Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Excited about tomorrow’s talk after church
August 8, 2015, 3:12 pm
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So happy to welcome back Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson to give a talk  about our religious heritage in Poland in the 1500s. A Unitarian movement in exile, the Polish Brethren had no church but had a printing press.  Consequently, liberal religion had spread through Europe before their church in Poland was crushed. Jay’s Powerpoint shows historic sites, current day Unitarians in Poland, and UU pilgrims from here who went on a tour that he and another scholar guided last summer. At noon in Pilgrim Hall at 890 Morse. Jay will be at church with us at 10:15 too.  Freewill donations accepted.  Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (UUSS)​ August 9, 2015

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“How to Die in Oregon” — film and discussion at UUSS

“How to Die in Oregon” documentary film and discussion — Sunday. January 13, 12:45 pm – 2:45 pm.  This film has won awards from The Sundance Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Center for Documentary Studies, and was nominated for an Emmy.

“In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. As a result, any individual whom two physicians diagnose as having less than six months to live can lawfully request a fatal dose of barbiturate to end his or her life. Since 1994, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In “How to Die in Oregon”, filmmaker Peter Richardson gently enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether – and when – to end their lives by lethal overdose. Richardson examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. What emerges is a life-affirming, staggeringly powerful portrait of what it means to die with dignity.”  (Source:  www.howtodieinoregon/abouthtemovie)

 

Former UUSS Worship Leader Bill Pieper will show the film and lead a discussion afterwards. Bill is a widely published short story writer.  His novel What You Wish For deals with assisted dying.  This is a Soup Sunday, so pick up some soup or bring a sack lunch or snack and join us for this compelling film.



A UU church’s new 8:30 am worship service for atheists–in Tulsa

Last Sunday an usher gave me a long newspaper clipping from the Tulsa World, with an article about his sister’s church there and about my colleagues who serve at All Souls Unitarian.  It’s nearly our largest congregation in the UUA.  (By the way, “All Souls” is one of the most common names for our UU congregations.)

I just did a google search so I could link you to it, and found that many blogs are hot on its trail. I smiled at the one that put quotation marks around the word church in its blog headline.

This article has a very thorough and clear explanation of our Unitarian heritage as well as a good summary of demographic data about the fastest-growing group of people in religious landscape–those unaffiliated with an organization or distinct tradition.   Some of them–but not all–are non-theists or agnostics.  \Okay, here is the article!



SERMON from 3/25/12–Roller-Coaster Ride on Sierra Blvd: Our Congregation’s History—the Last 50 Years

 

Part 2 of a 2-part series given at the

Unitarian Universalist Society

Sacramento, CA

Shared Offering:  To Children’s Receiving Home

Moment of Silence:  In memory of Trayvon Martin, in sympathy with his family, and in solidarity with all who work and long for justice, peace and equity.

Hymns:  51, Lady of the Seasons’ Laughter; 361, Enter, Rejoice, and Come In; 360, Here We Have Gathered.    Vocal music: Across the Great Divide by Kate Wolfe, sung by Tom Hiltunen

Conversation with All Ages

I have an exercise for you.  Think about how long you have been in this congregation.  As you are able, please stand or raise your hand, as I ask these questions.  If you’ve been at UUSS at least 50 years, please rise.   Please remain standing.  If you’ve been here 40 years or more, please rise.  30 years or more.  20 years or more.  10 years or more.  5 years or more.  3 or 4 years; that includes me so I should stand.  If you’ve been here 2 years, 1 year or less, or if you just walked in the doors, please rise.  Give yourselves a hand.

Sermon

Perhaps in the year 1959, when the members of this congregation bought this five acres, a former horse ranch, they thought they could create a haven from the world.  They couldn’t.  The struggles of the world entered their lives and this church.  The people of the church did not hide behind these hexagonal walls.  Our members gave leadership to the local community.  As a church, we engaged in the ups-and-downs of the nation.

Let’s remember how we got here.  The original Unitarian congregation in Sacramento was established in 1868 by 17 families.  (They had been drawn together by the preaching of a minister from San Jose came up here on horse and buggy every Sunday.)  Until 1915, we met in theaters and meeting halls downtown.  Then we moved to a cedar-shingled house at 27th Street between N and O Streets.  We constructed this building in 1960 as our fellowship hall.  A sanctuary was to be built later, over in the grove of oak trees.   Didn’t happen.

During this Baby Boom era, most churches were bursting at the seams.  In 1962 we had 500 adult members.  1963, 600.  1964, 700 adults, with “several hundred children.”   Rather than getting a second minister, our church leaders chose the idea of spinning off new congregations.

Across North America many smaller, lay-led UU fellowships sprang up in the 1950s and 60s, part of a growth strategy of the denomination.  In 1962, the new Central UU Church met in our old church building on 27th Street, as we had not sold it yet.  This ended in 1965.  Yet in that same year, the South Area UU Fellowship started meeting, in the very same building.  Our minister lent his presence and support.  Forty families launched this fellowship.  As listed on the Sacramento Bee’s “church page,” Sunday service topics included social and political issues and religious and moral values.  It lasted three years, till the building was sold.

In 1964, several other families from our church rented the Grange Hall in Fair Oaks, and started the North Area Fellowship.  Attendance that year was 46 adults and 26 children.  One member recalls having to be at committee meetings every night.  This routine led working parents to burnout.  In spite of their vitality and their efforts, the group eventually stopped meeting.  Many of them merged back into UUSS.

It was not until 1991 that a permanent second congregation was founded in Sacramento, with denominational help and much effort by local Unitarian Universalists.  The UU Community Church celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, with about 100 members and a full-time minister.   Members there are friends to many of us, and a few people attend both churches.  So far they have been a nomadic church, renting space south of downtown.[i]

Our minister from 1960 to 1970 was Ford Lewis. He nearly declined our search committee’s invitation to be the candidate, given the painful rifts in the congregation over the forced retirement of Ted Abell, our minister of the prior 15 years.   The church hadn’t known that Ted had a brain tumor, and he died five months after leaving us–right after we started using this building, which he had helped us to achieve.

Ford Lewis was born in 1914 to a Baptist family in the Ozarks–southern Illinois.  In the Depression, his family lost their farm to foreclosure.  At age 20, Ford stayed back to close down the farm, as the rest moved to Arkansas.   He couldn’t afford state university tuition in Arkansas, but a friend lured him to Salem College, in West Virginia.   The school’s president got him a job pruning apple trees in the college orchard, and Ford’s aunt lent him $50.  Later, back in Arkansas, Ford earned a graduate degree, interrupted by navy service in the Second World War.  He and Barbara Lewis came to us after he served as an associate minister at First Unitarian of Portland, Oregon.

Soon after his arrival, we had a capital campaign to start construction of the first rooms of the Religious Education building, to which we added more sections later.  Till all the rooms were built, we had double Sunday school sessions.  We used an old cottage left here by the former owners.  We put kids and teachers on the stage, in the kitchen, the alcoves, and a rented trailer.

Helen Bradfield led Sunday School for the next decade or so, with 33 volunteer teachers and a committee of 10.

Highlights:

A weekly Church School newsletter—The Juniortarian.

Festivals on Easter, Christmas, and United Nations Day.

A favorite course—The Church Across the Street—with field trips to other houses of worship.

Our senior high youth group was part of Liberal Religious Youth, attending regional and national UU conferences.

Boom times!  Yet “by the end of the 60s, attendance in our Church School was dropping rapidly.”  Our historian wrote:  “At the beginning of the decade, we thought we had many answers, but by the end we were not so sure” (108).

We had many discussion groups for adults as well as volunteer opportunities.  In 1961, congregation members founded Theater One, a group which continues producing community theater to this day.  Today, in fact:  a matinee at 2.

The local Planned Parenthood chapter started in our church.  In 1963, Helen Gardiner, the president of our Women’s Alliance, noted that poor women in Sacramento (among others) could not get information about birth control.  The church allowed her space for meetings of the Planned Parenthood steering committee, which included Evelyn Watters from UUSS.  Ford Lewis chaired the advisory committee.

In March of 1965, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called on American clergy from all faiths to join a voting rights protest in Selma, Alabama.  Days earlier, a state trooper shot and killed Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black man, as he tried to protect his 70-year-old mother from a police beating.  On March 7,a nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery had been turned back at a highway bridge by police with brutal force, giving the day the name of Bloody Sunday.  Our minister Ford Lewis went, among thousands of other clergy.

Three white northern UUs ministers went to dinner one evening in a black-owned restaurant in Selma.  After they left, they were attacked.  A white mob clubbed and kicked Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb.  (An elder in our church told me that Ford Lewis had been invited to go to dinner but had declined in order to rest.)  Two days later, James Reeb died.  One of Sacramento’s short-lived UU spinoff churches was renamed in Reeb’s honor.

In 1969, the Black Power movement confronted the white privilege and power structure of our denomination as well as that of other mainline Protestant faiths.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly made a large funding commitment to African American organizations.  A year later, the UUA canceled this promise when a new UUA president found out the previous administration had mismanaged the finances and there was no money.  The wounds of this controversy have run deep and long among friends of all colors and commitments in our UU movement.[ii]

Another cause of turmoil for us in the 1960s and 70s was this country’s war in Viet Nam.    Either quietly or publicly, many ministers and churches—including this one—helped young men avoid the draft by filing for status as Conscientious Objectors or by moving to Canada.  Some churches gave more vocal and radical opposition to the war.  Sometimes the acrimony pitted friends against one another, even split congregations.  [I hope our church’s written history on this era can be filled in a bit more.]

In that era, the U. S. government spied not only on activist groups, but on churches, sending agents to infiltrate congregations.  Jack Mendelsohn, then minister of Arlington Street Church, our flagship church in Boston, has told a story of when a young man admitted having attended Jack’s church.  But his military service was coming to and end, he said.  He liked the church very much, and wanted to join it!   If there are any spies here today, please know you are as welcome to be here as anyone.  Just please remember to turn in your pledge card.

During the women’s movement in this country, lots of activist energy came from religious women.  Much of it took place within congregations, especially Unitarian Universalist ones and at the denominational level.  In 1977, delegates to our denomination’s General Assembly approved the Women and Religion Resolution.  A landmark for us.  This committed our denomination to eliminate sexism in governance documents and policies, UUA hiring, ministerial credentialing, and hymnbooks and worship materials. Women’s Alliances in this and other UU congregations included many activists, and sent money to the UU Women’s Federation.  Our Alliance began in 1898, hosting literary and artistic events, giving money to charities and the church.  It continues, with meetings the second Thursday morning of each month.

In 1971, Ted and Marguerite Webb and their family and came from Boston to Sacramento in 1971, when our search committee named him as the ministerial candidate.  Born in Maine, Ted grew up as a Universalist long before the merger with the Unitarians.  He served northeastern churches and in a UUA District office.  Ted served us here until 1983. When the Alliance opened membership to men, Ted was the first one to join.  He attends church now at age 94, as our Minister Emeritus.

Advancements during Ted’s ministry—the start of the Religious Services Committee.  It continues now, with a number of lay worship leaders.  The Public Forum —led by Mark Tool, Ben Franklin, Mike Weber, and other members.  Volunteer speakers came to address timely issues; admission fees helped the church budget.  The Forum continued until a few years ago.  The Servetus Club started then as an activity group for single adults.  In 1983, it had 100 members, many of them not from the congregation.  It continues now with monthly meetings.

In 1973 Anna Andrews became the director of both adult and children’s religious education, serving for five lively years.  The fee was 5 dollars per student (116).  These 18 banners of diverse religions and cultures of the world [around the top of our sanctuary] were created by artists and craftspersons in the congregation in 1982, near the conclusion of Ted’s ministry.

Ted shocked the church when he announced his resignation, after 12 good years.  Our church historian wrote that Ted he was burned out by the demands of serving this large church with no assistant, and by a stressful controversy involving a church staff member.

In a newsletter column Ted expressed his disappointments and joys.  He had wanted us to be more engaged in social action in the community and state, given that we are in the capital city.  Yet years later he did express joy at the work of the UU Legislative Ministry in California.  It was founded in 2001 by lay leaders at the UU Community Church.  Several of us here are donors or volunteers for the Legislative Ministry.

Ted also expressed regret that our financial giving was not as strong as it could be.  He said this kept us from pursuing our full potential and from paying better compensation to hardworking staff members.  Yet he was gratified by the sense of adventure, humor, and friendship which he felt among us, and by the commitment of our lay leaders.  The congregation celebrated Marguerite and Ted with an event at the River Mansion, a luncheon after a Sunday service and a generous monetary gift.

In the early 1970s, few women ministers were serving Unitarian Universalist congregations, and we had almost no openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender ministers.  In thirty years, this changed.  The 1980s and 1990s were a time of learning, struggle, frustration and growing openness.  By 2000, over half of our ministers were women.  The first woman to serve this church was Eileen Karpeles, who came here in 1989 as an interim minister.  From 1992 to 94, the Reverend Richelle Russell was assistant minister.  From 1997-99 the Reverend Shirley Rank served as pastoral care minister.  In the position in which I serve ,the Reverend Lyn Cox was here with you for three years.  Then the Reverend Connie Grant served here for two years.

In the early 1990s many UU congregations began a process of self-study and consciousness-raising in order to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and their families.   This work still takes place in our denomination.  It leads to certification as an official Welcoming Congregation in the UUA.   This church earned that recognition in 1996.[iii]

In 1990 we called as minister the Reverend Don Beaudreault.  He stayed only five years before pursuing a call to another church.  [To save time I’ve skipped a number of interim ministers in this history, but they are listed on the website.]

Our next settled minister was John Young.  A number of members remember his gifts of intellect, preaching and leading adult education classes.  Yet many experienced the relationship as antagonistic.  A mismatch, perhaps.  His tenure ended in six years with a negotiated resignation and severance payment.  No matter how generously such a departure is handled, nearly everyone feels bruised.  Healing takes work and a long time, but some folks do drift away from church.[iv]

In that year, 1997, I began a ministry in the Bay Area.  Later, at our UU district ministers’ meetings I met your interim ministers, Sidney Wilde and Dennis Daniel, a heterosexual married couple with twinkly eyes and storytellers’ enthusiasm.  In 2000 they told us that the Sacramento search committee had found a candidate, some guy named Douglas Kraft.[v]  Who?

One minister said, “Can he handle them?  Will they eat him up?”   During his week of candidating with you, Doug may have wondered that himself!  In reality, as he recalls, he did see a prickliness in the congregation.

Yet he also sensed love under the surface, a deeper caring.  He saw the commitment of the lay leaders to their congregation in good times and bad.  “These were not fair-weather friends,” he says.  Doug grew up as a UU in Houston, attended national youth conferences with many other kids who ended up as ministers, married a Quaker, and attended our seminary in Berkeley.  Over four decades he has interspersed parish ministry with work as head of a program for street kids, a pscyhotherapist, and computer graphics programmer.

Doug writes books, plays the guitar and writes songs.  This is too much talent, so I’ve had him abducted.  He won’t be coming back tonight after all.

Doug’s 12 years here have included, most notably, his aging.   Seriously, though:  you and he have established Ministry Circles, the Lay Ministry team, Worship Leader trainings, the Program Council, and two services on Sunday mornings.[vi]  Recent years have seen better financial transparency and balanced budgets, rather than draining bequest funds to cover deficits.  A few years back, our church’s Mission statement was reaffirmed, and we adopted a long range plan.

Last month the congregation approved the Building and Grounds Master Plan by a unanimous vote.  It’s on the back wall and our website if you’d like to see it.  During Doug’s time you’ve had four seminary interns.  The ministry position I hold has been funded continuously for the past nine years.

Doug and lay leaders remember the days of long, argumentative meetings.  The Board was a lightning rod for frustration and unkindness in the church.  In his 10th anniversary report a couple of years ago, Doug said that Board meetings are shorter now and more satisfying.  So are congregational meetings.  More people now are willing to stand for election and serve their congregation.

“The general mood is more optimistic and less prickly,” Doug writes. “We … enjoy one another more.”

Originally a church of city members, in the past half-century we’ve become a regional congregation.  Thank you to all of you who drive a distance to come here!

Our wider embrace has become not only geographical, but theological.

In the1980s and 90s, Unitarian Universalists across the continent started getting spiritual… again.[vii]  Rather than disavowing religion, a new generation of adults wanted to explore it.  Jewish UUs looked into their culture and spiritual roots.  Some of us began to visit the Bible—again or for the first time ever.  Unitarian Christians found inspiration from the radical teachings of Jesus.  Some of us took up Buddhist meditation, contemplative prayer, or yoga.

We turned back to Thoreau and Emerson and found nourishment in contemporary spiritual writers.  Pagans ritualized the turning of the seasons.  In 1995, the General Assembly added earth-based spiritual traditions to and official list of the sources of our living tradition.

None of this has been an easy transition in the UU movement.  A rationalistic humanism had held sway since the 1920s.  Many ministers and lay people had assumed humanism’s unending and exclusive dominance.   They had thought of a UU church as a refuge. It was an alternative to religion.  Now it has become a religious alternative.

Our embrace is larger now.  Our welcome is wider.  We are a home for seekers as well as skeptics.  Many of us identify as both seekers and skeptics!   Let’s remember, inclusiveness is not only a value, it is a practice.  Building community takes work, in good times and bad.  But it’s worth it.

Let us be grateful for this legacy, and …

Give thanks all those, named and unnamed, who have brought us to this moment…

Be joyful that we have the chance to build and pass forward a legacy of our own for this congregation.

Let us move into the future with an ever-wider embrace.  Let us move into the future with joy and hope. Amen.



[i] On April 22 they begin renting from Pioneer Congregational Church, in Midtown.

[ii] If you want to learn more about this controversy, Google UUA Black Empowerment Controversy.  The Wilderness Journey, a recent video shows people on all sides of the issue recalling those times.

[iii] LGBT people seeking a new church can find out which ones are Welcoming Congregations at the UUA website: http://www.uua.org/directory/congregations

[iv] While John was here, the church hired the Reverend Shirley Ranck as a second minister; she’s known as an author adult curricula on earth-based and feminist spiritual traditions.  As I understand it, she departed after two years here in the months after John’s resignation, not out of conflict but to a steep drop in funding.  If you can tell a more accurate history of recent years, please update our history!

[v] Our compiled history, In Good Times and Bad, goes through Ted Webb’s ministry, ending in 1983.  We have well-organized church archives covering the last 30 years, but we’re waiting for people to step forward to update our congregation’s history.   This means I can say only a little about the years at UUSS before Doug arrived.

[vi] The Program Council supports all the program activities and committees, which frees the Board to focus on finances, personnel, facilities, and long-range plans.

[vii] In 1868, our church was founded as a liberal Christian congregation, and it remained so for the first half century.  Starting in the 1920s, religious humanism grew to theological dominance here and in many Unitarian churches.  In 1960s and 70s, many UU churches reflected a religion dominated of social concern activism.




Occupy the Common Good: How Can We Keep from Singing?..–.. UU Sermon

November 27, 2011

Unitarian Universalist Society, Sacramento, CA

                        * * *

Justice will not be served until

those who are unaffected

are as outraged as those who are.

                        —Benjamin Franklin

                        * * *

Hymns:  We Sing Now Together (67), Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor (123), My Life Flows on in Endless Song (108).   Reading:  “The Limits of Tyrants,” by Frederick Douglass (579).  All in Singing the Living TraditionMusic:  A. Dvorak, Sonatina Op. 100, for violin & piano, 3 movements.

***

Sermon

Our scripture reading today comes from the Constitution of the United States of America.  The First Amendment:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  Here ends the reading.

Last spring a friend of mine began telling everyone of his dismay about the growth of income inequality over the past three decades.  The middle class has shrunk.  Tax rates favor the rich, changes in trade policy and labor laws have taken jobs and made low-wage workers vulnerable.  Hunger and homelessness have grown. Public education is in trouble.   Considering the devastation to communities, families and children, he said, “I don’t understand, why people are not taking to the streets.”   Just a few months later, people did take to the streets.

In the summer, a 69-year-old Canadian man, writing on the web site adbusters.org, proposed “a leaderless people powered movement for democracy.”

Occupy Wall Street started on September 17, but it had a small and slow start.  However, a week later protestors marched from New York’s Zuccotti Park to Union Square, and 87 of them were arrested.  The resulting attention jump-started the movement. It has spread to 900 cities and four continents.  Adbusters’ website, and postings from local Occupy encampments, say the movement’s goal–and its vow–is to “end the monied corruption of our democracy.”

Bear with me for just a few numbers. Since 1982, the share of this country’s income held by the top 1 percent of our population has more than doubled.  This top tier takes in one quarter of all income.  “The top 1 percent of Americans holds 39 percent of the nations’ wealth…. [In the United States], the top 10 percent of the people hold more than 70 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 50 percent hold 2 percent of the wealth.”

In the words of Gary Dorrien, a minister and professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary, “Thirty years of stagnant wages and accelerating inequality offered an opening for a populist movement demanding a full-employment economy and a curtailment of Wall Street’s speculation and gouging.”   Dorrien explains the “99 percent” slogan of Occupy Wall Street.  The point, he says, “is that the top 1 percent plays by a different set of rules and has made fantastic gains while everyone else falls behind.”[i]

As we’ve heard from billionaire investor Warren Buffet, middle-income families often pay a larger share of their personal income as taxes of all kinds than those at the higher tiers of the income ladder.  Tax breaks, capital-gains rates, complex deductions, and a ceiling on Social Security taxes all favor those whose incomes come from investments.  They disadvantage those who get most of their income from working.

In Berkeley, Davis and other cities that are home to state-supported universities, students protest the steep hikes in fees and tuition costs of the past several years.   College costs have risen several times faster than working family incomes have risen.  More and more, college operations are financed by not by tax dollars, but with student debt.

Two Fridays ago in the middle of campus at the University of California, Davis, several young protestors are sitting in the quad, arms linked together, guarding their Occupy encampment.  Campus police approach in riot gear, with batons and rifles.  The campus chancellor has sent them to dismantle the encampment, “for the health and safety of the whole campus.”[ii]

More students arrive and stand in a large circle, drawn there by phone calls, texts and other electronic messages.  As university police approach with bottles of red-pepper spray, friends call out, “Cover your eyes!  Cover your nose and mouth.”  One person cries out from the crowd, pleading with a protestor to get up and get away.  The larger circle chants, “The whole world is watching!”  It has indeed been watching—thanks to videos on YouTube.  You can hear a middle-aged woman scream to the police, “These are children!  These are children.”  You see the police lieutenant approach.  He walks up and down the line, making big red clouds with his big red bottle.  He sprays the seated students around the head, in the face.  Chants rise up from the growing crowd:  “Shame on you, shame on you!”  It’s horrific, sickening scene.

Afterward, a young man calls out, with a hoarse voice:  “You don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to do this, officer.  I swallowed pepper spray because of you.  I didn’t bring any pepper spray.  I brought no weapons.  We have no weapons.  Shame on you!”  The police arrest 10 of the protestors, and back away in a group, holding their rifles along their chests.

This movement has been sparked by frustration and fear about what kind of nation we are becoming.  Now it is fueled by outrage, growing solidarity, and passion for healing and restoring the common good of our country and our communities.  This is a movement about the moral issues that shape our common life.

William J. McDonough, formerly CEO of a large bank in Chicago, spoke about executive compensation to a group of that city’s business leaders:

“ ‘In 1980, the average large company chief executive officer made 40 times more than the average employee in his or her firm.’ [Twenty years later] the multiple had risen to at least 400 times [the average salary]….  In other words, [in] 20 years the multiple [of] CEO pay went up by 1,000 percent. ‘There is no economic theory, however farfetched, which can justify that increase,’ McDonough.  ‘It is also grotesquely immoral.’”[iii]

Such inequity and immorality is perhaps as old as humanity.  It’s certainly as old as the Bible.  Over seven centuries before Christ, the Hebrew Prophet Amos attacked elite society’s dishonor of God’s law and the oppression of the poor.  From Amos, chapter 2:  “They sell honest people for money, and the needy are sold for the price of sandals.  They smear the poor in the dirt, and push aside those who are helpless.”[iv]

Since the early 1980s, on average, working people’s wages have stagnated, and investment incomes have skyrocketed.  Except for those who invested their savings in the place where they live.  In the past three years, the recession has wiped out eight trillion dollars of home values.  Countless people have lost their homes due to foreclosures.  Even some who rent have been evicted because they didn’t know that their landlords were going through foreclosures, and banks were reclaiming the rental properties.

Some of you, or those you love, have been hit–losing a home, losing a job, feeling confused and uncertain about the future.  In every community, desperation lives just under the surface of our shared interactions.  Many people are “under water,” which means they owe more on a mortgage loan than their house is worth—lots more.

Two couples I know made the painful decision to walk away from the houses they had loved and lived in, and which they had bought at the top of a market, when loans were plentiful and “collateralized debt obligations” seemed only a boring phrase of jargon and not a house of cards.  Of course, some needed to walk away in order to move away to the only place they could get a job.  Others, facing their own guilty feelings and a surely ruined credit score, decided to scale back expenses, get out from under mortgages that would never end, and go into default on their loans.

A necessary part of our money-driven political system is a propaganda machine.  Run by many, and accepted by many more, for the benefit of a few, this machine tries to hide the growing injustice.   It fills political discussions with myths and falsehoods.  Here is the biggest myth:  the idea that our economy is just a self-created, self-generating entity, just a force of nature, which we must learn to live with and obey.  In fact, an economy is a structure that we build, shape and change.  The Greek root for the word economy means household, or household management. 

We shape our common household by the common choices we make about our financial and commodity markets, laws dealing with labor, property and incorporation; and by our business, personal and government spending decisions.  We shape our household by policies dealing with commerce, foreign trade, energy, natural resources, health care financing, transportation, pensions and Social Security, and educational and vocational training institutions.  We structure our economy through regulations of investment and banking systems (or the dismantling of those regulations).

In other words, the mess we are in today didn’t just happen.  Laws, court rulings and policies allowed it to happen.  The progress and prosperity we experienced from the 1940s to the 1970s didn’t just happen.  The emergence of a large middle class didn’t just happen.  People decided to make it happen.

The frenzy, the frauds and the convoluted real-estate financing bubble of the past decade or two have led us to the widespread upheaval known as the Great Recession.  It’s an outrage—and it has led people to take to the streets and college campus quadrangles.  Fear of this outrage—fear of this eye-opening, pro-democracy movement—leads authorities in some places to unjust suppression and even violence.  Mass outrage is understandable.  Perhaps it’s a necessary ingredient for our common courage.  Yet we must resist the temptation to demonize or dehumanize police officers, and well-off people, even politicians.  Demonizing undermines the principle that all people have dignity and worth.  It undermines the value–and the reality–that we are all in this together.

A few ministerial colleagues in the East Bay have been to Occupy Oakland, including the march to the Port of Oakland.  In contradiction of the depictions of Occupy Oakland by at least one of the Bay Area’s daily papers, my friends reported a festive atmosphere, with people of all ages, ethnicities, and occupations walking together.  One friend chatted with police officers as they waited in line together to use the porta-potty toilets.

Yesterday, on my noon visit to Occupy Sacramento at Cesar Chavez Park, I spoke to a retired woman standing at the corner of 10th and I streets, by City Hall.  She was holding her home-made sign.  She belongs to an Episcopal church in a suburb.  Beside her was another sign listing this region’s Congressional representatives and U. S. senators, and urging us to contact them and insist on change, insist on justice and fairness.

After that conversation I crossed over to the Occupy encampment and spoke with two women at the information table.  They told me about the General Assembly, open to everyone, every day at 5:30 p.m, except for Tuesdays, when they attend Sacramento City Council meetings.

After wishing them well, and thanking them for being there, I went up to three police officers on bikes in the middle of the park, near the fountain. “How’s it going?”  I asked.  One officer answered:  “Lackluster.”  With only a few of the daytime-only tents and information tables in the background, he said that the big crowds of earlier days are not so regular now in Sacramento.  When there’s a big national event, more people will come out here.  He said that if I go to Facebook and look up Occupy Sacramento, I can keep informed and then come to the park for special events.  Before heading home, I said, “Thank you for being here.”

I can feel the temptation to focus my wrath on particular politicians, or cops or security guards, but when I give into this temptation, I take energy and focus away from the systemic changes we need:  changes in our campaign financing systems and changes on a Supreme Court whose majority has ruled that corporations are people, with the same rights to making campaign contributions as real people.

As I watched videos of the police pepper-spraying on the Davis campus, I couldn’t imagine myself sitting there, staying seated as the assault began.  After the spraying, an officer tried to lift a student by the arms.  The boy went limp.  In that same situation, I feel, I would have struck out at the officer—out of anger and pain.  This student didn’t move.  Surely in agony, those protestors displayed the kind of discipline—and the kind of dignity—that I have seen in news footage from the American Civil Rights movement, the freedom struggle in India, the cause to end Apartheid laws in segregated South Africa, and recent scenes from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and places all over the globe.

Another video takes place after the assault, with students confronting the officers. You can see confusion in the faces and movements of the officers.  I have a tense fear that one will fire his rifle at the yelling crowd.  One man—a Unitarian Universalist young adult and Religious Education volunteer in his church and in our district– calls for a “mike check.”  This term refers to a practice of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  In lieu of using amplification, the crowd repeats each phrase after the speaker says it.

He calls for a mike check, and the crowd quiets.  He shouts, and they repeat:  “We are willing to give you… a brief moment of peace…, so you may take your weapons… and our friends… and turn and leave…  You can go.  Please do not come back.”   The rows of campus officers begin to back away, holding their rifles across their chests.  A few students walk toward them, some yelling with glee.  I worry that the police will react with more violence.  They keep going.  Students cheer at their moral victory.  They chant:  “Whose University?  Our university!  Whose quad?  Our quad!”  This is a tension-filled 10-minute video.

It remains to be seen what kinds of changes Occupy Wall Street will initiate or deliver.  It is a self-proclaimed “leaderless movement.”  It’s not another political campaign or progressive organization—there are plenty of those already.  It is a populist movement that deliberates, makes demands, and engenders new conversations all over the land.

It gives me hope.  I’m glad people are talking about economic democracy again, finally.  I am inspired at the courage of the protestors.  They may be leaderless, but they are disciplined and committed to the principles of democracy and non-violence.  And with such discipline, everyone can be a leader.

Another Davis video was taken the next day, after dark.  It follows campus Chancellor Linda Katehi as she walks from her office to her SUV, with an escort by her side.   Seated on both sides of the walkway are students, all the way down.  You can see them from scattered flashlights, and from press photographers’ flashes.   For three long minutes you hear only the click of the chancellor’s shoes on the concrete, and the snap of cameras.  The students stay silent in their witness of her departure.  A few reporters ask her questions, and she responds, but the students remain silent.  Are you afraid of the students, one asks.   “No,” she says quietly, “no.”

None of those protestors is dangerous. They have no weapons.  Well, they are a danger to the way things are, to the status quo and to our complacency about the decline of the common good in this country.  Their courage speaks volumes.  As this kind of courage becomes more common, change becomes visible.  Change becomes visible, and it becomes real.

For me, the message of Occupy Wall Street is that we are all in this together.  We have more in common than we used to think we do.  We have each other in common.  Your wellbeing is tied up in mine.  My wellbeing is tied up in yours.  You are my common good, and I am yours. The 99 percent is my common good, and the 1 percent as well.  100 percent of us.

We the people are the common good.  That’s how the U. S. Constitution begins:  “We the people….” We are all in this together.  Amen.


[i] Gary Dorrien, “The Case Against Wall Street,” in Christian Century, November 15, 2011, p. 22.  Most of the article is available only to subscribers, but you can read an interview with the writer at http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-10/savvy-occupiers

[ii] “The Latest from UC Davis,” on Alas!  A Blog, November 27, 2011.  This posting includes a “frustrated student’s” annotation of/response to the chancellor;s letter after the police action.  It also includes videos of the pepper spraying and the two episodes mentioned at the end of the sermon.  See http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/11/22/the-latest-from-uc-davis/ – more-14503

[iii] John M. Buchanan, “Gross Inequity,” in Christian Century, November 15, 2011, p. 3.

[iv] Amos 2.6-8.  Contemporary English Version. Biblegateway.com.



Veterans’ Day–How Do We Heal the Souls of those Returning from Iraq? Progressive religion scholar Rita Nakashima Brock


I read this post on Beacon Broadside, the blog from Beacon Press, a publishing house owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association.  You can read it, and other posts at this link:  http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/



Great Events–Universalist Women–1893: the Rev. Augusta Jane Chapin addresses the Parliament of the World’s Religions

This is from the wonderful online UU resource founded some years back by a minister of First Parish Cambridge (MA), Harvard Square Library. Read about this Universalist woman minister at this link.