Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter season 2009

Despite the theological difficulties Easter poses to Unitarian Universalists, (and to liberal Christians, generally) it still remains my favorite holiday. One part of the holiday I especially appreciate, and which often goes un-remarked, is that Easter is not just a day, but a season in the Christian calendar. The season of Easter extends from Easter Sunday all the way to Pentecost, 50 days later (“pente” means 50 in Greek). That’s May 31 this year.

We have a full 7 weeks to celebrate the miracle of life emerging from seeming death. When times are tough, as they are for many of us these days, I’m grateful for the spiritual assurance that the future is always open, spring follows winter, good times grow out of bad times just as bright flowers grow out of the dark earth.

Whether the stock market and real estate prices have hit their bottom yet remains to be seen. But undoubtedly they will at some point fall as low as they are going to go and begin to turn around. But the deeper and even more refreshing lesson of Easter is that the new life we will eventually enjoy isn’t just a remaking of the past (with all its unregulated, greedy and speculative flaws) but an entirely new life: a chance not just to re-build, but to build anew. New creation takes more than just a day, and more than just 50 days, but with vision and perseverance we can have the world we seek.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

king out, reagan in

A California delegation has decided to remove the statue of Unitarian Minister, Thomas Starr King, from congress and replace it with a statue of Ronald Reagan: California Governor, and 40th President of the United States. I find the action disgraceful. LA Times reports here.

As a gay man in my twenties during Reagan's presidency, and as an employee of AIDS Project Los Angeles during the end of his presidency, I remember with disgust Reagan's non-response to the AIDS epidemic. At a time when swift action and funding and compassionate words from our nation's leader could have saved countless lives and made a significant change in the direction of the disaster, President Reagan did nothing. Under the thrall of the then nascent religious right the so-called "Great Communicator," Reagan, said nothing about AIDS, while letting his Communications Director, Pat Buchanan preach to the nation that AIDS was "nature's revenge on gay men." Reagan kept his silence about AIDS until 1987 as his second term was coming to a close. Shameful.

Reagan's policies of low taxes, high debt, and deregulation provided the basis for the current economic crisis now destroying our country.

On the other hand, Thomas Starr King, is known as the man who "saved the union" for his efforts during the civil war to keep California as a free state. Starr King also used his position as Unitarian minister in San Francisco and esteemed orator throughout the state to fund raise for the United States Sanitary Commission, the organization that provided medical services to the US army. Through his efforts, California donated one-quarter of the commission's total funding.

Every state is allowed to display two statues in Congress. California's other statue is Junipero Serra, the creator of the early network of missions. Reagan hardly needs the honor. The DC airport is named for him. There's a freeway in the north part of Los Angeles named for him, among countless others memorials.

The Starr King statue will be returned to California. Hopefully it will be displayed with honor.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

check this out

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Santa Monica Public library has organized an event to check out a person. They've arranged with several people from various interesting backgrounds to be available for half hour conversations with library patrons. Do you want to talk to a mormon, or a police detective, or a Jewish lesbian mom? Reserve your half hour appointment and use the person just the way you would a research book.

Love this idea. I've always said that the cornerstone of the Unitarian Universalist faith is personal experience. We cherish the diversity in our congregations (and wish we were more diverse) because of the opportunity it creates to get to know what it's like to be a person who isn't like ourselves and thus we have a larger "scripture" available to study than just our own lives.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

my office

Here's a picture of my office.
View Larger Map

I'm in the window on the second floor at the upper right behind the tree.

Friday, April 10, 2009

maundy thursday

I attended a Maundy Thursday service last night at the Episcopal Church in Santa Clarita. The vicar of the church, Rev. Lynn Jay, whom I know from the interfaith council, sat in on a Sunday service at my church a few weeks ago, and because I don't often have Sundays free I took the opportunity of a mid-week evening service to repay my respects.

For Maundy Thursday the ritual includes foot washing. After reading the passage from John 13, where Jesus washes the disciple's feet, three of the Priest's came down off the chancel and sitting on little blue children's chairs and with large basins of water and plastic pitchers and clean white towels, washed the feet of the congregation. I removed my shoes in my pew when it was my turn to join the line. First I placed my feet in the basin and then the priest, Dick Bellis, who I also know from the interfaith council, washed my feet, and then dried them one by one, and then I returned to my seat. I had expected that we would wash each other's feet, that I would wash the person behind me and so on, but that wasn't the case. The ritual was sweet, and beautiful. I felt honored. Dick said "God bless you." when he finished, and I felt it.

Later in the service there was communion. I participated. I took the host from Dick, and the cup from a woman priest who I didn't know. The woman at the rail next to me held the host in her hand until the second priest came with the cup and then the priest took the host and dipped it in the cup and then placed it in the woman's mouth. I simply ate the host as soon as it was given to me, and then sipped from the cup when it was offered.

And then began a most remarkable and moving ritual of stripping the altar, or really all of the church of all its decorations. Still another priest read responsively with the congregation Psalm 22, the Psalm that includes Jesus' question from the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" And while we read the Priests and service leaders dismantled the church around us. First they extinguished all the candles. Then the removed their own outer vestments, and then every cloth and every banner. They removed the etchings on the walls that marked the stations of the cross. The carried the Bibles and hymnals out of the sanctuary. Then the unplugged the microphones and so on. At one point someone brought out a basin of water and a cloth to Rev. Jay and she washed the now bare altar table, and then the basin and cloth were also taken out of the sanctuary.

Finally we finished our reading in the now bare church and then the organist touched a key on her instrument that filled the sanctuary with the sound of thunder. Someone else flicked the lights on and off to make lighting effects. And then the Priests toppled all the furniture on the chancel, ending with the altar itself overturned. And then with no more words or dismissal the service was over and feeling broken and destitute, and "forsaken" the congregation crept out of the sanctuary. No coffee hour, no greetings and hugs. I didn't feel it was appropriate to wait and say goodbye to Rev. Jay, although I will thank her later. So I got in my car, and drove home under the full moon of Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vermont says yes to marriage equality

Yes. Yes. Yes. By a vote of 100 to 49. The house votes to approve a bill to override Governor Jim Douglas' veto. The Vermont Senate voted earlier this morning 23-5.

The California legislature passed marriage euality bills twice - in 2005 and 2007 - but did not hae the necessary votes to override Governor Schwarzenegger's vetoes. Now Vermont has become the first state to take the legislative process all the way to marriage equality.

This is an extremely significant step. The anti-marriage equality defenses are rapidly falling. No it isn't just west and east coast liberals - it's Iowa, too. No it isn't just "activist judges" - it's state legislatures, too, elected by vote of the people.

This is very exciting news.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mesa, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah

Yesterday I sent in my registration for both our District Assembly in Mesa Arizona (April 29 - May 2) and our General Assembly in Salt Lake City (June 22 - 27). In each case I'll be arriving early for some minister meetings and leaving before the final Sunday so I can get back home and lead Sunday worship.

Both the District Assembly and the national UUA General Assembly are great opportunities to recognize oneself as part of a larger faith. There's a lot of great skill building opportunities for laity. As a minister I appreciate the opportunity to meet with colleagues whom I seldom see.

I encourage you to attend. And if you see me please say hello.

the inevitability of same sex marriage

Nate Silver of has a great post about the changing attitudes of Americans - gradually, and inevitably shifting toward approval of same sex marriage. His conclusion is that by 2012 nearly half of the states would approve of same sex marriage by popular vote, and by 2016 only a handful of states in the deep south would still reject same-sex marriage with Mississippi, the last, finally coming around in 2024. Wow.

Although popular opinion is the final goal it's important to note that in none of these states is a popular vote likely to be the first step en route to marriage equality. The first step is either a State Supreme Court decision that forces the issue, or legislative action. The three states which currently enjoy marriage equality (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa) got there because the court forced them to. In California we enjoyed one summer of court-mandated marriage equality and then lost it because of our too-easy to amend constitution.

California also came close to legislative-achieved marriage equality, passing bills in both 2005 and 2007 only to have them vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Vermont is this week in the same place although they might very likely be able to override Governor Douglas' promised veto. Again, though, note that Vermont's first move toward marriage equality was a court decision (Baker v. Vermont, December, 1999) that resulted in their creation of civil unions.

Although people don't like to be forced to accept same-sex marriage by court decision, court decisions are strategically useful in that they give people the chance to experience a society in which same-sex couples are allowed to marry and to see that there are no negative consequences. Some people can see the justice issue in the abstract. But for many people only the concrete example of actually married gay and lesbian couples will prove to them they have nothing to fear.

Without the court decisions in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Iowa we would have zero United States real-life examples of marriage equality and the gradual timeline of acceptance predicted by Nate Silver would be pushed much further back.

Friday, April 3, 2009

everything's negotiable

I received a medical bill a few days ago. the bill was for 1400 dollars. I called them up and said I couldn't afford that. The billing lady said they would take 900 as payment in full if I put it on a credit card. Done.

marriage equality through courts and legislatures

Iowa today joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, and (formerly) California, as a state where marriage equality has been achieved through court action. While that's exciting news, and I'll take the victory however it comes, we are still waiting for a state to achieve marriage equality through legislative action or popular vote.

Vermont is currently close. Both houses of their legislature have passed marriage equality bills and once the separate versions are brought into line the bill will go the governor's desk. However, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas has already promised to veto the bill.

At this point in the Vermont story we've been there before: in California. The California legislature has twice passed bills that would open marriage in California to same-sex couples (2005 and 2007). And on both occasions our Governor vetoed the bills. In California we were nowhere close to the number of votes required to overturn the veto and no attempt was made. In Vermont the vote will be close but has a good chance of winning.

That would make Vermont the first state to achieve marriage equality through legislative process. What about popular vote?

Back again to California. There is still an enormous amount of will power in California to add our state to the growing number that offer marriage to same-sex couples. With our state constitution now amended to include discriminatory language there is nothing the legislature or court can do. (I'm assuming that the California State Supreme Court will uphold Proposition 8). But our constitution is easily amended by a 50% popular vote. The same process which gave us Proposition 8 allows Californians to create marriage equality by popular vote. I'll even guess the date: 2012, and I doubt that any other state will beat us to that mark.

will the Iowa decision effect the pending California decision?

No. Iowa will have no effect on the California decision because it's a totally different legal question. The ruling Iowa made today is the same one that California made a year ago - and for the same legal reasons - the state's constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. You might contend that Iowa was influenced by California, (although the California decision is not referenced in the Iowa ruling) but not the other way.

The current case in California does not concern marriage itself. Instead it's the separate question of whether Propostion 8 was a "revision" of the constitution (in which case it would be thrown out for not following the correct legal path for adoption) or was it merely an "amendment" (in which case it would stand). When the California court releases it's decision (by June) it will not re-examine the merits of same-sex marriage per se. It will only examine the question of distinguishing constitutional revisions from amendments.

On the other hand, on the other side of the country, it is very likely that the Iowa decision will effect the Vermont state legislature's action of overturning the promised veto from Governor Douglas of their own marriage equality law. Although the Iowa decision has no legal standing in Vermont, the success in Iowa will undoubtedly create momentum on the marriage equality side that might have the effect of pushing a few waffling legislators into the pro-marriage camp. We only need a few additional votes to overturn the veto so there's a good chance that Vermont might be the first state to achieve marriage equality through legislative process rather than Judicial mandate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prayer Blog

In February my Santa Clarita church added a new element to our liturgy: a spoken prayer at the end of our prayer and meditation time. This section of the service now consists of a guided meditation that leads us into silence, then a ritual of worshippers dropping stones in a bowl on the altar table to represent their personal joys and sorrows and how those personal events are collected in the life of our congregation and our shared faith. if anyone has a joy or sorrow they would like shared with the congregation they can write that out on cards we provide and hand it to me as they come to the altar. Then I read the cards out loud and then invite everyone to pray with me as I read a prayer I've written for the day.

I've also invited church members to write prayers using their own preferred language and some weeks I'll step aside and let one of them lead the prayer. Then we close with a hymn and move on to the sermon and the rest of the service.

I've started posting my prayers on a separate blog. I'll be adding one or two a month as I write them.

front yard garden

I was happy to finally get my garden set up on Tuesday. Peleg and I had talked about turing our small front yard into a vegetable garden. At first the idea had been to dig up the grass and plant directly into the ground. but that would have been hard work and would have left the garden vulnerable to our dog walking through it. Then we decided to build some raised beds. That was probably a good idea but not being very handy with that sort of thing, and because it required some advance planning and a trip to the hardware store I kept never getting around to it.

Finally I had an idea that I could make use of a bunch of large pots that I have around the house. Some of them were given to me by a former church member when she moved out of the area, others were left at the house by the former owner when they moved out.

I scrounged up 11 pots of a suitable size. I bought 4 big bags of soil in the morning and filled up the pots. That afternoon Peleg and I went to the nursery together and bought, 5 tomato plants, 2 bell peppers, a cucumber, an eggplant, a bush beans, basil and dill and strawberries. I don't know if we'll get enough vegetables to make back the $75 we spent on soil and plants, but it will taste good, and be healthy, and there's an irreplaceable satisfaction that comes from eating food you've grown yourself.

Pit Stop

On Saturday members of my congregation provided support for 178 cyclists riding 100 miles - a "century." The cyclists were training for the upcoming AIDS/LifeCycle ride in June where they will ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the course of a week, raising money for HIV/AIDS services provided by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

The ride begins in Santa Clarita, where we have our church, goes 50 miles west to the beach in Ventura, and then comes back 50 miles. We staffed the pit stop in Santa Paula, about 35 miles out, catching the riders on the way out in the late morning, and on the way back in the early afternoon.

Me with Antonio Ragatz, the owner of the bike shop where we set up the pit stop