Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Other Side of Candidating Season

While there is a lot of celebrating during candidating season, there is also a lot of mourning.  My congregation received word this week that our Minister is leaving us for another congregation.  To say I am upset is an understatement.  It caught the majority of our congregation completely by surprise. In an effort for transparency, the Minister and Board will be hosting a fireside chat session next week, but is that enough?  Do Ministers owe their congregations any sort of warning? I feel a bit betrayed.  I really like our Minister and I have no idea on why he felt a need for another church.  I thought he was happy here. Obviously, we will know more after the meeting, but I feel if he knew this was a possibility for a long time, why didn't he say something?  We spent the whole year in the dark about his future intentions.  I don't think I am alone in feeling this way.  I feel that there is a special relationship between a congregation and its Minister and we deserve more than a vague announcement.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stewardship

How are all your annual stewardship campaigns going?  I imagine most of them will be winding down in the next few weeks.  As a member of a smaller congregation with big dreams, I always feel a little nervous this time of year. There is so much we would like to do, but not nearly enough resources (both people and money).  We are constantly on the edge of deciding whether or not to keep a full-time minister or ask him to go part-time.  We have already drastically cut our DRE's hours.  I can't imagine cutting our ministers hours. Is there really such a thing as a part time minister? I feel he is very valuable to the congregation and should be compensated for it.  I am already upset that we have had to cut back the DRE's hours by so much.  As a denomination, if we truly want to grow, we need to invest in our children.  Creating a strong foundation now will hopefully keep them in the church as adults.  Strong RE programs are what brings young families to our churches.  Full-time Ministers provide the leadership and consistency vibrant congregations need.


Our Stewardship Committee is asking that we all raise our pledges by 20%.  Obviously, not everyone is in a position to do this, but if you are, please consider it.  Look around you and see if there isn't a place that you save some money give it to your church instead.  Do you have to go out to eat twice a week?  Do you really need a third pair of sandals? Can you hold off redecorating your house?  I would venture that if you are reading this blog, Unitarian Universalism is something you need.  It is something that sustains us everyday.  Please consider making it a priority in your life.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

UU Time Capsule

Am I the only one a little disappointed in the Time Capsule contents? I suppose it is my over active imagination, but I was super excited when Headquarters had announced they found it.  How cool!!!  But it wasn't.  I anticipated the usual assortment of hymnals, papers, and newsletter (interesting in an academic way).  What I had hoped was there would be treasures of chalices, stained glass, vestments, music, significant objects, etc. Instead, it's contents reflect exactly what you would expect old, white men would feel are important.  And yes, those things are important, but I hope when we develop the next time capsule, we try to give a full vision of who we are and what we do.  I hope it is more then just documents, but representations of how we live our faith in a dynamic and multi-faceted way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent Already?!

I have a massive caffeine withdrawal headache.  I didn't think that I actually drank that much caffeine, but, wow, it is killing me.  As you probably guess, this is what I have given up for Lent.  Normally I look forward to Lent as a time of quiet and reflection.  I see it as an opportunity to refocus on what really matters in life.  I do feel *sacrificing* is an integral part of the process and I have done varies things through the years.  This year, caffeine.  I am tire of the hold it has on me (as evidenced by this headache!!) and want to feel healthier.  To be the best, most compassionate me, I need to get my health in a better state. 


This year, though, Lent has snuck up on me.  Like a lot of the country, we have had a long, cold, bleak winter.  I feel like I have been in a dark space and adding 40 more days of somberness just isn't appealing.  I am ready for Easter and the brightness and happiness it brings.  I need to find a way to make Lent a time of renewal and hope and break away from seeing it as purely deprivation.  Hopefully pointed reflection will help me through this dark season.  I wish you blessings on your journey and success in discovering what matters in your life. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

UUs and Climate Change

I gave the following sermon to my congregation a couple of weeks ago in support of the Interfaith Power & Light's annual Preach In.  I help run the Missouri Interfaith Power & Light affiliate and it is something I would love to see more Unitarian Universalist congregations get involved in.  If you went to GA 2013, you may remember the wonderful march we did to protest fossil fuel extraction in Kentucky.  The Kentucky IPL was instrumental in organizing that event.  Please check out if your state has an affiliate and get involved!
The Time Is Now
When I was a senior in high school, way back in 1991 (which, honestly does not seem that long ago…), I wrote my senior thesis on the devastating consequences of chlorofluorocarbons.  Anybody remember those?  They were one of the main components of aerosol cans.  Those of us who grew up in the 80s were most familiar with them through our copious use of hair spray.  Unfortunately, our big hair was causing a large hole is the ozone layer and this was stressing me out. All I could think about was that we would all die of skin cancer or burn up from the suns intensified rays. Perhaps I was over acting a little bit, but this really did consume a lot of my brain power.


I have no idea why I, a typical Midwestern teenager raised by conservative parents, was so obsessed with the environment, but I was.  Perhaps it was because growing up in Iowa, I was constantly deluged with weather reports and how it would affect the corn crops.  The evening news always had a segment relating the lack of rain, or too much rain, or early frost, or late frost, etc. and the surely devastating consequences they would have for all our livelihoods. I don’t ever recall a weather forecast where they actually said “all is perfect and we will live to eat another day!” It was shocking when I moved to St. Louis and discovered that most people didn’t give a second thought to the weather except to note if they should bring an umbrella.  Didn’t they understand our survival depends on the jet stream?!!?


Additionally, every science and biology class in school would talk about the rapidly decreasing topsoil that had made Iowa the breadbasket of the US. Currently, estimates stated that Iowa has gone from 45cm of rich topsoil to just 15cm of top soil. On top of that, the quality of it has greatly diminished due to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides.  As a kid, it didn’t take a great leap of my imagination to tie together that without soil there would be no farms, without farms there would be no need for tractors, therefore my dad (who worked at John Deere) wouldn’t have a job, and, worst of all, there would be no food!  I liked food!  The connection between the environment and our well-being was impressed upon me at a very early age.


What really sealed it for me, though, and spurned me to take a more active approach was when I went to Germany and Austria with my high school German class.  Everywhere we went, there were special, three-sided, green garbage cans.  One for glass, one for cans, and one for general waste. To my fifteen year old perspective, this seemed genius. Why wasn’t everyone doing this?!  It had never dawned on me that a whole country could get behind recycling.  Not just one or two or three, but a WHOLE county. Amazing.  My second surprise was going to a grocery store and discovering that if I didn’t bring my own bags, that I would have to pay for them. What?! Isn’t it the right of the consumer to get a bag with their purchases? Evidently, Europeans saw things differently.  I came back to the US with a much larger view of the world and a new sense of what is possible.


I was quickly frustrated when I returned.  Where to begin?! I was just one person in a country that wasn’t all interested in what I had to say.  I did what I could, joined Earth Clubs, recycled what I could, cut out CFC, talked to whoever would listen, but, overall, felt I was pretty ineffectual.  The only reason my parents recycled cans was because Iowa paid for them, not through any sense of environmental activism. I just couldn’t understand why people didn’t care.  Didn’t they want the best for their families?  Didn’t they want clean air and water? Didn’t they want to continue to enjoy all the beauty and the resources the Earth has to offer?  What is wrong with these people?!  Don’t they see how right I am!  Perhaps my self-righteous lecturing wasn’t the best motivational strategy.


There are a lot of reasons why people don’t take a greater role in caring for the Earth.  Some don’t see it as an issue, some have greater priorities in their life, other’s feel it is not their responsibility, or that science will discover a solution to all our problems. Today, though, I want to discuss another common reason.  Many faith groups feel that our presence on Earth is just a passing phase.  We are merely enduring our human form until we move on to Heaven or some other plane of existence.  With that framework, Earth is not all that important.  We can pollute it, use up its resources, change its climate and who really cares?  Earth is temporary, it is only something for humans to use on our way to greater things. Because of this egocentric view, the Earth and all it inhabitants have greatly suffered. It has been speculated that the next mass extinction in upon us and human interference is leading the charge.


I find this train of thought to be particularly depressing.  Next to China, the US is the greatest polluter of CO2. Carbon emissions are one of the largest causes of climate change.  With close to 80% of Americans claiming some sort of religious affiliation, this is a huge group of people that could have an impressive impact on the environment.  Every major religious denomination has a statement on environmental stewardship.  From Judaism, Catholicism, B’hai, and, yes, even, Evangelicals.  The leadership within these groups have recognized that it is the moral duty of people of faith to take care of God’s creation.  Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between what is determined to be religious responsibility and actual action.  As Unitarian Universalists, it is part of our Seven principles. (Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part).  We come from a long tradition of environmental stewardship that makes me proud.  We need to continue and step up that effort and be a positive model for other denominations. Whether your faith is in a God, Goddess, or the energy of the Universe, we have a moral obligation to take care of each other and our environment. 


I recently participated in a panel discussion regarding the need for Ameren to transition from coal to clean energy.  The event was sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United and was held at South County church that was being affected by the pollution from the Meramec coal-fired plant.  It was to be an informative evening to not only discuss the plant, but to also discuss the moral/faith-based dimension.  Unfortunately, the audience chose to debate the scientific merit of the arguments and then completely ignore any sort of faith-based, moral reasoning.  As entrenched audience members continued to drown out the panelists effort to be neutral and only share facts, it became painfully aware to me how far we still need to go; both in scientific and religious understanding.


It boggles my mind that even though 97% of the world’s scientist agree that climate is changing and that it is most likely caused by humans, there is still a significant portion of the US population that continues to deny that it is happening.  Whether or not you agree with the science, you know things aren’t like they used to be. One just needs to look around and see the increase in droughts, floods and severe weather. When I was in school, we often talked about the precautionary principle.  Even if there is a remote chance that something might be true, precaution should be taken.  What is the worse that will happen?  Our air gets cleaner? Our water safer? More jobs in the clean energy sector? Food that we feel safe eating that is not destroying the ground on which it is grown?  None of these sound tragic to me and all seem pretty worthwhile goals.


Putting the science aside, though, as people of faith, it is our ethical duty to take care of each other.  The people most affected by climate change will be the ones least able to adapt. Most of us are fortunate to be able to afford air conditioning, heat, insurance, and higher food prices.  This is not the case for everyone.  We have all heard the stories of folks afraid to turn on their air-conditioning or heaters due to the cost and have then suffered tragic consequences. As we see through our Fourth Saturday lunches, there are many food insecure families in our communities.  Climate change will only exacerbate these conditions.  Scarcity and costs will only increase and the most vulnerable will be the ones who suffer the greatest. As I speak, there are whole islands disappearing with their populations being forced to leave due to rising ocean waters.  We have a moral duty to help our brothers and sisters.  Combating climate change is one important step in this process.


As Unitarian Universalists, many of us already take significant steps to be environmentally friendly. We recycle, use public transportation, garden, utilize solar panels and try to reduce our consumption.  We do what we can, but is it enough?


I currently help run Missouri Interfaith Power & Light.  It is the state affiliate of the national Interfaith Power & Light.  Their mission is to help congregations of all denominations become more energy efficient through connecting their beliefs with stewardship of the planet.  By coming together, congregations not only support each other in decreasing their carbon footprint, but advocate to help change state and national policies to be more environmentally friendly.  While we are new to Missouri, many states have very active affiliates. 


For instance, this past summer, Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light helped organize an event at General Assembly that had close two thousand UUs in Louisville marching to protest fossil fuel extraction. Illinois IPL, who works under the name of Faith of Place, provides extensive programming and advocacy for IL congregations. They are a model for many other state affiliates. This past fall, Missouri IPL participated in a faith walk with several different faith groups to Ameren headquarters asking them to transition to clean energy.  The national IPL offers many programs to assist affiliates and congregations in their greening effort such as their Cool Congregations and Cool Harvest programs. These focus on energy efficiency and eating local. Additionally, last weekend and this weekend, congregations all across the US are participating in a national Preach In to combate climate change. All of us preaching on the same topic, hopefully galvanizing change.


This is just the beginning.  As more and more faith groups start making the connection between human behavior and religious duty, real change can be made.  We are at a turning point in human history.  We can continue on our current path, or seek new ways of living.  Nobody is claiming that this will be easy.  We are currently on the easy path and it will be ending very soon.  Together, though, through supporting eachothers efforts, we can forge a new way.  A way that protects all of Earth’s inhabitants.  In your Order of Service, you will find a postcard.  While I understand the wording in not typical UU phrasing, I ask you to please consider filling it out mailing it to your Senator.  By combining with other faith groups, our voice is magnified.  Imagine Senators being flooded with hundreds of post cards calling for action!  As we so often say, we are part of interconnected web. Let’s do our part.  I don’t want to one day look at my grandchildren and think I could have done more.  Climate change is happening, we will all be affected, it is up to us to each one of us to do something about it.


Remember how I started this talk with chlorofluorocarbons?  In 1991 the ozone hole was getting bigger every year.  The outlook was bleak unless something was done right away.  Thanks to the efforts of a vocal and loud group of activists, CFC were eventually banned.  And guess what, the ozone hole has shrunk to only 2% of what is was in 2000.  When we put our mind to it, we can make a difference, despite the odds stacked against us.  Please be that loud and vocal activist. Take a stand and set an example.  Only good things can happen.


Thank you!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Thoughts on Behind The Kitchen Door

I finally had a chance to read the UU Common Read book, Behind the Kitchen Door.  It was surprisingly engaging and quick to finish.  Through personal stories and independent research, the author does a great job of capturing the social justice issues wrapped up in the restaurant industry.  It also gave me  a lot to think about.  To think that the federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13, to me is a crime.  I looked up my state, MO, and discovered we were a tiny bit better at $3.75.  How many of us, especially with families, could even imagine living on this?  While tips are expected to make up the difference (at least to $7.50) an hour, there is no guarantee that this will happen, that the house will over the difference, or you can even cover your monthly rent with this *guaranteed* minimum wage.  The author noted the consumers will often think more about where the food is produced, how it is cooked and whether or not the animals are treated ethically more then they will think of the working conditions of the waitstaff, cooks, bussers and dishwashers.  Sadly, I am guilty of this.


I wish the author would have gone into the history of how this type of payment system developed.  After reading the book, I came away with that this whole method needs to be changed.  I remember when I was in Europe (a very long time ago, so maybe this has changed?), but in certain countries, it was considered an insult to tip.  The waiter's salary was not artificial reduced to be supplemented by the generosity of diners.  At the time, it felt very awkward to not tip.  I felt like I was cheating them, even though I was assured that I was not.  I don't know enough about the European restaurant industry to gage how successful/fair this method is, but on the surface, it seems like a great idea.  Why aren't we doing this?  I would much rather pay a flat amount and know that everyone is being paid a fair rate then knowing that I may tip 20% but a friend only tips 10%.  Americans are so used to cheap food, that we all need to realize that it comes at significant human cost.


One other point I will touch on (and there are many more in the book), is the blatant racism.  The author notes that in fine dining establishments, the farther back you go in a restaurant, the darker the workers.  Basically, the servers tend to be white while the dishwasher are usually black.  Head/Sous Chefs may be white, but line cooks are African American or darker skinned immigrants.  Hostess are white American or white European.  Frankly, I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been in a white table-cloth restaurant (the phrase the author uses).  From what I remember, the wait staff was white.  But, I live in a very diverse city and if I go to a casual dining restaurant, my server is almost always African American.   I am not sure where I am going with this, except that I hadn't really thought about it because the restaurants I do go to, the staff is very diverse at all levels.  Also, I feel that the racism experienced at fancier establishments comes from a much greater level of institutional racism that goes beyond the restaurant industry.  It would be wonderful if the restaurant industry could take the lead in chipping away at those offensive, long-held systems of discrimination.  Restaurant Opportunity Centers United is certainly trying, now it is up to us to help them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Non-Denom vs. UU Christmas Eve Service

We headed to my mom's house in Iowa for Christmas this year.  While there, we went to her and my step-dad's church for Christmas Eve services.  It was an experience.  When I was growing up, my family was a member of the only Catholic Church in town and that is all we experienced.  Since then, my mother remarried, dropped Catholicism (which, really, was my dad's religion), and began attending a non-denominational church with her husband.  From what I remember of Iowa in the 80s and early 90s, the was no such thing as a mega church and people would have looked at you funny if you said you went to one. Things have changed.

I had no idea this church existed in Cedar Falls.  In fact, it isn't the only one.  We drive up to it, but because it is so dark and snowy out, I couldn't really see the building in all its enormity.  I came to realize that it actually had a traditional sanctuary (I was told, used by the more traditional folks), but the majority of the services are conducted in this gym like room set up with a sound system, flat screen TVs, and a stage.

The kids loved it.  First, the setting couldn't  have been more perfect: snowy and cold.  The moment we walked in we were greeted by friendly folks and the entry was decorated with more snowflakes.  Then the heavenly (no pun intended) smell of hot chocolate and fancy coffee wafted by. They had a coffee bar!!!!!  We then walked into the new-sanctuary to find it decked out in Christmas lights and a stage with a winter-wonderland theme.  On each side of the stage, there were TVs airing *ads* for Christmas and playing music.  After we got our drinks and settled into our folding chairs, the evening service began. First, a band of hipster looking twenty-somethings came out and performed some meaningful/catchy music.  Between their sets, sermons and testimonials were given by the ministers.  While the ministers were definitely not twenty-something, they had a youthful exuberance about them and gave passionate, funny, yet touching sermons regarding the importance of Jesus and Christmas.  The service ended with familiar carols while the congregation lit candles.  With approximately 800 people in attendance, the candle light was beautiful.  My youngest son (9y/o) turned to me and said, "this is a lot more fun then our church"!

He was right.  For pure entertainment value, it was more fun.  We all had a good time and all left with a warm feeling. I can so easily see why people like these places.  You immediately feel welcome, that people care, and are swept up into the belief that something larger then yourself is looking out for you.  Sure life is hard, but you are not alone - you matter.  Who wouldn't want that?  They tread a fine line of not diminishing your hurt while also being relentlessly positive. 

It was disturbing to me to see how easily I could be "let me join!" I don't even like flashy spectacles, but the it was more then that.  They don't even know me, but I felt like they only want the best for me.  My kids felt that too.  Of course, they don't really want me and I don't really want them.  The beautiful charade hides the repressive, conservative faith they truly follow.  If I was LGBT, or pro-choice, or a non-biblical literalist, or pro-women, or one of the many of the other things they deem un-Christian, I would not be truly welcome.  They would welcome me with arms intent on converting, not accepting or meeting me where I was. 

As UUs, we do preach welcome and acceptance.  Somehow, though, the message isn't getting through. I have been to many UU Christmas Eve services.  They have been lovely with signing and acknowledging the season, but they haven't been passionate.  They have felt more like an obligation, not because it was something the congregation or minister really wanted to do.  I am pretty sure that if I was attending a UU service for the first time, my first thought wouldn't be "let me join!".

I wish I had some great ideas on how to change this.  I would suggest that sometimes, perhaps, we take ourselves a little too seriously.  Dare I say that sometimes our services (and I am broadening this discussion to regular Sunday services) are a little too stodgy.  In an effort to be seen as a *real* religion, we have limited our thinking to a more traditional program that is unappealing to those who are trying to leave it behind?  It is a hard balance between solemnity and joy, but we might take a look at those mega-churches because they have seemed to have found it.