Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Who cares if Zimmerman is a Racist?

It seems very odd to me that the news/opinion making has focused on whether or not George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin in Florida last month, is a racist.  Seems to me it makes very little difference.  The important point is that he shot and killed a young man who scared him...a young man who was doing nothing more alarming than walking home from a trip to get snacks, while talking to his girlfriend on the telephone and had nothing more alarming on his person than a bottle of iced tea.   What's clear from 911 calls is that Zimmerman was hostile to Martin, followed him in spite of being told not to, that there was some kind of a scuffle, and Zimmerman felt so threatened he shot the boy and killed him.

Maybe instead of arguing whether or not Zimmerman is a racist, we should be speculating on whether he is a bully, (he outweighed the kid by 110 lbs)  or a coward (threatened by iced tea?) or a vigilante (the police told him to stop following this kid..)  

Even more importantly, we should be arguing about what kind of law is so poorly written that it doesn't allow the police to distinguish between someone who was jumped and used lethal force to protect themselves, and somebody who picked a fight with a person, then claims he felt threatened, and shot the guy.  

Not to mention wondering what would have happened if, by chance, Zimmerman had picked a fight with the kid but in the scuffle, Zimmerman had ended up dead.   We don't actually have much doubt in our minds about that, do we?   Martin would be in the klink.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Hoodie

Who knew that hoodies had such massive symbolic weight?  This item of clothing has been in the news since the killing of Trayvon Martin and the comment by Geraldo that the hoodie was just as much to blame for his death as the gun.  (Guns don't kill people.  People kill people, especially people who are so foolish as to wear a hoodie.)  Talk about blaming the victim!

Boy was I clueless!  I who have not been without a hoodie since my college years, when I discovered that they are perfect for a certain kind of weather and are easier to wash than sweaters for casual indoor wear.  Even worse, clueless mom, whose 21 year old son is so hard on his favorite hoodie that he gets a new one every Christmas, like some men got ties or socks.  We white people, it seems, can wear whatever comfy piece of clothing we like, while others have to be careful not to be threatening...especially in the 18 states where "being threatening" is a capital offence if the person feeling threatened happens to have a gun and feel like using it.

I am a hopeful person by nature, and I hope that justice will be done in this case...and that national attention will assist the clear thinking of the officials in Florida.  But it is a tragic state of affairs we've gotten ourselves into in this nation.  It lifted my spirits to have about 1/3 of the attendees at church yesterday wearing their hoodies in solidarity with this matter.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Welcome

There's an interesting article in the UU World this month, about beliefs that UU's don't tend to have.  You can find it here.   But the editor was apparently confused by the first paragraph and added a pull quote in big letters that is a dreadful misunderstanding of the concept of "Welcome."   ("Signs by doors say,  'Everyone welcome here,' but we know it's not true.  If you hold some beliefs, you may not like it here.')

But whether a person feels welcomed to a congregation and whether they like it there are two very different things.  Although a poor welcome lessens the chance that a person will like the congregation, it is not only possible but likely that some people who feel fully and warmly welcomed will also, after a time, decide that this is not the right community within which to nurture their spiritual life.

That was actually the point that the author was trying to make, and she went on to list 10 beliefs that a new person might have which are dissonant with some understandings of UU Principles or with commonly held beliefs in UU congregations.  (Although I must say that I have known individual UU's who have held  one or another of the 10 beliefs discussed and didn't leave.  Some went so far as to insist that they not only were not in the minority, they were "real"  UU's.  But that's another story.)

The confusion in the pull quote mirrors a confusion I have heard often enough, which is a confusion between "Welcomed" and "Happy".

 The two are very different.  To welcome someone is to say,  "We are glad you are here."  Welcome requires the basics of hospitality; that we let strangers in, share what we have, treat them with dignity.   This is hard enough and we don't do it very well and should work on doing it better.  However, hospitality does not require that we bend, pinch, and change ourselves so that everybody who comes to us will like us and feel well served by what we have to offer.

The difference between a creedal and non-creedal church is that when there is no creed, it is up to each individual person to decide for themselves whether they belong here and are well-served by our way of doing religion.  No outside force will say,  "Because you believe this, you are not welcome."  (Sometimes the congregation has to draw lines about behavior; that, too, is another story.)  Instead, each person looks around and says to themselves,  "I think I could grow in spirit here.", and stays, or "This is not for me,"  and goes.  This may (or may not) signify a failure of mission for the congregation, but it does not necessarily mean that their welcome was deficient.

The Signs by the door should say,  "Everybody Welcome Here!"  but that doesn't mean everybody will decide that this is the right place for them.  And that's OK.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Psalms P.S.

I'm twittering the Psalms, these days, and invite those interested to follow me on Twitter @revCRobinson.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Praying with Your Iphone

(an article written for Journey, The Journal of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA)

When I was a very little girl, I gathered…I’m sure nobody taught me this…that in order to pray, one had to have a particular posture; head bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped.  It was also clear to me that those prayers always had to have words, either recited or extemporaneous. And while I was always drawn towards the idea of prayer, I ever felt very good at those wordy exercises.   When I discovered the meditation practices of the East, I had no idea that many of these same practices would be called “prayer” by contemplative Christians or Jews.   It was a revelation that brought me back home, so to speak, to the practices of my own Christian heritage, and in that exploration, I discovered that all kinds of things that I had found myself to be useful spiritual tools; journaling, walking, art, chant, and picturing loved ones in my mind’s eye, could also be considered prayer.  For someone who had always felt a bit spiritually backwards, it was wonderful to discover that  I had been praying all along…but with things in my hands, or a spring in my step. 

Last year, I spent a few sabbatical months in a faraway city.  I had only a couple of suitcases with me, my Kindle for books, and a new smartphone, which I had purchased mostly for its map capability.  I had a book to write and a city to explore and time for silence and prayer.  And that’s when I learned to pray with a Smartphone.

Away from my landline, my phone was my lifeline to the world. It was never off, I was careful to take it everywhere with me, and I found all kinds of capabilities besides phone and map!.  I discovered quickly why it is that the younger generation is said to check their messages before they get out of bed in the morning!   (While I was discovering smart phones, that younger generation was discovering Ipads and Tablets, which do everything except make phone calls even better than a smart phone. While I have no direct experience with tablet computing, everything I’m about to say about phones goes for tablets, too.)

Having learned to take pencils, journals, books, and art supplies into my prayer time, perhaps it was inevitable that I started taking my phone. That might seem off-putting to some, but a smart phone is, after all just a tool, as a pen and paper or a printed book might be.  All tools take getting used to, and none work for everybody, but I’m certainly not going to put a limit on what tools God can use to get through to me!  I encourage you to try some of these suggestions and see if they work for you.  Even if the old ways feel better to you, those of us who advise that younger generation should keep them in mind. 

Praying with Photos

Those of us who keep a prayer list can, of course keep that list on a memo in our phone, but I have loved praying with photos I’ve taken or downloaded.  For me, seeing faces helps a lot!  You can even have folders of pictures for days of the week, and besides faces, you can snap photos or download pictures from the web to remind you of situations you want to pray for.   

Especially if one has the larger surface and better resolution of a tablet or Ipad, it would be possible to download images of icons or other evocative religious symbols for meditation.  You can even download a video of a flickering candle!  Perhaps none of these are “as good” as gazing at the real thing, but the “real thing” is not always available.    

Using the Clock

For those who find it easier to sink down into meditation if they know they will be called out of it at a particular time, (Or who don’t want to be distracted wondering how much time has passed), there are lots of meditation timers available.  The virtual ones can be downloaded from the phone’s app store, but many phones come with a clock/stopwatch/timer function built in.  Often it is possible to change the alert tone to something more gentle than an alarm beep.  

Using the Music Player

Smart Phones often double as MP3 players, which means that it is possible to download all manner of chants and prayer services.  This can be especially useful for prayer/meditation in a distracting environment.  Pop in your earbuds, press play, and you can create a spiritual space wherever you are.  (This tool is also useful in the dentist’s office, the waiting room, and on the bus!) 

Lectio Divina

Most smartphones and all tablets allow you to download files, so the day’s scriptures, poetry, or whatever you study as your spiritual practice is readily available.  Multiple languages and translations and even notes and commentary can all be at your fingertips with a little advance work. 

Social Media

The meat of my spiritual practice during that sabbatical was a version of Lectio Divina, which I was practicing with daily chapters of the Tao Te Ching, and I summed up each day’s study with a sentence which recapped the message I wanted to take into my day with me. Then I learned about Twitter: which is a very quick and easy way to share very short messages…144 characters or less.  That limit was a good challenge for me, and although I didn’t seek out any followers,  I eventually developed quite a few.  I also learned how to get my twitters to automatically appear on my Facebook page, where commenters encouraged me to compile the Twitters into a book.   Twittering one’s spiritual practice turns out to have a downside; it take discipline to keep this a spiritual practice and not a performance.  But it is another way to share.  Twitter has another spiritual benefit.  If you “follow” the right people, you will find an unending supply of  uplifting quotes, scripture passages, and links to poems. 

I expected to return to paper and pen in my spiritual practice after that sabbatical was over, but it didn’t work that way.  Now I pray with my phone in my hand every morning.  Hello,  Is that you,  God? 

Christine Robinson is the senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the author of The Twittered Tao and co-author of two books for small group ministry,  Heart to Heart and Soul to Soul.  She Twitters as RevCrobinson.

Psalms and the Small World

Years and years ago, when iMinister was just learning how to blog. she was experimenting with blogs and, needing a body already written short works to populate her blog with, used some adaptations of the Psalms which had been slowly coming out of her morning spiritual practice.  She was so new to blogging that she didn't quite understand that anybody could find a blog, and they would, and, did.  She was very surprised that anybody would be interested in her agnostic version of the Psalms, but..it's a big world, and the internet brings special interests together! Having so many interested readers, some of whom wrote from all over to comment and compliment, motivated iMinister to complete the project.  What she ended up calling "Improvisations" on all 150 Psalms can be found here.

The Psalm Blog gets just as much readership as iMinister, although  I have posted only a few times a year in the past 5 years.  And some of those readers have asked permission to publish, or told me about musical settings they'd created or just written their appreciation.  It's been fun.  

A Psalm acquaintance asked if I would write an article for her community's journal, and she happened to ask on a day that I had been thinking about praying with one's smart phone, so I did it.  The actual article will come soon.