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Showing posts from March, 2013

They say it's not real.

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They say that this, which appeared yesterday in London, is NOT a REAL Banksy.

What?

The idea that genuine-ness of a piece of unsigned, immovable, uncollectible, anonymous, unsellable graffiti is even something that needs to be established beyond a doubt is pretty nuts, if you ask me.

Genuine-ness matters in art comes from the commerce in art.  Who owns what?  And how much is it worth?

The great "they" also say that the scene depicted isn't real, either.  On the face of it.  There were no photographers at the time.  The authorities used scourges, not tasers.  And Jesus was probably shorter and not as white.

This is not an genuine image of the Christ by an artist who is not who he does not claim to be.   It is therefore worthless.  Any amount of money spent to buy it, if it were ever possibly for sale, would be wasted, because it is not real.

And being not real, it has no truth to it.  It might as well not exist.

Move along now; Nothing to see, here.

But it sure looks l…

In Which I Show how Rene Girard might understand Good Friday

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In 2008, I preached a sermon for Palm Sunday, which tried to show how Rene Girard, the contemporary Christian apologist, anthropologist and literary critic, would understand the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

That sermon is being reprinted in the Eastertide edition of the UU Christian Fellowship's newsletter: the Good News .  There are lots of other UU Christian writings on Holy Week there as well.

It is also here.

The Night and Day of Kenosis

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a fragment of a poem (The Garden of Gethsemane)  by Boris Pasternak:

At the end was someone's plot of land.
Leaving his disciples outside the wall
He said: "My heart is ready to break
with grief; wait here, keep watch"

He renounced without a struggle
Omnipotence and miracle-working
as though they were borrowed things;
And He became like mortals, like us.

It has been a struggle, but religion, liberal religion at least, has renounced omnipotence and miracle-working.  No longer do we claim to know the will of God; no longer do we claim to have his Word as close as the Help key: just click on it and know.  And Miracles happen all the time, but we no longer claim to know how to work them.  We do the work pressed upon us by the creation as it: the tilling and telling, the filing and filling, culling and the cutting, and once in a while, we witness a moment beyond; a miracle, we call it.  But we cannot call it down.

You have had nights when you know that someday, you are going to die.…

The Kiss, a poem by James Wright

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Wright's poem, written from the perspective of Judas, reveals the redemptive power of the story we remember this Holy Week, how the awareness of our own inevitable participation in the evils of this world brings us, ultimately, to compassion.  
"Flayed without  hope, I held that man for nothing in my arms."
The story of the Passion can be interpreted in a way that is unnecessarily harsh about human good intentions and agency.  We are the crowd that calls for His crucifixion; we are the disciples who run away; we are Peter who denies Him three times.  We are Judas who betrays Christ that day, and everyday since.  And there is nothing that we can do, since our betrayal leads to His death, and only God can defeat death.  The story of the Passion can be told as to defeat all hope of human agency for good.  
I think such interpretations are extreme.  I am, of course, a religious liberal, and what is a religious liberal except one who re-interprets the Christian stories in th…

A simple lay-led Communion for Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday Communion liturgy.

(adapted from the Holy Communion formulary of the Remonstrant Brotherhood, 1938)



responsive reading
Leader: From olden times comes to us this meal of bread and wine. In the night before his passing, Jesus and his friends were gathered around this table.

Congregation:He had spoken of God who wants to save the world; of the cross that must be carried; of the beaker that should be emptied; of the joy awaiting the faithful.
Leader: Now he spoke of the sacrifice that would be made; 
Congregation:Of the communion in His love, stronger than death. 
Leader: The bread, made of grain, would be broken.
Congregation:As his body would be broken and die.
Leader: The wine, pressed from grapes, would be shed.
Congregation:As his blood would be shed. 
Leader: Those who had joined the meal, knew the significance of the secret. 
Congregation:They understood the darkness of betraying love, the grief of sacrificing for love, the power of communion in a love stronger than death; the …

An Invisible Current of Power

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How can one be alert to the presence of God?  
How does the great goodness at the heart of creation make itself known these days?  
In a world in which fundamentalists of all types claim that God is on their side, is it blasphemous and dangerous to even ask a such a question? 
The core social principle of liberal religion is that the Holy Spirit moves among humanity.  
It is called by many names, some of which are religious and some are not, but wherever people act for justice, with compassion, with generosity, and in a spirit of reconciliation, that impulse comes from something greater than themselves.  
There is an invisible current of power that runs through all the people of the world, in all of their contentious struggles and conflicts, that moves humanity toward a common future.  
Our common dreams show something common and basic in the way that we are made.  
No one owns this power, and no can claim it, and we can only to perceive it at work and move with it. 

There is a Power

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There is a power at work in the universe, a creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands, that will hold you when you stand on the side of love.  You can trust that power. 
There is a power at work in the universe, a creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands, that mends a kitchen cut finger and revives a stressed and straining heart.  Let yourself be healed by that power. 
There is a power at work in the universe, a creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands, that enables the powerless to rebel, and encourages the powerful to repent.  Let that power find you. 
There is a power at work in the universe, a creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands, that shows the pilgrim’s path with a lightening flash.  Don’t blink.  
There is a power at work in the universe, a creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands, that will stay with you, even after you have been wrong in every …

Our Mission is to Inspire

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Last weekend, I met with the combined boards of the New England Districts of the UUA.  I had been serving on the Clara Barton District Board, but have had to leave it since I moved to the Midwest. 
The Districts in New England are doing what everyone in UU-land is doing: moving toward fewer regional structures.  It's a prudent organizational step.  After all, there is nothing in our work that is especially district-sized.  The districts have a long complicated history with much ecclesiological horse-trading and turf-protection.
But regionalization raises the same question: what are regions supposed to do?
And to me, regions are better sized units to think about strategy for UUism.  A UU strategy for New England can be thought about in a region.  And so we should think about that.  
I have been trying to inspire people to think about a New England strategy for another great awakening of the liberal spirit in New England. 
So, I presented some of my ideas in a slide show for the co…

A Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit

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New England's UU leaders (if that is what the District boards of the Region are) are getting excited about a vision: a Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit here in New England.

It is an eye-rollingly audacious vision.  Absolutely ridiculous. Embarrassingly naive.

But, why not?

After all, the region has been becoming more liberal politically and socially and culturally for a while.   40 years of national conservative cultural dominance have left the least scars on this region.  For a while, it was the only region with marriage equality.

Religiously, Roman Catholics are the plurality of the religiously affiliated.  But the Roman Catholic hierarchy have forfeited much of their authority on social or cultural matters.  A mostly-male, celibate, priesthood, mired in a scandal about the sexual abuse of children and youth throws its weight behind the lost cause of "traditional" marriage:  what are they thinking?

Religious unaffiliation in non-Massachusetts New England is at W…

When a Free Mind is a Necessity

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You're at a party.  You're in High School and you are, by definition, incredibly socially insecure.  If you are boy, you want the approval of the most popular and powerful boys. You want to show that you are a man and sexually sophisticated beyond your actual experience   If you are a girl, you don't want to  seem like an innocent or out of reach.  So, in the mix of drinking, flirting, dancing and making out, it becomes clear that some of the popular athletes are doing stuff with a girl who is drunk, out of control and who has clearly made some bad decisions.  What do you do?

Every one of us will be end up in a similar situation someday.  Most of us have already been there.  A situation when the group is going in the wrong direction, and you know it.  What do you do?

It is a moment when your level of self-possession matters.  Can you get your mind free enough from the  human hard-wired instinct to conform to the group to do what is right?  To say "stop" when the…

Debt is Not Social Policy

The history of the country since Ronald Reagan has been to put off problems by letting people and institutions borrow money.   But debt does not solve problems, it only puts them off and makes them work for the benefit of a few.

Yes, debt works against in some situations.  A young family borrows money for a house -- borrowing against future earnings. People buy a car on time to spread the cost over the life of the car.

Under conservatism, when housing prices outstrip the earning power of the average family, the government does not support affordable housing,  but makes mortgage credit easier.  The rising costs of college and advanced training for good jobs?  Just let more students borrow money to go to school.  And when a major city like Detroit faces a fiscal problem because it has been abandoned by industry and its population, the solution is to have the city sells bonds to pay the bills.

In the end, the lenders and creditors control everything.  They amass huge fortunes; the rest o…

Mission means You

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Question: What are 2 or 3 specific personal virtues that your religious tradition and/or spiritual path challenges you to cultivate?

How and when do you feel its inspiration?

How effective is it?



So, is Francis a Sign of Change?

The elevation of Pope Francis is just the latest example.  Some commentators see a pope from Latin America, a pope from the Jesuits, a pope naming himself after St. Francis and they see how this might be sign of something new happening.  Others look at the tremendous historical inertia of the Roman Catholic church and assure us that nothing is really changing.

Some people see 75,000 people demonstrating against the Keystone Pipeline and see a new era of environmental radicalism dawning.  Others look at the entrenched power of the oil industry and see the same 75,000 people as making a quixotic gesture.

Some people see Obama as just another politician, the new face on the same system of Wall Street dominance.  Others see a genuine maturation of a new progressive majority.

Of course, the world is full of elements that are static, at least for an extended period of time.  The United States is not going to become post-racial one fine day, and no single event is going to bring it about.  …

More from conclave

Talk is spreading that "lone-ranger" style papacy is bad for person and institution.  Talk spreading of shared-papacy model, perhaps with 2 or 3 co-popes.  Manifesto circulating anonymously saying "Heather has two Holy Fathers".

more later.

Inside the Conclave

Today the Cardinals gathered, had some snacks: coffee, tea and both sweet and savory snacks.
They had a little worship service and then someone made the suggestion that they should arrange the chairs in a circle, which they did.  That took a lot of time because the guys are pretty old and the chairs are pretty heavy.  There was an attempt to have two concentric circles because people could be closer, which would help because some of the guys don't hear so well.  That idea didn't go over very well, although there was a suggestion that the inner circle be the cardinals from Africa, Latin America and Asia, and the Europeans on the outer circle.  That really didn't go over well.  So they finally made one big circle by everybody pushing their chairs back.  Once that was done, some of the guys couldn't hear so well, so it was agreed that they would MIC Check all the proceedings in Latin so that everybody could hear well.  It promises to be a long conclave.

Then everybody che…

A Previously Unacknowledged Environmental Disaster

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The "lead crime" theory is the shorthand for a thesis advanced by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine.  This is an article that provides a link list to many of the articles he has written.

To briefly summarize the argument: The extraordinary rise in crime during the 60's and 70's were probably caused by widespread urban lead poisoning, primarily from the lead in gasoline and consequently in the atmosphere.  The arguments for the theory are quite persuasive; you shouldn't dismiss them without reading the articles and the evidence that support the theory. 
Lead contamination has effects on mental development that would diminish inhibition about anger and violence.  The densest areas of human population would have the highest lead contamination from both gasoline and lead-based paints.  Crime statistics started dropping as the young people who grew up after lead was removed from gasoline came into young adulthood, and continues to drop despite the ups and downs of …

"Ethical Agenda Setters"

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Rev. Nate Walker of 1st U Philadelphia offers this sermon this week.


Unitarian Universalists have made historic contributions to society by playing the role of first responders to oppressive agendas. Historically, first responders have taken bold stances against a wide range of controversial social issues: slavery, segregation, sexism, homophobia, you name it. For generations Unitarian Universalists have effective responded to oppressive agendas. Now is the time for Unitarian Universalists to align our collective assets to become the ethical agenda setters of our time. Play with that distinction for a while in your mind:  "first responders to oppressive agendas" vs. "ethical agenda setters".  That's very provocative and inspiring, and points the way to a rethinking of UU public theology.  I look forward to reading/seeing/hearing the sermon once it is available. 
I've got a pound of bacon here that tells me that Rev. Nate and I would probably disagree about …

Black Helicopters are Old School; Real Patriots Fear Drones.

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I don't buy Rand Paul as a defender of 'civil liberties' any more than I buy the argument that the right to amass enough arms for an anti-government insurrection is one of our sacred rights as citizens.

I believe that all this talk about the Obama administration claiming the power to kill US citizens with drones on US soil is grandstanding for the right wing militias who fantasize about leading a white Christian insurrection against a government that represents all Americans.

I believe that Rand Paul's filibuster is just another obstructionist tactic to embarrass Obama by jamming one of his more important appointments.

I am afraid that the Rand Paul filibuster will prove that such Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tv heroics will be seen as effective ways to shape public opinion.  After all, our political media can't help covering spectacles, and good theatre is the highest value.

So, I look forward to seeing Mitch McConnell talking for hours someday about how increa…

The bondage of habit.

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This video is all over Facebook.  It shows in animated form some research into what Americans really believe about the distribution of wealth (not income) in our economy.


A statistic not in this video, but in a similar presentation of the same data, showed that Americans have a mental picture in which the United States is more egalitarian in wealth right now than Sweden is in reality.  Most people don't understand real poverty, overestimate their own wealth, and seriously underestimate the wealth of the elites in the United States.

Why?

I think that white privilege is a big factor.  Or let me be more precise: white identity.

Our understanding of the economy that we live in is based on our observation of reality, either directly, or through the distorting lens of the media.  We also look at it through our own lens of identity.  A white person who stands at the exact mid-point of wealth in the country looks up the wealth curve and most of the people he or she sees are also white.…

Shaping History or Crushed by History......

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Twice, Unitarian Universalism made a significant intervention in national affairs.  We had an immediate effect.  And now, as history moves on, the effects of our most significant interventions are being washed away by history, with hardly a note of recognition from us that it is happening.

The First Intervention
In 1965, the UUA Board of Trustees cancelled its meeting and called up on our ministers and laypeople to go to Selma to support a campaign for Voting Rights for African Americans.  Our ministers went by the hundreds;  the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were killed.  And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was proposed and enacted.  When you consider the number of people jailed, beaten, and lynched to get the right to vote in the old Confederacy, the deaths of two UU's are not statistically significant. But we had a role. 
And now, the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act is under the very skeptical review of a very conservative Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia dism…

Not From Quincy....

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My colleague, Rev. Josh Pawalek offered this quote from James Luther Adams in his excellent sermon Sunday.  I urge it upon you all.



Wake Up About Detroit

Today, we are hearing about the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, appointing an Emergency Financial Manager to take over the city of Detroit, one of this country's great cities.  Emergency Financial Managers, under Michigan law, have almost unlimited powers and effectively replace the democratically elected city government.  The city cannot pay back the money that financial institutions have lent it in the past, so it faces "bankruptcy".  The Emergency Financial Manager will, predictably, end the union contracts of city workers and further cut city services, in order to pay back these loans, in full, if possible. The city and its inhabitants will suffer more to minimize the losses borne by the bankers.

Detroit is the shell-shocked survivor of last 40 years of rule by the conservative capitalist worldview, a 'logic' that gained power in the 1970's and has governed this country and culture ever since.  And that worldview was born in the counter-rev…

The Coming Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit

"I call that mind free which sets no bounds to its love, which, wherever they are seen, delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering: which recognizes in all human beings the image of God and the rights of God's children, and offers itself up as a willing sacrifice to the cause of humankind."  
--William Ellery Channing

There are people that you care about their suffering; there are people you don't.  That mental line that you draw between those two groups are a bound[ary] that you set.   No one else, although all of history and society will fool you into thinking that it is a natural and unchangeable boundary, a part of the ways things are.

There is a coming great awakening of the liberal spirit.  It will come when people reconsider where they have drawn that line in their own minds, and in the hive mind of their community.  And then, they decide in that way that people decide things all at once, each and together, to move that line.

There was a time not long ag…