2018-06-21

Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

Ministry & Metanoia, part 5

A Prayer

Dear Ground of Being,

We know we cannot transform ourselves. What we can do is attend. Keep watch. Be ever on the look-out for the beginnings of a new compassion awakening within us. We can direct what small and meager powers we can to nurture what is new in us that struggles to be born.

It begins with paying attention, in gratitude and in hope. In gratitude, we bring attention to the feel of sunshine, of the inhaling breath, the faces of friends, the food that sustains us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. In gratitude, we bring attention to this world where our stumbling efforts at human community and lovingkindness occasionally shift governments and institutions.

Burkina Faso this week joined 20 other African nations to abolish the death penalty.

In hope, we bring attention to suffering, hoping for its ease. Let us not turn away from the cries of the world: the families of seven people murdered in India by mobs fueled by rumors being spread through a social media site; the suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan; the children taken from their parents at the US border; the asylum seekers who have suffered from domestic and gang violence who are now to be turned away; the severe droughts that wrack Afghanistan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mongolia, and South Africa; and the flooding that is wracking Belarus, Rwanda, Mexico, New Zealand, and France.

In gratitude and in hope, may we keep watch on our world, for our world is our self, and keep watch on heart, listening, listening, for the call that it was made to answer.

Amen

A Reading

James Luther Adams, “A Time to Speak: Conversations at Collegium," 1986, in An Examined Faith: Social Context and Religious Commitment, 1991, pp. 32-33:
“The characteristic accent of the Gospels, metanoia, is lacking in liberal religion. We are an uncommitted and therefore a self-frustrating people. A sense of commitment requires a change of priorities. But as Unitarians we tend to assume we’re liberated already. Maybe this is a hangover from the Enlightenment, imagining that we are emancipated because we don’t accept the inerrant authority of the Bible, or something like that.

“Let me put it autobiographically and say that in Nazi Germany I soon came to the question, 'What is it in my preaching and my political action that would stop this?' Maybe it was an extreme judgment of myself, but I said, 'If you have to describe me, you’d say I’m not really involved, for example, in combating anti-Semitism as it is in the United States.' It is a liberal attitude to say that we keep ourselves informed and read the best papers on these matters, and perhaps join a voluntary association now and then. But to be involved with other people so that it costs and so that one exposes the evils of society – in Boston we’re right across the tracks from poverty -- requires something like conversion, something more than an attitude. It requires a sense that there's something wrong and I must be different from the way I have been.

“The function of a vital church would be metanoia as a continuing process. There should be increasing awareness, a raising of consciousness with regard to the evils around us. There should be moments of commitment, for example, in prayer as a prophetic form of spirituality."
A Call to Leap

If we could end in ourselves that dynamic of self-protection and ego defenses – the dynamic in which lie the roots of evil – that would indeed be a profound conversion, metanoia. And it is nothing less than this that is the task of congregations. Adams says, “The function of a vital church would be metanoia as a continuing process.” A vital congregation seeks ever-increasing awareness. However raised its consciousness may be of evils around us, a vital congregation always aims at raising it higher. Every worship service must give some attention to the world’s pain – in the prayer if nowhere else – for this is prophetic spirituality. Taking in the anguish of the drought in Mongolia teaches our hearts greater kindness in our day-to-day interactions.

The function of the church – of the congregation – is transformation. We are not here to stay the same. We have plenty of ego defense mechanisms and self-protective strategies that keep us the same.

Were you transformed at last Sunday’s worship? At your last journey group meeting? Or at Faith Development Friday? If so, then those functions did their job – which is to say, they helped facilitate in some way you doing your job, us together doing our collective job. Then what? What’s next is the next transformation – each one a little more radical, each one chipping away a little more at the walls we erect around us, each one a little more attentive to the world hurt, and our own, and how our own and others’ defenses contribute to that hurt.

Are you seeing how the parts of today’s service fit together -- what the reflections on ministry, what Shannon left us, what Cindy takes from us, have to do with metanoia? Knowing those who came before, who made our community, we know ourselves. We know ourselves and thereby become transformed into ourselves more and more. This is what ministry is. It’s what I’ve been saying for five years in various different ways and what Rev. Carol said her way and what Shannon said in hers, and what Cindy’s emerging ministerial voice has already begun to say, and what many of our lay leaders also remember and remind: we can’t transform ourselves by ourselves; we need each other for that, and all the people present, past, and future that contribute their lives to ours, in so many ways we never know.

Because of them, because of their ministry, I can leap into mine, and you can leap into yours. And leap again. And leap again. Because of them, the net is there. And the name of the net is love.



* * *
This is part 5 of 5 of "Ministry & Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milestones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 4: Metanoia

2018-06-20

Metanoia

Ministry & Metanoia, part 4
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance [metanoia] for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

“Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance [metanoia].’” (Luke 5:31-32)

“Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance [metanoia]; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance [metanoia] that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." (2 Corinthians 9-10)

“metanoia: a profound, usually spiritual, transformation; conversion.” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

“In Classical Greek metanoia meant changing one's mind about someone or something. When personified, Metanoia was depicted as a shadowy goddess, cloaked and sorrowful, who accompanied Kairos, the god of Opportunity, sowing regret and inspiring repentance for the ‘missed moment’.” (Wikipedia: "Metanoia")

“Metanoia is the sine qua non of the Christian life. You cannot be a Christian without it. What is involved in metanoia is what might be called a spiritual paradigm shift, a spiritual revolution. We encounter the Lord Jesus, and He personally invites us to change as persons: metanoei! He calls us each and everyone by name. ‘I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine’ (Is. 43:1). Live that way!” (Andrew M. Greenwell, Catholic Online)
In my reflections about ministry past, and ministry future, metanoia is what, ultimately, I have been talking about. Translating it simply as “repentance” is inadequate. Connotations of repentance are in there, but fundamentally it is profound change. Ministry – mine or yours, ordained or lay – means, most simply, serving. And what do we serve? When we minister, we serve the power of change, the capacity for transformation.

There’s a paradox here – as there often is with spiritual matters. Indeed, paradox is one of the signs of the spiritual. The paradox is that the most radical change of all would be if we could truly, truly believe that there is nothing wrong with us exactly the way we are. The change we most need is to see that no change is needed. See? Paradox.

We have lived our lives in the grip of “shoulds” – I should do this, I should be that. Some of us might sometimes even feel that we should experience a metanoia and stop wanting to be different from how we are – but that merely makes metanoia into one more "should." But you can’t make it happen. The Christian Testament speaks of metanoia, if it happens, as a grace of God. I can’t make this kind of transformation happen. I can’t "should" myself into it. The Christian tradition recognized this, but talks a lot about it anyway.

There’s a kind of commitment – not to make something happen but to be open to it, to prepare for it, to orient toward it – understanding that whether the transformation actually happens is out of our hands.

James Luther Adams, the preeminent Unitarian theologian of the 20th century, was committed to Unitarianism and to liberal religion. Yet he was also often critical of certain tendencies within Unitarianism -- particularly our tendency to complacency. Indeed, we are often complacent -- but we don’t have to be. So Adams urged us to continually expose the evils of society. He spoke of being “involved with other people so that it costs.” It’s not enough to have the right sort of attitude. “It requires a sense that there's something wrong and I must be different from the way I have been.”

I put it this way: the something that is wrong is that we think something is wrong. Yes, we fail to be fully involved in stopping injustice, combating anti-semitism, combating white supremacy, patriarchy, any form of dominance. We fail to be “involved with other people so that it costs.” Why do we fail? We fail because we think there’s something wrong with us, and we’re at work trying to fix it, or cover it up.

Because we perceive an inner flaw, we develop defense mechanisms and self-protective strategies. If we really could fully grasp just how perfect we are just the way we are, those defensive, protective strategies could fall away.

One very basic example of how this works is captured in the word “productive.” Economists have specific ways to measure productivity, and our sense of our worth as human beings gets tied up in being productive workers. In pursuit of greater levels of productivity, we get stressed, and rushed, and so we cut someone off in traffic.

We measure our worth comparatively, so being worthy means being worthier than at least some other people. Ideally, we’d like to be worthier than all other people. We think it’s a good thing to be THE BEST. This is not rational. Being the best simply means that everyone else is worse. Why are we so concerned with everyone else being worse? Necessarily, there will always be exactly one person who is best at something. Is the world any better off if that person is you?

All the great evils – abuse and harassment, war and genocide, battering, violence, and cruelty in all its forms -- flow from the same basic dynamic that gives us competitive self-promotion and mild rudeness in traffic. None of us is entirely free of that dynamic.

Can we be “involved with other people so that it costs”? What is cost but a way of thinking about how to protect ourselves from paying too much? Our capacity to be “involved with other people so that it costs” is proportional to – or is the same thing as – our capacity to stop protecting ourselves from what seems like a “cost.”



* * *
This is part 4 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milesones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

2018-06-19

Cindy

Ministry & Metanoia, part 3

We are marking milestones today: milestones of ministry past and milestones of ministry future. It has been twenty years since Rev. Shannon Bernard's ministry ended. It has been two years since Cindy Davidson's ministerial internship began. She stands now on the threshold of professional ministry.

How Our Professional Ministers Come to Be

Ordination. Among us Unitarian Universalists, the power to ordain rests solely with congregations. Boston, where our Unitarian Universalist Association is headquartered, has no say in who may be ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister, apart from recognizing our congregations. A group of people that want to be a UU congregation must have 30 people sign their initial charter, and must file that charter with our Boston headquarters. But once any group is recognized as being a bona fide UU congregation, then that group has total power to make whomever it sees fit into ordained Unitarian Universalist ministers.

Fellowship. Boston exercises more control over something called Ministerial Fellowship. To be admitted into Fellowship has a number of steps.
  1. File an initial inquiry form with the Ministerial Credentialing Office.
  2. Have an interview with a fellowshipped UU minister, and file the form about that.
  3. Get accepted into a theological school, and tell the credentialing office that you have.
  4. Sign an agreement to abide by the rules and policies of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
  5. Sign a criminal offense disclosure form.
  6. Obtain the sponsorship of a UU congregation, and submit the form for that to the Credentialing office.
  7. Complete a full approved career assessment which will measure which sorts of careers are most suited to a person like you, and have the assessment report sent to the credentialing office.
  8. These first seven are mostly filling out forms and applications and one long series of questionnaires, and proving your competence at filing papers with the ministerial credentialing office. Cindy completed these years ago. Now we get down to the real training.
  9. Successfully complete a unit of chaplain training, called Clinical Pastoral Education. Cindy did that summer before last.
  10. Earn a Master’s of Divinity degree. Cindy received the M.Div. from Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary last month.
  11. Complete the independent reading list of about 37 books about UU history, polity, theology. As for that, we'll just say that Cindy's looking forward to some summer reading this summer.
  12. Make an appointment to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, submit a hefty packet of information about yourself to them, and go in person to be interviewed for over an hour by seven members of that Committee.
The MFC interview is the final step. If the interview goes well, and the first 10 have all been been successfully completed, the ministerial candidate is admitted into ministerial fellowship. Cindy has an appointment to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in December. I have every confidence that we shall be hearing word in December that Cindy Davidson has been admitted into preliminary fellowship.

In the usual order of things, the newly fellowshipped minister then, at some point, asks a congregation – often the first congregation they serve as minister – to confer the honor of ordination. I look forward very much to attending Cindy’s ordination ceremony, probably in the next year or two.

What Our Ministers Inherit

Come on up here, Cindy.

It is custom among Unitarian Universalists – though there is no written regulation on the subject – that the stole signifies ordination. Cindy begins serving our congregation at Mohegan Lake in September, and though she will be their minister and will be preaching twice a month, in keeping with our custom, Cindy won’t be wearing a stole on Sunday mornings until after her ordination. But today, just for this morning, we will make an exception, in recognition of our confidence in her ministry.

This stole -- the one I am wearing this morning -- is one of several that you have seen me in, signifying my role as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I told Cindy about a month ago, that on her last day I wanted to give her one of my stoles, that I would invite her to pick out whichever one she liked. Yesterday, she picked this one.

The stole is symbol of ordination, and of a long inheritance of loving and serving congregations. Whether you stand on the shoulders of giants, or on the shoulders of those of much diminished stature, if you stand on a pile of enough of them, it's apt to improve your vision of the horizon.

Ministerial stoles, as you may have noticed, are highly variable in design, style, and fabric. This particular one, I have been periodically wearing for years. It represents to me not just any ministry, but mine. And by “mine,” of course, I mean it isn’t really mine at all. It is the ministry of all of my ministers -- to me they were giants -- and all of theirs, and all of theirs. Their labors and their hearts took shape in thousands of lives, including mine. This strip of cloth represents the ministry of all the people and experiences and values that shaped me.

It is the ministry of Reverends Eugene Pickett, Duncan Howlett, Terry Sweetser, Wayne Arnason, and Mary Katherine Morn, who were my ministers in my childhood, youth, and young adulthood.

It is the ministry of Rev. Christine Robinson, who guided and taught me through my ministerial internship.

It is all the ministry that ever happened at and brought into being and form the Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso, Texas, which saw fit to ordain me.

It is all the ministry that ever happened at and brought into being and form the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, to which I was called from 2006 to 2013.

It is the ministry of 109 years of lay leaders and congregants of Community UU at White Plains.

It is the ministry of Reverends James Fairley and Clif Vesey and Peter Samson and Betty Baker and Shannon Bernard and Carol Huston, and five interim ministers -- the ministry which it has been my duty and honor to carry and to uphold in this congregation these last five years.

And now, Cynthia Louise Davidson, it is yours.



* * *
This is part 3 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milestones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 4: Metanoia
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

2018-06-18

Shannon

Ministry & Metanoia, part 2

"May I never again take for granted a friend, objectify a stranger, be indifferent to falling rain, falling leaves, falling snow, eat bread without thought, hear music without care, laugh without praise. Thus shall I ever give thanks." (Rev. Shannon Bernard)
It was twenty years ago this month: in mid-June 1998, Rev. Shannon Bernard's resignation as CUC's minister became effective. It had been known for a couple years that Rev. Shannon was dying of breast cancer, and by spring 1998 it was clear she didn't have much time left. The announcement that appeared in the Order of Service in April that year that she would be resigning in two months would not have been a surprise.

She thought she would have a year of life left after the resignation. Eleven weeks later, August 29, 1998, she was dead.

I never knew her, and yet there I was that night a few years ago addressing her ghost because her presence is here. I told her about what was on my mind, thanked her for serving these people that I now serve, for all she did that fashioned you as a people, for loving you into being – as that is the ongoing continual function and need of congregations, to love and be loved into being. I asked some rhetorical questions, which she didn't answer.

If you’re a part of CUUC now, then CUUC is a part of you -- which means the Rev. Shannon Bernard is a part of you whether you knew her not. So is Peter Samson. So is Warren Ross, and Charlie Selinske, and Sam Usher; Joe Hertog, and Betty Baker; Henry Mertens, Robert Clapp, John Sacardi, and Whitney Young, and Meg Hellman. So many others. In adding ourselves to this place, we have come under the influence of all these people whether we ever met them or not. And none was a more powerful force than Rev. Shannon Bernard.

For the sake of those who did not know her, let her memory today be shared. For the sake of those who did, let her memory today be honored. As we are a community of memory and hope, let her be remembered. As important to this congregation as she was -- and still is -- let her be remembered. You may find, as I did, that in learning something about Shannon, certain aspects of this place suddenly make a little more sense.

Her ministry to our congregation began in 1985. She had previously served six years at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex in Orange, NJ, about 15 mins west of Newark: 1979-1985. During her first years at CUC, she said often that she'd be leaving after five years. She stayed for 13. In the chapter in our church history on the Shannon years, Paul McNeill wrote:
“The Rev. Shannon Bernard stirred a sea of change at Community Unitarian Church in the 1980s. She was the church’s first female minister and a force to be reckoned with. She forged a new more vigorous role for the church in the lives of many of its members and in the life of the White Plains community. She was able to take advantage of pressures already at work in the congregation through force of her personality, will and impressive energy. She also summoned a compassionate zeal that enabled leaders to make great change. And, she was thoroughly controversial.”
Just before the vote to call her, the board chair, Eileen Kellner, invited Shannon and all board and search committee members to her house for a dinner. Shannon proclaimed to all those gathered, “I want you to know that you need me more than I need you.” “Classic Shannon” people came to say of such anecdotes.

She was well-loved, but also repelled more than a few. Some called her dynamic, others called her over-confident or arrogant. Some called her straight shooting; others called her brusque.

She reinvented our music program.

She got CUC active in the White Plains community, in particular as a founding member of SHORE, the consortium of congregations that worked to shelter Westchester’s homeless and advocate for fair housing.

She brought energy to pastoral care, including originating the Caring and Sharing team, which is still our mainstay for pastoral care.

She energetically facilitated the capital campaign in the 1980s that got the Parsonage built.

For these five years I have been preaching from Shannon's pulpit -- the pulpit she enlivened with her insightful and captivating preaching – and I have been living in Shannon's house -- the Parsonage that she led this congregation to build and that she inhabited for its first dozen years.

As her illness progressed in the final year, I understand she had a designated hugger. Greeting congregants before or after the service or at other occasions, people would want to give her a hug, but her immune system was compromised, so to protect it as much as she could, a person was selected to stand next to her and receive all hugs on her behalf.

She stood in this pulpit, behind this Spirit of Truth figure, on May 24, 1998, and preached her final sermon. She began it with the words, “Leap and the net will appear.” She said it was a quote for the church sign, and she related that congregant Jason Brill had told her the quote was unfinished. The full saying was:
“Leap and the net will appear – and the name of the net is love.”
In that sermon she told the story of how she had complained to one of her seminary instructors about the behavior of some of the members of the church where she was interning.

The professor told her, “Shannon, you are not called to LIKE them. Some of them behave in unlikeable ways. You are only called to love them.”

When she heard this, she said, she “relaxed for a moment until the implications unfolded and exploded in me.” But the advice sunk in.

“I don’t have to like everything each of you do;” she preached to those gathered in this sanctuary that day – most of whom were thinking, “and you’ve made clear that you don’t.” She continued:
“You have the same freedom with each other and toward me. When confronted with a fellow member here whose behavior is driving you around the bend, you have more options than to avoid the person forever. You and I could actually take the wild leap toward honesty and love by saying aloud: ‘I care about you and the way you do “x” is offensive to me.’ We will all survive candor, for we are engaged in the process of learning to love.”
Later on, she muses,
“How do we love within a church community, particularly this religious home which holds a central and tender place in my heart?

"When I was called to your pulpit in 1985, this was not known as a loving church. The reputation of that long-ago congregation was, fairly or not, that of a cold and unfriendly place. I had cold feet and nearly backed out of our contract in the days before we made a covenant with my installation. For $6,000 (the cost of repaying this church for my move and moving back to New Jersey), I could have returned to my former church – a group of people who knew how to love and be loved. George and I talked for long late hours in those couple of days, he leaving the decision to me with a reminder that I had a model of a loving congregation and could work to help create that here.

"How well he knew me. There’s nothing like a challenge to get this Irish woman going.

"It was hard on all of us. I was defensive and scared of the leap that my choice had committed me and my family to living out. Members here were able to be extremely caring of each other in small groups, but seemed stunned by my insistence on the little ways of congregational love:
  • Using gender neutral language even in the holy of holies, 'The Spirit of Truth';
  • Referring to children as “children of the church” and asking that child care be provided for every church meeting, class, event;
  • Giving plants to children at Easter to teach the preciousness of growing life rather than passing out cut flowers;
  • Including family worship in previously adult-only services at least once a month
  • Suggesting, none too delicately, that a finance, membership, and caring and sharing committee were ways of responsibility as well as connection;
  • Reminding visitors and newcomers that this was a warm and caring community that welcomed their participation.”
Shannon goes on to say that after a while
“We began to trust one another, to respect one another’s gifts and talents and efforts. In short, we laid the foundation for love in a religious community. It could not have happened without each of us. . . .

“The work in this community over the next three years will need the efforts of all of you. For in that time, you will welcome an interim minister, trust his advice and caring for the institution, grieve with him for my death – even as you are planning for the next settled minister to begin his/her love affair with you in September 2000.

"The work you must do is . . . to call one another into deeper being. You cannot afford to allow each other to become or remain consumers of religion. This faith and the work of Community Unitarian Church is not a spectator sport. If you are to call one another into being, you will have to, in the words of a marriage vow, 'speak the truth to each other in love.' That means a care for how you speak, how you listen, how to handle consequences. It means hanging in and working out your differences when it would be easier to walk away. It means giving of your talents when it would be easier to stay home and relax. It means setting firm boundaries; it means abiding by the boundaries fairly and lovingly set.

"You have given me so much. Surely each of you deserves the same caring trust. You have kidded and chided me about my shortcomings, encouraging me, calling me [into being]. Can you do any less for one another – for the ministers who follow me?

"Leap and the net will appear. And the name of the net is love.”
Those were the last words the Rev. Shannon Bernard preached from this pulpit to which she had been called 13 years before. "And still her silent ministry within our hearts has place."



* * *
This is part 2 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milestones
Part 3: Cindy
Part 4: Metanoia
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

2018-06-17

Marking Ministry Milestones

Ministry & Metanoia, part 1

Gordon McKeeman
"Ministry is all that we do — together. Ministry is that quality of being in community that affirms human dignity, beckons forth hidden possibilities, invites us into deeper, more constant, reverent relationships, and carries forward our heritage of hope and liberation. Ministry is what we do together as we celebrate triumphs of our human spirit, miracles of birth and life, wonders of devotion and sacrifice. Ministry is what we do together — with one another — in terror and torment, in grief, in misery and pain, enabling us in the presence of death to say yes to life. We who minister speak and live the best we know with full knowledge that it is never quite enough — and yet are reassured by lostness found, fragments reunited, wounds healed, and joy shared. Ministry is what we all do — together." (Rev. Gordon McKeeman)
It’s a day for marking milestones. We mark the annual Father's Day honoring of the fathers. We mark the end of a church year.

We mark the milestone of Cindy’s two years with us coming to an end. Two years.

I mark the conclusion of five years of ministry to Community UU at White Plains. Five years.

2013 May: "I accept your call"
I ought to say something on the occasion of completion of five years as Community UU's servant-leader. How has it been? It’s been good. We’ve been through some things. I’ve tried to make it look easy, but it hasn’t always been.

Every minister has critics. It’s the nature of congregations that they include diverse voices, and some of them will criticize. When I was in divinity school, I read a semi-humorous essay by a retired minister who claimed that no matter what the congregation and no matter who the minister, there will always be 17 congregants who are out to get the minister. Maybe they don’t like the very idea of professional clergy. Or they loved the last minister and can’t forgive you for not being them. Or they don’t share your vision for the congregation. Or you remind them of their brother-in-law. Whatever the motivation, it's always 17. So it’s better, the essay said, to serve a large congregation so the 17 will be more diluted. In any case, the essay said, identify the 17 as early as you can, and keep your eye on them.

I’ve never been very good at that – identifying enemies – and I have to say, Community UU, collectively, doesn’t make it easy. When there’s some point of conflict, CUUCers tend to enter in, and then get over it. Very few CUUCers carry grudges. It’s remarkable. We hash it over, and then, for the most part, they're ready to move on. By and large, this is the moving-on-est congregation I’ve ever seen.

This makes it hard to know who the 17 are – because who they are keeps changing. The people that were contrary and oppositional to one idea of mine, will turn around and be supportive of the next. This is a very sensible way to be, but most people aren’t that sensible.* It catches me by surprise sometimes.

The other really annoying thing about my critics at Community UU has been that they’re so often right. Damnit.

And so it was that three or four years ago, in the first year or two of my ministry here, I was feeling down about something, or several somethings, and found myself working late until I was alone in the building one night. I wondered out of my office and into this darkened sanctuary, made my way to these steps, looked up toward the ceiling and said out loud into the emptiness, “Well, Shannon...”

I was addressing the imagined specter of my predecessor at CUC (which added the second "U" to its name and acronym in 2016), the Rev. Shannon Bernard.

That’s my segue to talking about the other milestone to observe today. Twenty years ago this month, the Rev. Shannon Bernard’s ministry to CUC came to an end.

NEXT: Remembering Shannon

*Seriously, being this sensible isn't easy. There's a documented cognitive bias called the "halo effect" -- and its opposite, the "horn effect." When we agree with someone about one thing, we're more likely to agree with them about other things. When we disagree with someone about something, we're then more likely to disagree with them about other things.



* * *
This is part 1 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 4: Metanoia
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not By Ourselves

2018-06-16

Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

Immigration, part 3

The demographer's term "immigrant stock" refers to all US residents who either were not born in the US or have at least one foreign-born parent. Thus, this category would include "Sam," a poor 30-year-old who just arrived in the US after spending his entire life up until a week ago within 10 km of the Mexico City barrio where he was born. It would also includes "Tina," a wealthy 70-year-old natural-born US citizen; whose mother was born in England, came to the US as an infant, and became a naturalized citizen years before Tina was born; and whose father and her father's ancestors including both parents, all four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen 2nd-great-grandparents, most of his 3rd-great-grandparents, and some of his 4th-great-grandparents spent their lives as natural-born citizens of the US. "Immigrant stock" includes people of such widely different circumstance and cultural self-understanding that one may wonder whether it is a useful term. Nevertheless, the relative rarity of cases like "Tina," and the fact that the fear and hatred of immigrants is directed not merely at the foreign-born but also at their US-born children, make "immigrant stock" the most significant grouping for understanding US immigration numbers and trends.

A look at those numbers ought to assuage the fear. The US "immigrant stock" constituted about 34.5% of our population in 1900. Then it began a long decline. By 1970, the percent of our population that was immigrant stock was about 17% -- half of what it had been in 1900. Since then, it has been rising again. Today, it's about 26% of the population -- still below what it was throughout the seventy years 1880-1950. Immigrant stock is projected to reach 36% of the population in 2065. In other words: after 47 more years of increasing, our percentage that is immigrant stock will be only slightly higher than it was in 1900. (Projections were calculated in 2015 and assume a continuation of the policies in place then.)


We need those plucky individuals who go far in search of the lights of a distant city. Certainly, we also need the settled, the deeply-rooted, the sustainers with a sense of place grounded in generations of belonging where they are, serving the claim of their land, keeping lit those lights that attract and welcome the brave wanderer.

Immigration brings a productive vibrancy among us. It does us good. Their presence presents us with a spiritual choice: we can shrink our souls, be petty and protective, succumb to the myth of scarcity; or we practice the arts of welcoming and hospitality, expand our spirit, and realize (both "become aware of" and "make real") abundance. The come-heres, then, not only benefit the narrow interests of the been-heres, they give been-heres an opportunity to change, become better people, more vibrantly engaged with our world rather than withdrawn, insular, and distrusting.


In migrations within the country, the "come heres" may be the privileged ones.

Immigration is usually good for the come-heres, and usually good for the been-heres, yet we are ceding ground to fear, to hate, and to plain cruelty. The number of immigrants seized in the interior of the country rather than at the border – many of them wrenched from their families and communities – was more than 13,000 a month in 2017, up 42 percent compared to 2016.

In 2017, immigration arrests of people with no criminal convictions were nearly triple what they were the year before – growing to almost a third of all arrests.

“Long-term immigrants with strong US ties are aggressively and systematically being scooped up and deported,” says Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These are not outliers or a smattering of cases; instead, this is the brutal, destructive face of Trump immigration policy.”

Behind the statistics are human beings.
  • Linda C., a 29-year-old mother of three US citizen children. She came to the US when she was 4 years old. She was deported after a traffic stop.
  • Manuel G., a father with US citizen children and a local leader in Alcoholics Anonymous. He was deported after 29 years in the US after he was stopped by police for making a wide U-turn.
  • Sergio H., a US military veteran, a lawful permanent resident, and owner of an auto body shop, was deported after convictions related to drug dependency.
  • Omar G., who had lived in the US for over 20 years and who cared for his common-law US-citizen wife, who is disabled by crippling pain in her arms
And on and on. (SOURCE HERE)

They come at tremendous sacrifice, leaving behind their home. No one chooses that unless their conditions are unbearable. (US policies, usually at the behest of US corporate profits, have had a lot to do with making and keeping those conditions unbearable.) They embark on journeys of tremendous risk and uncertainty.
In the mountains of Chiapas, they hear a train.
There's no way of really knowing what's on that train.
It could bring death and desolation.
It could bring food to this nation.
Tell me, which train will come?
Which train would you be on?
To go with these words, as beautifully sung in Spanish and English, Rev. LoraKim Joyner added photos, about 2/3rds of which she took herself.



Among our pernicious policies is section 287-g, which in 1996 was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act. 287-g allows federal agencies – as I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) now does – to give local officers the authorization to identify, process, and detain immigration offenders they encounter during their regular, daily law-enforcement activity.

This might sound like it’s up to the arresting officer whether to take steps leading to deportation, but that’s not the functional reality. In localities that participate in 287-g, any arrestee not born in the US – even if they are naturalized citizens – is subjected to the 287 process review. The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa, Arizona used his authority under 287(g) to conduct sweeps that illegally racially profiled Latinos. In Alamance County, NC, sheriff’s deputies established checkpoints at entrances to Latino neighborhoods where Latino drivers were ten times more likely to be stopped than non-Latino drivers.

Between 2006 and 2015, over 402,000 immigrants were identified for deportation through 287(g). President Trump’s executive order of January 2017 calls for expanding 287-g partnerships. The ACLU, the next month, urged I.C.E. to discontinue 287-g on grounds that it leads to numerous instances of violations of civil rights and constitutional rights, including patterns of racial discrimination. The number of localities that participate in 287-g peaked at 72 in 2011, fell to 37 in March 2017, but by last August was back up to 60. One of those participating local agencies is the Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s office, where Charlotte is. My son Yency is now a police officer in Charlotte, and he tells he feels terrible about 287-g. If he stops somebody for driving without a license, he knows if he arrests them, and they weren't born in the US, they'll go straight into a 287-g review, and could well end up deported.


"Sometimes though, on the nicest of days, somebody would whistle, and my friends would run away.
They were yelling, 'La migra, la migra, la migra viene! Andele! Andele! Run! Run!'"

The American poet Emma Lazarus was Jewish and would have known well that teaching, do not oppress the stranger for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt. In 1883 she wrote a sonnet called "The New Colossus" which was later inscribed on a bronze plaque, displayed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, 1903-1986, and now displayed in the Statue of Liberty Museum, located inside the base. The closing lines read:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Certainly no person is refuse. Lazarus and Lady Liberty are saying: "Even if you have been treated as refuse, I welcome you. Even if your ethnos or class has been regarded as refuse by the prevailing prejudices of the powerful for centuries, I will take you in. Even if you have come to think of yourself as nothing but wretched refuse, I show my light for you, shine the way to the door of freedom for you, and thereby announce to the world, and to you, that you are nothing of the kind."

We do have in our hearts a yearning to be a hospitable and welcoming people – engaged and open-hearted, unshackled by fear and hate. As a people, I think we know, deep down, that our hospitality is at the foundation of our freedoms -- for isolationist distrust doesn't stop at non-citizens, but expands to a generalized distrust that erodes our capacity to be a free people. Hospitality is at the base of liberty. It's fitting, then, that words of hospitality are at the base of our Statue of Liberty.



* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago, Out West
Part 2: Immigration: The Theology, The Facts

2018-06-15

Immigration: The Theology, The Facts

Immigration, part 2

The Theology

As people of faith we are called to hospitality for the foreigner among us. We have a long and deep theological grounding for this stand. It’s a grounding that goes back to roots of Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, from which Unitarian Universalism sprung. Exodus 22:21:
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
It's a point the Hebrew Scriptures repeated for emphasis. Exodus 23:9:
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
And repeated again. Leviticus 19:33:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Many rabbis consider these texts among the most central in Judaism.

The theological grounding for the importance of this commandment is that the Jews are given to understand that the land isn’t theirs. The land is God’s – as God tells them in Leviticus 25:23:
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
This was their way of making the point that there is no true ownership of land – the land and the trees and the water under it and flowing over it – belong to the earth, belong to all life, not to only me or you.

All of the Earth belongs to all of life. The spiritual is whatever lifts us out of “I, me, mine,” lifts us out of protective fear into a spacious perception of abundance -- lifts us out of any “we, us, ours” that doesn’t include all sentient beings. The spiritual is the part that recognizes that all of the Earth belongs to all of life. That’s what the Hebrew people were getting at.

We do have in our hearts a yearning to be a hospitable and welcoming people. Yet our national heart has closed against itself. We have jobs and opportunities that draw people from other countries, often countries that our government’s policies deliberately impoverished, yet provide no legal avenues for people to come to this country to work. That’s not right.

We allow companies to take vans to Mexico to recruit workers, and then criminalize those workers. That’s not right.

We criminalize and put in jail young people who were brought here as children, who had no criminal intent. People have been working here for decades, owning homes, building lives, raising families, and all of a sudden we deport them from their lives. That’s not right.

Let us be hospitable. Let us be welcoming of the stranger, for the Earth belongs to all life, and we, too, are but tenants. You’ve known what it was like to be in a situation that didn’t feel welcoming – you have been, in a manner of speaking, strangers in a metaphorical land of Egypt. You know the heart of the stranger. Then love the alien as yourself.

The Facts

David Brooks wrote a column last January where he started out saying,
“Every few years I try to write a column staking out a reasonable middle ground on immigration. After all, most big, important issues are clashes in which both sides have a piece of the truth.” (NY Times, 2018 Jan 29)
The restrictionist side, advocating restriction of immigration, must be partly right about something, he figured. Some part of what they say probably has some connection to reality. Perhaps the data will show that the record high levels of foreign-born Americans puts strain on national cohesion and raises distrust? Nope. Nada.

The actual evidence available for making a case to support restricting immigration, Brooks found,
“is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.”
For instance, take a drive through rural Appalachia, from Maine to Georgia, or across the Upper Midwest. Large swaths of these rural areas are 95 percent white native-born. Instead of being blessed by an absence of immigrants, these regions are
“marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction.”
Moreover, the American identity has always been that we are a people of “industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.” That’s the basis of our greatness as a people, we have a long history of telling ourselves.
“These days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born.”
That’s because being an immigrant demands and nurtures these virtues – so back when the native-born did display more of them, it was because they were themselves within a generation of two of their immigrant ancestors.

Within the native population, new business formation is down, interstate mobility is down, job switching is down, and the chance of having spent the day without ever leaving the house is up. Our immigrants provide counterweight to all those trends. Immigrants start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Compared to the native-born, our immigrants have much more traditional views on family structure, much lower rates of out-of-wedlock births, commit much less crime, and their 18-39-year-old males have half the probability of having been incarcerated. While about 50 percent of the native-born express confidence in the American dream, about 70 percent of immigrants do.

Robert Putnam’s often-cited 2007 study found that as neighborhoods become more diverse, trust between neighbors drops. But that’s a short-term effect. Sources citing Putnam’s study sometimes don’t mention that Putnam also found that
“over the long term Americans find new ways to boost social solidarity.”
So, Brooks says, his quest for a middle ground on immigration fails. The data just don’t support it.

What about that study last year that made a lot of headlines -- the study from the Center for Immigration Studies that showed that immigrant households use government assistance at a higher rate than native-born households? Brooks makes no mention of that! Ha!

It turns out that study wasn’t worth mentioning. Higher rates of government assistance use are found – only when there are no controls. Buried in the report and its appendix are the tables that show that when we control for race, worker status, education, and number of children, then typical immigrant uses fewer welfare dollars than the typical native-born.

The paradoxical sadness implicit in the data is that immigrants come here with a dream of a better life for their children. But their children – and children’s children – will be the native-born, with the same tendency to lose a bit of the verve and grit of their immigrant ancestors. Indeed, a 2008 study of Mexican immigrant families and descendants found that the “first generation and second generation make advances, but later generations experience stagnation and even some backsliding.” (Fred Bauer, National Review, 2018 Feb 2)



* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago, Out West
Part 3: Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

2018-06-14

Fifteen Years Ago, Out West.

Immigration, part 1

It’s been great to have Cindy with us as a ministerial intern for the last two years. Fifteen years ago, I was a ministerial intern. My experience was a little bit different from Cindy’s.

LoraKim and I lived in El Paso then and my internship was with First Unitarian in Albuquerque. El Paso's population was 700,000 people -- three-fourths of them, by Census Bureau estimate, spoke a language other than English at home. From the roof of our house, we could look out over Juarez, Mexico, a city of 1.4 million.

For the internship, I took a bus back to Albuquerque, where I had a bicycle and a city bus system for getting around. In the pre-dawn dark on Wednesday mornings, I’d depart on the five-hour ride to Albuquerque, and after dark Sunday night I’d get back to El Paso for a couple days home.

Every week going up, the bus pulled into a Border Patrol checkpoint. An agent boarded the bus and went through checking papers. Sometimes some of the passengers were taken away. I never had to show any papers – never even had to show an ID. Week after week, month after month, I got this reminder about my privilege. Each week it made me a little sadder.

It was in the 7th month of the internship, when this had been going on every week for more than half a year, when, after one such episode, I fished my journal out of my bag. This is what I wrote:
80 miles north of El Paso
on I-25 headed for Albuquerque
my bus pulls into a Border Patrol checkpoint.
Weekly, I participate in this ritual.
The green clad agent steps aboard.
"If you are a US citizen, state the city and state of your birth
If you are not, show your documentation."
As far as I can see, the green agent and I
are the only Anglos on this full bus.
Border Patrol makes her way down the aisle,
frowning at papers of varying size, shape, color,
sometimes also asking for separate ID, sometimes not.
My head bows under the world's weight upon this spot.
This posture cues me to whispered prayer.
"May there be an end to invidious distinctions
including those based on whether our mothers,
when we first peaked out from them into the world,
were north or south
of a line
a few politicians and generals drew
more than 150 years ago.
May I find ways to help bring
justice from my unjust privilege.
And blessed be all of us on this bus, including the Border Patrol agent,
as we all struggle to realize the fullness of our humanity."
She gets finally to me on the backmost seat.
This week no one has been hauled off.
I look up from clasped hands in lap
For a flicker our eyes meet.
My voice says, "Richmond, Virginia."
This only is asked of me, no papers, no ID.
Pale skin and the right sort of accent clinch it,
if I will but utter the name of a holy city.
Virginia is much farther away than Mexico.
Of Richmond, I know nothing.
We moved from there when I was two.
Doesn’t matter.
What I'm saying with those two words is:
I am on your team, Agent Green Jump Suit.
Never mind Yahweh's call for a preferential option for the poor.
Never mind Buddha's call to live compassion rather than fear.
Never mind the unitarian commitment to the unity of us all or the universalist commitment to universal community.
"Richmond, Virginia," I say, like Peter saying, “I don’t know him.”
Peter denied his teacher, then saw in one dizzy flash what he had done, saw
What I also now see:
We who long to be merely good,
Are revealed, rotten with complicity with the empire.
The world’s brokenness and mine are one.
That’s what I wrote. Looking back, the weekly bus ride on the way to my internship was one of the important lessons of that internship. It showed me my unfair privilege over and over until I began to see it.

A year later, I was at a detention facility for immigrant minors and met Yency. Yency came up from Honduras in 2004, at age 17, riding the "train of death" through Mexico. The 2009 documentary film "Which Way Home?" chronicles what that's like. This trailer will give you some idea of what Yency experienced:



I hope you'll also take 3 mins for these clips from the film (all different content from the trailer):



For the story of how Yency came to be a part of our family, SEE HERE.

When the final accounting of my life is to be offered, and the question asked, “Did you answer the call of love?” all I will have for an answer is, “sometimes.” That was one of those times. Something “other” landed at my shores – tired and poor and yearning to breathe free, homeless and tempest-tossed – and LoraKim and I were graced to find within ourselves the capacity to say, “send us this one. We will lift what lamp we can.”

There is a fear and a hatred in the land. Fifteen years ago it had already been growing for some time, and since then it has gotten worse. As people of faith we are called to oppose it, to answer the call of love, to know our unjust privilege, and to seek ways to exchange it for the much greater rewards of connection and solidarity and siblinghood.



* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 2: Immigration: The Theology, The Facts
Part 3: Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

2018-06-13

Gender Identity: Continua and Ambiguities

LGBTQ: Language and Justice, part 3

We’ve seen the meaning of “man” and “woman” shift. It used to be that we thought of the biology as the fixed essence. There are two sets of reproductive organs, and someone with one set is a woman and someone with the other set is a man. The social roles might be malleable – the kind of dress and hair styles, the accessorizing, and the shoes, and the sorts of roles and behaviors associated with “man” and “woman” could evolve. These were secondary aspects of the meaning.

We’ve seen a reversal of the primary and secondary meanings. Now the meaning of “man” is primarily to present in the way recognized as a man – to look and dress and act in mannish ways, And the primary meaning of woman is to present as a woman – to look and dress and act in the ways recognized as womanish. The biological equipment is a secondary association – and one that modern medicine has made malleable.

Why did we change how we understood these words? Same reason we changed how we understood "planet"? Because we learned something. In the one case, we learned there were dots of light in the night sky that weren’t stars. In the other case, we’ve learned that there’s something very important about the formation of a gender identity that’s in the brain and might or might not correspond to a given set of reproductive organs.

We’ve also learned that though our language is binary – man, woman – reality is on a spectrum. This has led me to see myself in new ways – brought to light aspects of my self-understanding that had been hidden.

I present as a man. I'm content to dress in the culturally recognized male ways, and walk into the men's bathroom, and all of this is quite easy for me because male is the gender I was assigned at birth. But I don't really care -- or, at least, I'm inclined to suppose that I don't. If, in some bizarre, improbable scenario, I were compelled to present as a woman, I wouldn't regard that as so terrible. It would certainly be a hassle to learn and get used to all the details of clothing and grooming -- and if it included being subject to harassments to which women are subjected, then it would be more than a mere hassle. But it wouldn't feel like a deep and fundamental violation of my basic nature. There's a gender identity continuum, and I'm somewhere in the fuzzy middle, a tad on the male side. That is, that's my best guess. If I actually were compelled to present as a woman for any extended period, I might discover that, in fact, my gender identity matters to me more than I now imagine. (I've reflected on this at: "What If I Don't Have a Gender Identity?")

On the other hand, I'm pretty definite about my sexual orientation: I'm straight. On gender identity, I'd put myself somewhere on the "male" side of the middle third. On sexual orientation, I'd put myself more clearly toward the "straight" end of the spectrum. Other people might be just the reverse: quite definite on their gender identity, but rather fuzzy, bisexual, or "bi-curious" about their sexual orientation. Others might be in the fuzzy middle on both, or very clear about both. We're all somewhere on the gender identity continuum, and somewhere on the sexual orientation continuum.

(It occurs to me that a curious consequence of where I place myself is that, when it comes to prospective mate attraction, other people's gender matters to me more than my own does. This does seem strange, but there it is.)

The LGBTQ movement has brought attention to these continua and, as a result, a lot of people like me have introspected about where we are on them. I've examined myself in ways I otherwise would not have done. All of us -- whether LGBTQ or not -- have been helped by the LGBTQ movement to understand ourselves better, to know better who and what we are.

Even the idea of a continuum may be too . . . well, linear. New York City officially recognizes 31 gender identities and expressions. They don't all fit on a single line going from "strong female identification" to "strong male identification." Here are the 31:
  1. Bi-Gendered
  2. Cross-Dresser
  3. Drag-King
  4. Drag-Queen
  5. Femme Queen
  6. Female-to-Male
  7. FTM
  8. Gender Bender
  9. Genderqueer
  10. Male-To-Female
  11. MTF
  12. Non-Op
  13. Hijra
  14. Pangender
  15. Transexual/Transsexual
  16. Trans Person
  17. Woman
  18. Man
  19. Butch
  20. Two-Spirit
  21. Trans
  22. Agender
  23. Third Sex
  24. Gender Fluid
  25. Non-Binary Transgender
  26. Androgyne
  27. Gender-Gifted
  28. Gender Blender
  29. Femme
  30. Person of Transgender Experience
  31. Androgynous
(See article HERE. The flyer from the NYC Commission on Human Rights is HERE.)

I don't know the distinctions between all of these -- what would lead someone to identify as "Male-To-Female" over "MTF," or "Androgyne" over "Androgynous," or "Transsexual" over "Trans Person" or "Trans." The list simply recognizes a number of the terms that are current (Facebook gives 56 options). It's good to be aware of them -- and then let individuals themselves tell you which label feels right for them. While it's generally rude to cross-examine people about their self-labels, the context of the conversation might allow for respectful curiosity. Only a particular androgyne, for instance, can tell you why that term seems to fit them better than androgynous. People get to choose their own self-labels. The list will therefore need continual updating as people seek and find new ways of saying what and who they are.

It can be confusing. And the terrain is constantly shifting. We can’t really get a handle on the right way to think about it – because any way to think about it is one more temporary product of culture and language and power. The urge to find a clear resolution to the ambiguities is an urge best resisted.

Tell me what’s important to you. It might be your sexual identity, your gender identity, your racial identity, or it might not be. Tell, or don’t tell. It's up to you. And I might ask, or not ask. If I do ask, you can answer, or not answer, or say it’s not important to you, or tell me that you really don’t know what category you’re in. This is what answering the call of love looks like: the courage to be in ambiguity and shine a warm embracing light.

There may once have been good reasons for wanting to resolve the ambiguities of sex and sexuality. It may have even felt unbearable "not to know" -- and know instantly -- who was and who was not "automatically" in the category of potential mates for reproduction. With a little practice, though, we can be comfortable not knowing.

Answering the call of love requires neither a rejection of, nor an insistence on, any notion of identity, any definite meaning of a word. Answering the call of love requires the courage to take each ambiguous moment as it is; the courage of justice and the courage to love each person, wherever they are or present on whatever spectrum -- however and whoever he or she or ze or they is or presents.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "LGBTQ: Language and Justice"
See also
Part 1: Words and LGBTQ Justice: Introduction
Part 2: What Changed the Meaning of Marriage

2018-06-12

"Oh, The Places You'll Go" Addendum


During this time of graduations and send-offs, Dr. Suess's "Oh, The Places You'll Go" is especially popular. It's also strikingly individualistic. It is addressed to "you," and describes "your" future as one of solitary challenges.
"You're on your own,"
it says on the second page. In the world of the book other people are scarcely alluded to, and when they are, they seem to exist only for the purpose of being bested:
"You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead. . . .
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don't . . . "
There will be bumps and slumps along the way -- and while
"un-slumping yourself is not easily done,"
there's no mention of friendship and the support of other people in helping us through those difficulties.

The illustrations feature "you" in barren cityscapes bereft of other people, heading out of town into an equally uninhabited countryside, and standing all alone at difficult and nonsensical choice points. (The nonsense, of course, is what is most delightful about Seuss, though when combined with prevalent solitude it comes across as rather bleak.)

The book mentions loneliness:
"All Alone! Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something you'll be quite a lot."
This loneliness will be scary, it says, but rather than urging the cultivation of friendships, as would seem natural, the book only says loneliness will make you not want to go on. But "on you will go," anyway.

The reward for your solitary perseverance is that "Kid, you'll move mountains." Why the mountains shouldn't stay where they were isn't addressed. There's no indication that your "success" would do anything to make the world any better.

The "jaunty, upbeat journey encourages perseverance" but not relationship. It's all about success (which is "98 and three-quarters percent guaranteed"), and not about connection.

To make up for this lack, I humbly offer the addendum below. I welcome your further additions in the "Comments" -- in anapestic tetrameter couplets, if possible!
Doctor Seuss laid it out – the good doc got it right.
You will soar through bright days – and you’ll struggle dark nights.

What he failed to mention, no, he said not a word,
is you’re NOT on your own. That would be too absurd.

Life is for friendship, community, love:
The people, the beings, that you most think of.

He said you’d be lonely – that’s probably true.
You’ll feel heartsick, despairing, and anxious, and blue.
These feelings you’ll have tell you something that matters:
That friends make you whole when your heart is in tatters.

Oh, the places you’ll go, you won’t go alone.
(I’m not talking ‘bout Facebook, or swiping right on your phone)
The companions you’ll find, and the love that awaits you --
That's the besty-best part of where this life takes you.

Success feels nice, and failure feels sad –
Of both, you’ll have plenty, the good and the bad.
There’s Community, too – the folks who don’t see you
For mountains you moved, but for just how you be you.

Who you will be is such fun to be scheming.
WHOSE you will be is what gives it all meaning.

2018-06-08

What Changed the Meaning of Marriage

LGBTQ: Language and Justice, part 2

Take the word “marriage.” In monogamous cultures – where official recognition extended only to couples -- marriage involved these five tightly-linked features:
  1. the creation of a household of two adults,
  2. sexual exclusivity to within that household,
  3. the production of babies,
  4. the raising of the children,
  5. and the perpetuation of the parents’ genetic lines.
According to this traditional marriage paradigm, wherever you find any one of those features, you will also find the other four – most of the time. Marriage was our name for the package of those five features.

Critics of same-sex marriage objected to the re-defining of marriage. But the meaning of marriage has been evolving for some time. The previously inextricable features of marriage have been coming apart since long before the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision required all states to recognize same-sex marriages -- long before 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage – and long before 2000 when Vermont created civil unions with the same rights as marriage.

Adults can form a household together without producing or raising babies, and they can both produce and raise children without making a household together. You can have marriage without sex, and sex without marriage (which has always been fairly common but in recent decades has lost much of the stigma it used to have). You can have sex without babies – thanks to birth control, and babies without sex – thanks to in vitro fertilization. By adopting, you can raise children without propagating your genes, and by giving up for adoption, you can propagate your genes without raising children.

Divorce rates, birth control within wedlock, birth rates out of wedlock, adoption, sexless marriages of convenience, marriages of couples beyond child-bearing years, married couples that don’t live together, living-together couples that aren't married, surrogate motherhood and artificial insemination all serve to weaken the once-presumed-to-be-iron-clad connection between marriage and creating a household for the purpose of making and raising genetic children.

Those developments profoundly shifted the meaning of marriage. Once those changes had happened, the additional adjustment of recognizing same-sex marriages was practically nothing, as far as changing the word meaning.

We did have to refine the meaning of "husband" and "wife," and we faced a choice about how to do so. When only opposite-sex marriage was recognized, "husband" meant both "the male partner" AND "the spouse of a woman." "Wife" meant both "the female partner" AND "the spouse of a man." We could have decided that the more central meanings were "spouse of a woman" and "spouse of a man," but for most same-sex couples that felt odd. For the most part, same-sex couples intuited that the person's own gender was a more central meaning of "husband" or "wife" than the spouse's gender. As a result, two married men are both husbands and two married women are both wives -- though a few couples choose to use those labels differently. Some terms we need objective standards for defining -- e.g., "potable water," "Ebola virus," or "income inequality." Other terms don't require objectivity and we can allow individuals or couples to define them for themselves -- e.g., "baseball fan," "happy," "Republican" (or "Democrat") and, now, "husband" and "wife."

We have certainly seen changes in our understanding of the sense of the words lesbian, gay, homosexual. The brilliant French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault, pioneered new ways to think about and understand ourselves. His three volume History of Sexuality revealed how sexuality has been culturally constructed in Western civilization.

In Britain, and much of Europe, prior to the 1880s, Foucault points out, “sodomy” meant any form of sexuality that did not have procreation as its aim. Using birth control – if that had been much of an option in 1880 – would have counted as sodomy. Analysis of the time reveals that the laws were directed against acts, not against a particular type of person. There was no understanding of sexual orientation as an identity – any more than we have an understanding of adulterer as an identity -- or, say, “person who parks in a no parking zone.” It was something some people did, but it wasn’t an identity.

It wasn’t until the later 1800s that “particular acts came to be seen as an expression of an individual’s psyche, or as evidence of inclinations of a certain type of subject” (Sullivan 3). Certain forms of sexuality moved from being seen as horrible acts to which anyone might succumb, to being seen as the expression of a particular type of person. As Sigmund Freud expressed and magnified the new way of thinking, sex was at the root of everything about us. Thus, “the homosexual” became a personage – a life form, a certain type of – Freud said -- degenerate whose entire character, everything about him, was corrupted by his sexuality. That hardly seems to us like progress. Yet, as traumatic and disastrous as that cultural phase was for many, it paved the way for our later attitudes. Once we saw sexual orientation as an identity – subject to treatment rather than criminal or moral judgment -- the ground was laid for the next step. Only then could culture move to seeing that this identity as not harming anyone else. From there to: not harming themselves either. And then: to being tolerated, to being accepted, to being welcomed, to being celebrated as a worthy and beautiful part of the diverse spectrum of human expression. That’s a huge change – a series of huge changes – all within the last 130 years or so.

Sometimes I hear the suggestion that we shouldn’t label people. They’re all people – why do they need to be labeled lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender or queer? Because people want to be recognized for who they are. Some, perhaps, indeed, don’t want any such label, and if that’s their request, then let’s honor it. For many, however, being lesbian, gay, trans, or bi or queer is a part of their identity, and they don’t want their identity erased. They want to be seen as who they are, and don’t want this crucial aspect of their identity to be treated as irrelevant.

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This is part 2 of 3 of "LBGTQ: Language and Justice"
See also
Part 1: Words and LGBTQ Justice: Introduction
Part 3: Gender Identities: Continua and Ambiguities

2018-06-07

Words and LGBTQ Justice: Introduction

LGBTQ: Language and Justice, part 1

Words, words, words. Loving words! Fighting words! Words both reflect and form the world we live in. Just to say something as simple, straightforward and objective as “the cat is on the mat,” is to endorse picking out from the flow of experience certain objects to call “cats” certain objects to call “mats,” and that the relation of “on” is something to which attention is worth paying attention.

The meanings are always changing. I’m going to talk a lot about words today as we celebrate LGBTQ people and their lives among us. If we grow more comfortable with the fact that words are always shifting around on us – sometimes rather slowly and sometimes with dizzying speed – then maybe we can use them better in creating a welcoming world of care and respect.

So let’s look at the nature of words.

Did you ever notice that every time we learn something, it changes the meaning of words? "Learn something,” this might be discovering something about the world. When we discovered that water was H2O, it changed the meaning of water – and of hydrogen and oxygen. These three terms were now interconnected as they hadn’t been before.

“Learn something” can also mean deciding to adapt some way of talking and thinking. Two of my favorite examples are from the history of science. "Planet" originally meant wandering star. Mars is in Capricorn right now, and Venus is in Gemini. In another month or so, Mars will have drifted over to Aries and Venus will be in Cancer. They are stars – but they wander.

Then we learned that Mars and Venus -- and Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn -- aren’t stars. Can we still call them wandering stars if they aren’t stars? We could have said, “OK, we have learned that there are no such things as planets, as wandering stars. Those things we thought were planets aren’t stars, so we have to call them something else.” We didn’t do that. Instead, we changed the definition of the word “planet.” And not just a little. We changed the essence of the definition: "planet" had been a STAR that wandered. We decided we would still call them planets, even though they aren’t stars.

As we learn, we redefine our words to reflect what we know.

Another example is the word “atom.” It means “indivisible – cannot be divided.” Whatever else we might know or learn about those tiny objects, that they could not be divided was their one essential attribute. Then we found out we could split them. Did we say, “Oh, those things aren’t atoms. They aren’t indivisible, so we can’t call them atoms”? No. We did not say that. We kept right on calling them atoms, and just changed our definition – changed our understanding of what the word meant.

I mention these examples to say that sometimes it isn’t just peripheral connotations of words that change – the way that, in my lifetime, the word “clown” changed from being something not at all scary to, now, something that is often scary. No: these are cases where the central essence of the thing was re-defined right out of it.

And no one – as far as I’ve been able to find – cared. If Galileo was ever met with outraged voices saying, “You can’t redefine planet,” I haven’t been able to locate an indication of it. When scientists announced they had split the atom, no one protested they were violating the sanctity of the language. There was some concern that they might have been violating the sanctity of nature, but no worries about language.

Actually, I did happen to witness one case of an objection to a tweak that scientists made in the meaning of a word. The word was “accelerate,” which Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of 1755 defined as “To make quick, to hasten, to quicken motion; to give a continual impulse to motion, so as perpetually to increase." But scientists needed the word to refer the rate of change in velocity, whether speeding up or slowing down. My mother, a physics and chemistry professor, posed a question to my sister and me one evening at the dinner table when I was, maybe, age 12. “If you throw a rock into the air, straight up – perfectly vertical – it will reach its topmost point, and then start to come straight down. At that instant at the top, is the rock accelerating?”
My father, an English professor, interjected, "No. For just an instant it's not moving at all."
“At that instant it is stopped,” agreed Mom. “But it’s still accelerating. Acceleration means that its velocity is changing, and the rock’s velocity is changing throughout its trajectory – on the way up and on the way down.”
“No,” said my father, “that is not what 'acceleration' means. You scientists don’t get to change the English language.”

So, OK, yeah, sometimes there’s some objection along the way. Yet the process rolls along -- words change their meaning as we learn more about the things they point to. As we learned more about motion, we saw that all regular changes in velocity were mathematically describable, and we needed the word “accelerate” to refer to all such changes, not just to speeding up. So, my father notwithstanding, scientists changed the language.

When it isn’t just science, but central institutions of society that are at stake, there’s liable to be more uproar over definition shifts.

NEXT: Evolving meanings of "marriage"

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This is part 1 of 3 of "LGBTQ: Language and Justice"
See also
Part 2: What Changed the Meaning of Marriage
Part 3: Gender Identities: Continua and Ambiguities