Sunday, November 28, 2010

String Theory

Latch-hook knots
                     of Space/Time
The warp and weft
                     of the Universe
Weaver and woven
                     of God-Stuff

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Window and/or Mirror

We have a cause. Our cause is just and righteous. Our cause serves all people from oppressed minorities to the silent, suffering majority. No reasonable person could oppose our proposals since they are based on universal, well-researched, unwavering principles. We are receptive to new ideas. Our spokespeople are respectful, passionate and articulate and never engage in the ad-hominem attacks or vicious polarization. We are willing to reach out to anyone and educate those who do not know our cause and what it stands for. We decry the media for being biased against our cause because they are in the sway of our opponents. We work within the democratic, lawful system as it exists even as we work from within to promote positive change. Our cause has wide, populist appeal. We are poor or, at least, not rich. We are disenfranchised and un- or under-represented. We are indignant and, unless those in power realize that they should be serving us (as opposed to the other way around), we will rise up and sweep them into the dustbin of history.

They have an agenda. Their agenda is evil or, at least, short-sighted. Their agenda serves special interests and the minority of people who gain the most from their machinations. It is clear that their agenda is based on transitory, self-serving, half-baked, inconsistent, baseless assertions that any reasonable person could see through if they weren't duped by the expensive and well-researched, psychologically compelling, guilt-inducing propaganda. They tear down our ideas without offering constructive alternatives. Their talking heads are divisive, arrogant, rude, violent, name-calling mouthpieces. They rely on ad-hominem attacks, vicious polarization and the politics of personal destruction to shout down and intimidate all who oppose them. They distort our cause in the media and use their control of big business and corrupt government to legitimize their agenda . They are demagogues who pay lip-service to our system of government but ignore and even break the law to further their agenda . The only people who support their agenda are those who seek to maintain or improve their privileged position. They make no effort to include those they view as enemies and refuse to believe that there are those who legitimately oppose them. They're crazy and will do anything to undermine the democratic process that would otherwise sweep them and their crazy ideas into the dustbin of history.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

In Memoriam

In memory of Loretta Smith
Wife, mother, grandmother and more

We will no longer feel the touch of her hand
We will no longer hear the sound of her voice

Her knowledge, wisdom and love live on in us
As we who were the beneficiaries of her generous life
Incorporate her gifts into our lives
And carry forward our versions of it
To those whose lives we touch

In this way she bequeaths to each of us
A strand in an unbroken web
Stronger for her care and our connections through her

Heading Gently Into That Long Good NightIn wonder we're born
In beauty we live
In mystery we die

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gratitude, That Tricky Emotion

Plum Blossom 3
I am beginning to believe that gratitude is, by necessity, a bittersweet emotion. It's height is proportional to the depths of the chasm at your feet. Maybe as a newbie to cultivating gratitude it's just easier to notice it when things are good and bad at the same time. And, really, when is that not true?

I'm reminded of the story that I can only find on the web as Kahn's Strawberry Story. It's a short story which I will shorten even further in twitter/haiku format:

Tigers high and low
Mice chew vine so I will fall
Ah, sweet strawberry!

So, back to me. I just dropped my sister off at the airport. She's been at our parent's house for the last week sharing with our sister the care of our Mom and support of our Dad as Mom navigates her last few days or weeks. We really didn't need to say that it was almost surely the last time she'd see Mom alive. I described for her a mix of emotions that I've been cycling through:

1) Mom's dying is completely normal and natural. It will happen to all of us (barring some unlikely combination of science-fiction-style breakthroughs). Since it will happen to each of us then, logically, it will happen to everyone around us. It fascinates me that something so mundane is - simultaneously - so fraught with disbelief and pain. I chalk that up to avoidance, fingers-in-ears-la-la-la denial and a lack of experience. Our culture is so death-averse that we do everything we can (humanely or otherwise) to avoid it and, when we fail, we hide our failures away and collude to ignore it. So ends the rational discourse.

2) It is tragic that my mother is dying. She will no longer be with us. How much of me is bound up with who she is and who she has been for me? I see so much of the good she gave me. How can I become who I need to become without her example and her (rarely given and always welcome) opinion? To the best of my knowledge, neither my mom nor I believe in a supernatural afterlife so this will be it! So ends the maudlin ramblings.

3) The progress of her cancer was slow enough that with reasonably aggressive treatment she's lived a year since her diagnosis. This has given her time to adjust to it and finally to set an awesome example for us. She has served us by allowing us to serve her to the end. Through it all, her concern is for her husband and children and grandchildren. This where my gratitude comes in. I have been so lucky that I have the privilege of... well, everything! I have a loving and committed extended family. I live close to my parents so I can be involved. I have both a supportive and deep church community and a joyful, supportive Aikido group; places and people with whom I can be my whole, complex, flawed, grieving, and celebrating self.

What, you might ask, triggered all this? I was driving to my parents this morning and I smelled the soul-stirring scent of the warm sun on the pine trees and the flowering chaparral. How could this possibly be a bad day?

Monday, November 17, 2008

We're Not in Kansas, Anymore...

A new article from UUWorld came out today. It contained the following paragraph:

This urgency comes from major changes in the make-up of the American population that are on the horizon, [Rev. Peter] Morales said. “Of Americans who are 70 years of age or older, three-quarters are white, European-extraction, Anglo.” he said. “Of Americans who are 10 and younger, one-quarter are. If not a single immigrant crosses our border for the next 20 years, three-quarters of young adults in America are going to be African American, African-Latino, Asian, or some mixture thereof.” If UU congregations fail to welcome and include this changing American face, Morales said, Unitarian Universalism faces a strong possibility of becoming irrelevant. He also stressed the need to recruit more ministers to lead this change because it is possible that half of all current parish ministers will be retiring in the next eight years.

This floored me. I don't mean that it scared me or made me worry that I would have to move somewhere else. Having just finished Building the Dream, it struck me that the work we're embarking on is truly the work we need to do to revitalize our churches, congregations and fellowships and that this course came out at the right time because we're going to need it something fierce. This is rebuilding our world.


There are two parts to Morales' quote. First the demographics of our society is changing and our congregations need to meet that challenge and change, too. Second, our Unitarian Universalist ministry will undergo a significant changing of the guard in the near future.

Embracing the Change

Our society is changing - it's always changing, duh! - but it's usually hard to see. We can read the news about demographics but the reality of its short- and long-term impact has a hard time breaching our impervious complacency. I believe I read recently that last year fewer than half of the children born in California were born to white families. It made a bit of a splash when it was announced but Morales' claim is even more radical than that.

Proactive Leadership for a Multicultural Society

Morales says that we will have a turn-over of up to half of the Unitarian Universalist ministers in the next decade. This means that the pulpits of our congregations will be filled with (relatively) younger ministers. As pointed out in Reverend X, these ministers will take us in new directions and I believe they are being trained to work in a multicultural world. God, I hope so!

Hitting Home

This demographic reality must start driving everything we do in our congregations if we are to remain relevant. California, and especially Southern California, is going to be one of the places we find out if we can do this. Each congregation will (as is our UU wont) approach this challenge differently. This is the strength of diversity: first, because our congregations vary quite a bit in outlook, constituency, history, and size and second, because the more ideas we - as a collective - attempt the more ways we will find to succeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Building the Dream

Have you ever noticed the similarity between the words "workshop" and "worship"? I've heard my minister, Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube, define worship as "to consider that which has worth". Workshops like the twenty-plus evenings and afternoons I've participated in this year meet that definition.

The series is called "Building the World We Dream About: A Welcoming Congregation Curriculum on Race and Ethnicity". I call the series "Building the Dream" for short and to tie it to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The workshops called me to consider worthy topics and challenged me to consider them and myself in new ways. There were a lot of surprises for me.

I started the year expecting that we would talk about the experience of being "other" in America, black or Latino or Asian. It came as a shock to spend so much time talking about being white. I found out that I took a lot of pride in being "counter-cultural", of not sharing the mindset that others were not as good as me. I was stunned by my dawning realization that this is a luxury that I as a white, male, straight, married, able, middle-class employed person could have because of all the privileges - earned and unearned - that I enjoy. It had never dawned on me how all-encompassing my white privilege is.

I was also surprised at how engaged I became in the process. Part of it was the covenant-group-like structure that encourages intimacy and trust. Part of it was the authenticity and generosity of my companions. Some parts were challenging - hard, even - and I often found myself in uncomfortable territory. It's not fun to realize - again! - that many of the freedoms I enjoy are not equally shared in this country, in this society. Because we are all immersed in this culture, we find it here in my church community, too.

I don't consider myself racist on a personal level and I think that I don't harbor a lot of mass prejudice (though I'm open to guidance, there). Where my racism manifests is by my participation in and support of institutions - educational, political, employment, social, civic, cultural and religious - that have racial and other biases built into their structures and practices. Withdrawing my support for these institutions is not feasible - I would not enjoy being a hermit! - so changing them has to happen as they continue to function. Some, if not most, of those changes will inconvenience those of us who hold privileged status in these institutions. We've seen many examples of this in the educational and employment fields over the last fifty years; desegregation, busing, Equal Opportunity Employment laws, "quotas" and calls of "reverse discrimination".

One of my most painful realizations has been that measured, sustainable change in these institutions necessarily means prolonging and supporting their unjust and oppressive elements for another generation (or more!) but that revolutionary change is risky, too! The good gets thrown out with the bad and everyone suffers until - hopefully! - non-oppressive systems replace them. There are no perfect solutions and yet we must move forward. I look forward to when this curriculum is released and, when that happens, I will take it again.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


General Assembly has been over for nearly a week and, aside from a couple days head-in-sand, I've been thinking a lot about what I learned, what I saw, what I heard. A lot of it had to do with privilege and oppression.

Since I've been asked to serve as the head of the Diversity Action Group of my church's board, I paid a lot of attention to matters of diversity, race, oppression, and privilege. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to count my blessings or, in AR/AO/MC (Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, Multiculturalism) terms, acknowledge my privileges in relation to the society and culture that I live in.

  • I am male.

  • People - in general - accord me more power and more relevance than they do women. In general, I get paid more and have better chances for advancement in my chosen career (plus, I have more career options).

  • I am Caucasian.

  • Being white - whether examined or not - gives me a plethora of social advantages, subtle and overt. I am not targeted as a potential criminal. I am not viewed as less intelligent, less hard-working, less responsible to my family. I get paid more and have better chances for advancement in my chosen career.

  • I am paid a living wage (and then some).

  • I have (relative) economic security. I owe a lot of money on a house but even that gives me a lot of economic clout. All my potential whims and tastes are valued and marketed to. I can get pretty much anything I want.

  • I am 50 years old.

  • I am given the benefit of doubt in matters of experience. I am not treated like an "inexperienced youth" or a "radical" nor am I so old that others view me as being "old-fashioned" or "conservative".

  • Most view me as heterosexual.

  • I am not denigrated for being non-heterosexual. No verbal abuse, no physical abuse. I have full rights to marry and have it recognized in every state.

  • I feel that I am heterosexual.

  • Even considering my family story, I still default to a heterosexist world-view.

  • I am a citizen of the United States of America.

  • I get the benefits of being a privileged member of the richest society on Earth. I can get anything I can afford (or almost afford).

  • I have a college education and a bachelor's degree.

  • People assume that I am smart merely because I went to college. I don't have to prove it over and over again.

  • I am part of the power structure in my church

  • Since I am visible in my congregation and I contribute both time and money and because I am a don't-make-waves/don't ruffle feathers sort of person, I have been invited to be a leader in my church.

I recognize that these privileges puts me into the group of people that benefits from institutionalized oppression. What I am less sure of is how to fix it, how to change the power structures so that we all have equal power and equal access to power.

Working through the Building the Dream curriculum (my shorter name for Building the World We Dream About) that my congregation is testing, I finally realize that I'm not stupid for not understanding all this stuff consciously, innately. I wonder if we need an identity-based ministry for white people. I'm not sure whether Allies for Racial Equity fits that bill.