared actual retaliation from North Korea against our allies in the region. We have known they have been in pursuit of nuclear weapons since the Clinton Presidency. Each President since, both Democrat and Republican has at best slowed or delayed the inevitable. But we are near the end of the road of kicking the can. 

Or are we? I have to admit, after the Iraq debacle (both the intelligence prior to the war and the war planning dismantling their police), that has cost us trillions of dollars, thousand of lives and the creation of ISIS, I am skeptical about information I hear from intelligence sources. Now some people say to me, Jay why aren’t you skeptical about intelligence sources about Russia interfering in the election? The reason I am not, is that there seems at least to be corroborating evidence in that instance. The President during the campaign publicly asked for Russia’s help in hacking Hilary Clinton. Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russians, Flynn and Manafort taking money from Russians, and Don Jr. publicly stating that Russians are their bankers. Enough digression though. What would be the purpose of such a distortion of information to bring us to the brink of war? With our other wars slowing up, Is the military industrial complex looking for a new war?  Or is it the evangelicals who are trying to create an apocalypse to bring about the return of Jesus?  Possibly a mutual interest of the two combined. 

Clearly North Korea has been launching rockets though (I do believe half of what I see) so I assume even without nuclear weapons, they are rattling their Sabres. To what purpose though? What is their underlying motive? I sort of liken it to Amazon losing money year after year after year until they finally drove others out of business and now they are reaping large rewards. I could argue that capitalism in its roots leads towards destruction (such as book stores). But I don’t have time for such a digression. North Korea has been supposedly starving their people to build up their military. What do they hope to gain? I don’t know, and that is what perplexes me. They would gain significantly more financially by agreeing to not build weapons, then to build and use weapons. This is why I was thought our attack on Libya was so short sighted and self defeating. We promised Khadafi if he gave up his nuclear ambitions we would leave him in power. Then we reneged on that agreement. Why would North Korea (NK) trust us if we agreed to a similar deal. I thought about what if we just accept NK into the world to avoid war. If we do, the fear would be of course that they would build up their arsenal of weapons with increased money flowing into the country. Ideally they would have to accept ongoing monitoring. However they have shown no willingness to negotiate and no willingness to keep to previous agreements.  If NK brings these threats to fruition, it will certainly lead to their destruction. 

This brings me to China. China’s support is the reason that North Korea has been able to continue with this for so long. They must know that any conflict would adversely affect them and their economy (as well as the world economy). North Korea was a pawn for China, but now it seems the pawn has made to the other side of the board and is being exchanged for another piece that can cause real damage. Initially China’s motive was to place a wedge between them and Russia and the US on the peninsula. How would China react if we launched a Preemptive  attack against North Korea? Whose interest is that in? Maybe Russia’s interest. 

Which brings me to Trump. China has been in Trump’s crosshairs for a long time. Is he using this provocation as a way to ultimately hurt China and help Russia? If we are fighting China, Russia benefits. This also leads to questions about whether Trump is being manipulated by Russia.  Trump has used aggressive language towards North Korea. If I thought he was a strategic thinker I might say he is playing good cop/bad cop, as a way to bring them to the negotiating table and let them get their payday. Sadly though, based on his previous actions I don’t see Trump as a Strategic thinker.Perhaps NK will fear that Trump is truly unhinged and unpredictable and that will bring them to the table to negotiate. That is what Trump is counting on.  If NK drops a bomb somewhere, we would be forced to respond. We could not use nuclear weapons because of its effect on all the surrounding countries and fear of escalating nuclear war. We could respond militarily, without nuclear weapons,.  This will be hard and it will be devastating to the region and thus devastating to the world. So it comes down to whether China can have any control over NK. It is time for China to sacrifice its pawn NK. 

The game that started 70 some odd years ago it coming to an end. Let us hope it is not the end for us all. None of this really makes sense. Madmen to the left of me, Madmen to the right of me. Here I am, just trying to make the world a better place for all. I am not naïve about the evil in the world, But also not naïve about our own military industrial complex that spreads violence throughout the world. I am hopeful that calmer heads will prevail. 

We seem to not be bothered how many people will die if this escalates as long as it doesn’t touch our country. But it does affect our country in so many ways. We saw that on 9-11. We saw that in Charlotte, NC and in the streets of our cities. The ongoing cycle of hatred and violence affects us and seeps into our consciousness and becomes part of our culture. Violence has always been a part of the American Culture since its founding. How we treated the native American population, slavery, the “wild” west. The question is do we evolve as people and a nation or do we continue with destruction which will lead to our own self destruction. 

Our actions have consequences.  I just want us to think that there is always a third way. It does not have to be capitulation or destruction. I ask us to think about not just how to get out of this mess but how we got into it. When we avoid conflict, it usually just builds up. If by avoiding it, we can use the time to build better relationships, and to grow closer that would be worthwhile. But usually it just builds up until it explodes. There are ways to have conflict without violence. I know I have come to no conclusions. It is confusing because we really don’t know the facts about the situation. Just what we are being fed by the media. We try to piece it together, but we have only partial pictures and hazy visions. This is where the lack of trust in government wears us down. But who else do we have? For a start let us  put people in government we can trust. It is a myth to think we can control the outcome of what happens. A lot depends on China, a lot depends on North Korea. A lot depends on us. 

What are we going to do. What are you going to do. Do we wait until the bombs are falling on us to get engaged in political dialogue about we want to be as a nation. It will be too late then. We need to start talking now. We need to start taking positive actions now.  It is one reason why I do what I do. I am re-committing myself to build a justice seeking community that respects each others differences, that builds relationships and seeks to understand the underlying needs of each person. I hope it can be a model for the world. Please join me in working towards this end. 

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Leftovers – Some thoughts on the Series Finale

I finally caught up with the series finale of “The Leftovers” on HBO. I have enjoyed watching this show. It has been somewhat uneven in quality from episode to episode, (and sometimes it jarringly changes direction/plotlines) but overall I thought it was a thought provoking, creative and well-written show. The premise of the show is that 2% of the world’s population (randomly??) disappear suddenly. The three seasons speak to how a small group of individuals from one town (and the world in general) has reacted to this event. Of course it has overtones of the rapture, which made it a theologically interesting premise for me.  That being said, the series finale was anti-climactic and disappointing.   I don’t know why certain shows have such a hard time with this knowing a series will end. In the very last episode, the show compresses something like 30 years into 1 hour and only in the last 2 minutes of the show gives a quick explanation to what happened in the intervening years. (or was she lying, or were they dead a la Lost?) Although it was an interesting explanation at the end, there was much left unanswered, such as how and why the people the disappeared and the fate of certain other characters.  The theme song of the show was Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be” I guess they kept to that theme in ending the series. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

So of course she won the Pulitzer for this book, but that in and of itself doesn’t prejudge a book for me. I have sat thinking about this book for a couple of days now.  This was an easy read. It is the story of a third generation farmer who gives his farm to two of his three daughters and their spouses and the aftermath of how that affected the family. What I like most was the book gave me a sense of what it was like to live and work on a family farm. Being a city kid now living in Iowa, I found this helpful and interesting. I felt like I was peering into a foreign culture. The story depicts the dysfunction and dynamics within families. It talks about our inner lives compared to our outer lives. It is a reminder that we often don’t really know the suffering that most people live with. It points to the strength, the pain and destruction of keeping secrets. Ultimately it talks about how our history, all of it is a large part of defining who we are.  My only slight complaint about the book is that for the first 2/3 of the book it was evenly paced developing the characters. Then in the last third of the book it felt very rushed to tell us all the secrets. Time lapsed without going into depth how these revelations affected the characters in other then a cursory way. Even so, I think I was just seeking more of a good thing. I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sixth Principle - "The Goal of World Community With Peace, Liberty and Justice For All"

Part I
Today’s sermon is part of a sermon series on our Unitarian Universalist Principles. Today I will be discussing our sixth principle, “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”  For those of you paying attention, you will have noticed that I have went from the 1rst and then 2nd principle right to the sixth principle.  I like to think this shows how our journeys in life are not always linear. Sometimes it is good to let go of our attachments to how things should progress. On a practical note, today is UUSC Justice Sunday and I thought this principle lined up very well this topic.  UUSC stands for Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

UUSC’s MISSION is to advance human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies.
UUSC’s VISION envisions a world free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights. 

Our Congregation has a very long and deep connection with UUSC. In 1939 Our former minister Waitstill Sharp and his then wife Martha were invited by Rev. Everett Baker of the American Unitarian Association to go to Europe to help rescue refugees. From Waitstill Sharp’s correspondence I read the following.
“My wife Martha said:  “My husband and I felt something should be done.  Refugees in Czechoslovakia  had been murdered.  People had been imprisoned and hurt. But I thought we had two small kids, a very tiny daughter. So I asked Everett  how many men have you offered this to?” He answered “’17.’
“Do I understand they have all turned you down.  “’Yes.’ he replied
“They think a war is definitely coming and they don’t want to be endangered. As my wife Martha and I went home under the starry skies, we went home with a promise to do it.” And the next week at my congregation in Wellesley, MA, I told them, “It’s too late to turn our back on what we know is happening.  We must face the evil that faces us.”

That was the start of what is now the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.   One couple’s willingness to say yes, to stand up against injustice.  Our former minister Waitstill Sharp.  If you want to hear more about Waitstill and Martha Sharp’s story, there will be a movie “Defying the Nazis – The Sharp’s War” shown at the Figge as part of the Holocaust Film Festival on April 9th at 4pm. The work for refugees that Waitstill and Martha Sharp is a testament to what our religion calls us and leads us to do.  To face the challenges that the world presents us with. I want you to think about that.
How many of us would go today to Syria, let alone the Mexican American Border to help refugees trying to escape certain death in their home countries.  Would we invite undocumented members of our community into our Congregation to avoid deportation.  We are starting a task force to determine if our Congregation is called to do this. If you are interested in participating in this task force, I invite you to contact me or our Immigration Team
Since November a number of you have come to me to share your concerns for the future of our country. I have been able to remain non anxious about this. I try to take the long view. I try to remember how far we have come, and what we have overcome in the past and just like my sermon series, not everything progresses in a linear fashion. I am comforted knowing that I belong to a religion that honors the values of peace liberty and justice through acts of love and compassion and as well through advocacy. It is at times like these that are values and actions are tested. In light of this, The Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee jointly issued the following Declaration of Conscience.
“At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and core values of American society.

In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In opposition to any steps to undermine the right of every citizen to vote or to turn back advances in access to health care and reproductive rights, we affirm our commitment to justice and compassion in human relations.

And against actions to weaken or eliminate initiatives to address the threat of climate change – actions that would threaten not only our country but the entire planet – we affirm our unyielding commitment to protect the interdependent web of all existence.
We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil.

As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us. We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice.  The time is now.”

The time is now. Sometimes though it can seem overwhelming. It seems never ending. When that feeling rises up within us, it is important to remember to take time to care for ourselves. In addition to taking care of ourselves, in light of the actions of Waitstill and Martha Sharp and the Unitarian Service Committee let us remember what we can do together by taking action.

In those moments in the night when doubt creeps in, or cynicism barks at my door, and fear starts to surround me I bring myself back to this poem by Adrienne Rich
“My heart is moved by all I cannot save
So much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
Who age after age,
Perversely, with no extraordinary power
Reconstitute the world.”
That is why we gather. To remind ourselves first and foremost in the face of danger and uncertainty, we are not alone. We gather to remind ourselves of who we are and what our purpose is. We gather to be with each other, to sing together to eat together, to share together, to act together. We gather to remember that  we are the keepers of the flame,  we are the ones whose religion calls us to stand for peace, liberty and justice for all. That is why we are here and why we do what we do. We come together to remember that we are not alone on our journey. To remember our true selves, and our purpose in healing, healing ourselves, healing each other and healing this broken world.  As you ponder these thoughts, I also ask you to remember the needs of the congregation and the community as we take our morning offering. Once you have had the opportunity to donate, we invite you to come down and light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your personal life. Let this sacred time begin.

Part II
When I think of the goal of world community with peace liberty and justice for all, this video comes to mind (PPT).  You will notice I used the intro to Star Trek Next Generation, not the original Star Trek. As much as I loved the original Star Trek, its verbiage was not gender neutral, and although groundbreaking for its time, now it seems a bit campy and misogynistic at times. What reminds me of the show and movies is that it envisions a United Earth under one government.
The United Earth came about after first contact with the Vulcans in 2063 as indicated in the movie Star Trek First Contact.  So we still have almost 50 years to accomplish this. Then the United Earth became part of the United Federation of planets in 2161. Now I think it is important to envision this. Before something becomes real, we have to envision it and then work to make it real. Star trek was the first show I saw that had mobile communicators what we might call cell phones. It proposed automatic doors opening based on one walking up to it, something we take for granted today with every store we walk into. If we could just get the transporter thing working it could go a long way to solve our environmental problems. 
So why not a United Earth. I think most people struggle with our sixth principle above all others. Compared to most of the world the standard of living for the United States is in the top 10 of all countries by the various economic calculations used. As globalization has expanded over the past 20 years the standard of living particularly in Asia has risen, while the Standard of living for the average American has fallen. That is the rub. What if having peace liberty and justice for all means we have to have a lower standard of living in our country? I believe this is the fear that has driven the anti-globalization movements in America and Western Europe.
This comes from a theology of scarceness. A belief that the world is zero sum game that means if someone wins someone else has to lose.   How would our outlook be if we believed in a Theology of abundance?  A belief that we are enriched when all are enriched. A belief that there can be enough for everyone. Even if we just look at America. What would it mean to have peace, liberty, and justice for all? What would the cost be to make that happen. What is the cost if we do not make that happen? Can a person have peace if they do not have adequate medical care? Can a person have liberty if they do not have adequate opportunity for a quality education? Can a person feel they are being treated justly if they are the target of racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression? Should a child who lives in Bettendorf be valued more then a child in Davenport, or South Chicago.  And Conversely should a child born the United States be valued more then the child in Bangladesh. Do we believe the parent of that child in Bangladesh have the same hopes and dreams for their child as we do here?
I think the truth is we don’t know the answer to that question.   Not every culture has the same dreams as we do. We are often formed by the circle of circumstances that surround us, so we need to expand our circle and expand our circumstances. (PPT) Thinking of Maslows Hierarchy of Needs most people in the larger world are focused on the physiological and safety needs.  I think some of the anxiety we feel about the world can be attributed to many who feel we have moved up this pyramid are now experiencing that we are falling back into the safety needs whether it is from climate change or more outward expressions of hate and oppression in the world today.
So what can we do? Looking again to Star Trek, lets see how its wisdom can help us. Their mission to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before. I think that is very much like our Congregational mission. To create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse church family which embraces individual searches for meaning and devotes itself to community good. 
To explore strange new worlds asks us to embrace individual searches for meaning. Plurality doesn’t have to mean I am only going to believe what I believe and you can believe what you believe. That is part of it. But it also says we embrace the search for meaning. If we get stuck in one place, we have stopped searching. Part of our mission is about exploring different ways of thinking and being in the world. Expanding our current worldview and opening our minds to something new.
To create a vibrant welcoming diverse church family requires us to seek out new life and new civilizations. That requires us to be interested in other people who may be and think differently then us. If we are truly to be pluralistic and welcoming, we can not be dismissive to others who think differently then us. We should live with an ethos of curiosity and compassion towards others. As I previously talked about the Board will be doing a listening campaign in the spring. We didn’t call it a talking campaign, or a sharing campaign. We called it a listening campaign. So we can hear what and where your passions and interests are. This will not only help us get to know each other better, but will let the leaders of the Congregation know how to better lead the Congregation. I think this is spiritual practice we can all do informally. When you go down to coffee hour I encourage you to sit with someone you don’t know and ask them, what is meaningful in your life today.
Lastly to boldly go where no one has gone before is a requirement for devoting ourselves to community good. We need to go out to the community to do community good. We have to understand the needs of the community to do community good. We cannot assume we know the right answer for others. We cannot assume we even understand what the needs of others are whether it is halfway across the world or half way across the city, or sometimes even halfway across the sanctuary. We can only know by being in deeper relationship with others. Opening ones self up to others and being open to really hearing others takes boldness.
I think Star Trek also has another lesson for us. The Prime Directive. The Prime Directive. prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. Our goal should not be to change another person or assume we know what is best for another. We should focus our efforts to better understand them and what their needs are. And yet, and yet the challenge of diversity and multiculturalism is that we each have certain values that we hold steadfast. And sometimes our values are in conflict with other’s values.  We need to learn to live together with that dichotomy.
Whether it is our Congregation, our city, our country, our world, I am brought back to the words of Martin Luther King Jr.  ""We must all learn to live together as siblings, or we will all perish together as fools. We must come to see that no individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We must all live together; we must be concerned about each other” May it be so. .

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rogue One – an 8 out of 10 on the JayWo movie rating scale.

Next to the “Empire Strikes Back” this is my second favorite Star Wars movie. Empire will always be number 1 because it introduced me to Yoda. Rogue One was a bit of a slower moving, and dark movie compared to the action oriented and feel good movies in the series. It was a well written movie. It gave us a chance to meet various characters of the rebellion not just see them fight.  It answered a long time stirring question (at least for me) about the original star wars movie and why the death star had a fatal flaw. (this doesn’t answer that same question for the Force Awakens)  The movie showed that anything worth doing requires risk and sacrifice.  That is a message that I think is important for our current world.  I also saw a similarity within the racial diversity of the rebellion leaders and fighters, and our own country. Possibly, it idealized how we could unify our fractured competing oppressions and join together to achieve a common goal of defeating the empires in our lives.  Lastly who doesn’t like a wisecracking droid.  “I am one with the force, and the force is with me” May the force be with you.