Sunday, February 26, 2006

A suggestion for the UUA's next social action campaign

It seems to me that a church should be the most vocal on issues that touch the spiritual as well as the issue of justice, and it seems to me that Eminent Domain is one such issue. There are politicians who want to reform the use of eminent domain, especially since the incomprehensible Kelo decision- the one in which the Supreme Court accepted the state of Connecticutt's definition of public good as "That guy can pay more property taxes than this guy- so take the property and give it to the deeper pockets!" The problem is that politicians are only investigating getting the beleagured property owners a bigger settlement.

But some people don't want to sell at any price- they planned to die in the home they spent their life in, raised their family in. Is the state willing to wait for an 84 year old with lung cancer to die first? No- throw the bum out, build the luxury condos posthaste! See and also

It seems to me these would be great cases for the UUA to champion- it's a purely spiritual issue, valueing the last years of life over any amount of money- it's helping the little guy against the big dollar developers and the politicians who want to make their reputations on the backs of the people they're supposed to be serving. It even addresses one of our PPs- is this Democratic process? If we don't have the right to say no, doesn't that make us mere subjects, rather than citizens?

So WILL the UUA take this issue on? I make my prediction: No, never.

A lesson in hate

The February issue of Smithsonian has an article entitled "A Lesson In Hate", about the writings of Sayyid Qutb- an article that should be required reading for anyone attempting to understand Middle East politics. See
I quote the first two paragraphs as a teaser:

Before Sayyid Qutb became a leading theorist of violent jihad, he was a little-known Egyptian writer sojourning in the United States, where he attended a small teachers college on the Great Plains. Greeley, Colorado, circa 1950 was the last place one might think to look for signs of American decadence. Its wide streets were dotted with churches, and there wasn’t a bar in the whole temperate town. But the courtly Qutb (COO-tub) saw things that others did not. He seethed at the brutishness of the people around him: the way they salted their watermelon and drank their tea unsweetened and watered their lawns. He found the muscular football players appalling and despaired of finding a barber who could give a proper haircut. As for the music: “The American’s enjoyment of jazz does not fully begin until he couples it with singing like crude screaming,” Qutb wrote when he returned to Egypt. “It is this music that the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires.”
Such grumbling by an unhappy crank would be almost comical but for one fact: a direct line of influence runs from Sayyid Qutb to Osama bin Laden, and to bin Laden’s Egyptian partner in terror, Ayman al-Zawahiri. From them, the line continues to another quietly seething Egyptian sojourning in the United States—the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. Qutb’s gripes about America require serious attention because they cast light on a question that has been nagging since the fall of the World Trade Center: Why do they hate us?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Lost community

Reminiscing with family over the weekend, we suddenly realized that a childhood ritual has passed, killed by technology. Back in the days when watching a movie at home meant network television (how many here remember having only three channels?), there were a number of annual movie events everyone watched- the Wizard of Oz, for example. How many millions of children were simultaneously sitting still across the country? How many disposable skillets of Jiffy-Pop were popped at the same moment? And you knew everyone else was doing the same thing, too- the sense of community was inescapable. Not that it was always joyous community- I, and all my brothers, and all my male friends from childhood remember the agonies of Gone With the Wind- 37 straight hours (or so it seemed) of truly wretched boredom inflicted by parents, relieved only by memorizing snide comments to share with fellow prisoners the next day. None the less, it was still palpable community- now replaced by DVDs.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

To do, or not to do

At my small group meeting last night, we discussed the possibility of holding spirituality classes as a service to the church at some future date. After all, who better knows what's lacking than the people who felt that lack so strongly they formed a small group around it? Most of the obligations I've assumed over the years have had that motivation- I'm the one who complained; it's only just I be the one to fix it. But now in middle age, finding myself stretched ever thinner, I'm beginning to question that ethic. I want a better cheeseburger than the one served across the street from work at lunch, too- does that obligate me to open a diner? Where is the balance?

At what point should I in fact step forward and fix it myself, and at what point am I justified in just demanding people do their jobs better? On one hand, I've been disgusted all my life by people who are always demanding more and better services, but have never worked an election or done a minute of volunteer work in their lives- I don't want to even be in the same port city as they, let alone the same boat. On the other hand, I have a recurring nightmare I call "Salems Lot", because in it I'm the only human in a world on vampires, and they know it, and won't let me die. I must find the balance between seeing myself as a whiner and draining myself into Salems Lot.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why I love UU

Those who remember my many forum posts and debates may well have gotten the impression that I have problems with UU. Well, it’s way past time to correct that impression. Fact is I do have problems with the UUA- but I love UU. To explain why, I must discuss what a religion is.

A religion is not what is stated in the dictionary: a set of beliefs. That is a creed; indeed, in some dictionaries the first definition of both words is identical... which would render one of them superfluous. A religion is also a way of life, a culture, a set of standards to live up to. Religion is the counselor of first choice, the arbiter between your mind and soul, your ego and id. A religion is what you live by. “The show must go on”- that is a religious statement. There was a beer commercial in which an instrument maker is lavishing attention on the inside of a guitar he’s building. His friend asks why he’s bothering- no one would ever know. The craftsman takes a swig of his beer and answers, “I will know.” That’s a religious statement. If you can’t prove it, but you know in your heart that it’s true, and are willing to change the way you live your life because of that knowledge, it is your religion.

Most religions come as a complete kit. There may be some work involved reading the texts, coming to understand your chosen religion, but it’s all there, in a neat package, ready to use. And in fact if your choice is one of the half dozen main stream religions, you don’t even have to do that much- merely growing up in the Western Hemisphere gives you a functional understanding purely by osmosis. If you need help, a near infinite amount is available instantly; if you can afford to wait, just sit there and help will literally knock on your door. But what happens if you can’t accept the whole set? What happens if you know, with an internal conviction that transcends rational argument, that parts of that kit are missing, or wrong?

Some leave the church. Some stay in their church for the camaraderie, while denying the basic precepts their comrades believe. Others will strike out on their own, trying to figure out what their religion, their creed, their code truly is- that was my path. I spent 20 years conducting my search alone, until I was invited to services at All Souls, Indianapolis. Just being inside a church again reminded me of what I had given up to be true to my internal vision- the fellowship that I had tried to fill my need for with social organizations. I braced myself for the parts of the creed and practices I couldn’t swallow, the ones that would drive me out of yet another church.

And I didn’t find them. I found a church with a covenant right there on the wall in foot-high letters that promised to assist me in my personal search for truth. I found a minister and DRE who lived up to the promise, with fascinating sermons (selling printed copies is a standard fundraiser) and intriguing extracurricular programs. I found printed materials and a long history of reference works as well. Yes, I also found old-line humanists with spittle-flying fulminations against “God-talk”... but I also found other members who would bring things in to church that they thought might interest me. I have since been to enough other congregations to know how lucky I was to find just what I needed at my first visit... but I also know that although many UU congregations would not have suited me, there is no possibility that any other denomination could have. And in the end, that is what I love about UU: whether it be despite or because of the abysmal leadership, it has enough looseness around the edges to allow a bunch of contrarian Hoosiers to create exactly the congregation I needed, the congregation no other denomination would tolerate. That alone is enough for me to love UU.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Catch up potpourri

The first meeting of our new small groups ministry went far beyond my most sanguine hopes. As I did not recognize most of the names on the list, I had feared that they were just the very people I had been avoiding at church, the ones I had heard making so many hateful or annoying comments over the years. As it turned out, there was another reason why I didn't recognize the names- they never came to service on Sunday! These were "newsletter members", people who had grown disenchanted and stopped coming, but were still on the newsletter mailing list. All of them had been attracted to this group because the description had included, at the end, " general interest, spirituality." It seems they had first come to our church on the reputation that UU was where you went to explore spirituality- and then found everything but the spirituality they had come for. Two of them even had stories similar to mine, about raising spiritual questions within earshot of older humanist members who sneered at the "God talk". Naturally, when one of the groups mentioned spirituality, they signed up. Just like I did. I think this is going to be fun!


On Feb 1st those of us on the UUA emailing list got the official reaction to the confirmation of Justice Alito. It seems we UUs are responsible for the closeness of the vote. No, really, they said so! How did we manage that? "Through the hearings and other public means, the UUA and our coalition partners helped elevate the importance of serious legal issues surrounding this nomination. The national dialogue that resulted asked very timely questions regarding the scope of presidential authority and individual civil liberties." Isn't that wonderful? Nobody asked any questions until we stepped forward and showed the way! That reminds me of the story of the man who stood around snapping his fingers. "Why are you doing that?" he was asked. "Chasing away tigers". "Don't be ridiculous," he was told. "Don't see any tigers, do ya?" he replied.

Of course, the sheer vileness of Alito forced our hand: "A Zogby poll released on Sunday, January 29, found that 100% of African Americans surveyed opposed the confirmation of Samuel Alito." In my innocence, I might have thought the proper response to that claim would have been "100%?!?! Are you kidding? Who'd you survey, the guys in the cubicles on either side of you? Why, you can't even get 100% African American agreement on the use of the term 'African American'!" But no, wiser heads than I in Boston took it at face value, and were inspired to try for the Bram Stoker award for clumsiest sentence structure in the newsletter category: "Striving for accountability and demonstrating, by our action and our word, our belief that all people are equal is one concrete way Unitarian Universalists can make a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person not only a religious principle but a religious practice."


My vote for best Super Bowl commercials: The colt thinking he's pulling the Budweiser wagon while the adults are behind pushing, and Leonard Nimoy taking an arthritis pill so he can make the "Spock" hand sign for a convention.


Yassir Arafat embezzling money meant for Palestinian refugees. Royal families of several countries being billionaires while their countrymen literally starve in the streets. Chattel slavery, debt slavery, and sexual slavery- not to mention sexual mutilation. Saddam building 80 palaces with "oil for food" money while his people die for lack of fresh water or medicine. None of these things were worth protesting, but a newspaper cartoon printed in another country is worth killing for. Hmmm. Less rational than the Unabomber, perhaps, but more logical than Michael Moore. I think it rates a solid "Howard Dean".