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.