UPDATE: Mountain Home incidents not thought connected

Last week, a story broke about the Unitarian Universalist Church of Mountain Home. Two incidents had occurred there in a two-week period: A member received a threatening letter and church windows were shot out with a pellet gun.

It is now believed the two incidents are not connected.

How do we react when this sort of news comes in? How should we react?

These are difficult and contentious times, in which one of the political factions in the country likes to go armed. That’s as much theatrics as it is threat, but much as the mind knows that, the lizard brain still twitches its tail when confronted with it. So we jump. At least, I jump.

Maybe that’s necessary. At least, it’s necessary for someone to be jumpy. And maybe spreading jumpiness around is the desired result.

Fear works against the new, against going forward, against so many of the things we must do to survive in this beautiful, indifferent world.

There’s a balance somewhere between watchfulness and nervousness. If you find it, send directions. I’ll head right over. Till then, I expect I’ll stay jumpy. And I expect I’ll be posting a lot of updates. But more quickly next time!

UU 102: Housekeeping note AND Just Friends: A Meditation on Friendship as Spiritual Practice

First, the housekeeping note: I’ve had two family-type issues this last week, one with my family of raising and one with my family of choice. I’ve missed a few days and while I’m not going to try to catch up, I will post a few things besides the daily item.

I’m also breaking a personal guideline with this item: I’d said to myself I wouldn’t repeat authors for a while. This spoke directly to my life as I am living it right now, and so Rev. James Ishmael Ford is here to tell you about friendship as spiritual practice:

So, what does this look like in real life? How are we friends? Is it taking time to sign up for the care crew? Is it noticing someone you know here at church hasn’t been around for a while and giving her a call? Perhaps it’s that monthly commitment to the food pantry or preparing meals for Harrington Hall. These days I write much of sermon in the living room. My auntie, who was sitting next to me watching my furious typing, asked what I was writing about. I said friendship and asked if she had a thought? She said sometimes being a friend is knowing when to say no.

Yoko Ono tells us “Yes”; Ayn Rand tells us “No”; Sonic Youth says “Turn off the past and just say yes”; Nancy Reagan says “Just Say No”;  Larry Kramer wrote “Just Say Yes: A play about a farce”; Amy Winehouse said “No No No”; James Joyce wrote “yes I said yes I will Yes.

What do you say?

Unitarian Universalist Church of Mountain Home gets threatening letter, windows shot out

This is not the right mood for me to go to choir practice in. As Brother Wayne Kramer says, “Bomb-loving leaders get bomb-loving citizens.” It doesn’t surprise me this happened at this point in history, after that election, not one bit.

This is the most complete story I’ve seen so far:

I talked later with Mrs. Hurley, 82, lay leader of the small congregation. The anonymous letter was sent to Bill Rhodes, the president of the congregation about two weeks ago. What appeared to be pellet gun holes were found in a church window Sunday, though she’s drawing no conclusions about cause and effect in the case of either the letter or the holes in the window. The church sits by a traffic light and teenagers with a BB gun might have just popped off a few shots, she noted.

It’s her town, and she knows more about their situation than I do. I hope she’s right. And I’m ready to support them.

Here’s the letter:


I am pretty sure that was written by someone a little more literate than it may first appear, but I could be wrong.

UU 102: What I Want in a UUA President

Last week, I put up Tony Lorenzen’s thoughts on what we need in the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This week, it’s Tom Schade’s turn:

We need leadership that pushes us toward relevance. Unitarian Universalism will grow to the extent that it is relevant to people who are not now UU’s. Relevance does not grow out of intent, but impact. So, a criteria that we need to expect from our new younger, female President is: Can she lead people who are not UU’s?

What do you think we need?

UU 102: Deeds not Creeds, Behavior is Believable

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg  has a lot to say here. It’s more wide-ranging than the title might indicate. And it gave me a John Adams quote I didn’t have before:

I do not attach much importance to creeds because I believe [one] cannot be wrong whose life is right

That’s pretty great, isn’t it?

There’s a lot in here about the value of covenant and being together, and I think this is my favorite of that:

Another way of expressing this difference is that some sociologists of religion have noted an important shift from a paradigm of Believe-Behave-Belong in which newcomers to a religious community first had to believe the right doctrines, then behave correctly, and finally were allowed to belongThe postmodern paradigm reverses the order to Belong-Behave-Believe. Today, most newcomers first want to feel like they belong (that they are in an open, safe, accepting community), then they are open to reflecting on ethics (how they behave) — and over time they may find that their beliefs are shifting through being in community. As the saying goes, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.”

What would it change if we reversed that order?

There’s so much in this rich sermon–and it led me to something else perhaps more valuable. But that’ll be another day. Soon.

Why I Don’t Celebrate Veterans Day

My reasons have nothing to do with veterans. I respect people who take risks for what they believe in, period. I may oppose those same people bitterly, but keeping who they are and what their virtues are in mind makes me both a better opponent and a better human.

So what are my reasons? There are two and they are related.

The first is that with the end of Armistice Day, we have no day to celebrate the end of war–any war. That was the original intent of Armistice Day, which I observe with a moment of silence at 11:11 (or as close to it as I can manage) every 11/11.

Neither do we have a day to celebrate peace, nor a day to mourn all the war dead. I don’t find the death of a civilian killed in saturation bombing of a city any less regrettable than the death of the solider who dropped that bomb then was shot from the air.

The second is that this change came during the McCarthy era, at the same time coinage lost E Pluribus Unum (United We Stand) for the sad trade of In God We Trust, and the Pledge of Allegiance gained the divisive phrase “under God” before “indivisible”.

The meaning of Veterans Day, and Armistice Day before it, had long been contested. Here’s an example:

On that same Armistice Day in 1919, an American Legion parade in Centralia, Washington, the heart of lumber country and long running labor strife, broke ranks on a pre-arranged signal and attacked the local hall of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Wobblies in the hall opened fire in self defense as the Legionaries tried to charge up the stairs.  Four Legionaries were killed in the attack and several others were wounded inside the hall in a confusing melee before most of the union men were disarmed.  Wesley Everest, himself a veteran and in uniform, escaped although wounded and was chased down to the river where he shot two or more of his pursuers before being overwhelmed.

That night a mob of Legionaries, with the complicity of authorities, seized the wounded Everest from his jail cell, dragged him behind an automobile, castrated him, and hung him from a railroad bridge.  Several IWW members including those captured in the hall and others tracked down by posses in a massive man hunt were put on trial.  Eight Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to long prison terms.  No Legionnaires were charged in the initial assault.

That just sticks in my craw. Where is the Grand Army of the Republic when you need them, anyway? Perhaps I digress.

So if you are reading this and you are a veteran, please take no offense at my non-celebration of the holiday. It’s not about you and it’s not about what you did. If you fought bravely for any cause, I respect your personal virtues. But it’s time for a peace holiday.

The prerequisite to peace, of course, is justice. And so:

Let us not break faith with those who have died in defense of human rights, human dignity, human life.

May we recognize the grief that flows in and among us today
and may we keep the faith.

UU 102: What Is Fairness?

From danah boyd, who is not (so far as I know a Unitarian Universalist) comes What Is Fairness? She’s put her finger on one version of a question that haunts us:

In the United States, fairness has historically been a battle between equality and equity. Equality is the notion that everyone should have an equal opportunity. It’s the core of meritocracy and central to the American Dream. Preferential treatment is seen as antithetical to equality and the root of corruption. And yet, as civil rights leaders have long argued, we don’t all start out from the same place. Privilege matters. As a result, we’ve seen historical battles over equity, arguing that fairness is only possible when we take into account systemic marginalization and differences of ability, opportunity, and access…

And that’s where we are now–or are we? Those of us who have watched the Internet become a tool of commerce first and a means of communication second have seen other troubling trends. This is one danah boyd understands differently than than I had before:

Beyond the cultural fight over equality vs. equity, a new battle to define fairness has emerged. Long normative in business, a market logic of fairness is moving beyond industry to increasingly become our normative understanding of fairness in America.

It’s long been known that The Poor Pay More. Like it has done to so many other things, the Internet has changed the speed, the volume, and the frequency of the mechanisms that makes that happen. It’s also an ideal means of enforcing those mechanisms:

Increasingly, tech folks are participating in the instantiation of fairness in our society. Not only do they produce the algorithms that score people and unevenly distribute scarce resources, but the fetishization of “personalization” and the increasingly common practice of “curation” are, in effect, arbiters of fairness.

(Those “tech folks”? That’s me. That’s what we do for a living. When I’m not destroying skilled jobs or performing guard labor, I enforce market values through technology. We also do productive labor, but the majority of what we do is not for the good of humanity.)

This is another systemic problem, and it will take systemic change. It’ll have to begin with an acceptance that we live in a socially engineered environment. (Every society is.) Those who invent and spread the myth that we do not, those who preach most loudly against social engineering? Those are the bosses of the social engineers. They have the power to work their will and would rather not change that. It’s understandable they don’t want to cede their power gracefully. And it’s understandable I believe they should lose that power utterly.

UU 102: REA: Peace Experiments

Dan Harper is the Directory of Religious Education at the UU Church of Palo Alto.  This is the text of his presentation about religious education and peacemaking. There are two things I’d like to hold up from it in particular. Here’s the first:

As the religious education committee and I reviewed all these various factors…we began to talk explicitly about feminist theology, which is a core theology in my denomination. Feminist theology reminds us that so-called women’s work is just as important as so-called men’s work. Feminist theology reminds us that children of any gender are at least as important as adult males. Feminist theology reminds us that we are embodied beings, and we need more than words and information, we need hands and bodies.

I’m going to go further than Dan Harper: If you have not spent any time studying feminism and feminist theology, you are almost certainly not competent to talk about Unitarian Universalism as it is practiced today.

And here’s the second:

…we realized what really made a difference was not trying to teach essentialist skills…

and yet

…we also included some activities that could come across as essentialist in orientation, because we had adults who were passionate…

Since you can’t buy passion at any price, some mindsets regard it as worthless and sell it as cheap or throw it away. Do you?

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Jesus, I’m thankful

As you may have read, I got bad news about my mom earlier in the week. The short update? This time, it turned out to be a dress rehearsal, a valuable one. Here’s the long version:

The word I got on my mom Thursday was that I should come that day, not the next, so I did. She’s got congestive heart failure and they felt the edema in her right side–a swollen leg and arm–was thus a sign of imminent decline. The next morning, the edema was gone. She is still weak–I mean, ninety-six, right?–but in good spirits, mostly clearheaded, and in hopes of getting better. I don’t think she will but I’m damned if I’m telling her so. They no longer think she’s on the verge any more than she always is.

The best news is I got to do something I’d stalled on. When she was checked into the home, her record ended up indicating that CPR and other invasive procedures could be done on my mom. She’s been to the hospital three or four times since then, and I approve. My mom has a lot of vitality and life left in her–she’s still getting something from hanging around or she wouldn’t be doing it–and I’m happy to get her care that will help. But anything at this point that requires CPR is truly an imminent death sentence. My mom is nearly ninety-seven years old. The success rate for CPR at her age is around seven percent, and success means a chest full of broken bones and even less capacity than one had beforehand. So I changed that and a couple of other things, so they don’t get to keep her meat working after she’s gone. They did this on my authority as her health care proxy. I’d expected difficulty, but no.

My mom believes she’s going to heaven and seeing Jesus and her family when she dies. I figure if anyone does, she will. I have my doubts about heaven, myself, but then, I’ve never died yet and don’t know any of it for a fact. What I do know for a fact is that when she does finally die, I can do my best to see to it her last consciousness is that of loving family surrounding her–Jesus will have to bring his own self, but I figure he’ll make an appearance of some sort–and as pleasant as it can be. It won’t be people busting up her rib cage so she can draw another hour’s breath and then die.

I must briefly brag on my ex-wife-to-be. When I called her, she wanted to know what she could do to help. The next day, she took the daughter out of school right after her tests (four freaking tests before noon and she’s in sixth grade; what is wrong with this country?) and drove up. She’d packed up her work and a week’s clothing and was willing to stay for some time if need be. So the three of us spent time with my mom–my ex hadn’t seen my mom since we separated nearly five years ago–and hung out around town and had an awfully good time together.

Like I say, I doubt there’s a heaven, but I have no doubts about hell. It’s real, it exists here on earth, and while its intensity cannot reliably be measured, its duration is finite. Had it not been for the ex and the daughter, that’s where I’d’ve been these last few days. As it turned out, we had a small family vacation and a lovely weekend.