After yesterday’s service, I was asked how we can each be sure that our personal investments haven’t been made in fossil fuel companies.
You should get a report either quarterly or semi-annually. I have found stocks to be clearly listed. When opening a new account, the safest thing to do is ask for “socially responsible” investing.
It’s much more difficult when looking at mutual funds. Again, check out the report. You’ll see lists either by company or by category. The category is generally “energy”. In either list, you want to find companies from this list: http://gofossilfree.org/companies/.
I’m learning that finding a mutual fund that doesn’t include fossil fuels is very difficult. It would be great for any of us who find them to post it here so we can all shift our money. I’m also thinking about how we can campaign our banks to offer mutual funds that reflect our values. Anyone want to join me?
Update! I just learned that there are only two mutual funds that are not and won’t ever be tied up in fossil fuels. They are Green Century Balanced Fund and Portfolio 21.
Yesterday’s sermon focused on spiritual health. (Lumps and Bumps: A Spiritual Health Self-Exam.) During our second service, we had time for congregational reflection. Somehow the topic was raised concerning complicity with the Nazi’s. This didn’t have anything to do with the topic at hand, but it became the topic during the reflection. (The sermon used Etty Hillesum, Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard to make the point that the natural consequence of the spiritual life is to live within the contraction of human fragility and human hope. Even more, it was about living boldly and joyfully in the face of suffering as part of our confrontation with pain.)
I started the sermon holding up Etty Hillesum as a shining example of someone who confronted suffering but was able to access gratitude such that she was able to continue facing into horror. Her spiritual path was abbreviated because she was killed in Auschwitz at the age of 29, but the two years before that forced her through a dramatic internal transformation.
Grabbing facts during a sermon can be difficult. Sermons aren’t lectures. Only small pieces of information are offered and sometimes that complicates our ability to comprehend fully. That happens during sermons because the facts aren’t the point of preaching; the facts are used to highlight a particular point. Research can happen outside worship. (Sometimes I footnote sermons so folks can read the original sources.)
But, since it came up, I’d like to clarify. Etty Hillesum was in no way a Nazi Collaborator. She had originally gotten a job with the Jewish Council, but learned quickly that they were set up to further the Nazi agenda, so she left. At that point, having a much clearer idea than most what was coming, she could have hidden or escaped. Instead, she applied for a job at Westerbrook Detention Center. It was there that she adopted the ministry of presence I outlined in the sermon. It was there that she faced into great suffering and did not flee. And it was because of that work that she was ultimately sent to Auschwitz and killed along with her entire family.
Etty was transformed by her witness, moving from being a self-absorbed girl to becoming a profoundly ethical and awake woman. She moved from the small world of the self to the larger world of the other. She moved from being concerned about how good she was in bed to being concerned about being a balm for all wounds.
I’m grateful for the chance to introduce her to you and hope we can all hold the dual realities of fragility and hope.
Live, Love, Laugh and Be Happy
There’s a song we used to sing when I was a kid in school that ran through my head all summer. It was written in 1926 called Red Red Robin and the line I keep hearing goes, “Live, love, laugh and be happy, What if [skies are] blue, still I’m walking through fields of flowers.” (As it happens, in looking this up, I’ve learned that the line is actually, “What if I am blue…”, but I was 6 when I learned it. What can I tell you?)
The only reason for this song to have been stuck so long is that it spoke so well to my experience of the summer. The weather was perfect (for those of us who love temperatures over 90) and the world felt alive and lush and gorgeous. I accidentally grew almost a dozen pattypan squashes each between two and four pounds, which has done nothing but fulfill my sense of abundance. Of course the end of summer always offers a glorious harvest, with our without alien pattypan squash. Some of you know that I eat only locally sourced food for 8 months of the year which means my countertops are overflowing with corn and arugula and tomatoes and zucchini and garlic and string beans and plums and swiss chard and onions and watermelon and peaches and cucumbers and apricots and kale and peppers all waiting to be pickled or preserved or jellied or frozen in preparation for the winter months. I’m in the throws of making chutneys and breads and relishes and soups all with the words “live, love, laugh and be happy” running through my head. It’s not difficult to figure out why.
The preparation for fall doesn’t stop with feeding my family. It’s also about feeding our congregation. In June I asked you for a list of books you’d like your minister to read this summer and you had some fabulous ideas. I’ve been devouring new classics like The Elegance of the Hedgehog and old ones like Walden, all with an eye on how we can deepen our lives together. As autumn approaches, I’m looking forward to sharing the summer’s harvest with all of you. I’m starting two or three different opportunities for adult religious education and exploration. There will be a series of stand-alone discussions the 3rd Wednesday of each month on a variety of personal spiritual and identity based topics. I’m also starting a monthly Justice Tuesday series to talk about the issues of the day. And, if there’s interest, I’m thinking about running a multi-week spirituality-based class in the winter or spring.
With all these things before me, it’s no wonder my summer chant has been “Live, Love, Laugh, and Be Happy”.
I co-wrote this statement which will be distributed to the Metro NY District:
Contemporary Racial Inequity: A Statement of Faith
UU Metro NY District
The promise of Unitarian Universalism mirrors the promise of the United States of America: a democratic society based in the true equality of all people. Neither our faith nor our nation, however, can achieve that promise until we face and change systems that value some people more than others, some lives more than others, and some votes more than others. Events of the past month have made it clear just how far we have to go in this regard with respect to race.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin is just one very public example of our national brokenness around racial equality. As a people of faith, we mourn the loss of a young life as we recognize that justice has not been served. As a people who claim to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are called to recognize that, in the moment that George Zimmerman looked at Trayvon Martin–a young, unarmed man walking home from the store–and deemed him a threat to society, a life was devalued because of race. We are called to recognize that the acquittal of George Zimmerman by a jury of his peers was the latest in a long line of official endorsements of the notion that the life of a young, black man is worth less than the life of a white person in our country. This cannot go remedied.
Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking work The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness lets us know that this case does not exist in a vacuum. Day after day, in cases far less publicized than the Zimmerman trial, the lives of people of color are systematically devalued by our “justice” system. People of color–and especially Black men–are treated differently by our system, leading to their disproportionate disenfranchisement and subjecting them to legal discrimination against people with criminal records. Thanks to Alexander’s work, it has become quite clear that we have replaced overt laws that codified racial discrimination with inequities embedded in the very systems that are supposed to protect us. These systems have become a threat to our democratic society.
The threats to our democracy do not end with mass incarceration. In the recently-decided Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court struck down the section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required pre-clearance for election-related changes in areas with a history of racial discrimination in access to voting. This provision, which applied to jurisdictions around the country, including New York, Bronx and Kings Counties in New York, helped ensure that the votes of people of color were counted equally to those of white people in our country. And yet, the Supreme Court’s majority decided that the era of racial discrimination was over. We know better.
It is time we end discriminatory laws and practices. These include all “Stand Your Ground” laws, currently adopted, at least in part, by 35 states. Stand Your Ground, which is not applied equally across racial lines, encourages people to act from their basest fears, which we understand are fed by our society’s racism. It must be abolished. It includes the “Stop and Frisk” practice of the New York Police Department, among others, which creates a culture of fear in too many of our neighborhoods. Stop and Frisk, which is disproportionately imposed on young Black and Latino men, institutionalizes humiliation and degrades human dignity. It also includes opposing laws that seek to limit the access of those on the margins of our society to their right to vote by imposing difficult and discriminatory requirements on the voting process.
It is time we strengthened laws that protect our democracy and promote equality. It is time our congregations made a commitment to joining a national conversation about race–and a commitment to the actions that will come from that conversation. President Obama recently spoke of his own pain at having been racially profiled as a Black man in America in a way that deeply resonated through communities of color in our nation. Our growth as religious people happens when we engage with pain–our pain and the pain of others–in ways that help us expand compassion and a deep sense of our interconnectedness.
It is time that our communities of faith formed partnerships to do the work of affirming and promoting our first and fifth principles–our understanding of the inherent worth and dignity of every person and our commitment to the democratic process in our society. As Unitarian Universalists in the Metro NY District, let us join together with other faith communities for the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington this August happening both in Washington, DC and in New York City. We can and must form and join multi-racial and multi-faith coalitions in our communities. It is only together that we bend the moral arc of the universe a little more toward justice.
As Unitarian Universalists, it is time to fulfill the promise of our faith.
Fresh food abounds in the northeast in July. I’ve already started canning and freezing and preserving so that our winter can be as delicious as our summer. And there’s no question, pie is in fashion as much now as ever.
Not long ago, a food blogger set out to Cascade, Idaho in search of Mrs. G’s Huckleberry Pie. She’d heard that Mrs. G’s pies are the best in the country. One had been rumored to sell for $7,000 at the Cascade County Fair. So, off she went in search of the famous Mrs. G. She went from diner to gas station, from school to post office, asking all the locals where she can get a piece of Mrs. G’s pie. She found a poem written about them by the mayor and she heard stories of their healing powers, but try as she might, she couldn’t find Mrs. G or a piece of Huckleberry pie. She went home a failure. Still determined, this blogger continued her search and eventually was able to get Mrs. G on the phone. Now in her late 80s, Mrs. G’s personality was bursting with flavor: mostly sweet with a twist of tang. Mrs. G confessed that her best friend actually makes a better crust than she does. “What I’ve accomplished” she said, “is making people believe I’m the best pie maker.”
Mrs. G’s pies aren’t for sale. She bakes them for fundraisers only. She picks the huckleberries in her backyard. She removes the stems, washes and dries them. She mixes and kneads, rolls and rests her crust. She fills and bakes and cools her pies. It takes her all day. She does it to raise money for the fire department and the police benevolent fund. She does it to help the town raise money for fireworks on the 4th of July and to help the food bank feed hungry children. In the past, she did it to woo prospective suitors and later to celebrate life’s small victories with her children. She declares today that baking pies for her, is a prayer, a way for her to thank God and Mother Earth for the bounty of the harvest and a community with whom to share it.
That food blogger never did get a piece of huckleberry pie.
In 1902, the New York Times declared that “Pie is the American synonym with prosperity.” They go on to say “Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people have ever been vanquished.” The article goes on to parallel the rise and fall of Great Britain with the amount of pie they ate. To quote “…Gradually the generous dimensions of the pie were reduced until now it is an insignificant tart. As the pie declined, the high ideals were lowered and the prestige and power of Green Britain were dissipated.” The article ultimately declares that the reason British soldiers were failing in South Africa was that they weren’t given enough pie. The author declares the United States of America in good stead with a variety of seasonal pies from which to choose, starting with a winter mince meat pie hearty enough to keep the body warm. “With early spring comes the light and joyous custard, lemon and rhubarb pies to quiet the tender yearnings of the undefined. The perfect days of June welcome the lip-painting berry pies which increase in variety through July until August offers the luscious peach. Then as nature paints the forest with her magic brush, comes in the golden glory of the year, the royal pumpkin pie.”
As it happens, pie has been around as long as civilization. I don’t know that we can chronicle the rise and fall of any particular Empire according to their propensity for pie eating, but it is true that, the art of pie making started with the great and powerful Egyptians. The crust, called a coffyn until fairly recently, was intended as the vehicle in which food could be cooked. In 9,500 BCE, humans were just perfecting the use of stone tools; baking pans were still a thing of the future. Instead, they made what we might call a galette using cereals and water to mold a vessel in which to put meat and vegetables to cook over hot coals. The same method was used by wealthy Greeks and Romans who then fed the coffyns to the servants who joyfully received these crusts soaked in the suppers’ juices.
In the Middle Ages there were animated pies that came to life. Remember the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence?
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
It was popular during large banquets to entertain guests between courses as the food was being prepared. Large pies would be rolled out and cut open and inside there would be live animals or birds that would fly out to everyone’s delight. Occasionally, a person would pop through the top of the pie and proceed to dance and sing on the table. I imagine this is where we got the contemporary idea that a scantily clad woman should jump out of a cake during bachelor parties.
Early American women brought pie recipes with them from England, most of which were filled with meat and vegetables like shepherd or cottage pie. Within a few years, though, berries and squashes became popular and making them round allowed them to literally cut corners, thereby being a bit more thrifty. Women of the Frontier were known to bake pies daily and soon started the tradition of bringing their pies to county fairs and entering them in contests, a practice that has held strong in the west.
Today, pie-making remains central to American culture. Every season has it’s favorites; every family has at least one beloved recipe. We even say “As American as apple pie” even though the only apple native to the Americas is the less than perfect crab apple. That doesn’t stop us from aligning American culture with this dessert.
Mark Twain, that quintessential American writer, was partial to pie. His housekeeper reports that on days when he had gotten too depressed to eat, all she need do was bake a pie for lunch. Inevitably, he’d rise from his bed for a piece of hot pie and a cup of coffee. Pie was important to Twain who, after an unsatisfying trip to Europe, ordered the ingredients for apple, peach, American mince, pumpkin and squash pies so that they could be prepared in advance of his arrival home.
As part of his scathing review of English food he later wrote the following recipe for what he called English Pie:
To make this excellent breakfast dish, proceed as follows:
Take a sufficiency of water and a sufficiency of flour, and construct a bullet-proof dough. Work this into the form of a disk, with the edges turned up some three-fourths of an inch. Toughen and kiln-dry in a couple days in a mild but unvarying temperature. Construct a cover for this redoubt in the same way and of the same material. Fill with stewed dried apples; aggravate with cloves, lemon-peel, and slabs of citron; add two portions of New Orleans sugars, then solder on the lid and set in a safe place till it petrifies. Serve cold at breakfast and invite your enemy.
I hope the month of July, with all its bounty, brings you many pies. Pies that you make, pies that are made for you, pies that you share with neighbors and friends and family and strangers. Enjoy!
Every June, delegates from Unitarian Universalist congregations the world around gather to do the work of our denomination. Thousands of people, all committed to our shared future, come together to debate the issues of the day, to learn from each other, to choose our leaders and to grow in faith.
As I write, I’m preparing for my trip to Louisville, KY where I will join ministerial colleagues, old and new friends and a whole lot of strangers. Every congregation will send delegates to vote on some key issues. We’ll also elect our new Moderator. The Moderator, a volunteer position, is Chief Governance Officer of the UUA. The Moderator chairs our UUA Board of Trustees and the plenary (business) sessions at our annual General Assemblies. She or he also meets regularly with national committees, regional groups, and leaders of Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country. Our current Moderator has been in office for a decade. I’m heading to Kentucky still unsure for whom I will vote.
This year, we’re voting on a Statement of Conscience called “Immigration as a Moral Issue”. The delegates will discuss and debate humane treatment of immigrants. The current draft of the Statement calls for a path to citizenship or legal permanent residency, work visas that require the same worker protections applicable to citizens including fair wages, safe and healthful environments, and receipt of benefits. We are looking for the timely processing of applications for visas and deportation decisions, access to the same medical care and education available to citizens and an evaluation of human and environmental costs of proposed barriers to immigration in immigration policy. In addition, the current draft seeks alternatives to detention for those not considered a threat to society and humane treatment for those being detained including preservation of family unity.
There will also be many conversations related to reproductive justice, the Study Action Issue that passed at last year’s General Assembly with the help of our congregation’s sponsorship. And, there’s been a move recently toward institutional divestment from fossil fuel companies. I expect to hear much more about those issues and discover ways for us to connect with these larger movements. I know some of you are very interested in reproductive justice in particular; I hope to have more ways for us to engage upon my return.
I’m also offering two workshops in my role as Chair of the President’s Advisory Committee for Ethical Eating. One, called Cheap Eats, will teach folks how to eat well and sustainably both for our planet and for our wallets. The other is called Justice as Jazz and talks about engagement in societal transformation as a process of improvisation. In addition, I will offer an update to the General Assembly on the implementation of the Environmental Justice: Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience that was passed by our delegates in 2011. I am honored to have been invited to play these roles for our denomination.
And I’m looking forward to coming back inspired and fully charged and ready for a new year together.
Last week, the power went out.
But, on Monday, October 29th, we didn’t just lose electricity; we were drained of dignity and self-determination. A 3 year old boy who has been toilet trained for months, is having accidents daily. A vegan is eating meat because it’s what they provide at the shelter. A woman attends a job interview having not showered in several days. A man calls a brother with whom he hasn’t spoken in a year to ask if his family can sleep on his floor. And everywhere people are hovering in whatever warm corners they can find, smiling at each other through the sadness, hoping not to appear as desperate as they feel.
Powerlessness has become an internal experience for people used to their own power. As a privileged people, I enter most situations with a sense of my own entitlement. I expect to be treated with respect in a coffee shop because I am a paying customer, but when I am in that store because I have nowhere else to go, there’s a distinct sense of being in-the-way. I do my best to take up as little space as possible. If I enter a room of people who don’t look bedraggled, I immediately feel like I don’t belong. I do what I can to be invisible.
I can’t help but wonder how it feels to belong to a culture that is not dominant, to find myself often in a room in which I don’t look like everyone else. I can’t help but wonder what it feels like, day after day, to be unemployed, feeling like I’m taking up too much room. I wonder how it feels to be homeless, to know there’s nowhere I belong. I can’t help but wonder how it feels to be hungry and to feed my children at a shelter where I cannot determine what they are fed.
Last week, the power went out. This week, it came back on.
But not for everyone. Some people live in a state of powerlessness regardless of the availability of electricity.
More than a decade ago, the Christian Alternative Worship movement got started. It swept like wildfire, drawing thousands of people, mostly young adults, who needed their faith to reflect their lives. They were people searching for truth and meaning who were bored in mainline churches, people who took their faith seriously enough not to want Sunday morning to feel alien. They wanted to bring their real selves with them to a church where they could live their post-modern lives and explore faith in the authentic context of who they are.
The movement gained enough speed that mega churches able to hold thousands of people have sprung up across the country and around the world. It wasn’t long before the movement outgrew the term “alternative”, having become something of the norm for a generation of believers, so it was renamed the Emergent Church.
People who embody the Emergent Church movement are generally more liberal than their parents. They support marriage equality and believe in the use of reason as a source of faith. They are of diverse racial and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They have a wide variety of religious histories.
And, we’re going to make room for them.
Will they come? We have no idea. But, we’re building it anyway.
Dates are tentative, but it looks like Friday, October 19th and Friday, November 16th (the 3rd Fridays of each month), Rock and Soul Revue and I are going to create something a little alternative here at First Unitarian.
And we’ll see if something new emerges.
The religious life of the 21st century doesn’t look much like the religious life of any century before it. Religion is no longer integrated into cultural or family life. It’s no longer defined by our childhoods or ancestors’ country of origin or even what church is closest to where you live. Religion has become personalized. It’s about the individual and what he believes to be true or at least how she wants to pursue the possibility of truth. It’s more about what rituals mean in this time in this location to this person than about what tradition dictates.
In the face of this new reality, mainline churches, previously populated by generations of families are shrinking. Teens, young adults and new parents are seeking an alternative way of expressing their spirituality. There hasn’t been a decrease in the search for meaning or the need for community; there has simply been a decrease in the number of people who show up to historically popular American churches on Sunday morning. Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians have noticed the dwindling numbers.
Frankly, this isn’t bad news for Unitarian Universalists. Our faith is designed with such a population in mind. We are individualistic to our detriment, but as such, we are attractive to lots of folks who are seeking ways to find and live truth rather than ways to learn doctrine. This is why, in the numbers game, we’re holding our own. Unlike mainstream Christian churches, our numbers are holding steady.
So, maybe when demographers tell us that the religious life of the 21st century doesn’t look like the centuries before it, we should just say “we know” and keep moving forward.
As the summer comes to a close with the last few lazy days, I’m getting ready for the rush of autumn. Here are some things to mark on your calendars:
Ingathering and Water Communion: Sunday, September 9th at 9:30 and 11:15
Blessing of the Trees: Sunday, September 9th at 1:30 in Dobbs Ferry in the field next to the New York Sports Club
Program Group Kick-Off: Saturday, September 15th at 6:00
Worship Associates Retreat: Saturday, September 29th from 9:00-1:00