Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taking a Hike....

Starting today, I am taking my second week off for summer vacation. I will be somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, and I am hoping that there is no Internet access! I'm going to be on vacation from blogging and moderating comments on posts.

If you are new to my blog, I hope you'll take the time to read some of the archives. If you don't know the work of the organization I co-founded and direct, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, I hope you'll visit our web site. We've just posted our summer newsletter which has lots of updates and new resources.

I hope you are planning some time off this summer as well. Re-creation is important. Time to do nothing is important. Time to be with the people you love is beyond important.

Blessings on your week. See you back on August 10th.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Vigil for Memory and Courage

I am leading a vigil at my own congregation this evening for the victims and survivors of the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church.

As I shared briefly on Sunday, and surely you have read more now, at 10:15, Jim Adkisson, walked into the UU church and began shooting during a children’s service featuring songs from the musical “Annie.” Greg McKendry, the head usher, who tackled Mr. Adkisson, died first. Linda Kreager, a visitor from the neighboring Westside Unitarian Universalist Church died later that evening. Seven more people were wounded; several are still in critical condition.

According to news reports, Mr. Adkisson, frustrated by his inability to find employment “targeted the church because of its liberal teachings” and that he “hated liberals in general, as well as gays.” Surely, in a few days, these murders will be labeled a hate crime and calls will go out for better mental health care services and gun control. Horrifically, the blogosphere already contains hateful comments about how the shootings were a rational response to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s commitment to full inclusion and social justice.

This week, thousands of Unitarian Universalists across the country are weeping with our congregations in Eastern Tennessee and searching to make meaning of this tragedy. The UU faith’s first principle is to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; our last is to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Our grief extends to all of the families affected.

As people of faith and advocates from a wide range of religious traditions, the challenge is to fight the temptation to feel a little less safe this week because of our commitments to social justice, to sexual justice. Surely, as Mr. McKendry and Ms. Kreager prepared for church that morning they did not know they would die that day because of their beliefs. I have had to pause in preparing this vigil and ask myself if I am prepared to do so as well. It is appropriate to remember that in the words of my senior minister, Reverend Frank Hall, this tragedy “reminds us to continue to work for peace and justice and…that there is a heroic quality in the living of our everyday lives.”

The first hymn in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal is “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.” It ends, “though these sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.” May that love sustain us in the difficult days to come.

If you'd like a copy of the homily I offered this evening, please email us at and we will email you a copy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shootings At A UU Church Today

A man with a gun walked into a Knoxville, Tennessee Unitarian Universalist church this morning, fired more than a dozen shots, killed a Board member and usher, and several UU's are fighting for their lives in local hospitals.

And I feel sick...and disgusted...and PERSONALLY affected, even though I don't believe I know anyone at this particular church. According to a news story online, it's the fourth shooting in a church in America this year.

The Yahoo story was illustrated by a pair of hands holding a large cross and a rosary. I found that perhaps insignficantly infuriating as well (and there didn't seem to be any place to let the editors know how incorrect that image was.)

What in God's name will it take to outlaw handguns in this country? How many school shootings, church shootings, home shootings, domestic violence shoots, drive by shootings until lawmakers do something? I've thought for the past twenty five years that if I wasn't so committed to my work in sexual justice, handgun control would be the area I would spend my life working on.

And now, it's happened one step closer...and I know if could happen even closer still. "Thou shall not kill" has to be backed up by legislation so that people don't have the resources to do it. It wasn't a suggestion; it was a commandment.

My prayers are with the people in Knoxville. I'll let you know if there is more to do than that in the coming days.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What's Missing (Once Again) From the Compassion Agenda

This week, megachurch pastor Rick Warren announced that on August 16th, the two major candidates for President will participate in a televised "Saddleback Forum" on what its co-sponsor "Faith in Public Life" identifies as compassion issues.

I'll leave it to my fellow faith bloggers like Street Prophet's Pastor Dan to raise the political issues around why this event, like the earlier one at Messiah College, are particularly targeted to evangelical Christians when faith voters are so much more diverse. I can only pray that one day one of these events will take place in a religious environment that fully welcomes LGBT persons.

But, what I want to once again raise our concerns about is the definition of what is a "compassion issue." On the Faith in Public Life blog, compassion issues are listed as "AIDS, climate change, human rights and poverty", "keeping compassion issues on the agenda and marginalizing wedge politics." Given that Rev. Warren publicly opposes abortion and marriage equality, I think it's fair to say that sexual justice issues are included in that definition of "wedge politics."

Yet, how can global AIDS be addressed without discussing the need for prevention of HIV, which in turns requires addressing sexism, the lack of power women have in heterosexual relationships to insist on condom use, or homophobia or economic injustice -- no less the need for accurate and complete sexuality education. How is it that preventing unplanned pregnancies -- many times higher among low income women and teenagers -- is not a compassion issue? How is it that denying same sex couples more than a thousand federal rights that accrue by federal marriage isn't a compassion issue? Why aren't preventing domestic violence, sexual abuse, and violence and discrimination against LGBT person part of a compassion agenda?

I could go on, but you get the point. People of good faith may disagree about these issues, but that doesn't mean that those points of view are not equally grounded in sacred texts and tradition, or that they should not be addressed. In the next few weeks, we will be releasing a letter to all of the campaigns on the moral and ethical foundations for sexual justice. Stay tuned.

PS For those of you keeping track of our campaign on clergy endorsements for marriage equality, as of 2 p.m. today, more than 1350 clergy have endorsed our Open Letter on Marriage Equality.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clergy Support Marriage Equality -- But We Still Need Your Help

I am so excited to tell you that in the first 48 hours, more than 1,000 ordained clergy have signed the "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality." They represent more than 40 denominations and almost every state in the country. These clergy are standing together to affirm that same sex couples have the right to civil and religious marriage.

But think about what it would mean if we could demonstrate by the end of the summer that 5,000 0r 10,000 religious leaders support marriage equality -- especially as this issue will be hotly debated during the coming months.

Together, we can demonstrate that there is widespread religious support for the right to marry, grounded in our faith commitments.

Can you send a link to this blog to every clergy you know who might sign? Or blog about this yourself? Or copy and paste this link:

into an email and send it on to clergy you know?


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

URGENT: Help Us Demonstrate that Clergy Support Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples

2008 is sure to go down as a historic year for marriage equality for same-sex couples. The only question is whether we remember 2008 as the year equality advanced or took a step backward.

Certainly the biggest news from 2008 so far has been the decision by the California Supreme Court to permit same-sex couples to legally marry beginning on June 17. New York Gov. David Paterson also announced that legal marriages of same-sex couples from other states would be recognized by the state of New York. These actions by two of the largest states in the country have generated momentum unlike anything we've seen since marriage equality was first achieved in Massachusetts in 2004.

That year, the Religious Institute convened a group of clergy and theologians from diverse religious traditions to create an Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality. Hundreds of religious leaders signed on to the Open Letter at that time. We need thousands more to do so NOW.

The timing is critical. In the coming months, ballot initiatives, pending legislation and imminent court decisions in at least a dozen states will tip the scales of justice toward greater equality -- or continued discrimination. Voters in Arizona, Florida and California will either pass bans against same-sex marriage or increase full inclusion.

Religious leadership can make the difference. That's why the Religious Institute is launching a renewed effort to invite clergy from across the country to sign the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality TODAY.

Here's what you can do to participate. Click here to read the Open Letter. If you are ordained clergy, sign your name to our list of endorsers. If you are not, please copy this message into an email and pass it on to any supportive clergy you know. Or please just forward this link to every clergy person you know, asking them to sign on.

We hope to gain at least 1,000 new signatures by August 15th. We'd like 5,000. We can't do it alone. We need you.

As you add your name, or get your clergy friends to add theirs, know that you are writing history. Together, we will ensure that 2008 is a year to remember -- and celebrate.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Helping Family Say Good Bye

Friday night, I was finalizing a funeral service for a close family relative. I had never done a service for a family member, so I was worried about how that would feel to me, and I was also concerned about leading a service for the Roman Catholic side of the family who were used to funeral masses conducted by priests and might not find my offerings suitably comforting.

I sent out an email to some of my friends who just happen to be ministers and therapists, asking for counsel and encouragement. Here are some of their wise words. "Remember, it's not about YOU. Ministry is never about us. It's about your relative, and those who are closest to her, who are also people closest to you. Turn it over to God. This is your call, you didn't ask to do this. Trust that the spirit will be with you. Let grace happen." And I prayed Saturday morning when I woke for all of that.

And it was all true. Especially when a cousin I didn't know walked in and headed to greet the family. It was Sister Eileen, a Roman Catholic nun who has served for fifty years this coming Sunday, who had grown up with many of the Italian relatives present. Dressed in a modified habit, this kind Sister without hesitation agreed to my spontaneous suggestion that at the appropriate time she come forward to the mike and lead the congregation in the Lord's Prayer. As quickly as she accepted, my concerns about not being able to minister to everyone disappeared. It was as one of my friends predicted, a privilege and a gift to offer the service for our family from so many differing backgrounds.

Grace does happen -- especially when we get out of the way.

Blessings on your week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Could the Government Limit Your Access to Birth Control?

The answer is "You bet."

I've been wearing a button that says 1/20/09 for some time now. I've had people ask me if it's my birthday or anniversary (and even in one case, someone ask if it's when my baby is due!)...I ask them to think about what it might mean...and mostly people get it slowly, and most people nod in relief. With President Bush's approval ratings at their lowest ever, it's not even a risky act.

A lot of us who care about social and sexual justice (as well as the War and other issues) are counting down until the last days of this administration. It's been a long 8 years of fighting attacks. But lest we think that they might be too busy to worry about sexuality issues in their last six months, think again.

Yesterday, in a report in the NY Times, we learned that the Bush administration is offering one last significant offering to those who oppose abortion. To quote the NY Times:

"The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control." Those types of birth control -- the ones that about 40% of women use, such as birth control pills, patches, rings, IUDS, and emergency contraception. Those federal programs could unbelievably include family planning clinics, hospitals that provide emergency contraception to rape victims, prenatal clinics and the like.

The proposal defines abortion as "the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation." Because certain birth control methods may prevent implantation, they would be included.

Other of my colleagues at sexual and reproductive health organizations will tell you why this is bad medical practice and why it will hurt poor and uninsured women. But, I am also appalled that once again this administration is trying to codify and privilege the teachings of some religions on when life begins over others.

The fact is that religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, including when human life begins. Like many religious leaders, I do not believe that a fertilized ovum, zygote, or embryo is "the life of a human being" as this new federal definition would provide. But more, I find it (excuse the wording) inconceivable that those who oppose abortion are now making headway to oppose birth control methods that prevent unplanned pregnancies, with the support of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Surely if there is common ground between those who are pro-choice and those who oppose abortion it is that we should support the widespread availability of all medically safe methods of contraception. This proposal demonstrates how hollow those calls for common ground might really be. Let's see how quickly those who call for common ground on abortion to speak out into this latest attempt to control women's moral agency and rights.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Loving Your Enemies Looks Like: Bishop Gene Robinson in England

U.S. Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson preached at an Anglican Church in England this weekend. He's on his way to the Lambeth Conference, an every 10 year conference by the worldwide Anglican church, a conference where his very right to serve, and the rights of other openly gay Episcopalians to serve, will be discussed and debated.

Watch this clip from the BBC:

Really. Stop now and watch it. It's less than two minutes.

It brought me to tears. The parishoners OUT LOVE the angry, fearful, scared heckler. And then the Bishop continued, asking for them to love him some more.

May we pray to do the same.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Brief Sabbatical

E.B. White of "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little" fame, is believed to have said,

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

I know many of my readers who are so committed to social justice know exactly what he meant.

So, as of this evening, I am going on vacation for a week. I'll enjoy the fireworks with family tonight, go visit friends at the beach for the weekend, and then take off to spend four days of solitude and friendship in upstate Maine, ending up in Portland next weekend. I won't have cell phone service for most of it, I won't have email access, and I'm not bringing my laptop.

I will take my journal, some of the pile of books next to my bed, sunscreen and bug spray, my Bible, and a daily commitment to prayer, meditation, and sitting and walking in nature.

I'll be back trying to change the world on July 14th. Blessings to you as you plan your days.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wednesday's TV Report

So as much as I disliked last night's "Secret Life", I made myself watch NBC's "The Baby Borrower's" tonight. It's the story of several teenage couples who are "lent" babies to raise for a few days. It's a realistic portrayal of the struggles of taking care of infants, and the teens portray an array of responses. I don't think it's compelling television, but at least one could TIVO it for an interesting school or church group discussion. Next week, they take on toddlers.

NBC advertises it as "it's not TV, it's birth control." And for young people who romanticize having babies, it just might be.

Keep The Secret Life A Secret

So. my regular readers know that I watch too much popular television and I am a glutton for the latest teen movies.

But, I think I've just watched the WORST television show on adolescent sexuality that I've ever seen. Broadcast for the first time on the ABC Family Network, the "Secret Life of the American Teen" has every bad stereotype of teenagers dealing with their sexuality that I think I have ever seen in a single hour. Every one of the boys is obsessed with having sexual intercourse. The boy with the multiple partners is the victim of repeated and implied violent incest by a father. The girls are either portrayed as sluts, down to revealing clothes and too much eye make up, or as clean scrubbed virtuous innocents, including the heroine who gets pregnant after one night at band camp which sounds almost like a rape situation. The possibility of abortion is dismissed out of hand. The portrayal of the one explicitly Christian family, with the girl with the purity ring, was beyond offensive, as this beautiful blond in the tight cheerleader outfit throws her legs around her suffering boyfriend and tells him they will need to wait until she finishes medical school. The attitude of the other students towards this Christian girl is offensive beyond reality.

And the adults? Well, the dad gives a stern lecture to his girls that says they should wait until they have been married two years before they have sex. The guidance counselor is laughable, agreeing to rearrange a male student's schedule so that he has a better chance of meeting a girl to have sex with. The therapist, who makes no head way with promiscuous boy, indicates he has been seeing him for years.

Oh, and then there's the wise Asian girl who spouts statistics on teen sex, as if she just finished reading the latest report from the CDC.

And Molly Ringwald plays the mom of the pregnant girl. It's time to go back to 16 Candles and the Breakfast Club. At least those tried to be honest with teenagers.

Which after all is what our teenagers need from adults. This series is written by the woman who wrote "Seventh Heaven." I shudder to think what the minister in this series is going to be like.