Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

“Forks over Knives” to be shown at UUSS October 23

Our church’s next Documentary Film Club presentation will be the film everyone is talking about – Forks Over Knives.

This film “examines the profound claim that most degenerative diseases can be controlled by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.”  Join us at UUSS on October 23 at 4:00.  All are welcome, and there is no charge.  Please come a bit early so we can start on time, and plan to stay till 6:00 PM so we can talk about it.  Some will want to go out for a bite afterwards and talk some more.

This topic relates in some ways to the most recent study and action item of our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  At our General Assembly in June 2011, delegates revised and voted on a DRAFT Statement of Conscience on this issue, Ethical Eating and Environmental Justice.  Read the draft statement here. Add your comments below!

The Work Ethic and the Shirk Ethic–a Prayer–by the Rev. Richard Gilbert

This is an excerpt from remarks given June 22, 2011, by the Rev. Richard Gilbert, at the yearly meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.  Every year we recognize those ministers who were ordained 25 years earlier and those ordained 50 years earlier.  Dick had begun divinity school as a Universalist and by the time he was ordained (1961), his denomination had merged with the Unitarians.

He’s kept very busy in his 50 years of paid ministry and retired ministry.  He says:

“Retirement is a mixed blessing. It is a full-time job, with no coffee breaks, no days off, no vacations, no sabbaticals and no pay checks. It is not for the faint of heart.  I probably have too many irons in the chalice, if you know what I mean.”

I think this next excerpt works well for those “who do too much,” those who worry and work and think we can’t ever stop.  It comes from earlier in that same talk (published in UUMA News Fall 2011).

He says:

[From] time to time I practice the shirk ethic, counterpoint to the work ethic, at which we are so proficient.
O God of Work and Leisure

Teach me to shirk on occasion,

Not only that I may work more effectively

But also that I may enjoy life more abundantly.

Enable me to understand that the earth

Magically continues spinning on its axis

Even when I am not tending thy vineyards.

Permit me to breathe more easily

Knowing the destiny of the race Rests not on my shoulders alone.

Deliver me from false prophets who urge me

To “repent and shirk no more.”

I pray for thy grace on me,

Thy faithful shirker.

Family Minister’s Message for August Newsletter–plus a CORRECTION!: “So Far Apart, Yet So Close to Our Basic Humanity”

 {An edited and version of this appears in the August church newsletter.  I received a helpful reply by email from a church member about one of the assumptions I make in this article.  I have copied her reply and posted it as a comment to this post.}


So Far Apart, Yet So Close to Our Basic Humanity

A highlight of late-night General Assembly socializing in Charlotte was chatting in a hotel bar as the TV showed CNN coverage of New York State’s legislature’s approval of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  The whole bar applauded.

After GA I visited friends– I hiked the Appalachian Trail for a full hour, took a history tour by trolley of Asheville, ate locally grown or fished food in cool cafes, and picked a quart of black currants from their back yard, which one of my hosts baked into a pie.

Then on to New England, and New York City.   The Amtrak ride from Providence to New York was crowded with commuters and post-July 4 vacationers.  I admired the finely tuned complexity of the NYC public transit system and complimented myself that I could re-learn it after a year’s absence.

New York has become a “green,” energy-conserving, pedestrian- and bike-friendly city.  Crowds enjoyed themselves on sidewalks, in Central Park, and at plays and musicals.  Me too!  A friend’s son gave a tour of the floor where he works, midway up the Empire State Building.  Great views all around.   A new friend’s pal gave a tour of the underground loading docks at Rockefeller Plaza.  Clean, enormous, fascinating. Cheaper than the observation deck.

I stayed my last two nights at the international youth hostel.  Though large and busy, it was well kept.  The teens and young adults were generally courteous and clean guests, and they were friendly to the odd older person, like me.  But NYC doesn’t need an international hostel for variety.  Ethnic, national and religious diversity teem on the streets.

On my way to a public bus to catch my plane home, a young woman street vendor at one of the ubiquitous chrome wagons charmed me into getting chicken gyros with rice, $4.99.  I asked:  “Is it Halal?”

“Al-ham du-lillah!” she said. (“Thanks be to God!”) “Yes, of course it is Halal.  Are you Muslim?”  (She had on head-covering, a baseball cap in pink.  Her dad sat nearby.)

No, I said.  (I didn’t explain that I’m Unitarian and concerned about factory farming cruelty, and that I assume Halal and Kosher meat wasn’t farmed that way. Hope I’m right!)

I asked, “Are you from here?”  She said she was from Egypt but has been here 15 years, which I took to be more than half her life.

“Do you still have family there?”  She said yes.

“Are they okay?”  Yes, she said, they are.

“Are they happy?”  Yes, she smiled:  happy too.

“Well, God bless Egypt!” I said.  She repeated this, and thanked me.

She handed me the bag of fresh hot food, and I headed for the bus, following her dad’s directions.  She said, “Take care, my friend!”  We human beings can be so far apart, yet we can get so close… to our basic humanity.

Yours in service,


P.S.—See Pastor Cranky’s  summary of June’s General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations from Charlotte, NC.

Pastor Cranky’s Report from the 2011 UUA General Assembly in Charlotte

Here are some glimpses of my activities as your ministerial delegate at the 2011 GA of the UU Association of Congregations.  This was a historic GA–our 50th!  It marks the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association with the Universalist Church in America in 1961.  (Of course, the youth organizations of those two denominations had merged in 1954, forming Liberal Religious Youth.)

Meetings and Social Stuff

I attended a lunch meeting with the UU Veatch Program, a grant-making board at our congregation in Manhasset, NY.  I sit on the grants panel for the UU Fund for a Just Society, which is a re-granting arm of the Veatch program.  So we answered questions for staff and board members from our granting organization.  I also spoke as part of a panel at a GA workshop entitled “Get a Grant from the UU Funding Program.”

I attended a fund raising breakfast for my alma mater, Meadville Lombard Theological School.  (Every year I joke that this is a “free” breakfast that costs me $500.)  I also attended the annual alumni dinner, where I saw classmates, recent grads and professors.

My school has sold its 4 historic buildings in Barack Obama’s south-side Hyde Park neighborhood to the nearby University of Chicago, and has entered into a long-term lease with the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue in downtown.  It’s using the proceeds to beef up its endowment, create scholarships, and to hire a new professor of UU history.  Though I contribute also to the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley (Doug and Carole’s seminary), I decided to sleep in on the day that it had a fund raising breakfast.

Among other chances to socialize and re-connect, I had lunch with the Minister from Livermore, dinner with a college friend and her family, dinner with a family from Florida who used to attend the church I served in the Bay Area, and coffee with our UUSS music director’s partner (who is a student in Georgia), with the Associate Minister from Palo Alto, with Emily (our member who is volunteering as an usher/teller at GA).

I had snacks and drinks with various friends and acquaintances at night.  The other night a hotel bar erupted in cheers and applause.  There were two TV monitors, one of which showed a baseball game.  The other one had CNN’s live coverage of the New York Assembly’s vote to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples.  That was the cause for the cheering!

GA Business:  Changing Governance, Speaking Out on “Ethical Eating” and Other Issues

Yesterday we voted on a major reform of our UUA governance.  After vigorous debate (and years of study) delegates reduced the size of the UUA Board of Trustees from 23 to 11.  Now, all trustees will be elected on an at-large basis.  The UUA Nominating Committee will be charged with presenting slates of candidates to reflect diversity of experience, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation/identity, gender, and geography.  (GA delegates will elect all 11 trustees, but the candidates can include not only those nominated by the Nominating Committee but anyone who runs for election “by petition.”)

Until now, all but 4 trustees were elected by regional districts.  Debate on this change centered on the loss of explicit regional representation versus the addition of other categories of diversity, in particular the voices and presence of persons from historically marginalized communities.  The current board had recommended this change unanimously, even though it meant shrinking their numbers.  They argued that it would make for a more nimble, efficient, effective and potentially more diverse representative Board of Trustees.   The measure clearly passed, and I voted for it.

Following that vote was a vote to change the terms of members of the UUA Nominating Committee.  Previously, those on it served one term of 6 years.  The proposal was to change the terms to 3-year terms, with the possibility of serving for two terms.  Among those favoring this change were youth delegates and young adults, for whom a 6-year term can be daunting.

Earlier this week GA delegates finished study and amendments to a Statement of Conscience: “Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice.”  This followed a three-year process of study, action and resolution-drafting. Read this article about it on the UU World magazine’s website.   If you are interested in local applications of this resolution, check out the 40-Day Challenge at UUSS, sponsored by our Green Sanctuary team.

Today we vote to suspend the UUA bylaw for “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIW) at General Assembly.  That’s because next year’s Assembly in Phoenix will be  “Justice GA” and will focus on education, reflection and action for social justice, given Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 last year, which harms immigrant families and promotes racial profiling.  Next year’s GA won’t be “business as usual,” so the idea is that we will save time by skipping the AIW process.  However, to do so it means deleting it altogether from UUA bylaws.  There will be a vote also to reinstate the AIW process for the 2013 GA, but with a smaller number of AIWs possible.  So, we vote on deleting the AIW process and then putting it back in at a reduced level. (Today we will be voting to choose 4 AIWs, though a GA can choose as many as 6 AIWs.  These are the proposals:

AIW-1: Protest Rep. Peter King’s Hearings on Muslim “Radicalization”
AIW-2: Support Southern California Supermarket Workers’ Struggle for Decent Wages and Benefits
AIW-3: Toward Ending the U.S. Military Engagement in Afghanistan
AIW-4: Oppose Citizens United – Support Free Speech for People

AIWs are not binding on congregations and are not the same as the Statements of Conscience, which follow a three-year process of study, action and resolution-drafting.  As noted, this week we adopted the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice.

Various Speakers

We heard from the progressive Muslim leader who has been at the center of controversy for plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.  Read a UU World article about it.

The female president of a 6-million-member Japanese religious organization addressed the Assembly the other day. Read a short article here.

Of course at every GA we hear reports from the UUA President, Moderator, Financial Advisor, and other elected or appointed officials or groups.

The major lecture at General Assembly is called the Ware Lecture, which took place Saturday night.  We heard from the scholar of religions Karen Armstrong, most recently the author of 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Click the Ware Lecture link above to watch it (it’s an hour).

The longest-running lecture series in the United States is the Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, which began in 1820 with a talk by Unitarian forbear William Ellery Channing.  It no longer takes place on Berry Street or in Boston, but during Ministry Days, the meeting of UU ministers that comes just before General Assembly.  This week we heard from the Rev. Deborah Pope Lance.  Her challenging lecture was about the legacy of clergy sexual misconduct in our UU movement, and how misconduct damages congregational systems for generations, promoting cultures of secrecy, mistrust, manipulation, and misplaced anger.  (In our movement most of the misconduct has been male ministers who took advantage of their roles by having sex with women parishioners.)

Pope-Lance is a therapist as well as a minister, and much of her consulting work to helping “after-pastors,” which means ministers of congregations whose earlier ministers committed sexual misconduct.  As I listened to her powerful reflections, I realized that on my right was a colleague who had been an “after-pastor” in a New England church.  On my left was a colleague who had been an “after-pastor” in a Southern California church.

Worship Services

Major worship include the Service of the Living Tradition, honoring our religious professionals as they gain credentialing, enter retirement, or pass from this life. Every year I know fewer of the new ministers and more of those who are retiring!

I also attended the annual service of the on-line Church of the Larger Fellowship.  This year’s service was an installation for CLF’s new senior minister, Meg Riley.  The July/August issue of CLF’s Quest magazine features a sermon that I wrote and gave at UUSS.

If I don’t finish this and get cleaned up, I’ll miss the big Sunday morning worship at the convention center.  Tonight I depart and head to Asheville, where a two weeks of vacation will begin.  The UUSS Office will know how to reach me in an emergency.

My best wishes to all of you!

P.S.–the morning worship was fabulous.  You can watch it at this link.

To watch selected other items from GA, “streaming on demand,” click this link.

Newspaper coverage about General Assembly 2011: 16 Pictures and 2 Good Articles About General Assembly in the Charlotte Observer

We received very good coverage in Saturday’s Charlotte Observer newspaper.

If you are on Facebook and you read one of these articles, be sure to “Like” the article so it appears on your Facebook wall!

Front-page picture and story:

Unitarian Universalists Gather in Charlotte:  Liberal Denomination Stands Up for Its Causes

Imam:  “Dream Still Alive” for Islamic Center in New York City

Slideshow:  16 pictures of General Assembly 2012 in Charlotte Observer newspaper!

BUT… apparently not very good comments from some readers of the Observer.  This appeared at the bottom of one article:

“Editor’s note: Comments have been disabled because of repeated violations of site policies. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.”

I’m relieved not to read the comments, and the fact that they were not appropriate only shows that our presence and our public witness in has been important.  Let’s keep our North Carolina UU congregations in our thoughts and prayers!