Peace on Earth?

My favorite Christmas song is an obscure one – “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words. The narrator tells of hearing the bells ringing on Christmas Day, repeating the refrain of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All” (yes, yes, the original says “men,” so I update the language). The narrator gets upset, seeing how the world makes a mockery of such wishes “for hate is strong.”

Many of us identify with that narrator to this day. Hate continues to be strong. Even as Confederate flags disappear from official places, racism has reasserted itself on-line and sneaked out of private places into the public realm. A two-tiered system of criminal justice allows black men to die and be incarcerated at stunning rates. Despite increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, BGLTQ people – especially those who are transgender – encounter open hostility. At least 21 transgender people, many of them people of color, have been killed violently so far this year, according the Human Rights Campaign. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 892 hate groups across the country, an uptick last year for the first time since 2011, near double the number of groups as they counted in 1999. In the wake of the election, haters seem emboldened. Swastikas have reappeared as graffiti, and hijab-wearing women confronted with threats. Yes, the words “Peace on Earth” are being mocked.

Longfellow, in the song, hears the bell peel again, louder and deeper, asserting that God is not dead, so “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.” While that speaks to me, I recognize that those who dismiss or struggle with the idea of such a God may not be encouraged. However, one need not embrace theism to trust a moral arc of the universe that bends towards justice. When Longfellow wrote the song in 1863, slavery had not yet been vanquished from this continent. Women were subservient to men legally and in practice in their daily lives. People who did not conform to expected roles of gender and sexual orientation were invisible. A Civil War raged, taking hundreds of thousands of lives, about 2 percent of the population. As bleak as it looks today in the battle of love versus hate, 1863 was far worse. Steven Pinker, whose book The Angels of Our Better Nature explores the incidence of violence through history, asserts that despite blips like the Syrian war and IS terrorism, we are far more safe than we have been in the past, and that that trend holds true across the world – less homicide, less war, less genocide. If we look at the large scale, we are more peaceful.

The world keeps turning. You may or may not feel a presence that reassures you, but I hope in this season of striving towards peace and goodwill, you find encouragement and inspiration.

 

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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Top Ten Reasons I Came to UUFM

There are so many things I want to share with you! I struggled to come up with what my first newsletter column should address. We have much to share to really get to know one another and to find the ways to work best together.

Upon reflection, it seems fitting to start with the Top Ten Reasons I wanted to come to UUFM:

10) The chance to return to my fellowship roots. My first UU membership (other than the Church of the Larger Fellowship — if you don’t know about it, check it out; it’s the UUA “church without walls”) was in the Bull Run UU’s, a lay-led start-up group that formed in Manassas, Virginia, in the 1980’s. Later, I joined the UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland (Maryland), the congregation that ultimately ordained me in 1993. The first congregation I joined that had a full-time minister (James Reeb UU Congregation), I was the minister.

9) The demographic growth in Manhattan brings great opportunities for expansion.

8) The university provides a chance to offer vital campus ministry.

7) The Flint Hills. As I told a friend, “I’ll be living in the part of Kansas that isn’t flat.”

6) The beautiful building and grounds. I remembered the loveliness of the place, especially the circle chalice window and the walk up the hill, from preaching here once in 2011.

5) The very balanced age breakdown within the congregation, a good ratio of children to adults and a variety of adult generations in leadership.

4) The commitment to doing things well that shows in attitudes about process, in the new video, in the building, and in so many other ways.

3) The history of positive relationships with ministers and the overwhelming backing for the move to full-time ministry, including the willingness to support it financially.

2) The readiness to consider the role of spirituality in the life of the fellowship and of its members.

1) The focus on the minister’s role in outreach and justice work in the community.

 

These factors create a most opportune connection between the fellowship and me, between you and me. I am as pleased to be here as you seem to be to have me. Thanks to all for the wonderful welcome I have received. My hopes are high for our work together.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Adopt a Family

The UUFM social action committee organizes assistance for needy families at Christmas time.

Families with children now being served by the Manhattan Emergency Shelter are chosen, a special collection is made and then shopping is done for gifts for these families.  The children in UUFM RE help with the shopping as part of understanding low income situations.

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Marriage Equality

Our president, Barack Obama said, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. ”

Unitarian Universalists across the land have been working vailiantly for marriage equality. We should engage in this faith based issue more seriously. Standing on the side of love calls us to be in open dialogue with the citizens of Kansas so that equality can become available to all. We are called to give heft and momentum to our principles by working to eradicate injustice in all its manifestations. May we offer our inclusive vision to all and be a bold model of love!

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3rd Thursday Potluck

Join us at 6 pm, on the third Thursday of each month for this regular community potluck dinner.  Soup and dessert are provided.  All are welcome.  Learn more from Susan Turner at office@uufm.net

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Women’s Coffee

The Women’s Coffee group meets every Monday and Thursday at 9:30 am, at the Westloop McDonald’s, in Manhattan.  Join us for morning coffee and conversation.  Learn more from Barbara Hacker at barbaradhacker@yahoo.com

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Uncertainty

Reverend Michael Nelson leads this exploration of Pema Chodrin’s book.  Contact Michael at minister @ uufm.net.

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Susan Turner

Susan Turner will be available in the Fellowship office.  Contact Sue at office@uufm.net.

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October Social Action Committee Meeting

The next Social Action committee meeting will be at 5:30 pm, on Wednesday, October 31, at the Fellowship.  Costume optional

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