Thursday, July 19, 2018

Theology is Boring - (or is it?) thoughts on study leave as I try to distract myself from reading.

I know, I know, I am a minister. Theology is the foundation of my vocation. I am not that type of minister I say. People look strangely at me and wonder, as if their world had tilted off its axis. It is not that I don’t like theology, but most who write about it feel the need to prove how educated they are with multisyllabic words  (see what I did there 😊). I read book after book. In reality it is more like slogging through it. Certainly some of it is my ongoing contemplation and argument with every line that I read. That can be exhausting. Why? How did you come to that conclusion? What does that mean? I debate myself in my own mind before I go  on to the next sentence. It makes reading a book a journey.  

In truth everything is theology. Every walk, every movie, every conversation, every event I attend is a view of the world from a theological perspective. What is the purpose of this or that. What meaning can be derived from the experience. What mystery of the universe can be unlocked from every observation. What is the metaphor of every interaction. It is exhausting and beautiful and just how my radio waves are tuned in. 

But reading one more book of the erudition of Spinoza’s ethics, (which is really just a way for him to hide his atheism) and Augustine’s Confessions (really next time keep it to yourself – its done so much damage just because you had to justify leaving the woman you loved and your son at your mother’s insistence to marry for position and power and that led to ongoing misogyny within the church) or even new challenging perspectives on the Scriptures (How long has it been and we still have not figured out “thou shall not kill” – its pretty simple) will make me catatonic. 

No I want to read a simple poem, see a beautiful flower, pet my cat (I really need to get a dog), roll on the floor with my grandchild, watch the sunset and hopefully rise the next day. This is my theology – Life and living it. (and of course writing and talking about it). Thanks for reading and listening to me. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Speech at Families Belong Together Rally June 30th

My friends I think sometimes our country has lost its moral way.
Then I see you, and I hear these stories.
Let us remember that we determine our fate,
the actions we take or the lack of action is a choice.
I ask you to choose action to side with our immigrant and refugee siblings.
I invite you to side with children and families,
I invite you to side with love.
It seems incredulous, that I have to say we need to take action to side with children and families.
I am thankful that the very first article in this country’s bill or rights states “
Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
Well I have a few grievances with the government. 
Friends it is time to fight for our moral and ethical values. These are my demands

One, We need to end the inhumane practice of this government’s policies of Family separation and Reunite families now.  Plain and simple. This is inhumane, immoral, and the fact that we even have to teach this baseline morality to government officials shows our country has fallen into the moral and ethical abyss. Can we never learn from our past. We separated children from our indigenous siblings, we separated children from our African American siblings when we enslaved them, and now we are separating children from refugee families.
Let us support children, not abandon them,
Let us love children, not traumatize them,
Let us side with children, Let us side with love.

Second, We need to end this inhumane practice of family detention.
The fifth article of the bill of rights says no person, not no citizen, no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; Children and families deserve due process, not indefinite imprisonment.
Children do not belong in cages and internment-like camps.  
Family incarceration is not the solution to family separation.
It seems the practice of continuing to imprison and destroy families of color from slavery, to jim crow to Japanese American internment camps, to mass incarceration, to now refugee imprisonment continues today.
Give them due process, I ask you to side with love

Third, End ‘Zero Humanity policy of this governement.’ Reverse the policy that created this crisis and chaos to begin with. Parents should not be criminally prosecuted for doing what all parents have done throughout history, which is bring their children to safety.
Let us remain that safe haven for families facing persecution, and let us do what we can to end that persecution, not add to it.  
I ask you to side with love. 

Last for today we demand Comprehensive Immigration Reform
We must have a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million refugees who are already here, our neighbors, part of the fabric of our community, whose children our children go to school and play with, people working hard to build a better life for their families.
That is the dream of America
I invite you to side with love and build that world that we dream about.

So what can we do. We must choose to act!! 
Your showing up here is a start, it tells the leaders of this community and throughout the country where our values are. But it can not end there.

We can and we should continue to communicate with our elected officials asking them to denounce this government’s immoral policies on refugees and to create policies that will create a welcoming community for all.
But that is not nearly enough.

We must vote in November and encourage everyone we know to vote for candidates who support our values. No election has been more crucial to the future of our country. I encourage you to vote with love in your hearts thinking of these children
But it can not end there.

I invite you to Work with local organizations in the community that are doing the work of racial and immigration justice, Palomares, LULAC Moline,LULAC Davenport,  
NAACP Davenport and Rock Island, Quad Cities Interfaith, One Human Family. Progressive Action for the Common Good and Boots on the Ground just to name a few.
Get involved. Locally we can impact our community.
But it can not end there.

If our government officials don’t listen, or continue to obstruct and suppress voting, we may have to take stronger actions. The time is coming again for acts of civil disobedience if our government does not respond to we the people. My congregation has offered to be a sanctuary for refugees. I invite you to talk to your place of worship to do the same or to join the sanctuary coalition helping other religious organization who have and I personally commit to helping you with that. We may have to shut down streets, business, even the government, if they do not listen to the grievances of the people.

Do not be afraid. The work for love is never easy and it requires sacrifice, but it is necessary.
We are fighting for the soul of this nation,
we are fighting for children and families,
and we need to go the distance.

Lastly the most important work we have is to maintain hope in the face of adversity.
We have to maintain hope and have the faith that what we do matters.
Even in the uncertainty, especially in the uncertainty of not knowing how or when change will happen,  we must have the faith that we can build a better world where all are safe. ,
Let us find our way together out of the abyss.
Thank you my friends. May you be blessed and may you be a blessing to others.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Isn’t that cute. Who doesn’t love a Panda sneezing.  So I have to say as much as I love the internet and may even consider it a blessing, it is how shall I say interesting sometimes.
There are hundreds of youtube videos, no exaggeration some lasting an hour long that are compilations of people sneezing, that’s it, just sneezing for an hour and it had a million hits.  What an interesting world we live in.   
The reason I showed this is because my first memory of the word bless was when I was young and I think this is probably common to most of us, after I sneezed someone would say God Bless you or bless you.  Its almost instinctual, we say it often without thinking. In fact it has just become an act of being polite. But being who I am, even as a child, I would always ask the question but why. But why? The answer just because, or because I said so, never did satisfy me. Whether it was about religion, or why do we have hour long videos of sneezing or the one I will answer today, why do we say bless you after we sneeze. I am blessed with curiousity
Some believed that your soul was your breath and you could lose your soul by sneezing.
Some believed that sneezing created an opportunity for demons to steal your soul.  
The phrase God Bless You after sneezing is thought to have been formalized by Pope Gregory I in the late sixth century. The Roman Empire was in the throes of a devastating plague, which the symptoms included coughing and sneezing. Gregory suggested saying God bless you after sneezing as a prayer to protect them from an death.  In that case a blessing was used to ward off illness and death. My parents would use the word Gesundheit a German/Yiddish word that roughly translates “to your health”  which to me sounds better then I hope you don’t die or lose your soul.  
We don’t often use the word blessing here. Its true certain words come with baggage.
We seem to infer meaning to the word blessing as to be asking for a supernatural or mystical power to bestow upon us good fortune.  For me a blessing is an act of intentional gratefulness.
Even the simple blessing of the food at a meal.  Buddhism calls their food blessing the five contemplations. That is all a blessing is, to be intentional about contemplating our actions and our gratitude for what we have in life and what we hope for those who we bless.
Matthew Fox In his book “Original Blessings writes
“Blessing involves relationship: one does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver. A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality.” 
It is an intentional act of letting someone know that others care for them. Too often we lead isolated lives and everyone struggles at times in their own ways, and just knowing that someone else cares about your well being can be life affirming. And  to remember actually helping someone is a blessing.
In our meditation group on Tuesday night we end with a lovingkindness meditation, and part of it I ask people to visualize someone they know who needs lovingkindness. Why don’t we try this now. If you are willing, close your eyes and Visualize someone you know in your life or someone you know who needs lovingkindness and now repeat after me.
May you be filled with lovingkindness
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be well
May you be happy. (open eyes)
Doing this, first reminds us that we are not the only person in the world that needs lovingkindness.
It reminds us to remember that there are others in need as well.
It is also a calling for us to remember to act with  compassion towards others knowing they are struggling in some way.  Whether it is at the checkout line at the grocery store, your child your parent your partner, or your fellow congregant. Even as we have seen recently in the public square, people who outwardly appeared to have it all, and have it all together were struggling deeply.
Wayne Muller in his book sabbath asks us to silently bless others. He says
“Just imagine going through your day looking for excuses to wish people well or think the best of them rather than looking for threats and assuming ill connects us to others, helping us acknowledge common struggles and hungers.”
If we are busy blessing others as opposed to cursing others, it changes our perspective of the universe. It can lead us to be calmer and less angry, it can lead us to be kinder and less vindictive  It can lead us to feel more connected to others and feel less alienated.    Lastly we should remember to bless ourselves.
I find that is the hardest to do for most people.
It is  a reminder that each of us in our way is a unique beautiful soul with a spark of the divine within each of us. 
If we see the divine within ourselves, it also makes it easier then to see it in others. And vice-versa
We are often so filled up with self doubt and loathing, noticing our own imperfections more easily and more often then others. This is a leftover hangover from our puritanical cultural background of original sin and the need for redemption. Growing up in the Jewish tradition, and in truth in most religious traditions there is no concept of original sin.
In Judaism, the story of adam and eve biting the apple is not a story of disobedience, but a story of fulfilling human destiny to acquire wisdom. Even in early  Christianity sin and redemption were not a focus. It is not in the teachings of Jesus, but rather Paul and really didn’t take hold until the fourth century  with the Christian Theologian Augustine and then coopted and indoctrinated by the Roman Empire to keep its subjects in check.
It is why I love the title of the book by Matthew Fox “Original Blessings”   We are all born with blessings or with goodness. By offering a blessing to ourselves or another person we are not offering a supernatural wish but rather we are inviting one to see what is already within them. To see our best selves, to see our relationship to life as a natural and beautiful part of this universe,  to see ourselves in our soul in our raw unvarnished and untarnished natural state of goodness, and by doing so, we will move away from indifference and to engagement with a life of meaning and compassion. If we have the courage to engage and widen our understanding we will see ourselves as part of the larger universe and when we do, we will be able look upon the ourselves, each other, and the planet with awe , wonder, love and compassion.
And this is not some new age concept, this is as old as humanity itself. It is right here within each one of us waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be discovered.  The desire to not merely survive but to live fully, and by doing so, we can live with the wholeness of who we are, and that my friends, that is holy. In the Jewish Scriptures in Deuteronomy chapter 30 after the Jewish people were expelled from their land by the Babylonians, Yahweh gave the Jewish people the following blessing with I share with you today
“Open up your heart…to love, with all your heart with all your soul in order that you may live. Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you,
nor is it beyond reach.It is not in the heavens, that you should say who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.  I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you would live, by loving.“
There is no need to be in exile from yourself.
You can start on your journey home to your true self, right here, right now.
I hope you can find it in your hearts to let others love you for who you are, and for you to love others for who they are. By doing this, you choose life.

As we now enter into our time for the offertory and joys and sorrow, I encourage you to silently bless yourself and to contemplate who could use your blessing and silently bless them.
Once you have had a chance to make an offering, we invite you come down and to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life. Let this  sacred time begin

Part II  Richardson, Jan. The Cure for Sorrow:  The Healing That Comes (sorry the formatting is off)
“I know how long you have been
waiting for your story to take a different turn,
how far you have gone
in search of what will mend you
and make you whole.
I bear no remedy, no cure, no miracle
for the easing of your pain.
But I know the medicine
that lives in a story that has been broken open.
I know the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves
away with fingers clutched
around the fragments we think are none but ours.
See how they fit together,
these shards we have been carrying
how in their meeting they make a way we could not find alone.”

In the song we heard by the Pretenders she sings “, I'm alive like you. I’ll stand by you”
This is so true, If you are alive inside it is hard not to feel emotional as our values and our rights are being decimated. Separating children from their families, just one of the many acts of inhumanity we see on a daily basis from our government toward our black and brown siblings. Many of you stood in witness at the courthouse in Davenport as our neighbors were jailed because of their place of birth. “
Many of you marched with each other yesterday in the Pride parade supporting and celebrating  the LGBTQ community even as other members in the community are spewing forth profanity and homophobic statements and the supreme court of this country supported discrimination based on sexual orientation. We need each other to keep hope alive. That is what we do, we journey with each other to brave new worlds, to explore new ideas to cross new frontiers in search of a better way of living, we do this together because it is not something we can do alone. Just like the need to bless others, we need others to journey together to that place we have never been and never seen, but a place in our hearts we know we can call home.
We stand on threshold waiting to move on to something better but so often we hesitate.
The unknown, the untested, the  seemingly impossible. Just the thought of crossing this threshold can raise our emotions. Sometimes it is excitement and hope but it can also raise fear and sadness. We know with everything decision we make there is something lost and something gained. By moving forward into the unknown, we choose to give up the status quo, the known, maybe even the safe. Crossing the threshold requires trust. Trust in ourselves to listen to that still small voice within that calls us to a new horizon. Whether that new horizon is a new idea, a new job, a new relationship, or even a new attitude towards ones existing ideas, jobs or relationship. And it requires trust in each other that we will support each other on the journey.
 It takes courage to take that first step, but I promise you when you do, your life will become more authentic. You will no longer shrink into the shadows, for you know who you are and what you believe and your values will be in harmony with your actions. And by doing so, I can assure you will feel alive and you will live a full life. No matter how long your life is.
So I invite you to consider all that you are blessed with in your life. (even if it is for a roof over your head and food on your table, something not everyone even here can always assure) For some it is writing, others speaking, or listening, or singing, or working with your hands, or parenting, or engineering, or teaching, or healing, or creativity, or accounting, some are natural gifts, some are learned, some are blessings of birth and circumstances, but however you obtained them, whatever they are I encourage you to look within yourself, and find your blessing and then you must ask how can I share my blessing, for an unused blessing, a blessing that doesn’t see the light of day shrivels up and dies, but if it is watered like a flower reaching for the sun it grows,
and then we must ask, how can I use my blessing to make the world better. For the world is full of lessons of how people used their blessings for destruction and devastation.  Let us intention
nally use our blessings in good life affirming, loving ways. And when you have doubts, and fear and confusion remember you are not alone. Together we can pass that  threshold of wonder and awe together and because we are together, because we have found each other on this journey of life, that in and of itself is a blessing. May it be so.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Movie Reviews - Black Panther, Deadpool 2 and Han Solo

Black Panther    An 8 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

I wanted to let this one sink in a little. It was in a way, as I observe the reactions to the movie,  a seminal moment in movies for African Americans and as I write that I should say, for all Americans.  This is a superhero movie focused on Africans, staring people of African descent and celebrating African culture. This in and of itself, makes it a movie worth seeing. One of the nice features, is that It showed powerful women, in strategic thinking, military planning,  and scientific leadership positions. It also showed that clearly different tribes with different cultures and custom, lived together within a certain covenant, and it appeared at least that resources were shared among all.  I think the most interesting plot point in the movie was the question of how a people in the diaspora are affected by their experiences in the diaspora, and how that affects their world view compared to people who live in their ancestral homeland. The movie showed a loyalty to nationalism and tribalism, but also dealt with the question of whether to and why we should help those beyond our own borders. It showed the need to honor our ancestors, but not to be bound by their experiences or wisdom. Lastly on the most basic level, it was an exciting superhero movie. If I had one quip with the movie, (and I would welcome feedback on this) it is why would a society that is clearly evolved continue to choose their leader by physical combat and which despite having promoted strong female characters, always seemed to be men. I imagine due to its success, we will see a Black Panther 2 and I for one am looking forward to it and similar movies.

 Deadpool 2. A 4 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

Really, one should know what they are getting into when they go to a Deadpool movie. The story line here was to be generous convoluted. If you have read previous reviews of mine, you know I hate time travel movies. And again Marvel writes defaulted to it in this one. At least the first Deadpool we had the origin story. This one like the first one included overwhelming gratuitous violence. There was of course witty repartee, a couple of new super heroes (domino was cool) and the clever mockery of creating a misfit superhero group x-force (which of course was ruined by time travel) that made the movie somewhat bearable. The mark of the Deadpool movie is the self absorption of the main character and his conversation with the audience. It was unique in the first movie, but by the end of the second movie, I just found it pedantic. The best part of the movie, and I would say the part that made it worth the price of admission, was the scene at the end of the credits (which Marvel is famous for which at this point is annoying that I have to wait, but I do) The ending scene was laugh out loud funny. I mean I literally started guffawing out loud. Plus the closing song was really cool too.

Han Solo – 7 out of 10 on the JWO scale

I liked this.  Not a great movie, but a really good movie that I think fills in the narrative of the Star Wars Universe of movies. We get some of the backstory of Han, as well as his relationship with Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and the Millennium Falcon. We also find out what the Kessel Run is (if you have watched the Star Wars movies this will make sense.) This was not so much a big screen action adventure epic, as it was a suspenseful caper movie. Throughout the movie I found myself wondering who was allied with whom and who would betray who.   Also the general theme of rebellion against oppression, as well as how oppression co-opts and corrupts people,  was a constant theme throughout the movie. Lando’s robot L3-37 was a breath of fresh air. Without giving away any spoilers, the issue of how artificial intelligence robots and humans interact is also a small feature of the movie. I found the movie thoughtful and enjoyable and  finding out more about characters I have come to learn about over the years was very satisfying.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Movie Review - Marvel Avengers Infinity War – a 7 out of 10.

I will do my best not to give too many spoilers.  So it was a big picture epic extravaganza with many superheroes and super-villains.  There was witty banter, awesome action sequences, love and tragedy. This gives us all the trappings of a good movie if you like those things. I am just once more going to state my displeasure with time travel plots in movies. Its just always either too easy or too illogical. In general, this concept where Dr. Strange even with time travel cant change the present, leads to the age old theology that our fate is destined. I hate that theology.  The best part of the movie is to see the various characters we have come to see developed over the years come together and interact.  The movie also raised the question of how to live in a world that can not sustain its population with its known resources. It asks how power should be used.  It asks at what point and for what will you sacrifice your personal needs for the needs of the greater whole.  All good and deep questions. Lastly, and a negative consequence of this movie, is that every Marvel movie going forward will be somewhat tainted by what happened at the end of this movie.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


Billie Holliday in one of her songs sang
“The difficult I will do right now,
The impossible will take awhile”
The world we live in is fraught with difficulties and uncertainty and sometimes despite years of struggle it can seem that we aren’t making a difference. With every two steps forward it seems that have to take a step back.
As Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker said The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. But he also said that “the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve, and complete the figure by the experience of sight.”  
So what keeps us going what keeps us working towards justice, what keeps us seeking truth,
when it all seems uncertain.  It is easy to get caught up in the challenges of today to feel despair, just sit back turn on the tv and escape from it all.
but if we look back on history,
circumstances that at the time they existed seemed impossible to change,
when it was darkest before the dawn.
During slavery, before abolition,
during child labor and worker abuse before unions,
during Apartheid in South Africa before reconciliation,
during legal racial segregation and discrimination in the United State, before civil right laws,
during oppression in eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin wall and the soviet union.  
These all seemed impossible at the time. People labored years, decades, even centuries to change the system, despite setbacks, despite risks, over time through the ongoing work of dedicated committed people eventually the impossible became possible. Jim Wallis of the Christian social justice magazine Sojourners says,
“Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.”

It is important to remember that today, when we look at the multitude of our challenges, including climate change, Palestinian-Israeli conflict,
mass incarceration of people of color,
the lack of quality health care and food for all people the increasing income equality,
the ongoing gun violence in our country….
when you list them all out, it seems like a lot, and it is, but we have to do what we can, witnessing and organizing and as important sharing why our religious values call us to work for these things.
We need to constantly sustain ourselves over time or we will burn out. But never doubt that what we do affects what happens in the world.  Just because we don’t see the change we want immediately sometimes we look at it as failure.  We have to take the long view recognizing we will have setbacks and detours but we have to keep on going, adapt and continue to work towards our vision. Sometimes to avoid burnout, we need to step back to take a breath and allow others to lead, and then when we are rejuvenated, we add our breath and energy back into the whole. Do not equate stepping back and taking a breath with giving up.
As well don’t allow stepping back and taking a breath to become an excuse for complacency.  Sometimes it takes long grinding work, just to find out the problem, then to find the solution,
and then to bring the necessary people, awareness and skills to affect change. And even with all that sometimes we don’t succeed, but we keep going, and we have to ask why?
Why continue on?
It is important to remember why.
It is the why that keeps us going.
We continue on because we value compassion and caring for our fellow human beings over a quiet safe existence just for ourselves,
we continue on because we value living with an ethic of love for others as opposed to a hatred of others, 
we continue on because we value hospitality as opposed to exclusion and seclusion,
we continue on because we value living with courage as opposed to be driven by fear.
We continue on because we can,
we continue on because we must.
If not us who, if not now when. 
Success is not a given
There is a time and place for everything, and now is the time to be vigilant and to persevere.
We cant just expect someone else somewhere else will do it.  
Writer and activist Rebecca Solnit writes “Change comes, Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly.”
And in truth we don’t know when that will happen or in what way it will happen, there will never be a perfect moment that we will know this is it. There is just the present moment, and what we choose to do in it. We must let go of our fear of how things will work out, we must let go of our illusions of a given outcome in any particular moment. We must let go of dwelling on the difficulties, and instead dwell on the possibilities and be willing to sacrifice and to take a risk for our values.
Social and political activist Paul Loeb tells the story of one person who took a risk Gaby Pacheco. Gaby was seven years old when her family brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador.
She was the highest ranked Junior ROTC student in her high school, but couldn’t join the Air Force due to being undocumented. Enrolling in Miami/Dade Community College, she became student body president, then headed the statewide student government association. In January 2010, Gaby and three other students launched a four-month walk from Miami to Washington D.C. that they called the Trail of DREAMs, putting their freedom on the line in support of a path to citizenship. What she and her friends started ended up leading to President Obama signing the Dream Act. This shows again how a small group of people can start a torrent of change.
Their legacy is now ours to join our voices and action to move it forward May their acts inspire us, and may our acts inspire others and together may we persevere until we reach our highest ideals, and reach our vision by living out our values in the world.

Part II
Rabbi David Wolf tells a story of a A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone.
“Do you think if I use all of my strength, I can move this rock?” the child asked. His father answered, “If you use all of your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.” His father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No son. You didn’t use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.”
Let this story be a reminder of our commitment to each other that we make as congregants to each other to offer our time, talents and treasures to support the Congregation and each other and as our covenant of right relations says, that “Participation implies presence.” When others see our commitment that will inspire them as well to be committed.
We come together to use our combined strength and to help each other and the Congregation work to reach its vision. It is also why I am committed to interfaith work in our community because despite our differences, we are stronger together then we are separate. We can inspire and influence others only if they see our commitment to justice in the community. I have been particularly impressed with the work of our partner Quad Cities Interfaith for their work for systemic change by building relationships throughout the larger community.  I invite you to investigate how to get involved in our Congregational Social Justice Work at next Sunday’s forum.
In my work with quad cities interfaith and social justice with the Congregation and in general, I have found persistence and taking the long view to be very important to maintain hope.
One example of this is our journey to become a Sanctuary Congregation to address and highlight the immigration policies of detention and deportation, although not exclusively, but particularly for families that are comprised of both citizens and non citizens. Last year, One of our members came to me after reading a message from then UUA President Rev. Peter Morales encouraging Congregations to become Sanctuaries for undocumented residents in our country. This member was moved by the call and asked how would we go about this. 
The first question we discerned together was whether this was in line with the Mission and Vision of the Congregation. Our Mission calls the Congregation “to devote itself to Community Good.”  Our Vision calls us to “Support social justice and social action initiatives in our congregation and the greater community” Does housing someone who is undocumented lead to Community Good? I believe it does. As I have come to know more undocumented individuals, I have found them to be upstanding members of the community who are trying to live the American Dream. They are hard working individuals with families.
Some in their families are citizens of the United States and deporting them would cause the break up of their family.  In this Congregation, we value families in all their varied configurations where love is present. Our Mission asks us to create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse, church family. This diversity calls me to include both citizen and non citizen alike. In creating the beloved community, all people of good will are welcome.  These undocumented individuals are part of the fabric of our community and deporting them would destroy the fabric of our community. 
Becoming a Sanctuary Congregation would be a public action and would be done not only to support a particular individual or family but to raise the consciousness of the community to the plight of all undocumented individuals. There is another more personal reason I support becoming a Sanctuary Congregation. My family came to this country in the early 20th century fleeing persecution and oppression.  This country allowed my family in with open arms and gave us the opportunity to reach our potential and as well to serve this country and the communities we lived in. There were no limitations on who could come to this country when my family arrived. Just because we arrived here first, does not give me the right to deny that same opportunity to others who want freedom from oppression that my family desired.
Soon after my family arrived, our Country started restricting immigration. For the longest time, our immigration laws restricting immigration were specifically race based limitations.
It is time for our Country to come to terms with our history of racism  and be open to a future that is a multi-racial and multi-cultural with peace, liberty and equality for all.
It is because of these values, and our congregation’s mission and vision that I support becoming a sanctuary congregation.
As with all new programs in the Congregation, one person alone does not determine the direction of the Congregation. If you have been to any of my social justice trainings, you know we require at least 5 committed members or friends for a project to be viable.  We put out publicity to determine if there was interest in this issue and many in the Congregation responded positively and committed to working on this issue. The Sanctuary task force was created and up to a dozen congregants have been meeting weekly to discern the issues around becoming a Sanctuary Congregation. 
After ongoing  and thorough research, the task force presented their proposal to the Board. The Board unanimously approved the Congregation becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.
The Board and the Project members all agreed that because this was such a large issue, that would need a large Congregational Commitment, that it should be brought to a vote of the Congregation before we formally declare ourselves a Sanctuary Congregation.
So I have shared why I agree with this proposal by our Sanctuary task force of the Social Justice Team’s Immigration Project. Now I want to remind you that it is ok to not agree with this. Different people have different values, and part of what we do here is share our stories learn from each other, and our covenant also states
“We  agree  that  each  of  us  should  expect  the  right  to  participate  and  express  our  own  best thoughts,  and  an  affirmation  that  our  thoughts  and  perceptions  hold  merit.  We  will  accept  the  personal  responsibility  to  behave  toward  each  other  with  patience,  respect,  goodwill  and  honesty  even  when  our  thoughts  and  perceptions  differ.” 

We often acknowledge and accept that we do not all agree with each other theologically, Let us also acknowledge and accept that we may not all agree with each other on social justice issues.
It is why I say that our theology is a relational theology.
How we covenant to be with each other,
how we covenant to treat each other,
how we covenant to love each other despite those differences.
How we are in relationship with each other
That is my theology.
So whether you are for this or against this, I invite you to share your stories, your values, as to why you feel the way you feel.  We will be having a town hall after the service in the lounge, a forum before service next week and town hall after service next week as well to hear your support, your concerns, and your questions.
I end with the words of Unitarian Minister Edward Everett Hale who said
“I am only one, But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Let us each do what we can do, what we must do.
I ask for your help in all of our ministries.
Let us over time through the ongoing work of dedicated committed congregants do what we can to change lives, and live out our values and to make the impossible become possible. Let us reach for and grow into our best selves and let us by doing so fulfill our vision and mission and learn to love each other. May it be so.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Martin and Malcolm

I was born in 1959, so I was a child at what I would call the pinnacle of the civil rights movement, and so I looked at it from a child’s perspective. It is always interesting to look back at the past and compare how we experienced something at the time and compare that to what we now know looking back with more context. At the time, I knew there was a lot of change happening, and lots of discussions about justice in the house, but I didn’t have the historical context and worldly experiences to understand the why of it all. I remember vividly the assassination of Martin Luther King, which I am shocked to remember was 50 years ago this coming April. 
It seems to me like it was only yesterday, I remember watching when a special news report came on the television and interrupted whatever I was watching to announce it, I ran upstairs to announce it to the family like I was the herald of bad news to see the shocked faces of everyone tinged maybe with a little fear. Now every time I see a special news report interrupt my show, I expect it to be something as shocking, but it is often something mundane and I start into my grumpy old man routine, When I was young they would only break into regularly scheduled shows with news reports if someone was assassinated. My family thankfully tolerates me.  But that is how the mind works, important events, are etched into our brains. 

On the left here is a picture just moments after King was shot in the Lorraine hotel in Memphis Tenn. On the right is how it the façade looks today maintained as it looked then, to etch that moment in time in memory, but inside the hotel today is a national civil rights museum that is worth taking a trip to Memphis to see. I knew less about Malcolm X at the time, as he was assassinated when I was only 6, except for the fact that his assassination occurred in the neighborhood my grandparents lived in, so that raised a lot of tension and fear about safety. 
There was been a pattern in our country in the 1960s of voices of color who spoke out against oppression being silenced, and so it is not to surprising that we do not have that one clarion voice today but rather leadership is decentralized. In the 60s the two largest voices were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X often are portrayed as in conflict with each other, but as with anything the story is much more complex. And it is important to look back at it in context to see the trajectories of their lives and their ministries and they how evolved over time and intersected and complemented each other. Both King and X were children of preachers.
           King grew up in a middle class household. His father was a prominent and respected preacher, businessperson and on the board of the local NAACP. And although he did constantly run up against Jim Crow segregation laws, Martin grew up in Atlanta with strong family and community support. He was raised within an environment that stressed self help through economic, educational and moral development and that shielded him from the worst of racial violence at that time. He went to school at prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta and then seminary in Pennsylvania and to Boston Univ. for his doctorate. He grew up immersed in the Christian Church and his liberal education led him to embrace a more universalist attitude toward humanity.  All of these experiences shaped his integrational attitudes towards race relations, which I think were succinctly summarized in a 1962 speech at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon Ia.
        "(People) often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they             do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate; they             cannot communicate because they are separated” .
Malcolm X had a very different upbringing which led him to different conclusions. He grew up in the North. His father Earl was also a preacher but never found steady employment. Earl was a follower of Marcus Garvey who promoted Black Nationalism. Due to his father’s strident Black Nationalism, his family was forced out of Omaha by the KKK and their house was burned in Michigan, and Malcom’s father was subsequently murdered, which left Malcom, his mother and siblings in dire poverty, and the family was broken up by social services.  Unlike Martin, Malcolm was not protected, and lived in abject poverty.
As theologian James Cone writes about him “In the ghetto where survival was an arduous task and violence was an everyday experience, nonviolence was not a meaningful option and most even regarded the promotion of it as a sign of weakness and lack of courage.”
Here is a clip of Malcolm X speaking about Black Nationalism.

Quoting James Cone. “Unlike integrationists, nationalists do not define their significance and purpose as a people by appealing to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, or even the white man’s religion of Christianity. On the contrary, nationalists define their identity by their determination to create a society based on their own African history and culture.”
And Malcolm X after a very hard life,  while in prison found a foundation for these beliefs in the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad. This religion provided discipline and support for the African American Community. Malcolm X rose in the ranks to its highest levels. He often proposed violence as a way for African Americans to defend themselves against White oppression, although interestingly, I can find no record of Malcolm X actually using or ordering violence, just threatening it.   Now to be clear we should not confuse the Nation of Islam with traditional Islam. There are some similarities, but most mainstream Muslims did not and do not consider them Muslim. But they did instill self reliance and pride in being of African descent and were virulently anti-christian calling it the religion of their oppressors often telling his followers not to love their enemy, but rather to love themselves.
Malcolm X’s exile from the Nation started soon after his comment about President Kennedy’s assassination when he said, “the seeds that America has sown in enslavement, in many things that followed since then, all these seeds were coming up today; it was harvest time, the chickens have come home to roost.” We probably remember this line from Rev. Jerimiah Wright in regard to 9-11. With the negative publicity of this statement and uncovering improprieties by Elijah Muhammad, Malcom X was ostracized from the Nation of Islam. With his religious foundation and dogma gone, he found a new intellectual freedom that came along with a personal foundation of empowerment.
He took a pilgrimage to Mecca and his life was transformed. Learning about traditional Islam, he said he had a ""spiritual rebirth"
"What I have seen and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions…Here in this ancient holy land. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between the white and the non-white….You may be shocked by these words coming from me…but I have always been a man who tries to face facts and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it.”
That almost sounds Unitarian Universalist to me. When Malcolm X came back to the United States he spoke often and to wider audiences then just inner city poor Blacks,  including college students and labor unions and the socialist worker party saying things such as  
"It is not a case of our people . . . wanting either separation or integration….The use of these words actually clouds the real picture. The 22 million Afro-Americans don't seek either separation or integration. They seek recognition and respect as human beings.”
And although he did not abdicate the use of violence, he moved closer to Martin Luther King in seeking reconciliation and justice with whites as opposed to separation and nationalism.   And just 9 months after he returned from Mecca he was assassinated presumably by the Nation of Islam for speaking against them. His profound transformation shows us what is possible. Transforming hate into love. Not abandoning ones principles or even tactics but seeing a wider more inclusive world view.
Sometimes it does take getting outside our bubble and hearing other perspectives and seeing other models that can lead to success and even realizing a different definition of what success is, but most of all it requires being open to change. Martin Luther King upon hearing about Malcolm’s death sent the following cable to X’s wife.
“While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race”
We tend these days to idolize King, and in doing so,  we should note that just as Malcolm X had a transformation, and moved closer to King’s position, so too did King move more towards a militancy albeit a peaceful one as he became impatient with white moderates and even African Americans allies who challenged him especially when he took a stand against the Vietnam War where he recognized in the Vietnamese’s struggle the same struggle that African Americans had in this country.  And after numerous riots in 1967, he gave a famous speech At Stamford, called the other America where while not agreeing with rioting, understood their nature. . 

And so to hear the unheard, we must listen and now we must be transformed knowing what we know. We thought we had been to the mountaintop, but the truth is with every mountain there is another valley beyond it to walk through to get to the next pinnacle. Karl Marx said
“People make their own history but they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstance directly encountered, given and transformed from the past.” We have seen how King and X were shaped by their upbringings, and transformed by the circumstances in their lives.
So now knowing what we know, In the circumstances we face today, with the increase of racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and anti-semitism, how will we make history. Will we be like the quiet Germans who looked away during Nazi Germany, or Will we stand up to hate and build the beloved community.  Are we willing to take direct action to put forth our values into the world. Will we stand with all who are oppressed.  Are we willing to speak the truth to power and put us back on the path of freedom.
This last week we saw yet another physical assault on immigrants, with a decree to deport over 100,000 Haitian and Salvadorian refugees who have been living here legally for over a decade due to extreme hardship in their home country. Last week we saw yet another in a long history of verbal and twitter racist assaults on immigrants and people of color from the leader of this country using vulgar and dehumanizing words to describe people of color from other countries and wishing more white people from Norway would emigrate here. And he is not the only world leader to try and dehumanize immigrants
Other eastern European leaders have called immigrants criminals, poison, diseased.  We have seen this before in history.  We have seen it in the lead up to sending Jews to the gas chambers. We have seen in our country when we considered Africans property and not people, we have seen it in every war propaganda depicting our enemy

 Dehumanizing people is the first step to convincing people to harm others. 19th Century Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson said  “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” 
             So it is up to us to shine a mirror on the leaders of this country so all can see their despicable character. So they know that we do not hold their values, that we show the community that we believe in humanizing people, that we need to recognize and respect that every human has worth and dignity, every human being deserves justice, equity and compassion.
 We as a country need a spiritual rebirth. We need to combine the messages of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to affect change. They showed us individual change is possible, and they showed us that people from all walks of life in the right place and time can rise and affect change in the world. Now is the time. Now is the place. We need to rise up and act against this morally corrupt government. As philosopher John Stuart Mills said “Bad (people) need nothing more to achieve their ends, than that good (people) should look on and do nothing” Let us keep Martin and Malcolm’s legacy alive by doing something to stop this.
I invite you to write letters to your elected officials. I invite you to join us this Friday and every Friday at noon at Senators Grassley and Ernst’s office to bear witness and to bring attention to the moral failings of this government, I invite you to work for voter turnout at the next election. I invite you gather with our social justice teams and let us be united with our partners in the community in our work to stand up to injustice. Let us listen to those who are suffering and let us follow them, not just to the mountain top, but into the streets and wherever else is necessary until justice wells up like water and righteousness like an unfailing stream.
              We have past the pinnacle of civil rights and we are now in the valley of despair, so it is time to climb that mountain again, To remember the dreams of those who died in the struggle To remember that we are not in the promised land yet, it is still in the distance, and we cannot tire.  The time to start climbing again is now. It will take all of us. May the spirit move us to make it so