Thursday, April 29, 2010


I posted on MIA's "born free" video yesterday, and in return one of my students sent me a video of "udhbhawaya," a lament made by funeral in heaven, a black metal band also out of sri lanka who counter MIA's stand with the tamil tigers. as I have no dog in that fight, the one thing I want to get across is the complexity at the intersection of politics and religion and people. the video is easily as intense as MIA's, if not more so as we don't have the solace of saying "it's only a video." the images this time are not created but are as real as if you or I were at the events. as with the MIA video, it's extremely graphic.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

on MIA's "born free"

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

"does MIA's genocide video go too far?" is the question asked in mary elizabeth williams' music column in yesterday's salon, and the short answer is: yes. the longer answer is: yes, thank god. I've embedded it within this post and I'm not going to give away much of the 9-minute video's plot, but I do want to warn you away from it if you aren't willing to watch uncompromisingly brutal and realistic violence. not the violence of the saw films, all gratuitous gory splash, but the quiet, personal violence of history and reality normally hidden from us.

it's powerful in all the right ways and does damage to our sense of being outside it all. the director, romain gavras, son of the immortal costa gavras, imbues "born free" (the ending minutes give us a greater sense of the irony of that title) with the closeness of active involvement. we can't pretend we aren't a part of what's going on in the rounding up of a despised social segment: we are the eyes and ears watching and participating, and if there was such technology available, we would feel the clubs in our hands and the blows on our backs.

MIA and gavras are no limosine liberals, but even if that epithet held, it can't take away from the power in watching people rounded up and dispatched. released the same week arizona passed a law I argue is a first step toward the video's reality, and in the same country that imprisons enemy combatants in a lookalike guantanamo after rounding them up in similar situations that play out in the first minutes, this is a harsh, dispiriting, ugly little movie. is it provocative? of course. is it meant to sell MIA, copies of her album, and her agenda? so what. that's the market. this is a literal personification of natalie merchant's lyrics from "candy everybody wants": "if lust and hate is the candy, if blood and love taste so sweet, then we give 'em what they want."

if you can stomach it, and not just the violence but the violent impact it will have on you, you should see it. between this video and erykah badu's recent "window seat," it seems that at least two women of color are pressing the spit beyond the flap of the envelope and as far across the table as it will last.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

god on the side of the road

I have an 8:15 class on global liberation theologies on tuesday mornings and I'm generally a few minutes late for it because I have a late night monday class and I like my sleep. but this morning I took off just a little past 7:00, anticipating a relaxed, comfortable drive that would get me to seminary at least 10 minutes early. a nice change.

I didn't anticipate the combination of extra traffic and a mid-bridge accident to hold me up on the way. the traffic across the I-94 hudson bridge was backed up to the next exit and it took me 45 minutes to cross it. a minivan had t-boned a sedan about 3/4 across the bridge, closing down a lane. it looked like no one was hurt, 2 women standing around watching firemen seperating the vehicles. then a mad rush to make up the time before I ran into another backup on 694 north, where traffic had also been reduced to 1 lane for roadwork. I poked along, but by the time it was 9:00 and I still hadn't come to the 1st exit, I caught a handy u-turn and headed home. at the rate it was taking, I would make class when there was less than an hour left to it. life's too short to sit in traffic.

it took me less than a 1/2 hour to recover the distance. I got off 94 at the exit before home in order to drive the back roads and look at the llamas and bison. at the top of the ramp I saw a woman walking in the opposite direction, so I rolled down my window and asked if she was okay. she said, "I got a flat tire." I asked if she wanted a ride to town and after a couple seconds hesitation she said "really?"

she got in and I drove her the 3 or 4 miles to hammond. she chattered nervously for much of it, but once she realized I wasn't about to threaten or hurt her she calmed down, and when I suggested she was lucky she had the day off in order to deal with the flat tire she said, "well, I am now. you're a blessing." I grinned and said "thank you" and dropped her off at the gas station.

I don't subscribe much to the sort of thinking that there are "reasons" we do things differently and end up elsewhere than we intended or that there's fate or kismet. but I can't deny that when we are in the position to do something beneficial for someone after we've haphazardly changed our day it certainly seems that way. still, I don't want to focus on the odd circumstances or whether or not it's coincidence, and I don't think I "saved" her from anything more problemtatic than a long unintended walk in the sun. but I prefer to concentrate on the opportunity I was given to help another person and my acceptance of that opportunity. this taking advantage of the unexpected chance to do good, I think, is what we are here to do. if it's true, as the rabbis have it, that people were created so god could talk to gods-self, then a corollary to that is we are meant to help when god ends up on the side of the road.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

commuter congregations

it was still raining and I found myself getting caught up in a political argument, most of it in my head, and realized I needed something fierce to get out of the house. I went to the eau claire uu church to listen to visiting minister scott prinster talk about joseph priestly, a bigwig in the annals of both science and unitarianism, and that was fine. even listening to the kindergarteners sing about searching for treasure--the sort of thing I always associate with xians and that has taken an unfortunate foothold among faiths that aren't--was worth it because I reconnected with my friend tom and we made plans to get together for lunch.

but that's not what I wanted to mention. instead, it was a recognition that I have become a true commuter. like a cowboy who feels he isn't worth a damn off his horse, I've come to feel that wherever I go isn't worth the going if I don't have to drive to it. part of this is the fault of geography--I live out in the sticks, although not as sticky as the place I grew up, and I need to drive miles to pick up milk (although now I've got my bike out, the convenience store and beer is a mere 20 minutes away). but this is my choice, or the choice of my marriage, to live this way, although as I often point out, if I lived 60 miles outside nyc or chicago, I could walk to the train station and ride into downtown.

be that as it may, I've been thinking about the need for driving in order to get to worship, and how this makes as little sense as driving to the mall to walk. a mere 60 years ago I wouldn't have had to drive most places I need to get to, and now I drive places I don't need to get to. this isn't just of concern to uus, it's reflected in the suburbanization of churches, temples, synagogues and mosques. something seems wrong to this and I wonder about it, especially while I'm driving. and I wonder too: does it mean something larger that I drive closer to the hub to work and farther out beyond the rim to worship?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

the word for world is rain

one of the most pleasant spots I landed when I was living in my car was outside berryville, arkansas, not far from eureka springs. there was a little would-be commune there in the late 80s centered around yo-anka (she died in 2002 and there is a shelter named for her) and charlie, former lovers who decided they didn't like sleeping together but did like living together. they wanted their renovated barn to be a commune, but with the exception of one other woman, who generally stayed there twice a year, they couldn't entice anyone.

charlie had replaced most of the walls to the first floor with windows and the result was a huge, airy space sort of grouped into several of those types of focused places you see in furniture stores where a stove and refrigerator are grouped around a kitchen island and dressers and chairs centered on a bed. when the sun shone it was a holy place, and when the rains came it was full of the sound of gentle clapping on the eaves.

this is what I'm reminded of on days such as this, when the rim takes on the patina you see in kitsch paintings of paris streets. I pour out some extra coffee and open the windows and doors to let fresh air cleanse the smell of too many dogs and cats and a too cooped-up couple. the world smells rain-luscious and sounds like the canopy of a rainforest and I cannot get enough of this earth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

johnny thunders died for your sins! [2]

"in latin american christology...jesus was killed as a consequence of his scandalous message and ministry, not because it was demanded by god, as taught by some theories of atonement. the cross was not necessary to change god's attitude toward human beings. rather, it is the culmination of a life totally dedicated to god and god's reign. 'jesus' life as a whole, not one of its elements, is what is pleasing to god'...[in this interpretation] god has irrevocably drawn near to this world...he is a god 'with us' and a god 'for us.'"

this quote, from daniel migliore's faith seeking understanding (p. 202), was a revelation to me. it had never occured to me before that the traditional idea of atonement, that jesus died on the cross in order to fulfill god's need for blood sacrifice and as a way for expiating humanity's sins, was also a way of diluting the easily read message that jesus' death resulted from his radicality and subversion of the status quo. it's this shift of focus from revolution to obedience that transforms jesus from an anarchic influence to the more familiar guy who died so you and I could masturbate without damnation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"I call your name"

on a day like this, when I've spent all night making a presentation and all morning talking about african theology, I come home and slather myself with sunblock and lay out naked in the bright sunshine and dream dreams like this. in another life, if I am good in this one, I will be johnny clegg.

Monday, April 19, 2010

73% of all statistics are made up on the spot

I don't teach statistics but I do teach research, and one of the things I press on my students is not to accept statistics at face value but to look at the questions asked and of whom they're asked. so when I heard about this report this morning, I had to look it up. among religious liberals we talk about budgets and taxes being moral statements about our priorities, and as with god and the devil, the point is in the details. I don't know much about who was asked beyond a generic picture I take away from the breakdown of respondents: married white women between 50 and 64 who graduated college and earn less than 70K. but 80% of us distrust the government? we must be on the cusp of another civil war! or at least another massive uprising on the order of the 1968 chicago democratic convention.

however, a quick look at the actual report shows that it's another case of god using statistics to teach americans how to read. here's the pertinent question from the pew questionaire and its findings (question 21). what you see is that reports are conflating the responses to both "only sometimes" and "never," which aren't really saying the same thing; but if we grant that they're close enough to be taken together, while the numbers in 2010 are higher than ever, it's not that those numbers have suddenly taken wings. they conform to a trend upward that made the jump in 1974 from 45 to 63%.

just as important is that responses never happen in a vacuum. what happened in the nation between 1972 and 1974? the 2010 poll results were gathered from march 11 to the 21st: what was happening at that time? things have settled down since the ugliness surrounding passage of the healthcare bill: would the question receive similar responses today? now that a majority of taxpayers have discovered that their taxes actually decreased as a result of the obama administration's legislation, would their responses reflect a sudden uptick in their trust of government? perhaps most importantly, if I'm answering the question "how much trust do you place in the government?" I'm thinking of the events just in my lifetime that have shown it to be least trustworthy: the inability to protect jfk, the gulf of tonkin incident, the vietnam war, the my lai coverup, the pentagon papers, spiro agnew, watergate, abscam, bert lance, the keating 5, irancontra, oliver north, wedtech, not funding aids research, the clarence thomas affair, dan rostenkowski, newt gingrich, bill clinton lying about a blowjob, the starr report, enron, ignoring warnings leading to september 11th, the war on iraq, the downing street memo, abu ghraib, lawyergate, the outing of valerie plame. THOSE events would color my view of the us government's likelihood of doing the "right thing" more than anything done in the past year, let alone a single week.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I was born to listen to the blues. when I'm driving somewhere during rush hour, like friday's all-day union meeting, I put on some blues and crank it up, and you can tell which driver is me cuz my head is swinging like the polar bear at the como zoo. when traffic stops it just means I can close my eyes.

I'm a believer in the power of unions. I've been a teamster (for a very short while, long enough to walk a picket with them), a food service member (while working at a group home--it was the only union that would represent us), and for the past decade I've been with mscf (minnesota state college faculty) which I call "mischief." I'm a state delegate each year because union work is important and because there are few better ways to make an impact on my profession and other practitioners of it.

it's also like church. we gather from separate rooms and come together to hear the good word. there is a head priest, the union president, and his coterie, the board and campus representatives. we are given an order of service in the form of an agenda. there are no songs but there is a call and response (voice vote) and, as in the uu tradition, congregational dialogue (presenting questions, clarifications and challenges to individual proposals). there are rites and ritual since we operate by robert's rules of order and there is a parliamentarian who keeps track of procedure. just like in xian and muslim services there is a villain, in this case the governor, who cut $290m from higher education's request to the budget (which itself already reflected a rollback to the 2004 budget, thus cutting a number which itself hasn't changed in six years), and saviors in the form of legislators who support the needs of higher education, especially tom rukavina who chairs the higher ed committee (and whose run for governor the union supports in the next election).

we sat there from 10 o'clock to 3 o'clock, like good puritans, and in my experience this was a short meeting. but I was tired and wanted nothing more than to get home and beat traffic. I'd made plans to get together with my friend cheryl afterward and called to beg off. but she convinced me to get together for a single beer since it would force her to stop grading and out of her house. we met at sweeney's in st. paul and talked a couple hours, mostly about union stuff (she was a delegate last year but opted not to go since she was heavily involved in al franken's victorious senate run and felt politicked-out), but also about what was going on in our lives. and then she said something that made more sense to me than anything I'd heard or said all day. she said, "we need to connect with each other more often than we do. friends help friends keep it together through the bad stuff and we haven't been doing that."

I think she expected me to argue, if only because I argue with her all the time, but she was right. unions on the professional scale are necessary, but union on the personal scale is even more important. we aren't solitary, we're collective. we don't generally refer to ourselves as "peoples," emphasizing the plural and separation, but as "people," singular and connected. this is what union is in the real, unexpurgated world: people coming together for each other's benefit to share the good and bad times, to touch one another's hands and hearts and say, "you aren't alone."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

johnny thunders died for your sins!

students often look askance at me when I tell them punk is the most important musical gift from my generation to theirs. putting aside the question of whether punk is dead or not (it's not), it's the dominance of the diy movement within punk and anarchism that's more important than the anger and frustration so many think of if they think of punk rock at all.

malcolm mclaren's death last week reminded me, whatever else I might have thought of his skills, that his skill as a popularizer of punk remains untouched. whether through his fashions, his merchandising or his work as an agent, he set his teeth firmly into punk's flesh and howled. it was to make money of course, but it was also a movement in whose ethic that anyone can learn through trial-and-error to be better at what he tries that he believed. sex, the shop, was a do it yourself operation from the gitgo, and I'd argue his management of groups like the sex pistols, adam and the ants, the new york dolls or bow wow wow showed the same signs.

punk, I argue, is a very spiritual music and movement in its insistence that anyone, despite her addictions or illnesses or looks or lack of education, has a voice that deserves to be heard. contrast a good punk song (there are bad ones of course) with anything produced by the machine today and see the difference in articulation, focus and point. punk, for all its detractors' views of it as nihilistic, is optimistic: you don't sing songs about someplace you hate.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

higher than the moon

I opened this video this morning with the intention of editing it further, but the more I watched it the more I like the way the photos originally placed, so I am leaving it as is. I was in charge of worship service for monday's class and produced this mashup in about 45 minutes monday afternoon. the service was based on the messages in the film hustle & flow. we opened with a reading of the song "spirit of life" and closed with tupac shakur's "the rose that grew from concrete." it was a simple setup, plain candle inside a cutglass chalice with a towel for an altarcloth. the emergence of the holy from unexpected, ugly sources was my theme.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

clutch cargo cult

in this morning's theological voices from a global perspective class--aka, liberation theologies--I was looking up a bit of information about religions on the island of fiji and came across a religion I'd heard mentioned once, but knew nothing about. they're called "cargo cults" and they're absolutely fascinating. they use magic and rite as a way of asking their ancestors to drop material wealth, "cargo," on their society. the most popular one still existent is called the "john frum" cult ("john from jesus christ" or john the baptist of vanuata:

Eventually the New Hebrides islands (as they were then called) were colonized and placed under joint British and French rule. Christian missionaries formed a makeshift government and court system which punished islanders for following many of their long-held customs, such as dancing, swearing, adultery, and polygamy. The colonizers also forbade working and amusement on Sundays. The islanders lived under this oppression for thirty years before a fellow native rallied the people and promised an age of abundance to any who would reject the European ways. He went by the alias “John Frum,” a name possibly derived from the phrase “John from Jesus Christ”– namely John the Baptist. Many islanders joined him, and the cult moved inland to escape the missionaries and return to their old traditions.

One day in the early 1940s, the relatively isolated group of islands was descended upon by hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who arrived by sea and by air. The world was at war, and America had plans to build bases on the Pacific islands. The newcomers recruited the locals’ assistance in constructing hospitals, airstrips, jetties, roads, bridges, and corrugated-steel Quonset huts, all of which were strange and wondrous to the natives. But it was the prodigious amounts of war materiel that were airdropped for the US bases that drastically changed the lifestyle of the islanders. They observed as aircraft descended from the sky and delivered crates full of clothing, tents, weapons, tools, canned foods, and other goods to the island’s new residents, a diversity of riches the likes of which the islanders had never seen. The natives learned that this bounty from the sky was known to the American servicemen as “cargo.” [...]

When the war ended several years later, the Americans departed as suddenly as they had arrived. Military bases were abandoned, and the steady flow of cargo which had altered the islanders’ lives completely dried up. The men and women of Tanna Island had grown to enjoy the radios, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola, canned meat, and candy, so they set into motion a plan to bring back the cargo. They had surreptitiously learned the secrets of summoning the cargo by observing the practices of the American airmen, sailors and soldiers.

The islanders set to work clearing their own kind of landing strips, and they erected their own control towers strung with rope and bamboo aerials. They carved wooden radio headsets with bamboo antennae, and even the occasional wooden air-traffic controller. Day after day, men from the village sat in their towers wearing their replica headsets as others stood on the runways and waved the landing signals to attract cargo-bringing airplanes from the empty sky. More towers were constructed, these with tin cans strung on wires to imitate radio stations so John Frum could communicate with his people. Piers were also erected in an effort to attract ships laden with cargo, and the Red Cross emblem seen on wartime ambulances was taken as the symbol of the resurging religion. Today villages surrounding Yasur Volcano are dotted with little red crosses surrounded by picket fences, silently testifying to the islander’s faith.

The priests and prophets of the John Frum cult, called “messengers,” foretold the return of planes and ships bearing cargo for the people of Tanna escorted by John Frum himself. The movement declared that in addition to returning to their “kastom” [custom] ways, money was to be thrown away, gardens be left untended, and pigs killed since all material wealth will be provided in the end by John Frum. Their god has yet to emerge from his home inside the volcano to bring the promised riches, and at least one visitor’s guide offers this advice: “If you question a local about their beliefs, they will most likely reply that you have been waiting for your messiah to return for over 2000 years – while they have been waiting for only 70.”

(were I not in class at the moment I'd take the time to condense the above and paraphrase; but instead I'm cribbing it from this article.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

an alternative to church

I intended to attend a student's first piano recital yesterday--because that's the kind of thing I like doing--so I took the morning off from church to walk the dogs and do a few errands. the walk itself felt wonderful--simply being in communion with outside and companions can feel like a holy act--and on the way home I passed the smashed fluorescent bulbs I'd mentioned friday, reminding me that I hadn't done what I said I would. I would do that before heading to the recital.

what I'd expected to take one hour and a single bag took two hours and six bags. it wasn't a mere dozen or so large bulbs but hundreds of smaller ones, some the size of pencils, that had been broken on the roadside and heaped. the piles lay inches thick over struggling grasses and worts that were a neon yellow when I uncovered them. I wore my elbow-length leather gloves and scooped the shards onto a snow shovel with a broom head. it took a lot of stooping and standing, and when I was finally finished and had hoisted the half-full bags, crunchy now with the sound of breaking glass, to the roadside, I could not drive to the cities but drank a beer on the deck and stared at the trees until I fell asleep.

it was a kind of reverse-communion, not an adding to but a removing from, that I felt a part of in bagging those shards. there will remain a trace of the chemicals and glass by the road because there was always a layer at the base of each pile so infused with dirt I couldn't remove it. but the plants can grow over it and in a month or so it'll be invisible. but the birds and the insects serenading me sounded good and the sweat on my brow felt right and if there is a shrivening effect to doing hard necessary work this qualified.

Friday, April 9, 2010

we are the Obama we're waiting for

"Imagine if during his State of the Union Address in 2010 Obama had embraced a New Bottom Line and said that institutions, social practices, corporations, and government policies should be judged rational, efficient, or productive not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe! Imagine what could have happened had he insisted that we hold ourselves accountable to those values and told us that we should hold him accountable to those values: he could have excited Americans once again, helped them overcome the despair that he himself contributed to creating, and put the focus on movements rather than on what he himself might accomplish on his own."

this impassioned comment is from rabbi michael lerner, editor of tikkun magazine, in the current issue. it is a statement that implicates us who worked hard for obama's election and then stepped back. it is a statement that should shame us.

obama's campaign slogan that resonated most with me was "we are the people we've been waiting for." we managed it, an uphill battle to popularize and elect a staunchly left-leaning black american politician to the most powerful office in the united states. and then we said, "well, that's done, what's on tv?" ought we to be surprised then when he's the object of a backlash unlike any seen since the worst days of "travelgate" and jerry falwell-sold videotapes alleging bill clinton's personal involvement with murder? we've set him up and then stepped away and we shouldn't be surprised when someone else, someone not as committed to idealism and public good and change,comes along to prop him up.

lerner's indictment reminds us it's our responsibility when, as sarah palin puts it, that "hopey-changey stuff" doesn't work out the way we wanted. yesterday on our way to a funeral viewing in new richmond, jayne suddenly said, "oh, they did it." she had seen days earlier on the new richmond facebook page someone complaining about the walmart detritus--bags and cups and plastic--along the road south of town that'd been uncovered by the melting snow. someone else had posted "well, if it bugs you, why don't you do something about it?" then some other people started posting times they were available. what we passed yesterday was mile after mile of full garbage bags waiting to be picked up.

someone will likely point out that it won't really change anything. in another 3 month's time the garbage will be back there and the same people aren't likely willing to pick it up again. that's probably true. but that says more about the people spreading the garbage than about the people picking it up. and it says more about the people waiting for someone else to pick up the garbage.

what should you do? I haven't got a clue. there are hundreds of opportunities; take your pick. I do know this: about a mile northwest of my house, thus that much closer to the twin cities, someone took it on himself to smash at least a dozen flourescent lights along the side of the road rather than pay to have them recycled. it is a singularly nasty sight, piles of white powdery glass shards among the new buds. tomorrow I'll go over there with my leather gloves and put the piles in bags. it'll probably take me an hour.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

a lay leadership code of ethics

(some years ago, while training to be a commissioned lay leader, I was given the assignment to create a workable code of ethics for my position. I based it on the UUA's ministerial code and offering it here for others' use.)


1. Because the religious life is a growing life, I will respect and protect my own needs for spiritual growth, ethical integrity, and continuing education in order to deepen and strengthen myself and my leadership.
2. I commit myself to honor the ideals of liberal religion, and to actively explore and articulate the underlying values and principles that those ideals express. I commit myself to honest work, believing that the honor of my profession begins with the honest use of my own mind and skills.
3. I will sustain a respect for my position. Because my private life is woven into my practice of the ministry, I will refrain from private as well as public words or actions degrading to the ministry or destructive of congregational life.
4. I pledge that I will not engage in any other exploitative relationship that abuses the power and damages the trust that a specific individual, a congregation, or an institution has placed in me. As a professional religious leader, I have the responsibility to have read and understood this Code, and to live in accordance with its contents.
5. In the interest of further developing my own work, I accept the definition of nearby Commissioned Lay Leaders and UU ministers as my colleagues with whom I will keep regular contact. I accept the responsibility to confront a colleague's misuse of power or to report concerns about suspected misconduct to the appropriate office. Furthermore, I will be aware of and observe the legal requirements of my State regarding reporting of physical or sexual misconduct.
6. I will recognize the power that ministry gives me and refrain from practices which are harmful to others and which endanger my integrity or my professional effectiveness. Such practices include sexual activity with any child or with an unwilling adult, with someone I am advising, with the spouse or partner of a person in the congregation, with interns, or any other such exploitative relationship. I recognize that as a religious leader in whom trust and power have been placed, I am called to be faithful both morally and legally to my professional relationships. I must never abuse the authority of my position by manipulating others to satisfy my personal needs. (Examples of such abuse would be sexualized behavior with any child, adolescent, or vulnerable adult seeking advice or comfort; sexualized behavior with any adult who is in another committed relationship; sexualized behavior with interns or youth advisors).
7. Because the demands of others upon me will be many and unceasing, I will try to keep especially aware of the rights and needs of my family and my relation to them as spouse, parent and friend. Because the role and the demands on the religious leader require continual updating of professional perspectives, I will seek and maintain outside collegial contacts and continuing education opportunities to provide such professional growth. As an individual who brings a complex variety of needs and boundaries to my professional life, I commit to seek any needed personal assistance and counseling from a professional outside of my congregation. Since the demands of others upon me will be many and constant, I will try to keep especially aware of my rights and limits, and if I am not single, of the rights and limits of my family, and of my relation to them as a spouse, partner, parent, or friend.
8. The recognition of the importance of religious education by my congregation or employer requires acknowledgment of my worth as a professional religious leader. Understanding that other religious professionals will follow after me, I will work with the appropriately designated group within my congregation or place of employment to help establish up-to-date standards of fair compensation and working conditions that support professional religious leadership.

1. I will strictly respect confidences given me by colleagues and expect them to keep mine.
2. I will not speak scornfully or in derogation of any colleague in public. In any private conversation critical of a colleague, I will speak responsibly and temperately.
3. Should I know that a lay leader is engaged in practices that are damaging, I will speak openly and frankly to her/him and endeavor to be of help. If necessary, I will bring such matters to the attention of my Resource Liaison and the District Executive.
4. I will share leadership opportunities and responsibilities with my ministerial colleagues openly, honestly, and ethically. In particular, I will consult with local UU ministers in advance of any professional or public engagements that I may be asked to undertake in their communities or congregations.
5. When leaving a position of religious leadership for any reason, I will refrain from being involved in the process of selecting my successor. Further, I will support my successor by leaving room for her/him to establish her/his own identity and leadership in the congregation and by refraining from accepting positions on policy-making bodies in the congregation (such as the Board, Religious Education Committee, Finance Committee, or Personnel Committee) for one year after my professional leadership has been concluded in that congregation. I will encourage members of the congregation to speak to the current Commissioned Lay Leader or other appropriate persons for answers to all current religious education issues or concerns.
6. I will keep my collegial relationships alive by attending district and regional meetings whenever possible and by thoughtfully considering matters of mutual professional interest.
1. I will stand in a supportive relation to people on other committees and keep for them an open mind and heart.
2. I will strictly respect confidences given me by congregants and expect them to keep mine.
3. I will uphold the practices of congregational polity including both those of local self-government and those of counsel and cooperation within our Association. Throughout my ministry I will teach the history, meaning and methods of congregational polity, recognizing informed and faithful adherence to these practices as the bond preserving and reforming our free corporate religious life.
4. I will respect the traditions of the congregation, enriching and improving these in consultation with the members.
5. I will hold to a single standard of respect and help for all members of the congregational community of whatever age or position.
6. I will respect absolutely the confidentiality of private communications of members.
7. I will remember that a congregation places special trust in its professional leadership and that the members of the congregation allow a Commissioned Lay Leader to become a part of their lives on the basis of that trust. I will not abuse or exploit that trust for my own gratification.
8. I will not invade the private and intimate bonds of others' lives, nor will I trespass on those bonds for my own advantage or need when they are disturbed. In any relationship of intimate confidentiality, I will not exploit the needs of another person for my own.
9. I will not engage in sexual activities with a member of the congregation who is not my spouse or partner, if I am married or in a committed relationship. If I am single, before becoming sexually involved with a person in the congregation, I will take special care to examine my commitment, motives, intentionality, and the nature of such activity and its consequence for myself, the other person, and the congregation.
10. I will exercise a responsible freedom of the pulpit with respect for all persons, including those who may disagree with me.
11. I will encourage by my example an inclusive, loyal, generous, and critical spiritual leadership.
12. I will take responsibility for encouraging clear delineation of responsibility, accountability and channels of communication for the minister(s) and other staff.
13. I will take responsibility for encouraging adequate and sensible standards of financial and other support for minister and staff.
1. I will encourage the growth of our congregations and the spread of the ideals of the Unitarian Universalist tradition and fellowship.
2. I will participate and encourage lay participation in meetings and activities of our Association.
3. I will encourage financial support of the Unitarian Universalist Association and its associated programs.
4. Because respect for the worth and dignity of every person is fundamental to our Unitarian Universalist ministry, I will work to confront attitudes and practices of unjust discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, disability, or ethnicity, within myself and in individuals, congregations, and groups I serve.
1. In word and deed I will live and speak in ways representing the best Unitarian Universalist tradition and leadership in the larger community.
2. I will maintain a prophetic pulpit, offering to the community religious and ethical leadership.
3. I will encourage members' participation in efforts to solve community problems.
4. I will offer sympathetic support to neighboring ministers of other religious bodies.
5. As a professional religious leader, I understand that whenever I participate in the wider community, I represent my particular faith group and should provide a living model of ethical and religious leadership for people of all ages and circumstances.
6. I will honor our liberal religious imperative to work for social justice. In turn, I will encourage all people within my congregation to participate in community and world issues as the embodiment of living religiously in the liberal tradition.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

naked truth

I was not mtv's audience when it originated. a homeless 20-something with no disposable income and less inclination to watch commercials of radio songs I didn't like, I think the network could be excused for letting people like me fall between the cracks.

but the fact is that mtv was a great boon to the vagabond. when I was on the road, nearly every lonely rural laundromat television was tuned to it, nearly every roadside store clerk staffing a register had it on, nearly every bar television tuned to it between waves of laid-off factory workers. it was where I learned about what was happening or what mtv wanted me to know was happening. I can't diss it: I saw my first images of tiannaman square and tank man, heard my first strains of james mcmurtry, saw my first glimpses of the twisted weirdness whose existence warmed me in the remote dark. mtv, while not the revolution people like me had hoped for, was televised at least, and enough people appreciated it that wherever I went, I could witness it.

this is to say that while I'm not a child of the video age, I am alive to it and to its messages. the latest video to catch my attention, and that of a lot of other people's, is erykah badu's "window seat." I love nudity, of course, and while badu isn't nearly as naked as I might like her to be, it's the statement she makes by appearing as naked as youtube will allow that is important.

badu shows, in shot after shot, she has got some back and sags and her belly juts out where most women are taught to pull in. this is a real person stripping down on dealey plaza, and badu has opted to share the truth of her naked, common-woman body with the viewer. she struts, she rolls, she has folds and she jiggles and she is not ashamed. the song itself is pleasant way to spend time and not likely to be remembered in a year's time. but it's the act of taking off her clothes--and the sudden, jarring, dispiriting ending that most viewers seem to ignore or forget--that resonates for me. (the fined leveled against her by the city is a minor reminder of the truth of her ending statement.) I am the audience for this music video. they have finally caught up to me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

church is the people: easter

yesterday's easter service I spent at my friend pete's little church a mere 5 miles further out on the rim. this used to be my wife's congregation when she still skewed lutheran and we return every once in a while just to see the people there.

pete is a good man, a little older than me, born and bred in tanzania, more liberal in his thinking than he'd like people to know, and whose greatest years he says were spent as a truck driver. it's partly through my conversations with him that I decided to attend seminary.

the little church in gilman, part of a 3-point parish with spring valley and clear lake, was filled up for the service--I counted at least 200 people, not counting kids. many were in their easter finery, and if I'd had a nickel for every little girl in a bonnet I'd have made--well, maybe 50 cents. but there seemed like a lot of them.

we sat behind a couple families that included these, who seemed so busy between looking at one another through the crowns of their hats and dropping, purposely or not, their change they were to put in the offering plate that it seemed like the service was one big very dull commercial and they weren't able to get up or change the channel. it wasn't as bad a sermon as they thought--pete is not a charismatic speaker or pastor but his heart's in the right place (leftward and "religion is about people"-ward). this one was hard to get hold of: he started by praising the local college's winning the national rube goldberg competition and moved from the improbable but effective goldberg contraptions to the impossible but symbolic xtian resurrection to the messy but workable system of organs in our individual bodies. there were a lot of jumps between segments of the sermon's message, but we were in a xtian church and knew where we were headed, and pete is awarded points for being self-aware enough to describe his own sermon as a rube goldberg affair.

it's an old, comfortable church composed of comfortable people. it has a pretty large young adult following, mostly families but a few singles, and is layered with multiple generations. we were witness to the deterioration of one retired farmer who was considerably more befuddled than he'd been when we last saw him, and the tears of one of his daughters when he started down the wrong aisle after taking communion and needing to be steered not-too-gently by his wife at his elbow. but we were also witness to the little girl I'd filled water balloons with at a church block party almost a decade ago, and which I'd forgotten all about, but she said was one of her fondest memories. this same little girl is about to graduate high school and start college in the fall.

this is the meaning of the phrase "church is the people not the liturgy." pete's sermon seemed at times made up on the fly and some changes were evident mid-service. the choir was brought up early and the kid lofting the paschal candle had to be reminded where she should stand and what she should do. but the organist had to expand her communion repertoire from 3 to 6 hymns when it became evident there were so many more people intent on kneeling at the rail than they'd expected and it took 5 minutes to exit the tiny church because so many people were shaking pete's hand. it is a good thing to see and a better thing to experience.