Friday, January 29, 2010

In the spirit of yesterday's post on writing a blog post...'s a TV report on how to do a TV report:

A 2-tiered system of religious liberty

A case in California challenges the state's system of recognizing only five faiths -- Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Native American spirituality -- in authorizing who is to be prison chaplains. (h/t The Wild Hunt)

And a conservative religious organization called the WallBuilders seeks a ruling that reinforces that two-tiered system.

A couple of thoughts...

1) UUs should be (and I'm sure are) part of the coalition seeking to overturn that discriminatory law, purely on grounds of our broader principles. But bluntly, since so many people consider UUs not Christian, I can't help wondering if non-Christian UU chaplains would be rejected too?

2) I can't think of a more appropriate name for the petitioning anti-pagan group than WallBuilders. (Even if that's not how they meant it.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Did you know...

...that the blogger and frequent commentator on Middle East matters, Juan Cole, has a UU connection?

(If yes) Well, it was news to me.

(If no) Yeah, I didn't either.

How to write a blog post

A step-by-step guide.

(H/t: Andrew Sullivan)

Update: Read the comments, too. But swallow your beverage and don't take another sip before you open the link.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Syncretism: It's a good thing

Fela: On Being Yoruba, Christian, On Being Both.

Less sex ed, more pregnant kids

That's the headline on this Salon story: 'A 2006 spike in teen parenthood coincides with increased abstinence-only sex education.'

And this comment gets the prize for best comment ever.

And then, there's this story about so-called "sexting". It's horrifying.

Is this a phony story? (Updated)

Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids tweeted this, which is how I found it:

"Advert for 'reliable workers' banned as discrimination..."

(Lenore has had an eagle eye out for British nannyism, especially for policies such as one that makes a silly assumption that all men are pedophiles.)

So I read the story from the Telegraph on the "banned" job advertisement. If I were the city editor who was handed that story, I'd be kicking it back to the reporter:

1) Spokespeople for something called "The Campaign Against Political Correctness" and for the job placement agency involved are never named. Now, maybe that's some weird British journalism convention. I think it's just sloppy reporting.

2) I get no sense that the job agency was pressed for more information about broader policies on job ads.

3) The story is completely fuzzy on exactly how the ad ran. First, the headline says it was "banned." Then the story says that the placement agency employee who "claimed that the job centre could be sued by unreliable people if they placed the advert ... told Ms Mamo it will remain on their website."

4) So was it banned or wasn't it? And if it did run, was the offending language included or not? Basic facts that simply should be there...aren't.

5) More to the point, the job agency spokesperson (again -- no name!?) -- seems to deny the whole thing happened (although she declines to discuss the specific incident): “Reliability is important to employers, as it is for Jobcentre Plus -- and we welcome ads seeking reliable applicants.”

I went looking at the job website to see if I could find the listing in question. I didn't. But I did find one that included "reliability" as a desired quality.

Something just doesn't smell right here. It makes me wonder if it's another case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story...

I just checked back on the story. I'm wishing I'd printed it out as I linked to it this morning, because it looks to me like some of it has changed. Some of the phrasing I saw and highlighted above now appears to be missing.

For the heck of it, I also Googled the words discrimination against unreliable and saw, predictably, that the story has lit up the intertubes. I have yet to find any skepticism toward it.

One element that appears to have not been clear before may be that the ad was allowed on the Web but not on a job board at the agency for walk-in clients. But the inconsistencies I noted earlier still exist.

Update No. 2
Oh frabjous day! I did find a skeptic -- after I added the word hoax to the string above.

Update No. 3
And another one!

Monday, January 25, 2010

I am not making this up

A public school in California contemplates banning a dictionary because it includes a definition for "oral sex."

Reminder to self: File this anecdote for the next Our Whole Lives meeting at church.

Salon's Broadsheet says it best. Read all the way to the end. (h/t DairyStateMom)

Some sermons

Of late I've been writing less and linking more. I expect that to continue for a while.

Three new links:

1. This Christmas sermon, and its prelude, resonate with me with their discussion of Keillor, appropriation, the intersection of UUism with Christianity, and more.

2. David Pyle's sermon yesterday was extraordinarily bracing and moving for me. Thanks, David. I needed that.

3. Ms. Kitty's MLK sermon a week ago wrapped some deep reflection in a fascinating lesson about King, leadership, and the time and place for everything.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The last word for now on Haiti...

...goes to Spencer Dew, writing at Sightings.

Money quote:
The image of black slaves shedding their chains and taking up arms contributes far more than any hobgoblins of the evangelical imagination to the historical “curses” that have kept Haiti poor and troubled. The history of American relations with Haiti has been indelibly tainted by America’s true devil – the lingering effects of our own schizophrenic founding as a nation insistent on liberty yet practicing slavery. Just as racist terror helped shape the stereotype of Voodoo as devil worship, so too racist attitudes have dominated the history of American relations with Haiti, from the fearful to the patronizing, from clandestine political machinations to occupation by military force.

Friday, January 15, 2010

And more worthwhile reading on Haiti and ... vodou**

Once again, The Wild Hunt as a welcome source of perspective, depth and insight.

**Updated January 28 to correct the spelling of "Vodou." [Which had been "voudon", something I'd seen in a lot of places. But I'm treating this post as the final word on the subject.]

Quote for the Day

"Reality is what is. What should be is a dirty lie."
--Lenny Bruce

via Marry in Massachusetts

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just a bit more on Robertson

Jason at the Wild Hunt unpacks the story in more detail with some useful links as well.

Well look at that

PeaceBang's Beauty Tips for Ministers showed up today in my twice-weekly e-mail from the Martin Marty Center's Sightings. As I write this, it hasn't yet made the archive list on line, but I expect it will be there soon.

Update: And now a direct link.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blasphemy and Idolatry

Pat Robertson makes me sick.


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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Harry Reid comment

I suppose I'm old enough to know better, but I am still gobsmacked by the phony story about Harry Reid's Kinsley gaffe.

I'm relieved, however, to know that I am not alone.

Update: Here's an interesting take on the coverage of the whole matter.

Further update: Will S. sums it up.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Real persecution

Martin Marty sorts out the faux claims of persecution of some American Christian pundits from the very real and horrific persecution of Christians around the world.

Money quote:
One hopes that more Christians, in an empathy exercise, will picture themselves as devotees of minority faiths, having to listen to people like Hume downgrade and demean them. What is striking is that the American Christians who most readily criticize Muslims or Hindus for using the “superiority” of their faith as a basis for penalizing Christians, often do the best job of imitating these others.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dawkins reconsidered, some

Pagan/UU Blogger John Franc of "Under the Ancient Oaks" has a thoughtful review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion up just now. Like him, I am frustrated with the narrow definition of God and Religion that Dawkins and other New Atheists apply in their critique of both. But Franc also points out the many things that Dawkins gets right. And he's getting me to rethink my tendancy to dismiss Dawkins et al as "fundamentalist atheists." Dawkins defends his passion on the grounds that (as Franc quotes him)

It is because the evidence for evolution is overwhelmingly strong and I am passionately distressed that my opponent can’t see it – or, more usually, refuses to look at it because it contradicts his holy book.

Interestingly, though, the most ardent fundamentalists eager to convert the rest of us operate from a similar passion. As my own UU church's minister says, they are absolutely convinced your house is on fire and that your life depends on your escaping that burning house -- regardless of whether you perceive it that way or not.

Friday, January 8, 2010

White anti-racist privilege

I've been following for some time, with great interest, Will Shetterly's ruminations on race and class and how our culture responds to divisions along those respective lines.

Will's biography gives him a distinctive insight on this topic.

His post today is a particularly pungent critique of white anti-racism academics, activists and consultants and of their frequent blindness to issues of class.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Surf spray

A handful of not-particularly-related items that have crossed my computer screen today.

I've just discovered an interesting Christian blog, slacktivist, which has this clear-eyed post on religious freedom that's well worth reading.

I got there via the equally interesting Pagan blog, The Wild Hunt, which has been diligently following an ongoing story -- particularly the media sensationalism thereof -- about the uncovering of dead animal remains at a home in Philadelphia that may or may not be related to the practice of Santeria.

On other matters...

...Is it just me, or is the story of Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a/k/a Humam Khalil Mohammed, the CIA double-agent-turned-suicide-bomber, beginning to sound more and more like a John LeCarre novel?

...Once in a while I happen upon Daily Variety, the show-biz paper. This story is a case study in the publication's highly idiosyncratic use of language (coined words, odd syntax, jargon). Reading it is entertainment itself.

...And finally, thanks to an ad in the margins of Facebook, I now know that a new movie is coming out that features God, St. Michael, and Jesus being born again at the Apocalypse. I'm mildly curious how the Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians view this cultural event, but not enough to go looking right now...

Afterthought: And I'm very unlikely to see it myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Kingdom of God

Today's post comes courtesy of John Vest, associate pastor for youth ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Fourth was DairyStateMom's previous church, before she moved north of the border to become DairyStateMom; she still gets the church's daily devotions on e-mail. Mr. Vest's devotion for today, January 5th, is a timely reminder that Christianity is not the exclusive province of the fundamentalists whose particular take on the religion dominates both the media and the head-space of Christianity's harshest critics.

I reprint it here with Mr. Vest's kind permission. As he told me, "It certainly looks like we share some common callings." Indeed, it does.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away." (NRSV)

The kind of Christianity I grew up in was all about what happens when you die. The goal of life was to make it into heaven instead of hell, and the way to do that was to profess faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior--which really meant to accept a narrowly defined list of doctrines as the absolute truth. Apart from this kind of "faith" and this kind of orthodoxy, neither truth nor eternal life were possible.

After many years of wrestling with this kind of Christianity, and with the help of many faithful companions and spiritual leaders, I arrived at the conclusion that this is not what authentic Christianity is about at all. Instead, Christianity is about the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about is right here and right now. Life isn't about preparing for the afterlife. The gospel isn't good news deferred; it is good news for today. It is the hope and promise and inspiration for nothing less than the transformation of the world.

That is what John of Patmos envisioned when he wrote about a new heaven and a new earth. It isn't about us going to heaven; it's about heaven coming to us. As Jesus put it, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

This is some good news that the world needs to hear from the church. Let's not be timid about sharing it.


God, help me to be an active agent of your transforming love. Inspire me with a vision of your kingdom, and give me the courage to be a part of it now. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest,
Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Monday, January 4, 2010

Atheism, Me, and a Book I want to read

I've never been able to make the intellectual/faith leap to confident atheism, and I know I've made posts here that are at least mildly critical of the most dogmatic among the so-called New Atheists.

But I also have no interest in arguing with the Atheists or trying to "prove them wrong." (If you don't know why, read this.)

Frankly, I don't believe in a god who says that anyone who doesn't believe in him/her/it is consigned to some kind of eternal torture and punishment. I do think the New Atheists are doing important work in forcing us to confront our religious assumptions, although I get frustrated when they fall back on the same kind of Biblical literalism as the Fundamentalists, and when they diss or dismiss liberal religion.

All that is by way of long-winded introduction to a link: An Atheist Defends Religion is a book I want to add to my ever-growing reading list...


I got to thinking about the prospect of a book by a theist or other religious person defending atheism.

Michael Dowd sort of fits, I guess, with the caveat that he considers himself neither theist nor atheist.

And here's a book that, while a rejoinder to Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, in many ways sides with the new atheists' critique of fundamentalism.

As an aside: I read the above, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists, sometime earlier this year or late last year. Came away from it basically liking its approach. But I'd forgotten the title when I was trying to prepare this update and did some fruitless searching on Google and Amazon until I finally located it, but not until I encountered a lot of tendentious works attempting to rebut Harris, Dawkins, et al. Reminded me of that video I linked to the other day.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Music for the New Year

DairyStateMom and I are watching the tail end of the New Year's Day concert from Vienna. Of course, they always play this during the encores. Different visuals, though...

What I believe

I saw this bumpersticker a few years ago on a pickup truck outside the local post office:

I laughed. It probably sums up my own frame of reference more succinctly than anything else.

I actually think it's a delightful rejoinder, not just to cocksure theists of any kind, but also to most hardline and smug atheists. And it appears that some hardline atheists are noticing.

As I say, I like it. Yet I don't consider myself, in formal terms, an agnostic.

What I believe in is the Mystery, and the metaphor.

When DairyStateMom and I first met a little more than six years ago, our religious differences were something we looked at directly fairly quickly. She was a committed Christian who happily belonged to the Presbyterian Church. I was a committed Unitarian Universalist and long-time active member and lay leader in my own church community. Despite creedal differences we found that we could appreciate and respect each other's perspectives. Her Christianity is not of the "Believe in Jesus or you Go to Hell" variety. I do not share the scorn of Christianity, especially Mainline Christianity, that I hear from some people in UU circles. I belong to a religious movement that was the first in the nation to celebrate gay unions and has been on the forefront of the fight for Marriage Equality, and to a congregation that is one of many in our religion to have an openly gay minister. She left one congregation because its pastor was overtly hostile to opening Presbyterian ordination (which includes lay leadership, not just the clergy) to gay and lesbian people, to join first one, and later a second, congregation whose pastors are at the forefront of the fight to do just that. We found very close congruence in our deepest values and attitudes.

Sometime during our courtship, we had an earnest telephone conversation that revolved around our beliefs. I honestly don't remember how it got started, but at some point it became clear to me that it was necessary for me to lay out what my own rock-bottom beliefs were. It was a little scary: I know that I worried that I might "say the wrong thing." And, indeed, I had not had the occasion to articulate for myself even exactly what I was going to say now.

This is what it came down to:

I believe that there is more to the universe than we are capable of seeing or knowing. That is not a supernatural belief. It is simply a reflection of the limits of our senses, experience and insight.

I believe that all religious doctrine is ultimately metaphor -- allegory: Our attempt to explain and understand the mystery we cannot fully know.

And I believe that all religious scripture is the work of human beings, not dictated by any outside supreme being.

Those underlying principles make room for pluralism: to accept one particular religious truth does not have to lead one to say that all others are false. But they also make room for discernment: This is not a statement that all religions say the same thing; moreover, it allows for the judgment that some metaphors and scriptures are healthier and closer to the mark than others. It allows for eclecticism, even a so-called "cafeteria religion" -- a concept often derided but one that I openly embrace. And finally, I honestly admit I cannot prove it. It is the product of a lifelong hunch, the cumulative result of experience in the world, exposure to a wide range of ideas and belief systems, and my own contemplation.

I do not pretend to think that it is going to satisfy anyone who firmly believes their creed is the only, absolute belief system and one that must be accepted and understood in literal terms. Such a person would, quite understandably, dismiss my claims, telling me: "What I believe is true, not just some metaphor."

But I do think it helps advance the conversation beyond the statement that "well, everyone can't be right in their beliefs. If you believe X and I believe Y, one of us must be wrong."

Needless to say, my "faith statement" didn't shock DairyStateMom. She didn't even argue with it. Our courtship continued and the rest is history.

When we married, our ceremony was officiated by one of her favorite Christian ministers and my favorite UU minister. We lit a chalice (the one that is now the symbol of this blog) and stood before a stained glass cross.

And since then we have attended each other's churches. DSM loves my church's minister and appreciates our services -- but she misses the anchoring in Jesus and God that she gets in the Presbyterian Church. Meanwhile I have enjoyed visiting her church and getting to know its members and pastors. I've also grown from getting reacquainted in a meaningful way with the story of Jesus and of the God of the Old and New Testaments as a window into the Mystery of the Universe. But I remain a UU, and would miss the insights from my own church that are drawn out of sources as diverse as the ancient Jain tradition, neo-Paganism, Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism and Rational Humanism.

I feel blessed that neither of us has to make such a trade-off.

A Happy and Meaningful 2010 to One and All.