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:


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.