Friday, March 30, 2012

Social Media Activism is Powerful.

Like tornadoes in Oklahoma, the social media storms keep blowing in and blowing out, one after another. 

There was the Susan G. Komen attempted cutoff of funds for Planned Parenthood. 

There was the Rush Limbaugh smear of Sandra Fluke.

There was the outcry over the mandated transvaginal ultrasounds requirement for abortion.

There is the case of shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Many others, as well.

It can seem flighty and trivial, but it is not.

Social Media activism is an exercise of considerable social power and it changes things. 

It changes the public discourse; it drives new agendas. Social Media activism can make something that was hidden and quiet and obscure to be the lead story on the nightly news, and above the fold in the major newspapers. 

Each of the four cases above (Susan G. Komen, Rush Limbaugh, ultrasounds and Trayvon Martin) were not intended to be big news.

Susan G. Komen intended to cut off Planned Parenthood quietly.  The only people who would notice would be the anti-choice activists.  They were the target audience.

Rush Limbaugh thinks that he is talking only to the people who already agree with him.  Calling Sandra Fluke a slut was an dismissive joke among like-minded people. 

The GOP legislatures hoped to pass these ultrasound requirements as sops to the organized anti-choice groups.  When implemented, it would be affecting doctors and patients in medical offices, one at a time.

And the death of a young black man who was suspected to be up to no good -- well, that's the kind of story that everyone expects to be ignored.

But social media made all of this public national big news events.  Once they 'go viral' information about these outrages explode across the national consciousness.  They travel as petitions, as posters, as jokes, as serious articles, as cartoons, as calls to action.  They cannot be stopped. There are many sources, many versions of the same message, many information pathways.  And they are fast and cheap.

And they get results; embarrassed walkbacks, apologies, both sincere and half-hearted, boycotts, closer scrutiny, re-shaped public discourse.  The Right was on a campaign to neutralize health reform by allowing any employer to refuse to provide a health policy that covered health procedures against the moral code of the employer.  That subject got changed.  What was supposed to be a couple funny lines from Rush Limbaugh derailed the whole push.  Not because the lines were so outrageous for Rush, but because progressives unleashed a firestorm in response.  By the time, we had moved on, the movement had hurt Rush financially.  And the story had shifted from the Obama administrations "war on religion" to the GOP "war on women."  

We did that with our powertools of the struggle:  "Like", "shares" and "Comments."  And don't forget "retweets." 

We are practicing social mobilization for the causes we believe in.  We are building networks of people who communicate with each other and spread the message.  We are getting better and the line between what we do online and what we do offline is breaking down.  Wearing a hoodie in the real world is a step beyond putting on a hoodie for new profile picture.

Keep up the fight.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A shocking argument for or against Obamacare

I received this from a friend of mine, (the same one who suggested that the nation draft young people into a nationalized porn industry to pay for college costs.  He describes himself as a pragmatic conservative who is unencumbered by political correctness and do-gooderism.  

This is what he suggested.  (I using the abbreviation for his standard opening with which he starts all discussions of political or policy matters "Its really very simple; all you have to do is...."  That's the way they do it on the blogs he reads.
IRVS:AYHTDI stop coddling the freeloaders.  There are a bunch of people (and you know who they are, don't you?) you think that they don't have to pay for health care like everybody else.  While the rest of us are getting up and driving our trucks down the freeway to get to the job so we can take care of our family, these folks are still in bed, waiting for their breakfast of skittles and iced tea to be brought to them.  They don't have health insurance, but why should they care?  If they get sick, they just go to the hospital emergency room and get their free care.   And who pays for that?  You do and I do.  The hospital sticks us with the bill and we pay for it with higher premiums on our insurance.  

I say it time to stop coddling the freeloaders.  Just tell them that they have to get health insurance, or else.  If they don't, make em pay a big old fine, so they get it either way.  Sure, if there are some genuinely poor people out there who deserve it, it would be ok to let them have a subsidy.

Now, where are they supposed to get this insurance?  Well, they should get it at work, like a real American.  But it may be that the job creator who created their particular job can't afford to give them health insurance.  If that's the case,  I think that the federal government should stop putting job-killing regulations and taxes on the job creators, and give them a little cash money to help them buy insurance for their people.  That's being helpful.

Now, if you liberals came up with a plan like mine, I could support it.  But you are so busy being nice and trying to help people who should be helping themselves and talking about compassion, you come up with completely unreasonable, unworkable, socialist plans like Obamacare.  You just don't the guts to be mean enough to get the job done. 

Repeal Obamacare!  Just Make the Freeloaders Buy their Own Damn Insurance! 

I would make some comments on my friends suggestions, but my dogs have started barking for some reason, and I need to go see what's got their attention.




Monday, March 26, 2012

Tribe over Tribe; Community Against Community

The picture that emerges from Sanford, FL, where Trayvon Martin was killed by a self-appointed neighborhood cop in a gated community is a picture of a society moving toward de-facto apartheid.

Gated communities patrolled by non-governmental civilian forces, on the lookout for people "who don't belong here."

It is a continuation of patterns of power and violence from the past.

There are parts of this country where, for a long time, the social structure was one racial community controlling another racially defined people.  White people over the slaves and the former slaves.  The settlers over the natives.  These social systems were not maintained and enforced only by police and troops, but also by community mobilization.   Every white was seen as having the duty to help control every black.  Any white over any black.

Lynching were demonstrations of the collective power of the white community to control the African American  community.   Individuals who were thought to have violated the rules, the boundaries, were singled out for brutal and public execution -- unofficial, outside of the law.  A lynching showed what the real relations of power were.  That every level of government looked the other way made it perfectly clear.

George Zimmerman obviously thought that was the way that it still worked. He thought he was exercising legitimate power as a white person patrolling his community against black marauders.  Think of it, he shot a person while on the phone to the police.  He expected to be supported by the government.  And, considering the fact that he was not arrested, it was not a crazy expectation.


"Right to Carry" and "Stand Your Ground" and other such legislation is all based on this "all of us  control all of them" thinking.  They enable vigilantism, in that they carve out a space for non-state forces (neighborhood watch groups, for example) to use violence.  But, the rule of law assumes that  legitimate violence can only be exercised by the state.

The family of Trayvon Martin, and all of us who support them, have a pertinent question to ask.  Will every level of government look the other way -- giving the benefit of the doubt to white "defenders of their neighborhoods and communities?"

The reminder from President Obama that if he had a son, he would like Trayvon is a reassurance that "no;" every level of government will not.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Neither Young, Nor Old -- Sermon 3/18/2012


Rev. Tom Schade
There is a joke going around:  
“The Past, the Present and the Future walked into a bar.  It was tense.”
Wendell Berry writes:  “Time is neither young, nor old, but simply new, always counting.”  Each moment is its own, newly created, here for a moment and then gone, replaced by another.
The late Nobel Prize Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, in her last book of poems included a poem called the “three oddest words” “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”
Annie Dillard, in an essay called “The Present” talks about time as a creek, and we, as rocks in that creek, as time washes over us .  We stand facing upstream, into the future, and time flows down toward us, washing up against us and flows around us, and passes behind us in a rapidly vanishing past.  
I am in love with such insights.  There is something in them that pulls me back. Much of the spiritual life is bringing our attention back to the present moment; we call that making ourselves present.
This moment is all we have.  It is neither determined by the past; nor committed to a future.  And we definitely not required to pass the past through this moment into the future without alteration or improvement.  
But if this moment is all we have, then we need to make it count.  
I love re-invention and change.  I love the fact that in this moment, this very moment, any one of us could made a decision to change our lives forever. someday we tell the story this way, “I was sitting in church, on the day after St. Patricks Day in 2012, and I decided right then and there, that I was stop goofing around and dedicate the rest of my life to being an artist, or a vegetarian, or a Lutheran.”  The present moment is the when the cement is wet and pliable and we can write our name into it.

In social media, people have avatars and social identities that wander the info-landscape -- you can be anything you want them to be: swashbuckling adventurers, witty commentators, fun and attractive people, anybody you want to be.  The spiritual life is bringing your avatars and profiles back home and being present -- you the person in the chair, with your fingers flying across the keyboard -- the one that is a little hungry and who is ignoring the show on the TV in the other room.  You are present in the moment in your body.  Time and space as one experience.
So much of the lyric poetry will find inspiring are variations on the poem from which our common prayer this morning has been taken.  A single moment of grace, and thus, of 
glory -- a moment when the sunshine is especially clear.  Let me stay right here, the poet writes: Now I know why people worship. 
Let’s be here now.  Let us sit with open eyes with each other for a moment in silence -- not the silence of a meditation chamber, or the silent heart of prayer, but in the comfortable silence of old friends.  It’s OK to look around and nod at those you know and to smile at those you would like to know someday.  Just sit and breathe and be with each other.  No expectations and no demands, just open eyes and open hearts.  
Wait.
Come Come Whoever you Are
I wish I knew How it would feel to be free.
How has this week been for you?  I have been feeling pressured by responsibilities -- too many task that I have been unable to get done.  Too much time spent doing things that were not productive to achieving the goals that I have set for myself.  For example, I spent 2 and half hours on Friday buying new tires at what seemed to be a particularly slow tire store.  It was one of those places where they have big glass windows so you can watch the guys work on other people's car.  And when you can’t stand the TV in the waiting room any more, you can go over to the window and see your car sitting there up on the rack while everybody works on other cars.  After a while, you want to scream -- “it’s mounting tires, not baking bread” -- you don’t have to let them rise; you don’t have to let them rest in between every step.  
Not one of those moments felt young, nor new, but only old, and not old in the way of rich tradition, or sacred memory, but just old in an old, worn-out, boring, been here too many times way.  They had a waiting room with a TV; and it was tuned to a station I could stand to watch. I had the TV, I had Words WIth Friends, I Had my phone with Facebook and all the blogs I read, and I even had my distraction of last resort: bejeweled two -- a particular mindless game I can play on my phone, and I was still ready to scream with boredom.  I was ready to lay waste to the Dunkin Donuts in the gas station next door and get some sugar and caffeine, as though that could make me patient.   
It was an ugly moment.  It was an expensive moment, but mostly it was an ugly moment.  I was so far from William Staffords’s moment of grace and glory.  I was so far from the wonder and astonishment of Wendell Berry.  
And here surrounded by your kindness, your non-obtrusive kindness, and by the beauty of this room, and the memories held in this place, I can let that moment go, I hope.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free of my distractions and my many irritations. 
THough I may speak with bravest fire, and have the words to all inspire, if I have not love within, my words sound strangely thin.
By now, you have heard me list over and over again, some of the virtues that I think this path of liberal religion calls us to:  honesty and humility, open-heartedness, self-possession, solidarity and passion for justice, generosity and gratitude and reverence, especially reverence.   It’s never the same list twice. 
Reverence is in the present moment.  Reverence is in how you relate to what you are looking at in the present moment -- it is seeing the people around you in the present moment -- it is hearing the music of the moment whether it bird calls, or the church bells, or the thumping bass of hip hop pouring out of the car at the stoplight  next to you -- reverence is in the eyes, the ears, the nose, the hands, reverence is in the spiritual taste buds, whether you are stuffing life down your throat, or savoring the flavors of each bite, each present moment. 
Here we are, surrounded by the goodwill we feel toward each other, in this house of hope and aspiration, and each of us knows that as much as we would like to, we live lives that are filled with precious little reverence.  We spend our life as though we have been sentenced to the waiting room of a tire-repair shop and we cannot wait to get through whole chunks  of this, the one wild and precious life we have been given.  
I would like to promise you one moment of reverence every week if you come to church here on Sunday morning.  
I would like to promise you moment of insight so breath-taking that it calls you back to the present and opens your eyes, cracks you open.  Aided by beautiful music, one moment of grace and glory and one moment in which you say, “let me stay here” and “Now I know why people worship.” 
I cannot do it, because the reverence has to be in you, and I can’t put it into you.
You know that I say so many times that the spirit is a muscle and the work of the spirit is choosing.  
You develop a strong spirit of religious liberalism by choosing to be reverent in moments when you are not.  Fighting past the distractions and irritations to relax and find the grace, not only when you least expect, but when you most need it. The more often you make that choice, the stronger your spirit  becomes.  The greater the weight you lift, the stronger your spirit becomes. 
William Stafford says, “I know why people worship.”  It is not simply to be in that moment of transcendent lyrical moment -- when time is neither young, nor old, but just new and the glories of this world and the Lord who made it, are upon us.  It is to gather the strength to make that decision to exercise the spirit. 
The present moment is the one in which the cement is wet and we can write our name in it.  
We are here this morning to make a decision.  
we are here to decide, this morning, that we shall open ourselves to reverence and gratitude.  If not for a life-time, then maybe for a week, until we gather again next week. Maybe only til Wednesday.  Maybe, even only to sundown tonight.   
we are here to forgive ourselves if we were unable to meet the challenges of last week with reverence and gratitude -- if we found ourselves in a tire repair shop in Hell and at our wits ends and in a self-induced panic.   
we are here to forgive each other and to bear witness to each other’s struggles and moments of clarity and moments of weakness.  We are here to feel fellow-feeling with each other as we make our decisions.  
The scope of our decision will most likely be small and weak -- somebody here may decide to change the direction of their whole life, but each of us can decide, to try again next week.  To get from this Sunday to next Sunday. 
Time is neither old, nor young, but simply new.  And in each new moment, we have to decide again what kind of people we intend to be.  In each moment, we have to exercise the muscle of our spirit and choose again, and choose again, and choose again.  
We are here to witness as each one of us says to the world, to the ones we love, to the communities that hold us and to Universe that sustains us and to God, that great good intention at the heart of the universe, that power not made by human hands, that great mystery to which we all bow -- You, who are as old as I am, I love you as I loved you young, except that old, I am astonished at the possibility, and duly grateful.
Amen 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Just Two Little Fingers (sermon text 3/11/12)


As you can probably tell, just by looking, I go to the gym.  I have a personal trainer, and under her guidance, I am sculpting my body into muscled dynamo of sinew and steel.  Sleek strength, coiled bands like a spring, power at rest. 
I am making these heroic efforts under the watchful eye of my strict and demanding personal trainer.  She pushes me to the limits of my endurance.  For a dancer, she is really brutal.  
One of the exercises she makes me do are bench presses.  I lay down on a bench and lift a weighted barbell up from my chest, 8 times, 10 times, 12 times.  And near the end of repetitions, my arms turn to spaghetti, and the barbell wobbles  and I don’t think that I can lift it.  In fact, I have fears that my arms will give out and the weights will fall on my chest, pinning me there for the rest of the day.  Coach as I call her, sees that I am having trouble completing the last lift.  She steps in, saying “here I’ll help” and I can see her reach out to grab the barbell and help me make that last lift.  But she does it in a way where I cannot see her hands. 
“Thanks”  I say.  
And one time, she said, “Really, it’s just two little fingers”  I just put two little fingers under the bar.   you are  really lifting it, but you can do it because you think I am helping more than I am.”
And I thought at that moment, wow! that’s a sermon that almost writes itself.  
How easy it is to help another person !  
Listen to the story -- listen to what Jesus says in the story:  
for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; 36 naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Small things:  a meal, a drink, some clothes, a little time visiting the sick and the imprisoned.  These are not big things, but small things.  Just two little fingers to help someone lift a weight off of them.   
Diane Mirick and a great task force of people from this church have been hard at work creating a structure for a caring community here in this congregation.  How can we organize ourselves to help each other when we need help -- help with small and large difficulties that life can deal out to us.  
They will be offering up that plan and getting people involved between now and June before the summer break.  Small gestures of help -- when I was hungry you brought me food -- or a casserole, visits to the sick, rides to the doctors, someone to help with the laundry or the grocery shopping for a new mom, an extra hand with the dishes.  Just two fingers of help.
Why does just two fingers help? 
It is not the actual muscle power that my trainer contributes to lifting the bar; I lift the bar, but she has given me the confidence to do it, because I can see that she is trying to help me. it is the appearance of her help that gives me the confidence to muster the strength to lift the bar.  It is not her help but her solidarity.
Solidarity may not be the right word. 
I have list of virtues that I think Liberal Religion calls us to. The first and foremost goal of any spiritual path comes down to changing people by asking them to orient their lives around some different values.  A different ethical and moral approach; a different way of looking at life, with all its triumphs and tragedies, ups and downs. 
I sometimes list the virtues as honest realism, humility, gratitude and  reverence, open-heartedness, self-possession or thinking for yourself, service, and solidarity.  
I like the word “solidarity” but I recognize that it is a “labor movement” word -- its’ roots are in the union movement.  Another word for it could “compassion”.  Or “empathy”.  Or “fellow-feeling” or the word that Walt Whitman used: “adhesion” the love of all for all.    
It is the positive feeling of seeing in another person one like yourself and emotionally moving to be on their side.  To be of support, to be of help. It more than openness; it’s more than tolerance;   
Last week, we heard that a young person of this church -- Katie Mandile -- had chosen to express her gender as a male: that she had cut her hair and changed her clothes and would prefer to be henceforth known as Anthony, or Tony.    I cannot speak for everyone of you, but what I felt was not simply ‘openness’ -- a feeling that “well, if that is what she or he or whatever wants to do, I’m not going to argue with them, or be rude.”  No, I felt a rush of fellow-feeling, for Tony, for Ken and Diane, his parents, for Ben and Olivia, his brother and sister.  I wanted them to see my hands reaching for the bar that they were now trying to lift, even if all that I have to offer is two fingers and not much muscle.  
What we as a congregation offered was a little signal of solidarity.  we are with you.  It is so easy to forget that a little signal of solidarity or welcome is the most important thing.  
There is a story that goes around churches -- I heard it first about a Methodist church in seminary, but really it goes anywhere.  It’s about a church kind of like this one -- one with a beautiful sanctuary and burgundy carpets and a certain formal air.  And one day in the service a young man comes in -- and in the story what about changes to fit the prejudices of the times.  Probably when the story was first told, the young man was wearing short sleeves, and later he had long hair and a tied-dyed t-shirt and later tattoos and dreadlocks and eyebrow piercings and pants that hung down real low so you could see his boxer shorts. Or maybe a skirt.  And he comes down and sits on the floor in the front of the sanctuary.  And the congregation is waiting for somebody to do something about this.  And then the oldest usher, the old white-haired guy in the dark blue suit slowly makes his way down the aisle -- and it has to be slowly to draw out the suspense and he approaches the young man and then slowly and laboriously sits down next to him on the floor for the rest of the service.  
He gave him the signal of solidarity; the word of welcome the high sign of hospitality.  
The usher treated the young man, not like everybody else, but welcomed him specifically as he was.  
For many situations in life, it is not what you think, and it is not what yo feel, it is what you show that matters. 
There is that well-known story about fishing.  Give a man a fish and they will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.  At least until the river is over-fished.  
This little story comes into all sorts of discussions about social welfare and the perplexing problems of helping people who need help without creating dependencies etc. 
Now, if my trainer did all the lifting that I found hard to do, I would not gain in strength.  So she helps just a little, so my capacity, my strength,  is growing. 
But even more important, she gives me confidence  - not by the amount of help she gives me, but by the fact that I can see her make the move to help me.  
Whether you help somebody in the short term, or in the long term, the most help comes from the fact that you are communicating that you care enough about them to make an effort.  It is not just our willingness to help that matters; it is our willingness to be seen helping that matters. 
It’s our willingness to be a blessing and a help, visibly.  It’s our willingness to be say our blessing out loud.  It’s our willingness to go where the other one is and make them feel welcome, where they are, as they are and who they are.  
It doesn’t take much to make this world a hospitable place for many many more people.  A little sense of solidarity, two fingers to help, and a blessing said aloud. 

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sermon March 4, 2012 What is Real? The Transgender Experience


The theological significance of the Transgender experience.
Of course, the arguments about the transgender experience is rooted in deeper theological and philosophical disagreements.  Arguments that are still current and show up in many public issues. 
Moral decision making has to make reference to the real world: what we are supposed to do is some subset of what we are realistically capable of doing.  It is not a moral act to breath, since we have no choice.  It is not a moral requirement to fly since we have no chance.  In order to be moral, it must first be a real possibility. So figuring out what is moral is first figuring out what is real.  
The Western Christian tradition has worked with the presumption that there is a natural moral law that everyone, no matter their religion, should be able to see and follow.  It’s a morality written into nature itself.  If you follow it, health and happiness result.  If you don’t, then you will cause bad things to happen. 
Which leads to the questions “what is natural about gender” “What is the reality of gender”  “what is moral about gender”? 

One way is to look at the reality out there which seems to be that human beings are mostly either male or female.  There are two distinct types of people with clearly defined biological differences.  And for the most part, there have always been two different social roles -- a man’s role and a woman’s role.  
Working from this data, it is possible to make the leap that this represents some conscious planning on somebody’s part.  For most of human history, it was the divine authors of the world, that set things up this way.  And it was possible to assign divine purpose to what seems the dominant reality.  “God made humanity male and female and joined them together in marriage for the purpose of having children.”  It is called what is “natural”, meaning “in accordance to something’s essential nature which derives from its purpose.”   It’s teleological -- meaning that the most important thing about something is it’s purpose in God’s order. 
I want to emphasize the sequence of this thinking:  look at reality, determine its most important function, assume that that function is its purpose, say that God made it for that purpose.  Look at all these dogs.  They live with us.  They love us.  Their purpose seems to be our most loyal friends.  God made dogs to be our friends.  Just as God made horses for us to ride.  This is natural.  
According to this, the natural purpose of sex is reproduction.  The natural purpose of gender is sex.  It’s a totally ingenious system that God designed.  He designed these two kinds of people -- man and woman -- with these particular body parts -- which fit together so perfectly -- all for the purpose of getting chromosomes mixed up to make and endless variety of new people.  It’s the natural way and the natural way is actually the divine way.
I am describing one way of looking at reality, of determining what is natural from reality.  
Actually, this kind of thinking is idealist.  
In addition to being idealist -- it is categorical.  All the variety of human beings can be sorted into two different buckets: the male bucket and the female bucket.  Those buckets are the real reality -- the essential truth of human gender. 

That is the real reality according to one sort of thinking.  

What’s wrong with this way of thinking? 

Well, it just doesn’t explain everything.  There are exceptions and variations to this so-called divine and natural reality.  People who don’t fit into this schema.  People whose sexual desires don’t facilitate reproduction.  Just the fact that people have sexual desire completely unrelated  to reproduction -- people continue to have strong sexual desires past the age of fertility -- there are people who desire people of the same gender -- people who don’t feel that they are of the gender their body says.   

Now, one of way of thinking about reality -- about what is natural -- says that all these exceptions are not “natural.”   What is natural is that boys are boys and girls are girls and boys like girls and girls like boys and they make babies together because they really really want to .  That is the natural order.  Everything else is not “natural.” 

These situations are malfunctions -- poor implementation of the divine design -- or even worse, these exceptions are individuals who rebelled against the natural order.  Freaks or Sinners or  Psychopaths. 

 And to the extent that the society allows such people to be different, it undermines the culture’s effort to emulate the ideal -- which is the ultimate reality. 

The other way of looking at what is reality -- what is natural -- says that all these variations are in fact natural.  They happen; they just happen in nature.  Just because they are not as common, doesn’t mean that they are not natural.

But it you just look around long enough you see that the there are a lot of other people, in whom these elements line up differently.  There is lots and lots of variation.  So, the description of reality is more like a continuum or a bell curve than an binary division. 

Now what is the real reality:  what we project as the ideal form of what we see, or what we see?  
This philosophical conflict over what is the reality of human sexuality, reproduction and gender is at the heart of the culture wars that have been simmering along since the end of world war 2.  (and it was world war 2 that did it, not the swinging sixties or roe v wade, or the invention of the pill etc. -- it was mass mobilization of millions of people in the late teens and early twenties to live away from families and local communities that showed the potential of a less constrained sexuality).
Liberal Religion is religion tempered by the Enlightenment.  It is religion that has made a philosophical break with older idealist and teleological understandings of reality.  It is empirical.   It looks around. It observes the living reality of the world around it.

It’s at this point that I turn to Channing’s the Free Mind, which we read this morning.  This is one of the statements that sums up Liberal Religion and it describes how liberal religion looks at the world.  It is mostly a negative statement in that it describes how liberal religion is not going to mechanically copy the past or be in bondage to old habits or inherited truths. 

But one of its positive statement is when it says that the free mind sees “everywhere the radiant signatures of an infinite spirit and in them finds help to its own spiritual enlargement.”  

I have a colleague in the UU ministry who is a transgender person, a person who presents herself in an ambiguous gender expression.  She has a mustache and a beard and visible breasts and wears men’s clothes and has a female name.  She told me about one aspect of her ministry.  She goes to conventions of transgender and transexual people.  And at these conventions, there is also an exhibition hall filled with organizations for trans people and vendors selling garments designed for the trans market.  My colleague goes to the exhibition hall wearing a ministerial collar and carrying a big leather-bound bible.  She borrows a couple of chairs from another booth and sets herself up in some spare corner -- it’s  just two chairs and a minister.  And people line up to talk with her, hungering and thirsting for someone with  spiritual authority to say they are not a mistake.

And because she is of a free mind and of the liberal religious tradition, she sees in them the radiant signatures of an infinite spirit.  It is the work of spiritual enlargement, for her, for them, for me by telling me this story and I hope for you as I relay it on to you.  

We are preventing a lot of future pain here today.  People will take these inserts home and read them.  
They will be educated in the future and will be the voice of one who sees the radiant signatures of God in people that others want to exclude or deride.  You will stand up and redirect situations in which much pain could have occurred.  The children here present will be the ones to say “what are you freaking out about -- we talk about transgender people at our church -- it’s no big deal! and “I have a transgender friend.’  Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, the amount of pain and suffering and intolerance that we are preventing will grow and compound.  

So much has happened before to bring us to this point.  Liberal Religion in general and Unitarian Universalism have been advocating for an empirical reality based approach to sexuality since the 1970‘s.  We have been willing to take up the next right thing over and over again.

We celebrate freedom.  We uphold the right of people to live in the reality of their lives, especially in the most intimate areas of their self-understanding and relationships.  You have a right to you, within a context of respect for all others. 

There have been political and cultural and social battles in every sphere of society about sexuality and gender.  We just witnessed this last week two battles:  one was the state of Maryland recognizing the reality that gay couples make life-long commitments of love to each other.  They have decided that the institution of marriage cannot be limited to what previous generations have decided was its real purpose, its natural and divine essence. 

And we have been watching the brouhaha about Rush Limbaugh’s comments about the reality that young women need contraception; they need for many reasons and one of them is that they are having sex. 

In fact, if you have seen the video of Rush’s commentary, you see the philosophical conflict I am talking about enacted before you eyes.  Once Rush establishes the fact that the subject on the table is young women who are having sex outside of marriage, he leans backs and asks some form of the question:  what is really going on here?  And then he stops and theatrically pauses and then he reminds us of what the reality of the situation is -- young women like the one question are sluts.  

He thinks that he is telling us the truth that everyone else is afraid to say.  But how does he know what the truth is?  His truth is a mental construction, an idealist picture of what a proper young woman is supposed to be like.  It’s a mental category, and with it comes the mental category of someone who does not conform to that mental picture and that girl is a slut. 
In each case -- Rush Limbaugh or the Maryland legislature -- , it is the question of what is the real reality: the mental construction of what is supposed to be or the actual reality of what is going on in the real world. 

It was the skirmish of a couple of weeks ago that the Girl Scouts had come under fire for including all girls, yes, trans girls, too, in their programs.  Who is really a girl?  Who is really a boy?  

I could preach a sermon every week about the latest skirmish in this on-going theological and philosophical struggle. It is that often that the issue comes up.  It seems like a constant push and pull of forces.  

That’s why I was struck by the lines of the Clough poem. 

Let me quote that last stanza again:  
And not by eastern windows only, 
     When daylight comes, comes in the light, 
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, 
     But westward, look, the land is bright. 
Look westward, the land is bright.   Everything to the west reflects the light of the sun, even though it is obscured itself by the clouds on the horizon.  Do not be discouraged by the constant push and pull of the moment.  Turn around and see how much the world has changed. How bright the sun is.  

There is room for you in that bright light.  Take your place there.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Fluke Affair is No Fluke

People are rarely as bright as you hope; nor as stupid as they seem.

Re: Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke.

Mark Kleiman checked into attitudes toward premarital sex by age and party.  The significant results are that while 71% of those 18-34 think pre-marital sex is acceptable, only 47% think so.  This coincidentally (really!) matches the 47% of Republicans who find it acceptable.

Given what we know about Limbaugh's audience, he is talking to people who agree with him.  He is giving voice to what they are thinking.

I am of that age.  I remember the intensive training that I in the public schools for abstaining from sex until  marriage.  Many admonitions on that subject entered one ear and quickly sped to the other.  My sterling record of teen sexual abstinence does not prove that the propaganda was effective.

The opinions of those over 55 about pre-marital sex are irrelevant.  It is not a choice that they face.  For many, their opinions are just what they decided at that time of their lives.  That the current cohort are so narrow-minded testifies to the pervasive repression of the era they grew up in -- the hypocrisy of the Mad Men era.  Many people over 55 suffer a kind of PTSD from the slut-shaming (and gay-baiting) culture of their teen years.

None of this explains how a man who has been married four times has such limited knowledge of how modern birth control works.


Friday, March 02, 2012

What if it is true? Sermon from 2/26/12


What it it were true?  
What if that one accusation against yourself that you most fear is true?
What Joan Rivers realized that it was true -- she did not look young anymore?  She has spent all this time and money in an effort to not look like an old lady, but she does; she looks like an old lady who has had a lot of work done.  What if it were true that she was getting visibly older?
What if it were true? 
What if Mitt Romney came to understand that he persuades no one when he tries to convince people that he is a regular guy, that he does not see the world through the eyes of a wealthy man? What if it were true that he is wealthy, and it affects the ways he looks at the world?
What if it were true? 
I would bet that each one of you faces an accusation that you are defending yourself against every day.  Everyday is another day in court, where you are the accused, and the prosecutor making the case against yourself, and the defense attorney arguing for you, and where you are also the judge and the jury, which is forever deadlocked.
The defendant stands accused of first-degree laziness.  
The defendant stands accused of flagrant self-centeredness.
You, the defendant is charged with multiple counts of inadequacy and inappropriateness and having bad thoughts -- how do you plead?
Not guilty, your honor.  Not guilty, not guilty.  I didn’t do it; it was an accident; someone else made be do it; it wasn’t that bad; I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again.
There are criticisms that we are very sensitive to. Things about ourselves that we cannot admit.  For many, many years, I had a very time admitting to any sort of self-serving motivation.  Coming up in the family I did, I understood that I was to have noble goals in life:  the common good, justice, fairness.  If, back in high school, I had announced at the dinner table, that my goals in life were to make a lot of money, have a lot of friends, be popular, and have a lot of fun, my mother and father would have been very disappointed in me.  So like many people in that kind of family, I have been drawn to great causes and noble professions all my life.  So most of my life, I have been silently defending myself against the accusation of crass and superficial motives in life.
I eventually had to give up this charade of nobility; after all, nobody believed it; everybody could see right through it.  And most people are more comfortable with self-interest than my tribe.  
But what if it were true? 
This is not only personal, but collective.  Caucasian people in the US are extraordinarily sensitive to any sort of criticism that they might harbor any sort of racism, or racial prejudice.  Not only about ourselves, but by extension, to others.  Someone sent around one of those doctored photos of President Obama dressed as an African Witch Doctor, with a bone in his nose.  Other people said it was merely a satire on Health Care Reform and that it had nothing, nothing, nothing to do with racial prejudice.  Seriously? White people will extend the benefit of the doubt to others, because we want the same benefit of the doubt extended to us. Most of us are deathly afraid of being accused of being racist, because it is morally unacceptable and shameful.  
But what if it were true? 
We’re talking about shame here.  Joan Rivers is ashamed of being old.  Mitt Romney is ashamed of appearing wealthy.  I have been ashamed of having self-interested motives.    White people are ashamed of their racist prejudices.  
We live in a very shame oriented culture.  And shame is one of those reversed emotions that most people don’t indulge.  People like feeling love; people even enjoy feeling hate.  They will indulge those emotions.  Our obsession with shame appears in the lengths that we will go to avoid feeling it and to avoid any situation in which it might arise.
The biggest mistakes, long-term errors, blind alley I have gone down and fool’s errands I have on have all stemmed from my desire to escape the self-accusations I make against myself.
I had an old Dodge police car once.  400 horsepower.  It could pass anything but a gas station as they used to say. The seat was totally caved in, from the butts of policemen -- the driver sat about six inches lower than the driver.  
Now, I hold it against myself that I am not good mechanically.  I am not skilled with tools.   So one rainy night I get a flat tire on this Dodge Police Car.  I am trying to loosen the lug nuts with my tire iron.  I cannot loosen them.  I try again and again and again.  To fail at this is to admit that I am a failure as a man -- every guy in the world can loosen the lug nuts on a flat tire.  If I cannot do this, in my mind, I might as well move to San Francisco and take up ballet.  So, I wear those lug nuts as smooth and round as donuts.  I am sitting in the pouring rain, spinning my tire iron around those smooth round lug nuts, weeping, weeping when Sue finds me, observes that what I am repeatedly doing doesn’t seem to be working and that if it hasn’t worked the first 200 times, it probably isn’t going to happen, and that I might want to call somebody and get help.  
The guy who finally comes to help with the tow truck, the burly tattooed young guy, with the airpowered wrench noted that somebody tightened those bolts too much with another air-powered wrench so that nobody with a hand tire iron would ever be able to get them off. He thought that guy was the idiot.  As for me, he didn’t seem to notice anything obviously wrong with me -- or was at least too polite to mention it.  
What if what I feared was true?  What if it was true that I wasn’t able to do this task?  Indeed, what if it was true that using tools was something I did not know how to do very well and that I was going to need help more often than my dad ever did?

Folks, people do everything they can do to push our shames away.  The most popular spiritual advice that anyone can give these days is that they have no reason to be ashamed of anything.  
But the more we push that which we consider shameful away, the larger and more fearsome it gets.  The more we try to defeat what we fear about ourselves, the more power it has over us.
Who lives a life more governed by aging: Joan Rivers or Betty White?  
Lent is the antidote to shame.  Or to be less tied to a particular religious tradition:  honest self-reflection and self-critical awareness is the antidote to shame.
And honest self-reflection starts with doubt.  It starts with the doubt of the self’s defensive story, by asking the question:  What if it is true?
If you ask the question: what if it is true?  sooner or later, you get to the question:  “so what if it is true?”
Joan Rivers: “What if it is true that I am getting older and that I will never look like a young woman again?  Which turns to “So what that I am getting older -- so what if I never look young again -- so what?  I can still work, find friendship and love, be funny.” 
Mitt Romney, So what that I am wealthy man, whose life experience is not like most people’s.  Many politicians and Presidents have been wealthy people.  It didn’t seem to hurt the Bushes or the Kennedy’s.  So what? 
So what if we have unacknowledged and unknowing racial prejudices that we may hold or express in ways that are hurtful to others and embarrassing to ourselves? How can we expect to get this right the first time and every time.  We don’t expect that we will be able to speak French just because we want to. If we make mistakes, can we not just admit them and learn from our experience and allow ourselves to be taught by those who see us from the point of view of people of color? 
The Taoist masters believed that the cycles of the Moon and Nature start when the moon is dark == when we cannot see it -- the moonless night.  It is as Genesis says, that before the world was made, there was a darkness and a void.  Everything starts from nothing.  The moon appears as a tiny sliver and grows until it is full and round and then recedes again to nothingness.  Out of nothing comes everything.
Out of the void at the beginning comes the entire Universe. 
Out of self-doubt comes self-knowledge.  Out of the question “suppose it is all true, everything a person doubts about themself, comes a realistic truth, a realistic appraisal.   You do know more than you think; you do more good than we count; you just have more to learn than you thought and should try harder than you have.  

Lent is a season of growth and preparation.  It dates from the early church and it was the period of preparation and purification before a new member was allowed to join.  People were asked to leave their old lives of sin behind, all the ways that they had participated in the customs of the non-Christian society which were thought sinful by the Church.  
What I am asking you to give up and leave behind, this Lent, is a life governed by a defensive self, a self that is both ashamed and grandiose, a delusional self.  
Our selves are like the boy David at the story of David and Goliath.  Everyone is afraid that he is too small and too weak to fight a giant like Goliath.  They are afraid that it might be true that they are sending a boy to fight a giant.  So they load him up with Saul’s armor -- oh, this small boy is well defended with armor and a big shield and a heavy helmet. Unfortunately, he cannot move.
That’s us -- we are afraid we are small and weak and so we defend ourselves to the point of immobility.
So what if it is true that David is a small boy -- he is still brave and with weapons appropriate to him, he can still fight.  
So what if we are not all we expect ourselves to be?  If we name that doubt, we can still have power and do good. 
So what if it is true?