Truth and Meaning: Pro-Life

I am pro-life. But as another election cycle approaches, you will hear this phrase bandied loosely about by politicians courting your votes. So I want to be absolutely clear what I mean when I say that I am pro-life. I mean that:
  • I am a pacifist and oppose all war or violent military intervention as a solution to any problem. War inevitably leads to senseless death and destruction; war most often creates more problems than it solves; and war always gives birth to yet another generation who view violence as a means to their ends.
  • I believe that no government has the right to murder anyone, regardless of the crime they have committed. Human judgments are fallible, and one mistaken execution is one too many. Also, we do not possess god-like prescience to know that even the most hardened criminal cannot be rehabilitated, or that the most mentally-disturbed person cannot be cured.
  • We possess more than enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter every living person. No one on the face of this planet should ever go hungry, naked or homeless. And that means that sharing wealth must take precedence over protecting privilege.
  • Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are impossible without life. And while some disease and certainly death is inevitable, far too much medical and mental suffering is not. No one should ever lack of medical treatment because of something as ridiculous as placing a higher priority on stock dividends or tax cuts for our wealthiest citizens.
  • A woman’s body is her sacred gift and she deserves the right to have complete control of when and how many children she wishes to bear. And it violates our Constitutionally-guaranteed right of religious freedom when politicians place continuation of a nonviable fetus above that of a healthy mother.
  • “Rape culture” is a real and vulgar part of American society. No woman should ever fear for her safety because of her appearance, her actions or the puerile desire of a man to steal her most intimate dignity.
  • Our obscene obsession with gun ownership and gun purchase in this nation is an egregious offense to all life.
Here are the attitudes I consider to be “anti-life:”
  • If you believe that any nation has the right to murder those of another without exhausting every conceivable diplomatic option and every nonviolent course of action, then you are not pro-life. And if you send men and women into combat and then fail to provide them world-class mental and physical medical treatment, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you believe that the state has the right to murder prisoners convicted of crimes, given the inordinate number of mistakes that have been made in capital punishment sentencing, its inherent racism and classism, and the cruel processes used to take those lives, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you support funding cuts to food stamps, school lunch programs, early childhood education initiatives and public education of equally high quality for all, when more than enough is available in our bloated military spending to meet these needs and more, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you oppose the Affordable Care Act, but offer no viable solution to providing health insurance to every American, then you are not pro-life.
  • When you support the most intrusive invasion of a woman’s body, but offer our young people little realistic education about sex and obstruct their access to birth control, then you are not pro-life. And if you seek to deny victims of incest, rape and medical complications threatening the life of the mother with means to terminate those pregnancies, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you support “slap on the wrist” punishments for rapists and those committing domestic violence and sexual assaults on women, and excuse the behavior of beasts for violating a woman by blaming her for the crime, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you are not repulsed that this nation has done absolutely nothing to create mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, or to limit access to weapons whose sole purpose is the mass murder of humans — and you have not pressured you legislators to do so — then you are not pro-life.
So, when that politician knocks on your door and tells you he is “pro-life,” challenge him with these points as well. Because loving the unborn fetus without caring about its life after birth, the families that will raise it or the society that supports its successful development is not pro-life.

Truth and Meaning: Hate

Emotions are the expressed transfer of living energy. When we feel, when we reside within an emotion, we emit a certain energy that others around us can sense. Children are the most transparent when radiating emotion. We easily sense when a child is joyful, confused, scared or frustrated.

As we grow older, we learn complicated emotional combinations and filters designed to hide our true emotions. The choreography of emotional exchange becomes a ballet of exquisite skill and complexity that opens the door to different kinds of feelings. But this dance also complicates our routines. As we see often in football, sometimes the “receiver” runs a different route than expected by the quarterback, and the passage of emotions fall incomplete to the ground.

As carriers of energy, emotions share many characteristics with living creatures. Some emotions hearken back to a more primitive state of reptilian instinct. Other, more mature emotions evoke feelings of family and tribal group. And some emotions combine with others in a symbiotic melding — a beautiful waltz of grace made possible by the willingness of those sharing the emotion to bare themselves, to make themselves fully vulnerable.

But there is a special class of emotions that share the attributes of a lesser life form — the parasite. These emotions wither and die without the energy stolen from other life forms. Hate is a parasite emotion. For hate only thrives by stealing vibrant life energy from others. Hate leeches the aerated blood of society, leaving only disease and weakness in its wake.

When someone expresses hate, the recipient naturally feels fear and anxiety in response. The recipient might naturally feel compelled to expend energy fending off the hate, and this only feeds the parasite. In this way, the hate-filled person poisons others and like a vampire drains the essence of life energy from a community.

But there is a cure for the parasite of hate. The medicine that repels the symptoms of hate is Love. For Love acts not only as a barrier to the viral attack of hate, Love offers a positive expression of emotion that not only makes the object of hate feel better, but also treats the root causes of hate. For in the end, the only difference between a parasite and a symbiote is cooperation. A parasite gives nothing and simply wallows in its own selfish desires. The symbiote returns gift for gift, bringing positive contributions to the living equation.

So when the parasite seeks to infect you with hate, do not feed its emptiness with fear or anger. Instead, inoculate yourself with the energy of Love. In this way, you also may help transform the useless parasite into a creature with contributions and, in time, its own Love to share.

Truth and Meaning: Abominations

“Abomination” is not a word one hears often in everyday conversation. I imagine that most people hear the word rarely during their lifetime.

Sadly, however, there is one group who uses this word obsessively in one particular context. Especially with the news stories about marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws, we have heard far too much use of this word in recent months.

So, lest anyone think that “abomination” is reserved only for their select purpose, let me provide my own list of things I feel are an abomination in America today.
  • With the most advanced medical system in the history of humanity, it is an abomination that some still fight against efforts to provide people in need with basic medical insurance.
  • When the wealthy get every financial advantage society can offer, it is an abomination that hard-working and honest people who need assistance are vilified and stereotyped as lazy.
  • It is an abomination that our military veterans suffer staggering rates of suicide and mental illness and that they must often wait months to receive medical treatment.
  • The selective misquoting of founders like Jefferson and Adams by so-called patriots to promote narrow-mindedness, bigotry and selfishness is an abomination.
  • The perversion of a religion of love and inclusion to persecute others is an abomination.
  • Capital punishment by any means is an abomination.
  • The ongoing treatment of women as second class citizens in the workplace and as objects for the sexual gratification of men in general is an abomination.
  • Assigning any validity to the irrational opinions of those who deny overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change, evolution, contraception and the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity is an abomination.
  • That anyone thinks unfettered access to weapons of mass killing is in the best interests of this society is an abomination.

The Beloved Community: Justice

As Jody and I drove the 750 miles from Midland, Michigan to Raleigh, North Carolina last Friday, we knew that we were engaged in a pilgrimage.  Just as those called to Selma in 1965, we were called to the South again to march for the moral rights of all people, of our society.
So, as we passed into each new state (and went from -7 degrees to 50 degrees!), we stopped to record a sermon for my congregation back home to watch on Sunday morning.  This is part of an ongoing sermon series I have been delivering this year on King’s idea of the Beloved Community — what are the attributes of the Beloved Community, and how can we get there.

Truth and Meaning: The Legacy of Nonviolence

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I remember once again the massive work remaining before us to achieve King’s vision of Beloved Community. Last week, I spoke to sophomores at Meridian High School about pacifism and the failure of the institution of war to ever resolve any problem without creating new ones. War in the 20th century was a colossal failure of human interaction with more than 100 million war-related deaths, and even greater misery and destruction. The scale of human conflict may be declining, but our capacity to kill and to cause harm only increases.

How long will it be before someone poisons our water, our air, our food to the point of near extinction of the species? How long will it be before fundamentalists push everyone to the brink because of their intolerance? How long will it be before oppressed peoples rise up out of frustration against modern day imperialists and tear down everything humanity has built?

Were he alive today, Dr. King would advocate for peace; he would advocate for acceptance and understanding; he would advocate for a sharing of the earth’s bounty equally and fairly among all people. But, most of all, Dr. King would remind us that peace begins not at tables of nations, not in legislative halls, not in town meetings, but in our own hearts. Dr. King would tell us that peace begins when we live and love with peace in our own lives every day.

The Beloved Community is a dream, but it is an achievable dream. And the price of admission is really quite small — we simply must adapt and accept new ways of thinking.

  • We must accept that any good derived from violence is far offset by the damage. We must, therefore, forsake violence forever.
  • We must accept that all roads to enlightenment and salvation are valid. We must, therefore, forsake religious intolerance forever.
  • We must accept that we are divine creatures full of the capacity for love. We must, therefore, recognize and embrace love in all of its forms.
  • We must accept that money is also violence; greed is a slave owner to which we bind ourselves. We must, therefore, bridge the chasms of economic disparity that create poverty and inequality.
  • We must accept that tyrants will take whatever we give them and that they cannot succeed if we take charge of our lives and our communities. We must, therefore, empower ourselves to change the world and to conquer the forces of ignorance and hate.

Dr. King would tell us that if you see an injustice, speak out. If you see an act of oppression, support the oppressed. If you see an act of violence, stand up against it. Live and love with peace in your heart.

The Larger War

After attending the Michigan Women’s Power Assembly event today in Lansing, I have reached a conclusion. The “War on Women” is just one campaign of an even larger, and if possible, even scarier war.

While standing in the House gallery speaking to a young woman, a man came by and shoved her aside as he walked by (there was plenty of room to pass us without any contact). She rebuked him for putting his hands on her to which his companion replied that she should get out of the way. When I challenged them about their rudeness, these two brave patriots keep walking away.
Later, I spoke to a woman in a wheel chair from a group called Mothers of Lost Children. Her abusive ex-husband had broken her back and then somehow managed to convince a judge to obtain custody of the children. Another woman told me that her ex-husband artificially inseminated her against her will when she threatened to divorce him, in an attempt to trap her in the marriage.
The more stories I hear, the more incredulous I become about the state of our nation. I cannot even begin to fathom how women today keep their sanity living in this hostile and misogynistic society. And yet, I have decided that the War on Women is, in fact, just one large campaign that is part of an even larger, more insidious war against the soul of the American people.
  • Government officials routinely raid undocumented immigrants’ homes, whisking parents away from children in the dead of night. They receive no due process, and are treated like animals for years before eventually being deported. 
  • Loving adults who happen to be of the same sex still cannot marry in most places, and face thousands of disciminatory and often heartless laws. 
  • Millions of hard-working Americans cannot find work that pay a living wage, while the 1% continue to export jobs overseas with inpugnity. 
  • The Emergency Management Law in Michigan has single-handledly wiped out representative democracy for most African Americans in the state. Across the nation, voter restriction efforts target the poor, the elderly, and other oppressed minorities. 
  • Politicians are hell-bent to ensure that tens of millions of Americans receive no health care insurance. 
  • The obsession over fetal life consumes the majority of legislative agendas, while these same politicians cut public school funding, work to wipe out family planning resources, and continue to support capital punishment, the American war machine, torture, and unlimited access to guns. 
We are facing a war against decency, a war against dignity, a war against our core liberty. In summary, we are defending ourselves from a War Against Love.

The antagonists in the War Against Love lie without shame, abuse without remorse, rationalize any moral indiscretion, and steal in the name of justice. Their agenda is the total submission of the American population, using the full might of our increasingly paramilitary police forces to crush even the most peaceful and law-abiding opposition with tactics of humiliation and violence. These forces have unlimited funds because our highest court has given corporations the rights of people without any of the responsibilities. And like unruly children with absentee parents, they are taking full advantage of the situation.

This blitzkrieg seeks to pick us off one at a time, just like every other brute horde throughout history. Immigrants, gays and lesbians, the poor, labor unions, racial minorities, religious minorities, women, the elderly – one by one, they seek to isolate us, set us against each other, and conquer us. And with each battle, America loses one more shred of civility, of compassion, of its vision as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

America, please wake up! If you are sitting at your computer reading this in the comfort of your home thinking these issues don’t affect you, then you are deluding yourself. You are your brother’s and sister’s keeper. As Jacob Marley said in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” 

“The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

A Saunter Through the Dictionary

A significant problem with using the label “atheist” is this.  No matter how you couch the term, or clarify its meaning for yourself, others see it in a massively negative light.  Part of this negative image is earned – many very public atheists have been and are still today obnoxious and so belligerently opposed to religion that they would put off any variety of theist.  Our bad image also comes from the core assumption by others that atheism is, in and of itself, not a philosophy – it is simply the rejection of a belief – without any apparent replacement upon which to based one’s moral system or ethical code.

So, as a lover of word origins, I though I would explore some alternative terms that I might use to label my personal theology for others.  Here are some candidates:

  • Ambitheism – A belief that one can construct a life philosophy flexible enough to function whether or not god exists; an ambitheist might deal with conflicting emotions about the existence of god, and so develops a belief system capable of adapting to either truth.
  • Amitheism – A belief that god is literally the love we show our neighbors with whom we live in community; an amitheist places the Golden Rule above all else and lives a fully nonviolent life.
  • Endotheism – A belief that god is not separate, but within each of us; an endotheist would value all of creation as god is within every subatomic particle – perhaps god is every subatomic particle.
  • Isotheism – A belief that god is not “above” or “greater” that us, but part of us and our environment; and isotheist would likely resemble a pantheist, but with no sense of the divine or sacred, since everything is divine and sacred.
  • Omnitheism – A belief that god is not separate, but simply represents the totality of all power, energy, knowledge, and truth; an omnitheist would concentrate on enhancing one’s awareness of and connection with the “godness” of everyone and everything.
  • Syntheisim – A belief that would extend omnitheism to include the time continuum; a syntheist would seek to become more aware of and connect with the “godness” and everyone and everything in every time and place as a single synchronistic existence.
  • Veratheism – A belief that god is truth, for only out of truth can love and goodness emerge; a veratheist would seek complete honesty in all relations, removing all masks, and resolving all conflict and falsehood.

One plus to any, or all, of these concepts is that they emphasize the positive attributes that I believe most atheists possess.  They focus on core values of love, truth, peace, and wisdom, and not simply on the rejection of a perceived flaw in human thinking.

Redefining Modern Anarchism

At recent Occupy the Tri General Assemblies, we held some passionate discussions about a logo and the subject of a clenched fist arose (similar to that used by the New York OWS group).  Some felt the power of the symbol reflected our frustration with the way things are and represented our resolve to fight for change.  Others were concerned that the symbol failed to reflect our primary commitment to nonviolence.

We eventually agreed on a design that I believe reflects our most important guiding principle – our need to love for and care about each other on a deep primal level.  Even this wonderful design presents a challenge.  The design continues to incorporate traditional symbols of resistance and peace.  But the centerpiece shows us joining together, devoted to a more loving world. 

We live in a society where branding is deeply ingrained behavior.  We all know golden arches, and sneaker swirls.  We tend to know corporate symbols better than even basic rules of language and etiquette.  So it will take time for our new logo to catch on with the public.  It will definitely take time for our principles of love and nonviolence to capture the public spirit.

Similarly, I have been reconsidering another traditional symbol of resistance and revolution, the anarchist Circle A.  This symbol is certainly not as widely known as countless others in our society, and this particular symbol has been used in wildly different contexts and for differing purposes.  I imagine for a lot of people, the Circle A represents  violent bombers or punk rockers, carrying a heavily negative connotation.

But, I believe it time to revisit this historical association of the symbol with the violent overthrow of governments.  Gandhi, perhaps humankind’s leading proponent of nonviolence and proponent of the overthrow of oppressive order once wrote:

“The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy. That State is the best governed which is governed the least.”

Anarchy India has an excellent blog posting on how Gandhi’s vision of anarchy would be applied.  Gandhi felt that the State represents violence in a concentrated and organised form – a soulless machine that can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its existence.  Is Gandhi’s ideal of a non-violent state of enlightened anarchy where social life would remain self-regulated a pipe dream – an impossible utopia?  I have no idea who said it first, but many noteworthy people have expressed the sentiment.

“The impossible is what nobody can do until somebody does”

So, while I know the Circle-A symbol has some well-deserved baggage (perhaps no more or less than many other commonly accepted images), I think it has value and deserves to be reclaimed.  The anarchy symbol is a direct and obvious statement that an existing order is dysfunctional and must be replaced.  For those of you who are into the origins of words, the word “anarchy” comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία, anarchia, meaning “absence of a leader.”  Well, isn’t that at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

Anarchy can be nonviolent.  Society can exist with laws but without corrupt government.  It will not be easy – in fact it may be very nearly impossible – but we can build a human society based on love.  We’ve spent millennia building one based on fear and hate, so how hard can it be if we put the same energy into positive emotions?

I’m Back

I haven’t posted to this blog for many weeks.  My absence has not been for lack of desire to communicate with you, dear reader.  Rather, I have been wandering – wandering in my mind for words worth writing, for messages worth reading, for feelings worth expressing.

When I wander, I allow life to speak to me.  I open myself to whatever the universe is saying and then I seek meaning in the messages.  I envy those who can sit in lotus poses and meditate for hours on end to access the voices of the cosmos.  I fear that my puppy mind has long grown past the point of such discipline.  So, I search for sustenance by random grazing.  My process is wholly unpredictable, even chaotic.  But, when my beautiful muse speaks to me, she injects me with an understanding beyond all knowing and a joy no drug can match.

Last Friday, I took a day off and drove to Frankenmuth, a little tourist town of quirky shops and manufactured cuteness.  I strolled through an enormous bead shop, admired faerie art, turned a music store clerk onto European goth rock, and sped through a soul-sucking Christmas store.  My only purchases were a bag of specialty popcorn and some random candy from bygone days.  I bought them thinking that I would savor them over the coming weeks, enjoying the occasional taste of toffee and sugar.

But, last night, I sat in my living room resting, flipping among the cable channels mindlessly.  Beside me was the now empty bag of popcorn and a few remaining pieces of the candy.  In just a few days, I had not been able to resist the repeated narcotic allure of the promise of instant gratification.  Whether I had actually enjoyed the consumption had no meaning – I had simply wanted to consume and could not resist the urge.

This morning, I was besieged by a wave of synchronous voices – a Facebook link to an article about why our young people are leaving churches in waves; a heart-wrenching biography of a young woman struggling to survive economically without selling her soul or losing her way; and a finely crafted essay on capitalism calling for us to seek a new model for living and being together as humans.

For the past few years, I have traveled this road largely alone.  Oh, I have friends – dear and treasured friends – many of whom are treading similar paths.  But I have lived alone within a sea of humanity.  I have preached of love, of the agape of religious community.  I have spoken promoting pacifism and nonviolence, of how we must learn to love ourselves and others equally.  And when the Occupy Wall Street movement began, I jumped at the opportunity to try to shape all of that frustration and anger into a constructive and positive force for change.

But, the pull of my old life is hard.  Financial debt constantly reminds me of the need to seek monetary compensation for my labor, even though I would gladly do this work for free.  The privileges earned only through the circumstances of my birth tempt me with their serene siren song of comfort.  And I mourn the loss of my family elders, my first mentors, now all dead and kept alive only in my memories.

I know in my mind that we must change – that my old life is not sustainable.  I know that I cannot, as they say, only talk the talk.  I must walk the walk.  I am trying, dear friends, oh I am trying.  But resisting that candy takes so much effort.  Taking risks and having the courage to reach out, to be vulnerable, frightens me.  And, in allowing myself to be vulnerable, do I risk losing my capacity to lead, to help effect the changes I deem necessary in our society?

In recent months, I have watched helplessly as people lost hope in causes.  I have struggled as comrades, consumed by doubts and fears, dropped out of activities and organizations.  Perhaps such attrition, while regrettable, is inevitable.  But, is the flame of our hope flickering on the verge of evanescence?

As we emerge from winter, thankfully a gentle and easy winter, perhaps the time for a new dawn has come.  Maybe this time, we will subvert the dominant paradigm.  Can we build a new Racovia, a new Hopedale?  Can we envision and bring about a new model of being together as humans?

I do so fervently hope so.  And I invite you to join me in the journey.

Fear and Everyday Courage

This morning, as I drove to my Fellowship, an SUV flew by me in an active school zone going at least 45 MPH.  I watched him pass two more vehicles and pull into a gym parking lot.  I am still replaying the next 60 seconds in my mind.

I debated whether to act upon this opportunity and decided after a couple of seconds of deliberation that it was my duty to do so.  There were no children present and even the crossing guard had left.  But, that is not the point.  What if a child, late for school, had darted across the road?

So, I pulled into the parking lot and behind his vehicle.  As he got out, a large muscular fellow dressed in work out clothes, I rolled down my window and told him calmly that school zone speed limits exist for a reason.  He responded with a string of obscenities and moved threateningly toward me.  He obviously wanted to instigate a physical confrontation and intimidate me. I drove away.

As I came around to exit the parking lot, he stood in front of the car, again calling me names and picking a fight.  I felt I had made the point, drove around him and left.

I hate confrontation.  I guess to be more honest, I fear confrontation.  I suppose most reasonable people do.  That is why bullies are so often successful in getting their way regardless of the consequences or whatever rationale they have for their actions, if any.  Sitting here in the safety and security of my study, I’m not sure how I could have handled those 60 seconds any differently and still lived my principles.

I was afraid this morning. I am still shaking a little as I type this message.  But, if we all stand up to the bullies in our lives, who knows what good can come out of our actions down the road.  I talk and preach about Unitarian Universalism being a religion that emphasizes courage from my pulpit all of the time.  I also preach about nonviolence and peaceful conflict resolution every chance I get.

So, to that nameless driver this morning, I bear you no ill will and hope that whatever caused you to ignore our laws this morning in your haste will resolve itself.  Yes, you succeeded in making me feel afraid.  I left not only out of fear of the physical pain you seemed intent on dealing to me, but because it was apparent that any additional dialogue at that moment would be fruitless.  I can only hope that the next time you drive that road, you hesitate before putting a few seconds of your valuable time ahead of the safety of innocent children.  Staying to confront you further would have only provided you a destructive outlet for your anger.  I hope your gym work out provided a more constructive outlet.