Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Insomnia

I couldn't sleep last night so I lay there trying to come up with the longest word I could think of where all the letters come in alphabetical order. I came up with "almost". Can you think of a better one?

Monday, December 7, 2009

wet car

It's raining today in Los Angeles. And I needed to drive up to Santa Clarita for a church meeting. I was worried about taking my new car in the rain because it's a soft-top convertible, and I'm still feeling over protective. But we have a friend visiting who needed to use our bigger car to do some shopping so I didn't have a choice.

I needn't have worried. Not only was the soft top perfectly fine. But it turns out my car has a feature I didn't even know it had: windshield wipers that sense the amount of water on the windshield and automatically adjust their speed. What a smart car!

Here are some other features on my new car that my eleven-year-old car didn't have and which I know consider to be absolutely indispensable, of course:

heated seats
automatic headlights
a mute button on the radio.
an outside temperature gauge
low tire pressure warning light
rear defroster that turns itself off after a minute.
In dash 6 CD changer.

And let's not forget the automatic convertible top that I can even put up and down while driving.

Oh, and it gets 43 miles per gallon on the highway.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

new library

Silver Lake has a new library: a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It's super close to our home - just the other side of the lake. And a gorgeous mid-century modern style building, modeled after the architectural style SIlver Lake is famous for.

I grew up going to libraries but had lately switched over to buying books, mostly because there was no nice, convenient facility. But I am ready to switch back to being a book-borrower, and as I'd watch the library slowly go up over the last couple of years I grew increasingly impatient to get started.

FInally they had the grand opening with the public officials, and then an open house day for the neighborhood. My parents happened to be in town for Thanksgiving, and being library supporters themselves we all went over to check it out. It's a gorgeous building. A good-sized community room. A small collection but it's plugged in to the entire Los Angeles Library system so everything is accessible. And the collection in the stacks is neighborhood appropriate (I noticed an extensive array of BGLT books).

I also like the modern touches. Self check out. Automatic book return (you place them on a conveyer belt and a machine process them back into the library). I put a book on hold and they notified my by email when it came in a few days later. Besides the books there are cds and DVD to borrow as well.

My car is cuter than yours

I first saw these little two seater "Smart" cars in Amsterdam and have wanted one ever since. They are adorable first of all. And they make perfect sense for urban driving. It took several years before they started selling in the US, about two years ago. I held on to my old Mazda Protege because it was paid for and running well. And I had made a vow several years ago that my next new car would be a plug-in electric.

I broke the vow. The Mazda started needing some major repairs this year: new struts, a new catalytic converter. As I got closer to needing to get it smog checked and paying for next year's registration I began to take a closer look at how worn out the car was looking. I bought it in 1999 and had put 138,000 miles on it. Plus a friend of mine bought a Smart car and seeing his made me fall in love with it again. He raved about it.

Peleg liked the idea. So on Saturday when we were out for the day we stopped by the dealership. We liked a black and white convertible. (I had hoped for a yellow one but they discontinued that color last year). The service was friendly. The price was right. It all felt good so we went for it. I came back the next day in my Mazda so they could take it as a trade-in, and I drove my new car home that evening.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rest in Peace

My Homily from Wednesday evening's "Valley Vesper" service on the theme of rest.

I just got back from a week’s vacation. Peleg and I took a cruise down the West Coast of Mexico. 7 days of sun, and pool and catching up on reading, and sleeping in, and somebody else to make all our meals and keep the room tidy. Talk about rest and relxation. I suppose I could call my entire trip research for this homily and write it off my taxes as a business expense.

Well not exactly rest and relaxation. Not entirely. I’m not sure how much it was in the news here, but off the west coast of mexico we ran into a little weather event called Hurricane Rick.

When we left San Pedro a week ago Sunday, Hurricane Rick was a category 4 storm moving north up the coast of Mexico while we were headed south. By the time our boat and the storm met somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, Hurricane Rick had a become a category 5 hurricane. That means winds greater than 155 miles per hour, and waves breaking well over 20 feet.

The cruise line dealt with the storm by skipping our stop in Cabo on Tuesday and firing up all 5 diseal engines to get us as quickly as possible all the way down to Puerto Vallarta. That allowed us, on Tuesday to position our boat hugging the main coast of Mexico while the storm passed us further west, out to sea. So although the storm was bad, we missed the worst part of it.

What we had on Tuesday was a day of heavy rain. And then we had a Tuesday night of even heavier rain, plus wildly rocky seas. The motion wasn’t just up and down but also side to side and back and forth. Kind of like a mild earthquake, but an earthquake that lasted all night long, and lots of crashing and creaking as the boat battled the waves. On Wednesday we pulled into Puerto Vallarta and had a gorgeous sunny day. And beside the one stormy day and night the only real consequence is that we had to skip going to Mazatlan, who had closed their port due to the storm, and spend an extra day in Puerto Vallarta. Boo hoo, right?

The gift of a extreme weather event like that is that it gives clear evidence of the power of nature, a non=human power that we so often do our best to deny or ignore, or compensate for. Last Tuesday night with the rain pounding against the cabin window and the sea rising and falling, and the huge boat rocked back and forth like a bath tub toy, there was no denying that while we were safe, we humans were very small, and the world is very large.

We humans are very powerful, so my theology firmly believes and my faith devoutly teaches. But we are not completely powerful. There are things we cannot do by and for ourselves. And we are not the only power in the world. There are other forces working hard and not always with our goals in mind. Sometimes there comes up in our lives waves that push us around, that we are not able to push back. Sometimes in our lives category 5 winds blow that can’t blow us right over. I know it’s true in your life, and it’s true in my life as well. Sometimes I’m just a small and frightened Reverend Ricky, standing against a fearsome Hurricane Rick.

Usually it’s good spiritual health to name on our power, affirm our power and to maximize our power to make change in the world. It takes our action to heal, to fight, to speak up, to protect, to comfort, to demand, to imagine, and to persuade. But sometimes, faced with a situation where we lack the ability to change the circumstances around us, it’s good spiritual health to name the limits of our power, and instead of striving in vain to assert ourselves, it’s good spiritual health to learn to submit.
What could I do against a category 5 hurricane? I didn’t curse the storm on Tuesday night. I didn’t stand at the bow of the cruise ship and yell. I went to bed. I didn’t tell myself how miserable I was and how our vacation was ruined. I told myself how interesting it was to have this experience and this story to tell. I didn’t scare myself with worries of what might happen. I went to bed, and as I went to sleep I told myself if the ship did get in danger surely they’d be an alarm that would wake me up, and someone with more power in the situation than me would tell me how to get off the boat and safely into a life boat.

I couldn’t change the world, last Tuesday. So I enjoyed what the world offered me. I couldn’t dominate, so I submitted. I couldn’t take meaningful action. So I choose the path of rest.

In the doxology in response to the offering we sang, “with resolve our purpose sing, for years of justice yet to be, when we a better world shall see.” But how do we get that better world? How do we get to those hopefully countless years of justice?

In Taoism we learn the principle of Wu-Wei, translated as inaction, or better “Actionless action.” It’s the principle of getting out of the way and letting the world take care of itself, with trust that because human beings are an element of the natural world nature tends to work on its own for the best. It’s the principle of not interfering in processes that are working themselves out, you’ll only make it worse. It’s not fussing around. Leave it alone. Don’t pick at it. Remove yourself from situations where your attendance adds nothing or only further aggravates a difficult situation.

Imagine trying to drink from a glass of water filled with swirling sand. You could painstakenly try to remove the sand from the water., and good luck with that. Or you could just let the glass stand by itself for a little while and the sand will naturally sink to the bottom of the glass.

So we get to that better world and those years of justice through a combination of doing, and not doing. Of adding what we can to the progress toward our ideals. And also from keeping faith that there are other sources of power out there doing what they can do, that don’t need our help. Sometimes we can add a lot. Sometimes we can be very helpful. And sometimes the best help we can be is to do very little, to withdraw, to wait, to watch. To say a little prayer. To go to bed.

As we approach this holiday with all its demands for doing, and buying, and arranging, and planning, and fretting, and compromising, and attending and hosting; (talk about a category 5 storm!) remember that more doing is not always the best path, for you personally, or for the goal you’re trying to accomplish. As we face in our churches troubling situations of a minister suddenly resigning, or hiring a new RE Director, or debate over how to spend money, or brainstorming ideas about how to raise money, or worries that a program will die if we don’t volunteer to take over as the chair, remember that sometimes you need to do, and sometimes you need to don’t.

Sometimes you need to engage, and sometimes you need to say a blessing and withdraw. Sometimes you church needs you, and sometimes we really don’t. Sometimes you need to get yourself up and go, and sometimes we really need you to stay put. Sometimes there’s that one late night meeting you really need to attend. And sometimes the best thing for you and for the church is to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and go to bed.

I wish there was a clear rule for knowing the difference between the time to act and the time to refrain from acting. There is no rule. Discerning which is called for is the essence of spirituality. Just know that in every situation there are two options. You can act, when acting is useful. And you can rest, when inaction is the better course. So rest when you should. Rest well. And Rest in Peace.

The Fun Theory

Love This:

The Fun Theory


Encourage people to do easy, good-for-them and good-for-the-world things (like taking the stairs, recycling, not littering) by making the activity fun.

Apparently good health and a clean sustainable environment isn't enough incentive. What does this imply for our churches? We preach about "bigger-than-you" values like justice, and equality, and saving the planet. We also preach about making choices that benefit in the long term like "seventh generation" thinking. Apparently what really gets people to change behavior is immediate, personal reward. No surprise there, but is there a way we can make use of that human selfishness and short-sightedness to still accomplish our goals?

federal hate crimes legislation passes

The Federal government has now added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of persons covered by hate crimes penalties. I have mixed feelings.

Hate crimes laws add additional penalties to crimes based on the motivation of the act. If I beat you up because I want to steal your wallet I get one sentence. If I beat you up because you're black or (now) gay, I get an additional sentence on top of the punishment for stealing. The motivation doesn't make the act more violent. The victim doesn't suffer any additional physical hurt. If the attacker is screaming "nigger" or "queer" during the act it may cause some additional mental suffering, but it is not, if fact, illegal, to yell "nigger" or "queer" (unless it's perceived as an actual threat to do violence). So the only act that hate crimes legislation actually punishes is not an act at all, but a thought: the mental state of the attacker, the contents of their mind.

The ability to think what I want to think is an essential freedom, even more important than the ability to say what I'm thinking (protected by the first amendment). So I cannot, and do not support the whole concept of hate crime laws.

However, hate crime laws have been around for decades, and there is zero chance, at least at present, that they will go away. So the practical question is: do I support adding sexual orientation, transgender and disability to the list?" Reluctantly I answer, "Yes." If there is a list of people who are subject to acts of violence merely because of belonging to a group, GLBT folks and disabled folks should be on the list. Hate crimes legislation is a means of recognizing that gay bashing occurs and that our government notices and objects. That's the only legitimate purpose I can see for hate crime laws.

But there are still two problems. Firstly, I don't like being added to a list of victims. If the Federal government really wanted to name GLBT oppression and move to end it I would rather they stop oppressing me - allow me to serve openly in the military, recognize my marriage - rather than permanently enshrining me as a person who needs special protection.

My final objection (another abstract objection that has zero chance of changing in the real world) has to do with the way we have learned to incrementally advance civil rights by creating lists. My legal protections and rights should not be contingent on whether my group has amassed the political power to get our name on a list. Governmental protections and rights should be based on general principles that apply to all people. Creating lists open up the perception that some group is getting "special rights" when all that's being done is affirming the same rights already existing be applied equally to all persons. It's always wrong to discriminate no matter what criteria you're using, except for the criteria directly relevant to the situation. We shouldn't have to wait for an ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) to tell us that there's no legitimate reason to fire an otherwise competent employee just because they're gay. And there's no need to have hate crimes legislation to recognize that violent crimes, regardless of the motivation, are unacceptable and will be punished.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

flu by any other name would leave me beat

It's been a bad couple of weeks for my physical health. First we had the local fires filling the air with smoke and ash. For a couple of days there at the end of August it was really thick. Public health officials encouraged folks to stay indoors with the air conditioning on. Then the fires mostly ended and/or moved east, but the Santa Ana wind pattern kicked in bringing hot dry winds from the east instead of the cooler moist air we get off the ocean. The change in winds meant breathing in a whole spectrum of desert pollens we hadn't had to deal with in several months. I got what I thought was an allergic reaction: itchy eyes and sinus congestion.

Well that may have been true, but over last weekend I moved on to something other than allergies. Whether it's a cold, or flu, and which flu, only a lab could tell me. But I do know my "allergies" got worse over Friday and Saturday and Sunday. I did a wedding Saturday evening and felt pretty well, but on Sunday after preaching in the morning followed by two back to back meetings in the afternoon, I came home completely exhausted and collapsed into a deep sleep at about 9 PM. Monday I did some housework in the morning and then drove off for a three-day minister's gathering, our annual fall retreat and UUMA Chapter meeting. I lasted through the afternoon "check-in" and then retired to my hotel room for a bath and some over the counter medication and a long sleep

Tuesday I got myself out of bed for some scheduled events I needed to participate in at the minister's meeting then came back to the hotel and slept and watched TV all afternoon and night. The sinus congestion started to ease but I was feeling feverish and weak and achey so it looked like I had the flu. Wednesday morning I felt a little better. I attended the last of the minister's meeting and then drove home, and then spent all that afternoon and evening in bed at home.

Today I'm definitely through the worst, and grateful that I have a day where the only work I need to do is some writing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

language for a proposed CA Constitutional amendment

I really wish they would have waited, but here's the language submitted to the California Attorney General by Love, Honor, Cherish, (and a coalition of other groups) seeking to over turn Proposition 8 on the 2010 November ballot.

This amendment would amend an existing section of the California Constitution. Existing language proposed to be deleted is printed in italics type. Language proposed to be added is printed in bold type.

Section 1. To protect religious freedom, no court shall interpret this measure to require any priest, minister, pastor, rabbi, or other person authorized to perform marriages by any religious denomination, church, or other non-profit religious institution to perform any marriage in violation of his or her religious beliefs. The refusal to perform a marriage under this provision shall not be the basis for lawsuit or liability, and shall not affect the tax-exempt status of any religious denomination, church or other religious institution.
Section 2. To provide for fairness in the government’s issuance of marriage licenses, Section 7.5 of Article I of the California Constitution is hereby amended to read as follows: Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Marriage is between only two persons and shall not be restricted on the basis of race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.


Whether the proposition actually gets on the ballot in November next year depends on the ability to gather the required signatures. The group has plans to start signature gathering in November. They appear to have sufficient financial resources to succeed with that step.

Of course I'll vote for the proposition if it appears on the ballot, but I won't sign a petition to place it there. I don't have the energy, or the time, or the money, to contribute to a political campaign on this issue next year. And like me, I don't think many of the folks who worked on the No on 8 campaign last year are eager to do it again. Marriage equality is important but it's not the only issue competing for my dollars and time. Nor do I think our chances of being successful are much improved from last year. It's more difficult to ask people to change existing law (our task now) than it is to affirm an existing law (our task last year - which we lost). The people who voted Yes on 8 haven't changed their minds since a year ago, and the midst of a political campaign where they receive conflicting sound byte messages is not a great place to persuade them to change their minds. Furthermore, every time people are asked to confirm their opposition to marriage equality (by casting a vote or responding to a poll) it gets that much harder to get them to change their minds in the future.

And finally there's that ballot language itself. Section 1 is obviously designed to counter the argument that conservative churches will be forced to marry same-sex couples. But that argument was never valid in the first place. Does raising the issue, even to deny it, not also give the argument validity? Was this language sufficiently focused-group to make sure it isn't counter-productive? And section 2 is a land mine waiting to explode. Does "persons" include children? If it only means adults why doesn't it say so? Does "sexual orientation" protect pedophiles? Does not discriminating against "ancestry" mean that the State can't forbid a brother and sister to marry?

Please don't let this get on the ballot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

public transportation commuter

I rode the bus to work today. I walked down the hill from my house to West Silver Lake Drive. waited 25 minutes at the bus stop. Then paid $1.25 and rode the bus for less than 15 minutes to the corner of Wilshire and Vermont. I bought a small coffee and a chocolate croissant at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and then walked down Vermont three blocks to the church.

Later this morning I'm going to walk back up to the same intersection and board the Red Line subway for a trip downtown to join a healthcare rally. Then I'll subway back to the church, work a little more, then take the bus back home.

Except for the long wait at the bus stop the commute was easy. It did make a trip that takes less than 20 minutes in my car last nearly an hour. But that inconvenience would be ameliorated if I had a better notion of the bus schedules. The real problem with the bus though is that I hardly ever have a day when I only need to go to work and then back home. I almost always have to be in several places around town during the course of the day. Or I have an evening meeting and I don't really want to be waiting for the bus at 9:30 at night.

But it did feel good to do it today. And I'll do it again as often as I can.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Maine ballot language

I just saw the actual ballot language that voters in Maine will see in their voting booths on November 3. Consider your response carefully:

"Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?"

"Hmm... If I want to allow my priest to refuse same-sex marriages, then I should approve the law by voting to reject the ballot measure which would... wait, what?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

iLove my iPhone

I love the way it syncs with my laptop computer address book and calendar. I love the built-in GPS. Three times already (I got it about 6 weeks ago) I've been in the car with an address but no directions and the phone gave me a turn by turn route. I love my NY Times app. I can sit in a restaurant and catch up on the latest news as I eat my lunch without having to buy a paper. I love the voicemail menu that allows me to go directly to the message I want to hear, and fast forward or go back in the message - like to recheck a phone number. I love the voice control command. And so on and on and on. Genius.

But I've had a problem with the phone itself. I could barely hear anyone calling even with the volume turned all the way up. If I used the earbuds, OK, but not possible to use the phone with the thing pressed against my ear. I thought about taking it back to the store but hadn't gotten around to it. Then a friend suggested it might be a problem with the clear plastic screen I had bought to protect the phone. The screen has a cut out for the speaker but my friend suggested that even if the plastic was covering the speaker a tiny bit it might be causing the problem. That sounded plausible but on the other hand I'd been really careful putting the screen on in the first place and it didn't look misaligned.

Finally yesterday I got around to peeling the screen off and taking a look. Surprise surprise. the little piece of plastic that is supposed to be cut out wasn't actually cut out. It was still attached to the screen, and perfectly covering the speaker. I popped the plastic piece out, put the screen back in place - now with an actual hole over the screen - and now it works perfectly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a moral obligation to care for the sick.

In my previous post on the healthcare debate I was reacting not to any proposed policy but rather the tone and tactics of the discussion. (How I wish it actually were a discussion.) I was very pleased in Obama's speech last night that he addressed that issue as well as specific policies. He named the lies for what they were. He accurately characterized some of the arguments as designed to kill reform to score a political "win" rather than seeking to improve a bill or offer alternative ideas. And he reiterated his conviction that it is still possible to have a reasonable discussion that doesn't descend into acrimony and name calling. (During the speech he was named-called on the House floor, "You lie!" so I'm less optimistic about this point but I hope it's true.)

But what about the policy itself?

Universal health care.
We have a moral obligation to care for the sick. This is not a situation where people must take personal responsibility or suffer the consequences. Few of us are willing to simply let the sick among us suffer because of lack of money or because of a bad decision they made some time earlier. Healthcare is a community responsibility. We have already adopted this principle through our policy of allowing the indigent to use emergency rooms. The reform movement only wants to build on this principle in a way that is more efficient and less expensive.

Portable, secure, healthcare
Healthcare should not be dependent on life circumstances that are transitory. Employment is transitory; no one should lose healthcare because they lose a job, or change jobs. Good health is transitory; no one should lose healthcare because they get sick. Place of residence is transitory; no one should lose healthcare because they move from one city to another or from one state to another. Family situations are transitory; no one should lose healthcare because they get divorced, or their spouse dies. Age is transitory; no one should lose healthcare because they age-out of a covered age bracket. All of this simply points back to the first principle: healthcare should be universal. We have a moral obligation to care for the sick. Anyone who is a citizen of the United States should be guaranteed healthcare by the US government.

Private insurance is incompatible with universal healthcare
The benefit of health insurance is that by buying into the system when I'm healthy, if I get sick I know I will receive the care I need regardless of my ability to pay. But if health care without regard to ability to pay is required by law (and moral obligation) than the insurance company no longer adds any benefit. Private insurance companies can only add an expensive drain on a universal health care system, adding costs of redundant staff and paperwork and advertising and so on. A single-payer system could provide the same administrative function much more efficiently and inexpensively.

rationed healthcare
Not to avoid the elephant in the room, healthcare is not an infinite resource. There are limited numbers of hospital beds, doctors, MRI machines, transplantable organs, and so on in every area of healthcare. A universal healthcare policy must have some means of guaranteeing a basic amount of coverage to all persons before it agrees to fund higher levels of care for some few people. People seeking care beyond the basic level would then have the option of paying out of pocket or entering into something like the current private healthcare insurance system.

If I'd only twitter'd

My cleaning lady showed up at the house this morning and told me she had seen a great crowd of cyclists in Griffith Park this morning. She wondered if I had been among them and had looked for me, but of course I wasn't there. She said there had been traffic control officers and everything was quite orderly but a lot of people.

I was curious because I hadn't been aware of any big cycling event planned for today.

Later in my car I heard on the news that Lance Armstrong had decided on a whim to twitter the fact that he was going to go for a ride this morning and invited anybody who wanted to come along to meet him at the LA Zoo. Damn! And the thing is, Lance Armstrong is the only person I actually follow on Twitter, only I had come home from a late church meeting last night, had a snack and went to bed without checking my feed.

People apparently drove for hours to get a chance to meet him. I would only have had to hop on my bike - the LA zoo is 10 minutes from my house and I pass it regularly on my standard park ride. And so many people turned up that even for a spontaneous event they had to call in crowd control forces. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Healthcare debate

The Healthcare debate has left me very disappointed in the American people. What a colossal show of ignorance and incivility we've suffered through for the last month. Is it no longer possible to have a civil political discussion? Can we no longer disagree respectfully? Is there no chance of engaging in discourse with the intention of listening and learning rather than shouting down and storming off?

The glee with which the right shut down town hall meetings rather than presenting alternative ideas, the ease with which ideas were dismissed with pejorative words (socialism, facism, Nazi) rather than engaged and dealt with on their merits, the circus-like atmosphere of hijacking meetings with death threats and public displays of weapons, all horrified and shocked me. Even if the nonsense was amplified by the media (which it surely was) even a small amount of that kind of nuttiness deflated a lot of my faith in democracy.

My faith tells me that humans beings have inherent worth and dignity. I believe that, while also admitting that people are not always going to act out of that essential quality. But I also know that if we are going to succeed in the great transformation of society into the realm of peace, love, and justice, that I seek, that it is going to require the cooperation and co-creation of all of us (or at least most of us - we can carry a few with us who refuse to do their share, but these are big goals that require a lot of workers). When I see people who not only don't want to work toward the same goals I seek, but don't even seem interested in the idea of working together with anyone on anything, who seem gleefully happy merely at sowing confusion and mistrust and anger, then I despair as to how we would ever achieve transformational goals.

Los Angeles back to normal

We have had a miserable couple of weeks in Los Angeles. The huge fire in the Angeles forest is still only about 60% contained, but the fire has moved east, away from populated areas, and the wind is now blowing the smoke further east rather than into the city. Temperatures have dropped by more than 10 degrees. It's actually beautiful today.

When the fires were burning I could see flame from my bedroom window. The fires I could see were about 10 miles away on the sides of the hills above La Crescenta and La Canada. The first night of the fires the flames were near the top of the ridge but on the other side, rather than flames I could only see the orange glow of the flames reflected on the under side of the clouds. But by the next day the fires had come over the ridge and were moving down the hills. My house was in no actual danger, and although I could see that some houses were threatened that was not much danger for anyone in the area I could see. But still it was disturbing to see the flames burning all night. And then especially disconcerting as they continued night after night with the fire for several days getting steadily larger.

On top of that there was very little wind so the smoke settled into the LA Basin and just stayed put. The air was thick. It smelled. News reports told people to limit activity and stay inside. Even with minimal exposure I could feel myself getting sick: respiritory symptoms like a cold or allerigies, fatigue, and a headache. And being warned away from exercise also meant suffering through the usual symptoms I experience when I'm disconnected from my gym days and cycling: more fatigue, depression, and decreased spiritual health.

It's great to be back to normal

Al Franken is rapidly becoming the coolest Senator

Evidence:

Here:


and Here:

starbucks

why is it always so frakin cold in every Starbucks? Are they trying to sell more hot coffee? Or are they trying to make the folks on laptops (like me) so uncomfortable that we give up our seats?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

California Marriage equality: 2010 or 2012 is not the question

I'm back in Los Angeles today after two days in Sacramento meeting with Unitarian Universalist leaders in the marriage equality movement. We're forming a steering committee to work with the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry on this topic.

On Tuesday we met with Samuel Chu, the interim executive director of California Faith for Equality, and with Harry Knox, who heads the faith-based program for the Human Rights Campaign. On Wednesday, just the Unitarian Universalist leaders met to create an action plan for our congregations. It was very clear from our conversation very early on that the question of whether marriage equality activists should place a constitutional amendment on the California ballot to restore marriage equality in 2010, or 2012 is the wrong question. In practical terms the answer is clear: we're not ready. But 2010 or 2012 isn't really the question.

2010 or 2012 focuses entirely on the ballot, which is only a piece of the necessary work. The larger goal is not 51% of the electorate relunctantly granting us marriage, the goal is a cultural shift that sees gay and lesbian persons as full respected citizens of the state. That goal is not achieved legislatively. It's achieved through public education and advocacy, through relationship building, and through normalizing gay and lesbian lives through visibility and time.

The other false frame of the 2010 or 2012 question is the implication that unless we act now we are agreeing to submit to injustice. But public education and advocacy and relationship building and living our lives openly and proudly is justice work. It's not waiting; it's working. And it's not submitting; it's persuading folks who have already voted against once not to confirm their vote but to change their minds and hearts.

That's the work we need to do in our churches and communities, not raising money for signature gathering and ads, and phone-banking. Rather than leaping unprepared into a political campaign as a reaction to our hurt and anger, let's time the political campaign to the point in the movement when we've already won the issue before the campaign even begins.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

California marriage equality can't wait.

I've been reading reports from a number of political analysts this week discussing whether marriage equality proponents in California should put the question back to voters in 2010, or wait until 2012. All of them agree that we should wait. I've been reading in preparation for a meeting I've been asked to attend with political strategists next week, and then a follow-up meeting with my own faith leaders to plan a coordinated action plan for our churches.

Because the proposition this time around would be "our" proposition, we can set the timing - we don't have to react to a proposition presented by the other side. Waiting allows us to raise more money, to educate the electorate, to finely craft our message, to build the organizational structure we need for the campaign, and, (every analyst mentions it) to allow more older voters to die and be replaced by younger, "what's the big deal?" voters.

In fact, that last issue may be the only real argument for waiting, because waiting also gives the other side more time to raise money, and craft their message and build their organization, and so on; it's not like we're going to catch them by surprise.

But if our real strength is in generational turnover, rather than education or organization or what have you, then there's also not much reason to wait. Older voters will continue to die off whether we fight and lose in 2010, or don't fight at all. So we haven't hurt our chances in 2012, and we might win.

And in my position as a faith leader, not a political operative, the question is clear. Justice deferred is justice denied. Californians are dying every day never having had the benefit of having their relationship recognized by the state they live in and pay taxes in. Gay kids are spending their formative years with the message that they are second class citizens. GLBT persons are being violently attacked by folks encouraged in their hate by a government that doesn't see us as real people. A political campaign, even a losing one, serves to illustrate that injustice and the real damage done to real human lives. It's not my role as a person of faith or an activist to say, "wait until later."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GLBT folks as full respected citizens

The Matthew Shepherd Act continues to work it's way through Congress as an amendment to a Department of Defense Bill. The bill has now been stripped of the fighter plane funding that Obama has said he would veto. But the bill still faces opposition from Republicans and a challenge from the ACLU which seeks broader free speech protection than in the current Senate version of the bill.

Hate Crimes legislation seems to have two goals. The first is to make sure that all people are protected by current criminal laws, regardless of their sexual orientation. Great idea, but we don't need Hate Crimes legislation to do that. We simply need to enforce existing laws equally. What's required for that is a cultural change that you can't mandate by law: society viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

The second goal is to punish crimes more severely when they are motivated by animus to an entire group of people. That sounds like thought crimes to me, and I don't buy the argument that all GLBT persons are victims whenever one of us is gay-bashed. In any case, increasing the punishment of a single criminal doesn't serve the underlying goal of increasing respect for GLBT persons. In fact the greater time in jail would likely have the opposite effect. Once again the underlying goal, impossible to mandate by law, is a cultural change viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

If the goal is affirming the full and respected citizen status of GLBT persons, Hate Crimes legislation is not only ineffective but hypocritical while DADT and DOMA are still on the books. The most effective way to enact the required cultural change of viewing GLBT folks as full respected citizens would be to start treating us as such under Federal law. Allow us to marry. Allow us to serve in the armed forces. Allow the public to see their GLBT neighbors as full citizens, with the Federal government modeling that attitude not undercutting it.

Sunday in Santa Paula

My church in Santa Clarita got kicked out of our usual worship space on Sunday. The Senior Center where we rent space is doing some remodeling which required knocking down the east wall of the room we use for worship. So we decided to join one of our neighboring churches for worship and Santa Paula, about 40 miles to the west was able to accomodate us. My sermon is here.

The Santa Paula conregation was very gracious. And their building was a treat for us. Dedicated in 1892 as a Universalist church the building is in a Gothic Romanesque style and boasts impressive stained glass windows.

I spoke to one of the church members about the layout of the church. The worship room is square with the entrance in one corner and the pulpit at the other corner with the center aisle running diagonally across the space. I told the church member I had seen that layout once before in a Methodist church in Mogadore, Ohio where my parents were born, and he told me that he had heard that the architecture was based on something called the "Akron Plan." So that made sense, Mogadore being an Akron suburb.

But I did a little research and it turns out the Akron Plan has nothing to do with the diagonal aisle. Instead, The Akron plan refers to a style of church architecture, first used by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Akron Ohio, where a large central room opens by means of sliding doors on to several smaller classrooms. This allows the Sunday School superintendent to monitor all the classes from a central location and to gather all the students together in the large room for school functions. The Santa Paula church has the one large worship room and two smaller spaces to the sides, one room now used as part of the worship space, the other separated behind a large sliding door they use for their coffee hour.

concert in the evening

Saturday night Peleg and I went downtown with a friend of ours and his young daughter to catch a free concert on California Plaza as part of a summer series called Grand Performances (on Grand Avenue in LA). The show was a Cuban singer named Albita. Great show. And I liked the music. But the songs did start to sound all the same to me eventually. If I spoke Spanish I would probably have discerned more variety. Or maybe not.

The summer free concert in the park series is such a staple of American culture. I remember walking with my parents up to the community college in Santa Monica to sit in their amphitheater and listen to music and have a picnic. It was great to do that again.

We ate burritos we bought at the Grand Central Market. And I sipped Jack Daniels from a plastic cup.

wedding in the afternoon

Saturday afternoon I officiated at the wedding of a young couple from my neighborhood. The wedding was held on the grounds of Greystone Mansion, in Beverly Hills. This is a beautiful old building that used to be owned by the Doheny family, a family with oil money.

There's a connection between the Doheny mansion and my own house in a circuitous way. Old man Doheny's business partner had a daughter named Daisy, who married an old silent film actor named Antonio Moreno. Moreno had been a successful leading man in silent films but was reduced to bit player status after talkies came in because his Spanish accent was too thick. So he married Daisy and then used her money to buy property in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles - then called Ivanhoe. He built a mansion for himself and Daisy on the top of the highest hill and then built several houses in the area, including mine, on Moreno Drive.

The wedding was beautiful. And a lovely location. But very hot, we're having a heat wave in Los Angeles. It was pretty to look out at the congregation and see dozens of pink and green parasols passed out by the wedding coordinator to protect the guests from the sun.

garden in the morning

First Unitarian Church Garden Celebration from Ricky Hoyt on Vimeo.


Saturday Peleg and I spent the morning at a little street fair on Francis Avenue, the street behind First Church, LA. The occasion was to celebrate a neighborhood garden that the church had helped start 13 years ago. One year ago the City of Los Angeles used money from a proposition approved by voters to create pocket parks in the city, to purchase the land that the church had been renting from the owners for $1 a year. The city then turned management of the garden over to an organization called the Neighborhood Land Trust. Saturday's street fair was a celebration of the first anniversary of the new arrangement.

The garden is a gem. Although the whole program was in place long before I arrived as the minister I'm really proud to have our church involved. It's exactly the kind of church and neighborhood partnership that I'm hoping we will have more of.

Here is the text of the speech I gave as an invocation at the street fair.

Francis Avenue Garden Speech
July 19, 2009

Good morning. My name is Ricky Hoyt. I am the minister of the big church around the corner on 8th Street, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. I am proud that it was members of my church, working with this community, who were able to get this garden started several years ago. And I am very pleased to see that the garden has lasted all these years, and the garden has thrived, and today the garden looks better than it ever has with the generosity of the City of Los Angeles, and the management of the Neighborhood Land Trust, and the partnership of all of you who come to the garden, and work for the garden and love the garden.

I am proud to know that my church has been a partner with this neighborhood in making this garden happen. I am proud to know that my church continues to be involved in this garden as a partner with all of you. I want you to know that my church wants to continue to be a partner with you in other ways as well. We will look for other projects that we can do together. And I want you to think of the First Unitarian Church on eighth street as a place that belongs to you, where you can come for your events, where you can come to find tutoring for your children, where you can come just to rest and to pray. I hope that you will visit us soon.

I’m proud that our church could help get this garden started because my faith tells me that in the midst of our lives we need places like this. In the midst of our city we need places like this. In the midst of a crowded neighborhood where there are so many people but it’s so hard to know our neighbors, we need places like this.

We need places where we can come together with our neighbors. We need places where we can sit in the cool of the evening. Where we can enjoy the sounds of children playing in safety. Where we can smell the earth and growing things. Where we can listen to the soft conversation of our friends.

We need places that are open to the sun and the sky and the rain. We need places that remind ourselves that our food doesn’t come from the store but it comes from the earth. We need places that remind us that there is dirt under our feet, not just concrete. We need places that remind us that we share the earth with other animals, like the chickens who enjoy our garden as much as we do. We need public places where we meet people who aren’t like ourselves: people from different cultures; people who were born in different countries; people who speak different languages; and where we learn more about what it really means to be human in all that ways that people live.

It is from places like this that a true neighborhood is born: a neighborhood where we can work together to achieve big goals; a neighborhood where we can know each other and surround ourselves with friends instead of strangers; a neighborhood where we help each other, giving what we have, and receiving what we need. It is from places like this that we go on together to create more beauty and more joy and more health.

With one place like this we then begin to look around us and see more opportunities to create another gathering place, and another; to plant a tree, or a whole street of trees; to clear space along the street to plant flowers or to set up a bench; to re-paint a building; and fix the broken windows; to pick up the trash when it accumulates; to paint a mural.
Inspired by the joy we feel in this one place that good feeling then starts to spread to other parts of our lives. We are happier in our homes. We are happier in our jobs. We do better in school. We smile at the strangers that we pass on the sidewalk. We find it easier to hold out our hands to help a friend in need.

Today we should be proud both of what we have already accomplished with this garden, and also eager to let this garden be only the beginning of a movement that will eventually transform this whole neighborhood into a kind of garden: neighborhood garden where instead of growing tomatoes we grow friendships; a neighborhood garden when instead of growing beautiful flowers we grow beautiful people; a neighborhood garden where today we have planted the seeds here in this one place, and years from now, when the seeds have grown into full maturity, we will have the rich harvest of joyful lives.

Thank you all, for being here today. Have a wonderful morning. Make a new friend today. And God bless.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cycling, broken wrist, where I have heard this before?

I couldn't help but cringe in sympathetic agony at this picture of Levi Leipheimer with a broken wrist, the same right wrist that I broke in a cycling accident a little more than a year ago.

Leipheimer had been fourth overall in the Tour de France until he fell just short of the finish line in the 13th Stage. Poor guy. He's one of the cyclists I've been watching as he's long been a teammate of Lance Armstrong's. Leipheimer has won the local Tour de California three time. I'll be curious to see how he recovers. My own wrist is probably as healthy as it's going to get but I have not regained the complete range of motion I had prior to the accident.

Lance Armstrong remains in third. I'm wearing his LiveSTRONG band on my left wrist. I think I'll switch it to my right wrist and see if it helps the healing.

Conflicted about Hate Crimes

It's hard not to be excited about the passage of Federal Hate Crimes legislation - or should I say the passage of an amendment to a Department of Defense bill that also funds F-22 fighters and that Obama has said he will veto, even though he supports the Hate Crimes legislation (talk about conflicted). I'm certainly pleased at the Federal expression of respect and concern for GLBT persons (we don't get a lot of that at the Federal level - and even this one had to be hidden inside an entirely different bill). And I appreciate the clear statement that GLBT persons have the right to live unmolested lives free from violent attacks.

But there also is the problem with Hate Crimes legislation: the violent acts that are subject to Hate Crimes are already criminal acts. Hate Crime circumstances add further punishment only because of the particular motivation of the criminal: additional punishment not for what they did but for why they did it. That moves into the realm of punishing thoughts, which is a disturbing idea to me.

It certainly bothers me to have a car-full of thugs yell "faggot" at me on the sidewalk as they drive by in their car. But that's their freedom of speech, which I support even when repugnant speech. It may even frighten me if the same incident happens late at night as I'm walking away from a gay bar. But still the speech shouldn't be a crime unless there's some evidence of an actual threat of violence. And if the guys do get out of the car and attack me with baseball bats I want them arrested and tried and punished for the attack not for the words they're yelling or what they're thinking but not saying. I can't imagine that I would be any more hurt or frightened if they were yelling "faggot" than if they were yelling "Unitarian" or "Dodger-fan" or saying nothing at all. So why punish them more severely for one word than for other words or no words?

The argument I've heard to support Hate Crimes legislation, is that because the attack is directed at a class of persons (all faggots) rather than a particular person, that the crime is different from an attack motivated by robbery or choosing a victim at random. All GLBT persons are victims of a hate crime, not just the person being beaten, and therefore the punishment needs to be harsher.

But the argument that when a gay bashing occurs across town I'm somehow a victim while I'm sitting comfortably at home, makes no sense. The attacker is targeting that gay person, not all gay persons (although any gay person could have been the victim). A robber is targeting that person's wallet, not all people with wallets (although anyone would do). A psycho bent on random violence is targeting that random person, not all people (although it might have been anyone).

The Hate Crimes designation affords special protection but it also comes with the implication that GLBT persons are special victims and it is time for our community to reject that roll not to further embrace it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

headache

Yesterday I had a miserable headache. I had spent the day on the computer. A long day at the First Church office working through a variety of meetings and issues. Lunch at my desk. Not really any dinner. Then a class in the evening. The headache came on while I was in the class and lingered as a came home. I went straight to bed and fell right asleep at 10:30 but at 1:19 I was awoken by a barking dog and realized that the headache hadn't gone away and now I couldn't fall asleep again.

I got up and took two Advils. That's usually enough for me but after lying down and trying to get comfortable the pain still hadn't gone away a half hour later. I got up again, really tired but unable to sleep, and took two more pills. I felt pressure behind my right eye, and stiffness in my neck also on the right side. The light from the digital clock beside the bed was painful for me to look at so I covered it up with a magazine. It felt a little better if i stood and tried stretching my hands over my head, and rolling my head from side to side. Finally I got back in bed and tried to lay as still as possible. And sometime around 2:30 I fell asleep again.

And woke up this morning feeling fine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

sales tax hike

The sales tax in Los Angeles County is now 9.75%. It went up a half a cent yesterday due to a voter approved measure to support local transportation projects. I voted for it. I'm happy to pay it. Well, not happy, but you know.

9.75% is higher than San Diego (8.75), or San Francisco (9.5), or Santa Barbara (8.75). Alameda County (East Bay) has the same rate as Los Angeles County.

Local cities can add their own taxes on top of the county rate. Several small poorer communities in LA County to the south and east of the city have rates of 10.25% (Inglewood, El Monte, Pico Rivera).

Santa Monica and Beverly Hills to the west are both at the county rate, 9.75.

planting today

Peleg and I wanted a fountain in our front yard and some friends who had recently bought a house had a fountain in their yard that they didn't want. So they gave it to us, and I set it up. It took some doing as it's very heavy, and I had to figure out how the pump works and how to connect it. Eventually I got it going and it worked fine and looked good.

But it was never really satisfactory for more than a day or two. It required regular maintenance to clear out leaves and so own, and adding new water periodically, and now and then even with the fountain running I would find mosquito larvae in the big bowl at the bottom and have to drain the whole thing.

So earlier this week I decided on a new plan. Yesterday I removed all of the upper portion of the fountain (three bowls that pour into each other) and took out the frame they're attached to and the pump, leaving just the big lower bowl. Today I'm going to buy some dirt and turn it into a planter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Self-appointed justice monitors of the world

I didn't write a sermon this last Sunday. Instead I preached on some notes I had made about my experience during the previous week at GA. I spoke about our new President, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, and the vote not to move forward with a revision of our Principles and Purposes. And of course I talked about Multiculturalism.

One of the points I made was the sense that although Unitarian Universalism is 90% white (and has been consistently despite decades of seeking to be more diverse) our whiteness is a product not of racism but of over-attachment to a particular culture, a culture that has taken over the center of our faith and pushed aside the broader principles of Unitarianism (one God working in partnership with creation) and Universalism (divine love for all that makes a universal community out of all existence).

In my talk I described that culture in several ways as I encountered it at GA.

We're complainers, suspicious of power, always thinking each one of us has a better way individually and unwilling to accede authority unquestioningly.

We're tentative with each other about spiritual language and action but deeply needful of spiritual solace and somehow we know that this is the place to seek it and keep trying, even if we don’t know how to do it.

We're in our heads instead of our bodies. You can tell a UU by looking because we’re not body conscious, thin, (maybe because we eat vegetarian) but not sexy; ill-fitting clothes, tee-shirts with slogans, women don’t wear dresses or make-up, men don’t wear coats or ties except for the occasional ironic bow tie. Natural fibers and earth tones. Lots of buttons on vests and hats. Aging naturally. No hair color. Messy hair (men and women). No jewelry (except chalice jewelry). Not ostentatious.

And we're self-appointed justice monitors of the world – and so small and spread so thin that we’re barely effective.

As an example of that last point I used the list of 6 Actions of Immediate Witness, all six being proposed and approved by the delegates, all six being important causes. But is this really our job? Why these six and not 60 others we could have mentioned? Does the vote really accomplish anything other than a momentary ego-satisfaction of proving how caring and aware we think we are?

Here are the six issues we approved:

AIW-1 Advocate Pending Legislation Toward Clean/Verified Elections in the U.S.,
AIW-2 U.S. Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,
AIW-3 In Support of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act,
AIW-4 Support Bolivian UUs Struggling for Justice and Human Rights,
AIW-5 U.S.-Sponsored Torture: A Call for a Commission of Inquiry,
AIW-6 Oppose Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity-based Violence in Iraq.

wrestling with multiculturalism

I met with my spiritual director yesterday and realized that I was still carrying a lot of feelings around the challenges of multiculturalism, challenges for me personally and for our faith.

I blogged last week about my disappointment in the presenter chosen for the minister's continuing education program. I mentioned in my blog her really appalling use of psuedo-science to support what was in any case a pretty basic point. As I spoke about the incident again yesterday with my spiritual director I became clear that I was offended by that anti-intellectualism as I would be offended if a presenter had made blatantly bigoted remarks. It was insulting to me as an educated person, and as part of a faith which historically is associated with high intelligence and the best science and still requires an advanced degree from our clergy, to listen to those remarks unchallenged. Both of my congregation's book clubs are reading presently, The Invention of Air, a biography of Joseph Priestly by Stephen Johnson. I wonder what the Unitarian discoverer of Oxygen would have thought of that day's example of his faith.

My Spiritual Director encouraged me to consider other forms of intelligence, bodily and emotional and so on. And I'm there. What I'm hoping for is multi-culturalism not only a "thinking" faith. But a truly multi-cultural faith requires that reason and logic be lifted up equally with mysticism and activism and ritual and expressions of pastoral care, not abused.

I then was able to contrast that day's presentation with the Conference at Berry Street. Rev. Paul Rasor's essay was the essence of head-space Unitarianism, and also unfulfilling to me. It came across as unfinished, as though he had gotten wrapped up in the interesting work he was doing on statistics but wasn't able to connect that to the real work of our congregations. In fact he announced at the outset of his talk that we should attend the GA workshops if we wanted practical solutions; he was going to focus on theology. And then Rev. McNatt offered a response which was both respectful and appreciative of the work Rev. Rasor had done, but also was able to connect the numbers to the heart-space of how our churches' lack of racial diversity affects people in the pews. Rev. McNatt also offered the very helpful insight that what we're dealing with is a cultural problem rather than a racial problem per se.

Of the two I found Rev. McNatt's talk more satisfying, but having them both together really made the point. We need good thinking and good feeling. And we can speak from either side without doing dis-service to the other.

first zucchini of the year

Peleg and I ate the first fruits of our home garden last night. I came home from GA to find that two little zucchini that I had noticed before I had left had grown in a week into nice healthy size. I picked them both and Peleg cut one up and sauted it with onions and garlic and fresh basil (also from the garden). Yummy.

Still waiting on the tomatoes, but there's lots of green fruit, so they're coming.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Peter didn't need my vote

I'm happy to note that Peter Morales has been elected UUA President. He won by 580 votes, rather than losing by one as I had feared (because I was unable to cast my vote). Congratulations to Rev. Morales.

two tee shirts

At the baseball game in Salt Lake City a man who was sitting in the first row, right on the field in my section wore a white tee shirt with the message:

1 - 20 - 13
Hope for a Change

It took me a minute to figure out what that meant. Then when I did I was shocked. I suppose I shouldn't be, but that's not the kind of sentiment I run across in my neighborhood, or church. I doubt I'd see that tee shirt at Dodger Stadium either.

Then today, at the airport in Salt Lake I saw a man with a black tee shirt on the front of which were spelled out the letters, each letter in it's own separately colored block:

N I
X
O N

Amazing to me that anyone would want to positively associate themselves with that name going so far as to wear a tee shirt like he was a rock star, especially after what's been recently revealed on the tapes.

Unless of course he meant this Nixon.

Mission Accomplished

I had a short list of things I wanted to accomplish while at GA. Going home this morning I'm happy to say that I checked them off.

I wanted to find out whether the UUA was going to publish a Spanish Language Hymnal Supplement and when it would be available. I'd been hearing rumors this was in the works but hadn't been able to find any definitive information online. I'm going home not only with the information that Las Voces del Camino will be published in two week, but I've already pre-ordered 40 copies for my Los Angeles church with a 10% discount and free shipping.

I wanted to check out a copy of the new Welcome book and see if it was appropriate to replace the Pocket Guide that my Santa Clarita church has been giving out as a present to new members. i picked up two free copies of the book when I checked in for Ministry Days and read the book last night. It's an OK book, but more appropriate for a returning visitor who is considering membership, than for someone who has already joined. I'm going to recommend that we pass out copies to people when they attend our "New to UU" classes.

I also wanted to research children's RE curricula for the Santa Clarita congregation. I didn't actually look at very much of this. The bookstore only had OWL and a few others available to look at. But I did hear an inspiring lecture about children's spirituality and I have a better idea of what I'd like to teach out kids. And I'm aware that we have curricula available on just about any subject you could possibly want so I feel prepared.

Of course, other than those practical goals, the larger purpose of GA is the informal conversations, the meeting up with seldom-seen colleagues, and the inspiration that comes from immersing yourself in a UU world for a few days.

Oh, and I bought a tee shirt.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Effective Leadership Teams

Just got back from what turns out to be my last workshop event at GA. Rev. Ken Brown, the District Executive of my District, the PSWD, led a low-key workshop on 10 keys to effective leadership teams. About 30 people attended. It was actually a very nice session. We were small enough to chat intimately, which fits well with Ken Brown's personal style. The 10 points he went over were simple to understand, but I could also see how profoundly they would affect a group if fully implemented. The workshop participants asked questions as Ken went through the list and their questions were uniformly relevant and helpful to the room. Several people also shared personal stories and experiences that offered real examples and increased understanding.

Brown had his 10 keys listed on a handout. Unfortunately I didn't get a copy of that so I can't list them all here. But he mentioned the need for congregational leaders to be engaged in their own spiritual practice, to have a clearly defined mission and vision for the organization, to communicate effectively, to address conflict, to focus on results and not just process, to take risks, to have fun. Good stuff.

One reason I wanted to be sure and attend the workshop is that members of my congregation will be attending a leadership school Ken Brown is leading in the fall and I want to make sure I'm on the same page as what they'll be learning. We are.

No Vote for Me

I'm a Peter Morales supporter in the election for the next President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. But I won't be voting for him. I won't be voting for his opponent, Laurel Hallman, either.

It turns out that on-site voting will only be allowed between noon and 5 PM, tomorrow, Saturday. I'm taking a plane home tomorrow because I need to be at my congregation to preach on Sunday. My plane is at 10:20 AM, travel arrangements I made months ago.

I could have voted absentee, many people have, but it's too late for that now, absentee ballots had to be in the mail weeks ago. And, of course, I never thought about absentee voting because I knew I was going to be here. I didn't discover until I got here that voting would only be allowed during a specific window. I imagined that there would simply be a ballot box set up somewhere where I could drop my ballot at any time.

What frustrates me is that I don't understand why I can't just hand in my ballot before I leave. It's not like there's a particular discussion on an issue involved that I need to be present for. Why can't someone just collect my ballot ahead of time and then process it with the others on Saturday? But I've talked to everyone I can here and the answer is always no. I don't mind rules, but rues with no rational basis anger me. So I give up. I just hope Peter Morales doesn't lose by one vote.

UU University; Multicultural Track

Yesterday afternoon for 5 hours, and again this morning for an additional 4 hours, all of the GA attendees were divided into 5 "tracks" for intensive education on a particular subject. I choose the Multicultural track. We then spent the entire program time in one group engaged with one set of presenters. I like the idea of focused education, but the format also requires that the program be excellent because there's no option to bail out and attend a different workshop.

Unfortunately I did not think the program I attended was excellent. There were many good things. And the material was worthwhile. But my criticism was that the material was too basic, and also presented at too slow a pace. I was bored. It would have helped if the presenters had recognized that in a group that large there would have been some people to whom this was brand new and others who were well-experienced and maybe divided us into sub-categories who could work at different levels.

The Thursday afternoon session began with a worship service that included multi-cultural elements. Nicely done by the San Jose ministry team. Then the presentation was turned over to an outside consulting group out of Boston called Visions, Inc. Here is where I really felt bogged down. We spent way too long going over basic definitions and guidelines for discussion (try on opposing points of view, see if this can be a both/and situation rather than either/or). These were basic concepts that I suspect were not new to most people in the room. Instead of giving us a quick reminder and moving forward we went through every point in detail, and then broke into small groups to discuss them further. It took forever, and after 3 hours, when I left at a break, I still felt we hadn't gotten to anything substantive.

This morning's program was much better. The full group split into three subgroups and each experienced a panel program on one of three related issues. I attended the panel on sacred conversations around multi-culturalism, mostly due to the high quality of the panel presenters (Bill Sinkford, Gretchen Woods, Sean Parker Dennisen, Sharon Welch, and a young woman named Alice who I didn't know). The panel was co-facilitated by Leslie Takahashi Morris and a young woman named India (I didn't catch her last name). The panel responded to questions from the facilitator with stories from their own experience that illustrated issues we face in our churches around multicultural concerns and attempts to address them.

I realized as I listened that one of the problems I have around this issue is that I keep approaching it in a framework of problem/solution. It's both my culture (white, male) and my personality, to try to quickly discern the problem and then fix it. This isn't that kind of situation, which is why we've been working on it in UU circles for 20 years and are still in the midst of it. It's about a continual process of cross-cultural sharing and personal growth, leading only to deeper growth. It frustrates that there is no end point where we can announce the work finished and move on, but that's the reality I need to accept.

A second frustration I have with this work is that it doesn't match my bias of independent powerful individuals learning the necessary skills and then helping others to do the same. In my experience (again my cultural bias) I'm used to seeing what needs to be done, gathering the skills required, and then addressing the problem and leading other people through the same process. But in this case it isn't possible for any one person to master the situation. My own biases are too deep and too culturally re-inforced for me to overcome. And other people's experiences are too diverse for me to completely understand. This isn't a situation where I, or anyone else, can become enlightened and then move out of the problem. We're always in it. Which means both this isn't a problem that can be solved, only eased incrementally, and also that even to work on the problem requires constantly reaching out to others in community and relying on their skills and insight rather than working on it by myself. That requires me to move out of my own comfort zone, but that's also movement in the direction of more healthy spirituality, so it's a challenge I'm eager to take on.

Sophia Fahs Lecture: Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Yesterday morning I attended an excellent lecture given by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Rabbi Sasso was invited by the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to give the annual Sophia Fahs lecture, in honor of an early 20th century children's religious educator important to the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Rabbi Sasso is the author of numerous children's books designed to help children engage with their spiritual lives. She is also an excellent speaker particularly in her ability to use stories (both folk tales and real life experiences) to illustrate and expand her points.

The talk was philosophical rather than practical. She said that the two most common reasons adults in our churches shy away from engaging spiritually with children is: a) we think spirituality requires abstract thinking beyond the ability of children, and b) we're afraid that children are going to ask us questions that we don't know the answer to. Sasso pointed out the contradiction in those two fears, and that, therefore, each one actually solves the other. As Fahs herself maintained, Children have spiritual experiences that we need to help them bring out, rather than pushing religious education into them. What they don't have is the capacity for theological reflection. So children have spiritual questions but they aren't looking for theological answers. What they want from teachers is the chance to describe their experiences and what they want in return is not answers but stories of our own spiritual experiences and feelings.

I thought this was an incredibly freeing analysis that would allay the fears of volunteer RE teachers in the classroom. Children want to know what the adult in front of them feels and believes and to hear their story. And instead of limiting our RE curriculum to the black and white kinds of facts that we think children can understand (like memorizing the principles or biographies of famous UUs), we can give them the unique gift of a place where they can bring their questions and feelings about issues that aren't addressed in school work, spiritual issues of loss, and justice and meaning and morality (why did grandpa die? Why are some people wealthy and others poor? How do I know what to do?).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

GA break

The first rule of GA is that you cannot attend everything. Not only are there about 20 workshops available in every slot, but even trying to attend one event in every slot throughout the day would not only be exhausting to the point of physical ill health, but also counter-productive in that your brain and heart would be overwhelmed and you'd end up coming away with actually less than if you had simply concentrated on a few crucial areas.

I skipped the opening plenary session and worship. I'm sure it was lovely. Instead I had drinks and appetizers with three friends, and then two of them and I took a walk around downtown Salt Lake City. We ended up at the library, which is an amazing building. On the grounds they were setting for a huge art festival this weekend, so that was fun. We also enjoyed looking at the Romanesque architecture of the City-County building, which is next door to the library.

The weather is hot. This being just past the solstice the sun is up late. I got back to the hotel room and watched a little CNN (Iran, Gov. Sanford) and went to bed a little after 10.

Conference at Berry Street

Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor spoke. He began by pointing out the irony of a belonging to a faith that sees itself as the most expansive in the world both theologically (universalism) and socially (worth and dignity of every person, world community with peace, liberty and justice for all) but is actually so provincial in our small, homogenous congregations. The tile of his essay was Ironic Provincialism.

He used demographic statistics to point out that our congregations have remained at about 90% white for the last ten years, besides there having been intense effort to help our congregations become more racially diverse. And that the diversity we do enjoy in our congregations is often among our children, which doesn't mean we just need to wait until they grow up, because, in fact, they aren't likely to stay in a congregation where they feel out of place.

Rev. Rasor did not suggest solutions to the problem. He said he was a theologian and urged us to attend GA workshops for practical help. Theologically he made the excellent point that the real power of Universalist theology is not that we all individually move toward the same salvation, but that Universalist salvation is undertstood corporately, not individually. It isn't about each of us achieving our own salvation, but that salvation is something that happens to the whole community together. So it isn't about me getting mine and then waiting for you to show up. Universalist salvation depends on all of us striving for it together.

The response from Rosemary Bray McNatt, minister of the Fourth Universalist Society in New York, was possibly even better than Rev. Rasor's lecture itself. A black woman, she gave a personal example of how our mono-cultural white congregations have affected her family (her teenaged son loves our faith but asked his mother if she would be upset if he found another church when he grew up so he wouldn't feel so alone). And she reminded us that our problem is not the false perception of a racist love for whiteness among UUs, but our love for our culture of NPR, and PBS, and certain kinds of music (not rap) and environmentalism, and so on.

Of course the solution is not to give up the culture that we love but to become multi-cultural. Not to change but to add. To see that just as we've recognized the false dichotomy of theology (the presumption that a congregation has to be either humanist or theist but not both) there is also a false dichotomy in seeing that culture must be one or the other. Rev. McNatt gave me at least a hopeful picture of a way forward.

As usual, the Conference at Berry Street promises to be the high point of General Assembly.

Collegial Conversation

For the mid-day program the ministers broke into small groups for informal discussion about a variety of topics and professional situations we're concerned about. I joined the group discussing our denomination's (and our professional association's) continued work around creating an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppressive, Multicultural institution.

This is a huge topic within the UUA, and has been for at least 17 years when the GA delegates passed a resolution urging the Association to find ways to move in this direction. The issue came up again later in the afternoon during the Berry Street lecture. Multiculturalism is also one of the tracks offered during the UU University portion of the GA. I'll be attending that track later this afternoon and tomorrow morning.

I haven't previously been much involved in this issue. I haven't organized trainings in my congregations or done any work personally except for an occasional workshop as part of a Chapter Retreat, or some other broader context. My reluctance has not been that I don't see the seriousness of the issue, or the value of creating the kind of diverse institution that we vision. My reluctance has been that the issue was initially presented as a issue of white racism, which I do not see as a problem in our congregations, and which is a guilt trip I would not want as a minister to lay on my congregation. Later the issue was better presented as white privilege, which I understand, but at this point the issue becomes so broad and systemic to our culture that I find it misplaced to make it an issue at the forefront of our congregations. It becomes one of many systemic social justice problems, and not necessarily the uppermost one in congregations which are in any case dealing with a lot more work than just social justice issues. So I've preached occasionally on the issue and included it as a factor in other issues that we need to address, but I've not made it a guiding focus of my ministry.

However, I am now feeling called to be more involved in this work. I'm now the minister of an urban-centered congregation which already is significantly diverse and multicultural, so there's a practical reason to do this work, rather than just idealism. And I'm already seeing real evidence of both the benefits and the challenges of creating this kind of community. I have a lot to learn in this area. I'm looking forward to the journey.

UUMA Business Meeting

The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association passed two important initiatives designed to make our professional ministers group more effective and accountable.

The most far-reaching, and the more controversial of the two, was a change in our dues structure that significantly increases dues for all members, while also making the structure more equitable by replacing a flat rate dues for all ministers with a structure based on percent of salary. Higher paid ministers will now pay more each year than lower paid ministers. The extra money raised will go to fund a new paid position in the UUMA - an Executive Director, and also to change the way the Association offers continuing education.

Previously the UUMA was managed by a volunteer President and Board. The only paid staff was an administrator. They all did exceptional work but the scope of the Association was severely limited by relying sole on volunteer time and expertise. A convincing argument for many of the ministers was an analogy to the difference that occurs in our congregations when a lay-led fellowship hires a professional minister. Most of the body supported the idea. The negative comments and questions during the discussion were mostly about the process of creating the new idea, and the details of the dues structure, rather than the substantive issue of the need for professional staff.

The change in Continuing Education is also a move toward professionalism. Currently continuing education is focused on the one day at the beginning of the GA week called "Ministry Days." (This weeks continuing education presenter was Sonia Sanchez who I blogged about previously). The new plan will be to offer multi-day courses in retreat like settings at different times and places throughout the year. I'm looking forward to it.

The other important issue for the ministers is an on-going process of revising our ethics code. Yesterday we gave final approval to a change in our covenant and then we approved preliminary language for three other sections of the code which will then go back to our district Chapters for continued discussion and revision.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

UUA President Bill Sinkford says Goodbye to the UUMA

Ministry Days closed yesterday with the traditional address from the President of the Association, Bill Sinkford. Sinkford's second and final term as President is ending with the General Assembly so this was our last chance to speak with him. Bill Sinkford is well beloved from the ministry. Among many other things we were encouraged by and supportive of his urge to the movement to return to a "language of reverence" in our faith.

Here are some talking points from his speech and questions afterward.

Bill spoke about a new marketing campaign for the association called, "Standing on the Side of Love." This is a values based marketing plan that leads with our faith principles. Bill told us the initiative for this campaign grew out of the shootings in Knoxville last year when the congregation there powerfully affirmed in the wake of the violence that they would not retreat from the liberal positions and support of gays and lesbians that had enflamed the shooter but that represented the core of our faith.

Bill spoke about Unitarian Universalist congregations in Africa. He made a trip there last year. He responded to a question about homophobia in Africa by saying that this needs to be a point of dialogue between American and African churches. But he pointed out that the UU congregation in Uganda is the only church in the entire country that is gay and lesbian affirming.

In response to the future of the movement, asked by a young minister (she identified herself as "Gen X") Bill Sinkford responded that he couldn't imagine the future, that the movement was in young people's hands, and that he wouldn't be surprised if Unitarian Universalism becomes something he isn't entirely comfortable with. Good for him. (And good for us if we are able to continue to change radically).

He described a study he has been doing on the cost of theological education and although his study was incomplete his conclusion is likely to be that our movement needs to invest much more in theological education than we have resources available. He said he would be handing on his work in this area to the next President.

It was a good opportunity to speak to a President who has served our movement well.

Las Voces del Camino

I'm very excited to learn that the UUA will be publishing a Spanish-language hymnal supplement in two weeks. They are taking pre-orders here at GA (and offering a 10% discount and free shipping). The hymn book will look like a companion to Singing the Journey, the blue hymnal supplement that was published in 2005. Las voces del Camino will be the same size and shape, containthe same number of songs (75 plus 3 readings), and sell for the same price ($18).

I attended a workshop during ministry days to introduce the new hymnal. We sang through several selections from the book. It looks to be an excellent collection, theologically diverse, contemporary in style, songs already well known and often used in Spanish speaking congregations. About half of the songs are translations from songs in Singing the Living Tradition, the others are new to UUs.

This is a desperately needed resource in my Los Angeles congregation, and in our movement as a whole I believe. Sofia Betancourt, Director of the UUA Office of Racial and ethnic Concerns put it perfectly at the beginning of the workshop when she said that it's time to get past educating ourselves about diversity and start doing it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Colony Collapse Disorder

A big group of UU ministers attended tonight's baseball game between the Salt Lake City Bees and the Fresno Grizzlies. The bees lost after a terrible night, 8 to 1. But the weather was perfect, the view of the mountains gorgeous, and the seats cheap and right on the field at first base.

I had a great hot dog and a good beer, and a lot of fun.

One down note to the evening, a guy sitting right above the Bees dugout, about four rows below where the ministers were seated got hit in the face with a foul ball. He had been talking to his young son, with his face turned away from the batter and then turned just at the last moment to take the hit on the left side of his face. He was attended to by several folks from the ball park, and eventually walked away holding a bloody towel up to his face. His wife and 4 kids left shortly after. On the way out a man in the row before me asked her how her husband was doing and she said he was going to be fine.

I hate to be a spoil sport, but...

This morning's Ministry Days presenter was a waste of time. Dr. Sonia Sanchez is billed as a "motivational" speaker. Perhaps she was meant to be inspirational. I was unmoved, mostly, except during the times I was intellectually insulted.

To lift up the good things first. She is a very nice woman. She is strong and caring. A huge heart. A huge passion for justice and compassion for the oppressed. She seems to have personally made a difference in many people's lives as a teacher and as a social justice activist. I salute her.

But I didn't need to hear a lecture about the supposed ability of water crystals to respond to positive and negative thought. This is psuedoscience that undercut, rather than supported her point about the importance of the words we speak to each other. Nor was her argument supported by reference to homeopathic medicine: the supposed ability of water to "remember" the "essence" of substances infused in it and then removed.

I looked around the room at my colleagues, everyone of whom is required to have at least a Masters Degree and couldn't believe we were passively listening to this nonsense. Is it not possible to have a speaker who can appeal to our hearts without insulting our brains?

We missed an opportunity this morning, a precious opportunity to speak to the gathered ministry of our faith. What message could we have heard this morning? A presentation on the dire situation of our churches today? Words about the crucial role of our faith in the culture? Practical tools for our ministry? A lecture that lifts up the important connection between good thinking and healthy spirituality? Instead we had a lecture that perpetuated the quackery of new age spirituality and that further pulled down the already abused position of science in America. This is the kind of foolishness that drives people away from religion. I grieved for our ministry that at the close of this lecture my colleagues stood and applauded.

This was not a morning that moved our faith forward. It pulled us back and pulled us down. Not motivational. Not inspirational. Not a proud morning for Unitarian Universalism.

Monday, June 22, 2009

GA - Salt Lake City

I'm on my way to the UUA General Assembly this morning. This year we meet in Salt Lake City. The ministers gather for a few days of programming before the General Assembly itself begins on Wednesday. I'll also be coming home a day early so that I can preach back in Santa Clarita next Sunday.

the strangest juxtaposition in my cd case

Olivier Messiaen next to Liza Minnelli

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hypocrisy in Government

Not that hypocrisy in government should surprise anybody. But really.

Schwarzenegger says he'll veto a legislature-passed California budget because it includes tax hikes on tabacco and alcohol, but he goes forward with stealing money city governments earn from a gasoline tax. What a jerk.

The Republican "No Taxes Ever" pledge is not a principled political decision. It's not good government. It's certainly not responsible government. It's a pander meant to win votes by avoiding making the tough decisions required and building the compromises and consensus that would actual solve the budget problems.

Dame Edna

Went to the Ahmanson theater last night to see Barry Humphries in his character, Dame Edna. It's a one man/woman show. Dame Edna on stage with a pianist. She glorifies herself and makes fun of the audience. Then invites a few audience members to come on stage with her and she hosts a little cat show. She sings a few songs, throws gladiolas at the audience, and that's it. It was fun. We laughed all night.

it was interesting to compare Humpries' performance with the Drag Queens that I'm more used to seeing. Humphries is a man in a dress in pure British Music Hall fashion (Humphries is Australian). He's not a female impersonator. Behind the cat's eye glasses there's no hint of glamour or illusion. He sings but with more gusto than musicality. The tropes were the same as in a drag show: "I'm fabulous, you're not" "I can get away with outrageous behavior because I've already made myself ridiculous." But Barry is straight. He mentions his wife and four children in his program bio. He acknowledges his gay fans and there isn't a homophobic bone in his body, but he doesn't speak to the gays particularly. His targets are the bland tastes and small dreams of regular people. His jokes are class-driven, not sex or gender driven. Dame Edna's status comes from her wealth and position, where a Drag Queen's power comes from a display of talent (whether pretend or real) and an "above-it-all" outsiders biting humor.

The audience was only slightly more gay than a normal night at the theater and the people that seemed to be having the best time were the middle-aged straight couples and the "ladies-night-out" groups of straight women.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rain, Los Angeles, June... wait, June?

In Los Angeles we're used to a weather condition called June Gloom. Despite the depressing name most of us are glad for it. Summers here can be pretty hot and the sun unrelenting in July, August, and September. That's fire season, which we've come to dread. But just after things start to get sunny in May the weather pattern changes and we got one more month of cloud cover and fog from the Pacific - what they call "on shore flow" before the winds change and we start to get hot air blowing in from the eastern deserts ("Santa Ana conditions"). June Gloom feels like an extra, late-arriving, gift of Spring. The lawns stay green. The AC stays off. Summer can wait.

Yesterday the gloom actually turned into rain. That was an unexpected pleasure. And they say we might get more rain today or tomorrow. Let it come. It's actually normal to get about one day in June each year with rain above a tenth of an inch. But especially in a year when statewide precipitation has been only 80% of normal, and below normal now for the third year in a row, it's nice to get a little wet.

marriage equality not news

The Los Angeles Times ran a short article in today's paper about New Hampshire governor John Lynch signing a marriage equality bill for that state. Front page news? No. The article ran on page 14.

Six states and counting: (New York? New Jersey? anyone?).

One is tempted to yawn at this point except for the fact that millions of American couples are denied the basic protections afforded by civil marriage, and denied the opportunity to claim their place as full-fledged, contributing and accountable members of our society. And even the legally married couples in the six states that presently recognize same-sex marriage, and the 18,000 married couples in California, are denied the more important benefits, protections and responsibilities of federally-recognized marriage.

I'm glad that our culture has evolved to the point where same-sex marriage in New Hampshire is so boring that it can be reported in a short article on page 14, but until the laws change to reflect the culture's growing acceptance - in 44 states and nationwide, we can't go to sleep on this subject yet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prop 8 Ruling

I returned from a short vacation on Tuesday very happy to know that my husband and I were still married. It would have been pretty horrible to have the State of California forcibly divorce 18,000 couples. Thank God we were spared that.

Of course I was disappointed with the other half of the Supreme Court ruling, that upheld Proposition 8, enacted by the California voters last November. Disappointed, but not surprised, as that was certainly the way the wind seemed to be blowing since the day of oral arguments back in March. And disappointed but not angry, and not called to public protest. In fact, I think the Supreme Court made the correct legal decision.

The problem in California is our ridiculously easy to amend constitution. But the proponents worked within that system as they are entitled to do. The court ruling is not anti-marriage, or anti-gay; it's simply an affirmation that the Prop 8 proponents followed the rules fair and square. We don't need the court to win this one for us. We can follow the same rules and win our own victory at the ballot box. In the meantime our Domestic Partnership laws are still available to any same-sex couple looking for legal protection and recognition, providing exactly the same statewide legal benefits as marriage. With 18,000 married same-sex couples it will be difficult for the anti-marriage folks to convince voters that we present an actual detriment to the culture (as opposed to the imagined threat they campaigned on last year). And lastly, it's important for those of us who are tired of hearing the right complain about "activist judges" to support the court when they make a principled, legal decision, even if personally we disagree. It's not the court's job to change our culture; that's our job.