Friday, September 26, 2008

The Debate

Well, it was a riveting 100 minutes, which is more than I can say about most 100 minute TV segments. I thought both candidates did pretty well. I was impressed by the breadth of their knowledge and I got the sense that they both have a dignity and integrity which the current incumbent has always lacked. Whatever happens, it's gonna be better than it was.

There was one thing that really irritated me. Even given the propensity of politicians to compare the best of their actions with the worst of their opponents, I thought that John McCain went overboard in a couple of his accusations of Obama's record, edging from putting one's opponent in a bad light, which is to be expected, to misleading the public, which I suppose is to be expected but I don't like it at all. A person who attempts to mislead the public about the task of ones opponent's committee assignment is a person who will attempt to mislead the public on other occasions when it suites when he wants to go to war but doesn't have the facts on his side.

Clean up your act, Mr. McCain.

Pulpit Initiative to Tease the IRS

iMinister was going to run for president this week, announcing her candidacy in a sermon, but this brilliant sermonic ploy was spoiled by a real life civil disobedience campaign. iMinister is annoyed.

This campaign of about 30, mostly Evangelical pastors (they tried to get others involved) will challenge the IRS's rules that tax exempt organizations such as churches can't engage in candidate politics, only in issue politics. They are going to go ahead an endorse their chosen candidate from their pulpits this Sunday and take the consequences. They say they'll sue the government if they do loose their tax exempt status. Read more here.

iMinister thinks this is a bit foolish, but she's aware that the IRS has been both negligent (especially to conservative churches) in enforcing its rules and out of bounds (especially to liberal churches) in harassing ministers who are staying on their proper side of the endorsement line, and she'd appreciate a clarification of the situation which is, after all, what often comes out of court cases and high drama publicity.

She also thinks that any preacher who can't figure out a way to preach "on the issues" such that the congregation can't figure out who the preacher wishes his or her people would vote for is not a very skilled preacher, so she doesn't put much stock in complaints about this particular rule being any real infringement on religious needs. She suspects that this the real inhibition these preachers feel is to their own egos, which are pinched when they can't tell their flocks how to vote.

IRS specializes in slow response, so I doubt if we'll know by Monday.

And if you want to know about iMinister's platform, check here on Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dear Misters Paulson and Bernanke,

If you really believe that it is crucial for the congress to quickly approve this bailout, it was your responsibility to propose a reasonably balanced, passable bailout plan. Since the plan that you proposed was so unbalanced and unrestrained that not even Republicans like it, you must not really think this is an earth shaking crisis. So Congress, take your time. No more playing responsible villagers to the foolish shepherd's cry of wolf!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Putting Lipstick on a Pig

Obama said it about McCain's policies yesterday
McCain's supporters have morphed that into an insult against Sara Palin, as she is "the only one of the four candidates who wears lipstick."

McCain has himself used the expression several times in the campaign, always to point out just what Obama was trying to point out, which is that you can make a small change in the packaging of something but it's still the same inside.

Obama is right that this tempest in a TV screen is EXACTLY WHAT MAKES ME HATE POLITICS AND DESPAIR FOR OUR NATION. WE'RE AT WAR, FOR GOD'S SAKE. WE'RE BANKRUPTING OURSELVES. OUR KIDS ARE GETTING an inferior education and everybody's getting inferior health care. Our population is skyrocketing. The Globe is warming up.

And on the other hand, it's a distressingly sexist-sounding statement. There's too much in the culture that links women, lipsticks and pigs. Like the world "nigardly", which doesn't mean what it sounds like it means but is close enough that no smart person uses the word any more, let's retire this folksy statement. In the end, it does only harm.

On Cultural Mis-Appropriation

Monkey Mind, who is a Buddhist religious leader as well as a UU minister, has commented wisely, here on the problem of adding language to the UUA bylaws dealing with this sticky topic of cultural mis-appropriation. I agree with everything he said, and added a comment that writing bylaws to attempt to regulate practices about which there is not clarity or even agreement, not to mention experience with appropriate procedures is a dangerous mis-use of bylaws.

I want to also add that my experience with this "I know it when I see it but can't define it" area is that our lack of clarity on this subject already puts a dampening effect on robust sharing in our ministry of spiritual and worship practices and does not help ministers take spiritual risks with their colleagues or in their congregations.

We UU's have a profound ambivilance about spirituality of any kind already, and a tendency to pounce, sometimes viciously, on the scary notion that any bona fide UU's would be experimenting with ways to deepen our own spirituality and our corporate experience of spirituality.

Ours is a faith which is open to the wisdom and practices of human religious experience, and that can not simply mean that we learn about other people, although many a preacher or RE director has done only that. Of course understanding others is good, but if our knowledge is only a head-trip, we really have not finished learning. Anything we try to practice is going to fall, at least loosely, into the category of cultural misappropriation. There's not much new under the sun. We don't even all agree that practices like Sweat Lodges are disrespectful to Native Americans. (Nor do all Native Americans think that. ) What about using the tactic of having children ask questions of their elders about the history of their faith to engage them? That harkens to the Jewish Seder practice, and that's where I came across it, so it is a mild form of appropriation. How mild is mild? Who decides? The Orthodox rabbi up the street, the person of Jewish heritage in my congregation? Is the well-established UU Thanksgiving Seder a bad thing? Only a bad thing if it's called a Seder? Only bad if it is a congregational meal? Do we apply the same rules to the communion service? On and on we could go with the questions. They are interesting questions, and I'm not against asking them. What we need is not a by-law but a respectful conversation and learning opportunity. Simple prohibition will only dampen our already small talent for spiritual seeking together.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

R.I.P. Ninja

Our household iguana died on Friday, and I'm still feeling shocked and sad. He had escaped his cage, something he'd done before, but then knocked out a screen and escaped the house. He must have made a beeline for the biggest tree he could see...that's what iguanas do. Unfortunately, the biggest tree in our yard is a utility pole, and he electrocuted himself. I was out looking for him by that time, and heard the bang of the fuse blowing and saw him flung off the pole.

He knocked out electricity for three blocks for three hours. Went with a bang, as they say.

He had always been an adventurous iguana. He'd roamed the world by himself as a yearling; I got him from a rescue organization where they figured he'd been on his own for some months. He was kind of wild his first year with us, but after that he settled down, allowed himself to be carried, and loved his outdoor cage. He had a good life. And died doing what he loved to do most; looking for sun in all the high places.

I'm gonna miss him.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dan Harper's Purposes and Principles

Fausto notes in the comments that fellow blogger Dan Harper proposed a new Purposes and Principles in his blog last June. I had a peak and fell immediately in love. I promote Dan's alterego, Mr. Crankypants for king of the universe! (UU Universe, at least!) You can find his work here. Of course there will be quibbles with it, and more voices will want to be heard. But let's start with this. It's simple, you could imagine reading it in worship (even reading it responsively), it has a horse-like grace rather than a camel-like clumpiness. Thanks, Dan!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New Try at our Purposes and Principles

The Commission on Appraisal has come up with a proposed draft of the first few articles of the UUA bylaws, commonly called our purposes and principles. It's here.

I have liked our current purposes and principles, and while I agree that such statements should be revised from time to time, I don't like this revision. One reason I don't like this revision is that I don't like the way the purposes and principles have moved into a creed-like place in our life together. People are taking them way too literally. I heard it just yesterday: "Our purposes and principles say we are for Peace and Justice. Therefore YOU SHOULD support (our idea of how to gain these two things.)

The Purposes and Principles have taken over RE in the same, concrete way. Ugh.

Given that background, I have to say that I don't like the basic format of the Commission's work. It has given us too many more words to make concrete in the "principles" section, and it has collapsed the "sources" section into a paragraph of prose (verbose prose at that) which is not suitable for use in liturgy. That will mean that those italicized principles will be all the more elevated and concretized in our life together.

It also elevates our paranoia about "cultural misappropriation" to by-law level and seems to permit others rather than ourselves to decide what is appropriate and respectful. I can tell you that there are millions upon millions of Christians who would say that our use of any kind of communion service is disrespectful to their doctrinal Christ, and that any prayer which does not end in the name of Jesus is an insult to the word prayer. These bylaws would allow them to criticize us and give us no way to make our own decisions. Even worse, they would allow some us to criticize others. I'm all for exercising sensitivity to other's sensibilities. But my experience with discussions of cultural misappropriation leads me to believe that this "sensitivity" is mostly used amongst us to distance ourselves from spirituality and dis those spiritual leaders who take the risk of introducing us to spiritual practice. With a bylaw like this, we will reduce ourselves again to classical music, intellectual sermons, social action and a moment of silence as our only legitimate shared spiritual practices. It just won't do.

And there's the statement that the highest purpose of our congregations is to "worship together to create beloved community" (sorry, that's not my primary goal and I think it is a very dangerous one)

It's been hard enough navigating the shoals of congregational life around seven principles. (see above). Navigating around seven principles, cultural misappropriation, and beloved community is not going to make us healthier.