Sunday, June 26, 2011

Learning About Ethical Eating

Rev. Nate Walker has issued a challenge to folks to practice the new ethical eating resolution of the Unitarian Universalist Association by, if one already does not live on a food assistance program, living within that budget monthly and follow the resolution text. Okay, I agree that's a practice in empathy. But that only works if you also present yourself with the same limitations in shopping that many people living on food assistance also have. Food assistance programs are also needed for many folks living with social security disbursements, because of their limited ssi & ssdi (another unethical situation – how is it that “social security” doesn’t allow for a minimal standard of living in accordance with basic human dignity?). If you live with food restrictions, too, don't forget you don't get off them during this little project. For those of you who live without them, add two months of trying to eat a gluten-free, corn-free, nightshade-free diet to your ethical eating by food assistance limitations practice.

 In my state of Florida, there are total asset limits on certain categories of $2000 in total assets. Really? That can mean no personal vehicle, or being required to live in an area where access to high quality, relatively lower cost food is very limited.

So if you take this on as a practice in empathy, don’t forget a month where you only do your grocery shopping after being exhausted, waiting for someone to pick you up who gives you a four-hour window to show and then arrives ninety minutes after that window and can only give you about fifteen minutes less time than you really need.

Another month make sure you only travel to the grocery for your lowest income area (because you might not live there if you’re taking on this practice voluntarily), by public transportation, after you’ve worked 14 hours.

Go shop with your neighbors who gets by on food assistance, every week for a year. When you get tired of doing it, add an extra month to your practice. I've never met anyone who chose to live by these restrictions who didn't take it on as a religious vow of solidarity, so let me say there's still a sense of safety when you know you can, if you choose to break your vow, go on out and eat. 

No growing extra food if the average person with food assistance in your community wouldn’t live some place they can grow extra food or have the time in the day or have access to the traditions and skills or have the physical ability to toil in growing additional food.

Then, try to participate in some of the congregational events many communities have, like potluck lunches where each participant is expected to bring enough extra food for twenty people. Take that out of your food assistance budget. Do it for at least a year, then decide how well the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly actually listened to people sharing hard realities of their lives.

The General Assembly delegates were so intent on making one’s own personal points to support this, we didn’t actually pay deep attention to part of our people. Doing so violated our own theological commitments to leave no one behind, to honor one humanity and one world. An ethical community will be one that seeks from here forward to address that privilege and practice a truly ethical eating – that makes sure no one goes hungry or has daily fear about where, when, and what the next meal is going to be. 

Don't let your assumptions take the cake.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living A Bigger Story

The second full day of Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina was a big, long full day. I want to cheer and convey my joy and blessings to all my new colleagues who met their new stages of credentialing and to those who retired from active service this year. You bless this world every day with the gifts you bring – and we can all be grateful to you! If you, like me, couldn't be there in person, here's the Service of the Living Tradition Video Link.

The workshops I was able to attend on the second day turned out to have a consistent theme: living into a bigger story. I attended workshop focused on full accessibility and ending ableism as an issue of hospitality and beloved community (Suzanne Fast, Rev. Barbara Meyer, and Mark Bernstein – an Equual Access presentation). I attended a workshop on leading multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass congregations with living, diverse, and inspiring narratives (Rev. Jacqueline E. Lewis). I also attended a workshop on  the learning for five key leaders in the 1993 General Assembly events that highlighted institutionalized racism and monoculturalism (Rev. Annette Marquis, Rev. Dr. Wayne Arnason, Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris, Rev. Hope Johnson, Rev. Barbro Hanson, Rev. Dr. Leon Hopper). I ended the workshop day attending the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship’s communion service (Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. Sherman Z. Logan Jr., Rev. Kristin Grassel Schmidt, Glenn Merbach). But they all invited folks into the labor, learning, change, and growth that happens when we live a more diverse and bigger story than the one we already know and find easy.

I agree. I know my life is better because I share it with people who don’t have my same cultural experiences or expectations, who approach the holy in ways different from me, and who love, live, learn, celebrate, and teach differently than I do. I also trust that when we are free to choose sharing our true gifts for goodness in the world that not only do we all have gifts to share, our doing so makes the world a better place. In the language of my Universalist Christian tradition, in answering God’s call to merciful justice, to living humbly in covenant with the Holy, and in loving the Holy, stranger/neighbor, enemy, world, and self we’re making sure no one’s left behind, everyone makes it in, and we free the world day by day from iniquity toward restoring love.

Crossing Borders

Tuesday evening this week Unitarian Universalist President Peter Morales also spoke to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) about the need to cross borders. The UUMA is working on a new educational program and leadership training in intercultural competencies with the amazing Beth Zemsky & One Ummah Consulting. There are programs and signs that the Unitarian Universalist Association in seeking to equip local communities in crossing outside their known and comfy borders and be with and of the larger world community, making a way for merciful justice and for love to flourish. That’s good news, and strengthening the capacity of individuals and congregations to cross borders when many of those individuals only rarely have to do so is going to be the challenge. Fortunately, there is a growing number of folks within the faith who are experienced border crossers in various ways; these are the needed mentors and teachers, spotters and trainers, and inspirers by daily action that every religious community needs to practice healthy, loving, justice-making border crossing.

Border Crossers know we have to cultivate comfort with living outside of our comfort zones, humility and gratitude for graciousness when we meet it, and to live with low expectations of being appreciated, experienced as fully present, or given much grace when we cross those borders. We need to stay connected to the sources of inspiration and resilience and connect with other border crossers. We also have to be aware of the rakete and coyotes who know very well where the borders are and are looking to exploit folks in vulnerability and fear.

Fearfulness is one of the greatest imprisonment tools because it deprives people of freedom in our own minds, hearts, and spirits. Nurturing a resilient, border-crossing supportive faith means attending to something stronger than fear: the power of love that bears us on into joy in choosing goodness.

May we all cherish those practices of love and find time for them throughout our days.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Growing Grassroots Religious Movements

Last night the Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales addressed the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over and over, President Morales repeated the importance of deep and true spiritual life, the necessity of crossing borders, and of growing grassroots religious movements. Living in southeast Florida, where turf grasses require outrageous maintenance – the opposite of what growing grassroots means to other peoples – allow me to rephrase: we need to be growing religious movements as part of strengthening and growing healthy local communities. Here in south Florida, we might prefer the metaphor of growing mangrove religious movements – thick, resilient, multi-branched and trunked, storm-protective, coastally healthy, and indigenous to where we live.

But what does that mean?

We need to appreciate the unique gifts of the peoples here and the strengths of existing religious communities.

We build on those strengths and diversify with new communities that can use the radically different gifts in growing mission-driven religious communities that truly are part of healthy and vibrant local communities and eco-systems.

We grow local blessing networks of prayer and meditation, mentoring, support, and encouragement for new missions, new callings to develop new healthy communities. Those networks always also strengthen the existing communities, through mission, spirit, and practicing faith that makes real differences in the world, including crossing the borders of what’s comfortable within existing congregations.

We need to encourage folks in risky faithing, in sharing what doesn’t work as well as what does, in celebrating the courage to try and fail as well as trying and succeeding.

We welcome and bless those who are discovering themselves called to unique and needed ways of living faithfully in our area. Southeast Florida has some enormous challenges and in those challenges also lie tremendous opportunities to be part of doing something good and evidence of God’s generosity and love.

We accept and celebrate the obstacles we encounter. There is plenty of ill will, iniquity, apathy, discouragement, cynicism, despair, and outright evil in our world. If we’re living faithfully in creative ways that make a real difference, we’re going to encounter those obstacles. They’re signs of success. Let’s help each other in that transformation.

We stay rooted in spiritual life, nurtured by our connections to the Holy, giving thanks for every day, cherishing every blessing and gift, and giving all we can back in service to goodness.

Whether growing grassroots or growing mangrove religious communities, the ecology of transforming Love is something we can aid, nurture, and celebrate.

Finding Time for Spiritual Practice

I'm often told it is difficult to find time for spiritual practice. Here's some suggestions, in five minutes:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Authentic (not consumer) Faith

I've been talking on this blog frequently about the captivity to consumerism that plagues the contemporary church, because it is a larger global issue. The Rev. Scott Prinster asked me to speak to what authentic - not consumer - faith is, via a five minute video. Thanks for the request, Scott! Here you go:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Introduction to 5 Smooth Stones

Yes, James Luther Adams rocks the world as one of the great Unitarian Universalist theologians and ethicists. As wonderful as his five smooth stones of liberal religion are, the way he conveys them is a matter of advanced learning. How do we equip folks into living with these practices against troubles to the spirit we all face?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Introduction to Prayer

One Unitarian Universalist's  brief introduction to prayer - with or without addressee - from the heart for transformation into living more fully into our highest and best values.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Am I Growing Spiritually?

How do I know I'm growing spiritually? My video reply.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Celebrating Every Human Gift

How big is your understanding of human experience? No matter how comprehensive any one of us tries to be, no matter how much we seek to learn and stay humble in not knowing, no one of us can adequately reflect the amazing diversity of human experience. This is also so for the terrific gifts humanity has – no one of us can hold them all.

My understanding of human experience and my expression of human gifts is limited. That’s why I value diverse communities sharing and honoring the diversity of experience and gifts, rather than pressing an assimilationist agenda into a single or a few limited models of success and expression.

I’m not a computer chip to be determined flawed and thrown out by the inspectors. None of us are.

What is ableism? Ableism is the explicit, implicit, or assumed belief and practice that the real, best, and whole human experience is the one of perfect health, mental and athletic ability – whatever that is. Ableism creates a mythical human being virtually without limits, and in that measurement, folks seek to pass as enough, and are terrified when their imperfection becomes evident in their communities.

Ableist theologies and practices are rooted in an assumption that there is really only one or, at best, a few ways to be perfectly whole in this world. You can read that theology in the centuries of interpretation that equate blindness with sinfulness or disease as punishment from God. You can find that theology alive and thriving in any religious communities that doesn’t celebrate the vastly different gifts and share in the huge variety of human experiences of the sacred journey. Wholeness as a human being has nothing to do with my genetic disease. Wholeness as a human being doesn’t have anything to do with people living with mental illness, genetic or acquired diseases, developmental and behavioral disabilities, mobility issues, vision trouble, hearing loss, blindness, deafness, or muteness.

One of the things about being human is we gain and we lose abilities and gifts over the course of our lives.  A whole human being experiences changes and in those changes we learn, we adapt, we make choices about making meaning, and, often, we meet new gifts and have opportunities to make the world more just, more compassionate, and more loving.

Unitarian Universalist religious communities have a strong and long history of ableism within them. We have to be active together in being transformed into communities celebrating the diverse gifts humanity holds – and that means being willing to learn, being able to admit ignorance and wrongdoing, and being able to work together to change and be changed for the better. In this time, we have need of every person’s experiences and gifts to aid in the healing of this world, in creating merciful justice, and in celebrating the astounding blessings of this life. 

EqUUal Access works with Unitarian Universalists around transforming ourselves and our communities in honoring every human being and every human gift.

Accessibility Resources from the Unitarian Universalist Association   


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Good News of Unitarian Universalism

Most weeks I receive a few private messages on Twitter and Facebook that ask about being Unitarian Universalist, what Unitarian Universalists teach, and where folks can check out a Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’m asked these questions privately more often than publicly, and I try to answer them in a timely manner, because if someone has worked up the courage to ask, I want to be there with them in the asking.

The short answers:
Love wins. Our work here on earth is to help love do so sooner rather than later.
Honoring the evident love of diversity of being in this universe, we teach & live with many ways of speaking to & honoring that diversity.

And when someone wants to know if their life matters, I answer:
You are already loved and loveable, even though you've done things you might be ashamed of and that were bad and wrong. Many of us do. I have. I can't name one person I know who hasn't. Loved and loveable, let's get going to make the world a more loving place.

Unitarian Universalism has multiple teaching traditions – in the Unitarianism, in the Universalism, in the Unitarian Universalism. You might know them as buddhist or earth-centered or humanist, jewish, jain, muslim, hindu, or christian; all of these have multiple flavors within those traditions. Every one of them teaches according to the best understanding they have; every one of them belongs and is strengthened by the others. I happen to live and teach in the Christian Universalist tradition, one of our older lineages, but no less and no more important than the others.  It speaks to my heart, I live from my heart out of it. We’re living into a love that’s far bigger than our limited imaginations, that can manifest in all kinds of cultures, and that is as immediate as the breath we are taking.

Mostly the folks I’m connecting with aren’t looking for or expecting an easy faith. They’re ready to be challenged and changed and part of creating a culture of compassion, love, and restoration right now, in their work lives and in their family lives, in their larger communities, and yes, please, with a religious community.

That’s good news. Let’s live it: grateful for this chance to be and learn together, to share and grow past grudges, entitlement, assurance, and scourging evil. Let’s not be afraid to fail and learn from those failures, to risk faithfully to save lives and save the planet. And let’s do it with joy and wonder and daily thanksgiving for the blessing of however long we have, whoever we can be called to be with, however we can contribute to greater goodness.