Friday, December 14, 2012

Declaration of Independence 2.0

Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a document that forever changed our understanding of politics, of society, and of the citizens’ role in change. Now, events here in Michigan call on us once again to evolve beyond our current political structure, and to assume a more perfect state of equality and justice. A decent respect for the diversity of humanity and the complex demands of living in an interconnected environment requires us to declare the causes of our discontent and the elements of our vision for a better future.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; the People deserve equal rights under the law, regardless of any personal attribute, self-identity, social class, or status. The People have the right to a core level of health care, education, legal representation, and access to employment. The People own their bodies, their identities, their labor, and their privacy. All People should be accountable to the same rule of law and held responsible for their actions. The People have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness and should not be made to fear their safety and well-being as a tool to manipulate their actions, guarantee their compliance, or demand their obedience.

To secure these rights, a nation consists of three important bodies – the People, government, and the private sector. Government exists to protect the People from harm, whether from external or internal sources. When the private sector proves itself incapable of providing services that abide by these core values, then Government must create regulations that guarantee the maintenance of the People’s basic human rights. The People and the private sector each benefit when the implicit social contract between the two is kept in proper balance. The private sector provides the People with jobs, fair wages, and products for consumption. The People provide the private sector with a lasting social infrastructure that allows the private sector to function and grow. The People each have one vote and no one human person or non-person entity should have the capacity to unduly influence free elections. Society must provide all of the basic freedoms guaranteed to the People as human beings – freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, a free press, the free practice of religion, and the ability to redress grievances.

Nations exist within the larger framework of a global society. The United States is one of 200 sovereign states in the world. Each of these states deserves the same consideration for self-determination and existence for its People that we demand for ours. Any global call for assistance or intervention should be coordinated by global or regional representative bodies. Violent intervention should always be the very last resort, and only considered after every possible diplomatic effort has been fully exhausted.

We also live as part of the interdependent web of all existence. The People must acknowledge the rights of other life forms and our responsibility as stewards of our planet. All nations, their People, governments, and private sectors must place equal emphasis on the future of our global society as on the immediate gratification of needs. Any action that threatens future generations, regardless of the short term benefits, should be considered a non-viable alternative. The highest aspirations of all humanity can only be achieved if love is our most important core value – love of self, family, community, society, and the world.

Whenever the social contract between the People, government, and the private sector becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles. Such change should not be undertaken lightly, but when a long train of abuses results in insurmountable corruption and tyranny, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of our planet requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors. A democratic government derives its just power from the People, but the private sector does not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.

Democracy in the State of Michigan is under siege from a well-funded horde of marauding savages. Their names are Greed, Selfishness, Hatred, Bigotry, Misogyny, Ignorance, and Elitism. We call for a revolution of the spirit of our nation and of our world; not a revolution of bloodshed and violence, but a revolution to win back the souls of the People.

We absolve ourselves from allegiance to this government and to the private sector as currently constituted. Instead, we pledge allegiance to the People, to the heart and spirit of our human community. We pledge allegiance not to dogma, but to our capacity to reason, to love, and to courageously seek to build the best society for all. We pledge allegiance not to hollow promises and creeds, but to honesty, integrity, and openness in our words and our actions. We pledge allegiance to no status quo, but to respecting ourselves and others and to helping everyone gain and maintain the basic freedoms guaranteed to all. We pledge allegiance not to blind obedience to ancient voices, but to a respectful consideration of all the sacrifices made and being made by all people so that future generations can be empowered to continue the legacy of peace and freedom.

We pledge allegiance not to any flag or other symbol, but to the inherent rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We pledge allegiance not to any currency, but to fair compensation, free speech, freedom to believe, freedom to define one’s own identity, and the freedom to love.

The War on Democracy in Michigan

Here is what passed for logic and reason for Republicans in Lansing this week.
  • We must restrict access to abortions in order to eliminate abortions,
  • We must increase the rights of gun owners to carry concealed weapons in order to reduce gun violence
  • Religious organizations using public funds to do the work of the state may discriminate based on their religious beliefs
  • Someone with a few hours training has the right to bring a concealed, loaded handgun into your church
As Rep. Brandon Dillon said on the floor of the House on Tuesday, Michigan is now the place where democracy goes to die.  Despite the clear voice of the people last November, the Koch-funded governor is recreating the emergency manager function, which creates total autocracy in a local government and the suspension of everything you would view as the democratic process.

The nation awakes this morning to the shroud of shame woven by Michigan Republicans last night.  If you call yourself a patriot and American, the events of this week should jolt you into action.
  • Bills introduced and voted on before legislators or voters have the slightest chance to read them
  • Bills passed without any Committee review or opportunity provided for public comment
  • Bills rammed through the House and Senate without legislators being given the opportunity to discuss them or to offer amendments
If this is democracy, then what moral superiority does this country have the gall to claim?  Even if you support this legislation, you cannot support the manner in which it is being passed in Michigan.

When the wealthy can write the legislation and purchase its passage, then our elected officials before whores.  And if the people say nothing in opposition, then we are their pimps.

I do not want to live in an America betrayed by greed and selfishness.  I cannot live in a country where the people are too apathetic to stand up to rich bullies who maraud our state and our nation with impunity.  I cannot enjoy a season promoting the principles of the Sermon on the Mount knowing that we now mourning the death of democracy have no hope; that the gentle will inherent a barren landscape; and that those who thirst for righteousness will choke on the dust of corruption.  If we are pure in heart, perhaps we will see God someday.  But, right now if the pure in heart do not start overturning some moneychangers' tables, then the people in the here and now will suffer increasingly grave injustice.

I mourn for the women soon to die from medical complications because clinics are forced to close.  I mourn for the innocents soon to fall to the bullets of "law-abiding citizens."  I mourn for the workers and their families who will endure decreased wages, outsourced jobs, and increased job-related accidents and illnesses.  I mourn for GLBT folk who will be legally denied their rights.  I mourn for a generation that will not know the benefits of public education.  I mourn for people of color, many of whom will live under the dictatorial rule of politically-appointed cronies.  I mourn for all of us as we watch the dream of Adams and Jefferson die.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Legalizing Concealed Weapon Violates Religious Freedom...and Common Sense

I returned to Lansing today to testify before the House Committee considering SB 59, a bill that would allow gun-owners with a modicum of training to carry concealed firearms into churches, day care centers, schools, hospitals and other "no-carry zones."  The following were my prepared notes.

This proposed legislation is one of several recent bills that directly impact churches and other religious facilities. Some lawmakers feel that these bills protect religious freedom in this state. A few weeks ago, testifying before his own committee on one of this bills, Representative Kenneth Kurtz said, “…we need to make sure that government doesn't force these organizations to operate in a manner that violates their beliefs…We should never put faith-based organizations in a situation where they have to violate their faith in order to carry out their social mission.”

Now, I testified against that particular piece of legislation, not because I disagree with the need to defend religious freedom, but because I believe Rep. Kurtz’s reasoning for that instance was faulty. So, to stress the relevance of bills such as SB 59 to the issue of religious freedom, let me reference Thomas Jefferson, the father of our legal concept of religious freedom. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was written by Jefferson and enacted into the state's law in 1786. In part, the Statute reads:

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;
  • That all attempts to influence it...beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…
  • That the impious presumption of legislators…who, being themselves but fallible…men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible…
  • That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry…
  • That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which… destroys all religious liberty…
  • And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate…
SB 59 promotes the further dissemination of the most heinous tools of violence and human injury in our society into our most sacred spaces – our schools, our day care centers, and of course our churches and religious sanctuaries. This bill tells religious communities that the decision of the state to expand the free reign of gun owners matters more than centuries-old traditions and beliefs, and more than the moral tenets of religious people in search of places safe from the sorrows and concerns of the secular world. And this bill threatens our religious freedom.

And as Jefferson asserted, religious freedom is not about legislators imposing their particular moral and religious beliefs on the populace, or acting as agents of those who would have government restrict the free practice of religion. Religious freedom is not about imposing the will of fallible human beings on the citizenry, but freeing us to make their own informed choices and seek Truth in an atmosphere free from coercion and violence. To protect religious freedom, then we should protect our schools and churches, where the presence of guns will only increase the likelihood of overt acts against peace and order.

Personally, if the powers of the universe granted me the capacity, I would eradicate every handgun from the face of the earth. I loathe handguns and the evil made more easily committed by their possession. But I realize that I do not have that power, nor can I even prevent them from existing in our streets. But I can fight for stronger laws regarding their purchase and registration. I can advocate for sterner measures regarding their use. And I can plead for you to protect important areas of our communities from their presence.

I will never allow handguns through the doors I was called to protect. I believe that handguns in my church are an anathema to my moral beliefs and to the religious tenets of my faith. Handguns present a vile assault on the universal religious principles of love and peace. A handgun presence in a religious facility is a depraved violation of the sacred protection our sanctuaries provide.

I also added a couple of comments based on assertions made by the bill's proposer at the hearing.
  • Many of the people who walk into churches and schools with loaded guns were "law-abiding citizens" up to the point that the first bullet flew.
  • Predictions of tragedy are not exaggerated - shootings have already occurred that this legislation would simply make more possible and less preventable.
  • Empowering gun owners only emboldens those with no respect for the safety of children or the sanctity of sacred spaces.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Tipping Point on the Horizon

Years ago, I was deeply troubled reading The Handmaid’s Tale, the novel by Margaret Atwood.  After a catastrophic plague, in the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States), theocratic ideals have been carried to extremes.  Women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money, and are assigned to various classes: the chaste and childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives.  The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.

Like all stories of its kind, The Handmaid’s Tale is meant to be fantasy, but just real enough to be cautionary. Sadly, we seem to be moving closer and closer to the fantastic here in Michigan.

I have been very actively opposing Michigan HB 5711, 5712, and 5713 in recent months – bills that would, in effect, make it nearly impossible for women in this state to receive abortions for any reason, be it rape or incest, even to save their own lives.  In just the past few weeks, more bills have been brought forth that jeopardize our core tenets of religious freedom in this county.
  • HB 5763 would legalize discrimination against adopting parents by allowing adoption agencies the ability to deny a placement based on that agency's "moral or religious beliefs." HB 5764 would protect government funding for agencies choosing to so discriminate. The bills even acknowledge that a religious or moral conviction that could allow an agency to deny adoption rights to certain families does NOT imply "that the proposed adoption is not in the best interest of the adoptee." The obvious targets of this legislation are gay and lesbian, non-Christian, or nonreligious parents.
  • SB 975 could allow emergency room doctors and nurses to deny emergency medical care to gay people, women who need a life-saving abortion, and even those with AIDS, for reasons of "conscience." This bill would create the possibility of the unimaginable cruelty suffered by Savita Halappanavar in Ireland a few weeks ago.
To be honest, I would rather spend my time writing sermons, providing pastoral care, and teaching religious education classes.  But my conscience and the spirits of Unitarians and Universalists who sacrificed through the ages to provide us the freedoms we enjoy command me to resist these efforts to create a dystopian theocracy in this state.

Ironically – and I wish I could laugh at the hypocrisy of it all – the sponsors of these bills argue that they are defending religious freedom. And yet they also back SB 59, which would allow people to legally carry a gun into churches or other places of worship, schools, day care centers, sports arenas or stadiums, day care centers, bars and taverns, hospitals, and college classrooms and dormitories. In other words, these theocrats want to use the church to shield their hate and discrimination, but then trample what the church represents when its principles runs counter to their lobbyists’ wishes.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot live a moral life only when it is convenient or expeditious, or when it benefits you. A truly religious person stands for truth whatever the cost and whatever the consequences, because it is the truth.

And the truth is that it is wrong for churches receiving public funds, and thereby acting as agents of the state to deny any qualified adults the ability to provide their love and care to the 14,000 children needing homes in this state. It is wrong for any medical provider to deny treatment to anyone on any basis – ever. And it is wrong for government to force churches to allow loaded handguns – tools whose primary purpose is to injure and murder other human beings – into their sanctuaries.

Unitarian Thomas Jefferson defined religious freedom in the United States. His writings formed the basis of the separation of church and state, whose tenets include the freedom from the establishment of a state religion, and the free practice of religion by citizens. Any attempt to twist Jefferson’s words to support the withholding of public services on the basis of religious or moral beliefs is a vicious assault on our freedoms and our civil liberties. Jesus would certainly not approve, nor should the teachings of any mainstream, non-fundamentalist religion.

State Senator John Moolenaar, serving the 36th District, and State Representative Jim Stamas, serving the 98th District (both of which include Midland), have both supported or sponsored these bills. They will continue to support these attempts to erode true religious freedom until people speak up. I truly believe that we are approaching a tipping point in this state. And if we say that we promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, then we cannot sit idly by as our legislators rewrite the U.S. Constitution. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of prejudice and hate is for good people to do nothing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Duty of Conscience

Many diversions have kept me from posting recently.  But, greatest among them towers the virulent spread of an incomprehensible plague; a plague that threatens to leave many of us stunned into hopeless silence.  I wish I was referring to something as simple as a zombie apocalypse.  No, I am writing about the mass psychosis that now represents the Republican Party.  Next Tuesday, whatever you choose to do in your polling place, I can only beg you not to further infect our society with this pestilence.

I didn't always view the GOP this way.  I respect the desire to control the size and influence of government in our lives.  And I admire fiscal discipline.  But this current mutation of the Republican Party leaves Goldwater and Reagan spinning in their graves.  The principles driving this party border on - no, I take that back - they are insidious.
  • Mostly middle-aged White men seeking to make medical decisions for young and poor women, parents and children, regarding not just reproductive issues, but basic health concerns.
  • Fanatics imposing twisted religious doctrines on the population - rape is a gift from God, but homosexuality is a choice.
  • Outright deceit and hypocrisy, bald-faced lying to the people and then shrugging unapologetically with coy smugness when called on their lies.
  • Caring only about fetuses, but not children; only about troops, but not our veterans; and always about wealth and the wealthy and never about workers or families, children or the elderly.
  • Proudly displaying complete ignorance of the most basic scientific principles, while denying global climate change and evolution and continuing to commit us to unsustainable and dangerous environmental policies.
  • Placing the right to own automatic weapons designed only for mass killing above the basic right to affordable medical care.
  • Giving corporations the rights of human beings and continually violating the rights of real humans.
  • Proudly holding our government hostage, costing this nations millions of jobs and access to health care, all for their own political advantage.
I am an Occupier, so I don't trust the Democratic Party much more.  Both parties are corrupt tools of the 1%.  And I will continue to fight in the future for a system of government that is compassionate and fair.  But, this is not the time to vote for a third party candidate.  While I share many concerns of Greens and Libertarians and my more anarchist allies, the time for a protest vote is not now.  Barack Obama is by no means perfect - illegal detentions, drone attacks, "clean" coal - but the alternative, a Romney presidency, makes me think of the worst dystopian visions.

We must come together and vote down the current iteration of the Republican Party, the party that worships ignorance, religious dogmatism, mean-spiritedness, and the most short-sighted expedience.  After the election, we can then begin again the hard work of making both parties understand that we are done putting up with business as usual from our politicians.

Please, people, you have not just a right of conscience, but a duty to act upon your conscience.  Justice and fairness will not be handed to you.  You must fight for them.  And on Tuesday, your best weapon is your vote.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Community of Loners

I walked alone through the woods. Only the distant sound of engines and the narrow, sandy trail before me recall that human civilization lies not far away.

Shriveled ferns now cover the forest floor and the once abundant mushrooms have nearly vanished. A squirrel hops calmly in the distance. A rustling reveals the striped back of a chipmunk in the brambles.

A snake wriggles across the path and freezes in expectation of my departure. The hated snake; so reviled in our culture. The image of Evil and of the Fall. And yet, this little fellow wants nothing of me other than to be left free to pursue his life.

A few bright green and healthy ferns defy their surroundings. One tattered mushroom, then another nearly perfect specimen boldly stands watch in the grass. They stand alone. And yet, they are not alone.

They share with each other an energy, a spirit of living in the midst of the declining season. Here with the snakes and ferns and mushrooms, I am among a community of loners, an army of life energy battling the forces of conformity and resignation to Fate. I am a Chaplain in a hospice of hope and perseverance.

I walk in a hospice because, after all, everything must eventually die; that is, the organic shell binding us to this particular reality will one day cease functioning. But, everything thing exists forever in the Spiritual Realm.

My path joins a much larger trail. At the junction, a bench invites me to sit and jot notes. Two women on horseback ride up. As they pass, one inquires, “Are you drawing?” A short time later, a father and his young son approach. “Is he fishing?” I hear the child ask. “It’s a nice day for reading,” the man poses to me. A young woman comes up. She commands her spotted spaniel to “Heel!” several times. I feel for the animal who clearly wants to know, “Can I come over and greet you?”

What exactly am I doing?

I am feeling empathy for creatures no free to pursue their wishes and whatever brings them joy. I am experiencing and learning all the time, letting the omniverse speak to me; and I am actively seeking out that mystical voice. I am also creating my own interpretations of those messages.

And I am in solidarity with the fighting ferns.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Get in the Game!


Recently, I have found myself at odds with my dear mother’s teachings.  All my life, she instructed me that if I couldn’t say something nice about someone, not to say anything at all.  Well, Mom, wherever you are, I’m sorry.

After fighting against the outrageous assault on reproductive freedom taking place here in Michigan for the last few months, I didn’t think I could get angrier.  I was wrong.  The recent comments by Rep. Todd Akin and others like him who emerge from under similar rocks have left me beyond furious this week.  The brainless and unwarranted dogmatism of these elected officials staggers the active mind.  I simply cannot comprehend the mindset of a nation that condones murdering children in other lands for oil, despoiling the earth our children must live in despite overwhelming evidence to its impact, increasing easy access to mass killing weapons that daily steal us of our loved ones – but – willing to trample our most intimate privacy and every woman’s right to self-determination and medical care, all to protect a blob of cells that happen to possess human DNA and absolutely no evidence of anything resembling human personhood.

Men!  Football season has arrived and it is time for you to get off the bench and into the game!  Rise up in solidarity with your sisters and daughters facing this reactionary siege of anti-intellectualism and hatred.  Stand with your wives and mothers whose most sacred rights are being raped by hypocrites who have sold our representative democracy to stuff their off-shore banks accounts with the billions of a handful of hyper-wealthy extremists.  Ally yourselves with all women – your elders and children, your neighbors and friends, your sexual partners – being shackled by modern-day moral slavers whose insecurity regarding the power of women, their minds and their spiritual strength turns them into single-minded assassins of the very freedoms and democracy they were elected to defend and the well-being of our country.

Tell these uneducated morons that they are wrong.  Tell these zealots that their personal religious views must be checked at the door when they represent us in our government.  Tell these partisan robots that you will vote them out in November and elect people who will listen to the voices of women.  Tell these theocrats that they are not “pro-life;” they are anti-woman, anti-family, and anti-freedom,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reaching Out with Love

To the Editor, Midland Daily News:

Dear friends, I am deeply troubled.  The doors of the first Unitarian church in Midland had barely opened in 1885 before letters to the editor slammed them for heresy.  And now, more than 125 years later, recent letters again condemn people in our community with different religious beliefs (see third letter and here).

Every prophet throughout history has taught one lesson in common…Love. Love of mother and father.  Love of our children.  Love of our enemies.  Love of all our neighbors, be they rich or poor, White or Black, man or woman, gay or straight, believer or nonbeliever.  Why do you preach hate and intolerance when your own scriptures teach gentleness, kindness, and hospitality?

You have neighbors who love you. Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic – and yes even Atheist – neighbors who love you.  And I love you.

We ask nothing but to be allowed to live our lives freely, with respect and dignity.  We do not ask you to change your beliefs, merely to permit us to have our own.  People of faiths different from yours are not evil.  Atheists are not evil.  Evil is the void in a heart where Love should reside.

If you share this Love, I invite you to visit http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/.  Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness Love’s power to stop oppression.  It is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association and people of all faiths and beliefs are welcomed to join.

Rev. Jeff Liebmann
Midland

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Larger War

After attending the Michigan Women's Power Assembly event today in Lansing, I have reached a conclusion. The "War on Women" is just one campaign of an even larger, and if possible, even scarier war.

While standing in the House gallery speaking to a young woman, a man came by and shoved her aside as he walked by (there was plenty of room to pass us without any contact). She rebuked him for putting his hands on her to which his companion replied that she should get out of the way. When I challenged them about their rudeness, these two brave patriots keep walking away.

Later, I spoke to a woman in a wheel chair from a group called Mothers of Lost Children. Her abusive ex-husband had broken her back and then somehow managed to convince a judge to obtain custody of the children. Another woman told me that her ex-husband artificially inseminated her against her will when she threatened to divorce him, in an attempt to trap her in the marriage.

The more stories I hear, the more incredulous I become about the state of our nation. I cannot even begin to fathom how women today keep their sanity living in this hostile and misogynistic society. And yet, I have decided that the War on Women is, in fact, just one large campaign that is part of an even larger, more insidious war against the soul of the American people.
  • Government officials routinely raid undocumented immigrants' homes, whisking parents away from children in the dead of night. They receive no due process, and are treated like animals for years before eventually being deported. 
  • Loving adults who happen to be of the same sex still cannot marry in most places, and face thousands of disciminatory and often heartless laws. 
  • Millions of hard-working Americans cannot find work that pay a living wage, while the 1% continue to export jobs overseas with inpugnity. 
  • The Emergency Management Law in Michigan has single-handledly wiped out representative democracy for most African Americans in the state. Across the nation, voter restriction efforts target the poor, the elderly, and other oppressed minorities. 
  • Politicians are hell-bent to ensure that tens of millions of Americans receive no health care insurance. 
  • The obsession over fetal life consumes the majority of legislative agendas, while these same politicians cut public school funding, work to wipe out family planning resources, and continue to support capital punishment, the American war machine, torture, and unlimited access to guns. 
We are facing a war against decency, a war against dignity, a war against our core liberty. In summary, we are defending ourselves from a War Against Love.

The antagonists in the War Against Love lie without shame, abuse without remorse, rationalize any moral indiscretion, and steal in the name of justice. Their agenda is the total submission of the American population, using the full might of our increasingly paramilitary police forces to crush even the most peaceful and law-abiding opposition with tactics of humiliation and violence. These forces have unlimited funds because our highest court has given corporations the rights of people without any of the responsibilities. And like unruly children with absentee parents, they are taking full advantage of the situation.

This blitzkrieg seeks to pick us off one at a time, just like every other brute horde throughout history. Immigrants, gays and lesbians, the poor, labor unions, racial minorities, religious minorities, women, the elderly - one by one, they seek to isolate us, set us against each other, and conquer us. And with each battle, America loses one more shred of civility, of compassion, of its vision as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

America, please wake up! If you are sitting at your computer reading this in the comfort of your home thinking these issues don't affect you, then you are deluding yourself. You are your brother's and sister's keeper. As Jacob Marley said in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," 
"The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Monday, July 9, 2012

Frogs Redux

The morning after the frog serenade found me on the path once more. I felt somehow compelled to return to the site to experience the amphibious aria again.

Splashes accompanied me as I walked along the pond. Unlike other local wetland areas, the turtles here seem skittish and retreat to the water as I come near. The area laid still and quiet. The morning was more humid than I had expected and the mugginess seemed to repress activity.

I passed the place where I had picked up a handful of molted Canada Goose feathers the day before. Then up a rise and I heard it begin – the distant tones blurted in rapid succession from hundreds of throats. Unlike yesterday, I did not just smile – I actually laughed out loud at the sound.

As the volume increased, so did the activity around the pond. This morning, frogs were hopping around unconcerned and it was now the turtles’ turn to sit still in observation. Unlike before, I could see little green heads popped up all over the surface of the water, the sun picking out each singer clearly in the algae-laden pond.

Motion drew my eyes upward. I saw a Loon swoop past, and just seconds later a graceful white Egret flew in the opposite direction. I hardly had the chance to appreciate those views before an even larger figure attracted my attention yet higher. Overhead, there it was, the B-52 of birds – a Bald Eagle. I had seen examples at the Pittsburgh Aviary, but never in flight. The massive wingspan seemed to dwarf the surroundings.

Once the majestic bird left my sight, I returned my attention toward the never ending din from my frog friends. I saw movement in the leaves just a few feet below where I stood. I moved carefully around, but could not pinpoint the cause of the unnatural shaking. I moved to the other side of the tree trunk before me and stooped to see a muskrat busily munching away, clearly oblivious to my presence.

All the while, the frogs continued their racket. They sounded like a crowd of old men laughing at a dirty joke that I could not understand. I began to wonder if these other animals were attracted to the site just as I had been. Could this gigantic noise coming from such tiny creatures actually lure other animals?

I suppose the answer lies in whether or not one believes that animals do things for reasons beyond satisfying basic needs – food, shelter, procreation. Of course, that raises the question, “What qualifies as a basic need?”

I know that laughter qualifies for me. No matter how good things get, I must have fun. Is it so unreasonable to imagine that animals find each other funny? When you think about it, if anything, the frog orchestra should chase other animals away. Predators could sneak up more easily under cover of the croaking. And the noise would certainly attract attention from far around.

I believe that dogs and cats clearly show pleasure when scratched just right, or when snuggling with us on the sofa (especially if they are not supposed to be there). So, why can’t other mammals, birds, and turtles have the same emotions? Humanity certainly does not own a monopoly on feelings.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Concert on a Summer Morning

After many days of sweltering heat, the morning was glorious. I veered off the main trail onto a side loop past Wood Duck Pond. As I walked past smaller inlets toward the larger body of water, I heard occasional movement through the trees. The sound resembled something larger moving through the dense brush, like a deer. So, I stopped frequently, peering through the leaves.

Seeing nothing, I suddenly heard a remarkably loud noise ahead on the trail. I walked toward the sound, growing ever louder. Honking? I had heard a similar cacophony when geese were fighting over ownership of a particular spot. The volume increased with each step.

I crested a small rise and could now see the pond stretching into the distance. I realized that the voices I now heard were not birds, but a vast chorus of frogs. Their range was somewhat limited, but I could still pick out dozens of croaks ranging from second alto to perhaps baritone in pitch.

I walked carefully, not wanting to interrupt the performance. But, my presence seemed to affect the singers little. I approached the edge of the path, which then dropped a dozen feet or so quickly into the water. The overgrowth, however, kept me from seeing my crooners.

In my mind, these frogs could only be massive. The local acoustics were certainly not conducive, and yet they belted out their notes clearly. I envisioned soccer ball-sized amphibians crouched along the shore, with perhaps a conductor perched on a convenient lily pad.

A splash. Then another. Finally, I managed to follow one into the water and spotted his head. Why, these creatures were surprisingly small, no larger than the palm of my hand. Once I got the knack of spotting them, I saw them everywhere. Heads popping up out the water all around, with bellowing cheeks puffing up. Absolutely amazing how so much sound can come from such a tiny body.

I don’t know why, but I felt giddily joyous and could not repress a smile. Listening to this ensemble brought me true glee as I listened. The sound overwhelmed everything and I become lost in the music. The sound dominated the area, almost assuming a physical presence.

In the last years of his far too short life, jazz musician John Coltrane worked on a concept called a “wall of sound.” The intent was for the music to come together literally into a solid wall, so that the listener no longer distinguished individual notes. Some of the best examples seem, to ears unaccustomed to this music, almost noise. But, Coltrane had experienced a spiritual awakening and was pursuing what he considered cosmic music.

The din of my little green frog concerto brought me close to that sound. And when you hear that cosmic wall of sound, only joy results.

(please forgive the poor quality of the video - I didn't even realize my phone took videos until I tried this morning)


video

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If You Can't Say It, Don't Legislate It

So now Ari Adler, spokesperson for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, has this to say about the muzzling of Representative Lisa Brown.  "It has nothing to do with her using the word 'vagina.'  It was judgement at the time that when she finished her statement by referencing her vagina, and then saying 'no means no,' that was drawing a rape reference and he felt that crossed the line."

Then, Adler said Brown was punished because she "threw a temper tantrum on the House floor."  If you support Rep. Bolger and Stamas's censoring of Rep. Lisa Brown, then consider this.  The sure outcome (if not the intent) of this omnibus of bills will be to make obtaining an abortion in Michigan next to impossible.  Now imagine that your 12-year-old daughter is raped and as a result of this traumatic assault becomes pregnant.  If you as her parent think it is in her best interest to get an abortion, and you tell her so, you have just committed a crime.  Whatever your reasoning as her parent, you are guilty of coercing a woman to get an abortion.

By banning accepted telemedicine practices for medical abortions, these bills make obtaining an abortion to victims of rape in rural area much more difficult and expensive, if not impossible.  And, even if the women can obtain an abortion, she now has to treat the remains of this violence against her as a human corpse - she must obtain a death certificate and obtain either burial, cremation or interment.  I cannot even begin to imagine inflicting such agony on a victim of rape.

Even if you consider yourself "pro-life," Rep Brown's comments are completely relevant and important.  HB 5711, 5712 and 5713 punish the victims of rape and incest in cruel and inhumane ways.  And the blatant ignoring of the voices of women in the process of forwarding these bills from the Committee on Health Policy is yet another form of rape - men's abuse of their power in order to take away the voices and freedoms of women.

In her speech on the capitol steps last night, playwright Eve Ensler offered a list of things she is "over."  I agree and add my own.
  • I am over hypocrites who pretend to care about the welfare of the unborn, whose only real interest is overcompensating for their feelings of inadequacy when facing women's sexuality and power.
  • I am over people who claim to be "pro-life," but support war and capital punishment, fail to support family planning and comprehensive sex education, and actively work against funding for public schools, poverty, gun control and all of the most important threats to quality human life.
  • I am over our collectively ignoring the important and powerful stories of women affected by this debate.  Men should feel privileged simply to be allowed to be part of the discussion.
  • I am over men failing to take responsibility for their actions, and instead forcing women to bear the burden of our uncontrolled search for gratification through power, control, violence, and sexual release.
  • And I am over rape.
Mr. Adler and Reps. Bolger and Stamas, if you think Lisa's calm and impassioned statement was a temper tantrum, wait until you hear the voices of millions of women and the men who love them at the polls.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Being a Father

I owe so much to my father.  My Dad taught me to think for myself and to stand up for what I believe in.  My Dad showed me how to work hard, serve the community, and respect others.  He listened when I needed to rant, and advised when I wanted help.  He may not have been a perfect human being (who is?) but he was a perfect father.

Most of all, my father was the one person in my life I wanted most to honor.  When I look at what I have accomplished and the work I am doing and have yet to do, I know that he would be proud.  He would be looking at me with that small grin, and wordlessly approving of the man I have become.

My father lives on in me most when I am truest to my core essence.  My father lives on when I fight for justice and human rights for all.  My father lives on when I help children and youth learn how to be themselves and find joy in the world.  My father lives on when I work as an ally to all oppressed groups, from GLBTQ folk and women to immigrants and religious minorities.  My father lives on when I let my muse guide me through the world of art and creativity, and when I saunter through the world seeking meaning in the infinite synchronicities around us.

My greatest hope in life is that my son will be a man who sees me that same way and will become that kind of father to his children; that my daughter will be a powerful and fearless woman; that my grandchildren will to learn to respect everyone, to love everyone, and to care about everyone over money, power, and status; and that through my life and deeds, I help strong and loving fatherhood endure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Coming Theocracy

I have worried about the state of this nation for a long time now.  Today, we took another step toward eroding the separation of church and state as the Michigan House of Representatives passed the first of several anti-abortion bills clearly aimed at forcing a narrow religious interpretation of personhood on all citizens.

House Bill 5711 is primarily concerned with how abortion providers are regulated and with the disposition of organic material following fetal death, whether by abortion, or natural causes.  Both initiative make abortion tremendously more expensive, which will in effect chase OB/GYN's out of the state and place an undue burden on women across the state seeking abortions.

During the debate on the House floor, Representative Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) made several eloquent points.  One in particular dealt with her Jewish faith.  She pointed out that Jewish law mandates that therapeutic abortions needed to protect the life of the mother are not only recommended, but mandated.  Therefore, the bills under consideration would criminalize women obeying the dictates of their faith.

Of course, this only one specific example. What about the thousands of women out there who do not belong to an organized religion, or whose personal spirituality does not consider the fertilized egg as a person, with all of the rights of a fully formed human being? According to these bills, too bad.  Michigan legislators have declared that they possess the absolute truth on when human personhood begins.  These legislators not only feel that they know better than doctors or women themselves what is medically best for women, but they feel that they know better than clergy of all faiths what the law of the land should be regarding the unborn.

I try not to throw the word "Fascist" around lightly.  But this is how totalitarianism begins.  When the State can establish laws beyond its bounds unchecked, without even following its own rules of discourse and public input, then you are already on the road to tyranny.

Ironically, there is no scriptural support for this view of human personhood.  If anything, the Bible gives little regard to the fetus.  Jesus did teach us, however, to be merciful in a number of ways.  Feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; shelter the homeless; clothe the naked; visit and ransom the captive, (prisoners); instruct the uninformed; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offenses willingly; and comfort the afflicted, among others.  If you consider yourself a Christian, how about if we work on these?  Where are the bills to reduce poverty, create jobs, reform our criminal justice system, support public schools (especially comprehensive sex education), and provide family planning and support services for women who are victims of male violence?  House Bills 5711, 5712, and 5713 are anything but merciful, and they pave the way for the coming theocracy unless we stand up in united opposition to this intrusion into our freedoms and democracy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Joyful Noise

I'm just back from Lansing, where I joined several hundred people sending the message to the Michigan House of Representatives that government should not regulate our bodies and our medical choices.  When the time came to enter the legislative chamber, the stairs were clogged with pink-shirted advocates anxious to watch the proceedings as the representatives considered House bills 5711, 5712, and 5713, the omnibus package of anti-abortion laws.

The gallery must have filled, and many of us could not get in.  After 20 minutes or so, many people wandered around in the rotunda area on the second and third floors.  Soon, at least one hundred people, mostly young women, ringed the circular railings looking out into the open space.

Soon, clapping began and a rhythmic pounding of the handrails.  Then, with vibrant energy and the persistent pounding, the voices sprang into a unison chant of "This is My House," which carried on for at least five minutes without letting up.  Then another chant began, "My Body, My Choice."  The relentless pounding continued and people emerged from offices to snap pictures with cell phones. 

Ten minutes passed and another chant, "We'll Remember in November."  The noise continued, never abating in intensity or volume.  Fifteen. then twenty minutes.  At first, I stood back watching the police to make sure that the disruption was not going to cause a violent reaction by security personnel.  But, it soon became clear that they had no intention of stopping the force of these voices.

Twenty-five minutes, then thirty and no let up.  By now I had joined in with "This is What Democracy Looks Like."  I imagined that peoples' hands must be getting numb by now, but they just kept going.

I found myself unable to stop smiling.  Feeling the amazing energy and passion of all these folk was a spiritual experience.

Whatever the politicians eventually end up doing, I hope so strongly that this joyful noise spreads across the state and across the country so that no amount of money and power can drown it out.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Are Good Intentions Enough?

Yesterday, I conducted my first Blessing of the Animals worship service.  The weather graciously cooperated, so we held the service in a pine grove behind the Fellowship.  We had many two-legged and four-legged attendees, including dogs, cats, birds, one gecko and two monarch butterfly cocoons. 

The day began interestingly.  When I arrived and walked toward the Fellowship, I noticed a bird sitting on the pavement.  I was already fairly close when I noticed him and was surprised he had not already flown off.  It occurred to me that the bird was perhaps injured, so I slowly approached, speaking calmly.  He made no effort to flee and I gently stroked his feathers.

I couldn't discern what had happened, so I went inside and got a basket, lined it with a dishcloth and returned to bring the bird in to safety.  Since it was a rather large bird (perhaps six inches long), I assumed it was not a baby, but had either been hit by a car or flown into a window and injured a wing.  I cut out the bottom of a paper cup and gave him some water and then began preparing for the service.  I posted a picture of the little fellow on Facebook and encouraged anyone experienced to offer assistance.

I stopped by my companion every 10 minutes or so, asking him how he was doing and trying to offer some calming energy.  He moved very little, and occasionally closed his eyes as if trying to rest.  Since I cannot own animals in my rental home, I thought that this might be the universe's way of offering me a living friend to bring to the animal blessing, and not a puppet or stuffed animal.

About an hour before the service, I passed by the basket.  The bird's eyes were open, but he did not seem to be breathing.  I stroked him and realized that he had died, as his little body already seemed to be stiffening.  I surmised that he must have suffered internal injuries and had succumbed to them.

I was disappointed that he could not be part of the blessing, saddened that I couldn't do more to help him, and resigned to the reality that I had probably done all that could be done.  At the end of the animal blessing, I brought him into the worship, as a reminder that the circle of birth and death is an essential element of Life.  Ironically, I had read Gary Kowalski's words before the sermon:
We give thanks for the animals
Who live close to nature,
Who remind us of the sanctities of birth and death,
Who do not trouble their lives with foreboding or grief,
Who let go each moment as it passes,
And accept each new one as it comes
With serenity and grace.
Holding the basket with his little body, I accepted his death with serenity and accepted his last hours of life as a gift as the grace of the cosmos.  I couldn't prevent his death.  I can't know if he understood my good intentions.  Maybe all that matters is that I did what I could to make his passing peaceful.  Sometimes good intentions aren't enough, but they are all we can offer.  And maybe that thread of Love will linger on, strengthening our interdependent web of all existence.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Emotions

I had a curious exchange after testifying before the House Health Policy Committee last Thursday.  A gentleman approached me (I believe one of the Congressmen who supported the anti-abortion omnibus of bills) and warned me about the anger I was expressing.  His tone was not reproachful but almost cautionary, as if he was more worried about me than others who might perceive my anger.

The conversation made me think about what emotions I was indeed feeling, and continue to feel days later.  I suppose he was right, that Rage is my primary emotion on this issue.  Rage at the disproportionate concern being expressed for the unformed unborn over the needs of existing children - hungry, homeless, undereducated, unwanted and unloved; over the physical, mental and spiritual health of pregnant women whose most private and personal selves are being violated largely by rich White men with a moral agenda; and over the ethical health of a society with no qualms about murdering innocent children overseas in our wars of conquest, murdering our environment for financial gain, and murdering the basic tenets of democracy and freedom through tyrannical law-making, fiscal slavery, hate and fear-mongering.

I also feel intense Sorrow.  I grieve for the countless women whose stories are going unheard, whose opinions are dismissed because they don't support the narrow theology of conservative lawmakers.  I am deeply saddened that every woman in our world still lives in abject fear of the violence of men, and the imposed will of men over their bodies.  I mourn the broad lack of compassion among my fellow men for our sisters, our wives and partners, our mothers and daughters.  And yes, I do feel sorrow that abortion must exist as an option at all.  But, the fact is that abortion has always and will always exist for certain circumstances, and so long as governments try to legislate morality and religious belief.

Confusion.  I remain mystified by the so-called "pro-life" position.  Listening to their rhetoric, the only logical conclusion is that their first and foremost objective is not the preservation of life, but the control and regulation of women's reproductive organs and their lives as sexual beings.  If you truly believe that human "life" begins at conception, then wouldn't you want to eliminate all unwanted pregnancies?  Then why would you not support mandatory sex education, the widespread availability of affordable birth control, extreme penalties for sexual violence against women, and the elimination of objectifying stereotypes that portray women as merely sex objects for the gratification of men?  If you truly value all human "life" then you must certainly oppose capital punishment.  You must certainly want society to impose more controls on handguns, whose primary purpose is shooting people.  And you must be a pacifist.  Unfortunately, I have met few "pro-life" individuals who also hold these other positions.

I am Afraid.  Yes, I am a minister.  Being a public figure is part of the job and I accept that responsibility willingly.  That doesn't make things any easier when a politician uses his position to berate me after misinterpreting my words and twisting their meaning.  That doesn't make things any easier when I see how people justify violence against others by their selective application of religious creeds and the permission they feel divinely derived.  And while the many martyrs to the causes of freedom and justice are my heroes, that does not mean that I necessarily wish to join their ranks.

But I am also Hopeful.  I have a vision of a future society where reason and conscience prevails.  I see a time when the measure of a person's success is not the acquisition of money and possessions, but the good deeds they perform.  I know that others share this vision and the desire to make it come about.  So I am not Lonely.  I am Committed.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The War on Women Comes to Michigan

This morning, I drove to Lansing in the hopes of speaking in opposition to an anti-abortion omnibus of bills that are being rushed through the Michgian House.  They are House Bills 5711, 5712, and 5713, and Planned Parenthood is calling them "the biggest assault on women's health in our state's history."

The House Health Policy Committee met this morning to hear testimony and vote on recommending the bills for consideration by the House.  After the three sponsors' voices were heard, only three supporters and three opponents were allowed to speak (in spite of the fact that many dozens of others came to speak against the bills).  I was privileged to be selected as one of the speakers and I hope I did justice for my sister allies across the state.  Here is the text of my comments.
=====
As a person of faith, I strongly oppose the proposed legislation for several reasons. There is no evidence to support the assertion that human personhood beginsat conception or even in the first trimester. Until the unborn child loses its prehensile tail and displays independent mental capacity, it is merely a potential human being. Until that time, the decision to continue or discontinue the pregnancy should lie with the mother who, in the end, is the person most affected by the decision, morally and medically.

At a time when millions of unwanted children are hungry and unable to get proper medical care, when millions of families are joining the ranks of the homeless while bankers profit off their misery, while we murder innocent children in endless wars in foreign lands while laying off teachers and closing schools, you have far more important work to do than further oppressing women and their doctors from making informed choices in the best interests of the woman.

And, to require a woman who is the victim of rape or incest to carry to term the enduring burden of that heinous violence is nothing short of cruel and abusive behavior. I cannot even begin to imagine how it feels for a stranger – or even worse, a trusted relative – to violate my most private and personal core being; and then to be prevented by my elected officials from getting the medical treatment I want from physicians willing to provide it? I cannot even begin to imagine the feeling of that invasion for nine long months, all the time risking my health and increasing my lifelong risk of a myriad of diseases? If you justify this proposed legislation on religious beliefs, only a convoluted interpretation of the scriptures of any religion would ascribe such a scenario as desirable by a loving god.

Until you pass laws making birth control widely available and comprehensive sex education mandatory, you have no moral right to legislate the consequences of their absence. If you truly care about children, then feed the boys and girls we already have. Give them the medical care they deserve. Provide them with schools and education so that they don’t ever need to make the decision regarding terminating a pregnancy. Find jobs for their parents, so their families can stay healthy and strong.

People of faith stand on the side of love. And loving means giving people the resources and the opportunity to make their own informed choices, not imposing government-sanctioned moral codes. People who believe that a fertilized egg has a soul have the option to reject abortion. Every woman deserves the opportunity to make that choice based on her own personal theology. This proposed legislation is a violation of our time-honored separation of church and state and I urge you to reject its continuation.
=====
On of the legislators asked if I opposed the provisions of the bills supposedly aimed at improving the quality of women's health care provider sites.  I replied that safe and high quality abortion services should be available to all women in the state, regardless of where they live, their economic status, or color.  Another followed up, asking me if I thought his tax dollars should be allowed to pay for something he was morally opposed to.  I responded that my tax dollars are paying for murder in Afghanistan. 

Of course, in the end, supporters of the bills had more than enough support, and they will go before the House soon.  The War on Women has opened a new front in Michigan and the battle will be quickly lost if we do not mobilize quickly.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Atheist Ministers

Recently, the story of Teresa MacBain - the United Methodist minister who "came out" as an atheist at the American Atheists Conference in March 2012 - went viral.  Welcome to the fold, Teresa.  As a fellow member of this very small association, let me offer some advice as you face your new life.

In the coming weeks and months, your relationship with the people around you will change drastically.  You will be ignored, shunned, and hated, sometimes by people you considered colleagues, friends, even loved ones.  You will hold out a hand only to have people turn away.  You will be pitied, almost like an unfortunate object incapable of both rational thought and compassion.  But, you will find not only allies, but legions of people out there desperately searching for the spiritual guidance that you can offer.

Once the excitement surrounding your announcement subsides, you may find yourself feeling very alone.  And, in a sense, you are doubly alone.  You will lose not only many people in your life, but you have also lost the enormous comfort that a belief in a supernatural father provides.  You will grieve these losses.  But, you have obviously felt this calling for a long time.  Our journey is rarely a flash of light on the road to Damascus.  The path of the atheist minister is not for the faint of heart.  You will have little support and your beliefs will be questioned every day.

Every time you meet a new person, you will be calculating what words to use when the topic eventually arises.  You will hear every stereotype.  And you will learn that we are the least trusted minority in this country.

But, you have tools that most people think are not available to us.  The articles about you all talk about how you "lost your faith" or how you "lost your belief."  These are inaccurate portrayals.  The only thing you have lost is the delusion that the mythology of god provides answers to anything beyond our primitive fears of death, long winters, lightning, and monsters in the night.  You have only lost a narrative, not your faith.  You have only lost one story, not your beliefs.

In fact, I believe atheist ministers possess more faith and belief than any of our colleagues.  We have more faith and belief because these things are not handed to us for the small price of the suspension of our critical thinking and our innate curiosity and exploring spirit.  When we decide to walk the path of Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr., we do it having analyzed their teachings intellectually, reflected on their deeds emotionally, and experienced their lives spiritually.

For they were the true prophets, whatever cosmology lay behind their belief systems or whatever shape they viewed the awe and mystery of all existence. They taught that Love is the only force in the universe that should drive the construction of our laws and the design of our societies. They taught that the only fulfilling way to live was with justice, acceptance, and equality.  They taught that morality is not proclaimed from above, but must be found within each of us.

The atheist minister has faith that humanity will someday accept this message.  The atheist minister believes in the beloved community, a world with peace, social justice, economic fairness, and freedom.  The atheist minister knows that someday, we will build a world in which every child is fed, everyone has a home, all illness is treated, and each person is free to pursue their path in life and proclaim their own identity.

As John Lennon sang, "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  I hope some day you'll join us and the world will live as one."  Welcome, Teresa, to the covenant of dreamers.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Saunter Through the Dictionary

A significant problem with using the label "atheist" is this.  No matter how you couch the term, or clarify its meaning for yourself, others see it in a massively negative light.  Part of this negative image is earned - many very public atheists have been and are still today obnoxious and so belligerently opposed to religion that they would put off any variety of theist.  Our bad image also comes from the core assumption by others that atheism is, in and of itself, not a philosophy - it is simply the rejection of a belief - without any apparent replacement upon which to based one's moral system or ethical code.

So, as a lover of word origins, I though I would explore some alternative terms that I might use to label my personal theology for others.  Here are some candidates:
  • Ambitheism - A belief that one can construct a life philosophy flexible enough to function whether or not god exists; an ambitheist might deal with conflicting emotions about the existence of god, and so develops a belief system capable of adapting to either truth.
  • Amitheism - A belief that god is literally the love we show our neighbors with whom we live in community; an amitheist places the Golden Rule above all else and lives a fully nonviolent life.
  • Endotheism - A belief that god is not separate, but within each of us; an endotheist would value all of creation as god is within every subatomic particle - perhaps god is every subatomic particle.
  • Isotheism - A belief that god is not "above" or "greater" that us, but part of us and our environment; and isotheist would likely resemble a pantheist, but with no sense of the divine or sacred, since everything is divine and sacred.
  • Omnitheism - A belief that god is not separate, but simply represents the totality of all power, energy, knowledge, and truth; an omnitheist would concentrate on enhancing one's awareness of and connection with the "godness" of everyone and everything.
  • Syntheisim - A belief that would extend omnitheism to include the time continuum; a syntheist would seek to become more aware of and connect with the "godness" and everyone and everything in every time and place as a single synchronistic existence.
  • Veratheism - A belief that god is truth, for only out of truth can love and goodness emerge; a veratheist would seek complete honesty in all relations, removing all masks, and resolving all conflict and falsehood.
One plus to any, or all, of these concepts is that they emphasize the positive attributes that I believe most atheists possess.  They focus on core values of love, truth, peace, and wisdom, and not simply on the rejection of a perceived flaw in human thinking.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Redefining Modern Anarchism

At recent Occupy the Tri General Assemblies, we held some passionate discussions about a logo and the subject of a clenched fist arose (similar to that used by the New York OWS group).  Some felt the power of the symbol reflected our frustration with the way things are and represented our resolve to fight for change.  Others were concerned that the symbol failed to reflect our primary commitment to nonviolence.

We eventually agreed on a design that I believe reflects our most important guiding principle - our need to love for and care about each other on a deep primal level.  Even this wonderful design presents a challenge.  The design continues to incorporate traditional symbols of resistance and peace.  But the centerpiece shows us joining together, devoted to a more loving world. 

We live in a society where branding is deeply ingrained behavior.  We all know golden arches, and sneaker swirls.  We tend to know corporate symbols better than even basic rules of language and etiquette.  So it will take time for our new logo to catch on with the public.  It will definitely take time for our principles of love and nonviolence to capture the public spirit.

Similarly, I have been reconsidering another traditional symbol of resistance and revolution, the anarchist Circle A.  This symbol is certainly not as widely known as countless others in our society, and this particular symbol has been used in wildly different contexts and for differing purposes.  I imagine for a lot of people, the Circle A represents  violent bombers or punk rockers, carrying a heavily negative connotation.

But, I believe it time to revisit this historical association of the symbol with the violent overthrow of governments.  Gandhi, perhaps humankind's leading proponent of nonviolence and proponent of the overthrow of oppressive order once wrote:
"The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy. That State is the best governed which is governed the least."
Anarchy India has an excellent blog posting on how Gandhi's vision of anarchy would be applied.  Gandhi felt that the State represents violence in a concentrated and organised form - a soulless machine that can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its existence.  Is Gandhi’s ideal of a non-violent state of enlightened anarchy where social life would remain self-regulated a pipe dream - an impossible utopia?  I have no idea who said it first, but many noteworthy people have expressed the sentiment.
“The impossible is what nobody can do until somebody does”
So, while I know the Circle-A symbol has some well-deserved baggage (perhaps no more or less than many other commonly accepted images), I think it has value and deserves to be reclaimed.  The anarchy symbol is a direct and obvious statement that an existing order is dysfunctional and must be replaced.  For those of you who are into the origins of words, the word "anarchy" comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία, anarchia, meaning "absence of a leader."  Well, isn't that at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

Anarchy can be nonviolent.  Society can exist with laws but without corrupt government.  It will not be easy - in fact it may be very nearly impossible - but we can build a human society based on love.  We've spent millennia building one based on fear and hate, so how hard can it be if we put the same energy into positive emotions?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I'm Back

I haven't posted to this blog for many weeks.  My absence has not been for lack of desire to communicate with you, dear reader.  Rather, I have been wandering - wandering in my mind for words worth writing, for messages worth reading, for feelings worth expressing.

When I wander, I allow life to speak to me.  I open myself to whatever the universe is saying and then I seek meaning in the messages.  I envy those who can sit in lotus poses and meditate for hours on end to access the voices of the cosmos.  I fear that my puppy mind has long grown past the point of such discipline.  So, I search for sustenance by random grazing.  My process is wholly unpredictable, even chaotic.  But, when my beautiful muse speaks to me, she injects me with an understanding beyond all knowing and a joy no drug can match.

Last Friday, I took a day off and drove to Frankenmuth, a little tourist town of quirky shops and manufactured cuteness.  I strolled through an enormous bead shop, admired faerie art, turned a music store clerk onto European goth rock, and sped through a soul-sucking Christmas store.  My only purchases were a bag of specialty popcorn and some random candy from bygone days.  I bought them thinking that I would savor them over the coming weeks, enjoying the occasional taste of toffee and sugar.

But, last night, I sat in my living room resting, flipping among the cable channels mindlessly.  Beside me was the now empty bag of popcorn and a few remaining pieces of the candy.  In just a few days, I had not been able to resist the repeated narcotic allure of the promise of instant gratification.  Whether I had actually enjoyed the consumption had no meaning - I had simply wanted to consume and could not resist the urge.

This morning, I was besieged by a wave of synchronous voices - a Facebook link to an article about why our young people are leaving churches in waves; a heart-wrenching biography of a young woman struggling to survive economically without selling her soul or losing her way; and a finely crafted essay on capitalism calling for us to seek a new model for living and being together as humans.

For the past few years, I have traveled this road largely alone.  Oh, I have friends - dear and treasured friends - many of whom are treading similar paths.  But I have lived alone within a sea of humanity.  I have preached of love, of the agape of religious community.  I have spoken promoting pacifism and nonviolence, of how we must learn to love ourselves and others equally.  And when the Occupy Wall Street movement began, I jumped at the opportunity to try to shape all of that frustration and anger into a constructive and positive force for change.

But, the pull of my old life is hard.  Financial debt constantly reminds me of the need to seek monetary compensation for my labor, even though I would gladly do this work for free.  The privileges earned only through the circumstances of my birth tempt me with their serene siren song of comfort.  And I mourn the loss of my family elders, my first mentors, now all dead and kept alive only in my memories.

I know in my mind that we must change - that my old life is not sustainable.  I know that I cannot, as they say, only talk the talk.  I must walk the walk.  I am trying, dear friends, oh I am trying.  But resisting that candy takes so much effort.  Taking risks and having the courage to reach out, to be vulnerable, frightens me.  And, in allowing myself to be vulnerable, do I risk losing my capacity to lead, to help effect the changes I deem necessary in our society?

In recent months, I have watched helplessly as people lost hope in causes.  I have struggled as comrades, consumed by doubts and fears, dropped out of activities and organizations.  Perhaps such attrition, while regrettable, is inevitable.  But, is the flame of our hope flickering on the verge of evanescence?

As we emerge from winter, thankfully a gentle and easy winter, perhaps the time for a new dawn has come.  Maybe this time, we will subvert the dominant paradigm.  Can we build a new Racovia, a new Hopedale?  Can we envision and bring about a new model of being together as humans?

I do so fervently hope so.  And I invite you to join me in the journey.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fear and Everyday Courage

This morning, as I drove to my Fellowship, an SUV flew by me in an active school zone going at least 45 MPH.  I watched him pass two more vehicles and pull into a gym parking lot.  I am still replaying the next 60 seconds in my mind.

I debated whether to act upon this opportunity and decided after a couple of seconds of deliberation that it was my duty to do so.  There were no children present and even the crossing guard had left.  But, that is not the point.  What if a child, late for school, had darted across the road?

So, I pulled into the parking lot and behind his vehicle.  As he got out, a large muscular fellow dressed in work out clothes, I rolled down my window and told him calmly that school zone speed limits exist for a reason.  He responded with a string of obscenities and moved threateningly toward me.  He obviously wanted to instigate a physical confrontation and intimidate me. I drove away.

As I came around to exit the parking lot, he stood in front of the car, again calling me names and picking a fight.  I felt I had made the point, drove around him and left.

I hate confrontation.  I guess to be more honest, I fear confrontation.  I suppose most reasonable people do.  That is why bullies are so often successful in getting their way regardless of the consequences or whatever rationale they have for their actions, if any.  Sitting here in the safety and security of my study, I'm not sure how I could have handled those 60 seconds any differently and still lived my principles.

I was afraid this morning. I am still shaking a little as I type this message.  But, if we all stand up to the bullies in our lives, who knows what good can come out of our actions down the road.  I talk and preach about Unitarian Universalism being a religion that emphasizes courage from my pulpit all of the time.  I also preach about nonviolence and peaceful conflict resolution every chance I get.

So, to that nameless driver this morning, I bear you no ill will and hope that whatever caused you to ignore our laws this morning in your haste will resolve itself.  Yes, you succeeded in making me feel afraid.  I left not only out of fear of the physical pain you seemed intent on dealing to me, but because it was apparent that any additional dialogue at that moment would be fruitless.  I can only hope that the next time you drive that road, you hesitate before putting a few seconds of your valuable time ahead of the safety of innocent children.  Staying to confront you further would have only provided you a destructive outlet for your anger.  I hope your gym work out provided a more constructive outlet.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Can We Build a Utopia?

Pundits want to know what Occupy Wall Streets protesters want.  I believe that Occupiers want what the 99% - deep down - all want.  We want utopia.  Here is my vision of utopia.
  • Guarantee that everyone receives free and reasonable access to a basic core program of health care.
  • Guarantee that no one goes hungry or homeless; no child or elderly person gets left behind for lack of our caring.
  • Guarantee that everyone receives free and reasonable access to education from birth to at least high school plus two years of technical education or upper-level college prep.
  • Guarantee that everyone who wants to work gets a job that pays at least a living wage.
  • Restructure our system of employment so that everyone who works receives compensation commensurate with the value of the work performed - this includes everything from service workers to politicians to corporate CEO's.
  • Guarantee that every citizen receives the free and unencumbered right to vote; no person or entity can donate more than $100 to any political campaign and all details on all campaign finances must be available to the public.
  • Redirect the criminal justice system at every level toward the goal of rehabilitation and the dispensing of just and equal punishment, not the production of profit or mistreatment.
  • Require every citizen to provide at least two years of public service, broadly defined as including service in local or national peace forces, community development, aid to developing countries, or other forms of human assistance.
  • Rethink and re-engineer every element of society to function in closer concert with our environment, from food production to sustainable energy to manufacturing outputs.
  • Afford every reasonable effort to promote the creative and imaginative efforts of our people, from arts grants to business start-up funds to financial assistance to organizations or industries seeking to upgrade their technology and operations.  The ultimate goal is to retain and maximize the fullest measure of human potential and productivity of our people.
  • Eliminate every law that discriminates on the basis of any identity, including but not limited to sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, ability, religion, political views, or socio-economic status.
Now, the big question - how do we get there?  The biggest challenge is funding, so here are my suggestions.
  • Eliminate the current Department of Defense and all associated military forces and replace them with a scaled-down Department of Peace and forces whose sole purpose is to protect this nation and support the development and maintenance of human rights of all people in the world.  The majority of efforts directed toward the production of military equipment should be retooled to the production of supplies needed for rebuilding communities after natural disasters, improving the nation's infrastructure, and deterring the development of war technologies throughout the world.
  • The current structure of 50 separate state governments is an historical anachronism that has long lost any purpose or meaning.  We eliminate the current structure and replace it with 5-10 regional governments to serve a similar purpose.
  • At the local level, similarly eliminate thousands of separate civic entities and school districts, seeking to reach a basic critical mass level of size for towns/cities and for educational entities.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of all government, eliminating all bureaucracies and entities that can be replaced by better resource allocation and more equitable distribution mechanisms.  Government should always retain strict oversight responsibility (with severe penalties for corruption), but private industry should be encouraged to replace inefficient public programs and historical leftovers, such as toll roads and bridges, the proliferation of public fees, and many separate taxes.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of all law enforcement codes with a goal of decriminalizing a significant proportion of current actions and significantly reducing the current level of frivolous legal actions, thus relieving an enormous burden on our justice system and getting government out of the business of enforcing morality.
  • Show the world the nature of true leadership by cooperating at the highest level with world organizations and creating true partnerships with other nations.  Our goal as a nation should always be to seek the most mutually advantageous relationship with other nations, which will in the end provide the greatest return and encourage the same from other nations.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of all areas of business enterprise and reinstitute a new area of monopoly-busting, starting with the unhealthy current situation involving our nation's media enterprises.
  • Stop trying to motivate action through fear-mongering and instead inspire our people with messages and actions of hope and love.
Can it work?  Every great accomplishment of human civilization derived from a vision that, at the time, seemed impossible.  Let us dream of the impossible.