One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"There are no shortcuts" the Crete Carrier truck bumper preaches

"There are no shortcuts" the Crete Carrier truck bumper preaches.
From a long day of the dogged advocates of despair,
Headlines read, "Oklahoma executes first inmmate since botched lethal injection."
The once faithful-
Now faithless

I wonder about that pain in my neck.
Knowing deeply as it cracks,
This pain is the pain of no shortcuts.
This pain is felt only after sunset
Deep in the shoulder 
 no fixing
no pills
no place to rest the head.

Hallowed by the quiet breaths drawn until daylight
No feathers
No dancing
No clouds of reprise
Memory burns away despair
Happy Birthday dear Martin
joy comes
across the clear winter morning.
Rest in peace Dr. King.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Moving from Duality to Paradox: Pourquoi je ne suis pas Charlie

The Je Suis Charlie movement is both encouraging and alarming.

Mobilizing millions of people in the name of unity and freedom seem to be a sign of hope.  Yet, I am also present to the powerful history of xenophobia in France and a longstanding argument that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are racist.

George Clooney's moving testimony during the Golden Globes as he accepted the lifetime achievement award is a perfect demonstration of the alarming American propensity to dualism in this country. Clooney closed with these words:

And just one last thing I would say is just to reiterate what we have all been talking about today was an extraordinary day. There were millions of people that marched not just in Paris but around the world. And they were Christians and Jews and Muslims. They were leaders of countries all over the world and they didn’t march in protest. They marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. Je suis Charlie. Thank you.

I agree with Clooney that fear is a dangerous device.  However, the motto "Je suis Charlie," and the resounding applause that Clooney received in response to these words demonstrate the problem itself.  As the American appetite for paradox dwindles, it would seem our hunger for unity at any cost has increased.  We are a people I believe as vulnerable to fear as we are to the illusion of sacred cows that would bring us together.  And the history from September 11th is that both- fear and what I will call unity ideology- are equally dangerous.  It is this unity ideology that encourages us to accept false dualities and create false enemies.

We now live in a world where reasonable people can no longer deny the inevitability of pluralism.  Particularly in America today, as well as in France with immigration trends, the narratives that led to the revolutions of our founding are desperately in need of adapting.  The truth is that the understanding of freedom, democracy and entitled rights are not the same today as they were in the 18th century.  Yet, we continue to draw upon these sacred cows in order to create movements of unity, often at the cost of pluralism.

I highly doubt that freedom of the press as demonstrated by some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is what the early founders of the U.S.A. had in mind.  If nothing else, they considered freedom in the context of the abuse and oppression of state religion.  Many of the paradigms today including the understandings of humanism, spiritual but not religious and pluralism did not exist in the manifestation in which we see them today.  For that matter the only published works on Islam in the 18th century western mind used the term Moslem.  So, to assert an immutable conception of freedom, democracy, and entitled rights is counter to the 21st century claims of liberal religion and pluralism.  We do not have the same belief in freedom as Washington.  We, Americans, do not have have the same understanding of freedom as Parisians. As they say details matter, the devil is in the details.

The unity ideology brings us further from pragmatic approaches to pluralism.  Paradox instead takes us to a space where seemingly opposing ideas could bring us to greater truth.  The front page of Charlie Hebdo after the tragic killings showed the prophet Mohammed crying with the words "All is forgiven" above his head.  What does it mean? The prophet is crying but the paper critiqued Islam.  All is forgiven, but nothing can yet be forgiven.  In this most recent cartoon, the artist Renald Luzier takes the world deeper than the headlines and cries of "Je suis Charlie" have done.  Frankly, having seen many Charlie Hebdo cartoons before the murders (I adored French lit and culture in college), this cartoon speaks the deeper work I felt was absent in their dualistic portrayals of Islam. 

So no, je ne suis pas Charlie, mais je travaille à être humain.

Beware of the duality.  Humanity is more often present in the paradox.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Frustrated and Faithful

I am not afraid.  Well, not yet.

But it can be a little scary for those of us under about 45 years old in the ministry.  I am 31.

The basic trends look something like this (in case you haven't heard the frequent conversation of ministers these days)... the millennials have decreased ability and interest in supporting institutional religion, wealth in the United States has become increasingly allocated to a small percentage of the country, and the boomers are aging.  All of this is coupled with the fact that most Unitarian Universalist communities are nearly racially and culturally homogenous (yes there are exceptions).  And the demographics of the United States are increasingly diverse and most specifically multicultural.  Add to this that the nones or those with no religious affiliation are the fastest growing religious group in the United States.  Good news?  Maybe.  While they compose 20% of the U.S. population, only 10% of those report that they are looking for a religious community.  And as radical as we may be, the vast majority of our communities look, smell and feel pretty religious.  Because, uh...well we are.

So, it would appear religious community especially as we knew it in the 20th century does not have a bright future into the latter part of the 21st century.

I have the strange position of being both an older millennial (those born from 1981-1989) and a minister.  It makes for awkward conversations with peers at parties, but that's another blog post entirely.   "Oh wow.  Well, that's cool." they say when I share that I am a minister, but I hear "Why would you ever do that?"  I understand the fatigue with institutionalism present among the millennials.  I get being baffled at the invitation to serve on a committee when I want to help change the world.  I get being disillusioned at hearing sermons about spiritual practice when I am aching to experience the sacred.  I get feeling objectified by the needs of the institution before a real relationship.  Here join! Pledge! Volunteer! We need young people! Not that we want to get to know them, build relationship, or support them during the economic crisis our generation faces today...

And I understand the need of the institution to maintain the institution.  I understand the value of institutions - history, care of families, intentional community, potential for prophetic voice, a place for the people to fulfill God's call, etc.  I could really go on.  I love these brick and mortar buildings.  My heart aches at their histories, triumphs, and failures.  I am inspired by the dreams of my ancestors who built the religious spaces.

I am strangely an institutionalist and a millennial.  Frustrated and faithful.

And as a minister looking out across the landscape attempting to see the horizon for some very personal reasons-namely my ability to feed my family- I wonder what would happen if these institutions disappeared?  I may not have to wonder long.  Will I be able to retire as the minister of a congregation? Rev. Tom Schade has written a great piece on part of this phenomenon that I encourage you to read.  It's found here    Part of Tom's question is really helpful to me.  I do wonder if my needs for employment by an institution get in the way of liberal religion most effectively serving the world's needs.  I ask this often. I think it's a healthy discernment to engage in the 21st century.  It's led me to pursue multi-site ministry, missional ministry and to support liberal religion beyond institutional bodies.

And yet, I can help but wonder, what will happen someday if we no longer have ministers of communities?  I envision part of my role is to speak truth to power.  I attend government meetings, protests, and community gatherings to give voice to those without a voice or those who cannot easily be represented.  Most of my generation is working two or more jobs to survive.  When they don't show up to the places where decisions are made, I would argue, it is often not because of apathy but because of economy.  And so I see community organizers not being able to pay rent and ministers not being able to pay for childcare, I worry as these economic trends deepen who will lead our revolutions?  What will happen when no one is paying the prophet?

When you look out across revolutions many of them were led by individuals who came from the middle class and had patrons (including institutions).  If we are going to enter into a post-institutional world devoid of congregations and ministers, who will lead the change and create the spaces for consciousness raising?

I remain yours,

Frustrated and faithful