As the High Holy Days Approach

The Jewish High Holy Days arrive this month (Rosh Hashanah October 3-4 and Yom Kippur October 12). Each year, these holidays call Jews to consider where they have fallen short and to release those shortcomings to start again with a fresh slate. In the ritual of Tashlich, Jews cast breadcrumbs in a lake or stream, a symbol of releasing the sins they have committed over the past year.

The practice inspires me. A year, though, seems to me a long time for remembering and reflecting on shortcomings. My own list would be much too long! But the practice of regular self-evaluation seems tremendously valuable and fits with this month’s theme of healing. Such self-examination helps heal the wounds that exist and keeps us from inflicting additional injuries on ourselves and others.

I try to do a daily examen, where I reflect on the events of the day to see where I feel the presence of the holy, how I respond, and where I have turned away. Even though I don’t make it every day, the several times a week check-in is helpful in reminding me where I want to focus my attention and how I want to live in the world.

For me, it’s easy to get sidetracked. I can get drawn into wherever excitement pops up today. I can lose track of my own priorities and get sucked into stuff that has nothing to do with me. I can forget how much I have to be grateful for and instead, become resentful of the ways that my life disappoints me. I can overreact to my emotions, or stifle them, and find myself whittling away time at screens instead of savoring reality. Especially when I’m tired, stressed, or hungry, I can forget my best self and act in ways I later regret. I can hurt people I have no intention of harming.

None of this is worth beating myself up over, and I certainly don’t dwell on any of it. It’s more about living with awareness. The more I can become aware of what I am up to, the more I can be deliberate and mindful about it. And, one of the uses of having a regular check-in is to know that if I think about my failings at other times, I can let go, knowing that I have a designated time to reflect and now is not it. That daily examen reminds me of what I’m thankful for, and releases the negative stuff, like dropping the breadcrumbs into the water.

The world presents us with much uncertainty, from inside our own homes and workplaces to the places we know only on maps, like Syria. Most of it is entirely beyond our control, no matter what we tell ourselves. Yet, we get caught up in struggles with it. Why not devote just a little while to being more aware and in touch with our lives and what we do have control over, to try to improve the quality of what we have and what we are? That might well bring healing.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

 

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Theme-based Ministry

Welcome to theme-based ministry!

Each month we’ll focus on a broad theme that has resonance for Unitarian Universalists in our personal and spiritual lives. You can read about the theme in the newsletter, hear about it during Sunday services, and experience it in religious education. What’s more, we’ll be starting small groups called Chalice Circles to explore the themes at a deeper level.

Why make this change in our programming? The main goal is to deepen our experience together. We’ve been very good at breadth – many different activities for different interests. We have been so good at breadth that depth may have suffered. While choice is good and variety the spice of life, transformation requires focused attention. Our religion is not a hodgepodge of liberal feel-goodism, but a tool to enrich our lives so we become better people, prepared to create real change in our larger world.

How do we come to understand the values and ideals championed by our religious tradition of Unitarian Universalism? How do we live into these values and ideals to become the people we wish to be?

Other UU’s have been exploring these questions and have come up with the Soul Matters program, from which we will be drawing. It doesn’t dictate how we look at the themes or what we do on Sunday mornings, but provides resources to support our explorations. Plus, we’re engaging with these themes along with about 200 other UU congregations, including a few here in Kansas.

Our first theme (September) considers what it means to be a community of covenant. I remind you that our members have developed a covenant, which you can find at [http://uufm.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Covenant-right-relations.pdf].

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Celebrating the Non-Discrimination Ordinance

The pace of life can be so fast and the deluge of bad news so overwhelming that I forget to take the time to celebrate real victories.

Last week was such a win. As you probably know by now, the Manhattan City Commission approved the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance and created a structure for enforcement. That makes Manhattan the third city in Kansas with these significant protections for LGBTQ people. A year ago, such a move couldn’t have been predicted.

What made it happen?

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The change came because a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens made it happen. Specifically, members of the Flint Hills Human Rights Project organized and strategized, lobbied and negotiated, and motivated others to show up and argue for change. I worked with area pastors to make clear to the Commission that many religious people believe that religion is no excuse for discrimination.

I’m proud that many members of UUFM showed up at one of the many meetings where the issue was discussed. Several spoke or wrote to the City Commission movingly and strongly on the issue.

At UUFM, we are a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. It’s not only this particular issue. Last Tuesday, I went from the City Commission to a Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice-sponsored forum on the effects of Medicaid cuts. Again, thoughtful, committed members of UUFM were scattered through the audience.

It’s the same wherever I go in Manhattan. I always find UU’s engaged in the work of social justice. Sometimes, we don’t realize what a difference we are making as a group.

We care about the issues. We work to make bring change and to support existing efforts that are doing good. And sometimes, we get a real win. Like last Tuesday.

Let’s take the time to celebrate it.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Why Religion?

With all the opportunities for action in the world, all the ways you can learn new things, and all the organizations you could join or work with, why bother with religion? A variety of answers can be given.

Some people say religion provides a framework of beliefs to help understand and structure the world. Scriptures as diverse as the Vedas and the Christian and Hebrew Bible describe how the world works, how it began, and how it will end. In oral traditions, stories serve much the same function. People find meaning through the way they fit into the structures their religion posits.

Others say that religion dictates rituals, rites and practices to structure and regulate society. Often, hierarchies are created, order is affirmed, and gods are kept happy.

Others suggest that religion offers values and rules to follow in order to live an ethical and moral life. From Buddhism’s Five Precepts to Islamic Shari’ah to the Christian Sermon on the Mount, standards have been set that call people to ethical living.

And some claim religion allows like-minded people to gather in community to support one another.

There’s something to each of these views. The bottom line, for me, is that religion helps us cope with life. It gives us strength and perspective when we’re struggling to go on. It helps us navigate life’s confusion. It challenges us to grow into a better person every day. It provides companions along the way.

As more and more people identify as “nones,” no religion, I wonder where they do turn for comfort, challenge, meaning and community. I hope they find someplace as rich as Unitarian Universalism has been for me.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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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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