Foreign Exchange Students in the South

Overall I would say that I have had a good life.  There is one experience, however, that I wish was made available to me as a teen or even as a college student.  That experience is that of being a foreign exchange student.   I have met students from other countries and their experiences are always enriched by living in a different culture, meeting new people, experiencing new ideas of how things could be done resulting in the same positive outcome.   It enables the development of tolerance for the different in our humanity.  It broadens understandings between peoples.

I have been pleased to learn of my niece’s experiences of her studying abroad in several countries.  Even when she ran into anti-American sentiment in a country, I thought this was a good experience to have.  Hearing opinions that vastly differ from our world-view  is an important experience to have. 

I recently was approached by an organization that arranges for students from other countries to come here to study.  The coordinator for Mississippi said, ” …I have a hard time getting families that will be accepting to the Muslim students from the Middle East or Buddhist from Asia.”    What a missed opportunity for a family to reject a student from these regions of the world.  She was hoping based on what she has heard about our faith, that Unitarian Universalists would be welcoming of these students.

What a gift it would be for a student from the Middle East to live in a country where religious freedom is the value here.   What a gift it would be for a student from Asia.  What a gift it would be for the family to welcome a student from another country and learn that the values this student has learned from their country are the same values we teach our children. 

Our world, I’ve heard it said, is shrinking into a smaller and smaller neighborhood.  Here is an opportunity to get to know our neighbors, one person at a time, perhaps, but O what a wonderful gift it would be.  For more information on sponsoring an exchange student contact AYUSA.


Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 10:45 am  Comments Off on Foreign Exchange Students in the South  
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Bishop Robinson’s Inaugural Prayer

Many people watched the opening inaugural concert on HBO and may not have realized that the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson gave the invocation.  There are lots of rumors about why it was not also aired with the concert.  So for those of you who have HBO and did not hear this moving prayer, and for those of you who may not have access to this channel, here is text of the prayer given. 

Opening Inaugural Event

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

January 18, 2009

Delivered by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson:

“Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


You may also watch it here: 

Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm  Comments Off on Bishop Robinson’s Inaugural Prayer  
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Lapsed Unitarian Universalism

This past Sunday, a person introduced themselves to me as a Lapsed Unitarian Universalist.  We didn’t get a chance to discuss this concept so I do not know what the person fully meant by this statement.  They might have simply been referring to their attendance.  The Lapsed Catholics, Lapsed Baptists I have met in the South and elsewhere tend to have moved away from some piece of the doctrine that those Christian sects teaches.  Sowhen you are a member of a creed-less faith, what have you lapsed into if your faith lapses?  

I don’t know the answer to the question entirely.  But perhaps it lies in another phrase I recently heard by a colleague of mine:  Essential Faith versus Discretionary Faith.   An essential faith as my colleague defined it is one that is held so dear that one would sacrifice for its existence.  A discretionary faith is one that can be disposed of if personal time and money is demanded elsewhere.

A recent poll indicated that there are about 675,000 people in the USA who identify as Unitarian Universalist.   Our official numbers as of 2006 indicate that we have about 158,000 members in the US and Canada.    So are all these other people lapsed Unitarian Universalists with a discretionary faith? 

I found my faith as an Unitarian Universalist to be essential to who I am.  It is part of how I identify myself to the world.  It speaks to the values that I hold dear and want to emulate into our society. 

I gave a talk on Sunday about Judith Sargent Murray based on the excellent biography by Sheila Skemp.  Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) was a woman who enjoyed the privilege her family’s prestige and social status gave her.  When she and her family embraced Universalism she lost that prestige and social status in the community.   They lost the ability to do business with people in Gloucester.  People they considered through the generations as family friends no longer associated with them.  Her faith in Universalism became a hardship for her.  Yet, this faith was an essential faith to her.  It enabled her to find her voice regarding the rights of women.   It gave her a basis from which she could discuss the financial independence and full citizenship she thought all women should have. 

Her faith was not discretionary, it was essential to her living her values.  She received support for the developing and sustaining of her values from her church community.   I doubt she could have journeyed this path alone.  

And perhaps that is the key to defining a discretionary faith.  Are you walking alone in your journey or are you somehow connected to a community of people who share your values and support your attempts to live those values in society?  

Unitarian Universalists value the independent spirit American society has fostered over the generations.  Yet, it is a value that has its corollary in community.  Without the two values, juxtaposed and in a dynamic tension likened to that tension that a belt on a pulley has in play in order for the pulley to work, the faith cannot sustain itself and grow; either for the individual or for the community. 

Here in the rural south, it is quite possible that the nearest Unitarian Universalist congregation is several hours away.  Yet, a person who believes their Unitarian Universalism is an essential faith can find a community of resources to help them stay connected and to be sustained by their faith.  The Church of the Larger Fellowship is a resource for these individuals and small groups of people who find themselves isolated. 

Have a faith that is essential to living your values in the day to day.  Find a community who will support you in doing so.  You may find as Judith Sargent Murray did that having a faith that is supported by a community empowers you to live your values in society.  Blessings,

Save Ville Platte Highschool

The US. Department of Justice wants to close Ville Platte Highschool in Lousianna and bus the 400 high schoolers to Pine Prairie, 30 minutes plus away [per google maps via car, school buses would almost certainly double that time].   On the surface this might seem like an economical thing to do, perhaps even the right thing to do. 

However this is a racist move.  Why do I state this?  Consider these demographics.  Ville Platte is a community of over 8,000 people.  Pine Prairie just over 1,000.  Ville Platte is 63.5% black.  Pine Prairie is 87.51% white.   Does this still make sense to make the larger community to be bussed to the smaller white community?  No.  If integration of the schools was the goal then the smaller school should be bussed to the larger school–not the other way around.  This is a matter of racism because integration would be done at the convenience of the smaller white population.

Over 50% of Ville Platte lives in poverty.  Those parents who want to support their students school events will not be able to do so because they have no transportation means to get there. 

The school has been fully renovated to meet the needs of the community.  New science labs, new library, new computers, new gym, new roof have all been done to ensure the students have the best opportunities.   Watch the video. Then decide your next move as a concerned citizen of America.  Blessings,

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 11:57 am  Comments Off on Save Ville Platte Highschool  
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Magical Thinking

In preparing for the upcoming sermon, I have found my thoughts swinging towards notions of magical thinking.  Is Magical Thinking something that we can avoid or is it something that is hardwired into our species? 

I have come to believe that it is something that is hardwired into our species.   In our development, magical thinking may have served as a means to survival.  The ancient Druids who burned yule logs to summon the return of the sun god during the winter solstice is an example of magical thinking as a tool for survival.  Having hope that warmer days are coming soon is a strong tool towards survival.  The notion that they had some part of  the sun’s returning gave them a sense of control over their lives.  Having a sense of control seems to be important to our basic ability to thrive as a species.  So while we can reduce magical thinkings prevalence in our lives, we are not going to be able to eliminate it entirely. 

I found two definitions online that I thought were good definitions with one being better than the other.   

The first definition was one posited by Tim Boucher with his nod to Psychologist James Alcock, Magical thinking is “the interpreting of two closely occurring events as though one caused the other.”    It is as Mr. Boucher points out the same definition we use for Cause and Effect.  The difference seems to be that the latter is provable through scientific method, the former is not. 

The second definition that I found was also located in a blog by a BuddhistThe conviction of the individual that his or her thoughts, words, and actions, may in some manner cause or prevent outcomes in a way that defies the normal laws of cause and effect. 

He was stating that in the 1980’s he was with the Nichiren Shoshu and was taught to chant of Nam-myo-renge-kyo.   He was taught that chanting this phrase would not only bring him to enlightenment but it would also change his Karma in this lifetime so that he could receive material things.  He came to see in time that there were other benefits to this chanting and that they were the ultimate goal of the chanting not the receiving of material gains. 

Many religions of all configurations have some form of magical thinking embedded into their make up.   And some folk have explanations as to why their faith construct is not magical thinking but everyone else’s is.  Todd Strandberg has a whole page devoted to what is and isn’t magical thinking and then states The Bible is the final authority and if it is in the Bible then it is trustworthy and true.  Moses raising the staff to part the Red Sea, not magical thinking nor coincidental hurricane force winds blowing across a shallow part of the sea to create momentary dry land.  Jesus commanding the demons to come out of a person.  Not magical thinking.  These he says are matters of faith. 

Matters of faith are not magical thinking?  If it is magical thinking for the voodoo priestess to cast out demons, why wouldn’t the same action by the pentecostal minister not be magical thinking?  Add that to the mysteries of faith, I suppose.

I am presenting a sermon on Sunday based on the book by Jinny Ditzler entitled, “Your Best Year Yet!”  In it she discusses changing our dominant paradigm of thought about ourselves. 

I write in the sermon regarding changing ones paradigm and magical thinking, “So the person who crosses their fingers to protect them from an unwanted outcome is practicing magical thinking.  A person who repeats a chant over and over again because that would result in their receiving a Porsche is practicing magical thinking.

A person who states they are undeserving of money because that is their lot in life is also practicing magical thinking. Their thought that having money will never be their lot in life defies the normal laws of cause and effect. What is not magical thinking is someone who states “Money is abundant and flows spontaneously in my life” and then begins to look for opportunities, those next logical steps that would allow money to flow towards them. I am not talking about her re-arranging the furniture according to energy flow patterns or burning sage that will supposedly attract money. Those actions are magical thinking actions. I am talking about actions that he or she takes as those next logical steps that do not defy the normal laws of cause and effect. Maybe she begins sending out resumes. Maybe she takes some courses to improve her marketable skills. Maybe she remembers that she has a talent that she could turn into a profitable business and begins taking steps towards that endeavor. Each of these steps could result in money being more abundant.

A person who truly believes that he is not worth earning more money will not be a person who will be looking for new opportunities to earn more money. He will have shut those windows and doors of opportunities to himself long before they could even appear on his radar.

Ms. Ditzler is challenging us to shift how we perceive our world and our opportunities. Shifting the dominant paradigm in what we believe to be true about ourselves is an important key to being able to reach for accomplishments that until now were outside our reach. The fact is what we believe about ourselves is only a perception that has been rehearsed over and over again by those around us and eventually by ourselves so many times that we feel there is no other truth about who we are.

The famous story of Pygmalion written by George Bernard Shaw based on the Greek Myth of the same name tells the tale of an English Gentlemen who seeks to transform a poor woman of the streets into a sophisticated lady of means. You might recognize the story as My Fair Lady, the musical and movie with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. It is the story of shifting the paradigm of personal belief.

When we meet Eliza Doolittle, she is destined to remain the class and education level she was born into. She has accepted her lot and believes she not deserve any better fare. Professor Higgins takes on a bet that he can pass her off as a learned lady of stature and class. The transformation does not happen until, Eliza herself begins to see herself as this lady.

Was it magical thinking? No. It was changing the story one tells themselves and then taking actions inspired by the new story, the new paradigm. Had Eliza been born into a family of means, this story would already have been told to her since childhood; that paradigm would already have been in place. Her actions chosen by herself and her family would have matched that paradigm.”

Affirmations, another popular tool used by many, would be magical thinking if all the person ever did was repeat the affirmation and thougth by merely stating the affirmation that his life was going to change direction or receive what he wanted.  If the person actually believed the words being said and began making decisions and actions that were in conjunction with those affirmations, then it no longer is magical thinking.  The affirmations are then only a tool towards shifting the paradigm of belief the person was originally living and acting from. 

Here is Audrey Hepburn in her own voice not the dubbed version singing “Wouldn’t it be Loverly.”  Some dreaming and perhaps some magical thinking too…  Blessings,

Published in: on January 3, 2009 at 3:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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Stand By Me


Thanks Alice.

Published in: on January 2, 2009 at 10:14 am  Comments Off on Stand By Me  
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