What’s wrong with this picture Exxon-Mobil?

Exxon-Mobil announces its largest profit ever in the third quarter, July- September, following its record breaking second quarter profits.  This is the same quarter that gas prices rose to over $4 a gallon forcing small businesses to raise prices or curtail scope of business, forcing airlines to reduce flight schedules and layoff employees, forcing farmers to increase food prices, and forcing some schools to go to a four day school week to save on rising fuel costs.  The impact of this energy crisis was widespread but evidently wasn’t hurting Exxon-Mobil.    

This is the second quarter in a row that Exxon-Mobil broke profit records.  In the second quarter Exxon-Mobil earned a record $11.68 Billion,  in the third quarter earned $14.83 Billion.  Is it me, or does this not seem quite right given the extraordinary hardship rising fuel costs have caused us this past summer? 

Now if Exxon-Mobil had posted a modest profit or even posted a just better than break even quarter, I would think that Exxon-Mobil had managed their affairs well during this fuel crisis of the record breaking oil costs that was daily fluctuating the costs at the pump.  But a record breaking profit???  When the rest of America was faltering towards recession?   And they are wanting a tax credit from the government because it would help bolster the economy?  What else is going on here? 

Bernice Johnson Reagon  of Sweet Honey in The Rock wrote this song entitled “Greed.”  Here are some of its words.   

I been thinking ’bout how to talk about greed
I been thinking ’bout how to talk about greed
I been wondering if I could sing about greed
Trying to find a way to talk about greed

Greed is a poison rising in this land
The soul of the people twisted in its command
It moves like a virus, seeking our anyone
Greed never stops, its work is never done
A creeping, killing, choking, invading everywhere
There really is no escaping greed’s tricky snare

Nothing seems to stop it once it enters your soul
It has you buying anything, spinning out of control
Not partial to gender, or your sexual desire
All it wants is for you to own, to possess and to buy
It rides with the culture, touching us all
Greed really isn’t picky, it’ll make anybody fall

It’s been around a long time, since way before we began
Before this was a nation, greed drove people to this land
Greed driven people created slavery,
Black men, women and children became somebody’s property
Greed is a strain of the American dream
Having more than you need is the essential theme …

When O when, will America realize that our actions of greed impact everyone.  Greed is going to be (and current events indicate is) our downfall.  Exxon-Mobil from where I sit, it seems your greed is partly responsible for the economic crisis we are facing today.  Corporations can no longer operate as if they are islands unto themselves.  We need to begin co-operating with each other in living on this planet or face peril. We need to shift our thinking of wanting more and more to wanting what is sufficient.  If that is a socialist stance, then sobeit, but cooperation is a core value that I seek to uphold.

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What question does religion answer?

A few years ago now, how quickly time passes, in order to become a Unitarian Universalist Minister I had to meet with the Minister Fellowship Committee (MFC).  This committee is charged with making sure that all ministers in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association have met a set of criteria and standards to be a minister.  There were a variety of questions asked.  One question that I was asked was the following:  “What is the Meaning of Life for the Jew?”  I did not answer the question well. 

I have pondered this question alot since then.  The question is based on a presumption that religions answer the question, “What is the meaning of Life?”   It is a false presumption because that is not the question that religions answer.  Religions answer the question, “What is my relationship with the other?”   The other being everything from this other person sitting before me to the world around me to the concept of god.  But the question, “what is the meaning of life?” is not the question being answered by religion. 

The word religion comes from the Latin religare meaning to bind fast or to bond between.  It is a relationship that is established when one practices a certain religion.  And it is a bond that is tied fast between the person and the practice (read also God) they are upholding. 

Judaism answers the question by stating that my relationship with the other is covenantal.  Abraham established a covenant with God.  It was a promise that if his people did certain things then God would ensure that his people would continue to prosper.   The society that was developed by Abraham and his descendents is based on this covenantal relationship.  The story of the Hebrew scriptures is the story of this covenantal relationship. 

Christianity, Orthodox Christianity specifically, answers the question by stating that my relationship with the other is inherently broken.  The religion then seeks to develop ways to fix that brokenness.   The story of the New Testament, especially those books written by Paul of Tarsus,  is how a relationship with Jesus fixes that brokenness.

Universalist Christianity states my relationship with the other is separation.  It then seeks to develop ways to bring about reconciliation.  It could be argued that within the story of the gospels is found the story of reconciliation of humanity with God.

Buddhism states my relationship with the other is illusion.  It then seeks to develop ways that will bring about enlightenment, the ability to see clearly.  The story of the Buddha tells his journey towards this enlightment. 

Islam states my relationship with the Other is ultimately submission.  It then seeks to develop ways in order to be in submission with the Other (specifically Allah). 

Now through following these various ways of relating to the Other, one may discover that their life has meaning.  But this is meaning that is added to their life as a result of being in relationship with the other.  Religions can help add meaning to ones life by giving it a shape or a touchstone from which one can center their life around. 

Unitarian Universalism answers the question of what is my relationship with the other by also answering that it is covenantal.   It is a covenant that is renegotiated with every relationship I enter.   Sometimes the covenant is negotiated consciously, sometimes not.  The values that Unitarian Universalists promote do keep me grounded as I seek to live them in my daily life.  And in my seeking to live my covenant, I find that my life is filled with meaning and purpose at least from my perspective of looking out at the world and how I relate to it.  Blessings,

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 8:29 am  Comments (2)  
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Developing our mission

In the UUA’s  Mid-South District, many lay led congregations are participating in a program developed by Education Director Connie Goodbread and MSD Board member Norman Horofker called UP! (Unlimited Potential).  This program is seeking to offer skills and expertise to small congregations under 70 members to enable them to have excellence in an area enabling them to thrive as a congregation.  The recent discussion has been focusing on mission statements.  This is an area of church development that I find of great interest.   Norman presented the group with the UUA tag line  “Nurture your Spirit.  Help Heal our World.” This tag line was recently used in UUA’s advertizing campaign in Times Magazine.  It can be made into a powerful mission statement…  

IE:  We are a congregation where we nurture our spirits empowering each other to help heal the world. 

Mission Statements or Statements of Purpose need to be this powerful and this simple.  They are a concise sentence that answers these three questions:  Why do we exist?   What do we do? What is important/ essential for us as a congregation?

Mission and vision statements are sometimes confused.  A vision statement builds on the mission statement and answers these questions:  What are we going to be as a church?  Who are we going to reach?  How are we going to do this?

So using the community in which I live only as a reference point, a vision statement could be the following:

IE:  Our presence in Tuscaloosa creates a community of open minds, open hands and warm hearts through our diverse spiritual practices and by our seeking to do social justice work and community service.
 
Vision statements are to be visual.  You can see diverse spiritual practices being done.  You can see social justice work being done and you can see community services being done.  You can also see open minds, open hands and warm hearts in the interactions of the people within the congregation and as this vision begins to take hold, it will also be seen in the larger community in which the congregation lives.

Mission and vision statements then become the ground on which you build your strategic plans for the next several years.  This is the ‘how to’s’ of these words.  How do we nurture our spirits?  How do we heal our world? How do we express ourselves as having open minds?  What kinds of activities over the next several years would help us accomplish this? 

Every activity done within the congregation and in the community is linked to these statements–From the board meetings to the Children’s RE program to the worship services to community projects to developing the budget.  Everything.  

Missions are living entities that might evolve over time.  So it is good to review the mission of the congregation from time to time to see how the congregation has grown and evolved.  The community in which the congregation lives may also have changed over time requiring a different focus of interaction. 

There is the legendary story of the congregation which located itself in an affluent part of the city and over the decades the neighborhood became run down.  Homeless men would be found sleeping in the doorways and people had to step over them to enter the church.  The church decided to refocus their mission to meet the needs of the community and they established a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter.  From there they went on to develop transitional housing services to help get people back on their feet to employment and self-determination of their lives.  This story is repeated again and again as an example of a church redefining who they were going to be in the world.  It is a common story happening in many cities across our country. 

I am looking forward to seeing what these congregations come up with in redefining their mission in the rural south in which they live, breathe, and have their being. Blessings,

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 11:44 am  Comments Off on Developing our mission  
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Will the Real America, Please Stand Up?

Many years ago there was a tv game show where a celebrity panel had to try to discern which of the three contestants was the person being described.  After each of the contestants gave their answers to a variety of questions, and the panel made their decisions public, the host of the game show would announce, “Will the Real John Doe, please stand up.”  The three would look at each other and one would always pretend to begin to stand and then the Real John Doe or Jane Doe would stand up.  It was a fun show of light hearted deception. 

In recent weeks, the election campaigns have turned mean.  Perhaps it is normal for the alleged candidate who is perceived as loosing to turn up the heat in the final weeks of the campaign.  I was too young to recall the time when patriotism  of Americans were called into question in such a mean spirited way.  I am referring to the McCarthy Era when all of America seemed to be looking for a Communist under every rock.  Thousands of people across America were blacklisted and lost their ability to earn a living in their chosen profession.  In many cases when that nightmare of facist-like history in America was over, many were left spiritually broken unable to return to the passion of their first career. 

The present day situation is sounding very similar.  We have a congresswoman in Minnesota who wants to call for an investigation of all elected officials in Washington to find out if any are Anti-Americans. She defines Anti-Americans as being Leftist Liberals.   Among her top picks are Senators Obama and Biden and Speaker of the House Pelosi.    We have a public figure in Virginia distinguishing between the area of Virginia just outside of DC and the rest of Virginia which she calls the Real Virginia.  Real Virginia by the way is conservative and Republican.  And we have a Vice Presidential candidate declaring that the Real America is found in those Pro-American pockets of small towns.   She states, it is these Americans who have fought bravely in our wars and are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

John Stewart of The Daily Show stated that Osama Bin Laden must be very embarrassed to discover that he attacked Fake America when he attacked NYC and Washington, DC because these places are not part of the Real America. 

And what are those brave men and women from these large cities fighting in Iraq feeling; now that they have been called False Americans?  Do they get to come home since they are not really Americans and therefore have no claim to fighting in our wars? 

This talk of who is a Real American versus who is Anti-American, is not an innocent tv game show of light hearted deception.  This is blatant diviseness. It is a tactic used to instill fear into the hearts of the citizenry.  It is a tactic that Joe McCarthy used to engender the Red Scare.  It is a tactic that will undermine the very freedom that Americans, all Americans, cherish.  The McCarthy Era was not a proud moment in America’s history.  It was a time when the freedoms we take for granted were underseige.  If McCarthy had won in his campaign to route out every suspected Communist, and many were never to have been found to be a communist, only alleged; the democracy experiment begun in 1776 would have been over 50 plus years ago. 

If we allow our public elected officials to instill fear that there lurks within America two America’s, one real and one false; one good and one evil; one standing firm in the will of God and one opposed to the will of God; then our nation of democracy with all its freedoms will cease to be.   We have chosen the motto  “E Pluribus Unim” for a reason.  Out of many, One. 

It is our diversity of thought, our capacity to hear many opinions, that adds to our greatness as a nation.  It is because of our diversity that America has become that “beacon on the hill”. Strike any voice from being heard and America’s greatness as a nation is diminished.

In our current economic crisis, in our attempts to dis-entangle ourselves from Iraq, in our attempts to improve the domestic well being of all of America; it is time for us to honor our commitment of E Pluribus Unim.  Attempts to instill fear and mistrust in each other is not the answer to our problems.    

When the events of 9/11 reached the far corners of the world… World Leaders stated, “We are All Americans now.”  Such was the pain felt by the world in those events.  It is a message that needs to ring loud and clear within our own citizens as well.  “We are All Americans” 

Everyone of us should stand to answer the question asked, “Will the Real America, Please stand up?”  By doing so does not mean that we are in agreement with the how-tos in fixing the problems that face this country.   What it does mean is that we want what is best for her to maintain the democracy that was established so that we are a free people. 

When Election day comes, vote not because you are a Republican or a Democrat.  Vote because you are an American who has the freedom to vote for the best of America.

Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 11:23 am  Comments (1)  
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A poll for my readers

Up until recently, the only way I had to know if this blog was beneficial in meeting my objective of having a dialog about Unitarian Universalism  and its values in the South was through comments made to individual posts and the statistics of how many hits to entries.  The top five blog entries on this site to date are:  

  1. ICE Raid in Laurel, MS. 
  2. Another Wrongful Execution
  3. Liberal vs Conservative Religion
  4. The Theology of Mary Oliver
  5. What is Truth?  

Those that received the most comments are:

  1. ICE Raid in Laurel, MS
  2. Liberal v Conservative Religion
  3. Covenantal Faith
  4. Universalism- Along a string of tension
  5. What makes US immigration Laws unjust  and HIV Felony Law  (tied in 5th place)

This gives me some insight into what people are most interested in.  But it is still a bit of a guessing game as to how effective I am in having a dialog.  So here is something that may help me that the people at wordpress, who host this blog, have developed.  I look forward to reading your comments and the results of this poll.  Blessings,

 

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 11:08 am  Comments (2)  

Hate speech never justified

I try not to take political stands regarding specific candidates for office.  As a minister, I find that to be a very fine line in our nation’s quest for separation of church and state.  A value that has come under attack by my more conservative colleagues of the cloth.  However, there is an issue that has arisen that I feel demands a response from all religious leaders regardless of theological persuasion.  That issue is the tolerance of hate speech at political rallies. 

One of McCain/Palin campaign strategies is questioning who Barack Obama really is.  It’s a fair question.  However, the responses from the audience have been threatening and hateful.  Shouts in response have included, “Terrorist!”, “Traitor”, and “Kill Him” and “Off with His Head.”   McCain and Palin do not address these comments, in fact they have encouraged them with their own speeches of tieing Obama with “domestic terrorist” William Ayers.  The problem with allowing these comments to continue is that they eventually find a willing person to carry out the deed. 

Georgian Congress representative John Lewis, stated, “As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all,” the statement continues. “They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy.  We can do better.  The American people deserve better.”   Lewis compared the hateful rhetoric being engendered at McCain’s rallies akin to the hateful rhetoric of Alabama Governor George Wallace which has been indirectly connected to the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963. 

Perhaps the analogy Rep. Lewis drew is unfair or out of proportion but tell that to gays and lesbians and other sexual minorities who are attacked and harrassed because their churches preach that homosexuality is an abomination and should be killed.  Matthew Shepard and more recently Larry King were killed because their killers heard repeatedly from the pulpit that gays did not deserve to live.   The late Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed gays and lesbians and liberals (ACLU, Feminists, abortionists)  for the 9/11 attacks.  This sort of rhetoric stirs up hatred and violence against people because it is being made by people or made in the presence of people we are supposed to be able to trust.  Senator McCain and Governor Palin are among those people we are supposed to be able to trust. 

McCain’s response to Lewis and Obama was “Barack Obama’s assault on our supporters is insulting and unsurprising. These are the same people obama [sic] called ‘bitter’ and attacked for ‘clinging to guns’ and faith. He fails to understand that people are angry at corrupt practices in Washington and Wall Street and he fails to understand that America’s working families are not ‘clinging’ to anything other than the sincere hope that Washington will be reformed from top to bottom.”  

I agree that people are angry.  But screaming out “Kill Him!”  is not an appropriate anger response to the issues.  It is scapegoating.  Justifying such hate speech by stating they are angry is also not appropriate. There are appropriate ways of expressing anger, shouting “Off with his head!” is not one of them.  Allowing such inappropriate expressions will rile a crowd to a frenzied pitch that, if not stopped, will result in actions that all of us will regret. 

McCain/Palin talk about reforming Washington politics.  If they are serious about reform then they should be helping their supporters to channel their anger towards that reform.  But it takes someone who has good anger management skills to know how to do this kind of organizing anger towards the positive.   

I was fortunate to witness this at the Free Jena 6 rallies in Jena, LA.  The crowd had been listening to a speaker who clearly was angry and was stirring the crowd towards doing something outrageous right at that moment.  Rev. Jesse Jackson was called to the stage by the organizers and I was in awe at how he effectively and quickly calmed the crowd down. I was very grateful.  Be angry yes, but channel that anger in appropriate ways.  Hate speech is never justified.   Blessings,

Published in: on October 17, 2008 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Thriving during the Economy Crisis

I tend to be the type of person who when faced with a fear will try to read up on the subject so I have  better understanding of what is happening and thereby reducing my fear levels.  I figure knowledge equals personal power and therefore can and will help me navigate whatever fearful thing I am experiencing. 

This current economic crisis has suddenly propelled me to try to understand a subject that held very little interest for me.  And, as a minister who will be pastoring people who are deeply affected by this crisis, it is important that I understand what is going on. [The fall out will affect all of us in some manner as this crisis unfolds.]  As I read about such strange banking products as credit default swaps and commercial papers I am a bit awe struck by the level of greed our capitalism has brought us. 

When I read that even the buyers and sellers of credit default swaps did not even understand how that product worked, I begin to think people are a bit crazed in their quest to make money.   Our society has given up quite a bit in our desire for more money.  The people who work in these industries work incredibly long hours sacrificing family and community relationships to enable the possibility of early retirement or retirement at a comfortable level. 

So the question how to thrive in these uncertain times is an important question.  I think we need to first come up with a broader societal definition of what determines thriving.   It is too narrow a definition to have financial worth to be the only criteria for thriving.  That is like a plant that has received too much fertilizer but not enough other supports like sun, water, and soil so it grows tall and straggly, and eventually unable to bear the weight of itself. 

There needs to be a balance.   It is this balance that I think America is in need of finding.  There is a need to find what is essential to living a fulfilling life and to seek that first. [While typing this I am reminded of a song I used to sing, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” and while this might work as an interpretation of what I wrote, I would mean it only in the sense of the Beloved Community or the Realm of God that Jesus states is already within us and waiting to be lived out in our daily lives.]  While it was a TV show full of glorified nostalgia, The Waltons highlighted the means in which one family, albeit fictional, thrived during the depression era.   The show focused on family values.  A phrase that needs unpacking since it too has been glorified and idealized beyond human reckoning.  Family values, as I refer to the term, means placing emphasis on the relationships we hold dear.  It means making a commitment / a covenant to the relationships we deem valuable. 

It means developing a means in which we will be together and support one another in ways that will honor our inherent worth and integrity.  It means developing a means in which we strive to be in right relationship with one another.  It means finding ways to be with one another that does not place the family or individuals into financial harm. 

For example, while it is a wonderful family experience to go as a family to Disney World or Busch Gardens or some other amusement park, if doing so means placing that on a credit card that you will pay off over the next several years, then it is placing the family into financial harm.  Find another activity that will also be a wonderful family experience that will not negatively impact your family’s over all health. 

It also means developing community values.  Become involved in your church community  or town community by volunteering and working with other people to help improve the world in which we live.  It might mean spending a day with others cleaning the environment or serving food at the local soup kitchen or becoming a big brother or big sister to a child in need of an adult mentor.  And despite what Sarah Palin has said about Community Organizers; organizing the community around a local concern, whether it is affordable housing or developing neighborhood parks is a powerful and responsible means of displaying community values. 

More importantly these activities build on relationships.  They break down the walls that people have erected against one another because of our fear of not having enough money, enough oil, enough products, enough what have you.   This is not the time to be pointing the fingers at this political party or that political party because frankly we all created this mess.  Yes, even you and I, because we bought into the lie that having more money is what mattered most.  We bought into the lie that money solves all problems. 

So while I hope and pray that our leaders are able to find solutions in order to reduce the impact of suffering within a crisis that seems to be unraveling at the seams at an incredible pace.  We can pull together and begin to place into balance what is essential to thriving which is not money but rather fostering love and compassion in our relationships with one another.  We will need to do this if we are to thrive during what ever comes our way.

“That’s so Gay”

The Ad Council has teamed up with GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to present three Public Service Announcements (PSAs) regarding the use of the phrase, common with young people, “That’s so gay.”   You can see the three PSAs at this site:  Thinkb4youspeak.com   They feature Hillary Duff and Wanda Sykes.  The New York Times released a story about the Think Before You Speak campaign today.

 “ The campaign is “something I dreamed about for 10 years,” said Kevin Jennings, the founder and executive director at GLSEN, and has been in active development for two years.”If you follow hateful language, you eventually get hurtful behavior,” he added. “The chain of events begins with kids learning it’s O.K. to disrespect people.”

“The campaign is “a very bold step” on the part of the council, Mr. Jennings said, in that “this will be, by a million miles, the largest public education campaign on L.G.B.T. issues.”

Thanks to my friend Leif Mitchell for alerting me to this campaign.

Published in: on October 8, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Comments Off on “That’s so Gay”  
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The Fool as Prophetic Voice?

 

There has been a debate in the blogosphere among Unitarian Universalists regarding  UUA President Bill Sinkford being part of an interfaith coalition that met with Iran’s figurehead president  Mahmoud Ahmendinejad in NYC recently.  One blogger stated that simply talking does not make one a prophet, sometimes it makes you a fool.  He states that a true prophet is one who is able to organize power behind the words spoken and therefore can be held accountable to what is spoken. He argues that Bill Sinkford’s words without any power behind them, made him a fool.   He quotes Nehemiah 5 as an example of what he calls prophecy with power.  It’s a fair argument.  Through out the Hebrew Scriptures the prophetic has been paired with power, whether that was the power of an impending doom if changes were not made or the power of miraculous events. 

Yet there is a place for the fool too as prophetic voice.  The fool is one who no one takes seriously and therefore is able to speak unvarnished truth.  The fool is the one that people scoff at and deride and then realize that they were the foolish ones with their behaviors.  We see the role of the fool as prophetic voice in Shakespeare’s plays, such as portrayed in  King Lear.  We see the prophetic fool in modern days with Stephen Colbert’s presentation at the White House Press Corp dinner in 2006.   Yet the fool also has power.  It is a power that comes with inner convictions that enables the fool to speak words of truth.  It is because the person is playing a fool that sometimes the words get heard and changes can occur. 

Some of my colleagues (read through to the comments)  thought our UUA President, Rev. Bill Sinkford, played the fool by speaking with one of the heads of state of a tyranical dictatorship.  Many thought he should have sided with the protesters outside and that stance would have been the correct prophetic stance to take.  Funny thing about prophetic stances most are not realized as such until much later, sometimes years later.   

Jonah was very concerned about playing the fool with the city Nineveh.   So he ran away.  Yet, Jonah eventually after some bizarre twists and turns, does take the prophetic stance and speaks with the King of Nineveh.  The King was a tyrant.  The king and his people had done some horrible things.  And after hearing Jonah, the King and the city of Nineveh repented and Jonah’s fear of looking like the fool is realized.  It is a risk that prophets take sometimes. 

One never knows how the spirit of love is going to move and speak through us.  Nor on what ears the message of love will fall on.  The fool can be a prophetic voice.  Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge the actions of those around us as they just may be responding to a higher conviction than we can discern with our senses.  Blessings,

Published in: on October 3, 2008 at 4:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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