Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Why is defeating the marriage-elimination proposition a UU priority?

Dear Pastor Cranky:  Why do so many UU congregations in California devote so much time trying to defeat the anti-gay Proposition 8 but not work on the other ballot initiatives coming up in the November 4 election?  What about high-speed rail?  Why are you not cranky about this?

Good question.  As a devoted public-transit nerd I would love to be giving money and time to support that high-speed-rail proposition 1A.  I think it would benefit Californians of all income levels, boost our economy, promote energy independence and environmental stewardship, and reduce our carbon foot print.  As a social-justice activist whose faith urges the practice of compassion and the application of reason, I would love to be devoting more time defeating some misleading and counter-productive criminal justice propositions this year.   As a humane society member, animal-welfare benefactor and dog-n-cat lover, I’d like to help pass the proposition against animal cruelty.  (And I forget the other propositions, which is why they are a bad idea for governing a state this enormous.)

Unfortunately, among the sources of inhospitality to, repression of, and misinformation about gay people, organized religion is the leader.  Not all organized religions, but the largest and most dominant players, have been anti-gay for a long time. Aggressive homophobia is the reason for being for some preachers and the primary fundraising tool for some organizations that call them selves faith-based.

Hence, it is crucial for all the pro-gay and pro-fairness faith groups to speak out and show up, to give a religious witness for compassion, equality, justice and love.

The leading forces behind the anti-equality Prop. 8 are conservative religious organizations–and they are organized around this issue!  This is why our UU congregations, lay leaders and ministers are standing up with other fairness-oriented faith communities.  We will not let others lead a an anti-gay campaign in the name of all people of faith.  As people of faith ourselves, we stand up against exclusion.  We stand for equality and fairness.  We stand on the side of love.

Yes, I’d rather be the transit-nerd minister promoting high-speed rail.  Unfortunately, however, this anti-gay Proposition 8 and its backers are distracting all Californians us from real threats to our children’s future and our state’s prosperity.  I hope that–after we protect the California Constitution from having discrimination written into it, after we protect the right to marry for all committed couples– we can again focus our attention on other pressing issues.

“You Will Be Assimilated.”–Not! Come to Our Newcomers’ Membership Orientation

[BTW:  Did you know that Gene Roddenberry was a religous humanist and Unitarian Universalist?  Well, that has nothing to do with the membership orientation except that we affirm that every person has worth and is to be celebrated in his or her uniqueness.  Here is the invitation. –Pastor Smiley]

Considering Membership?  Newcomers’ Class

Are you a recent guest or a regular participant in the services and programs at UUSS?  Are you a young adult who grew up in this church but has not yet signed the membership register to make your membership official?

Do you have questions or an interest in checking us out as a spiritual home and source of community in your life?

The April Newcomers’ Membership Orientation Course is a chance to learn more about Unitarian Universalism, this congregation, and the meaning of membership here.  It’s a chance for you to meet other newcomers and for both ministers and a few lay leaders to get to know you.  We seek to learn about you, and hear your questions, and interests in church life.
The 6-hour course takes place every few months on two or three weeknights, from 6:30-9 PM, or on a Saturday morning.  Upcoming Orientations will be listed in the monthly Unigram newsletter, in the Blue Sheet announcements in the weekly Order of Service at church, and in the binder where we keep the signup sheet at the Welcome Table in the back of the sanctuary.  Child care is available; please reserve it at least a week in advance of the start date.
If you decide to become an official member of UUSS after the class, we invite you to sign the membership book.  Recent new members will be recognized by the congregation in a brief Ingathering Ritual during a service.  Someone from the Membership Committee will offer to take your picture (with your children if you are a parent) and invite you to tell us a few things about yourself for the new member bulletin board.

Family-Friendly Restaurant Dinner Oct. 15
September 23, 2008, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Family Ministry | Tags: , , ,

Join UUSS members and friends of all ages for an easy night out in a family-friendly setting: dinner together at Fresh Choice Restaurant.  Wednesday, Oct. 15, 5:30-7:30 PM.  Come when you can, dine, mingle and visit.  Come for dinner before Choir practice or your Ministry Circle or before a bath and bedtime story back at home.
(The UU Fellowship in Sunnyvale has done this every month since 2004, and it has been a good time for people to connect and share a meal together.)
The company returns 15% of our group’s total purchase as a donation to UUSS, so pick up an event flyer at church or download from  Fresh Choice is a self-serve restaurant with a wealth of tasty salads, fresh veggies and fruit, pasta, pizza, potatoes, soups, breads and desserts, including the fun soft-serve ice cream machine (so fun that some ministers go twice).  Prices make it a good value, and for those who seek seafood or poultry, that’s optional.  They have wine and beer too.  It’s at 535 Howe Ave. near Fair Oaks, just a 13 minute walk from the church.  Phone is 916-649-8046. Our section will marked with Unitarian Universalist table markers.  —buen apetito from the Family Minister

Crying Room Renewed: Does My Sermon Make You Cry, Little One?

[BACKGROUND:  Recently our senior staff discussed the fact that a few members gather in the church library and visit during the services instead of attending in the sanctuary or listening to the sermon on the loud speaker in the library.  (They sometimes turn the sound down.)  However, to be hospitable our ushers or staff let parents visiting with babies know that the library is a place where they can hear the sermon if the baby is relentlessly fussy and loud.  The following newsletter article’s aim is to reclaim the purpose of the library as a crying room so we can continue to extend hospitality to families with infants. –PASTOR C.]

Does My Sermon Make You Cry, Little One?

Oh, you’re hungry, as babies often are!  Or is gas making you fussy?

Surely it’s not existential angst—not yet!

Perhaps the adult who came to church with you would like to hear the service but has a worry that your cries will impede other adults from hearing every precious word that the pastor has penned.
You’re in luck!  The Library serves as the Baby Comfort Room during worship services.  Thanks to the Library’s audio speaker, ushers can invite a concerned parent to follow the service while attending to the temporarily noisy behind a closed door. Adults who would prefer to visit with no service audio are welcome to use a minister’s study—just let Roger, Doug or David McMorris know in advance! (After a service the Library becomes the Beacon Book Store and an open gathering place.)

Thanks to all for your consideration of one another.

Spiritual Parenting: A New Ministry Circle (covenant group style)
September 23, 2008, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Family Ministry | Tags: , , ,

Spiritual Parenting:  A Ministry Circle

“You can’t get to Roundtop on your lunch hour,” as the Rev. Doug Kraft said in his Aug. 24 sermon “Spiritual Experience:  Deep Connection.”  Spiritual health and growth takes time, intention and support.  UUSS member and parent Karen Bare invites members and friends who are actively parenting to give and receive support to one another in a new Ministry Circle.  We will focus on our role as parents and spiritual guides for our children. Topics will be guided, but we’ll learn from each other’s ideas, successes and (perhaps most importantly) our failures.

In this circle we will ask ourselves:
What is my definition of spiritual parenting?
What do I really mean when I say I want my child(ren) to be happy?
What kind of example am I setting?
What is spiritual practice, and how do I fit it into our busy lives?
How can I listen more deeply, speak more wisely?
How is my physical & spiritual health interconnected?
How can I become more aware of my own spiritual experiences,
and how do I help my family find theirs?
How can we help bring healing to the world together?

The first session will run for 8 consecutive weeks from 6:45pm-8:45pm in Citrus Heights.  It will begin as soon as there are at least 6 people committed to being there.  If enough people want to continue meeting, the future of the group will be more like a spiritual parenting support group wherein we’ll encourage each other in the application of concepts introduced in the first session.  The second session would probably meet less often–no more than twice a month. If childcare is a concern, or if you have any questions regarding, please feel free to contact Karen Bare or the UU Society of Sacramento.   Flyers are available at the RE Table and pamphlet rack in the Main Hall.  (Note:  After church Sept. 21 there were a lot of signups for this, so it may be full by now, but I thought it was worth it to promote the concept and plans for it. Let us know if you have ideas or interest for similar family-support activities.)

Sunday Shopping Mall Witnessing

Sunday afternoon:

In multiple intersections around California, and a few in greater Sacramento, volunteers stood holding signs urging motorists to Vote No on Proposition 8.  This is the November initiative which would eliminate marriage rights for same-gender couples in California by amending the State Constitution.  One million yard signs against marriage equality were to be distributed at Mormon, Catholic and other conservative churches Sunday, so we made a pre-emptive witness.  I was there in my clerical shirt (black short sleeves with a white tab in front), holding a big blue sign.  Folks of all ages were there, including a handful of UU, Christian and Jewish clergy or lay leaders.  A very cheerful crowd, cheered on by the support we experienced.  Lots of horns honked to show support, with waving and thumbs up and smiles.  I counted only two raised middle fingers and two thumbs down and one shouted epithet in 90 minutes… and hoped that by the time they drove past me and saw Pastor Smiley holding a sign too, they would feel great shame at making a mean and naughty gesture to us.  Another demonstrator told me that earlier a man had walked over from the parking lot and asked for a sign for his yard.  They saw him walk to his car and then turn around and come back with it.  He said:  “I just realized what side this is for.  I don’t support it.  I’m for the other side.”  He handed back the sign.  Someone said, “That’s okay–we love you anyway.”  He said “I love you too.”  Pastor Cranky hopes that he would have the presence of mind to be as gracious as both sides were at that moment.

The most striking thing was how crowded the mall parking lot was, and the mall itself when we entered for some fast food.  It was hard to find parking and lots of cars were circling.  There were jams at the intersection entrance as cars turning left kept going even as they lost their green arrow; oncoming drivers were not happy.  Clearly, these shoppers haven’t heard about the financial catastrophe now going on, or they don’t worry about it,  or it doesn’t affect them.  Perhaps it’s an East Coast thing.  I plan to wait till the economic depression is in full swing so I can get some good deals.

Beyond Casseroles: Ministering to Families
September 22, 2008, 10:11 am
Filed under: Children and Youth, Family Ministry, Sermons and a Whole Lot More

Roger Jones                                                   September 21, 2008
Family Minister                                           UU Society of Sacramento, CA

Beyond Casseroles:  Who Am I and What Are We Doing Here?

Hymns:  Singing the Living Tradition (SLT) #210, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”; “I Know that You Know that I Love You; What I Want You to Know Is that I Know that You Love Me Too”; SLT #51 “Lady of the Season’s Laughter.”

Reading:  “Shoulders,” a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

Survey question:  How many people here have been life long Unitarian Universalists?  [Show of hands.]  Not very many of us, it appears.  Well, this is not an adequate survey.  That’s because most of our life-long UUs are now over there, in the Religious Education building.  As a minister, and especially in this role as your family minister, I am guided by a vision of “doing church” in ways that will create and support new generations of life-long UUs, ever-larger generations of people who know in their bones that this religious movement is their lifelong home.
I am not a lifelong UU– but I’ve been a UU since about age 24, longer than I was a member of the church in which I grew up.  That church was a midsize congregation, in the middle-American small town of Franklin, Indiana, and it’s part of the Disciples of Christ, a middle of the road Protestant denomination.  My father had grown up in it and my mother had joined when they were married.  My brother is 12 years older than I am, so he was out of the house by the time I started first grade.   My mom and I attended worship every Sunday, usually without my dad.  [There’s a picture of the sanctuary on your order of service.  You can see the pew where we sat almost every Sunday—on the right side, three up from the front row.]  Sunday school took place in the hour before church.  I was self-conscious around my peers and rarely went to Sunday school.  I recall going once, while mom went to adult Sunday school at the same time.  After class I went into the hallway expecting her to be waiting for me.  She wasn’t, and I walked the halls looking for her.  I panicked, sure that I had lost her forever.  Now, it wasn’t that big of a church or that confusing in layout, especially compared to this one.  Now, in this place one could see why a child could get lost.  But I know that many grownups here would reach out and help them find their way.  Furthermore, I believe that this is a good place for children and adults to find out who they are and who they are becoming.
So I didn’t go to Sunday school in my church.  Instead, I went straight to the top—to the home of the minister and his wife.  Myron and Ethel Kauffman lived a few blocks from us when I was a child.   My regular visits to their house were uninvited and unannounced, but they always welcomed in this earnest kid.   They talked with me about many things, even politics. They didn’t like President Nixon—or Billy Graham, the Evangelist.  She showed me her rock-polishing machine.  I told them about my interest in wildlife conservation and my worries about ecological catastrophe. Once I telephoned the minister to say I had found a dead bird and asked him where in the Bible were the words I could use for a burial service—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I didn’t tell him that the bird was only injured when I had found it and that I had killed it.  Clearly I was a child who should have been dragged to Sunday school every week, and therapy too.
A month or two after my 13th birthday, my mother remembered that I was now at the typical age at which youth were baptized in our Disciples of Christ denomination.  She learned that our Sunday School course for kids planning for baptism had begun a few weeks earlier.  Mom didn’t want me to wait another year, and the church allowed me to join the class at the next to the last session.  For a self-conscious kid, the only thing worse than being inserted in a group that already had been meeting for several weeks would be to show up late for the first class I could make, and that happened too. The teacher was kind and welcoming, and he wore a suit, as most men did at church back then. [Pause to scan the congregation, as they realize nobody else has a suit on but me.]
I don’t remember learning about the meaning of baptism or the expectations of membership.  I do remember what happened after the class was over.  During the next service my classmates and I stood at the front of the sanctuary.  Dr. Kauffman came to each of us, took our hand, and asked us if we professed our faith in Jesus as Lord.   I wasn’t sure if I did, and I wasn’t sure what that meant.  By arriving late in the baptism course I probably had missed my opportunity to explore the concept.
A week later, during the Palm Sunday service, my classmates and I went off to separate changing rooms for the boys and girls.  We stripped down to our underwear, put on a white robe, and stood in a line in the linoleum-floored hallway behind the baptismal pool.  This was a small room or compartment in the corner of the chapel beside the sanctuary, with a door in the back and curtains in the front. By now the congregation was standing in the chapel outside those curtains. The ritual began; soon I was next in line.  A kid came dripping down the steps, then I went up—three steps up and three more down into the water. The pool was the size of a hot tub, except the water was not hot.   Dr. Kauffman was waiting for me in his black robe and black hip-wading boots.  He pulled a chain, opened the curtain, and put his arm around my shoulders.  To the crowd facing us, he said, “This is Roger Jones.  Roger, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  I held a handkerchief, and he put my hand up to cover my face and pushed me backwards into the water.  Instinctively I blew bubbles out my nose.  As he brought me up, he closed the curtain and I walked up the stairs, dripping.
As I look back now, it seems that this moment–the moment at which I became a true member of that church, I began drifting away from it.   In the past few decades this has been a common story in many denominations:  confirmation classes and rituals are the equivalent of graduation ceremonies, the marker for when kids begin to leave rather than when they truly belong.  This is true in particular in the moderate, Mainline denominations, which have lost millions from their membership rolls, as kids have grown up and left them, either for conservative mega-churches or for no church at all, and as elders have passed away.
Perhaps it is typical for teenagers to feel that family and religious ties become ties that constrict, and for a process of separation to begin.  Perhaps it’s normal to assert one’s independence, even to bristle against the practices and expectations one has grown up with.
Yet there are millions of adults who grew up in Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and conservative Protestant denominations—and stayed in them.  They never left the faith.  There are notable exceptions, of course–people who left a more conservative or constricting faith when they grew up.  Some of these notable exceptions are sitting here right now—they found UUism as grown ups, on their own terms.  But many others did not grow up and drift away.
A decade ago our Unitarian Universalist Association had its General Assembly in Salt Lake City, the Mecca of Mormonism.  Our UUA President and UUA Moderator met with the men who lead that church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) for some interfaith dialogue.  As I recall, our President reported that the Mormon leader had said:  “If you Unitarians learned how to hang on to your young people, you’d be the most dangerous religion in America!”  I don’t think he meant it to be helpful.
How is it that the Mormons have grown from a small and persecuted sect in 19th century America to a large, powerful world-wide movement?  While their vitality and growth are enviable, I do not see their social power as a positive development, given the values I hold as a religious liberal.  Right now in California, for example, the Mormon Church is a leader of the assault on civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.  At their services today, in fact, Mormon and other conservative churches will arm church members with one million yard signs in favor of Proposition 8, which would eliminate the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
How did they get so strong?  A full analysis of their growth and strength would take too much time.  But part of their strength comes from their version of family ministry, and the strong Mormon identity they promote among their children and youth. They devote attention and resources to their children, youth and families.  Their people know where their spiritual home is, all through their lives.
For the past several decades, ministering to families with children has not received much attention from liberal and moderate churches.  The mainstream church culture has not promoted vitality and growth.  If it had, the numbers would be higher.  I describe this mainstream culture as one of neglect posing as non-instrusiveness.  For decades, church was something you did.  In my experience and from what I’ve heard from others, church did not exist to provoke self-reflection, challenge ways of thinking, stretch you or stir you to bold action.  It wasn’t expected to change your life, only to be part of your lifestyle.
Too often in mainstream religious communities people were expected to act as if they were doing just fine, as if they had it all together. Well, my family didn’t have it all together.  We weren’t fine.  I don’t have time to elaborate on my family’s dysfunctions now.  I should save it for entertaining sermon illustrations later on.  But I do want to tell you that when I was 14 years old, my father had a massive heart attack and died.  Relatives gathered from near and far for the funeral.  Our minister gave a beautiful service, and the church women brought food to us in the days before and after the funeral–ham, meatloaf, salads, vegetables, desserts, and casseroles.  This gesture of generosity and sympathy was nourishing both spiritually and physically.  Yet after those early days there was no outreach to me by either peers or elders in the congregation.  They were good people, but no one there invited me for a walk, to a movie or lunch or their family outing. Dr. and Mrs. Kauffman moved out of town for a new ministry; otherwise they might have been more helpful in my grieving process.  For the rest of my high school years, nobody from church asked me what it was like to go through my journey of grieving.  At least this is how I remember it. I did not talk to anyone in any depth about the loss of my father for seven years, when I had made some college friends–and made an appointment with a mental health professional.
Why was this the case in my life in that church?  Two reasons occur to me.  One is that my family had not made ourselves part of the fabric of the community, even though we had been in it for three generations.  As a family we didn’t pursue friendships there.  It’s just what we did on Sundays. My parents had let me skip Sunday school, instead of trying to understand my shyness around my peers.  We didn’t ask for much there, and little was asked or expected of us.  We knew we could count on casseroles in times of a death in the family, but for me casseroles were not enough.  So when I entered college I did not run away from church, I just drifted away.   Later on I may tell you the rest of my journey—from self-conscious kid to young adult church goer to lay leader to ordained minister, but I’d like to talk about what we’re doing here.
Over the past few decades, I believe, the religious and political right wing has risen to power in part by the use of scare tactics—telling Americans that their worries and their wounds were the fault of liberal attitudes and the expansion of equal rights.  While I denounce the fear-mongering, I see that the religious and political reactionaries got something right:  they listened to families.  They knew people were hurting and worried.  Successful churches, most of them conservative ones, acknowledged that people didn’t have it all together.   They addressed the feeling that many people had:  that our lives were unraveling.   Yes, to a great extent they have manipulated families, but to do this they had to listen first. They listened to families.  In the mainstream churches, however, there was a culture that families should not our vulnerabilities and fears.
The good news now is that moderate and liberal churches have caught on– and we’re catching up!   This is why I am excited to be serving as your family minister.   I believe that our churches must promote relationships of authenticity, trust, and care –across the generations as well as within each generation.  One way this church does that is through groups called Ministry Circles.  These groups meet twice a month to build intimacy by hearing one another’s personal stories and perspectives.  Some new groups are in the works, including one on the theme of spiritual parenting. They can make a big difference in a person’s experience of church—they’re like a community within the larger community of the church.   If you’re interested, let us know.
In the last several years, groups like these Ministry Circles have emerged in UU churches all over the continent. Four years ago, when I was the minister at a Bay Area congregation, I made a pastoral visit to an elderly member after she’d had major orthopedic surgery.  She was living alone, but she had been part of a ministry group [called a covenant group there, as in many UU churches.]  She told me about all the support she was getting from her group members, among others at church.  Visits in the hospital, visits in the convalescent center, and a ride home when she got strong enough to go home.  She was inundated with food— several days’ worth of lunch and dinner.  One member of her ministry group found out what she needed and coordinated the efforts of everybody who was willing to help out. The recipient of this help was impressed with the scale of the operation, and moved by the care. She told me how important the group had become for her, how much she loved them.  She said,  “I really feel a deep connection when we meet!”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked her.  She said, “I think it’s because it’s not small talk.”  They talk about important things, she said, matters of the heart.  She told me that, years before coming to our church, she and her former spouse had been in a group at another UU church–for 17 years.  They had joined a small group on arriving at the church, but had never gone back to the church itself in all those years.  It was called an “extended family group,” yet all they did was have a potluck dinner once a month.  That’s what they did, for 17 years.  One time, a group member lost a loved one in a very tragic way, but the extended family group didn’t learn about it until it was long past.  To me, that group does not sound like an extended family.  It sounds as if it was a guarantee that you could count on having dinner companions once a month.  I do not think those dinners were occasions of authenticity, trust, and care.  Apparently they were not designed to provide that.  But that is what many of our UU congregations are striving for now, and what we are building in our churches.
Many of you know what this congregation does well. Some can remember the shining moments in this congregation’s history.  Now we are at a new moment.  You may recall a golden era; now we are shaping a new era in the church’s life and ministry.
I am here to help you build on your strengths, especially in ministering to children and families.  I seek to help you build nurturing relationships of authenticity, trust and care across the generations.  If we do this, I think we will build new generations of life-long Unitarian Universalists.  We will experience greater joy among ourselves, and we will take healing beyond these walls out into a hurting world.
Maybe we don’t have to become what the Christian right wing would consider the most dangerous religion in America.  We don’t have to be the most powerful denomination of progressive religion, or the biggest or the flashiest.  But we can share in a more authentic, abundant, joyful and hopeful sense of life with one another.  And can make the world a better place.  So may it be.  Amen.