Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Puppy

We have gotten a puppy.
Mrs. Tradition and I have not been dog people, neither of us having a dog since we were children. There was a while when we had two cats, but that experiment ended badly, and Mrs. T. never liked cats at all anyway. (We got them from a freakish situation. We had a neighbor who worked at OHare Airport, and these two cats were put on a plane to Chicago and never retrieved. We took them before they went to the Farm where all the cats go to play forever. I sometimes wonder what kind of person buys a plane ticket for a cat to get rid of it. I no longer wonder what kind of cat would cause a person to do such a thing.
Anyway, back to the dog, who is as cute as anything that walked the Earth, ever. It is the Scarlett Johannson of little dogs, early Friends (the TV show, not the Quakers) level cute, with little girls in Mary Jane shoes cutieosity.
Our daughters engineered the placement of a small dog in our home to get us to quit making sighing grandparental noises in the presence of babies and pointed comparisons to their more fecund cousins who have done right by Mrs. T's sister. They think that the puppy will buy them some time.
All is well with the puppy.
There is the matter of housetraining. Which is a lot like toilet training, but without the assistance of cognitive reasoning, language skills, or disposable diapers. All the books about housetraining, (which I have read with the same level of concentration as the 19th recommended book of obscure Patristic fathers on the doctrine of the virgin mary in theology school -- meaning that I have looked at the cover and a random page here and there) seem to show people living in comfortable suburban houses with green and spacious lawns outside. Hence they say things like: if the puppy starts to sniff, circle and squat, say "no" and "outside" sharply and hustle the dog outside to the lawn.
Nothing about living on the third floor of an apartment building. So, I find myself running down the stairs, with puppy pee dripping off of my elbows. By the time, I get to the designated potty space outside (a little piece of urban scrap grass, from which I have tried to clear the occasional shard of broken glass -- no wonder she is so cautious), the puppy looks up at me with her adorable Jennifer Anniston cute eyes with a patient look that says "why are saying Potty, Potty, Potty to me like a madman. I just went. Why are we here? Why are your elbows all wet? Can we go inside now? Why do I, one of the cutest creatures in God's creation, have to live with this obviously disturbed human being? Can I sniff, circle and squat on your shirt?

Mrs. T. gets all that needs to be done. She is determined and firm. She understands the needs for limits, boundaries and procedures. If this puppy is ever trained, it will be a testament to her perserverance. Me, not so much.

We are sitting down to eat lunch today. The puppy is in the bathroom, which used to be the guest bathroom and it now her "safe room". She is whimpering a little, just to let us know that she misses us, who are just out of her sight and trying to enjoy a refreshing little lunch on a Saturday afternoon. For Mrs. T., this is just what is happening. For me, I feel like Alberto Gonzalez dining al fresco at Guantanamo Bay, listening to relaxing sounds of running water, coughing, sputtering and pleas for mercy. Mrs. T. says that she can see I am not having a good time with lunch. Thank you for noticing, say I.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Torture and Indefinite Detention Bill

Well, there is not much to say. Tristero over at Digby's Hullabaloo reminds us that the whole purpose of the bill was Kabuki theatre. The US Government is already doing everything we fear that it is. There were two purposes to the bill: one was to assert the theoretical right of Congress to regulate such activities by passing a law that legalizes the existing practices and, two, to lay a political trap for the DC Democrats by forcing them to vote against tactics the President says are necessary for the war on Terror.

Whatever small and vague limitations on executive power that certain Republican 'moderates' wanted to include in the bill were lost last week. Once it was clear that the bill would pass, the administration juiced up the bill with everything they would ever want.

The DC democrats did not rise to the bait offered. While opposing the bill, and reaching almost complete caucus unanimity on some amendments, it was clear that they did not plan a filibuster. Nothing would have pleased the Republicans more than a filibuster against the bill, allowing them to go to the electorate with the Democrats supposedly obstructing the war on terror on Capitol Hill. They have the votes of the Democrats against the bill to work with, but that was going to be true the minute the bills were introduced.

The GOP in DC is not unlike the Dems in DC. They forget that the winning and losing tactical battles around legislation in DC does translate to the rest of the country. The Republicans won this skirmish in Washington, but at what cost. They confirmed all across the country that the GOP stands for torture, indefinite detention and unchallenged executive power.

I believe that the hidden question moving this election is the question : is the modern Republican party seriously out of control and dangerously unchecked? Democrats have thought so for quite a while (since the impeachment of Clinton in fact), but now independents and moderates are just as concerned. And, if it is true, the traditional solution is well-known, and at hand: vote to divide government between the parties.

I think that the DC GOP outmaneuvered the DC Dems, but weakened themselves around the rest of the country. I think that when they run their inevitable ads that Senator X voted against the torture bill, it will not help them, because it confirms the worst suspicions about the GOP. They are losing the middle, and proving that they are more willing to torture people is not going to help them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Worship and GA

I am more than willing to cut the GA planning committee some slack around how they schedule worship on Sunday at GA. I think that going away from the Sunday morning worship is a mistake because I grew to like the Sunday morning seeker oriented service. But figuring this stuff out is not my job. And perhaps closing with a worship service will seem right when we do it.

Since I suspect that many people will be heading home before 4 PM on Sunday, the time of the closing worship service. There is a plenary at worship time on Sunday, so quite a few people will seek other worship options Sunday morning. Worship at First Unitarian in downtown Portland should be full.

I think that it is important that we have significant worship at GA, and by significant, I mean worship in which the elected leaders of the association play substantive liturgical roles. I appreciate the fact that the preaching duties are spread around and that we get to hear from a variety of ministers from the GA pulpits. But I also want to hear sermons from the President of the UUMA, and sermons from the President of the Association. I think that that religious leadership often comes down to the ability to inspire or to cast a vision. The corporate worship service and the sermon are forms of speech designed to call forth expressions of visionary leadership.

Part of the community forming power of worship is that it forms and designates community leaders who gain authority by their sustained and repeated inspiration of others. The GA practice of rotating the most important preaching duties around to different ministers is like the lay-led fellowship which rotates the worship leadership around a group of competent speakers, none of which have the role of vision-caster for the group.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Planning Committee Speaks

The Planning Committee states their position (from the comments section)

There will be a full Sunday Worship Service, complete with a sermon by Rev. Josh Pawalek and music by the 1st UU Portland choir. The difference is that it will be in the afternoon. We will end with closing worship instead of the usual closing ceremony. Sunday's schedule will include morning spiritual practices, a pre-plenary hymn sing, a plenary session, a GA choir concert, a workshop/featured presentation session, and the closing worship service. (Local folks can attend their own congregation's service in the morning and the GA one in the afternoon.)
Closing worship will be the last event, 4-6 PM. In response to feedback from 06 attendees, we're trying to give people a chance to stay for all of GA and still get home to get to work Monday morning. We think that ending with a worship service actually elevates the importance of communal worship, not diminishes it.

The decision to shift items in the Sunday schedule was just made a few days ago--we haven't had a chance to get meeting minutes or web page material up yet. More info will get sent out shortly.

Beth McGregor
GA Planning Committee

Just A Comma

President Bush said to Wolf Blitzer:

"Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy."

We are told that the President likes to read history these days, and is concerned about his legacy. His comment about the present moment being just a comma in the long history of Iraq indicates that he has succumbed to the grandiosity of the historical perspective: the ability to see place the present moment into such a long view of history that it loses its moral significence.

The President, with his Iraqi invasion spiraling into greater and greater failure and calamity, is retreating out of the present moment into a fantasy of a future history.

What on earth does he mean by the phrase "when the final history is written on Iraq"? He talks as though history will produce a final consensus about what is happening. But, a serious reader of history knows that there is no final history ever written on anything. The writing of history opens more and more up to scrutiny as time goes by. All of the stories about Iraq that are now being suppressed and ignored will someday be opened up by historians. The US military will write their histories of this war. Iraqi historians will catalog every encounter between civilians and the US military. Political and diplomatic historians will write the history of everything that Bush and his administration have tried to hide.

The process of writing history does not reduce anything to commas; it eventually reveals everything that is hidden in the commas of the speeches of Presidents, and the columns of pundits, and the glib utterances of the foolish.

"You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs." Mao Zedong. "History will absolve me." Fidel Castro.

Thus, always, of tyrants. The appeal beyond the present moment to some Olympian heights, where the lives of individuals no longer matter.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sunday Morning at GA

The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship has been negotiating to bring Kathleen Norris to General Assembly in Portland next June. And they have made that agreement and gotten GA Planning Committee co-sponsorship for the event. But along the way, the Planning Committee revealed that the Sunday morning worship service was being moved to later in the day and combined with the closing ceremony of General Assembly. Amidst our celebration of working this deal out about Kathleen Norris, this revelation almost slipped by unnoticed.

No Sunday Morning Worship at GA?

Sunday morning used to be set aside for the Service of the Living Tradition, at which ministerial transitions were honored and celebrated. Recently, the decision was made to move the Service of the Living Tradition to Friday night and reserve Sunday morning for a big UU seeker friendly service and make a strong effort to invite the hosting community to the service. I think that last summer was the first time that this was fully implemented, perhaps the second. And last year, Gail Geisenhainer a wonderful sermon in that service. I could see the logic and potential power of the decision.

But to move the Sunday morning worship to later in the day and combine it with closing ceremony? A closing ceremony is not necessarily a worship service. The closing ceremony is not when you invite guests. And an Association of Congregations, almost every one of which worships on Sunday morning, ought to worship on Sunday morning as well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cool Map Predicts Senate Races

I check this every so often, when I need a little cheer.

Ministerial Debt is a Systemic Problem

I was fortunate enough to go through seminary without incurring student loan debts. I went later in life, and my spouse has a good job.

Many of our newer ministers accumulate significent student loans while preparing for the ministry.

This is a not personal problem for them; it is a systemic problem in the way that ministers are formed in our present system.

  • Seminary education is expensive and getting more so all the time. We don't provide a lot of scholarships.
  • UU's require an internship as part of the preparation, and yet churches pay very little to interns. Often seminaries require internships as well, and charge tuition for the intern supervision.
  • UU's require Clinical Pastoral Education which pays nothing and costs money.
The inevitable result is that the candidate not only has to pay for the expensive seminary education, they also must take considerable time out of their working life to fulfill requirements of the practical side of their education. Without independent wealth, or a well-employed partner, debt is the best option.

Not only are large student loan debts the predictable consequence of the formation process, those debts have systemic effects.

New ministers spend the first parts of their careers trying to get out of debt, so they can start saving for retirement. As the age of incoming ministers get older, there is less time for retirement accumulation, assuming that it slowed or stopped during the formation period. Ministers who are debt-ridden have to shape their ministries around their paychecks. It means that more ministers become parish ministers in established churches. Church planting, startups, mission and evangelical ministries are out of the question. Community ministers gravitate toward the better funded institutions and agencies. Again, the bold, untried, experimental ministries and projects which are not well-funded are out of the question.

If you wonder why Unitarian Universalism is more "out there" -- creating ministries in poor and marginalized communities, among the young adults, away from the major metropolitan centers and university towns, in communities at risk, and with less safe and more controversial messages, part of the reason is the our system of formation burdens our newest and most fired up ministers with big student loans, and then pretends that they are the result of their own personal failures in financial planning.

"Tis the Season

It's that season again, when the invitations to ordinations and installations start arriving at your ministerial mailbox. Once again, the time of the year to drag your weary tuchas halfway across the state to schmooz with colleagues in a church parlor while eating cheese and crackers and little bundles of grapes. Once again, the time to enjoy the delightful process of watching ministers trying to form themselves into two parallel lines in a particular order. Let's see, will we sing "Rank by Rank" or "Bring, O Past, Your Honor" as we stroll into the sanctuary, resplendent in robes and stoles? I actually love it. You hang out with friends and you hear good preaching and see churches at their most hopeful, purposeful and optimistic.
The offerings taken usually go to the Living Tradition Fund, a fund administered by that bureau formerly known as the Department of Ministry. The Fund pays out all of its money every year in the form of aid to indigent retired ministers, scholarships for seminarians, and debt relief to ministers who accumulated crushing debt getting through seminary.

I write a check to the Living Tradition Fund and send it off to 25 Beacon Street whenever I receive an invitation to an ordination or installation. I make the contribution in honor of the ordinand, or installee, as I am sure that their name is inscribed with a quill in a giant leather bound volume with gilt page edges and marbled endpapers that rests on a burgundy velvet cushion in the Vault of Sacred Memory there on Beacon Hill.

Go Thou, and Do Likewise!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Antiwar Movement since 9-11

As I sort through my own thinking and actions over the last five years, as a part of my own accounting for the War against Iraq, I come to my allergic reaction to the antiwar movement in this era.

If you know me, and have suffered through my frequently repeated autobiography, you know that I was an anti-war activist in the 60-70s and then progressed into more and more radical politics until I ended up in a pretty strange place, before I chucked all of that. Reclaiming my Unitarian roots was a huge step to the right for me.

I became politically, first a Jackson Democrat, and then a Clinton Democrat, mostly because I appreciated his pragmatism and his skills at political combat. I am usually repelled by what in Chicago used to be called "goo-goo's", or good-government types: idealistic, intellectual, policy-oriented, honorable. Give me Jack Kennedy over Hubert Humphrey; give me Robert Kennedy over Eugene McCarthy; Give me Bill Clinton over Paul Tsongas, and in the choice between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, let me just shake my head.

All of which is to let you know that I allergic to beautiful losers and to all sorts who try to make the world a better place by the simple peaceful radiance of their own good example.

I am also allergic to the Marxist-Leninist Left and its embrace of totalitarianism.

So, on the beautiful blue skied day of 9/11, I was sitting at home, a twitching and irritable lump of political allergies and aversions, and lacking a clear political programme and foreign policy, and then someone called and I started a long bout of TV watching.

At the first emergency memorial service I attended, which was within a very short time, I heard one of those prayers in which the pastor prayed that "we would turn away from anger, vengeance and violence." Obviously, the good reverend was not personally tempted toward such things, but was confessing other people's sins for them. I had the sudden desire to throw up, and my interactions with the antiwar movement continued to have a similar effect on me for weeks and months and years afterward.

I became emotionally supportive of the war against Iraq, in part, because the antiwar movement opposed it. Not my finest hour, nor my most best thinking. I don't think I am alone in this, though.

More in Part 2

The Antiwar Movement since 9-11 Part2

Why did the antiwar movement repel me so much since 9-11, even though they were, on the issue of Iraq, right on the core policy question: to invade Iraq would result in a quagmire, which would make life much worse for the Iraqis, and have seriously negative consequences for the United States and the American people.

Emotional reasons: the peace movement never seemed to be on the same page emotionally with the rest of us.
  • Yes, they thought 9/11 was tragic and awful, but only in the context of a world full of tragic and awful things. Kind of like a friend who while sympathizing with the death of someone you love can't help but mention that a lot of people you don't know died even worse deaths.
  • Yes, they could understand how other people were angry, but they seemed more afraid of that anger than anything else. The anger expressed by ordinary citizens was a fearful problem that needed to be managed. Even the widespread display of flags etc. seemed to be worrisome to many anti-war and peace activists. It finally hit me at one point: the peace movement was uncomfortable with ordinary Americans publicly expressing any emotional response to 9/11. While their rhetoric acknowledged anger and national solidarity as normal responses to 9/11, which even they shared, the sights and sounds of ordinary Americans expressing those same emotions set off alarm bells in their heads. I realized that much of the antiwar and peace movements feared the American people.
  • I remember feeling at the time time that the peace folks I knew had taken up a position of swimming against the emotional tide. Where people expressed fear, they argued that our expectations of safety were a privilege denied to many. Where people expressed anger, they pointed out that it was possible to see that we might have deserved this. Where people expressed national solidarity, they sang "This is my Song."
The emotional disjoint between the peace movement and the rest of the country was obvious within days of 9/11. It was impossible not to read the substantive policy proposals they made in the same light. I'll talk about that in Part 3.

The Antiwar Movement since 9-11 Part3

On a political level, the antiwar movement from 9/11 on was emotionally disconnected from the rest of the country.

It's substantive arguments were also off the mark, drawing the wrong lessons from history.

  • The unexamined premise of the peace movement's analysis of the world situation is still Maoist. On the one side is the Imperialist Superpower, the United States. And on the other side is the worldwide United Front Against Imperialism. While virtually no one in the peace movement defended the Taliban, or Saddam Hussien, no one seemed to have an analysis which did not start and end with the necessity for restraining the United States.
  • While not defending the Taliban or Saddam Hussien, the antiwar forces also did not analyze them, nor Al Qaeda. The antiwar movement had been silenced during the Iranian crisis of the Carter administration and has never regained its voice because it could not fit Islamic fundamentalism, as a political force, into its unexamined premise of the United Front Against Imperialism leftover from its anti-Vietnam heyday.
  • It is another feature of the leftover Maoism of the antiwar movement was that their rhetoric always seemed to focus on economics -- the roots of terrorism was third world poverty, not religious grievances, nor political paralysis in the Middle East.
  • The antiwar movement tended to view the rhetoric about "democracy promotion" as culturally imperialist (democracy promotion was always described as "imposing Western-style democracy"), which carried the connotation that some people were not ready for democracy.
The bottom line was that the antiwar movement was right about what not to do about Iraq: do not invade, and having invaded, withdraw and come home. But being right about the policy is not the result of being right about the analysis of the situation.

Out of tune emotionally with the American people, and unable to provide any real wisdom about what is happening, the antiwar movement has played a negative role in the last five years. The turning of the people against the war has come from their observation of the failures of the administration's policy, not from the leadership of antiwar activists. In fact, public opinion has moved most against the war during those periods when the antiwar movement has been silent.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

9-11: The Day We Forgot Everything

In retrospect, it seems that the big shift in consciousness that occurred after 9-11 was that we forgot everything that we had learned in Vietnam. In particular, we forgot that there are our powers are not unlimited, that there are other actors in the world, and that there are times, when even the armed forces of the United States cannot acheive their goals.

George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other leaders of the administration had never learned these particular lessons from Vietnam, and had clung all these years to the delusion that the US was self-defeated there, by a failure of the will.

But many others, who did know better, forgot what they knew after 9-11. We had been hurt; we felt vulnerable; we were angry; the anger made us feel strong; the world seemed a different place because we were feeling strong.

It was said that "everything changed on 9-11", which is rather hard to believe. More accurately, everything looked different to us after 9-11, because our emotional state had changed.

  • And so, the cautious realism about the use of military force was forgotten
  • And so, the truth that most people in the world are not willing to be pawns in the global ideological rivalries by which we organize the world was forgotten
  • And so, the truth that, in an open information world, that a great power will learn that its army is being defeated from its own citizens, and not from its own messengers from the front, was forgotten.
  • And so, the truth that the "national will" is a not resource deployable by the national government, any more than the weather is, was forgotten.
  • And so, the truth that most Americans, from the heights of power to the rank and file soldier or marine in the field simply does not know enough about the history, politics and culture of other countries to be anything but foreign invaders and occupiers, was forgotten.
If the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten on 9-11, the last five years have been a testing of the opposite proposition: that the reason why the US failed in Vietnam was a failure of national will. The administration has gone to great lengths to summon up the national will to fight the War in Iraq: overblown and deceptive intelligence, Churchillian rhetoric, appeals to the high values of democracy and human rights, secrecy, news manipulation, endless repetition of clearly refuted falsehoods. Their control of Congress has meant no Congressional hearings where questions can be raised. They have Fox News, and talk radio and countless blogs. And yet, the national will to fight this war steadily weakens. Why? Because the fact that our intervention in Iraq is failing is to obvious to hide. And it is failing for all the reasons that were predictable, if we remember what we learned in Vietnam.

Digby, one of my favorite bloggers, has pointed out that before 9-11, America was awash in nostalgia and sentiment for World War II and the "greatest generation." He comments that after 9-11, the nation quickly adopted WW2 as the lens through which we would view this new situation. For baby boomers, it was to forget our own experience in favor of a sentimentalized, simplified, cinematic, ersatz memory of our parents experience.

Of course, it was bound to fail.

My 9-11 Recollection

Is there a rule that you have to post your personal recollections of 9-11 if you want to have a blog? I may have missed that it in the Blogger terms of use paragraph that I clicked without reading. Sorry. In case it is a requirement, here is mine.
It was a nice day. I was at home, doing nothing. Somebody called. I watched TV for a really long time after that.

There, that should do it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day Election Preview

In 1994, Adrienne Rich wrote this poem:

And now as you read these poems
-- you whose eyes and hands I love
-- you whose mouth and eyes I love
-- you whose words and minds I love --
don't think I was trying to state a case
or construct a scenery:
I tried to listen to
the public voice of our time
tried to survey our public space
as best I could
-- tried to remember and stay
faithful to the details, note
precisely how the air moved
and where the clocks hands stood
and who was in charge of definitions
and who stood by receiving them
when the name of compassion
was changed to the name of guilt
when to feel with a human stranger
was declared obsolete.

(from Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995, W.W. Norton, New York, NY)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Religious Liberalism and Tolerance

The UU World Online site has been considering the question raised by Sam Harris as to whether the commitment to tolerance disarms religious liberalism in the struggle with fundamentalism. Warren Ross as a posting laying out the issue and asking:
So now, as freedom, reason, and tolerance are all under siege in our society, does self-preservation require religious liberals to abandon our commitment to religious tolerance?
He quotes William Murray of Meadville Lombard as saying,"What I would say about tolerance is that we cannot tolerate intolerance."

This posing of the question as a paradox of the virtue of tolerance is quite silly, if you ask me.

How can the tolerant be intolerant of the intolerant without becoming intolerant themselves? What a deep Zen like koan to perplex the mind of deep thinkers everywhere.

Exclusivist, Universalist religions believe that they are called to convert the world to their single truth. The two largest religions in the world: Christianity and Islam both have this gear.

The question is not whether we religious liberals are prepared to tolerate them. Of course, we are. Do we have a choice?

The question is whether religious liberals will willingly give such religions power over people who are not believers. Of course we will not.

The issue is not the nuances and paradoxes of tolerance; the issue is power.

The religiously tolerant and the religiously intolerant can co-exist, but only when the religiously tolerant have the power.

In the United States, because of the Constitution, the First Amendment and the history of its interpretation by the Judiciary down through the years, the political power of the religiously tolerant is institutionalized and guaranteed.

Religous Liberals ought to be quite clear that we will fight with all available means, and with the ferocity of junkyard dogs, to preserve our political power, against all those who would challenge it.