Archive for the ‘Unitarian Universalism’ Category

Do UUs need a new principle?

August 24, 2021

I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist almost all my adult life.  For me, it is a moral community to which I can look for inspiration and help, and a safe space where I can express my thoughts freely.

UUs are often caricatured as eccentrics who like endless discussion.  Since I myself am an eccentric who likes discussion, I am right at home.

The Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961 from the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, two religious sects whose distinguishing feature was that they never could agree on a binding creed.

In lieu of a creed, the UUA adopted six principles to live by, which pretty much express what I believe in.  In 1985, a seventh principle was adopted. 

Now an eighth principle is being proposed, with which I disagree.

Here are the first six principles.

1.  The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

2.  Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

3.  Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

4.  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

5.  The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

6.  The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

And the seventh.

7.  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Here’s the proposed eighth.

8.  Journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.

The eighth one is not like the others.  It is a program, not a principle to live by.  Unlike the others, it contains jargon words that have different meanings for insiders than for the general public.

These include “journeying toward … wholeness,” “accountably,” “dismantle,” “racism” and “oppressions.”

For example, I see oppression mainly in the USA’s forever wars, its big brother state and its hunger games economy.  Others see it mainly in Whiteness, masculinity and heteronormativity.

Racism, to me, is an ideology that says humanity can be subdivided into groups based on skin color and ranked as superior or inferior.  For others, being colorblind as to race is a form of racism.

Of course I could be wrong.  If I am, make the case.

The new principle is part of a movement within the UUA, going back decades, arising from the fact that many black and other minority ministers, staff and members don’t feel at home in a denomination whose history is largely the history of white native-born Protestants.

This is not my top priority concern, but it is indeed a problem, which needs to be solved through give-and-take, but not necessarily by redefining Unitarian Universalism and casting out those who disagree.

I expect the new principle will be adopted.  It has a lot of momentum.  As one who has never participated in denominational affairs, I don’t intend to shift gears and devote myself to any kind of resistance movement. 

I accept majority rule, provided I can freely express my own opinion.  But I don’t want to be part of an institution where minority views are driven out.

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Book note: Used to Be UU

June 19, 2021

USED TO BE UU: The Systematic Attack on UU Liberalism by Frank Casper and Jay Kissel (2021)

This is the last of three books I recently read on the crisis of liberalism within the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is the abandonment by self-described liberals of historic liberal principles.

I think the UU crisis is the echo of a crisis of liberalism generally in the USA and other liberal democracies. As such, it may be of interest beyond UU membership.

Used to Be UU covers much the same ground as the Rev. Todd Eklof’s The Gadfly Papers and Anne Larason Schneider’s White Supremacy Culture, and goes more deeply into issues of UUA governance.

If you only have time to read one of the three books, Used to Be UU is the one I recommend.  If you don’t even have time to read one book, I recommend you check out the Fifth Principle Project web site.

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The first part of the book is an account of events that began in March, 2017 when Scott Tayler, the director of congregational life, filled the position of Southern Region director by appointing the Rev. Andy Burnette, a white man who lived outside the region, and passed over the Rev. Christina Rivera, a Hispanic woman who lived inside the region.

There was a great outcry by religious professionals of color, which was followed by the resignation of UUA President Peter Morales just two and a half months before the completion of his six-year term.

(Rev. Morales, for what it’s worth, is Hispanic, and his predecessor, the Rev. William Sinkford, is African-American)

The Board of Trustees met by Zoom on April 3, and determined that the UU culture harbored “structures and patterns that foster racism, oppression and and white supremacy.”

The board issued a formal call for a process to analyze structural racism and white supremacy within the UUA.

This action resulted in the creation of the Commission on Institutional Change, which delivered a report, Widening the Circle of Concern, to the 2020 virtual General Assembly.

Of course this didn’t come out of nowhere. It reflected tensions that had been building up in the denomination for some time.

But still: It was a major change in direction that was decided on at a 90-minute meeting without a vote or discussion by the UUA membership.

Furthermore it has being treated as an official doctrine from which you are not supposed to deviate.

It is to be discussed at the upcoming virtual UUA General Assembly June 23-27, but the current issue of UU World says “the UUA is already adopting its policies and practices to embody its antiracist and anti-oppressive commitments and urges congregations and other UU organizations to do the same.”

So evidently any General Assembly vote is just a formality to ratify something already decided on.

The board of trustees also created an Article II Study Commission, whose mission is to revise the portion of the UUA bylaws that have to do with the purpose of the association.

The board’s charge to the commission is that it is free to “revise, replace or restructure” all sections of Article II, including the Seven Principles.

An Eighth Principle, having to do with “accountable” diversity and multi-cuturalism, is under consideration.

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Book note: White Supremacy Culture

June 18, 2021

A SELF-CONFESSED WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE: The Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism by Anne Larason Schneider (2019)

In 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees took the unusual step of declaring that the UUA was part of a “culture of white supremacy,” and declaring that its mission was to root out this culture.

The UUA is, by some definitions, the most liberal religious movement in the USA. So why would its leaders would describe themselves in words formerly applied to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan?

It makes a little more sense if you realize that “white supremacy culture” is something more vague and insidious than plain white supremacy. White supremacy is an ideology that says that white people have a right to conquer, enslave, drive out or kill off non-white people.

“White supremacy culture” is defined as a set of traits and attitudes that are common to white people, including nice well-meaning white people, and not shared by nonwhite people.

At worst, it is claimed that these attitudes are detrimental to non-white people and maintain white dominance. At best, they exclude non-white people. Either way, the “whiteness” of even well-meaning white people is believed to be harmful, and needs to be overcome.

A Unitarian-Universalist named Anne Larason Schneider, a retired political science professor, took it on herself to research whether there is any basis for belief in white supremacy culture, and such related concepts as white privilege, implicit bias, micro aggression and white fragility. The results are in this book.

She found that the most commonly-used description of white supremacy culture comes from a 2001 article by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. A Google search shows the article is still widely quoted, including by Unitarian Universalists.

Jones and Okun said white supremacy culture is marked by (1) perfectionism, (2) sense of urgency, (3) defensiveness, (4) quantity over quality, (5) worship of the written word, (6) only one right way, (7) paternalism, (8) either/or thinking, (9) power hoarding, (10) fear of open conflict, (11) individualism, (12) “I’m the only one,” (13) progress is bigger and more, (14) objectivity and (15) right to comfort.

One notable thing about the Jones-Okun article is that race, racial groups and racial prejudice are not mentioned except in the title and opening and closing paragraphs. Take them away and it would be a typical critique of business management practices. It is almost as if such a critique had been retitled and repurposed.

Another thing that struck Schneider is how the alleged traits of white people fit in with historic racial stereotypes.

Are white people perfectionists? If so, does that imply that black people, Hispanics and American Indians are sloppy? Do white people have a sense of urgency? If so, does that imply that non-white people are habitually late?

Do white people worship the written word? If so, does that imply non-whites are only semi-literate? Do white people value objectivity? If so, does that imply that non-white people don’t care about facts?

Would non-white people benefit if white people become less individualistic, perfectionist, objective and so on? Schneider said there is no evidence and no logical reason to think so.

The important question is whether there is any reason to think that whites and non-whites are divided along these lines. Or are “power hoarding,” “fear of open conflict,” or belief in “a right to comfort” traits found in all human beings?

Schneider found a survey showing that whites were on average a little more individualistic that blacks, Asians and Hispanics, but only by a few percentage points. Other than that, she found no empirical data either supporting or refuting the essay. It is mere assertion.

Because White Supremacy Culture ideology cannot be defended on rational grounds, it can only defended based on appeals to emotion, attacks on motives and exercise of authority.

One example of this is the campaign against Schneider’s friend, the Rev. Todd Eklof, to whom she devotes a chapter.  This is bad news for Unitarian Universalists who believe in historic principles of freedom, reason and tolerance.

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Book note: The Gadfly Papers

June 17, 2021

THE GADFLY PAPERS: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister by Todd Eklof (2019)

At the 2019 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the Rev. Todd F. Eklof set up a table outside the meeting hall to give away free copies of his new book, The Gadfly Papers.

He was immediately denounced by UUA leaders and barred from the floor of the General Assembly.

This was followed a denunciation in a group letter signed by nearly 500 white UU ministers, plus rebukes from several groups representing UUs of color.

He was officially censured by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association for allegedly causing harm to “people of color, indigenous, trans, disabled and other marginalized communities.”

Later he was removed from UUA ministerial fellowship, an action that in the past has been taken very rarely, and then mainly to ministers guilty of sexual misconduct.

I have been a Unitarian Universalist almost all my adult life.  I was taken aback when I learned about how Eklof was treated.  What originally attracted me to this movement was its emphasis on freedom of conscience and thought.

The UUA has no required religious dogma, only a commitment to Seven Principles.  Earl Morse Wilbur, a leading historian of Unitarianism, said it is defined by its commitment to “freedom, reason and tolerance.”

The joke about Unitarian Universalists is that, coming to a fork in the road, we turned away from the path that led to heaven and chose the one that led to a discussion about heaven.

So what makes Todd Eklof’s book out of bounds for discussion?  To find out, I decided to read it.  I think his book and the response to his book throw light on questions that are of interest to a wider public than just Unitarian Universalists.

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Chapter One. The Coddling of the Unitarian-Universalist Mind: How the Emerging Culture of Safetyism, Identitarianism and Political Correctness Is Reshaping America’s Most Liberal Religion.

Borrowing from the framework in The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Eklof said the same disturbing ideologies that have been seen on college campuses in recent years are now being manifested in the UUA.

These include “safetyism,” which holds that people should be safe from the expression of threatening ideas, and “identitarianism,” which holds that political mobilization must be based on race, gender, sexuality or other marginalized status.

An example of these attitudes was the reaction to a UUWorld article entitled “After L, G and B.” The author told what she had learned while relating to her daughter’s transgender girlfriend, discussed some of the difficulties faced by transgendered people in the UUA and stressed the importance of getting language right.

Eklof told how the article was greeted by denunciations on the ground that a cisgendered person had no standing to write about the experiences of transgendered people. The President of the UUA issued an apology, which was attached to the internet archive of the article, and the author apologized for her presumption.

Another example he gave was protesters shutting down a workshop on nonviolence communication, given at Liberal Religious Education Directors Association fall conference. The reason for the protest was that the facilitators were white men, and, therefore by definition, representatives of white supremacy and patriarchy.

Eklof mentioned a number of other things, including rewording of a hymn, “Standing on the Side of Love,” on the grounds that it was hurtful to people confined to wheelchairs, and being told his sermons were “too white.”

I might be tempted to think he was exaggerating, if the UUA’s over-reaction tp his book hadn’t proved the truth of what he wrote.

He contrasted these attitudes with words and deeds of great Unitarians of the past, who fought for freedom of conscience and equal rights for all, and for the common good of all.

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Use and abuse of the doctrine of original sin

February 9, 2021

When I was a small boy, I used to dread the Easter sermons in the church my parents sent me to.

The pastor, who was a fine man, would preach about how Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sake.

Jesus, literally the best person who ever lived, a man who loved everyone and harmed no-one, had his hands pierced with nails and his side with a sword, and was given vinegar to drink.

And why did he have to suffer and die in this horrible fashion?  Because of people like me.  Because we were so sinful.  Because that was the only way to save us from the consequences of the sins we had committed.

My feelings of guilt did not make me a better person.  I was selfish, lazy and weak, and at the same time self-righteous.

I felt I was better than irreligious boys my age because I at least was aware of how much of a sinner I was. But then I thought that having pride in a sense of guilt was just as bad as any other form of pride.

Adults did not understand me. They thought I was a nice boy because I was obedient, agreeable and an “A” student in school.

Mary McCarthy, in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, remarked that religion is good for good people and bad for bad people.   I guess this applies in my case.

Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness, wrote that people eaten up with guilt are egotistical.  We are preoccupied with ourselves.  We would be happier if we had objective interests and if we thought more about other people and less about ourselves.  This applies in my case, too.

I thought I might get rid of my feelings of guilt if I had sufficient faith, as great Christian figures of the past had done.   But I lacked faith.  I doubted everything.

I shared my doubts with my Sunday school teachers.  My doubts did not bother them.  They were, if anything, pleased that I took religion seriously, which so few boys my age did.

They did not take my doubts seriously. They told me that my doubts would resolve themselves when I became a mature adult.  However, neither of these things happened.

So far as I know, I was the only person in the church congregation, young or old, who felt as I did. 

My guess is that a large number were not bothered because they did not absorb the message Dr. Norment was trying to convey.  My guess is that the rest understood it through a filter of common sense.

The common sense way to hear Christian message would be to think: Yes, I am imperfect.  I try to be a good person and very often fail.  I repent of my failure, and try again, and, in the meantime, I do not judge others harshly for their failures.  That wpuld be a healthy way to respond.

As for myself, I resolved my problem by ceasing to fight my doubts about Christian doctrine.

I joined a small Unitarian fellowship in my native city as a young adult, just before the Unitarians merged with the Universalists to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

The Unitarians and Universalists are two small sects that originated in the 19th century USA and were noted for not having any binding religious creed.  We committed to living by living by certain principles rather than believing in certain doctrines.

Interestingly, Unitarianism and Universalism had their roots in early Christian heretics that St. Augustine regarded as his enemies—Arius, who taught that God was a unity, not a trinity; Origen, who taught universal salvation; and Pelagius, who taught that people were not inherently sinful, but capable of choosing between good and bad.

For me, they provided a moral community to which I could belong while being open about my thoughts and doubts.  I am a Unitarian-Universalist to this day.

I’m bothered by the readiness of some contemporary UUs to accept the idea of white guilt, which is very like the doctrine of original sin.  Feelings of guilt are not the best motivation for striving for justice, because your focus is on yourself and not the needs or wishes of the people who are actually suffering from injustice.

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‘When a deed is done for freedom…’

November 30, 2019

J.R. Lowell in 1844

THE PRESENT CRISIS

by James Russell Lowell

  When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast

Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west, 

And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb 

To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime 

Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time. 

  Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,

When the travail of the Ages wrings earth’s systems to and fro; 

At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start, 

Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart, 

And glad Truth’s yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future’s heart. 

   So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill, 

Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill, 

And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God 

In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod, 

Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod. 

   For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along, 

Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong; 

Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame 

Through its ocean-sundered fibers feels the gush of joy or shame; 

In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim. 

  Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, 

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side; 

Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,

Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right, 

And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light. 

  Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand, 

Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?

Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ‘t is Truth alone is strong, 

And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng 

Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

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Rev. Dr. Thandeka on white privilege

June 24, 2019

In colonial Virginia, there was a law that white indentured servants could not be stripped naked and whipped.  They could be whipped while fully clothed, but only black servants and slaves could be whipped naked.  So the white servants enjoyed “white privilege.”

Rev. Dr. Thandeka

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, says this is an example of how the idea of “white privilege” is used to persuade white people to accept being exploited and abused.

She wrote a series of posts (linked below) on her web log about how the idea of white privilege has been used through American history to divide poor black and white people and maintain the status quo.

She questioned the value of mainstream Christian churches trying to promote racial equality by means of instilling white guilt.  As an alternative, she proposed certain spiritual practices to help people of all colors better understand their common humanity.

I think she’s basically right.  Her analysis is considerably oversimplified, but when you’re stating your case in just a few paragraphs, you can’t always make fine distinctions.   I think her main points are important and true, and deserve to be more widely discussed.

The name Thandeka, which means “beloved” in the Xhosa language, was given her by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984.

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My life history as a story of race

March 29, 2018

My previous two posts were about my reactions to Debby Irving’s Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race.  As I stop and think about it, I have been entwined with race and racism my whole life.

My parents

Some of my earliest memories of growing up in the little town of Williamsport, Md., are of my mother and father arguing about white guilt.  My mother would go on about how badly black people and native people were treated.  Finally my father would say, “I am not impressed with the American Negro.”

My mother would resume talking about how Negroes were denied basic rights and forced to ride in the backs of buses.  “Exactly!” my father would say.  “I’d never let anybody treat me that way.”

Or my father would say, “I am not impressed with the American Indian.”  My mother would resume talking about how whites stole the Indians’ lands and forced them to live on reservations.  “Exactly!” my father would say.  “If the Indians had what it takes, we would be the ones living on reservations.”

My father was not, in fact, unfriendly or unjust to black people or anyone else.   He was friendly and at ease talking to anyone, whether an African-American janitor or the Governor of Maryland.   He was not impressed by wealth or social status, and he did not look down on anyone.

I think this ability stemmed from a genuine liking for people, and interest in them, but also from a self-confidence based on knowledge of his own strength and competence.  He would not let anybody take advantage of him.

My mother was kind to everyone, but she had genteel standards of behavior, which included good table manners, correct grammar, no cursing and swearing, no dirty jokes and no racist epithets or remarks.

My mother was the daughter of a lawyer who’d fallen on hard times.  My father was the son of a poor farmer whose life consisted of unending physical labor.  My maternal grandfather died in bed.  My father’s father was found dead in his barn one day where he’d gone to do the morning milking.

Both my mother and my father were respected members of their community.  My mother was a school teacher all her working life, and lived to see the children and grandchildren of her first pupils pulling strings to get their own children into Mrs. Ebersole’s class.

My father was part of the first generation of his family to attend college, which is where he met my mother.  He had a varied career; at the time I was born, he was a clerk for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).    He ended up as a civil servant in the Maryland State Employment Service, which administered unemployment compensation benefits and a job referral service for the unemployed.

When he reached retirement age, he chose not to retire, which was contrary to the plans of his superiors.  They sent someone—who happened to be a black man—to take over the duties of his office, while my father sat on the sidelines.  He understood what was going on, and decided to retire after all.

He had no resentment of the black man who replaced him.  On the contrary, he praised him.  He said the man had the quality he most respected—”quiet competence”

∞∞∞

Boyhood

Both my parents taught me to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, unless and until I had a good reason not to.  My mother in addition taught me to think of racism as both unjust and low-class.

In those days Maryland schools were still segregated.  I had a black playmate named Jim Tyler when I was a small boy.  He was a member of the Tim Mix Ralston Straightshooters club I organized, which was based on living up to the ideals of Tom Mix, the hero of a radio serial, and eating Shredded Ralston breakfast cereal.   As I grew older, I lost touch with him and never thought about him.

I was bookish, precocious and opinionated, and included to argue with my elders about matters of race and other things, mostly to their amusement.

“Be honest, Phil,” they would say.  “Would you be willing to have one of them marry your sister?”

I would answer that I didn’t have a sister, but if I did have a sister, in the highly unlikely event that she wanted to marry a black man, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but, if she really loved him, I could accept it.

The attitude of my elders was that I would give up my foolish theories when I became a mature adult.  Neither of these things happened.

∞∞∞

College Days

At the age of 15, I won a Ford Foundation Pre-Induction Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.   This scholarship enabled boys to go from the 10th grade of high school directly to college, on the theory that they could complete their college educations before becoming eligible to go fight in the Korean Conflict.   I learned later I got the scholarship based on a form of affirmative action.

Prof. Herbert Howe, who administered the scholarship program for the University of Wisconsin, initially decided to award the scholarship based on test scores and the letter of application.

What happened was that all the applicants with the highest test scores were from two high schools in New York City, the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School.   In the interests of diversity, Prof. Howe decided to restrict students of those high schools to 50 percent of the scholarships, and to set aside 10 percent for Wisconsin residents.

He told me later that my own test scores were little better than average.   He decided to take a chance on me because I was an interesting outlier—someone who chose to be tested in history and English rather than the sciences, and someone from a rural high school in the South (he thought of Maryland as the South) rather than a big city.

My college grades were all right, but below the Ford average.  My subsequent career was all right, but not as distinguished as my college classmates.  All the arguments against affirmative action applied to me.

I don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about having taken advantage of an opportunity that was offered to me.  I don’t criticize anybody for taking advantage of an opportunity that is offered to them.

During the time I was in the program, I knew of no black Ford scholar.  Maybe there was one later or at a different college.  I never thought about this at the time.

My student days were the first I ever had a serious conversation with a black person or a Jewish person.   One of my favorite professors was a Dr. Cornelius A. Golightly, a teacher of philosophy.  He was a brilliant man, and kind to me.  I heard that he didn’t get tenure, supposedly because he was a pragmatist, and the philosophy department only wanted logical positivists.

As a student, I wrote for the college newspaper, The Daily Cardinal.  I was a champion of academic freedom, an opponent of Senator Joe McCarthy and an opponent of fraternity charters that excluded black members.

∞∞∞

Military Service

After graduating from college in 1956, I volunteered for military service, including two years active duty.  This was in peacetime, and military service can be a good experience in peacetime.

The U.S. armed forces were probably the most diverse and multicultural institution in American society, and still are.   I met people from even more varied backgrounds than I did in college.  I encountered more black people then in positions of authority than I did for a long time afterward.

Now is as good a place as any to say that I never had any problem taking orders from black people, I never had any fear of black people and I never, so far as I know, was ever harmed by a black person.

∞∞∞

Journalism in Hagerstown, Md.

I worked for The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md., from 1958 through 1974.   I made a special effort to write about racial discrimination, civil rights and Hagerstown’s tiny black community, although I was often blundering and naive in the way I went about this.

My friend Jim Yeatts, who was white, married Georgiana Bell, who was black, and I attended their wedding.  The Chief of Police had a detective park in a police cruiser outside and take note of every wedding guest.  That night he phoned my publisher to let him know that I was the kind of person who’d attend an interracial wedding.  I never thought my job was in danger, but this shows the predominant attitude in those days.

The story I’m proudest of having written was about a black riot when Gov. George Wallace of Alabama came to town during his 1972 presidential campaign.   The Wallace staff had a policy had a policy of having campaign appearances on National Guard armories, and the armory in Hagerstown was on the outskirts of the black community.

In the middle of Wallace’s speech, a group of young black men started to interrupt Wallace’s speech by chanting.  Their leader was named Ken Mason.  He happened to be the son of Bill Mason, the chief sheriff’s deputy, whose appointment was resented by white racist rank-and-file deputies.     A group of deputies grabbed Mason and started beating him, while a city detective blocked me from getting close enough to see what was going on.

I was later able to quote eyewitnesses, including the chair of the local Wallace for President committee, as to what happened.  He was willing to speak to me because I had always reported on the Wallace people fairly.

Anyhow, I ran over to the nearby county jail, which was besieged by angry black people.  They went on a rampage all that night, but only within their own neighborhood, which, however, was on a main through street.  Bill Mason pleaded in vain to do the obvious thing, which was to set up roadblocks to divert traffic.

None of the heavily armed deputies or police ventured into the riot area.  Only I walked through it—admittedly walking very quickly.

After the bars closed, many drove their cars through the area.  One driver—a recently-discharged combat veteran of Vietnam—was killed by a brick thrown through his windshield.  Ken Mason was later tried and convicted on charges of inciting a riot, and given a suspended sentence.

I was able to write a fair and accurate article as a result of having previously written fair and accurate articles about all concerned.  I am proud that people who wouldn’t talk to each other would talk to me.

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Finding myself in the story of race

March 22, 2018

As a young newspaper reporter just starting out in the early 1960s, I once found myself covering the same event as a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American.

He remarked to me that he was a member of the “black press” and I was a member of the “white press.”

I didn’t say anything, but I thought he was mistaken.  He served the black community of Baltimore; I served the entire community around Hagerstown, Md.

But then, as I thought about it, I recalled that not one black person was employed in my newsroom, and probably never had been.  In fact, not one black person worked in the entire building, and that was true for the entire time I worked there.

Having achieved this insight, I promptly forgot it.   It never occurred to me to raise the issue.

I wrote in favor of civil rights and against racial discrimination whenever the opportunity arose during my 40 years on newspapers.

But there were weeks, maybe months, at a time when I never thought about race or myself being white.   If I weren’t white, I wouldn’t be able to do that.   Awareness of racial attitudes would be a survival skill that I wouldn’t be able to do without.

I thought about this after reading Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, a liberal white women from Massachusetts whose aim is to make other white people more self-aware.

Her accounts of her limitations and misunderstandings have been “cringe-worthy” by reviewers, but as I look back on my own life, I think my well-meaning blunders were as cringe-worthy as hers.

∞∞∞

Debby Irving wrote that the cultural values of middle-class white people make us unable to understand poor people or black people.

I learned the truth of this 15 or so years ago when I undertook to be a chauffeur for Bernice Cook, a poor black member of my church.  She lacked a car and so depended in public transportation to go shopping or keep medical appointments.   Things that I could do in an hour with a car took her the best part of a day without one.

We got to know each other fairly well.  I experienced culture shock the first time Bernice asked me for money.  I was taught as a boy that the one thing you must never, ever do is to ask people for money, except maybe for blood relatives and then only in the direst emergency.

The reason I felt I had no moral right to ask anyone for money is that I recognized no moral obligation to give money to others in need.  My assumption was that everybody ought to be able to look out for themselves.

Bernice’s day-to-day life was a continuing series of emergencies.   She was poor and she did not hoard resources.  She was willing to share everything she had with others in crisis, and so she had a moral right to ask for help from others.

Actually, she lived by the ethic of the Gospels, which is to give to those in need and take no thought of the morrow.  Many poor people are like that.   Come to think of it, the pagan Romans sneered at Christianity as a religion of slaves, poor people and women.

Living by the teachings of Jesus is not feasible for me as a middle-class person.  I could not do it and continue to be middle-class.  The best I can do is to live by the ethic of the Stoics—do my duty, keep my promises, tell the truth (or at least refrain from lying) and not whine about it.

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Albion’s seed in New England

July 17, 2017

The Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay was a much more thoroughgoing theocracy than modern-day Iran.

The Puritan leaders not only banned all religious worship except their narrow version of Calvinism.   They screened newcomers for religious orthodoxy.   Sunday religious worship was compulsory.   They might jail or fine you for such offenses as wasting time.

It’s true, as David Hackett Fischer pointed out in Albion’s Seed, that established churches and religious persecution were the norm in 17th century Europe and its colonies.

Virginia and the other southern colonies, like New England, had tax-supported established churches.  The settlers on the Appalachian frontier settlers did not hold with established churches, but they were quick to drive out any clergy whose preaching didn’t meet with their approval.   Only the Quakers of the Delaware Valley embraced the radical idea of tolerating religious teachings they thought to be in error.

But the Puritan religion was exceptionally narrow, austere and joyless.   It was about human sinfulness, the threat of hell, policing each others’ behavior and listening to hours-long sermons on hard benches in unheated churches.   The Anglican religion of tidewater Virginia, in contrast, involved a rich liturgy, 20-minute sermons and many feast days.

The flowering of New England culture was the result of a revolt against this Calvinist orthodoxy at the dawn of the 19th century.

Transcendentalists rejected original sin, and taught that we all have a divine spark within us.  In that respect, their theology was more like the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light than it was like the old-time Calvinism.

Humanitarian reformers sought to bring about the Kingdom of God by championing the cause of the blind, the deaf, the mentally ill, the American Indian and the black slave.   There, too, New England Congregationalists and Unitarians followed in the footsteps of Quakers.

The things the Yankee reformers retained from Puritanism were moral and intellectual seriousness, belief in education and self-government, and commitment to collective action.

One of the first fruits of the flowering of New England was the emergence of the Republican Party, which was formed to oppose the spread of slavery.   Almost all the famous New England writers and reformers were Republicans.

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Rev. Barber at the UUA General Assembly

April 20, 2017

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), president of the interfaith Repairers of the Breach and president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, is a leader of a broad progressive coalition that is changing the balance of political power in his home state.   I think it is important to know who he is and the moral basis of his movement.

He is rooted in a specific religious tradition, the African-American church movement, but is able to unite a broad coalition of Americans of different races and religious backgrounds, including us Unitarian Universalists.

Click on 2016 Unitarian-Universalist General Assembly for a speech that outlines his thinking.  Click on The First Reconstruction, The Second Reconstruction, The Third Reconstruction and / or ‘Resist the One Moment Mentality’ for highlights of his speech.

Harriet Tubman, an American hero

July 24, 2016

quote-i-was-the-conductor-of-the-underground-railroad-for-eight-years-and-i-can-say-what-most-conductors-harriet-tubman-274133

The following is notes for a lay sermon at First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, on July 24, 2016.

Before the present announcement that Harriet Tubman’s face will appear on the $20 bill, all I knew about her was that she was connected with the Underground Railroad.

I’ve since learned something about her, and come to realize that she is truly a great American – but with a different kind of greatness than that of historical figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Grant or Benjamin Franklin.

It is not just that those others were white, and she was black.  It is not just that they were all men, and she was a woman.  She was poor and illiterate, and earned her living through most of her life by physical labor.  Unlike her, they were commanders and lawgivers at the pinnacle of power.  She showed the power and position are not necessary for greatness.

What did her greatness consist of?  Her greatness consisted of the willingness to risk everything for freedom – first her own freedom, and then the freedom of others.

As a young girl, born into slavery, she resisted efforts to force her to accept submission, and eventually escaped.  Then, at great personal risk, she returned to the place she had been held in bondage, and rescued others.

During the Civil War, she volunteered as a scout for the Union Army and led other enslaved people into freedom.  During the final phase of her life, she supported equal rights for both African Americans and women.

She lived according to the ethic of Jesus in a way that few people today, including Unitarian Universalists, can understand.  She had a deep faith in God, and was guided by her visions of God.  She shared everything she had with those more in want that she was, and trusted in God to provide.

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Racial diversity and American religion

August 2, 2015

FT_15.07.23_religionDiversityIndex-1

We Unitarian Universalists value diversity and try to welcome all people, regardless of race.  So why are we so much more racially homogeneous than the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

I think the reason is that the intensity of the Adventists’ and Witnesses’ belief in their dogmas makes other considerations, such as race, unimportant.  The same thing is true of the Bahai.

We UUs are a big tent in terms of religious belief (even if relatively few people are under it).  But a non-creedal religion is something that college-educated white people tend to want more than people of other ethnicities and backgrounds do.

Should we give up our distinctive trait in order to broaden our appeal?  I don’t think that anybody—white or black—would want to affiliate with a group of people who are embarrassed about what they are.

One question that this chart raises is whether diversity within groups is compatible with diversity among groups.

I wouldn’t want to see the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the National Baptist Convention give up their identity as black churches.  And I don’t see how you could have a strong AME Church if the United Methodists recruited a large number of their members.

Likewise, it may be the case that the Missouri Synod Lutherans or the Evangelical Lutheran Church have traditions thjat are more meaningful to Germans or German-Americans than to the general public..

Religion is supposed to express universal values, but these values are rooted in particular heritages.  Get rid of these heritages and there might not be much left.

LINK

The most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups by Pew Research.

The persistence of American racism

June 22, 2015

Some thoughts inspired by the Charleston, S.C., church massacre.

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As a college-educated white person whose friends are mostly other college-educated white people, I think of overt racism as a thing of the past.  Racial prejudice, yes, but not the ideology of white supremacy.

What the premeditated murder of the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shows is that white supremacist racism has not disappeared, but just gone underground.

confederate_flagI can remember the bombings and burnings of black churches in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, in particular the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

White racists claim to fear the black underclass.  But what they hate the most are the God-fearing respectable members of the black middle class, because the existence of such people undermines their feeling of superiority.

∞∞∞

The murder victims’ loved ones said they forgive the murderer, just as Jesus taught and the Rev. Martin Luther King preached.  I ask my secular humanist friends whether they could be capable of such forgiveness.  I know I wouldn’t.

∞∞∞

Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past.  Just because we liberal white people don’t come in contact with it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still exist.

One of the members of the Sunday morning discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., is a white woman with an adopted black son.   I’ve met him, and he is a fine young man—intelligent, courteous and much more self-controlled than I ever felt the need to be at his age.

He once was traveling with white friends, stopped at a motel and was told there were no vacancies.  He went back to the car, and one of the white friends went in.  Unsurprisingly there was a vacancy after all.

He likes to visit Canada, but whenever he is driving the car with white friends, he says the car is inevitably stopped and searched.  When a white friend is driving, the car is always waved through.  When he is driving alone, he sometimes is refused entry to Canada—no explanation given.

He once was ticketed for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and spent the night in jail.  I’ve never heard of anybody else here ever being jailed for a traffic offense.

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Mark Morrison-Reed and the minefield of race

January 25, 2015

Mark Morrison-Reed is the author of In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby (2009), which is about his attempt to live in a color-blind world that doesn’t exist.  He was also my minister in the early 1980s.

The video above shows him talking about his book and about race in American life.  The first 25 minutes is his talk, and the rest is questions and answers.  Mark manifests his great ability to listen to people, and to understand and respond to where they’re coming from.

I met Mark in 1980 or 1981, I forget which, when he and his wife Donna were co-ministers of First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York.

I joined the church, which I still attend, in 1985 because of my great esteem for Mark and Donna.  Mark didn’t wear dreadlocks then. I remember Mark telling me something once that I was always remember.

He told me that I was committed to a philosophy that someday would fail me, which was that my self-esteem depended on “earning your keep”—that is, always repaying obligations.  He told me that philosophy would fail me because someday I would be in a situation in which I depended on the unearned kindness of others, which I would never be able to repay.  This has proved true.

Mark came from a background that was privileged compared to mine.  His father was a physicist on the faculty of the University of Chicago, who worked on the Manhattan Project and also was honored by NASA.  His mother was active in Chicago politics and knew Mayor Harold Washington.

But he was an outsider in a way that I never was.  He always had to deal with the fact that people, black and white, made assumptions, because of his race, about what he was and what he should be.

I never had to deal with that.  Maybe black people make assumptions about me because of my race, but this doesn’t control my life.

LINKS

‘True to my lineage’: Mark Morrison-Reed’s quest for spiritual integration by Kimberly French for UU World (2009)

Laying claim to my own blackness, an excerpt from In Between in UU World (2009)

Selma’s challenge by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2014)

The empowerment tragedy by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2011)

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Religion and the burden of proof

January 11, 2015

The late Carl Sagan used to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

What makes something an “extraordinary claim”?  For Sagan, a humanist and freethinker, the reality of the supernatural, of supernatural religion or of anything outside the scientific consensus was an extraordinary claim.

I think this is perfectly reasonable.  I, too, have made up my mind about certain things, and it would take extraordinary evidence to shake my conviction.

But for a great many people, it is atheism that makes the extraordinary claim and must assume the burden of proof.  They include:

  • prayer11People who are committed to certain religious practices and disciplines because they find them a good way to live.
  • People who’ve had transcendent spiritual experiences, and find the religion is a way to make sense of those experiences.
  • People who find that religious practices help them to deal with their troubles.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are examples.
  • People who admire someone who is wise and good, and adopt that person’s religious practice to become wiser and better themselves.

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Reproductive justice and infant mortality

November 15, 2014

Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant or not.  This right includes access to sex education, birth control and legal abortion.  But if the right to choose is to be fully realized, it should include the right to have a child and ensure the child is well cared for.

imrsThe United States in general, and my home city of Rochester, NY, in particular, have an unusually high rate of infant mortality, especially among poor African-American women.  It’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate, because the USA counts as infant deaths what many other industrial countries count as miscarriages.  But even taking that into account, it’s pretty bad.

If you break down the figures, the American problem is mainly a high infant mortality rate among African-Americans.  In 2010, 614 out of every 100,000 American babies died in the first year of life.  Broken down by race, the rate per 100,000 was 1,146 black babies, 518 non-Hispanic white babies and 528 Hispanic babies.

This is partly due to lack of good medical care and advice, and partly due to a much higher rate of premature births among African-American mothers.  Nobody is sure why African American women have more premature births, but one factor is stress.  Women in Medicaid, single mothers and mothers whose husbands are deployed in the military are more likely to have premature births.

infantmortalitybyraceethnicitySome people think that the stress of racism is a factor.  I would not dismiss that idea out of hand.  I’ve felt extremely self-conscious on occasions when I was the only white person in the room, and I have often wondered what it would be like to be black and have to deal with this feeling all the time.

Immigrant black women have fewer premature births than native-born black women, which supports the theory, although, as the third chart indicates, immigrant white women also have fewer premature births.  Another fact that supports the stress theory is there is the same disparity between upper-class black and white mothers as among the poor.

My city of Rochester, NY, is known for medical research and excellent medical care.  Back in the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited to praise Rochester’s community-rated health insurance.  But the figures indicate that our city as a whole, and our African-American residents are much worse and that, for some reason, the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is unusually high.

infantmortalitybyraceimmigrationstatus12The infant mortality rate in Monroe County is reported 1,420 per 100,000 births for African-Americans, 1,170 for Hispanics and 450 for whites.  The infant mortality rate in the city of Rochester is also 1,170 per 100,000, but 420 in the predominantly white Monroe County suburbs.

I don’t see anything obvious to be done about the stress of racism, but there is a lot that can be done to make sure pregnant women and new mothers get medical help and adequate nutrition.

The infant mortality rate is going down, although slowly, and there are programs that have made dramatic improvements, such as Kaiser Permanente Northeast California Early Start, Syracuse’s Health Start and the University of Rochester’s Baby Love.  The Affordable Care Act includes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides grants for such local programs.

It seems to me that if you believe in women’s right to choose, the right to choice does not end at birth.  If you believe in the right to life, the right to life does not end at birth, either.  Preventing deaths of infants in childbirth should be a purpose all Americans support.

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The great SF writer Frederik Pohl is dead

September 6, 2013

Frederick Pohl, the great science fiction writer, died earlier this month at the age of 93.  He was politically aware, scientifically literate and a fine storyteller.  His stories are imbued with a hopeful cynicism—a knowingness about how the world actually works and the possibility it can be made better.

I have read and admired Pohl’s work for 60 years, since as a teenager in 1952, I read “Gravy Planet,” a serialized novel in Galaxy magazine by Pohl and his friend Cyril M. Kornbluth about a future United States ruled by advertising agencies and corporations.  Pohl’s imagined future society has no tolerance for subversives known as the “Consies”—conservationists, or what we’d now call environmentalists, who oppose unlimited consumption.  One of the characters says that these fears were unfounded.  When the world’s oil and gas was used up, “science invented the pedi-cab.”

waythefuturewasThe serial was published the following year in book form as The Space Merchants, which critics consider to be one of Pohl’s two greatest novels, along with Gateway, published in 1977.  If you have any liking for grown-up science-fiction—as distinguished from science fiction as wish-fulfillment fantasy [1]—I’d recommend one of these two novels or Slave Ship, The Age of the Pussyfoot, Man Plus, Jem or The World at the End of Time.

Pohl  also was a fine short-story writer.  Some of his best were “The Midas Plague,” “The Gold at Starbow’s End,” “The Merchants of Venus” and “The Tunnel Under the World”—the latter a Philip K. Dick-type story written before Philip K. Dick was ever heard of.

He was a Unitarian-Universalist, like me, and UUs will be amused by the Unitarian minister protagonist in The Cool War and the Unitarian exorcism performed in A Plague of Pythons.  

While nothing Pohl wrote was completely without interest, some of his works—especially sequels to his most popular works—were not as good as his best.  If you’re curious about Pohl and not familiar with his work, I’d recommend you keep your eye open for the titles I mentioned the next time you’re in a used-book store or the stacks of your public library.  They’re better than 99 percent of what you’ll see in the SF section of Barnes & Noble.

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George Tyger’s War Zone Faith

May 27, 2013

The Rev. George Tyger was my minister at First Universalist Church here in Rochester, NY, before he enlisted as a U.S. Army chaplain.  He has written War Zone Faith, a book of reflections based on his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

WarZoneFaithWar Zone Faith is not a book that glorifies war and killing, but neither is it a book that depicts American troops as victims.  It is about courage, comradeship and loss.  Tyger depicts combat as an extreme form of the human condition, of having to do your best under circumstances not of your choosing.

Unlike him, I have come to think that U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was a terrible mistake, but like him, I have a high regard for people who serve in the U.S. military.   There are those who enlist in the military out of economic necessity, but there are those, some overlapping with the first group, who want to do something for the good of their country.   There are military families, who generation after generation.

And if willingness to serve is used for unworthy purposes, that is not the fault of those who serve.  They do not send themselves into war zones overseas.   They are sent by the President and Congress, who cannot act without the consent of we, the people.  If our policy is a mistake, the responsibility lies with the citizenry, not the troops.

We Unitarian Universalists like to say that we respect human diversity, but the U.S. military has greater diversity than any other American institution I can think of.  American troops are of all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all social and economic classes, all kinds of family backgrounds.

Rev. George Tyger

Rev. George Tyger

In recent years United States military chaplains have come to be disproportionately from fundamentalist Protestant backgrounds.  Andrew Bachevich, in The New American Militarism, said this dates from the 1970s when many of the mainstream American denominations turned away from the U.S. military because of their opposition to intervention in Vietnam.   The religious conservatives were the main ones that still honored the military.  At the same time, Bachevich noted, the strict, fundamentalist type of Christianity was well-suited to counteract the drug abuse and all the other military discipline problems of that era.

At the same time, conservative Christianity has certain limitations.  Chaplains are supposed to represent their own faiths, but serve everyone.  But if a chaplain thinks that someone of my religious belief is going to hell, I don’t see how I can confide in that chaplain.  That is why a chaplain of the eclectic Unitarian Universalist faith, which looks for the good in all religions, might be able to serve men and women of any and all religions.

I originally was in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan.  I thought the United States was justified in invading a nation whose government harbored the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.   And I thought the result of the invasion would be to liberate Afghanistan from the rule of cruel religious fanatics.   George Tyger still thinks that, and I don’t, but I thinks his choice is an honorable one.  George Tyger, thank you for your service.

Click on UU minister joins Army as a chaplain for a 2008 article in UU World about George Tyger’s enlistment.

Click on Meaning in the Midst of War for an excerpt from Tyger’s book.

Click on Things That Go Boom in the Night for Tyger’s reflections on returning home from Afghanistan.

A religious pilgrimage of upstate New York

March 29, 2013

The newest addition to my Blogroll page is Chris and Luke Explore the Burned Over DistrictIt is by a couple of young men who go around visiting places of worship and other religious sites in and around Rochester, N.Y., and reporting on what they see and hear.  Their blog is well worth following if you’re interested in the diversity of religion.  They visited my church, First Universalist Church of Rochestersome weeks ago.  

The Burned Over District

The Burned Over District

Western and central New York came to be called the Burned Over District after a series of powerful religious revivals in the early 19th century.  Revival preachers said the area was burned over because there was no more fuel (unsaved souls) to feed the fire of religious fervor.  But that was just the beginning of religious movements in this part of New York state.   At least two religions, Mormonism and Spiritualism, have roots here.

Joseph Smith Jr. lived in Palmyra, N.Y., just to the east of Rochester, and stated he was led by the Angel Moroni to the golden plates, whose inscriptions he translated into the Book of Mormon.  Each year the events of the Book of Mormon are enacted in the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant on the original site.  It is as if the events of the Book of Exodus were annually reenacted in a pageant at the real Mount Sinai.

The Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y., conducted their first table-rapping seánces in the area to communicate with the dead, leading to the Spiritualist movement, whose centers include the Lily Dale retreat center in Chautauqua County, NY, and Plymouth Spiritualist Church here in Rochester.

The Oneida Society was a successful communal utopian society in central New York, led by the prophet John Humphrey Noyes who said it is possible to live without sin in this world.  His most striking teaching was “complex marriage,” which included no unique partners, adolescent boys and girls being initiated into sex by older women and men and distinctive practices on birth control and eugenics.  After Noyes abdicated leadership in old age, the society reorganized as the Oneida silverware company.  The <Shakers were also an important part of upstate New York’s 19th century religious ferment.

First Universalist Church

First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY

People of diverse religions are good neighbors here.  In 1874, Unitarians, Universalists and Jews began a Union Thanksgiving Service which has been held annually since then, and now includes Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

Roshi Philip Kapleau started his Zen Center, one of the first American Buddhist communities, in Rochester in 1966.  He had never before visited the city, but his reading led him to believe the area had spiritual significance.  Chris and Luke haven’t visited the Zen Center as yet, but they have visited three other Buddhist places of worship as well as the local Hindu temple and the Islamic Center

As for myself, I do not believe in the doctrines of any one religion, and I think some religions at some periods of history have fostered hatred and oppression, but I think the teachings of most religions contain valuable wisdom, and I think all religions express the yearnings and creativity of the human spirit.

“Dear Earth…”

April 22, 2012

Max Kapp was a Universalist minister who served a number of churches, including First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., from 1938 to 1943.  He taught theology at St. Lawrence University and held positions in the Universalist Church of America and later the Unitarian Universalist Association.  But he was known for his sermons, meditations and poetry.  Here is a sample of his poetry.

For what my eyes have seen these many years
and what my heart has loved
and often I have tried to start my lines:
“Dear Earth,” I say,
and then I pause
to look once more.
Soon I am bemused
and far away in wonder.
So I never get beyond “Dear Earth.”

Click on Max Kapp for his entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biolgraphy.

Rochester’s Union Thanksgiving Service

November 24, 2011

Third Presbyterian

I celebrated Thanksgiving by attending an interfaith Union Thanksgiving Service this morning at Third Presbyterian Church here in Rochester, N.Y., with participating clergy from the home church, First Baptist Church, First Unitarian Church, First Universalist Church, Temple Beth El, Temple B’rith Kodesh, and Temple Sinai.

A Muslim representing the Islamic Center of Rochester preached the sermon, on the Quran’s teaching of the duty to be grateful for God’s blessings.  A member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church played the organ.

Union Thanksgiving Services have been held in Rochester every year starting in 1874, when First Unitarian, First Universalist and Temple B’rith Kodesh held a joint Thanksgiving service.  Our claim is that it is the longest-running Union Thanksgiving Service in the United States.

The hosting of the services is rotated among the participating congregations, and the different parts of the service are rotated among the participating clergy.  Next year Temple B’rith Kodesh will host the service, and somebody from First Baptist Church will give the sermon.

One exception to the rotation is the Muslim call to prayer, which is part of each year’s service.  When done properly, it is very powerful and penetrating, and I can imagine someone on a minaret being heard for a mile or more.  This year’s caller was a college student, who wasn’t quite as powerful as some of the more experience callers in prior years.

Another thing we always have is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, which is part of Jewish worship.  This year the blower played a kind of tune on the shofar, which I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have been sure was possible.

Giving of thanks for blessings, and celebration of harvest-time festivals around harvest-time, are part of every religion and culture of which I know.  Knowing I live in a world where people are still killing each other in the name of religion, I feel good when I am able to attend an interfaith service such as this.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that interfaith religious services happen only in America, but I think they represent what is good in American life—the willingness of people of diverse heritages to seek common ground.

Immigration is a moral issue

October 30, 2011

My refrigerator is covered with pictures of family, friends, children, library receipts and my son’s artwork.  However in Arizona, parents who are undocumented are clearing their refrigerators and placing prominently on them a single sheet of paper.  This one piece of paper tells social services what to do with their children if they are arrested.

==The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

The Unitarian Universalist Association has recommended “immigration as a moral issue” as a study-action issue for its congregations for 2010-2014.  On Saturday, I attended a social justice conference Saturday at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y.,  sponsored by the UUA St. Lawrence District.

The principal speaker at the conference was the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, parish minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and part of the UU Immigration ministry.  Others were Diane Chappell-Daly, an immigration lawyer from Syracuse; David Friedman, a St. Lawrence district trustee; and Pacho Lane, an American who identifies with Mexican culture and nationalism.

I learned things I didn’t know.  One is the cruel manner in which unauthorized Mexican migrants are deported.  Immigration authorities confiscate their property, including medications, cell phones, all forms of ID and any cash above $15, and deport them to a city in Mexico where they’ve never been.  Husbands are separated from wives, and parents from children.  Sometimes legal residents or even American citizens are caught up in these sweeps because they happen to be without proper documentation.  Reasonable people may differ about overall immigration policy, but no decent person can think this is right.

“Illegal immigrant” is a misleading term.  To reside in the United States without proper authorization is not a violation of American criminal law, although it is a crime to re-enter the United States once you have been deported.  “Undocumented migrant” is inaccurate, since many have documents; it is just that the documents are expired or invalid.  Arizona’s hard immigration law is not just a restatement of federal law.  It goes beyond federal law.

Frederick-Gray pointed out that until 1924, there were no restrictions on crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.  For many decades after that, Border Patrol enforcement was lax, and people routinely crossed back and forth.

During the past 10 or so years, there has been a crackdown that has made crossing more dangerous, and therefore more lucrative.  The Mexican drug cartel has taken over the business of smuggling people and combines it with smuggling drugs.

The private prison industry is an important lobby for a crackdown on immigration, and an important employer in Arizona.  In the current bad economy, it may be the only growth industry there.

The best estimate is that there are 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States, and this can’t help but contribute to the high unemployment rate and depressed wages of American citizens.  The uproar over illegal immigration is perfectly understandable, but deportation is unlikely to change the situation.  The Obama administration is deporting roughly 400,000 unauthorized migrants a year which means that, even if no new migrants enter the United States, it would take 30 years to deport them all.

President Obama has stepped up deportation of unauthorized migrants in hopes of gaining support for a path to citizenship for those remaining in the country.  But such support is not forthcoming.  If Republicans would not support this idea when proposed by President George W. Bush, it is unlikely that President Obama would change their minds.  The best that can be hoped for is the Dream Act, which allows children who grew up in the United States a path to American citizenship.

The focus of the conference was on unauthorized migration from Mexico into the American Southwest, but migrants come from many countries and enter all regions of the United States.  Upstate New York is an important agricultural region, and many farmers employ unauthorized migrants.

It is not that American citizens don’t want to do farm work.  Employers who pay minimummarket wage and obey American labor law can get all the workers they want.  But the economic incentive is to hire workers outside the protection of U.S. law.  Chappell-Daly said U.S. courts have ruled that it is legal for an employer to refuse to pay back wages to an unauthorized migrant.  Somebody in the audience, however, said that the New York Department of Labor will try to get workers the wages they’re owed—if they can find the person after they’ve been deported.

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My personal 10 commandments

April 17, 2011

One.  The truth is whatever it is.  Do not prefer lies or illusions to fact.

Two.  Do not devote your life to the pursuit of money, popularity or social status.

Three.  Do not use the language of religion, patriotism or idealism to justify superstition, intolerance or cruelty.

Four.  Take time to rededicate yourself to your best aspirations.

Five.  Honor those who nurtured and taught you.

Six.  Do not treat the lives of other people as less valuable than your own.

Seven.  Do not break promises or betray trusts.

Eight.  Do not cheat or exploit people, nor deny them what is due to them.

Nine.  Do not speak of other people falsely or maliciously.

Ten.  Do not envy someone else’s possessions, reputation, achievements or happiness, nor make yourself unhappy by comparing yourself to others.

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

December 24, 2010

I wish everyone a

Merry Christmas

Felix Natividad

Joyeux Noel

Froliche Weinachten

Buon Natale

Happy Hanukkah (retroactively).

Quality Kwanzaa

Splendid Solstice

Pleasant Pancha Ganapati

Beautiful Bodhi Day (belatedly)

Excellent Eid (very, very belatedly)

Fabulous Festivus

Happy New Year

or, if you’re not covered by any of the above, Season’s Greetings

or a Bah! Humbug! if you reject any expression of good will because it is politically or doctrinally incorrect.