Saturday, April 27, 2013

tee shirts and ice

Today is the second day running with seasonal temps here on the rim and everyone is taking advantage of it.  On my drive to get stamps this morning there were guys in short sleeves and yesterday I saw a girl of about 10 running pellmell down her family's very long driveway in baggy red shorts, her very white legs kicking behind her.  I've got sheets and blankets hanging out to catch as much of the fresh air as they can to keep it snug in its fibers so as we sleep in them we breath it all in.  Yesterday we took a walk on the adjacent trail with the littlest ones who have never set foot on it before and the looks on their faces, wide grins with their tongues out and the eldest one panting, made our hearts sing.  In the evening we met my sister-in-law for beer and patty melts at one of the local watering holes and listened to a fellow on acoustic guitar covering the Dead and the Allmans and Johnny Cash.  We dropped $10 in his tip jar and felt right in the world.  Now today I have just walked in from a long walk with the youngest and spriest of our beasts.  It was an odd thing, wearing a tee shirt while tramping through the woods stepping on the patches of ice and snow to keep my feet from burying in the mud, the musky smell of wet hay leaving me intoxicated.  And then to sit down to write this, and the below--the song that converted me to punk--suddenly playing on the local radio station.  Such a day is as perfect as can be, the sort one hopes, if there is a heaven, that can be lived over and over and over.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the secret

Liberal religion needs working-class realism.  Despite the black church's reputation for other-worldliness, it has met the needs of the present.  Child care, food and shelter, funerary matters, the cause of civil rights, and voter registration are all concerns to which the black church has responded...The situation of blacks in America has always served to make political freedom a pressing issue...
However, the primary function of the church is as a "temple," not as a "forum."  Whatever transpires needs to happen in the context of a worshiping community.  It is there that people bear witness to and celebrate their roots in Universal life.  It is in this time and space set apart that people recognize an intimacy with the world that pervades life at all times.  Here the elements of spirituality in religion draw us beyond the intellect to the felt connection with a personal God.  It was in this relationship that the slave found dignity, for it cut across all distinctions and touched one's essential humanness...[This] experience of connectedness is the essential spiritual element in religion.  This connection and consequent human dignity are inherent in life, and this inherent dignity...bestows forgiveness on the vulnerable individual who inevitably fails in an achievement-oriented society...[and] it destroys the walls of isolation around those who feel that dignity can only rest upon personal achievement.
--from Black Pioneers in a White Denomination by Mark D. Morrison-Reed

So many of us in liberal religions are looking, some might say desperately looking (and none moreso than those of us coming out of liberal seminaries), for what it is that can hope to help us reignite the spark of our congregations.  For decades, the conservative churches and the fundamentalists seemed to have the answer:  Greater personal responsibility and greater personal blame that came from a greater sense that God had imposed a certain order on humanity which, due to those religions' unwillingness to read modern changes into that order, as well as that order's own inherently self-contradictory nature, made people simultaneously blessed and sinful (Martin Luther called them "simul iustus et peccator"), self-celebratory and self-condemning, and the collection baskets ranneth over.  That has all changed.  The fundamentalists don't have the secret.  There may simply not be a secret but a constantly moving target that alights here and then there.  The late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries seemed to be liberal religion's turn, and then it was the conservative's.

Maybe what we're all missing is a sense of the best of both worlds.  Morrison-Reed makes much (not without cause) at places in his book of the tendency of Unitarian Universalism to privilege intellectual argument over what he refers to here as an experience of connection that in more conservative circles "is marked by an ecstatic event."  It is certainly true, as the old joke goes, that if the road in the afterlife is forked with a sign pointing "This way to Heaven; this way to arguing about Heaven," all the UUs will be tramping the latter way.  But it's also true, as Nas puts it, that "life is good, no matter what, life is good."
What does each of us need to know?  That we are valued and that our lives have significance.  We struggle to acquire that same sense of somebodiness that the slaves desired. But they knew that activity could not achieve this feeling.  It had to be a gift.  Yet as a gift, it undercuts activity, revealing that the source of value is Being itself...[It] is on this level that one senses or knows the ultimate connectedness of existence.  To truly value oneself is to value that which undergirds life...[and] this shatters all illusions of isolation.  One begins to experience the suffering of others as if it were one's own, and to act to alleviate it.
This experience of others can talk us off the bridge, even when we put ourselves there, loves art, cooks and enjoys good food, educates, puts others at ease, tells one another "salaam," and reminds us everything's good, everything's fine.
We listen so deeply to the stories of others that we begin to know their pain.  To open ourselves to that which we know will be painful is an act of strength.  And having done this we can act with...commitment and...conviction...
To quote the great and sainted Lou Reed, "Life's good, but not fair at all."  It's the unfairness that one day convinces us there's no reason to even bother getting out of bed, and the next day forces us up because something has to be done.

How do we reignite the fire under congregations?  Nobody knows.  Perhaps we are looking for something that doesn't exist.  Perhaps we're looking for something the best of liberal (and conservative) religion already has in abundance:  The willingness to listen to others and share their pain.  Not to wring our hands and identify our guilt in their pain because that will always be there--there will never be an end to the involvement of those of us who are privileged, however you want to define privilege, in the pain of others.  But we can acknowledge our role in their stories.  Mia McKenziei, in a recent blogpost I have really enjoyed (inasmuch as someone can enjoy having his blindness pointed out), echoes Morrison-Reed's definition and reminds us we can make some things better.
For a dozen years we have watched as the mainstream media has ignored the deaths of so many brown children, day after year after decade. I mean, they were ignoring the deaths of Black children all over the world, including here, way before that, but we didn’t have to see them ignoring it so blatantly every morning and afternoon and evening and night on TV (that 24-hour news cycle is a bitch; they have time for everything except our stories). Also, before the internet, and specifically before bloggers, the killing of black children by police officers had much less chance of even being known about outside of the community in which it happened. So, you know, you could at least feign ignorance. But now we know how often these things are happening...Why don’t our children get to be children? Why don’t they ever get to be innocent?...The only way to stop this is for you to stop ignoring our lives and our deaths and our stories. For you to put the names and faces of those Black and brown children in your news and on your Facebook pages. It is not enough for you to say, when confronted, that you care. You need to act like it. 
Perhaps the secret is this:  Treat everyone as if he or she is your child, your parent, or your sibling.  It should be simple but of course as with so much else it seems not to be.  Making it happen is reason enough to get anyone out of bed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

love's the only house

The past week this song has been rumbling in the back of my mind over and over.  It suggests in simple terms and complex imagery how we ought to view the world and, in its final story, how we ought to respond.  I'm not posting the official music video cuz you should just listen to the music and the words.  I had to play it again to see if I still tear up at it.  Yep.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

terror is terror, no matter why it's done

There have been a lot of reports in the news and online about the bombings in Boston, and now that the second suspect has been captured alive, many of those reports have taken on an air of triumphalism, as if his capture ends the whole situation.  Life, of course, is not a Gangbusters episode, and if the history of public attacks teaches us anything it is that the death or capture of an individual doesn't mean everything is all right.

But I've wondered too at the relative paucity of news accounts invoking the same terror about the explosion in West, Texas.  There've been a lot of news stories, of course, and many of them are heartbreaking.  But what I wonder about is the lack of stories posing the explosion as more than accidental.

I don't mean to suggest anyone planted an explosive or started the fire that caused the explosion.  What I mean is that the accident was foreseeable and avoidable.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but there is information, sometimes hidden in news stories about the loss of life, (page 2, 6th paragraph) that indicate that the fertilizer industry is badly overseen in the years since deregulation.  The last time OSHA inspected this particular plant was 1985, and while it was more recently inspected in 2011 by PHMSA, this is not the same.  West Fertilizer Company, whose plant's explosion has caused at least a dozen deaths and maybe up to five or six times that number by the time everyone has been accounted for, and decimated the majority of the town, answered "no" to the EPA's question whether its plant was at risk of fire or explosion,

This is not the first time this has happened and it's not likely to be the last.  We are quick to call the intentional bombing in Boston a terrorist act--and while the bombers may have acted as part of a group or as individuals the effect on the population certainly was terror--but we need a label too for intentional lying about risk and danger on the part of industry executives and lawyers who are safe in the notion that their rewards will outweigh the cost of regulation and compliance.  Terror is terror whether it's done for ideals or profit.  You may have noticed no West Fertilizer top executives lived in West, Texas.

We need to continue praying for the people devastated in Boston and in Texas.  But it is not out of place that at least one of those prayers should be that executives and lawyers rank the safety of employees and their community above the cost of doing business.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"a god who condones greed and injustice"

The Old Testament record of the dramatic struggle between the worshipers of Yahweh and Baal is illustrative of the clash between a democratic people with a democratic idea of God and an aristocratic people with an exploiting God...The Israelites were born to the rugged freedom of the hill country, inheritors of a rich social idealism, worshipers of a God, Yahweh, who stood for justice.  The Amorites were a commercial people, with traditions of a slave class, worshipers, therefore, of Baal, who became the shekel raised to the nth power, a God who condoned greed and injustice...[The] victory of Yahweh worship by the Israelites over Baal worship by the Amorites [is rightly called] the first great victory of the common people, for it meant the establishment of the religious sanctions to democracy, brotherhood and freedom.
So the struggle has gone on through the course of history, a democratic people projecting onto their idea of the deity those social and spiritual qualities which were most highly developed...Each nobler and more just conception of God, therefore, becomes evidence of a new level of political life, and is in turn a magna carta of liberties yet to be won.
In the light of this undoubted law, the  problem of theology in the twentieth century becomes twofold.  First, the problem of imagining attributes of deity which are at least as democratic as the attributes of the most highly socialized [people], and second, creating an idea of God which shall bring [humanity] up to a newer and finer level of social experience.
The old idea of a God who created a spiritual aristocracy, who maintained partiality, whose sympathies were not as wide as the whole of humanity, are patently inadequate to meet the new needs...[The] democratic instinct in the new [people have a passion] after freedom and brotherhood...lays bare [their] heart and mind to the great human current and exult in the tides of feeling which pour upon [them], enriching and enlarging [them].  There is no mistaking the widening of sympathies, the greater sense of inclusiveness, the new solidarity of humanity...A democratic people demand a democratic God, a robust deity who likes his universe, who hungers for fellowship, who is in and of and for the whole of life...
--from The Social Implications of Universalism by Clarence Skinner, quoted in Universalism in America:  A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, edited by Ernest Cassara (my emphasis)

What Skinner was trying to get at a century ago was the question "What becomes of Christianity when it has become what it triumphed over, when it becomes the religion of empire?"  Obviously, he says, it must change.  And change consistently or at least often to remain "robust."

By this point what had become the various forms of Christianity had been simultaneously hidebound and mutating for nearly two millenia, great attention paid to the words in the Bible but not to the spirit of the best of it, as if its modern world continued to be made up of nomadic people and Romans.  Contemporary peoples required a God who was at least as open to change and empathy as they were.

Skinner's resultant God was almost Whitmanesque as a God who "believes in the flesh and the appetites," who does "not ask the wounded person how he feels," but becomes "the wounded person."  In two years, Skinner's country would join the bloodshed the rest of Europe was already engulfed in, as destructive of life and complacency as Whitman's Civil War had been.  In a presaging of our contemporary dilemma, Skinner was trying to articulate a God who mattered when six year old children are gunned down.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

this is what we do

When I was serving the congregation further out on the rim, I was regularly looked at to be the voice of calm and relaxed thought during times of fear:  the nonanxious presence, my pastoral care teacher, echoing Rabbi Edwin Friedman, calls it.  While I don't kid myself for a moment that I am such for you, I like to think that there's a call for the same in cyberspace, if not at the moment confusing times happen then at the moment you find this.

There is truth to the criticism that people of the US only pay attention to the events that affect people like us and particularly when it happens within our borders.  The explosions in Boston, in which only ("only:" how odd is it that we've come to a place when we talk of death in terms of "only"?) two people have died--admittedly, horrifically, one of them an 8 year old boy--lend proof to that.  The fact we need to be reminded people in Iraq and Afghanistan, many more people, were killed on the same day need not be a condemnation; we could wish that everyone could be in the position to take notice only of local deaths.  That we see such events, as David Sirota writes, as "normal" may actually be beneficial to our identification with the world and with others.

But the fact remains that these things hurt.  And they should.  We should cry when 8 year old boys and girls are blown apart, when adults who are celebrating a personal or a communal triumph are hit with shrapnel, when someone's hate and anger and fear, because those are the causes of indeterminate killing no matter who the perpetrators are, blows holes in the fabric of our community.  We ought to rend our garments and wail and beat our breasts and pound our heads into the dirt. This is the correct human response to human loss.

We don't know who is responsible and may not for some time.  We may never know, which is probably the most frightening prospect.  It doesn't matter, in the long run; in the long run, as John Maynard Keynes reminds us, we are all dead. How we got that way isn't nearly as relevant.

What is relevant is how we respond to the deaths and injuries of others.  We mourn.  We keen.  We hug our children and our mates and our friends and strangers closer to us for warmth and safety.  We help one another in the best ways we know how.  We are the nonanxious presence in the presence of anxiety.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

TMI in blogs?

I'm of two minds about self-disclosure in writing.  I'm all for, say, bits and pieces of someone's life or background when it adds to her being a fully realized character in his narrative.  I like to feature lots of my past in my own work, and sometimes the problems I currently face.  But I'm not entirely comfortable reading about somebody's issues when they're presented as the focus of a blogpost.

Having said that, I'm a regular reader of two blogs by writers who are undergoing health issues and whose issues have taken centerstage recently.  A part of me, maybe the writer part, is resentful because those issues aren't the reason I read those blogs and their admissions hit me as too much information.  But another part of me, the minister part, is aware that for some people writing about and publicizing what they're going through is helpful in their dealing with pain.  Montaigne's revolutionize of the essay came about by mixing his personal ills and traumas into the pot of reflective scholarship.

So count me as one of those readers for whom TMI is annoying but for whom What Someone is Going Through is instructive.  I'm not aware of this being a controversy except perhaps among those of us who take blog writing, and writing itself, more seriously than it might deserve.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

what is a who?

Over the past weekend I was the guest preacher at a mid-size Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Bismarck, North Dakota, where I sermonized on the recent Personhood Bills passed there (and in other states).  I was not only welcomed and given an enthusiastic ear, I was fortunate to happen to have come when students (several of them pictured on the school's website) from the local Seventh Day Adventist academy came to visit.  That's not sarcasm:  I was raised in the church and I took a few moments to introduce myself to the group before the service and offer to talk with them afterward as someone who had left the church at about their age but not out of anger or hurt but because I was looking for something it couldn't offer me.  Half the group took me up on that and we had a wonderful discussion in the hall.  That was probably the highest point for me in a weekend full of high points.

A Sermon Delivered to the
Bismarck-Mandan (ND) 
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Church
On April 8, 2013

            If we had the technology available to us I’d show it to you, but since we haven’t I’ll have to settle for telling you about this movie I saw a few days ago.  It was called Cargo, and at seven minutes long it was a finalist in Australia’s Tropfest short movie competition
            It’s entirely wordless although not silent and signs are written in English.  Our protagonist wakes from a car wreck and in the first minutes we begin to understand he’s in the midst of a zombie infestation.  Now, stay with me here, especially if you don’t like zombie or horror movies, because unlike most of them this film has an upbeat ending. 
            Anyway, he wakes to what we assume is his wife zombified and kept away from him only by the seatbelt she’s wearing.  He flings himself out of the car but returns to do two things:  to kill his zombie-wife and to retrieve the cargo of the title:  their infant daughter in the back seat.  He hoists her onto his back in one of those backpack baby carriers you probably remember from the 80s and 90s and pushes himself to start walking.  There are zombie snuffles and groans and such sounds all around him as he makes his way through a forest.
            Before long, though, as he stops to catch his breath, he sees something that the viewer has already noticed:  There is a nasty gouge out of his left arm; his wife, or someone, has bitten him.    We realize by the look on his face what this bite means, and he begins preparations for his transformation.
            Now if you, like me, are a watcher of zombie movies, this is something we have never seen before.  Someone preparing to become a zombie.  What he does is the following:  he makes notes on the map in his pocket, x-ing out some areas previously labeled “safe” and marking some other places previously unmarked as “safe”; he writes on his left arm the amount of time since he was bitten; he collects from an interrupted child’s birthday party a balloon that he hands back to his daughter to hold; and then he pulls from somewhere below the screen so we don’t see where he’s getting it from some bloody, gory viscera we assume comes from a recent victim.  This last he puts into a regular plastic shopping bag and attaches to one end of a tree branch he carries.
            We follow our pair for a while through the forest, his gait getting slower and slower, his shoulders hunching further up with the weight of his child on his back, until finally he stops as he hears his daughter cry.  He turns and in that moment we discover what has happened.  He has fully changed and in our horror we know he is scenting his daughter on his back. 
            But his attention is drawn instead to the viscera dripping from the plastic bag just out of reach at the other end of the branch he’s shoved between his shoulder and the carrier strap.  It’s this smell that keeps his attention away from her and keeps him moving forward. 
            Finally he reaches a rise and the balloon dislodged from his daughter’s hand catches his eye and he follows it as it ascends.  Suddenly there’s a sharp pop and at first we think the balloon has burst but instead it is a human sniper who has targeted and shot him.  A moment later three armed survivors approach him and determine he is a zombie and fully dead.  For a moment we think they will leave his body there, but they stay back a moment longer than maybe they ought to and hear the hidden child’s whimper.  They find his daughter strapped to his back; across her belly is written “My name is Rosie.” 
            In the final scene we see two of the survivors digging a marked grave for the zombie while the third holds the baby to her like it’s the last salvation anyone has.  What has happened in this seven minutes is that the director and writer, Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, have managed what no horror film has managed before:  they have remade a stock horror trope into a complex, multifaceted, fully realized character.  Reversing the process, they have made a zombie a person.
            It is an odd juxtaposition to what has been done in North Dakota by the governor’s signatures affixed on March 26th to HouseBills 1305 and 1456 and Senate Bill 2305, the so-called Personhood bills, which effectively ban legal abortion in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected—most experts agree that is at about six weeks after conception—and denies allowances in the case of rape, incest, or genetic disorders.  In effect, the state of North Dakota has bestowed personhood on fetuses in many cases before the mother has even realized she is pregnant. 
            To his credit, Governor Jack Dalrymple recognizes the probable fate of these bills:  The bills’ requirements “greatly increase the chances that this measure will face a court challenge [while] the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question.”  However, he has also stated that “this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade [and represents a] new question for the courts regarding a precise restriction on doctors who perform abortions.”  That is certainly one way of putting it.  Another might be to suggest this is a shot across the bow by a greatly emboldened, massively financed conservative party whose cries against wasteful government spending and intrusion by big government into the lives of the governed ring hollow when it pushes an agenda like this.
            But in the words of the sainted Arlo Guthrie, that’s not what I came to tell you about.  You know more about that than I do.  You live this and I’m just watching it from the outside.  I came to talk about where the law got its ideas about who rates personhood and how that accords with our Unitarian Universalist principles and beliefs.   
While it is not true we are a Judeo-Christian nation it is true that many of our legislators subscribe to those beliefs. Judaism, Christianity and Islam follow a simple trajectory to determine who becomes a person.  A person is someone who has been born.  While the writers of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Psalm 139 refer to knowing a person in the womb prior to her birth, this refers to an omniscient God who is also aware of the fall of a sparrow, and not to fallible, unobservant people.   The Talmud explicitly states that “you cannot choose between one human life and another.” Only birth confers personhood.  Until the emergence of the child, literally the crowning of the head, a fetus is part of the mother and she, and not the potential human, has personhood.  Conservative Muslimsrecognize a ‘person’ as someone having been alive 120 days, or four months, the point at which a fetus becomes “ensouled,” although as with much Scriptural writing, the number is probably not meant as a literal time period but a poetic method for naming an uncertain amount, like Jesus’ answer that someone should forgive anoffender seventy times seven times. 
PhilipMitchell, professor of English at Dallas Baptist University, has articulated a solid summary of how Biblical peoples recognized personhood:  “Being [in] the image of God,” he explains, includes the following elements:  “dignity, glory, and honor…a specific…purpose and end…[whose]  intermediate goal and purpose in this world [is] the furthering of God's shalom--his reign of perfect peace and justice over all humanity…Humans have certain God-given rights, even if we are also capable of voluntarily giving those rights up …[and] our personhood is developed and renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit upon us.”  The great Biblical scholar Dr. Suess encapsulates this definition as a person’s a person no matter how small. 
The Biblical definition is not exclusionary since there is no suggestion that someone’s disability, say, a man blind since birth, is denied personhood, that is, has sinned.  In fact, the writer of John 9 explicitly rejects that:  “His disciples asked [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” A person’s a person, then, no matter how unabled by disease, injury, or even by choice.  Once conferred on her, a person never gives up his personhood, even in death.
            Historically, Unitarians and Universalists followed the Biblical definition of how a person formed.  There is, of course, a vast difference between belief and practice, and while nearly every nation has submitted its government to one or another theology, probably none actually held fast to the injunction to, as the writer of Matthew put it, “do for the least of these as you would for me.”  Nevertheless, there was a concerted effort in the nineteenth century United States to compel society to live up to its rhetoric.  Unitarian sympathizer Margaret Fuller’s relational Transcendentalism recognized “all persons, regardless of their relative power [or lack of it], as moral agents…often unjustly deprived of the opportunity to exercise self-determination.”  In the bitter pre-Civil War years this included not only women and slaves and natives, but children and prisoners, immigrants and laborers, the ill and the crazy.  The abolition of slavery, a product of Quakerand Universalist principles, both solidly Christian, solidly Biblically based, finally took hold of the popular will and Abraham Lincoln was inspired by it to declare the near-impossible-to-imagine Emancipation Proclamation.  
But it wasn’t until the 1932 drafting of the “Humanist Manifesto” that religious liberals appealed to something other than a Biblical rationale for what makes a person a person.  Curtis Reese, a founder of Religious Humanism, insisted human beings be treated as having inherent worth.  “Whatever purposes…the cosmos is working out, [people] are not to be regarded as a means for their realization.” Our very existence is worthy of celebration, as are our attempts to change our behavior on reflection.  God may or may not have known us in the womb but once out of it our responsibility is to know ourselves.
Religious liberals were confident enough to assert that, rather than its dominator, people “are a part of nature and [have] emerged as the result [of it].”  In so doing, these proto-Unitarian Universalists were convinced that “Nothing human is alien to the religious…the complete realization of human personality [is] the end of a [person’s] life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now.”  Further, “Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life”  and that “humanism will:  affirm life rather than deny it; seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from it; and endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for a few.” 
            Big, heavy, heady words.  We read in them the genesis of our principles of inherent worth and dignity for everyone; justice, equity and compassion in our relationships; the rights of conscience and a responsible search for meaning; and respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part. 
            If this, then, is the way a Unitarian Universalist ought to recognize the personhood of an individual—that is, that the being in question has inherent worth and dignity, has the equivalent rights for justice and compassion, a right of conscience and making a meaningful search for truth, and is a part of the interdependent web—how should he or she respond to the so-called Personhood Bills that seeks to claim these rights for the fetus whose claim to personhood is a beating heart?
            Here is where individual conscience and search for meaning comes in.  It is a hard question. It should be, the way anything worth really thinking about is hard.  My own answer, which may not be yours, is, yes, an unborn fetus is a person, not because it has a heartbeat or looks less like a fish than in an earlier stage or because it can hiccup, but because it is a part of nature no less than eggs and spermatozoa and cells.  Like any of us it has the potential for becoming more than the sum of its parts.
            However, its personhood cannot and should not trump its mother’s personhood, which is not a potential or a possibility but is a real, breathing, thinking, yearning being whose decision-making abilities must be held paramount above possibility.  There is no more moral right to insist a mother carry her charge to full term than there is to insist a brooding hen remain on its egg until it hatches. 
            Return to the story I started this sermon with, the short film Cargo.  Keep in mind it’s not meant to be an allegory or something heady.  Yolanda Ramke is not likely to have meant it to be anything more than a good story worth a few minutes’ think.  Consider all the decisions, most of them self-denying and all of them hopeful, that the unnamed father makes.  He marks a map for whoever finds his body; he takes care to avoid attacking his daughter; he arranges to have her familiar name used, giving her an identity.  I like to think that if the roles were reversed and it was the mother who wakens to the car wreck and lurches out of the door, we would have exactly the same film.  In the final shot we are shown that the survivors are giving him a marked grave, presumably so that an adult Rosie can visit it, probably not an activity most people would stop to do in the midst of a zombie infestation.  The father is himself given an identity even after death.
            A zombie carrying a child, a mother carrying a child. The authors of the Personhood Bills have written them so that a doctor who performs an abortion after a detectable heartbeat is punished, not the mother who seeks it out.  Is their assumption that women, subject to those wildly firing hormones, are incapable of making a balanced decision?  Would Governor Dalrymple and Senator Margaret Sitte and the other proponents of these bills come away from this film with the conviction that a pregnant woman has worse decision-making abilities than a man turning into a zombie?
            Unitarian Universalists are proud inheritors and upholders of humanist principles, of liberal religious convictions, of a historical progressive view that our obligation—maybe not out of the womb but once we are aware of injustice—is to make as much positive change as we can.  In the words of Lauralyn Bellamy, to give back love to a bruised and hurting world.
            A sermon ends with a call to action but I’m not going to tell you what that actions ought to be.  Again, this is your fight and I’m watching from the sidelines.  But here is what I want you to do now.  Take the hands of the people on both sides of you.  Feel the warmth, the flutter of their pulses, the throbbing life beside you.  However you act, whatever you choose to do, these are the people affected by it.