Friday, June 26, 2009

Woe is me

I'm up in my hotel room, sick as a cliche, missing GA. Well, I suppose if I had to miss a day this is the one to miss, and the plenary will be streamed tonight. I'll be at tomorrow's plenary if I have to rent a wheel chair.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Some quick notes from GA

I had originally intended to blog from GA itself, during the time between programming, but they want $14/day for access there, which would be in addition to the $10/day I'm paying the hotel for internet, on top of the $13/day for parking, all of which is in addition to the room base rate- which with the GA discount is still $35/day higher than we paid for our hotel in Paris. Ok, that was the 14th Arrondissement, but it felt safer and their beggars smelled better.

You can read about the actual goings-on here , so I'll talk about the first impressions of a first time delegate/attendee instead. The people- everywhere you go, you'll find people you have something in common with; you'll never be at a loss for conversation. The exhibit hall; just like the dealers room at a Star Trek convention, even including the fact that many of them use lingo so specific to their interest that it sounds like an alien language to anyone else. (Wait, scratch "alien"- that's not inclusive enough for this venue. Make that differently genomed star travelers) The staff; so cheerful and helpful it inspires a perverse desire to stomp on their toes just to see if they're capable of losing their temper.

There's more, but it's 12:25 AM, and programming starts early tomorrow... err, later today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We've arrived

It's 11:21 PM, Teusday night, and we're finally ensconsed in our hotel room in Salt Lake City. Too tired to write much more; I'll pick it up tomorrow night. Tomorrow morning we'll register, and try to find some fellow bloggers!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Preparing for GA

Since the family reunion broke up, we've been preparing for GA by restoring and freshening the spirit- traveling to Salt Lake via Yellowstone Park. (which is why I'm so behind on news and commentary, as evidenced by my previous post) (Yellowstone pictures later) Just have time for a quick note while sitting in the hotel having coffee. I've noticed that some of the fumes spewing from geysers and fumaroles not only smell bad, they leave mineral deposits on metal surfaces, such as jewelry... my mother would have found it only fitting that my flaming chalice and pentacle are encrusted with brimstone.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some thoughts on riots in Iran

We're about to hit the road for the next leg of our long way to GA, and I've been watching CNN over breakfast. While it's hard to trust the news from Iran, given the lack of international journalists permitted inside, one thing seems clear to me: Benjamin Franklin was right, that we have spawned a new people on this continent, more enterprising but more violent- the property damage and blood in the streets of Tehran so far is less than you'd expect in an American city that just won an NBA championship.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chattering like magpies

Though I understood the phrase intellectually, I've never gotten the impact of that old saw before- we don't have magpies in Indianapolis. I've seen magpies before, but only from the window of a train- I never heard them. Where we're staying here in Utah, however, they have them by the flock.

If you've never heard a magpie, they sound a lot like their cousins, the crow; but crows are no more talkative than other birds- magpies talk like teenagers with unlimited friends and family plans. Imagine Unitarian crows in an unmoderated open debate, fueled by fair-trade espresso. Two magpies make more noise than a murder of crows.

One such raucous caucus right outside the window gave me a lesson in the universality of life experience. There were two magpies, one slightly larger than the other... the smaller one would run in front of the larger one, tilt his head back, and open his beak wide. The larger one would make a cutting remark, turn, and walk the other way. The smaller one would gave a shriek of outrage, and run around to stand in front of the larger again... rinse and repeat. Is their a parent alive who doesn't empathize with the beleaguered magpie?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the road to GA

The long way, via visiting family. It's 9:15 pm; we just got back from dinner at 1880 Coco in Rawlings, Wyoming... yesterday morning at 10:00 am we were just pulling out of Indianapolis. I'm beat. More later.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why "civil unions" don't cut it

The majority of those who oppose same sex marriage offer civil unions as a substitute, saying that this negates the equality argument. The problem with that solution is that laws are enforced as written. There are literally tens of thousands of situations in civil law and common custom that involve marriage, from those of crucial import down to simple common courtesy, such as this story: Same sex couple, kids denied family rate at pool .

The only way civil unions can be equal is if they are declared legally to be identical to marriage in all circumstances, criminal and civil, and enforced... which would then put us in the untenable position of claiming that a union that is identical to marriage, was called a marriage by the church that married them, and was registered by the same county clerk as a marriage, is not in fact a marriage. Anyone who can do that has a promising career in theology or political science in front of them!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

More on torture

A few weeks ago, I argued against CIA torture by speaking about The trickle-down effects of torture , how once one agency is permitted to torture, all lesser levels down the line feel justified in doing so. I gave examples of beatings and tazing, but here's a clearer example: London's Metropolitan Police accused of waterboarding suspects

Friday, June 05, 2009

There's an interesting discussion going on

at the always excellent Elizabeth's Little Blog on the subject of my previous two posts. It's worth a look.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More on "Something clicked"

In a comment to my previous post , Diggitt said, "That world is out there whether we like it or not, and focusing on our own small selves will only delay that examination." That was not what I meant, although rereading the post, I can see where one might come to that conclusion. My meaning was closer to the warning one receives on an airplane, "Should the oxygen masks deploy, secure your own before attempting to help others."

Why have our numbers dropped despite our advertising, our "bring a friend to church" programs, and all other efforts? It is clear- at least to me- that the problem is not the lack of exposure, it's that the visitors aren't finding anything that makes them want to stay; we simply aren't relevant to their lives. I'm sure that this is why our church is statistically Lilly-white, despite all our AR/AO efforts.

Have you ever attended an African American or mixed race church? Not just once for a RE project, but really attended, spent some time there? I have; in my youth I went to a Baptist church that was mixed, and it was a very different experience from what one finds in a UU church. They, like us, are heavily into social justice and activism- look at the controversy over the social commentary at then-candidate Obama's church! But they, unlike us, also preach sin and personal redemption; they, unlike us, teach to look within for the causes of evil, and how to fight it, how to be on constant guard against it. they, unlike us, are speaking of personal issues relevant to the daily lives of the butts in the pew.

Why has religion been so central to humankind since time immemorial? Because we are addicted to sin, and we know it; church is our rehab. If an alcoholic goes to an AA meeting and finds nothing but faxes firing off letters to congressmen, he'll leave and find a chapter that actually discusses alcoholism- that is why we don't retain those visitors. This doesn't mean that we stop our social activism; again, look at the African American churches- but it does mean that we have to start addressing personal, spiritual issues if we ever want to be relevant.

Read that sermon on sin that Diggitt referenced in the comment. It says many of the things I said in my previous post, things that need to be said over and over, and yet she also said, "I ran through our congregational archives and realize it's not a sermon the minister has chosen to post online. That's interesting in itself." It sure is. To me, it says that the minister was afraid of how it would be received, despite a parishioner having paid $125 to hear it. It says that a UU minister can't talk about our darker selves without being accused of preaching the Christian "inherent depravity" doctrine, that he can't speak of sin without being accused of believing in (cover your children's ears!) God. That is what must be changed if we are to be relevant, or even survive, let alone grow. I don't know that either of the candidates for UUA president can facilitate this change- or even wants to. But the only one who gives any evidence of even understanding it is Laurel Hallman.

Something clicked...

When I read UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski: Why I Support Morales I had been strongly leaning for one of the candidates for UUA President, but without strong conviction, or even understanding why I felt that way. This endorsement clarified my thoughts and feelings; the race was not about who was the best choice to attain our goals, but about what those goals were- the basic philosophy of religion.

The sentence that made the penny drop was, "I believe we do offer much to a hurting world, and through working with like-minded individuals and alliances can be part of “saving” it — and in the process save ourselves and this faith we love." I know that many UUs agree with this, perhaps a majority... but my reverence for the democratic process doesn't blind me to the fact that the majority can be wrong- they have this exactly backwards.

Saving the world is the province of governments and political movements, and Goddess knows we've had quite a few of those! We've tried clans and kings, direct democracy and representative, theocracies and dictatorships, and none have managed to establish justice or end misery. The problem lies not in the institution, but in the fact that institutions are run by people. Millennia of evolution made us the most dangerous and aggressive species on the planet; we were already the keystone species long, long before the first civilizations began. The instincts that served us so well in the struggle of Man Vs. Jaguar are the very ones that create the struggle of Man Vs. Man, the ones that turn man into monster. We can't save the world as long as it's being run by killer apes.

This is where religion comes in. Religion isn't about changing the world; it's about changing the man in the mirror- if you can save him, the world will follow. If we loved our neighbors as we love ourselves, the problems we're trying to save the world from largely wouldn't exist in the first place. If we save ourselves, we will save the world in the process. Of course I don't mean saving us from Hell, I mean saving us from our follies, our petty vanities, our unthinking angers. Of all the sermons preached in all the UU congregations last year- tens of thousands of sermons- I'd bet you could count on one hand the number of sermons on sin. Don't roll your eyes at me; I'm not talking about preaching a vengeful God- the Seven Deadly Sins are just as deadly even absent a god, you know.

The world needs a church that teaches that spirituality is not the exclusive province of the true believer; one that teaches that the words of the prophets are true not because of which god inspired them, but because they point the way to a better life; one that teaches that right and wrong are valid concepts not because it will save your soul, but because wrong thoughts and wrong actions cause the misery we see around us. The world needs a church that can help the individual deal with the insanity he sees all around him, help him find meaning in a world that tells him individuals are meaningless without telling him to wait for the pie in the sky. The kind of message that mainstream religions, by their very nature, cannot deliver. Whether we can- or even want to- remains to be seen.

Linda said, "...if this faith is saved from irrelevance it will be because most of our 1000+ congregations are able to perceive the need for change and move in the direction that keeps us relevant." Too true. But I feel the only change that can return us to relevance is to return to the things that a church does. The certain path to irrelevance is to continue our headlong rush towards becoming just another political action committee. Spending all your time and money trying to grow the church when you don't understand why it exists in the first place is another path to irrelevance. And for these reasons, I will be voting for Laurel Hallman for UUA President. I believe that Laurel's decades as a minister and her "Living By Heart" show the instincts and temperament of a church leader. I don't know that we can become a relevant church again, but I believe she's our only hope.

Monday, June 01, 2009