Friday, September 28, 2018

A Sad Day for America. DON'T GIVE UP - Rev. Jay Wolin - Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Hearing

There are days that I hope for a God of Judgement. Until that time arrives, if it arrives, it is up to us human beings to see the work of justice be done on this earth. I sat riveted listening to Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony.  First, I have to say, as a man, I am tentative to speak about this.  I feel this is a time to lift up womens’ voices. As a minister though, I feel it is my religious responsibility to use what ever moral authority I have to shed light on the issue and to raise the consciousness of whoever will listen. Throughout my life, first just as a compassionate listener and now as a minister, I have heard women’s stories about harassment and abuse. Earlier this week at a local rally we heard story after story of women harassed and abused by men. And yes, I know men are abused as well, and I do not diminish that, but it is at a much smaller %. And yes, research has shown that a small % of claims brought forth are found to be false. Over 95% of abuse claims are real and true (and a large majority never reported), and personal experience confirms that high %. I therefore believe people and especially women when an accusation is made. And let me assure you that the trauma of such harassment and abuse is devastating and long lasting.  We need to change the moral bankruptcy of men in this world.  This is not a court of law. This is not just for a nomination on the supreme court. This is a court of moral opinion of how we are going to interact with each other as humans.

Changing the culture will require a shift. Men (and women) are enculturated into this machismo misogyny. Every movie with Bogart or John Wayne just grabbing the women and kissing her, makes it seem reasonable to just grab women and kiss them. How many romantic comedies have men stalking women (I think of the movie where he is outside her house with a boombox blasting “their” song) until the women gives in and admits their love.  Men do not see this as harassment. They see it just the way things are. When women try to reject these overtures men often become angry and violent. Time and again when women come forward to authorities they are excoriated and forced  to endure humiliation for coming forward.  

Dr. Ford’s testimony was credible. And I cringe even writing that.  I am someone who has had to give court depositions, and is interviewed often on television. It is nerve wracking and pressure-filled and you have to be precise and it is difficult to do under normal circumstances. I cannot imagine how it must be talking  publicly about a personal trauma. So she was more then credible and believable. She was courageous. She didn’t have to do this. The Republican Senators used an inquisitor who spoke for them when Dr. Ford was on the stand. The Republicans admitted themselves they could not control themselves from saying stupid things. That in and of itself shows their moral bankruptcy.  The inquisitor focused her time asking questions that were clearly trying to trip up the witness and show that this was a bigger conspiracy rather then uncover the truth. Dr. Ford did not fall for the bait, from either Republican or Democratic lawmakers (as they tried to get her to expand her story). She told her truth and should be believed.

Judge Kavanaugh’s uncontrolled (or crafted) emotional outbursts, his refusal to answer some questions, his obfuscation of other questions, and his partisan attacks shows me a number of things. One he is denying the mistakes of his youth, but worse, he has not learned from them. He thinks he can just bully people and thinks that is acceptable attitude. Second, his temperament and partisanship should be a disqualifier. The fact that he has lied several times and his papers are being hidden, tells me he is not a trustworthy person. He has no empathy for others, as shown by his unwillingness to even shake the hand of the parent of a child killedd by gun violence at the hearings. He doesn’t see that the things he does are harassment. He yelled at and attacked the woman Senator who asked him a difficult question about whether he ever blacked out. He thinks it is ok to yell at senators who are questioning you for a job. Yell, attack and then cry when you are challenged.  That is the misogynist way. He particularly twitched and was evasive when Sen. Kamala Harris questioned him (A woman of color).  When people are in power, or have power over others, it is rare that they give it up willingly. And they fight every time when that power is challenged. The anger we saw from Kavanaugh yesterday and the anger we saw from Republican lawmakers (who finally found their voice to speak to Kavanaugh – I guess it is ok to say stupid stuff amongst men) was this rejection that someone would reject their power over them. In the 19th century we had to have a civil war about this. Instead of looking for truth, instead of showing compassion, they condemned, and by so doing they have fallen short.   

The committee will approve Kavanaugh.  Jeff Flake is the one who has fallen the farthest from God. The other Republicans are unabashed misogynists. Jeff Flake tries to pretend that he is compassionate and reasonable, but in the end Flake votes for Kavanaugh’s approval. He votes for cutting taxes, he votes to cut social programs that will help those who are suffering. He has fallen the furthest because of his duplicity and thus he will end up in the lower levels of hell (if there is a hell or else he will be in long term remediation class in heaven or reincarnated as a mosquito.)  We have a President who has been on tape bragging about sexually abusing women. He and the people he appoints are hostile to women’s health issues. They are not arbiters of good morality.

The question is what are we going to do about it. If the law will not protect women, how can women protect themselves. How can we support them. It is the question people of color and poor people have to answer every day as well. Yes, I was riveted by the testimonies yesterday. It was like watching a car wreck. It was horrible and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. But unlike car accidents this was not an accident, it is an avoidable and changeable tragedy. For me It is important to witness the tragedy, and it is important to speak about the tragedy, so that we can find a new way. Create a new way.
Women, all harassment and abuse survivors, I hear you. I know you are in pain. And I commit to lift up your voices, I commit to work to end the patriarchy that destroys so many lives, and limits so many souls from flourishing, and ends love. I have to work hard not to let love die in my soul, when these events happens. I am human. I have my own failings. I get discouraged, I have had my own tragedies. I take time to look within myself and see what can I do or not do to help make things better.  Ending the patriarchy is not being anti-man. It is to end men’s control over women. That can be freeing for men as well, but certainly and mostly it is about justice for women. 

As a religious leader, it is my role to speak the truth and to espouse a vision of a better way to be in community even if those in power do not agree. I also know it my role to lift up hope and the possibility of a world based on compassion and love. One of the greatest gifts Unitarian Universalism has given me is that it opened my mind, and then my heart to hearing other people’s stories and perspectives by being in relationship with them in a covenanted community.  It is hard to let go of old ways of thinking. But since I had covenanted to be in right relationship with people I learned to listen and to change and grow. I believe it can happen for others and the world. It is why I became a minister. To share that message that love, compassion, hope and change is possible. It may not be today, it may not be in my lifetime, but I will do my share in my time to bring that about, in every small and large way I can in the here and now,  and I ask you to do so as well. Do not give up. DO NOT GIVE UP. Do not sit back. The old ways are dieing, but they are not going quietly or peaceably as we saw on display at the Kavanaugh hearings. And the patriarchy seems intent on taking everyone down with them before they change. All good people need to join together and listen and believe and act together. I hear you, I believe you. How can I help you change the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


     In my first reflection I talked more about Congregational vision. I think it is just as important for each of us to have a personal vision for our lives. Most job interviews ask a standard question, where do you see yourself in five years. Most people really don’t know how to answer that question. The truth is it is a false question because no one really knows where they will be in five years. It is asked to see how you will react to it, to understand your vision for your life. I would usually tell people to answer, I would hope to have opportunities to grow and learn new skills, and add value to the organization. 
      I think that is probably a good vision for anyone in general. To grow and learn new skills and add value to the world.  The farther out we look for our vision the harder it can be to discern. I think its good to periodically reflect on how we envision our future.Tonight is the first night of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.  Rosh HaShanah is the beginning of the The Jewish High Holy Days which will end in 10 days with the holiday Yom Kippur. As I look back over my years of sermons, I note that I have on more then one occasion preached about Yom Kippur the day of atonement, but have never talked about Rosh Hashanah. That probably says something about me.
      Religiously Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the day that Adam and Eve were created by God. Historians believe culturally it was set at this time because it was the beginning of the sowing and harvest season in the Middle east. It was a way for Jews to set themselves apart from the ancient Greeks and Romans who set their new year later in the spring.  It was not until 45 bc that the Romans changed the New Year to January 1st.  Being raised in the Jewish faith, this is one time of year I intentionally stop to reflect upon the upcoming year.  My Buddhist training has taught me not to become attached to hoped for outcomes. But that should not prevent us from working towards hoped for outcomes.  
     The key to creating a vision is to determine the why. Why do we hope for a specific outcome. If the why is strong enough it is easier to find a way to make that vision a reality.  And with reflection we learn to be open to changing our vision. When I was young I had no vision I was going to be a minister. And later in life when I first decided to become a minister. I had no idea my journey would take me to Iowa. 
I think it is important in thinking about our vision to start with determining what our values are.
Not what values we are taught or raised up to believe.
Not what values we hope we will have one day.
But day in and day out what is it that you value by your actions.
By consciously doing this we realize that over time our values have changed.
And by consciously discerning this we can choose a new vision for ourselves. 

As Rabbi Howard Berman says
“Rosh Hashanah proclaims Judaism’s revolutionary teaching that history is not cyclical and static—as other ancient cultures believed—but rather, that human experience is dynamic and evolutionary—always progressing toward new heights and greater revelations of Divine truth. For each of us, personally, this means that we need not be bound by the limitations, patterns and regrets of the past… but rather, that there is always an opportunity to make a fresh start, and begin anew.”

     And so I encourage you to reflect on what patterns have been unhealthy for you. What ways can you start anew and then I encourage you to start anew. So I offer you this jewish prayer
“May this New Year, 5779, bring healing and renewal… joy and health…life and peace…
to us and to all the world.” May it be so”