Summer at UUFM

Summer is full on here! Temps in the 90’s and 100’s can hardly be interpreted any other way.

Fortunately, at least in Manhattan, things slow down in the summer. It used to be that the fellowship closed in the summer! Those days are long past. The tradition of closing the church doors for the summer has almost disappeared among Unitarian Universalist churches, though for generations, that’s exactly what summer meant.   It’s been said that we were the only people God trusted enough to take the summer off.

The practice of a long, healthy vacation for UU ministers has not ceased. Most ministers take a combination of vacation and study leave that means a big chunk of lay-led services through the summer. That hasn’t been my practice. I prefer to spread my vacation and study leave throughout the year to have more presence in the fellowship through the summer and more short breaks through the year.

I will be taking vacation July 25 through August 7, backpacking and hiking in the Wind River Range in Wyoming and at Yellowstone with my partner. Touching base with nature nurtures my spirit, and I love adventures with Jane! While I’m gone, staff and leaders can be contacted in an emergency and will be able to contact a minister, if necessary.

So what else am I up to this summer? Planning and study for the coming year is a major thrust. Some of that involves work with staff, the Strategic Planning Committee, the Board, and the Sunday Services Committee.

But what’s really exciting?

I’m looking at how we will be using themes in the coming year to tie together various aspects of congregational life, including but not limited to Sunday services and religious education. We hope to launch small groups for discussion around the Soul Matters topics we’ll be drawing on. Come September, we’ll have a monthly theme to inform worship and much more. (Some of the topics we’ll explore: Covenant, Healing, Identity, Risk, Zest!)

If you’re interested in helping to get small groups going or in any other aspect of developing themes, I’d love to hear from you. There is a workshop in Topeka in August and we’ll have a good group of people attend to help us learn how to develop themes in our congregational life.

Have a great summer! It’ll be over before we know it.

Jonalu

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Grieving Justice

Two more African American men dead at the hands of police in circumstances where armed intervention looked unnecessary. The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in the suburbs of St. Paul remind us that #BlackLivesMatter still matters.

According to Julia Craven in The Huffington Post [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-people-killed-by-police-america_us_577da633e4b0c590f7e7fb17], six out of ten African American men report being unfairly treated by police. 6 out of 10. That’s the majority. And though more white men may be shot overall, black men are five times more likely to be shot by police than white men their age.

As shocking and horrifying as unnecessary deaths are, they are the tip of the iceberg in a system that sees black people, especially young black men, as criminals unless proven otherwise. In our own city, we see the racial disparities in marijuana arrests increasing as time goes by, as shown by the figures from the Manhattan Coalition for Equal Justice.

In this atmosphere, the recent Supreme Court decision (Utah v Strieff) limiting the Fourth Amendment guarantee against illegal searches and seizures appalls me. The court OK’d the idea that police may use evidence obtained from an illegal stop, if in the process of the stop they find a warrant out. Justice Sotomayor wrote a tough dissent that you might want to check out. In short, if police can use such evidence, there is nothing to limit illegal searches. Even though Strieff himself is white, this decision is particularly bad news for people of color, who are much more often the victims of illegal searches. I fear this case will increase illegal searches, and the racial disparities will skyrocket.

The Strieff decision demonstrates the tendency of the justice system to trust the police, even when they are in violation of the law, a violation the state of Utah admitted to! If the justice system is unable to protect people from the police, and if police are able to shoot to kill for little or no reason, none of us have real protections. And people of color are the most vulnerable.

I grieve for the pointless deaths. I am in sympathy with the families and friends. More and more, though, I also grieve for a justice system that is lost.

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Orlando: At the Intersection of Oppressions

What do GBLTQ people, Latin@s, and Muslims have in common? All of us are more afraid because of the shootings early Sunday morning in Orlando.

The selection of a gay nightclub on Latin Night as a terrorist target wove a complicated web to untangle.

A week earlier, the Orlando queer community had celebrated Pride. Suddenly, the exuberance and delight of Pride dissolved into shock, pain, sorrow and fear. An attack on a gay nightclub is not just an attack on a nightclub. Historically, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people found their identity in bars. The movement that grew out of Stonewall Inn in 1969 concentrated in bars and clubs. These were the safe spaces, the places people could be themselves without fear, or at least with less fear. (I could talk about the benefits and drawbacks of this history, but will check myself from that digression.) To have a gay bar attacked was a frontal assault on queer community. And when we say, “It could have been here; it could have been us,” we often say it with memories of other events – of beatings outside gay bars, of bars we know burned in arson attacks. All the past homophobic remarks and threats loom, triggered by the shootings.

Then, reading the list of names and looking at the faces projected across the internet reminds us how deeply affected the Latin community was. Ninety percent of the victims were Latino/a/x. Orlando, like all of Florida, has a strong Latin@ community, especially among Puerto Ricans, and it was Latin night at Pulse, with merengue and salsa and bachata. Of course, that attracted young Latino gay men, frequent objects not only of homophobia, but also of racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, even those who are native-born. Latin@s, then, are grieving deeply.

This event also casts a shadow over Muslims in the middle of their Ramadan celebration. Once again, Islamic groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had to rush to distinguish themselves and ordinary Muslims from terrorists. Mir Seddique, the attacker’s father, proclaimed, “This had nothing to do with religion.” Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for the presidency proclaims the need to keep Muslims out of the country. And the argument goes on over the term “Islamic terrorism.”

The shooter himself seemed confused, at best, about Islamic ties, as he swore allegiance to groups that oppose one another. His motives are not easily discerned. Self-radicalized, he also has histories of domestic violence, mental illness and racism, in addition to his FBI interviews. Media are reporting that he may have been gay himself! Since he, too, is dead, the motives will be impossible to confirm definitively.

Different communities have different angles on the story. Different people with their mingled identities develop their own views. Sorting it all out will take months, if not years. We don’t even have a common label for this atrocity – hate crime, terrorist act, mass shooting. Each of the phrases holds its own connotations and nuance. Each carries its particular implications. We have to be careful as we read, as we listen, as we think, to understand where each may carry us. We have to be especially careful as we speak to say what we mean to say, and not to accidentally distort our ideas by speaking imprecisely.

For the moment, what we can do is mourn, comfort those who are mourning, and search for the courage to counter the fears we have so that we are not reacting to violence, but instead acting consciously and choicefully with love and compassion in our hearts and reason and nonviolent strategies focused in our minds. In that way, we will stand on the side of love with all the oppressed who have been touched by this horrific event.

As UUA President Peter Morales said, “May all people of good will, people of all faiths and no faith, renew our determination to end racism, end demonization of those of other faiths, end homophobia, and create a society where access to lethal weapons has some rational control. Otherwise we will wait helplessly for the next atrocity.”

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Muslim Solidarity

While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words matter, too, and at this year’s MidAmerica Regional Assembly, we passed a resolution of Muslim solidarity.

As UU’s, we have a lot of theological differences with Muslims. Our practices are very different from theirs. On the other hand, we are the “Standing on the Side of Love” people. We know how to love alike while we think differently. We value the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

But actions speak louder, right? So here are the actions urged by the resolution:

  • build bridges of partnership with Muslim neighbors in our local areas;
  • increase understanding of Islam within and beyond our local congregations;
  • learn more about the realities of religious discrimination and the Syrian refugee crisis; and
  • work to foster greater inclusion of all peoples, regardless of their religious, ethnic,

national, or racial identity(s).

What better time to focus on such actions than Ramadan, which happens this month? During the service on June 5, our theme will be “What Ramadan Has to Teach Us.” Learning more about Islam will help us share our understandings of Islam. And that is crucial for today’s world.

General David Petraeus recently wrote a column in the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-petraeus-anti-muslim-bigotry-aids-islamist-terrorists/2016/05/12/5ab50740-16aa-11e6-924d-838753295f9a_story.html, that spelled out the risks of bigotry against Muslims. He called anti-Muslim rhetoric “toxic and, indeed, non-biodegradable – a kind of poison that, once released into our body politic, is not easily expunged.” The Muslims who do preach and practice terrorism encourage the idea that there is an inevitable conflict between Western and Islamic cultures. When Western politicians embrace that idea of culture clash, they fuel Islamic terrorism. What’s more, Muslims are needed allies in opposing terrorism around the world, not to mention in ferreting out radicalization both here at home and in Europe. That’s Petraeus’ view.

My own take is based more in my UU-inspired theology of love. Hating, fearing, and insulting people is against my religion. It’s that simple. If I am to avoid that hate, fear and insult, I have no choice but to learn something about others so that I can treat them according to the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” I hope we can take it the next step and find ways to implement the resolution I voted for at the Regional Assembly.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Seeking Climate Change Solutions

How do you solve a problem like climate change?

As individuals, there may not be a lot we can do. Even if a bunch of us got rid of our cars, turned off our electronics, and banished all plastics from our lives, we wouldn’t make a dent in what needs to be done to reverse the warming that results in such chaos for our planet. Sea levels would continue to rise. Storms would continue to worsen. Species would continue to go extinct.

Clearly, we need a plan that goes beyond the personal to the political, yes, but also, to changing how we get, distribute, and use energy. We may be encouraged by the Paris Climate Change Agreement, or discouraged that it doesn’t go far enough fast enough. But I sense that something is slowly shifting in our human consciousness. And that may make a difference.

This morning, I appeared at a Westar stockholders’ meeting to introduce a shareholder’s resolution asking Westar to report how the company is adapting its business model in ways that ultimately, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I appeared on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, because the New York Comptroller has frequently worked with the Unitarian Univeralist Association on stockholder activism on issues like climate change, GLBT rights, and other areas where we share common perspectives. I’ve presented similar resolutions at energy companies before.

It felt like change may be in the air. The shareholder resolution, though not recommended by the Board, received a 23% positive vote. That’s almost a quarter of shareholders voting for it, despite the Board’s negative recommendation. What’s more, a significant chunk of the CEO’s report centered on renewable energy. Not only is this a regulatory concern, and a personal ethical concern for many investors, it’s fast becoming more of a business interest, as the old way of doing things crumbles beneath us. Coal power plants, for example, make less and less sense from any perspective.

So, the struggle goes on in every realm possible: the small changes we can make in our individual lives, the effort to elect politicians at all levels who understand the stakes, and confronting government and business with the needs.

Who knows? Maybe, somehow, we can solve this one, after all, or at least manage it.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Campus Carry? Really?

We’ve been hearing a lot about guns lately, as we slide towards the deadline for campus carry.

I won’t surprise anyone by naming the problems: the gaping loopholes in gun sale laws; the influence of the NRA that has blocked not only extreme gun control, but mild regulations which even most members of the NRA support; the refusal by Congress to allow data collection about the public health cost of guns; the unwillingness of elected leaders to listen even to law enforcement for guidance in gun regulations; the fear-mongering that shoots up the purchase of ammunition; the Wild West attitudes, cultivated by media and blessed by the religious right; the arguments that are on their face, completely untrue, and perhaps, not even believed by the people who spout them. Let’s face it, if having lots of guns really stopped bad guys, the Chicago murder rate would be declining instead of soaring. I suspect that some gun advocates don’t care about those rates, as long as they are restricted to “urban” areas and “gang” warfare. They lose track of the children caught in the crossfire, and the deterioration of community that does affect us all because we are all interconnected.

I suspect that the majority of UU’s support common sense gun regulation. Certainly, some UU’s are hunters and target shooters. I have attended UU ministers’ retreats where one of the optional activities was skeet shooting. We’re not all pacifists. And we’re not all anti-gun.

However, we do support the use of reason in all our deliberations. Blocking the government from legitimate research is not reasonable. Allowing senseless deaths through accidents and suicides because of overly accessible guns is not reasonable. Allowing guns anywhere, anytime, to anyone, though it is increasingly the policy across the country, is completely unreasonable.

I don’t know the proper response to campus carry. Certainly, the attempts to delay or change the law are not only legitimate, but necessary. Rev. Sarah Oglesby Dunegan in Topeka and Kansas Interfaith Action, as well as Kansans Against Campus Carry, have helped make the case at the legislature. I’ve heard various ideas for resisting the law. I hope that rational solutions emerge, and that our UU voices contribute to the conversation.

In Faith and Freedom,

Jonalu

 

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Earth Day 2016

This spring I’ve become aware of prairie burns. I knew they existed before; there were small burns where I lived previously in Wisconsin and Oklahoma. I had chuckled many times at the signs on Oklahoma highway: “Do not drive into smoke.” Never before, though, have I noticed such an intense smell of smoke in the spring. In childhood, I associated the smell of burning with fall, and now, my world has been turned upside down!

The burns, I learned, are necessary to benefit the livestock as well as the wild birds and to maintain the grasses, while shutting out invasive species. Fires prevent the use of chemical herbicides and help restore natural balance.

I had not realized how threatened the tall grass prairie was until I moved here. Ecosystems can be so vulnerable – so many moving parts. A tall grass prairie is much more than grass – it’s birds and bugs and bison and snakes and lizards, flowers and even the occasional tree. When one species thrives or fails, the whole system shifts a little. And when the prairie’s expanse is more and more limited, as it has been by human development, everything suffers.

Meanwhile, the world beyond the prairie has even more challenges. As temperatures increase, both storms and drought threaten. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, mild winters and intense summers feed our insecurities. Celebrating our connection with the earth becomes almost scary. Despite our technological ways of escaping the natural world, we cannot help but be reminded that we really are affected by the Earth.

How do we celebrate Earth Day this year? There’s little one person or family or congregation can do to keep the temperature increase under 2 degrees. We try our small ways – driving less, hesitating to turn on the A/C, buying things with less packaging, exhorting our elected representatives to create real change – but it seems way too little, way too late.

Maybe this year, we need to simply find the connection again. Consider what about the Earth speaks to you and immerse yourself in it, if only for a little while. Maybe that connection will work to sustain you, to remind you of your commitments to the Earth, and spark some natural wildness within you.

Happy Earth Day,

Jonalu

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Strategic. Planning. Committee.

Strategic. Planning. Committee.

Three words that people may find it hard to get excited about. Yet they’re very important to our future. We have an outstanding group of people looking at where we’ve been, where we are, and how we need to move to become the best UU Felllowship we can be.

Strategic planning requires an ability to set large goals and the interim goals to get there, but to be nimble in completing them. The committee recently brainstormed a list of things we might do that inspired and excited me. We can’t do it all, though! The strategy part comes in as we assess which particular actions are most likely to lead us closest to where we want to be. We’ll have to consider resources that might be available and the context of the community in which we find ourselves. We’ll have to think about who we include and who we might include. Strategic planning offers the next step of building on the vision statement that we have spent time thinking about over the last couple months. How do we become the safe haven, the incubator of the next generation of UU’s, the builders of bridges, the visible beacon of liberal religious messages of hope and meaning? How do we embrace and live out our values?

The questions may seem irrelevant to individual UU’s. But, really, each person has a role in this. Our fellowship does nothing independent of the members who comprise it. As the fellowship reflects on how it lives out Unitarian Universalism, you might ask yourself how you do the same task. How does inherent worth and dignity influence your choices? How about the interdependent web of life of which we are a part? How do you embody tolerance and compassion? What do you do to grow spiritually and help your children to?

I often tell people that Unitarian Universalism is not an easy religion. We don’t offer definitive answers. Instead, we encourage and nurture the questions and the search for the answers. You have to do the search yourself.

It’s not an easy religion, but if you put in the time and effort, it is a rewarding one.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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SPRING!

When I lived in Wisconsin, I was told it was bad luck to say farewell to winter, because it could always come back. As I write, the day is beautiful and sunny. By the time you read this, there’s no telling. Could be spring breezes. Could be snowstorms. The Farmers’ Almanac tells me the average last frost date here is April 20. We can’t expect this time of balance, of equinox, to go smoothly. It would be nice if each day were just a tad warmer and we could ease gently from winter to summer.

But that’s not how it works. Think of the year as a seesaw: in winter, there is a pause as one end touches the ground; when the other end touches down, it is summer. Spring, like fall, arrives when both ends are in mid-air. No one pauses there, unless they’re making trouble. Ironically, the point of balance is the most transitory, the most unstable point that there is. No wonder the weather fluctuates. Spring exists only as an in-between point.

In spring, we live in the midst of transition. That’s what transition is like – we know something’s changing, but can’t quite yet see the shape of what is to become. The time of transition may be a time we have felt the presence of death or depression, or when we have recognized a bad habit but not yet changed it. It can be falling in love or preparing to give birth. In transitions, we don’t know what to expect. Hope and fear compete for our attention. Our feelings bounce around unexpectedly, outside our control.

Like being in spring, all we can do is prepare ourselves for what may come, keep checking the environment to see if we need a coat or a T-shirt, an ice scraper or sunscreen. And enjoy what may come, as much as possible.

The 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote:

Long conversations 
beside blooming irises – 
joys of life on the road .

 

May your spring be full of joys of life on the road, along with the deep appreciation of them.

 

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Campaign Commentary

I hesitate to join the moaning and groaning over the Presidential campaign. However, the trends concern me deeply. Like Pope Francis, I won’t name names as I critique the tone and content of some of the Presidential candidates’ statements and the news coverage.

I wonder what it would be like if the media covered the issues more than the horserace. What if they presented clips of each of the candidates expressing their plans for health care, immigration, and Syria, perhaps a new issue each day? Instead of day after night of “This candidate is pulling ahead,” and “They’re neck and neck in the polls,” we could hear actual policy statements. Instead of feeling like we’re jumping on a bandwagon, or voting for someone who “has a chance,” we could base our decisions on issues without having to mine for position papers on websites.

It disheartens me that candidates have joined the focus on the competition instead of the issues. It used to be that you could count on stump speeches to include actual positions. Lately, I’m hearing more sound bites of “I’m better than he is.” Not only is this useless for people making up their minds about candidates, it undermines the democratic process by making the race about personality and popularity.

Then, there is the terrible pattern of name-calling and misrepresentation of other candidates and their positions. These practices debase not only the candidates who are attacked, but also the people launching the attacks. It’s perfectly OK to explain what you think is unworkable in a candidate’s platform. These issues and positions can be debated with integrity. Stepping over the line into personal attacks, much less outright lies, simply isn’t called for and should not be part of the process.

These trends upset me because democracy could be so much better. It feels like the American people are responding to messages with knee-jerk reactions, precipitated more by fear than logic. People’s fears are real – the middle class is hollowing out, racism continues to thrive, technology and globalization have complicated our lives. The problem is – how do we respond? What will be helpful in the long term? We need to turn away from emotional reactivity to acknowledge complexities and subtleties and work together, across divisions of party, race, gender, and religion to find realistic solutions.

Some politicians and policy wonks are quietly doing this demanding work. I want to find all ways possible to support that effort. They will yield compromises, but that is the nature of good politics. Much better than the big politics that currently bombards us.

In the meantime, the caucuses are next week, and we have to do our best. Good luck out there.

 

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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