Friday, November 28, 2008

i have a problem with wine

Hi, My name is Ricky, and I'm not an alcoholic. My problem is not drinking wine but buying it. And it's not really my problem so much as I see it as a huge problem for the wine industry. Eventually somebody's going to figure this out and make a fortune. Here's the problem.

Unless you're an experienced wine drinker most people can't tell the difference between expensive wine and cheap wine. In fact blind taste studies even show that regular-folk wine drinkers actually slightly prefer cheap wine over expensive bottles. (On the occasions that I drink expensive wine I feel I can taste the difference, but the difference isn't significant enough to me to justify the extra expense - so I stick with the cheap stuff.)

On the other hand most people don't want their friends to know they're a cheap wine drinker. So in order to fool our friends we avoid buying wines that everybody knows are cheap and instead seek out obscure wines, where, when we set the bottle on the table our guests might just think we spent a lot of money on it. The problem for the wineries then, is that as soon as they develop a brand that people recognize people stop buying it, even if they like the taste.

So wine has a unique marketing problem. How do they attract consumers looking for low-priced wine, without gaining a brand identity as a low-priced wine? The problem for me, the consumer, is that the more information I tend to have about a bottle of wine the less likely I am to buy it - if I've seen it advertised I tend to regard it as "common" and not something that would impress my friends. So I buy a lot of wine I end up not actually enjoying and seldom am able to buy a kind of wine I do enjoy more than 5 or 6 times before everybody knows about it and I need to move on.

One could regard this as a spiritual problem. It's clearly a case of a super-sized ego working against my own joy in life. But it's also interesting that an advertising industry that has become masters at manipulating or even creating spiritual deficiencies in order to boost sales has just the opposite problem in the case of wine: our egos in this case keep us from buying your product.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

let it rest

It disturbs me that in the face of an economic slow down that our first and only response is a panicked rush to inject more money in an artificial stimulus package. There are times, of course, when emergency care is vital, CPR and so on. But there are also situations where the best response is to do nothing, to recognize that there are seasons and cycles in everything, to note that constant one-directional forward progress with all the time more and more and faster and faster is not natural and not healthy. Even in an emergency medical situation the initial treatment is followed by weeks or months of recuperative rest. After a long day of activity we take a night of sleep. After a long week of productive work we take a Sabbath. After spring and summer and the harvest, the ground needs a season of stillness. In winter we learn to live on what we stored from before rather than new production, and we simply live on less.

Perhaps this economic crises could also be an opportunity to question the fundamental assumptions of an economy who's only measure of health is constant growth. If we consumed less we would also not need to produce so much. We could learn to repair what we have instead of throwing away and replacing. Labor would become cheaper meaning that industry could hire more workers and become less reliant on fossil-fuel burning machines. Hiring craftspeople and making by hand might become as cost effective as mass production. Family farms might replace factory farms. Rather than some who are over-employed and others who are unemployed we could shorten the work week and allow people more time with families, and for vacation and spiritual and creative pursuits. We could re-discover the glory of libraries full of books that are free to borrow instead of expensive entertainments. We could become friends with our neighbors and enjoy staying at home instead of clogging the roads and highways.

I'm not an economist I'm a minister so this is strictly a pastoral response.

Friday, November 21, 2008

what about the children?

I've argued elsewhere that the issue of whether homosexuality is an immutable characteristic or a choice should be irrelevant to the discussion of civil rights. The only valid reason for denying any person civil rights would be that the person poses a danger to society.

But some people do hold that gays and lesbians pose a danger to society, and that part of the danger is their belief that homosexuality is a choice. One of the most effective lines of argument in the recent Proposition 8 argument warned that if marriage equality were allowed to stand in California "gay marriage [would be] taught in our schools." Although that isn't in fact true, it's also hard to see the problem in that except for the real point of the argument. The Yes on 8 ad showed a young girl coming home from school and excitedly telling her mother, "At school today we learned that when I grow up I can marry a princess."

The main argument from the Yes on 8 side was that allowing gays to marry supposedly weakens the institution of marriage such that the next generation will not take marriage seriously and will choose not to be married at all. But this ad shows a different and probably more common fear: that hearing about same-sex marriages will entice otherwise heterosexual children to enter same-sex marriages.

So the case against marriage equality boils down to this: because homosexuality is a choice we must make homosexuality unattractive and therefore for the safety of our children we can legitimately make life more difficult for gay and lesbian adults. Notice that there's a circular feedback in that argument: because homosexuals are second class citizens I must strive to prevent my child from choosing to become homosexual, therefore I will work to make sure homosexuals remain second class citizens.

Even if you stubbornly continue to believe that people choose their sexual orientation (against all evidence and common sense) wouldn't it be better for your children to help create a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect just in case you child happens to make a "bad" "choice"?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

post-election interfaith prayer

I shared this prayer tonight at an interfaith community thanksgiving dinner held at our local LDS Stake building.

Holy Spirit of Life and love, whom we know in so many forms and whom we name with so many names,

We come together this evening to share in the bounty of this earth, to celebrate the fellowship of this community, and to re-orient our lives to align again with your ideals.

We’ve recently ended a contentious election season.
Many of us worked hard and passionately in support of our candidates and causes.
Many of us felt that important aspects of our faith were bound up in the issues and people coming before our vote.
We invested ourselves fully, and exhausted ourselves with work and worry because we felt that your divine ideals were at stake in the outcome of our choices.

And although we celebrate the democratic process, and cherish our right to decide important issues through debate and vote, we also note with regret that every election pits party against party, and neighbor against neighbor, and some people of one faith against other people of other faiths, and every election ends with winners and losers: the exhilarated and the sorrowful, the ones who are sure we’ve done the right thing, and those who feel we may have made a grave error.

We come together then, this evening, facing the great task of reuniting our community, as you would have us united.
We seek to feel again that we are one, and that we walk together toward your ideals, as we must.
We ask your help in pouring out your love on every one of us, and encouraging us to love all our neighbors as you love all your children.

Forgive us where we have boastfully claimed to know your will more truly than we actually can know.
Forgive us for insulting the values and motivations of others, instead of recognizing the great longing toward you that speaks to all of us but is heard in different ways.
Forgive us for arrogantly feeling that we alone were the wise and the just and the good and that we knew better and knew more than our fellow citizens.

Help us now with equal parts humility and compassion to reach across the divide we’ve created and to bring back into community those we’ve excluded. Let us gently seek out the people who have turned away from us. And let us not refuse the invitations of those reaching out to us.

We go forward from today into the same task that is always our task, to move our world from the place it is into that place it will be when your ideals are manifest “on earth as it is in heaven.”

May that day come soon. And may all of us soon dwell there in joy and peace and love, together.

We pray in all your holy names, Amen

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the red herring of gay "choice"

William Saletan posted an article titled, "Original Skin: Blacks, gays, and immutability" on Nov. 13, 2008. In it he argues that the reason blacks are less likely to support marriage equality is that they are more likely to believe that sexual orientation is a choice. Saletan argues that the way to win black support for marriage equality is to educate them with the science that shows sexual orientation is not a choice, but is, in fact, an immutable characteristic just as is a person's race.

that's probably a good strategy, but my problem with this approach is that it continues the false position that discrimination is unacceptable only if the discrimination is based on an immutable characteristic. This is untrue. A Christian who converts to Judaism (a choice) should not be discriminated against based on their new religion. A transgender man who chooses to become a woman should not then have to accept sex discrimination. On the other hand, a pederast may argue that they were born with a sexual orientation toward children but that should not prevent society from discriminating against the man in terms of where he can live or work.

The important issue is not choice but whether the discrimination serves a purpose in protecting society from some danger. The only important argument concerning marriage equality is whether same-sex marriages present a danger to society (clearly they don't) not whether the persons seeking same-sex marriage chose to be gay or lesbian. Although I didn't choose to be gay, it shouldn't matter if I did. Society has no legitimate purpose in denying homosexual persons equal rights and protections because society gains nothing by its discrimination while its homosexual citizens are gravely damaged.

Friday, November 14, 2008

lay off the mormon church

OK. You've vented your anger. Now do something appropriate and effective in the marriage equality fight.

The Mormon church is not our target. The Mormon church does not decide who gets married or not in the State of California. It will be a long time before any gay couples get their marriages sealed in the Mormon Temple and who cares? What we want is for the State of California to recognize our marriages, so why are we protesting in front of the Mormon Temple?

Yes, I know, they funded maybe 40% or so of the Yes on 8 campaign. That's infuriating. But it's not illegal for churches to be involved in political issues (not candidates and only up to 5% of their church budget including time spent). And individual church members can give as much of their personal money as they like - just like anybody else. It doesn't help our cause to make churches a target when we have progressive, liberal churches on our side who we want to help fund and organize and speak out on this issue. We need to be seen as the people who are supporting rights, not taking them away. The right of churches to be minimally involved in politics helps us at least as much as it hurts us. Don't eliminate that right.

Instead let's be visible at government offices. Let's have sit-ins at the marriage license window so that no heterosexual couple can get a marriage license without stepping over 6 same-sex couples holding up signs that say "Why can't we be married?"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

politics and religion

I'm disturbed that some of the legitimate anger over the massive Mormon funding for the Yes on 8 campaign is leading to anti-religious statements that will hurt our own progress forward on the marriage equality issue.

Let's remember that many religious folks and religious institutions were our powerful allies in this work, including Unitarian Universalist congregations, major help from The Episcopal church, reformed Jewish synagogues, and large numbers of pastors and congregations from mainline Christian denominations, and even some Mormons and Catholics. Calls to "tax the church" would take away money and organizing help from people who worked very hard on our side, as well as against us. Liberal religious organizations and liberal religious persons (remember MLK?) have been on the side of every civil rights struggle in our history and we need them in this one, too.

Religious organizations are allowed under the tax code to contribute up to 5% of their budget toward political causes (but zero to candidates or partisan issues). And individuals within congregations are free to give as much of their own money as they like, just like anyone else. The Mormon church as an institution did not give to this cause although they did spend some time and money encouraging their members to give. But as long as their organizational involvement wasn't greater than 5% (highly unlikely) and as long as members weren't coerced to give (they say they weren't) no laws were broken.

Instead of trying to silence one religious group (which if successful would silence our allies as well) let's work on gradually persuading people of all faiths to see that their religious principles are best honored by supporting marriage equality not fighting against it.

52 and 48

I posted the text of my sermon for today on my website. I preached about the remarkable civil rights progress of black Americans symbolized by the 52% vote for Obama for President, and the disappointing civil rights set back for gay and lesbian Californians symbolized by the 52% vote for Proposition 8. In either case the work is not done.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

a legislative solution for California marriage

Now that our California constitution has been amended to include a restrictive definition of marriage the legislature can no longer pass legislation that would offer marriage to same-sex couples (as they had done twice before only to be vetoed by the Governor). But they could address the issue in another way, working within both the new constitutional definition of marriage and the prior constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The legislature could enact a law that says the state of California will henceforth no longer marry anyone. Instead they will offer only civil unions (or Domestic Partnerships, if they prefer) and these will of course be available to any adult couple regardless of sex. If a couple so recognized by the State also wanted to be married they could find a religious institution to bestow that purely ceremonial and religious status on them. And of course the new constitutional definition of marriage being only between a man and a woman would have no bearing on private religious organizations which would as always be free to marry whoever they like.

The Yes on 8 folks consistently argued that they were happy with same-sex couples having all the protections of marriage, just not the word marriage. For my part it was never the word marriage I particularly cared about it was equal treatment before the law. This solution would allow us both to have what we wanted.

It would never pass but purely as a symbolic gesture I'd love to have Sheila Kuehl or Mark Leno introduce the bill.

I Do Not Concede

I've posted the text of the homily I preached last night at a post-election vespers service organized by the San Fernando Valley cluster of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Read it here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

post prop 8

Clearly we lost this round. I’m not depressed. Personally my marriage is sound and is just as valuable and sacred to me in all the ways that matter. My marriage is recognized and honored by my friends, my family, my church, my faith. No person I ever talk to ever bats an eye when I refer to my husband, and I will keep using that word, and the word marriage because the law has no power over the way I speak. Someday, inevitably the State of California and the United States of America will recognize what many already do. And with President Obama nominating Supreme Court Justices for the next 8 years we may even have some chance there. In the meantime Domestic Partner laws protect Peleg and I as much as State civil marriage could anyway.

This is the way civil rights battles go. We move forward; we’re pushed back. And when people of conscience see the pushing back some are awakened for the first time to the real pain and injustice of discrimination. This is a conversation that we are slowly winning. Real justice is accomplished not when it is forced upon people who still have oppression in their hearts, but when hearts are changed and justice follows.

8 years ago 61% of Californians voted for Prop 22. Today we’ve shifted 9% of those to our side. We’ve also mobilized an incredible community of first time activists who now know how to do this work and will be waiting for the next call and ready to answer. It’s thrilling to be part of the work. That the struggle is difficult will make the prize sweeter, and that we’ve invested so much, will make the ownership more complete.

Monday, November 3, 2008

ballot review

Every election my husband and I host a ballot review party where we invite friends to come to our house and over a meal we go through the ballot together sharing what we know and our opinions about each of the issues.

Last night we had 18 people to the house. Peleg made three kinds of soup. Our friends brought desserts and a couple of bottles of wine. The California ballot has 12 statewide propositions this year, plus city and county issues, and community college and school district issues. I made up a flip chart with the official titles of every issue, and noted whether each issue was a proposed statute or constitutional amendment. For the bond issues I noted the dollar amount of bonds at stake, and for taxes how much that would cost.

And then I threw the floor open. Each of our guests had been asked to come prepared to present on an issue that interested them. We had a really great discussion. I was very impressed actually with the level of preparedness, and the seriousness, and the smarts that were in the room. I changed my mind on at least one of the Propositions. In the end we presuaded each other to unanimous positions on nearly every issue (well it was a like-minded group of friends to start with).

One of the guests blogged about the evening here and she also recorded the positions that we advocate on each of the 12 propositions. Check it out and remember to vote tomorrow. No on 8.

last minute weddings

I married a couple at Starbucks this morning. They decided at the last minute that they shouldn't risk not being able to get married after tomorrow. We'd been trading email and phone messages since Friday. I had never met them. But one of the guys told me that he had attended Sunday school at a Unitarian Universalist church when he was a kid and he wanted a Unitarian Universalist minister to sign his wedding license. He found me online. They had already been together 25 years, they didn't need a ceremony or a blessing (I gave them a blessing anyway) they just wanted legal recognition.

They picked up their license this morning and then we met about 11:30 at a Starbucks near my house. One of the baristas volunteered to be the witness. She was very excited. The manager came over to congratulate the couple and then he bought us all hot chocolates. They were a great couple. Really good guys. Obviously in love. Obviously a secure and productive relationship. I was so happy to help them make it legal.

I'm signing another marriage license for another male couple later tonight.

I'm optimistic that Proposition 8 will be defeated tomorrow but I still think it's wise for these couples to take no chances.

Pray for us.