Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Theological Reflection

You may be here because of the commentary that arose from one of my more flippant Facebook posts.

I said: "I'm in that kind of mood when I want to tell people caught up in the spiritual significance of today being the shortest day and this the darkest time of the year to just turn on the lights and get on with their life." 

And I posted a picture of a light switch.  I would have labeled "Darkness Dispersal Device" but that would have been too much work, and probably overkill in explaining the joke. 

Anyway, much commentary ensued -- some silly, some very serious, but all missing my point, which I will now over-explain. Bear with me, please. 

We do theological reflection. It's our main duty as ministers. We think about the events and circumstances of the lives around us and draw out the connection between them and the conceptions of our highest values and ultimate realities of our religious tradition.

We have to be aware of the direction of the flow of meaning that we are demonstrating. Our purpose, if we are to be relevant, is to bring the wisdom of the religious tradition to the real, pressing and felt issues in the lives of the people we are ministering to. We do this to bring comfort and clarity to people. 

It is not  our purpose to show that the issues in our congregants' lives prove the relevance of the religious wisdom we hold. 

Our 21st century lives are not fodder for sermon illustrations to prove the relevance of ancient texts. 

No, our job is to marshall whatever wisdom of the ancient texts that is actually useful to the lives of  of our friends, neighbors, congregants and bring it to them. (And if the ancient texts are not useful to lives today, then to not try to force them to fit. See Ephesians for ancient and bad advice on how to have a successful marriage.)

Now, to the subject at hand. The point of my comment is that the length of the day, the length of the night, the number of hours of sunlight in a day are not pressing issues in the lives of most of the people we know. Thomas Edison, Lewis Latimer and the Rural Electrification Act have made the length of light per day a non-issue for most people in our ministerial settings. [Winter is, but cabin fever doesn't really set in until weeks after the winter holidays. Preach, if you must, about the crankiness that besets us in early March, when the snowdrifts are blackened heaps, slowly melting to reveal layers of frozen dog poop, and your housemate went in the basement two weeks ago to "check on something", didn't return, and you don't care.]

But the length of day (and the Solstice) gets talked about, though, because it is an observable fact that is connected to some religious traditions.  It gets talked about not to bring comfort and clarity to the pressing issues of the people, but to teach them about religious traditions that they do not know. It also gets talked about now, because it is the holiday season and some religious leaders to not want to have to talk about you know who.

The flow of meaning is going in the wrong direction. It's using theological reflection to speak to a problem which is not a problem. Which is why a smart-ass will ask, "Why don't you just turn on the lights and get on with it?"

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Fear of Death

Events that vividly remind us of our mortality push people into extreme stances.

The attacks in Paris and San Bernadino inflame Islamaphobic bigotry, because people have been reminded that there is the possibility that might die at the hands of a radicalized Muslim militant. The vividness of the reminder overwhelms empirical risk assessment. We have a far greater chance of being killed by a lightening than being killed in a terrorist attack.

From what I read and hear, it appears that the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement is being driven by the constant reminders that any black person may be killed by police in any situation. I have read people who sum up their demand as simply "Stop Killing Us."

And what about the random, mass shooters? Every time we see another on the news, we are reminded of the possibility of our own death. It is one thing to think of one dying some far off day of old age or disease. It is another to think that it could come today because you were in the wrong movie theatre.

The fear of death starts a search for a solution to find safety again.

The remedy for the fear of the death has been, and still is, the transcendent - what is it that gives life meaning no matter how it ends?

"Keep Calm and Carry On." These are words not heard on the Republican Debate stage last week. Notice, though, that the words appear under a crown, a symbol of the transcendent nation of Britain. No matter what happened to you personally, your life or death was subsumed into the preservation of Britishness. Carrying on calmly was your role in a greater drama, and knowing that brought both clarity and comfort.

The crown and the nation are atavistic, backward looking and dangerous agents of transcendence. There are those who would love to post these posters everywhere but replace the crown with the flag. Among conservative politicians the desire to play Churchill is comically obvious.

But we know that the nation and the flag are not transcendent. We have the experience of the first decade of this century, when 9/11 brought up a resurgence of transcendent and mystical patriotism that was exploited for senseless war, partisan gain, corporate profits, and the ambition for presidential greatness. Again, it is comically obvious that these small men and women want to be a great war-time President in whom the frightened nation places its trust. The only obstacle is that we apparently are not quite frightened enough to be that desperate.

How do I name the transcendent that give me hope against the inevitability of my own death, even if my death is not a "good death", in a bed, at home, surrounded by loving friends and families? How do I name the transcendent that makes bearable the possibility that I could die violently at dinner in a cafe on a Paris vacation?

I tremble at the question I am asking.....

I know that the easy answers, God and Country, are not really transcendent but brand-names by which I am to be seduced and dragged backwards. I know that there is a God beyond the God conventional preachers talk about, but that seems awfully theoretical to me, except as seen in the humanity beyond the humanity that we see.

I look to humanity's urges toward love, and justice, and solidarity. O, they can be so weak, and so easily misdirected, and thwarted. Really, about the one thing that you can say about them is that they are resilient. And that is enough for me.

I have a sometimes dim faith that no matter what happens to me, even the worst possible, there will be human beings who respond with a resilient love and desire for justice. If I die of a disease, there will be those who research a cure, there will be someone who comforts my family, there will someone who makes of my life an inspiration or a warning to benefit the young. If I die in a burst of random hatred, there will be those who lay a flower in the street to help heal a community, and there will be someone who seeks a dialogue across the battle lines, and there will be someone who raises a righteous protest.  My dim faith is in the humanity beyond the humanity I usually see, and it does suggest to me a God beyond the God our tribes usually claim.

I will give witness to the particular fact of my life story -- that my dim faith in the resilience of human love was formed in my faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism. I would not create a new Keep Calm and Carry On poster with a flaming chalice above the words. Far too narrow and sectarian.

But I would make one with a broken heart at the top, for broken hearts still carry on, and still love.

It is what lets me keep calm and carry on, unafraid.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

White, Angry, Male and Old

OK, the base of the Donald seems to be old, angry, white, and male. Not exclusively, but still.

And not everybody who is old, angry, white, and male. Me, for example, and a lot of my friends and acquaintances.

So why not?

I have to believe that my faith formation has made a huge difference.

I grew up in a UU household; my parents had converted from a liberal, social gospel oriented Baptist faith just before I was born.

I grew up in UU churches, attending UU Sunday schools, daydreaming and squirming through UU worship services and sermons.

I grew up being taught, and learning again and again, that the world was not fair, but should be, that every person should count, but does not, and that it is simply wonderful when people came together to change life for the better. These were not just my conclusions from observing events; I was instructed in them by my parents and my faith community. They were taught to me; you could say that I was catechized in them as articles of faith.

I was disillusioned with Unitarian Universalism for decades. But it was not I did not believe what it taught me. I was appalled that it seemed that the UU's I knew did not actually believe what they said they believed. But Bob Dylan nailed that kind of disillusion, "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now."

Today, I am contrasting the faith I was taught and the promise that white supremacy has made to white people in the USA.

The promise that white supremacy makes to white men is that you are the equal of any politician, corporate leader, celebrity, or tech billionaire. This is America and you are as good as anybody. You are in the world's inner circle, and not everybody is. In return, "work hard and play by the rules." Compliant willingness to be exploited.

Whatever the church, or no church, the real religion of much of white America is a faith in the promises of white supremacy. And that faith is being proven to be untrue. The vast inequality between the 1% and the rest of us tests that faith. And instead of being equal to the elites, white men must accept equality with those they had thought below them.

Our work and mission are the religious tasks of evangelism and conversion. We must persuade people that to put one's faith in the promises of white supremacy is to build one's house on sands that will be swept away by history. We have to testify that our faith has not left us bitter and vengeful. We have to convert people.

It will be hard work.

But it matters what we teach the young.

Monday, November 23, 2015

UU's, Microaggressions and "PC Culture"

Lest any UU get caught up in the hysteria about "PC Culture" and other people's sensitivities about microaggressions, let's review our own experience with these concepts.

Nativity scene in front of Ellwood City Town Hall,
eventually removed after suit by ACLU. 
Say the city leaders put up a Nativity scene in front of the town hall. You protested. Why? Their action told you, the Jews, the atheists, the Muslims and all the other non-Christians, that you were not really part of the town. In today's parlance, you were "erased" from the town's population. They acted as though you did not exist. Or that you did not matter. In today's terms, it was a microaggression. A pretty big one, in fact, since it was in their official civic function.

If you asked the city fathers why; they would have responded that they meant no offense. They were just celebrating Christmas, which almost everybody celebrated. They would ask why you had to be so sensitive. You should get over it and move on.

You go to an interfaith event, and all the Christian preachers pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Again, a microaggression, an erasure of your presence. And when you said something, they said that you were trying to censor their free religious expression.

The dollar bill says "In God We Trust" and Pledge says "One Nation, Under God" as though these were obviously true. That's Christian supremacy on full display, and once you notice it, it's everywhere. And when you do see it in action, you have a choice: to protest it and seem like a cantankerous troublemaker, or somehow swallow your feeling of being excluded or minimized with either a joke or a sullen sigh.

Of course, for Unitarian Universalists, microaggressions like I have described, do NOT carry the threat of danger. After all, we do not live in culture with a broad history of anti-UU violence, so there is little danger in pointing out the microaggression.

We should remember our own experiences with being excluded, erased, or diminished by the culture around us when we read about students protesting the microaggressions they experience on campus. Maybe instead of being angry and impatient, we might applaud their bravery, and think over what issue in particular they are raising. In most cases, the students are broadening the debate, not restricting it, by questioning what has been unquestioned tradition for too long.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mismatches, History, and Hope

In the little world touched by this blog, people have been very likey and sharey and retweety with Mismatches between Unitarian Universalism and the Work It needs to do. I am touched.

Maybe it is just the shorter time period, but people have not responded as fulsomely to the second installment Why the UU Mismatches.

Which should not surprise me; my argument has been that we are out of step with  our times because the forty year period of conservative cultural hegemony turned us inward, limited our growth, and froze our development.  Many resist this line of analysis. As neo-Calvinists, we think that explanations of our disappointments and failures that put the blame on anyone other than our own terrible selves are somehow cheating.

We would rather see ourselves as uniquely awful, but powerful, than ordinary and not in control.

We don't make history as much as history makes us; that is a hard message for us to hear.

But the reign of conservative ideology is coming to an end. That is why our culture is so polarized; we have entered a period of deep conflict and some either/or choices are on the table.

Right now, six social movements are on the move.

  • The Movement for Black Lives, the present incarnation of the Black liberation movement. 
  • The Movement for Reproductive Justice
  • The Movement for LBGTQ Lives, especially the lives and safety of transwomen of color.
  • The Immigrant Movement
  • The Climate Defense Movement.
  • The Movement of low-wage workers and the fight for $15.

Each movement has many fronts and facets, organizations and campaigns. And there are others, as well.

You can trace a direct line between each of these movements and the most important statement of UU public theology (the Seven Principles). People are fighting for the principles we have named as the Seven Principles in the streets everyday.  They may have never heard of Unitarian Universalism. We are not their leaders. The question is whether we will see them as our leaders.

Imagine a world in which all of the social movement I have named  are defeated, defused, and repressed.

Law enforcement continues to kill people at will; the prisons are expanded; women's health is sacrificed for patriarchal morality; transwomen are murdered unnoticed; 11 million people ride cattlecars to the border; the world gets hotter; the rich get richer; the poor get poorer.

What are the prospects of Unitarian Universalism in such a future?

The mismatches I named earlier are the surface signs of a deeper problem, which is our insularity. And our insularity comes from the way that the historical process has shaped us. For we have been shaped by history in such as a way as to be out of touch with what is ground-breaking and innovative in the culture in which we live. History has shaped us to be on the sidelines.

And on the sidelines, we will wither.

So, we need to get off the sidelines, and into life, as it is known and lived by ordinary people today. There is our hope.

Unitarian Universalism must become the most accessible point of contact for and a holistic expression of the movement for social and personal transformation in our culture.

It is a deep spiritual challenge, but we have the theological and religious tools to guide us in that process of spiritual growth.

More on that tomorrow.....

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why the UU Mismatches?

More from the comments I made at the Dawning Future Conference
The common feature of many of the mismatches seems to be our insularity. 
  • We build our buildings the way we like them and where we live; 
  • we talk to ourselves in the ways that we are comfortable with; 
  • we treat our religious professionals as though their congregants were their only constituency that mattered. 
  • We finance ourselves just enough to sustain ourselves
  • On the local level, we spend very little on outreach. 

It is as though we think that our congregation is the Beloved Community, rather thinking of the Beloved Community as all humanity made fair and the people one. 

But why are UU's so insular? 

Everything I said about 2013 is even more true now.
It is not surprising when you think about the social climate since 1970. Forty years of 40 years of conservative culture  creates and reinforces a dichotomy between the personal and the social. (Conservative culture is about the personal: individual advancement and fulfillment) Put another way, conservative culture perpetuates a conflict between the spiritual as individual growth vs. the spiritual as the deepening solidarity

In conservative culture, the Kingdom of God becomes heaven, the reward for individual good behavior and faith. In more progressive traditions, the Kingdom of God is more a this-worldly realm of love and justice. 

The Unitarian Universalist response to the conservative dominated culture was to focus on our local congregations where everyone was on their own journey, their own path, to personal fulfillment and serenity. Social justice, well, that’s some people’s thing, their hobby, and they can have their table at coffee hour and their petitions and clipboards. 

The legacy of the conservative era has been our insularity. We have been tending to ourselves, and preserving the peace among ourselves. This has been a self-reinforcing style; congregations become more like themselves all the time, unconsciously narrowing the gate through which people enter.

There is a generational effect as well of the conservative era we have endured.

During conservative periods, liberal and progressive movements do not grow. They don't grow because younger generations do not join them because they do not seem effective and relevant. During the last 40 years, UU's have been so focused on why we can't hold our own young people that we did not really confront the fact that we were not attracting young people at all. 

Consequently, the leadership and the style of Unitarian Universalism aged. Now what? 

In many movements, the existing organizations survive through a tough downturn, but when the underlying movement re-emerges, it often re-emerges in the form of new organizations, with a new style.

The Movement for Black Lives is not the youth wing of the NAACP. In fact, SNCC in 1964 was not the youth wing of the NAACP. The New Left was not the Old Left organizations transformed and brought up to date. The community unions fighting for fast food workers and the minimum wage are not new incarnations of the unions that were so successful in the 1950's. New periods bring forth new organizations, new styles, new leadership to bring life and vitality to on-going and long-standing struggles. 

The situation that we are in is that the Unitarian Universalism we know now is not well-suited for the times that we now live in. It is not the result of a particularly heinous moral failure on our part. It is just the history of our time.

But just as the historical developments of the last half century help explain where we are now, the same "historical understanding of a possible future" can give us guidance to move forward. 

More on that tomorrow. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mismatches between Unitarian Universalism and the Work It Needs to Do.

The mismatches: 

  • We have buildings, many beautiful buildings; but modern communications make place irrelevant. 
  • We are skilled in written words; but the world now communicates in image and music.
  • We have spirituality embedded in a long and glorious religious tradition; and much of the world wants spirituality but actively and consciously rejects religious tradition.
  • We have an expensive membership-based business model; the people have declining standards of living. The membership of the local congregation shares the expenses of the congregation where costs are rising. The membership, for the most part, is not seeing equivalent income growth.
  • Our finances are first dedicated to existing local institutions which are unsustainable at our membership level; but where we need to invest is in new institutions and ministries. Our primary form of support is pledges to local congregations, which are caught in a financial squeeze. Less to give denominational bodies, too little for innovative new ministries.
  • We have and require a learned ministry; but wisdom is no longer associated with educational attainment, but with authenticity: real experience passed through the fire of thought.
  • Our expectations of religious professionals, especially parish ministers, are unrealistic. We expect high quality worship leadership, executive leadership of the institution, and significant attention to the pastoral needs of the congregation.
  • We are led by and culturally defined by baby boomers; the people now making religious choices for their lives are later generations.  (most Boomers have made their choice already.)
  • Our shared default ways of doing and being are monocultural in a multicultural world. 
From my keynote presentation at the Metro NY District Conference: The Dawning Future. Held at UU Congregation of Shelter Rock on November 14, 2015. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Humanism in Context -- Questions Arise

So many interesting questions are arising from the essay Humanism in Context -- it's on the "pages list" on the right hand side. Read the comments, please.

  • One question is about whether there is a difference between the overbearing Christian nationalism of the Cold War era and the overbearing evangelical culture in much of non-urban America. Especially since, it is noted, that this is where Unitarian Universalism is growing. While I think that it is a different sort of push for conformity, it probably feels the same to the people who find themselves on the outside of it. So, I suspect that it makes joining a UU congregation an easy fit. Like attracting like.
  • A couple of comments about what a different world the new fellowships were -- how even the ministers they called came from a different educational and cultural background as the prevailing New England norms. It makes me wonder how much the Unitarian denominational leaders knew they were going to grow by diversifying when they authorized the Fellowship movement. Or did they assume that the liberal Christians were going to evolve in same direction. 
  • I am now becoming curious about A. Powell Davies and James Luther Adams, two of our leading theologians and ministers during this time of Cold War Christian Nationalism. And then there is the case of the Los Angeles congregation, which lost its tax exempt status for refusing to sign a state required loyalty oath. And also Rev. Stephen Fritchman's controversial career. 
  • But mostly, I wonder about the effect of this formative experience for many of our congregants and congregations, of being culturally resistant, affects us now. It raises the following question to me: if we understand ourselves as being resisters and rebels, why has it been so difficult for us to make alliances and enter into coalitions and expand our reach into other groups who also are outsiders in American culture. One possibility is that as much as we see ourselves as outsiders, no one else sees us that way. They see our privilege and power. And a lot of people don't see atheists and humanists as an oppressed group. So our presumption that everybody would see us allies in  whatever struggle can seem presumptuous and overbearing.
Other thoughts and questions?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Humanism In Context" further contexualized.

For those of you who are too impatient to read 2000 word essays on UU history, let me summarize
"Humanism in Context" for you.

That sense of the cultural radicalism that one feels in Unitarian Universalist congregations does not flow from the few radicals of the 19th century Unitarian movement, nor does it flow from our participation in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. No, our sense of cultural radicalism is the result of many of our churches being formed in resistance to the overbearing and aggressive Christian nationalism of the Cold War Era. 

I came to this insight by mashing up Kevin Kruse's "One Nation Under God" with Holley Ulbrich's The Fellowship Movement". Kruse describes the setting: the national elite (business, political and religious leaders) aggressively promoting a conformist form of Christianity as an essential element of Americanism and patriotism. Ulbrich describes what was happening in Unitarianism at the same time: the formation of mostly humanist fellowships across the country. My essay just connects the dots.

I am trying to imagine what that period felt like to those newly self-identified Unitarians. The atheist and the non-believer were being identified as an internal enemy of America, the people whose religious opinions were unacceptable. And so, joining a Unitarian fellowship was both an act of defiance and an act of camouflage. Atheism disguised as a church. (Someone could write a whole history of our modern UU movement, its liturgies and pieties, as the working out of that weird proposition in practice.) Non-believers who got up and went somewhere on Sunday morning.

What I am suggesting is that this process of being formed as a center of resistance to Christian Nationalism gave the UU's as sense of themselves as "critical insiders/outsiders" to American culture. On the one hand, we were the "excluded other," perhaps even a dangerous element. And on the other hand, we were the "elite in exile." I think that much of current thinking about ourselves focuses too much on our self-image as the exiled elite.

Well, I could go on and on about the possible implications of this, but this is my starting point. UU's sense of themselves as outsiders and cultural radicals come from the circumstances of our creation as a modern religious movement, and more importantly, it comes from our own historical experience of being identified as outside the norm, the other and the scapegoat.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Blessing the Stranger (Who happens to be a Baby)

I was born in 1949; my father was a Unitarian minister, serving Follen Church in Lexington, MA. I was "christened" -- which, as far as I can tell, was theistic quasi-Christian step down from a Baptism, mostly involving a naming ceremony, but without the washing away from original sin. 

The 1937 Hymns of the Spirit does not have a liturgy for any form of baby blessing service, although in its index of hymns it lists four as appropriate for "Christening services or dedication of Children." 

When did the practice of baby blessing become absorbed into a congregational rite in UUism? Somewhere in my lifetime, I think. The baby blessing service became a "Dedication of Children", performed during the worship service. Its purpose was to ritually commit the congregation to the care and nurture of the child. It welcomed the child into the "extended family" of the congregation. 

This congregational understanding of baby blessings became so ingrained that many UU ministers routinely turn down requests to ritually bless babies from families outside the congregation. 

But think of the theological and ecclesiological implications of that development ! There is so much to unpack in that practice. 

I think that this has to be seen in the context of the search for the transcendent in Unitarian Universalism, a search that became very complicated as we tried to manage the divide between humanism and theism. 

In practical terms, the congregation became the source of the transcendent and polity became theology.  The covenant, by which we meant the covenant that creates the local congregation became the functional equivalent of the creed. Building our local communities became the way that we evangelized liberal religion.

Thus we have arrived at our current cul-de-sac: most of our congregations offer membership in the community as our path to spiritual growth, yet the culture around us is highly resistant to leaping into that sort of commitment. 

Young families are undergoing the life-changing experience of parenting a new human being, a child.  They want a ritual celebration of this new life, and an auspicious launch of their child's growth, and a chance to pledge to the child, their own parents and family, and the mysterious powers that govern the Universe, that they will try their best to be good parents.  

Like many young families, they are not connected to a religious tradition, and the traditions of the families of origin are not what they want, so they present themselves to the local UU church for help in that little ritual of blessing their baby.

And they are turned away. Because they are not members of the congregation already. All talk of "welcoming the stranger" and "radical hospitality" notwithstanding, they are turned away. 

Because we have lost the capacity to provide means of grace to someone outside our community.

What is our ministry to those who are not Unitarian Universalists? Ministry is more than a service. It is a service AND an invitation: an opportunity to pray, to pledge, to promise, to confess, to say aloud, to thank, to praise, and to reflect. Ministry is a service and an invitation to make a relational gesture toward the ultimate. 

The opening clause of James Luther Adam's "I Call That Church Free" is "I call that church free which enters into a covenant with the ultimate source of existence." Clearly, he is saying that the ultimate source of existence is not the church itself, but that which the church covenants with, that which the church and congregation point towards. 

And is not parenthood one of the decision points in which parents and families are ready to make a covenant with past, present, future, and ultimate forms of existence? 

The question, beyond the question of blessing strangers who happen to be babies, is how do we invite strangers into a covenant with the ultimate source of existence? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Subject-Object Confusion

Anderson Cooper asked the Democratic candidates to name the enemies they have made.

Hillary Clinton said 'the Republicans' among others.

Anderson Cooper did not ask the candidates whom they thought were enemies. The question was really about who considered them, the candidates, as enemies.

It is undeniable that the Republicans have treated Hillary Clinton as an enemy since 1993 when she stepped out of the role of First Lady to work on health care reform. Long before ObamaCare, there was HillaryCare. And the Republicans have treated her as the personification of everything they hate and fear ever since. They invoke her first name to scare themselves.

Conservatives have a persistent subject/object confusion. It's some kind of cognitive problem. They think that what they do to others are, actually, being done to them.

Kim Davis thinks that she is being oppressed by gays, lesbians, and liberals because they protest her refusal to serve them. They think that subject (the one doing the discrimination) is the object (the victim of discrimination).

They think that the Movement for Black Lives wants to kill police officers, because the Movement protests police who wantonly kill black people. Subject/object confusion again.

And of course, their economic policies presume that the poor have too much money and the rich have too little.

So, is it any wonder that the rightwing now whines that mean ol' Hillary is demonizing them, violating the norms of civility and comity that they have always upheld?

I made this observation over a year ago.
I can't tell you the number of comments that thought
 I was saying that conservatives were demons.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

He Kept Us Safe

When Donald Trump questions the statement that George W. Bush 'kept us safe' he threatens one of the last remaining Republican defenses against accountability for the war crimes of the Bush administration.

If GWB did not "keep us safe" then what was all that about: 5000 US combat deaths, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani deaths, the torture, the wiretapping, the trillions of dollars spent, even the long lines at the airport?

All of which bothered people at the time; they violated norms of behavior that most  had come to expect about our country. Norms like: The USA does not go to war except in defense. The USA does not invade countries at will. The USA does not torture people. The USA is not big brother. The USA is not so fiscally irresponsible as to pretend that making war doesn't cost money.

Many people already knew that such beliefs were illusions. But for many, they were still thought to be true. They were norms, or boundaries, people thought were in place.

The Bush administration violated all those norms and justified it in the name of the nation's safety. "He's keeping us safe" became the binding myth.

What's a binding myth? An explanation:

People should not punch other people. That's a norm of behavior most people adhere to. If I tell you that you should go up and punch another person, you would say that you won't. After all, it's a norm that people do not just punch other people. But suppose I persuade you that that person needs to be punched because he insulted your mother's honor, and you then do it.  I have bound you to me because I am able to make you do what you know you shouldn't. And I have bound you to me with the binding myth that I uphold your mother's honor.

Once bound, I can make you punch whomever I want by invoking the myth of your mother's honor. But what if you learn that I am not protecting your mother? The moment you realize that I am not about your mother's honor at all, you also realize that you have been punching people for no good reason. To avoid that self-knowledge, you will go to any length to preserve the myth that your mother's honor is both sacred and also under constant attack.

"Keeping us safe requires the abandonment of democratic and constitutional norms" is the myth by which the Bush administration bound the nation to it in the days after 9/11.  To preserve the power of that binding myth, more dangers must be found, and more norms must be necessarily violated.

That binding myth is so essential to self-justifications of the Republican party at this point that to even remember that George W. Bush had been in office for nine months on September 11th is to say that unthinkable. We can see the anxiety such truth provokes, that people immediately think Trump is blaming Bush for 9/11.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The DIfference between Denmark and The United States

Bernie Sanders said we ought to look at the Nordic countries, naming Denmark first, as models for what social democracy looks like. Hillary Clinton says that we are not like Denmark.

When you look at charts about the social conditions of Denmark, you have to ask why we shouldn't want to be like Denmark.

In Denmark, it appears that the lives of all their citizens matter; in the USA, not so much.  In the US, black lives have not mattered and do not matter now.

If Black Lives Mattered in the United States, we would not accept the rates of childhood poverty that we have. We would not want to punish single mothers. If Black Lives Mattered, we would not think that all proposed social welfare policies are plots and scams. We would not be obsessed with the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor.

The difference between Denmark and the United States is not that we are an "entrepreneurial" nation and they are not. The difference is that the USA is paralyzed by institutional racism and all its rationalizations and ideological requirements.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The agony of imposed silence

Mass murder done with guns.

The anguish of grief.

The frustration with the seeming intractability of the problem.

The handwringing and despair.

The liberal church, in particular, seems to become a caricature of itself. Its religious leaders make anguished and angry statements, some of them starkly poetic, ending in very earnest, yet very vague calls for something to be done. Is it the kind of institution where you would risk your life, your freedom, your time, your money to make our common life better? Does the church seem like a body that is able to create people's power and change things? Or do all of its prayers, and pious thoughts, and candles, and poetry, and righteous anger testify to its powerlessness?

Mass murder with guns is a bigger problem than "sensible gun safety" legislation, but such laws are a necessary step in stopping the slaughter.

And we know what must happen to make such laws real. But, under the rules that have been imposed on the church, we cannot say what needs to be done, and we cannot directly organize people to get it done.

The obstacle is the Republican Party. We all know that. For even the most mild gun control legislation to be passed, the Republican Party must be voted out of power, or so threatened with the loss of power that it chooses to break its dependence on the NRA.

No objective observer of politics in this country would deny the truth of that analysis.

But religious leadership sees itself as forbidden to say it out loud.

No wonder we are anguished. Silence has been imposed on us.

Religious leaders cannot tell the truth that they know.

A gun manufacturing corporation, under the present understandings of the law, can contribute corporate funds to a PAC that supports political candidates that protect its corporate interests. (Yes, there is supposedly some non-coordination between the candidate and the PAC, but that is pure fiction. We all know that.)

A church or a religious organization, on the other hand, cannot endorse a candidate, or even use its facilities to enable a political campaign.

The CEO of a corporation can endorse a candidate for office in a letter to the employees, but a minister, or rabbi, or imam, cannot endorse one from the pulpit.

Supposedly, this is because of the tax break given to churches, but all the tax breaks corporations receive do not limit their political expression.  The corporation may even selling its products to the government itself; it still has virtually unlimited freedom of political expression.

No wonder corporate leaders are not anguished by their powerlessness, but merely peeved because they don't always get their way without question.

No wonder, religious leaders have to resort to poetry and lofty language and vague calls for unspecified but doomed  legislation  to express in words the desires that they are not able to act upon.

Of course, I have said all this before, and maybe better. But it is so on my mind today.

The Pope and The County Clerk

Here's why it's important:

A crucial part of the conservative cultural and political hegemony for the last forty plus years has been the alliance between the white Catholics and the White evangelical Protestants. That alliance depended on the Catholic hierarchy prioritizing all of the issues of sexuality and patriarchy above all other issues in its public theology. While the social teachings of the church have always had a pro-worker and anti-war content, the hierarchy was far more insistent that abortion and same-sex marriage were the issues that really count. Those were the issues that they mobilized voters about. No cardinal ever threatened to withhold communion from Catholic legislators who voted for war, or who supported the death penalty, or who voted tax cuts to the rich while cutting programs for the poor.

I have personally talked with lifelong Democratic voters who have been torn about voting for Democratic candidates for President, because they thought that the Church wanted them to cast their vote against abortion.

Pope Francis has not changed the any of the teachings of the church. But he argued for a different priority in the public political practice of the church: away from the 'culture wars' and towards immigration, climate justice and inequality.

Pope Francis' priorities drive a wedge into the conservative coalition in the United States.

If Roman Catholic voters were inclined to vote their faith's values, working class Catholics might be persuaded to come home to the party that stands with the poor, in all that implies in the current issue environment. (I know, I know: to say that the Democratic Party "stands with the poor" is a generous characterization to be sure.)

That is why the purpose and meaning of the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis is important.

Davis' and her legal representatives want it to be a signal that the Pope is still committed to the conservative Evangelical/Catholic alliance in the US. It is clear that they have exaggerated the meeting of the minds that they claimed occurred when they met.

The Vatican appears to be downplaying the meeting: first just not denying that the meeting took place, then confirming that it did, and now issuing a statement that it was not a statement of support for Davis.

The conservative era in the United States was built on the casting of spells, delusions and deceptions: an ideological fog. That fog is lifting. In the end, delusions are maintained by cheap tricks and sleights of hand. The "great summit" between Kim Davis and Pope Francis is such a trick, another conservative con, now being exposed.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Campaign Zero

Maybe when the pushback/conflict around a "Black Lives Matter" banner gets stalemated in a UU church, or among your family, taking a good look at Campaign Zero might shake things loose.

The campaign offers policy solutions in 10 areas. It also evaluates 2016 candidates on their public positions in each area.

The planning team includes people at the heart of the Movement for Black Lives.

Policy proposals and campaigns are not the same as protesting in the street, nor is it like posting a banner on the front of a church. It is not the kind of detailed and relentless exposure of white privilege that is going on in the public square today. But it might be persuasive to those with a different learning style: those that can't quite get the bold statement that "Black Lives Matter" without some concrete steps around it.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Banners Show All Lives Matters' Racist Truth by Cynthia Landrum

The common response to “Black Lives Matter” has become “All Lives Matter.” And, absolutely, as Universalists, we believe in each and every person’s worth to God, that all are savable and all are saved. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in each person’s inherent worth and dignity. Each person. All. Of course all lives matter. So this leads some people to believe that there's some confusion about what we mean when we say, "Black Lives Matters."  And liberals often try to address the "All Lives Matters" by doing just the sort of explaining I just did above.  Another example is a Facebook meme that says:

But are we having a misunderstanding? Tom Schade wrote recently on the power of banners.  And the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign also speaks to the power of these banners.  One power that Black Lives Matter banners are having is to make it clear there is no misunderstanding here at all.

 Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the people who are responding saying all lives matter are really confused about this at all.  When the River Road UU Congregation put a Black Lives Matter banner in front of their church, it was twice vandalized – the vandal cut the word “Black” out of the sign, and then it was stolen.
Banner at River Road UU Congregation from http://wtop.com/montgomery-county/2015/08/black-lives-matters-sign-vandalized-in-bethesda-again/

 Lake Country UU Church in Wisconsin also had the word “Black” cut out.
Banner at Lake Country UU Church from http://www.lakecountrynow.com/news/lakecountryreporter/black-lives-matter-banner-slashed-outside-hartland-church-b99554790z1-321419621.html
Cutting out the word "Black" isn’t saying that "all lives matter" – it’s a violently cutting out the "Black" from "Lives Matter." It’s saying that Black lives don’t matter. First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee also had their sign vandalized, with the word "Black" written over with “All” and then the banner stolen.  The UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore also had "All" written on top of "Black on their sign.

Sign at UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore, photo by Betsy courtesy of Rev. Cynthia Cain.

When you cross off "Black" with "All," you’re again not saying "All." You’re saying “Not black—all other.” It is saying "All" -- it's saying "All except what I just deleted: Black." If there was really just a desire to clarify, it would be as simple to put a little caret in that said “And ALL” after "Black," without the violent reaction to the word "Black."

But just in case it’s still not really clear, in Reno Nevada they made it really clear. The UU Fellowship of Northern Nevada’s Black Lives Matter banner had the world “Black” written over with the word “White.”

UU Fellowship of Northen Nevada from https://www.facebook.com/127715653920432/photos/pcb.1063832856975369/1063831016975553/?type=1&theater
The symbolic violence is not just limited to physical banners, either.

On the Facebook page of the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore where people were writing “All Lives Matter” and Unitarian Universalists have been responding with clarification and engagement, the response has gotten as extreme as one person threatening to shoot a Unitarian Universalist minister for saying that "Black Lives Matter."  There's simply no way that people can simultaneously be truly believing that all lives matter and at the same time be threatening to kill someone.

The banners have made it clear.  There’s no confusion here what we mean when we say, “Black Lives Matter.” This push-back of “All Lives Matter” isn’t about clarification of a misunderstanding. It’s about an angry response to anti-racism challenging the white cultural supremacy. It’s as simple as that.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The power of banners

Unitarian Universalist congregations are discovering the power of banners.

They have been putting up banners on the outside (some on the inside) of the buildings proclaiming that "Black Lives Matter".

They are breaking through the shell of ineffectuality that has surrounding progressive politics for a generation: that sense that no one notices, and no one cares, when progressives stand up for social justice. It is as though the world says, "what else is new?"

But hang a controversial banner on the outside of a church, and you get a reaction. People steal them. People deface them. People modify them. It takes bravery and courage to persist. Other people are encouraged and supported by the church's persistence in the face of opposition. The congregation is communicating.

The history for Unitarian Universalist congregations is long. For decades the Wayside Pulpits were our primary tool for evangelism. Short pithy quotes that challenged conventional religious thinking were right there where other churches put their dull and expected messages.

Then came the Rainbow flags that communicated our support for GLBTQ people.

And then the Standing on The Side of Love banners.

And now, Black Lives Matter.

For many of our congregations, our buildings are our most important means of communicating who we are and what we stand for. Some of our buildings are extraordinarily beautiful, and some are very prominent in their community.

Isn't it ironic that in these times of social media and the explosion in ways of communicating, Unitarian Universalists are finding the most impactful way they communicate is by hanging a banner on their building.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Most Americans will never see Alaska. Most will never see Denali.
Most Americans couldn't report a single fact about William McKinley beyond that he was assassinated. If that.

Most Americans don't live in Ohio. I lived in Ohio and William McKinley was rarely on my mind. (I did live near the Warren G. Harding memorial in Niles, Ohio, and Harding too was rarely on my mind.)

McKinley was just about the last of a long string of Republican Presidents who held office as a result of the Party of Lincoln selling out the freed slaves in 1876 and ending Reconstruction. They were aggressively pro-business.

This is about whiteness. President Obama took something that was symbolically white and gave it back to Native America. And "someday President in his mind" Donald J. Trump promises to give it back.

This is about the Doctrine Of Discovery -- that ancient principle from the dawn of the European conquest of the Americas. The Pope said that the European Christians had full power over the non-Christians they encountered in the New World. Naming mountains was the least of it.

We are asked to somehow accept a gold prospector's naming of Denali after a US political candidate as a legitimate naming exercise. By what authority? By the authority of being the first white person to suggest naming the mountain that already had a name. The authority of whiteness.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. It is possible for people who are descended from Europeans, as most UU's are, to learn to look at the world without relying exclusively on the lens of whiteness.

Denali is a beautiful mountain, named "the Great One" in the language of the human beings who have known it longest. It never needed any other name.  Our faith calls upon us to resist the power that claims the right to give it another name.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Can't Have One without the Other

The Black Lives Matter Move-ment has brought the question
white privilege to the forefront of white America's consciousness.

For most, it has been profoundly disturbing, blowing up cherished family narratives. Thinking about white privilege challenges the mythologies of US history that support the white nationalist ideology: the assumption that this country was made by and for white Europeans, while other peoples have only bit parts in our history.

The people are in the midst of intense ideological struggle, and it has implications for how every person thinks of themselves and their family and their community and their country. And so we see all these reactionary movements stirring: the intimidating gun movement, the defense of the confederacy, church-burnings, the pro-police funding campaigns which reward killer-cops, the anti-Latinx anti-immigration campaigns, even the scapegoating of foreign countries as the source of economic problems in the USA, the Trump campaign, the shrinking of the GOP to its most reactionary core.

These are all signs of how troubled the waters of white America's consciousness are. Revolution and Counter-revolution. Upsurge and Backlash. Rebellion and Repression. You can't have one without the other.

Because theology and ideology are so close, religious leaders have to be crystal clear. To see life through the lens of whiteness is idolatry; most would agree with that. But it is not clear to most that the assumptions of whiteness shape what white people think of everything else. The America that white people revere is not the same America that people of color know, and so therefore, it is not the real America. The Bible that has been read through the lens of whiteness is a distorted Bible. The Christianity practiced by white people has already lost touch with the gospel. The Unitarian Universalism of today is a pale and bleached version of what liberal religion is really. And the same could be said of music, art, yoga, and food.  To use the language of salvation, you will not be saved by your faithfulness to the forms of whiteness; you can become a citizen of Heaven's republic only by turning away from them.

The country has been here before, but the future has not happened yet. Reconstruction was defeated and Jim Crow won. The liberating movements of the 60's were turned back in the backlash of the 70's. Will this time be different?

It seems as though the movement has gotten much smarter, much more self-aware, much more steely in its resolve. It seems as though the popular and political expressions of reaction have become more childish and amateurish. Comparing the present Republican field to Nixon and Reagan brings to mind that adage that history repeats tragedy as farce.

It is a time for courage.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Black Pain -- White Distance: What Katrina taught me about myself.

The New Orleans Superdome surrounded by flooded streets.
This article makes clear the relationship between the flood in the aftermath of Katrina and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Its thesis is that African Americans were forcefully reminded that white America was largely unconcerned about their suffering. Their lives did not matter, in so many words, although Kanye West expressed at the time by saying that "George Bush does not care about Black people."

Those days brought home to me all the ways that I used to separate myself from the suffering of black people: all the mental tricks, all the ways that I turned away, all my denying and distancing habits.

This is what I preached on September 18, 2005:

Let’s start here. I suspect  that when we think about the people of New Orleans, especially the black and the poor, it takes courage to imagine ourselves in their present situation.  Imagine watching your home flooded, and that you lose almost everything you own.  Imagine making your way through the flooded streets to public stadium, where you spend days and nights, surrounded by strangers, in conditions of anarchy, with nobody in charge, nobody to keep you safe.  Imagine the fear of losing track of your children in a crowd, of becoming separated from everyone you know.  Imagine standing in a line for 24 hours waiting for a rumored bus to come, unsure as to whether you should give up your place in line to go to the bathroom. Imagine watching the patients and staff of Tulane University being evacuated, while the patients of the public hospital were told to wait.  Imagine being turned back by armed policemen when you try to walk across a highway bridge toward dry land.  Imagine coming the suspicion that your government had abandoned you and was leaving you to die, just as the government had to hundreds of black men during the floods during the 20’s. 

It is terrifying to try to imagine yourself, you, your spouse, your children, those children we so lovingly send out of here on Sunday morning, your mother, your father helpless and infirm.

I can hardly grasp such terror and such pain.  

Here is my confession.  

It is calming to think that those people are somehow more used to suffering, that they are tougher than we are, less sensitive, that somehow the experiences that they have gone through in these past three weeks have not hurt them the way that they would hurt us. I  can pity them; I  can want to have mercy upon them, I want to help them, but it very  painful to imagine myself in their situation.  To calm my panic, and to soothe my pain, I entertain the racist thought that somehow they are different than me. I do not think that I am alone in this.

 And because we cannot, we will not, fully imagine ourselves in their situation, we find their anger unfathomable.  Kanye West, a popular recording artist, says that he thinks George Bush does not care about black people.  Oh me O My.  People are shocked.  How could he think that?  If our moral imaginations were not stunted by the effects of racism, No, let me say it this way, if our moral imaginations were not tranquillized by the narcotic of racism, we might understand how such a conclusion would make perfect sense to him.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Accessible and Holistic....

I have said that Unitarian Universalism must become the most accessible and holistic manifestation of the movement for social transformation.

Somebody has asked "what on earth does that means?"

Let me break it down:


How can people access the social movements that are bubbling up all over the country? If you live in an all-white suburb, how do you access the Black Lives Matter movement? If you live in Kansas, how do you respond to the inspiration of the young adults who suspended themselves off that bridge in Portland, Oregon to stop a Shell icebreaker needed for Arctic drilling? Indeed, if you live in Portland, and are of an age that hanging off of a bridge is not something you are up to doing, how do you participate in that movement?

If you are not a young adult, if you are not living in a major urban area, if you have limited free time and unlimited family responsibilities, how do you connect to the transformative social movements? You can read about them; you can watch TV about them; you can sign up on an email list and get an email a day from them, an email sent by a robot that asks for money.

The local Unitarian Universalist church should be a point of access to the movements, a place where you can make the connection. At least, it should be a community of people who share your interest, where you can hear about things going on. It should give you a chance to sing a song and clap along if nothing else. At most, it should be able to connect you to people across the country who are doing great things and who will support you in testing the limits of your commitment.

If you are already in the Unitarian Universalist orbit, especially in a professional role, you can become overwhelmed by all the connections offered through the movement. Ministers wonder how they can do the work of Black Lives Matter and Commit2Respond and Reproductive Justice and Immigrant Rights and lift up the T in the LGBTQ struggle and support the fast food workers and more. But most people are not blessed with these invitations in their lives. We should fix that.


A Unitarian Universalist congregation is holistic: a transformational community that deals with all aspects of your life. Its not a movement organization, but a transformational community. Move On does not teach progressive values and ignite wonder in the children of the people on its email list. The ACLU does not provide all ages sexuality education for its members. The Green Party will not visit you in the hospital when you are sick. No one from the Bernie Sanders campaign will conduct your mother's memorial service. None of those organizations intend to help you make meaning from your life. They do not have a spiritual dimension, but Unitarian Universalism does. None of those organizations will offer you an weekly opportunity to join with others to learn more, go deeper, and be inspired.

It is a sad truth that for most people, the one opportunity to feel a part of a larger body that aims to transform this society has been to watch John Stewart on TV and share the snark with an imagined community. Or maybe watch Rachel Maddow take down the myths and lies that buttress the status quo. Audiences are not communities. Unitarian Universalism creates holistic communities.

"Manifestation of the Movement for Social Transformation."

Unitarian Universalist congregations already do many of these functions. Where they fall short is that they fail to clearly identify themselves in the public square as manifestations of the movement of the spirit of liberation. They say that they are inclusive and that they are holistic, but what gets communicated is only that. They appear to the outsider as small, tight, caring communities whose highest purpose is taking care of themselves. It can seem like "there is no there there."

The social movements that are emerging are not one movement, but they share a common spirit, a spirit of liberation and justice and solidarity. The good news that we ought proclaim says that spirit is just about the most precious and holiest thing that ever can be. It is a great transforming, sustaining and creating power and it holds us together. It leads us, and we follow.

The goal of our work is to make sure that every person knows that their local UU congregation is a place where they can bring their whole self to touch and be touched by the rising spirit of resistance and liberation.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Public Theology and the Social Gospel

A friend on Facebook bemoaned what they saw as a lack of a social gospel in Unitarian Universalism.

Because she had made this comment in a response to my earlier post on the National Church Leadership Institute 2015 (NCLI15), I felt the need to speak, but my first response was "Just Shoot Me Now. Please."

My desk
This blog, which is the bulk of my work for the last two and half years, has been all about encouraging and participating in theological reflection from a UU perspective on the condition of the world as we know it.  I use the hashtag #uupublictheology for this work.The word "public" comes from the Latin "populus" meaning people and the word "theology" is from the Greek words "theos" and "logos", meaning "talk about God." Public theology is talking about the life of the collective people and of God. And as Universalists, we now understand the "people of God" as the whole human race.

We wake up in the middle of the story. There are thousands of years of human history that happened before we were born. That history touches and shapes every aspect of our lives and we are not conscious of it, at least at first. It turns out that the life each of us leads is one small part of much larger events and stories.

Theology has always been the telling of human history: who are we, where did we come from and where are we going. What does that story require of us in the present. What is the good news of that story?

For religion to be helpful to the human condition, it must tell the true story, which means that religious leaders must be skilled historians, able to both know what happened and be able to tell what happened. They must also be skilled at deconstructing false narratives, mythologies about the past and present.

Most religious leaders fail at history. They spin sentimental tales, self-serving narratives, and moralistic anecdotes. They interpret ancient texts and create midrashes to extend those texts when they don't say what is needed. But they rely on the conventional wisdom to understand the story of their own people.

So, when I try to explore #uupublictheology, I have to start with history. Not "UUHistory" that sentimental story-telling that places 'us' at the center, but US History and world history. Who are we in that context?

I marvel at the values we hold, and frankly wonder how we came to learn them, given the reality of our particular history. UUism was the essence of an establishment religion and the direction that it is slowly moving into an oppositional stance? What is it that we have learned, and is that the fragment of good news that we have to share?

Public theology is the search for the good news, the real, the true, the unsentimental hard-as-iron good news in the midst of human history. There are so many easy answers, but we can't accept them if they are not really true.  There is so much justified despair and pessimism, but while we acknowledge it, we are not its prophets.

If the sense of a social gospel is weak among Unitarian Universalists, if all  our prophetic preaching does not seem compelling, then we need to talk. We need to talk some more; we also need to act; but mostly we need to reflect theologically together. We need to talk about the world's people, their past and their future from the largest possible perspective. We need to engage in public theology.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How to Renew the Church -- My takeaway from NCLI15

Just back from the National Church Leadership Institute, a conference put on by the Center for Progressive Renewal. What you need to know about the CPR is that their tagline is "We believe that your church's best days are ahead." They are working for the revival of the progressive mainline Protestant church.

The tagline for NCLI15 was "The Headlines tell a story of decline and despair, but cultural trendlines paint a picture of possibility." The trendlines of which they speak are summed up as Local, Do-It-Yourself, the Cloud, the Shared Economy and Crowdsourcing. Read down the linked call to the NCLI15 conference for their summary of these trendlines.

Conference participants were challenged to think about how these new/old ways of working and being could invigorate the church's work of building community and embodying the gospel in the world.

Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder,
City of Refuge Church, UCC

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis,
Middle Collegiate Church, NYC
But the most excitement was generated by two presentations by black female church leaders: Rev. Jacqui Lewis and Bishop Yvette Flunder. They didn't talk about "cultural trendlines" but spoke prophetically about a church at the forefront of the struggle against white supremacy, sexism, heteronormativity, and the gender binary.

Are the most important cultural trendlines, instead:

The Black Lives Matter Movement
The Reproductive Justice Movement
The Immigrant Rights Movement
The LGBTQ movement, especially lifting up the "T"
The low-wage worker Movement
The Climate Justice Movement

To me, the contrast could not be clearer. Does the church renew itself by adapting itself to the new/old ways of working and organizing that have been made possible by new technology, or does the church renew itself by allowing itself to be re-shaped by the emerging social movements?

(I know, I am posing this issue as a "either/or" and many of you will remind me that it is really "both/and". I get it, but bear with me.)

Are the social movements the workings of the Holy Spirit in this day and age?
Can the church be renewed by any process other than by following the promptings of the Holy Spirit?

I am not a particularly critical person. I generally appreciate the experiences that I am having. I don't criticize movies while I am watching them. I don't argue with preachers and speakers in my head, until I am on the way home. So, there was much about NCLI15 that I appreciated, enjoyed and was informed by.

But now that I am home, I find myself thinking that maybe we should just stop trying to fix the church from within, by reforming our processes. I mean this especially for Unitarian Universalists, for those who don't think of UUism as part of what I am calling "the church." Maybe we should take a couple years off from our endless self-improvement projects and just go "all in for the social movements." Lead our congregations into finding their voice with which to proclaim the gospel of good news for the poor, freedom for the captive, bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, and safety for the endangered. Throw ourselves into the struggle, by every means possible, for a few years, and then see where we are.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Nationalize the Police

photograph by Beowulf Sheehan

Police and criminal justice reform has to be a priority in our political actions now, and into the future. We cannot wait for interpersonal racial reconciliation to act to legally remedy systemic racial inequities.  (Charles M. Blow  -- NYT, July 30, 2015)

Federalism has utterly failed to protect the lives, rights and interests of people of color, especially Black people. I say "federalism" because while the police are agents usually of local government, local governments are the creations of, and given powers by the states. Or to put it more accurately, Federalism is a key factor to how white supremacy is preserved.

This is how it was intended. The US Constitution was written with the purpose of creating the strongest possible national government that would not have the power to interfere with state systems of slavery, and later, segregation.

Every protection of African American rights that has been won has been implemented institutionally by placing state functions under the power of the federal government. Integration of the public accommodations came through the application of the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce. Most social welfare programs that have been implemented have allowed for state discrimination against African Americans to somehow continue. (Medicare is perhaps the single exception.)

Federalism is why millions of poor people still don't have Medicaid, even though it is a program funded by the federal government. It is why US food stamp benefits are so uneven across the country., even though all the funding comes from the federal government. It is why states and localities can implement restrictions on the right to vote for the US Congress. It's why state legislatures draw the district lines for congressional representation.

And, most importantly, because this is where white supremacy is enforced most directly, it is why local police are, in effect, unaccountable to any higher authority, or constitutional standard. Federalism is why the problem of killer police seems to be impossible to solve -- why we are forced to wait for some far-off 'interpersonal racial reconciliation."

Local police need to be nationalized. They all need to be under the control of the Federal Department of Justice. It is the only way to create the institutional framework that will make "equal protection of the laws" possible. All law enforcement must be accountable to the full protection of citizen's rights under the Constitution. Their wrongdoings must be investigated, not by themselves and local prosecutors but by neutral fact-finders from somewhere else. Poor police officers should not be able to bounce from one jurisdiction to another. There needs to a national system that involves local citizens in the control and oversight of the police. There needs to be one clear police union contract that does not obstruct the investigation of police misconduct.

Nationalizing the police seems like an unimaginable restructuring of our system of government. It is radical, yes. But is there an alternative that actually ends the death-dealing oppression which is now inflicted on African Americans in the USA today? 

Cattle Cars and Concentration Camps

People like Donald Trump will say the darnedest things. They pride themselves on being uncensored, on just saying what they think, which often results in saying what they have not yet thought through.

But we should stop and think about his statement that he thinks that the US government should deport all of the "illegal immigrants" and then re-admit the good ones.

It's an eliminationist fantasy: wishing some people away, some simple scheme by which people just disappear.

We should stop and think about what deporting 11 million people would actually require. Game the process out in our heads.

Do you think that 11 million people will go stand on the street corner and wait for a bus from the Immigration Service to come and pick them up to send them home.

Deporting eleven million people means sending a vast police force out into every community in the country to check people's papers. It means detaining people without papers in detention centers and camps. The government would have to either hold people for an extended period of time to allow some due process in deportation, or the government would end up deporting people on rough and ready assessments based on race and ethnicity. People will try to evade capture, escape from capture, resist capture. Many people who would targeted for detaining and deporting are embedded into communities, networks and families, who will protect them.

It would take checkpoints on the highways, house-to-house searches, the armed occupation of neighborhoods, ubiquitous challenges to prove one's citizenship. In the end it will require cattle cars and concentration camps and ethnic cleansing.

It would mean the intrusion of the police into all of our lives, or apartheid. Anglos would enjoy the privilege of not having to prove their citizenship at every turn, while others are checked and re-checked, hounded and harassed every day of their lives.

Trump says that the politicians don't do what is necessary because they don't know how to manage things. He could make this happen, he promises. And there a lot of people who seem to want him to do it.