Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


a unison affirmation for Unitarian worship by Wallace W. Robbins (adapted)

Robbins was minister at Unity Church–Unitarian, in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There is a bronze plaque (among printed paper and other items) on which is printed “We dare not fence the spirit.”  This has been adapted by current co-ministers of the church, and was used recently at the annual worship service of the meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

Ours is a church, which holds the dead in sacred memory,

and the living in a goodly fellowship.  We desire to live together

in such affection as will not allow us to feel threatened by our differences.

We dare not fence the spirit, nor close off the sincerity of conversation with which souls

must meet in religious association.  As others have their ways of religion, so do we have this

faith; and in honest difference, we order our lives together.

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Tee Shirt Theology Sunday and Short Sermon for Immigrant Families

Tee Shirt Theology Sunday

A Service for All Ages, Sizes and Fabric Blends

Family Minister’s Homily:

Standing on the Side of Love for Immigrant Families

Sunday, July 25, 2010

UU Society of Sacramento

Opening

Good morning!  It’s good to see all of you, including those I’ve never seen before.  (I’ve been away for a whole month.)  Welcome.  Please pardon me for being dressed in a style unbecoming the clergy at a time of worship!  But today is our second annual Tee-Shirt service, so today instead of trying to decide which tie to wear on my neck, I had to decide which message to bear on my chest.   This is a service for all ages, so you can expect more wiggling , whispering and walking around in church today than usual, but maybe not as much snoring.  But you may like to know that we also provide professional child care during the service, as we do every Sunday, in classroom 11.  If your have a baby with you during the service, you might also want to know that we have a Baby Comfort Room back there, in the church library and bookstore.  The audio from here is piped into the library, so you can listen to the service.  Our summer youth and children’s Religious Education ArtWorks program will continue next Sunday during the service.

Now if you will please rise as you are comfortable and join in singing hymn #305, De Colores. We will sing the Spanish verse last.  Number 305.

Hymn “De Colores” (#305, Singing the Living Tradition)

Invocation after Hymn:  May freedom, connection and joy bless our gathering at this time, and bless us all in the days to come.  Please be seated.

Hymn “The Lone Wild Bird”  (#15, Singing the Living Tradition)

Prayer

Please join me now for a time to invite contemplation, as I offer these words of prayer.  We will follow the prayer with an invitation to a time of silence together.

Great Spirit, rest in us now as we gather side by side in recognition of our common humanity and in care for one another across age groups, life situations, and other categories of difference.  In our struggle and loss, concern and worry, doubt and confusion, may each one find comfort and hope.  In our times of celebration and moments of awareness, may each one feel inspired and grateful.  May wisdom be ours as we navigate life’s transitions and challenges.

Breath of Love, breathe in us. Bless us and all those we hold in our hearts.  May we enlarge the reach of our compassion to embrace all those with us here, all those beyond these walls, all who share with us this miracle of planet earth.  May we have the courage to reach out in kindness and attention, and the courage to ask when we are the ones needing support or a listening ear.

River of Life, move in our hearts.  Flow through our souls and refresh us.  Renew our sense of possibility.  Connect us again to our deep longings, visions and commitments, and connect us to our deep strength. Move in our heats, and move us into lives more abundant, lives more full with hope, wisdom, compassion, and courage.  So may it be.  Blessed be.

Meditation

Now let us take a minute of silence together, for our personal meditations and intentions.  I will close the silence, and afterwards we’ll be enlivened with music.  For now, just be aware of being here, knowing that sounds will arise from among us, and letting those sounds come and go.  Our silence is not the absence of sound, but the practice of noticing.  If you wish, close your eyes. Notice your bodies in the chairs, notice your fingers or toes.  Notice your breathing… your neighbor’s breathing, our common breath, which is the breath of life.

Now let us take some time together.

[1-2 minutes]

May peace be in our hearts, peace be in our lives, peace be in our world.  Amen.

Offering

Our offering this morning is shared with the Center for Community Well Being, a Sacramento organization which runs the Birthing Project Clinic.  Thank you for making a difference.

Homily

Most of my tee-shirts which display a religious message, philosophical outlook, or a social-justice commitment are those I’ve bought from vendors in the exhibit hall at a General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Here’s one that says:  Freedom, Reason, Tolerance, and Love, in a circle, with our UU Principles on the other side.  [Now Judy steps up behind me and strips my tee shirt off over my head, showing one of the others I am wearing.]

Here’s one that says “Jesus is a liberal.”  Around the outside it has a definition of liberal:  “Not bound by established positions in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; often having a tendency toward democratic forms.”  [One more time, Judy steps up and strips this tee shirt off over my head.]

The hot seller at this year’s General Assembly, held in late June in Minneapolis, is this tee-shirt:  “Standing on the Side of Love.”  I didn’t buy it, however. I thought I had enough tee-shirts.  I didn’t realize I’d want to talk to you about it–or how good I would look wearing it. Fortunately, our member Seya was also at GA, and she did buy one.   If enough of you decide you want one, you can sign up at the Connection Central table after church, we can do a bulk order.  Standing on the Side of Love is the slogan of our denomination’s multi-faceted advocacy campaign.   While it has only one young adult as a paid coordinator, the Standing on the Side of Love volunteer network is extensive.  Different congregations around the country have used Standing on the Side of Love for local demonstrations, such as rallies calling for justice and compassion for immigrant families, and on behalf of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  The senior minister from All Souls Church in Washington, DC, spoke to the city council about the district’s bill to grant marriage equality.  He said that in the face of division or exclusion, his faith tradition/ calls on him to stand on the side of love, and he asked the city council to stand there too.   In some cities, where a crowd of UUs shows up at a rally all in these yellow shirts, we stand out, and people say, “Look, it’s the Love people!”

General Assembly is the annual convention of the churches that belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association.  During our time in Minneapolis, we held a rally as part of the city’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride festival.  A UU minister from Iowa spoke of his pride that his state was the only middle-American state that had achieved marriage equality.  Ministers from Minnesota then recounted that they had rented motor coaches to drive dozens of same-sex couples from Minnesota down to Iowa in order to conduct their ceremonies there.  Of course, they call their vehicle the Love Bus.

General Assembly is a lot more than tee-shirt stalls in an exhibit hall.  A few thousand ministerial and lay delegates from our congregations/ gather to consider the business of our national association, approving a budget, hearing reports from the moderator, president, trustees, and major commissions, and making revisions to our bylaws.  Every year we also vote to select a social justice issue to send out to congregations as a recommended issue for study, local action, and spiritual reflection.  The study and action period for each issue covers three years.  At the end of this, the delegates will finalize and approve a UUA Statement of Conscience, making an official public stand.  This year, we had five compelling issues vying for our selection for a three-year period of work.  All five were important, and each would merit study and action in light of our UU principles and our spiritual practice of reason and compassion.  Choosing one does not mean that the other issues are unimportant–after all, each one of them had been sponsored by one or more congregations, which had already studied and worked on the issue.  It means only that our UU Association will provide materials and staff to help congregations who wish to focus on that issue.

We had  some time for lobbying, debating, and listening to fellow delegates make champion the issues they preferred.  In particular, the teenagers at GA formed the Youth Caucus, where they discussed the issues and then spoke with one voice.  Then we had to make a hard choice and vote for one.   After a first vote and then a runoff, a majority chose the topic of Immigration as a Moral Issue.

The topic of immigrant families, illegal immigration, migrant workers and international refugees is not limited to the United States; it is a global issue.  Yet the issue of national immigration got significant attention at this General Assembly because a few months ago Arizona’s governor approved a new anti-immigrant law.  The law requires police officers, during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest, to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal or undocumented immigrant.  This is troubling because it can lead to racial profiling by the police.  Most immigrants in Arizona–legal as well as illegal–are persons of color.  They are from Latin America.  Yet many citizens in Arizona are also persons of color.  I don’t know about you, but if a law enforcement official on the street asked me to prove my citizenship or else come down to the station, I wouldn’t have my passport on hand.  To imagine getting the question:  “Papers, please!” reminds me of stories from Apartheid South Africa or the time I took a train through East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The Arizona law It forbids those without papers from working, seeking work, or getting paid for work.  Since many folks immigrate due to economic desperation, this law puts those who are already here in a bind.  It also punishes people who transport or give sanctuary to undocumented residents.  Laws like this compound the the already strong fears that federal deportation will separate families with native-born children.   Legislators in several other states are considering similar bills.  These trends highlight the need for the federal government to enact comprehensive, realistic and humane immigration reform.

Long before the Arizona law was created, our General Assembly planning committee had selected the city of Phoenix as the site of GA for 2012.   This fact generated conversation online among ministers and lay leaders, and at last month’s Assembly.  Some UUs wanted the UUA to announce a boycott Phoenix, and plan for another city in 2012.  I was okay with that, since I’ve been to Phoenix in June before.  But wait!  We might pay a $500,000 penalty if we pulled out now.  Spontaneously, on the internet, many UUs pledged 100 bucks a piece to cover that cost.  The UUA’s Board of Trustees brought to the Assembly a resolution about the Phoenix GA for us to consider.  In public meetings large and small, heartfelt views were exchanged and hearts were swayed one way and another.  We heard how Arizona’s law will make Unitarian Universalist Latinos, or other UUs who are peope of color, fear going to their own UU General Assembly.   On the other hand, ministers from Arizona told us that their local immigrant allies want and ask for church groups, education groups and justice groups to come to Arizona to help out, not to boycott it.  It’s hard to put in a few sentences the complexity, passion, and truly open-hearted reflections that took place during and between our official meetings.  People stayed up all hours to hammer out compromises, find a wise decision, and keep our delegates from leaving the Assembly feeling divided from one another.    The result?  We will go to Phoenix in 2012, but “not for business as usual.”  Instead of expecting the creature comforts of most modern conferences, we’ll make the Assembly an occasion for learning, for bearing witness, and for being present with folks who live and struggle in Arizona.  We’ll get our hands dirty and our tee-shirts sweaty.  There will be organized visits to the border area, meetings with local organizations, and surely a demonstration against unjust policies, and in favor of inclusion.

Sometimes Standing on the Side of Love means we step outside our comfort zones, take an extra step to call for inclusion, compassion, and fairness in the larger community and our nation.

Arizona’s law is due to take effect this Thursday.  Already, people of faith are going to Arizona this week to be in support of those in protest.  Many will  get arrested.  Among the Unitarian Universalists there for the demonstrations will be Peter Morales, the Latino who is the president of our UU Association of Congregations.  In part, they wish to send a strong message to discourage other states from enacting similar bills, and to ask Washington to act on comprehensive immigration reform.

Of course, immigration is a complicated issue, and there is room for wide-ranging ideas and opinions.  There is also room for learning more.  I need to know more about the issue, to be sure.  There’s a need for more listening to one another, and speaking from the heart.  We can use reason to separate what is factual from what is a fearful or ill-informed assumption. We can practice compassion to remember we are talking about real human beings, and that all people of all perspectives are human beings.  Whatever opinions we voice, wherever we stand on matters as crucial as this one,  may we stand–may we strive to stand–on the side of love.  So may it be.



Sunday in Minneapolis: the last day of General Assembly
June 28, 2010, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Travels, UUA General Assembly 2010 in Minneapolis

There were plenary sessions after worship and after lunch.  After decades of studies, debates and votes, we have changed the way we select a UUA President (head of staff) and UUA Moderator (board chair and General Assembly moderator).  Instead of two terms of four years each, the president and moderator will serve for one term of six years.  Candidates will be nominated by an elected Presidential Search Committee.  Moderator candidates will be nominated by the Board of Trustees.  This may reduce the cost of political-style UUA campaigns.

In the afternoon, Minnesota minister (and the new minister of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship and Church of the Younger Fellowship) Meg Riley introduced us to the Hon. Al Franken, United States Senator.  He said we were “a cool church” and that instead of his planned speech he was going to talk to us about religion.  He spoke, at surprising length, about his Jewish tradition and his late father, his children, and his commitment to doing good and doing justice in his public service.  He became visibly moved a few times and told some funny stories, which I hope to quote in a sermon some time. (Earlier at GA Meg had introduced U. S. Rep. Keith Ellison, an African American man from Minneapolis who is the first Muslim in Congress.  He took his oath of office with his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Holy Quran.  She also introduced us to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who like California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is a member of a UU congregation.)

Delegates heard from various committees of the UUA Board of Trustees as well as the elected Commission on Appraisal.  As its next topic for research, polling, study, and hearings, the Comission on Appraisal has selected the issue of authority and ministry in congregational life, with the catchy title “Who’s in Charge Here?”

Delegates passed a Responsive Resolution on the state of congregational ministry to youth (teens) and young adults (those 18-35), noting that while youth and young adult caucuses have a lot of community and support at the denominational level, the local experience is often unsatisfactory, leading to isolation and a feeling of being ignored by congregation members.  This resolution called on delegates to take this urgent message back to our churches and get involved in evaluating the state of programs for these two groups of younger UUs.  It was overwhelmingly approved.

We heard a special presentation from Daniel Aleshire (president of the Association of Theological Schools) about issues of ministerial education, professional ministry and congregational life–and the major changes in each of these areas going on right now in our culture, making church work harder and people less likely to attend religious programs than they used to.

At every GA about four congregations are highlighted as “Breakthrough Congregations,” notable for their risk-taking, growth in attendance and programs, or turnaround stories.  Each church’s team presented a video and spoke briefly to delegates.  These short videos will be available on uua.org or YouTube soon, and we may get DVD copies at the church.

The delegates passed three Actions of Immediate Witness on Sunday:  against anti-immigrant state laws, for Gulf Coast environmental justice and economic justice, and to “clean up the clean energy bill.”  These actions arise among delegates during GA and require a minimum number of petition signatures even to be considered at the Mini-Assembly and then on the floor of the plenary session.  To be approved takes a 2/3 majority vote.  Twenty minutes of significant debate on both amendments and the core Action texts preceded the votes.  Actions not getting a 2/3 majority (but getting lots of impassioned debate) were those calling for the ending the blockade of Gaza and the growth of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories and for “ending the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”  (I may have dozed off and missed that one of the other items actually DID NOT get a 2/3 vote.  I’ll correct it when I find out.) The Commission on Social Witness says:  “While Actions of Immediate Witness carry the authority only of the General Assembly at which they are adopted, AIWs reflect considerable thought, collaboration, and commitment.  Use adopted AIWs to advocate in your congregations and districts.”  Given the high emotion of the debates, after the fifth AIW vote (which failed to achieve a 2/3 majority), Moderator Gini Courter said it was a good time to sing together again, so we did.

By the closing ceremonies at 7:30 PM many folks had left, but there was a decent crowd.  On the stage was the 75-member Children’s Choir, who sounded lovely and whose cheerful faces showed in close-ups on the big screen.  With them was the adult GA choir, about 200 folks.

We were invited to the 2011 General Assembly, to be held in Charlotte, NC.  We were assured that the downtown has been revitalized and now has restaurant choices.  The big theme of 2011 will be the 50th Anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (i.e., the merger).  The speaker for the Ware Lecture will be major author Karen Armstrong!  Our 2012 GA will be, given the debates and votes made at this GA, considered and planned as a justice assembly, focusing on mercy, compassion and justice for immigrants, and limiting regular business.



Saturday in Minneapolis: Your Delegates at General Assembly

Hello, dear blog fans,  all 19 of you!  The few, the  proud, those with nothing better to do.

Thousands of UUs walked through the streets to Loring Park, where the GLBT Pride Festival is taking place.  We held a rally on the site and heard from several local ministers and leaders, including clergy from Iowa, which is the only state outside the North East to have same-gender marriage equality.  Some UU churches have chartered buses to take couples to Iowa for marriage ceremonies.  They call each one of them the Love Bus.  We were a sea of yellow tee-shirts proclaiming that UUs are Standing on the Side of Love.

The most exciting plenary debate Saturday was about whether to boycott Phoenix, which had been on the schedule for General Assembly in 2012.  There has been much discussion, emotion, and heartfelt prayer and reflection on this crisis, which has been heightened since the passage of the anti-immigrant state law.  The debate was truly impressive.  The outcome of this ordeal was an overwhelming vote to go to Phoenix but “not for business as usual.”  Delegates of color said they know it may be dangerous to be in Arizona, but they are willing to go in order to support the people who live in that state.  The GA business in 2012 will be limited the the minimum necessary, and we will use our presence there to support allies and local partners for immigrant justice as well as to learn about the issues and bear witness to what is happening on the ground, including trips to the US/Mexico border.  We also committed to making travel to Arizona as safe as possible

The Children’s Choir has been off site at choir camp all week, but last night they gave a wonderful half-hour concert.  They sing tonight at the closing ceremonies.

The major lecture of GA is the Ware Lecture.  Mary Oliver, Martin Luther King, Norman Cousins, Norman Lear and many other significant speakers have appeared before us.  Last night we heard from Winona LaDuke, a Native American environmental activist from Minnesota, and the author of All Our Relations.  She leads the White Earth Land Recovery Project.  I took notes and will try to include them in a future sermon or posting.  One gem about the “doctrine of Christian discovery”:  “We [Natives] are confident we did not get ‘discovered.’  We were on to the fact that we were here.”

I attended a reception for major donors to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee–about the best spread of food I’ve had at such an event, which was good since there was no time for dinner.  We heard from interim president William Schulz [who has been president of the UUA and of Amnesty International USA], and from several program staff working with partners in Haiti for earthquake relief and reconstruction.  Currently there is the opportunity to have donations to UUSC/UUA Haiti Relief Fund tripled by a matching grant from the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock.  Every $1 will be matched with $3, up to a total of $500,000.  To give online, go to www.uusc.org/actforhaiti.



Friday in Minneapolis: Your Delegates at General Assembly

This morning I sat next to Seya in the plenary session.  Unfortunately, I missed the UUA Board’s presentation of the annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, to lifelong UU and esteemed minister Jane Rzepka (jep-ka).

The delegates considered final amendments to the Statement of Conscience entitled “Creating Peace.”  This statement  is the result of three years of study and action by congregations and input from them to the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness.  Today we heard from peace activists, ministers, the Youth Caucus (teens at GA who debate together and speak as one voice), veterans, military families and chaplains.  Seya and I voted the same on one amendment, differently on another, and then I abstained for a restroom break.  The statement of conscience ultimately was approved overwhelmingly by the delegates.  It is now the official stance of the denomination.  I will post a link here as soon as it’s available.

Every General Assembly the delegates also choose a Study/Action Issue to send to congregations for three years of…guess what…study and action.  The result will be a Statement of Conscience in three years, just as we did today with Creating Peace.  Two years ago the issue was Ethical Eating, and there have been plenty of sermons, workshops and lectures related to it at this GA.  Hence, there will be a Statement of Conscience on this next June (in Charlotte, if you are thinking of going).  Shall I preach on Ethical Eating this year?

What, you ask, was the newly selected Study/Action issue today?  Well, by written ballot the top two were National Economic Reform:  A Moral Imperative and Immigration as a Moral Issue.  But neither got a majority, so first thing Saturday we had a runoff vote.  The winner was Immigration.  What this means is that the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness will prepare and provide resource materials for congregations to use in studying this issue and engaging in social justice and service activities related to it, and after three years there will be a draft Statement of Conscience on this issue to discuss, debated, amend and approve.



Friday Night in Minneapolis: Thunderstorm

One thing I miss about living in the Midwest is the summer thunderstorm.  There’s one right now going on outside my hotel window:  hard, heavy rain and wind, thunder and lightning.  The only problem is that I came back to clean up briefly before heading to the Meadville/Lombard alumni/alumnae association dinner, which is at another hotel.   Not looking forward to a soaking before sitting in an air-conditioned banquet hall.  Saturday is the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival in Minneapolis, and the General Assembly schedule includes our presence at the rally in Loring Park, about a mile away.  Here’s hoping it does not rain on the parade!



Thursday at General Assembly: Day 4 in Minneapolis

I had a sighting of Doug Kraft, second-hand sighting of May Tucker, and a voice mail from Carole Czujko, and I ran into our delegate Seya. She had enjoyed the Young Adult Worship after opening ceremonies Wednesday night.

My first session of the day was fascinating and fun:  a worshop led by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (which helps newly-forming groups of religious liberals around the world get support and make connections) and the UU Partner Church Council (which promotes international church-to-church partnerships like Sister City relationships).   We heard from a man who has founded a UU group in Mexico City and whose ministry takes him into prisons.  We heard from two partner ministers:  a young man from a village in the Transylvanian region of Romania and an older woman minister from Boise.  By webcam we heard from a man who leads the new group the Christian Unitarians of Indonesia and then from a woman who is part of the UU congregation in Bujumburra, the capital city of Burundi.  Lots of exciting stuff going on.  I’ll know more after the ICUU ministers’ conference in July in the Netherlands.

Late morning I spoke at a workshop about the various grant funds that are part of the UU Funding Program.  I serve on the grants panel for the Fund for a Just Society.  I also attended a meeting with members of the Board of the UU Veatch Program, a major foundation owned by the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, on Long Island.  The UUFP is a re-granting program, so the Veatch board decides how much we can give away.   After a quick lunch I attended a workshop about recent health-care reform legislation.  Speakers included leaders of state UU Legislative Ministries in Maryland, Michigan, and of course, California.

In the late afternoon I attended a “Mini-Assembly,” which is where delegates go to propose, debate and edit amendments to major items of business in advance of the plenary session.  This keeps plenary business from getting bogged down in haggling over and rewriting multiple amendments, so we only debate the motions on the floor that come out of a Mini-Assembly.  The topic Thursday was how best to oppose the anti-immigrant law in Arizona, which creates a climate of fear and promotes racial profiling.  The GA of 2012 is scheduled for Phoenix, and many people have agitated that we should boycott and forego the $500,000 deposit the UUA has made.  (Slogan: We will not meet in a state of fear.) Arizona UUs want us to come and support them and their community partners in their stand for racial justice.  However, there is concern that UUs from other states who are undocumented immigrants or who are not white could be at risk.   It  is likely now that we will not pull out of Phoenix, but the final resolution likely will commit us to a major public witness and education while we are there.  Voting on this is Saturday.

The highlight of the second day of GA is the evening Service of the Living Tradition, the annual occasion when our ministry is celebrated:  the procession includes ministers retiring from full-time service (which this year included former UUSS minister John Young and next year will include Shirley Ranck), those who have died in the past year (including author Forrest Church, my former study group member Marjorie Newlin Leaming). We received word of the recent passing of Paul Sawyer, who has served the Berkeley Fellowship, Pasadena’s Throop Universalist Church, and most recently the Chico Fellowship).  Also recognized were new ministers granted Preliminary Fellowship (or credentialing) with the UUA and those receiving Final Fellowship after three years of work, evaluation,  development, and monthly meetings with a mentor. Ministers from Napa, Grass Valley, and the UU Community Church of Sacramento all received their final fellowhip Thursday night.  Speaking of mentoring, late Wednesday night my mentee and I had a beer on the sidewalk on the Nicollet Mall–think K Street but wider and filled with restaurants and people.  The preacher for the Service of the Living Tradition was Page Getty, a young minister in Columbia, MD, and mother of a one and four-year-old.  Her lectionary texts were from The Velveteen Rabbit and a sentence by Annie Dillard.

I had a very quick dinner at a Vietnames restaurant Thursday with a friend I haven’t seen in over two decades.  He lives here with his wife; we all three worked together as budget analysts back in 1985.  I hope to see the whole family after GA.  He asked about my career change  and caught me up on his life.  He told me that this morning at 9 on the local Public Radio news station he heard an extended interview with the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  Take a look at the intro and picture, and listen to the whole thing if you want, at this link.