Wednesday, September 28, 2011

La Shana Tova!

As a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, my family (and my congregation) observe the major Jewish and Christian holidays. Tonight is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. My extended family will gather to eat and share and laugh, and to hope together for the year to come. Some of us will gladly put down some of the challenges we have faced in the past twelve months and look to the future. We have people who have passed who we will mourn and joys to celebrate.

This is the prayer I will offer, that I wish for you as well.

The Days of Awe begin with us tonight.

May the next ten days be days of reflection, introspection, and peace.

May we prepare ourselves for the changes in the year to come.

May it be a good year.

May it be a healthy year for all of us.

May we have the strength to face the challenges that are sure to come this year, like every year.

May we have compassion and patience, for ourselves and for each other.

May it be a year of peace for all of us, in our homes, in our communities, all around the globe.

May it be a year of peace within ourselves.

May we live our lives with integrity, service, and love.

May we be blessed with the strength of community, of our families, of our friends.

May we remember what it truly important in life.

May we remember to be grateful every day.

May we all be inscribed another year in the Book of Life.

La Shana Tova!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DADT is Done...History is made!

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" heterosexist unjust law is history as of yesterday morning. Today, service people everywhere who are gay or lesbian or bisexual can affirm their sexual orientation publicly without reprisal. People dismissed from the military because of their sexual orientation can reapply. People can come out to their colleagues, friends, and family members.

I've known several gay and lesbian members of the military. Some put pictures on their desks of people of the opposite sex to represent their girlfriend of boyfriend back home. Some went to significant events including their own promotions without their partners. One went so far as to marry a person of the opposite sex to guarantee that her female partner would be guaranteed her survivor benefits if she died overseas through a complicated legal arrangement with her legal husband.

I remember when President Clinton signed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as a compromise measure and how angry both the gay and lesbian community and the sexologist community felt. To mandate people denying their God-given gift of sexuality to others was just wrong.

And now, it's over.

I saw this YouTube video of a soldier calling his father to tell him he was gay this morning:

He plaintively asked several times, "Do you still love me, Dad?" Dad, thankfully, answers quickly and strongly, "I still love you." It's the only answer we should ever give our children. It's the answer that we should give everyone as we celebrate sexual and gender diversity.

Friday, September 09, 2011

9/11 Thoughts

I'm often asked by people why I believe that belonging to a faith community is important. Sometimes people say something like, "I can pray at home alone." Some people say, "I have a book group, I don't need a faith community."

Those discussions came to mind this morning when I watched the Today show piece on the emerging 9/11 memorial in advance of the 10th anniversary this Sunday. I found myself teary as they unveiled the memorial and the new building that is emerging.

And like I'm sure most of us who remember that day, I was brought back to that beautiful blue crisp morning, a morning with weather not unlike today. I was still a seminary student, driving to a UU minister's meeting, when I heard the first news. By the time I got there at 9 a.m., the first tower had fallen. We sat together in stunned silence around a radio at that church, one of the ministers, Rev. David Bryce led us in a very short worship service, and we all knew we had to go directly to our own congregations and wait for what was to emerge.

We learned fairly quickly that two of our congregants -- brothers -- had been killed in the towers, and our senior minister, Rev. Frank Hall, went directly to their parents' home. My close friend Rev. Barbara Fast, then our associate minister, and I knew we had to do something but we didn't know what. We send out an announcement that the church would be open that evening, and that we would offer an opportunity for people to gather for as long as they wanted and needed. We closed the doors at midnight after dozens of people came in and out. We didn't know what to do or say, but we knew that we needed to be together, in community, at this tragic time. It is an evening I will never forget.

And that's really the answer to the first question above...that we need each other, that a faith community provides a place where we can search together for our own answers to the big questions and to the joys and tragedies of life.

So, I am glad that the 10th anniversary is also our church homecoming service this year. We will gather together again on our front lawn, greet each other, and process into our beautiful sanctuary. And there, we will celebrate our homecoming and pay tribute to 9/11, and we will do it together, in community.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

One Sperm Donor, 150 Children, the Century+ Dad

We all remember the uproar about the Octomom and her eight children conceived by ARTs.

I couldn't help but think about the vast difference between her and the man who was reported in the news today to have fathered more than 150 offspring.

A few years ago, the Religious Institute published an "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies" which recognized that "the broad spectrum of assisted reproductive technologies calls for deeply personal and complex moral decisions that are unprecedented in human history." Although the letter does not address the number of sperm or egg donations, it does raise the issues of the impact of ARTs on families and children, including advocating for regulations to safeguard health (both physical and emotional) and prevent negative outcomes.

I can't help but think that the children of this man on discovering their more than 150 plus half siblings won't be affected, and that religious leaders and theologians need to be part of considering what the limits should be.

What do you think?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Attacks on Family Planning and Abortion Are Attacks on Children: A Guest Editorial

The Religious Institute co-founder and current Advisory Committee member, Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, shared with me this piece he wrote for Protestants on the Common Good, on the current attacks on women's health services. I liked it so much that I asked him if I could share it with you:

“Re-introducing Corporal Punishment”

As I approach my seventieth birthday, I’m spending more time remembering how fortunate I was to have been raised in a loving family, where, as an only child, I was treated as something special.

For health reasons, my mother was explicitly told not to risk what would likely be another unsuccessful pregnancy. But throwing caution to the wind, and desperately wanting to have a child of their own, mom and dad gave it one more try.

My birth was treated, literally, as a gift from God.

Well, almost all the time. The exceptions, of course, had to do with those occasions in which I seriously misbehaved – that is, those times when I caused my parents to question whether the divine gift had a good bit of the devil’s contribution in the mix.

When that happened – and it had to be a very serious offense to cause this particular punishment – the razor strap came out (my dad was a barber at a time when facial shaves were a regular feature of his trade) and I was given a truly stinging whipping.

That corporal punishment I still see, all these years later, as an exception, a deviation from, my parents’ love. Even then I recognized that their anger against me caused them to draw on the worst parts of their otherwise compassionate and caring personalities. (And I can only hope that my own children recognize that when I inflicted corporal punishment on them, it was a similar departure from who I was as the father who loved them.)

I have the sense that my parents, at that time, weren’t exceptional in reverting to corporal punishment when angry with a child’s behavior. As far as I can tell, it was the norm.

But that started changing when more and more parents over time heard about, read, and took to heart what Dr. Benjamin Spock proposed in his book “Baby and Child Care” (1946) and other writings: be verbal not physical in disciplining the child, and all within the context of expressing love, even if it had to be tough love.

Now twenty-nine countries outlaw corporal punishment in the home, twenty-two of them in Europe. In the United States it remains legal, but here too there are limits to what is acceptable physical punishment.

I can see that transformation operating in the way my own grandchildren are being raised.

It has taken decades to achieve, but even here in the U.S. we’ve changed.

Or have we? Might it be that we’ve only changed the way we administer the corporal punishment?

Charles Blow, columnist for the New York Times, recently (8/27/11) made that case in a “striking” (but non-corporal) way.

He referred to a Guttmacher Institute report that indicated unintended pregnancies have increased 50% since 1994, yet politicians are passing laws to restrict abortion at a record pace: 80 this year, compared to 23 in 2010 – more than three times as many so far this year compared to all of last year.

What has this got to do with corporal punishment, when supposedly it is the mother (almost never the father) that is being punished for her sexual behavior? Mr. Blow answers: “Even if you follow a primitive religious concept of punishment for sex, as many on the right seem to do, you must at some point acknowledge that it is the child, not the parent, who will be punished most by our current policies that increasingly advocate for “unborn children” but fall silent for those outside the womb.”

(While Mr. Blow doesn’t mention it, there is an irony that some of the anti-choice legislation includes the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, which often provides the contraceptive education and resources that reduces the number unplanned pregnancies, and thereby ultimately diminishes the likelihood of neglect and abuse of unintended children.)

But it isn’t just in the area of sexuality where we’ve found new ways of inflicting physical harm on children. Mr. Blow also quotes from a new report of the Annie E. Casey Foundation: “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 – 2009.” (Remember that many years in that decade were considered periods of abundance.)

And if that weren’t enough, Mr. Blow draws from a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that “the number of children facing food insecurity in 2009 soared to nearly one in four.” Then there is also an ABC News report that “49 percent of all children born in this [United States] country are born to families who receive food supplements from the federal Women, Infants and Children assistance program.”

What is the consequence of that kind of malnutrition brought on by child poverty and child hunger? What is the corporal punishment that is being inflicted?

Delayed growth and motor development. Lower I.Q.’s. Severe behavior problems. Attention deficit hyperactivity. Deficient learning capacities. Lower educational achievement. The list goes on and on.

All that punishment inflicted against children for the sin of being born into families guilty of being poor.

Members of the Republican party, as well as many Democrats and Independents, express what seems to be genuine concern about the national debt that today’s children will have to bear as adults. But in their 2012 budget proposal the Republicans, in particular, want to reduce spending for nutritional programs. Mr. Blow comments: “They want to hold the line on tax breaks for the wealthy, not paying attention to the fact that our growing income inequality, which could be reversed, continues to foster developmental inequality [among children], which is almost impossible to reverse.”

Since in this country we don’t have laws condemning the old forms of parental corporal punishment, there’s probably no chance of passing legislation that would assign some form of appropriate punishment to politicians and members of society-at-large who engage in this kind of neglect and abuse of our nation’s children.

But couldn’t those of us in the Christian community at least take guidance from the procedure Jesus recommended to his church when one member sinned against another? He instructed (see Matthew 18: 15-17) that if one fails to get the attention and confession of the offender in a face-to-face meeting, the circle of witnesses ought to be widened, and, failing that, the offense ought to be brought to the whole community for judgment and then, finally, punishment.

That punishment apparently was exclusion from the community of faith. Maybe that’s what the church today needs to do with its child neglectors and abusers in public office.

And, of course, the electorate could do something similar when it’s time again to choose its leaders.