Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple: Sacred Space

photo by Scott G. Winterton

photo by Scott G. Winterton

While I was in Salt Lake City for the UUA annual assembly, I took advantage of being in the center of Latter Day Saints country. I went across the street from the convention hall to hear the organ recital at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. The building has amazing acoustics. The organist demonstrated this by ripping a newspaper and by dropping three pins. And yes, you could hear the pin drop from several hundred feet away.

It so happened that a new temple had been built in South Jordan, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. It was currently open to the public prior to its consecration ceremony in August when it will be closed to the public. The Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple faces the majestic mountains. 

I had never been inside a Mormon Temple before so I was curious as to what it looked like, how it differed from what I know about temples in general. I was surprised as it did not meet any of my expectations. What I did not expect was the intimacy of the space. The rooms are for individual and family sessions with their god. There are no large sanctuaries within the Temple.

There are small chapels but these are also intimate spaces. There are changing rooms for women and men to exchange their every day clothes for clothing that has been set aside for creating covenants. These covenants are with each other, such as committed in a marriage, and with their god. A pamphlet on the Oquirrh Temple states, “In [these temples], faithful Church members receive instruction, make covenants, and draw closer to the Lord.”

This temple once consecrated will be considered sacred space. This is a place where the holy of holies will dwell. It is for the Mormons the house of the Lord. I began to wonder what constitutes sacred spaces in our lives.

Our Unitarian Universalist tradition does not consecrate sacred spaces in the manner that this other American born religion does. Is there something that we as Unitarian Universalists hold sacred?

We encourage our youth to go on a field trip to Boston, MA where Unitarianism and Universalism had its roots. So there is this Mecca to a historical site not only to the beginnings of our religion but also to the beginnings of our democracy. But this is not the same.

What is held sacred? What is considered by Unitarian Universalists to be holy-remove your shoes-ground? I think there is room in our faith to open the door for such a sacred space to be created. A place where we can experience the transcendent moments that such sacred spaces engenders. What we label these transcendent moments will differ between us but to have an opportunity to experience them is important in our search for truth and meaning. Search out the sacred spaces in our lives and allow them to speak what they will to us. Blessings,

I Thee Wed: The Battle for Equal Marriage Rights

I Thee Wed:  The Battle for Equal Marriage Rights
Rev. Fred L Hammond
7 June 2009 ©
Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church
14 June 2009 ©
Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

Reading    From “The Irrational Season” by Madeleine L’Engle

Ultimately, there comes a time when a decision must be made.  Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble.  Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created.  To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take.  If we commit ourselves to one person for life, that is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation.  It takes a lifetime to learn another person.  When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling.

I recently officiated at two weddings.  Both couples wanted a service that would reflect their theology and not the theology of their home congregation.  One couple was not comfortable with the notion of God and therefore wanted a service that would limit the presence of God in their service.  The other couple did not want a Christian service but rather one that embraced a God that would appeal to all people.   I was happy to do whatever service they wanted.  It was after all their wedding day and it needed to be meaningful to them as the couple began their lives as one. 

I was therefore a bit surprised when the couples insisted on some very traditional language.  The first wanted the ring ceremony to include the phrase, “with this ring I thee wed.”   It rarely is used any longer.  All of the wedding scripts I have seen in the recent years do not include this phrase.    The bride told me since she was a little girl, it was this phrase that stuck with her as being the pivotal moment in the wedding.  So yes, we included it. 

The second couple inserted this line, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace.”  Again, a line that rarely appears any longer in wedding services except for those TV dramas but for this couple, if there was any doubt they were not to be married, this line would ensure that would be erased.  

I was fascinated by what each couple needed to have in their wedding ceremony in order for their marriage to be a real marriage.   The dreams held since youth of being married are romanticized.  I think we all have fantasized at some point what our wedding would be like when we found that certain someone to cherish and hold all the days of our lives.  We each have idealized what would constitute the perfect wedding ceremony for us. 

Parents also fantasize about their children’s weddings.  Fathers’ walking their daughter down the aisle is a rite of passage as much for the father as it is for the daughter.  It is an important moment—a vital moment in the life of the family, in the order of things. 

This is how when we were children were told it would be. We would grow up and marry, have kids of our own, raise them, and then walk them down the aisle to marry another… and the cycle continues. 

 If I had sound effects for this sermon this is where the needle would scratch across the recording in a loud halting stop. 

We all like the notion of having a traditional wedding ceremony.  Regardless of religious connotations, the wedding ceremony is a tradition that is held in honor.   It wasn’t always a tradition.  In fact, marriages were not always just between one man and one woman.  Former President Bush is quoted as saying, “Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization.”[1]   I wonder what type of marriage and which civilization he was referring to here. 

The earliest records of marriage include those in the Hebrew Scriptures.  See if you recognize these as traditional marriages:  Abraham marries his half sister Sarah. (Genesis 20:11-13).  Isaac marries Rebekah, his first cousin. (Genesis 24:14-16)   Jacob married his cousins, first Leah and then her sister Rachel and then takes Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah as a wife, and then Leah’s maidservant Zilpah as a wife.  (Genesis 29)   Ashhur had two wives, Helah and Naarah. (1 Chronicles 4) King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. 

These forms of marriages are considered taboo in today’s society.  We are not to marry our siblings or our first cousins, this is considered incest.  We are not to have more than one wife, this is considered polygamy.   

Marriage is an evolving institution.  How one marries has changed as much as who one marries.  In the marriages described in Hebrew history, one of two things happened.  The man looking for a wife asked the father for the bride or the father looking for a husband for his daughter, offered her hand in marriage.   The woman had little say in the matter because the woman was considered property and property could be bartered.  In the case of Jacob, he bartered for the hand of Rachel by working for her father seven years and when the seven years was up the father gave him Leah instead and then had Jacob work another seven years for Rachel’s hand. 

The line my couple wanted in their service: “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace.”  This line was to make sure there were no marriage impediments preventing the marriage in the eyes of the church.   One such impediment in the mid-15 century might have been being related to each other to the 6th degree.[2]  Since the belief that the two would be made one, a person marrying into a family would prevent anyone else from marrying into that family as well.   Divorce was not permitted so the only way to get out of a marriage was to then prove that there was an unknown or overlooked marriage impediment to then have the marriage annulled.   How many of you know your 5th and 6th cousin?  Or know that your 4th cousin married your partner’s 3rd cousin thereby preventing you and your partner to marry?

How is marriage defined in this country?  In the 1690’s love between spouses was discouraged because it was thought it would weaken the man’s authority over the woman[3].   Most marriages were declared by the couple declaring it so; churches and government were not involved.  This form of common-law marriages[4] is still recognized in eleven states. Many states removed common-law marriages from being recognized in the 1970’s[5].

Prior to Queen Victoria, women were often considered the lustier sex.  Queen Victoria’s elevation of chastity[6] changed the perception of women to be seen as chaste and pure in and out of the marriage.  Prostitution increased as a result.   Also prior to Queen Victoria, it was customary for the newly weds to do a bridal tour, visiting relatives that were unable to attend the wedding.  By the mid-19th century, the honeymoon began to replace this traditional event but it was still not what we consider to be honeymoons today.  The bride brought her girlfriends with her[7]

In the mid- 1800’s there were experiments[8] in how one defined marriage.  The Oneida Community in upstate New York had what they called group marriage.  Each person was married to each other adult in the group.  The community would decide by matching characteristics which male and female would procreate.  The Mormons allowed polygamy within their religious circle.  When Utah applied to become a state of the union, the only way it would be admitted was if the state would outlaw polygamy.   It did so. 

Before the Civil War, slaves[9] were not allowed to marry as they were seen as property.  Ceremonies might have occurred between partners but they were not honored by the slave owners.  Inter-racial marriages were banned in 16 states until Loving v Virginia decision of the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1967[10].   In the early 1900’s, there was a national law stating that if a woman married an Asian;  even a US born Asian, she would lose her citizenship[11].  This ban was also lifted in 1967. 

The law now recognizes the marriage partnership is made up of equals. Previously the law stated that the male was the legal head of household or rightful owner of property.  

So when people state that marriage has always been a certain way, they are speaking from ignorance because marriage is evolving.  Marriage today isn’t even what marriage was 50 years ago.  So the request of gays and lesbians to have marriage rights is not without historical precedent.

According to John Boswell, church historian, the relationship of David and Jonathan in the Hebrew Scriptures was a marriage.   Boswell writes, “ [A]ccording to 1 Samuel 18:1, ‘it came to pass… the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’ The two made a ‘covenant’ together—the text employs the word used for a marriage covenant elsewhere in Hebrew Scripture –and David and Jonathan lived together in Saul’s house, even though Jonathan had children. David was still unmarried.  He later took Jonathan’s surviving heir into his household to eat at his table, which he did ‘for Jonathan’s sake’.  After Jonathan was killed, David lamented publicly, ‘I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of a woman.’ ( p 137 Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe)

 It seems that David and Jonathan had a covenanted relationship that was akin to a marriage.  David cared for Jonathan’s children after Jonathan was killed.  Much like a spouse would do for his or her partner’s children even if there was a previous partner involved.

Currently six states have same sex marriage.  One state has civil unions and three states have domestic partnerships.  Three additional states recognize same sex marriages performed in other states but do not offer same sex marriages to their citizens.   

In the Defense of Marriage Act brief (aka DOMA) released on the 42nd anniversary of Loving v Virginia, which by the way, made the marriage of President Obama’s parents legal in every state, the federal government is claiming neutrality on the issue of state sovereignty regarding same gender marriage.  The federal government is not a neutral party. 

One of the rights afforded to heterosexual couples is the right to grant citizenship to the foreign partner through marriage.  No state, not even the six states that currently grant same sex marriage rights can offer this right.  Only the federal government can grant citizenship. The federal government cannot be neutral when it has a vested interest in this matter.  And I haven’t even mentioned the other 1,048 rights and benefits the federal government bestows on heterosexual marriages. 

But neutrality over state sovereignty is not the half of what this particular DOMA brief claims.   This brief dares to argue that laws prohibiting same sex marriage are as valid as laws prohibiting incest and pedastry.  It further states that comparing same sex marriage rights to arguments presented by Loving v Virginia are invalid.

In my blog I wrote,  “Loving V Virginia declared the laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages as unconstitutional and “designed to maintain White Supremacy.”  In referring to the Loving V Virginia case, the Obama Administration argues that with DOMA there is  ‘No comparable purpose is present here, however, for DOMA does not seek in any way to advance the ’supremacy’ of men over women, or women over men. Thus DOMA cannot be ‘traced to a … purpose’ to discriminate against either men or women.  In upholding the traditional definition of a marriage, numerous courts have rejected an alleged analogy to Loving.’

Sexual orientation is not a recognized suspect class needing protection.  If it were then the analogy would be clearer to the courts, because what DOMA does is assert heterosexual supremacy over homosexuality.  DOMA places the heterosexual orientation above all other orientations of sexuality as supreme and therefore entitled to rights and privileges.[12]

President Obama, when he was a candidate for office, in addition to vowing to repeal DOMA, advanced an argument to offer civil unions to gays and lesbians while maintaining marriage as between one man and one woman.   Let’s look at this argument a bit further.  Why would it be important to offer civil unions to gay and lesbian couples?  It will allow for hospital visiting rights of the partner when one of them is ill or dying.  It will place inheritance rights to the partner above the deceased’s immediate family. 

This last one is important.  I remember a couple that lived together for over 20 years and one of them was dying with AIDS.  The couple had built a life together.  They were not able to have joint property rights because they were not married so the house was in the partner’s name.  The partner who was dying did leave a will in which he left everything to his partner.  The will was contested and the family won as being the closest blood relative.  And when the partner died, the family swooped in; removed the body to be buried in their home state, removed items from the house and had the partner evicted and eventually sold the house.  Everything they had built together was taken from them.  A family that had no contact with their son since he came out of the closet had legal claim to everything he had built with his partner.   Yes, a civil union might have prevented this from happening if the state where the family was from also recognized civil unions. 

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are about death and illness protection.   Marriage is about life.  Marriage is about the building of a life together.  Yes there are similar protections in a marriage.   But marriage also has federal benefits; 1,049 benefits.   Yes many of these have to do with death and illness but they also include; joint parenting, joint adoption, joint custody rights,  immigration and residency for partners from other countries, veterans’ discounts on medical care, education, and home loans; joint filing of tax returns, and many, many more.   These are about building a life together. 

There is the fear that by allowing gays and lesbians to marry that it would somehow force conservative religious entities to performing marriages against their doctrinal beliefs.  This is such a palpable fear that Governor Lynch of New Hampshire stated he would not sign any same sex marriage legislation unless there was a provision stating that religious groups would not be forced to perform same sex weddings.     I can assure you as a minister, I am free to refuse to marry anyone that I want for whatever reason.  I am not under any obligation to marry anyone regardless of who they are.  I did a wedding last year for a couple whose minister refused to marry them because minister’s belief required him to only marry born again Christians.   That right is within the minister’s or priest’s jurisdiction.  It is a fear that is found-less and completely false. 

There is a fear that somehow by allowing same sex marriages it would diminish or invalidate opposite marriages.  The Roman Catholic Church believes that it diminishes the true purpose of marriage which according to their church teaching is procreation[13].  The difficulty I have with this doctrine is that the Roman Catholic Church does not refuse to marry couples who are past their child bearing age or couples where the woman had medically life saving surgery that resulted in an inability to have children.  If procreation was the sole purpose of marriage then these other couples should not be allowed to marry because the purpose can no longer be fulfilled. 

 There is, I believe a higher purpose for couples to marry than procreation.   In Christian theology, marriage is often seen as being symbolic of the love god has for humanity.  The devotion that the couple is to show each other is similar to the devotion that god would show them.  

There are many examples in the Abrahamic Scriptures of God making covenants with his people.  David Myers and Letha Scanzoni point out in their book[14], What God Has Joined Together? “that the Hebrew prophet Hosea has God liken his covenant with Israel to a betrothal: “I will betroth you to me for ever. … I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” (Hos. 2:19-20).

“Perhaps,” Myers and Scanzoni write, “rather than thinking in terms of gender, we might instead consider the characteristics of that covenant …. justice, fairness, love, kindness, faithfulness and a revelation of God’s personhood. … If these characteristics define an ideal marriage, might two homosexual persons likewise form such a union? … If we can think in those terms, might we … accept these (same sex) covenantal relationships as indeed a joining of two persons by God?” 

To join together in a covenanted relationship to emulate these characteristics of justice, fairness, love, faithfulness, isn’t this a modeling of behaviors that is needed to be seen in this world?  

Isn’t it these values that the two couples had to have in their wedding in order for it to be a real marriage ceremony?  The words are different, but listen for these values in the vows the couples made to each other: “To have and to hold, From this day forward, For better, for worse, For richer, for poorer, In sickness and in health, In sorrow or in joy, To love and to cherish As long as we both shall live.”

Why would anyone want to prevent that kind of commitment to love from being made?   Why indeed.  

[1] As found on the internet at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11442710/  on  5 June 2009

[2] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[3] as found at  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050506-000006.html

[4] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[5] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

 [6] as found at  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050506-000006.html

[7] IBID

[8] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[9] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

[10] as found at http://www.ameasite.org/loving.asp

[11] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

[12] Fred L Hammond, Heterosexual Supremacy essay at Unitarian Universalist in the South as found at http://www.serenityhome.wordpress.com

[13] The Threat of Same Sex Marriage as found at http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=3627

[14] I have lost the source for this section.  Ultimately it is from the book, but this section was a quote from the book for a review of the book.

Heterosexual Supremacy

The Obama Administration has released on the anniversary of Loving V Virginia (June 12 1967) a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Brief.   The brief released yesterday not only defends the federal law of marriage as between one man and one woman but also argues that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are akin and as valid to laws prohibiting incest and pedastry. 

Loving V Virginia declared the laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages as unconstitutional and “designed to maintain White Supremacy.”  In referring to the Loving V Virginia case, the Obama Administration argues that with DOMA there is  “No comparable purpose is present here, however, for DOMA does not seek in any way to advance the ‘supremacy’ of men over women, or women over men. Thus DOMA cannot be ‘traced to a … purpose’ to discriminate against either men or women.  In upholding the traditional definition of a marriage, numerous courts have rejected an alleged analogy to Loving. “

Sexual orientation is not a recognized suspect class needing protection.  If it were then the analogy would be clearer to the courts, because what DOMA does is assert heterosexual supremacy over homosexuality.  DOMA places the heterosexual orientation above all other orientations of sexuality as supreme and therefore entitled to rights and privileges.

The administration further argues that the federal government must remain neutral in not extending federal benefits to same sex couples legally married in the six states  where same gendered marriage is legal.   In a joint reaction statement from Gay and Lesbian advocacy groups, they state:  “There is nothing “neutral” about the federal government’s discriminatory denial of fair treatment to married same-sex couples: DOMA wrongly bars the federal government from providing any of the over one thousand federal protections to the many thousands of couples who marry in six states. This notion of “neutrality” ignores the fact that while married same-sex couples pay their full share of income and social security taxes, they are prevented by DOMA from receiving the corresponding same benefits that married heterosexual taxpayers receive. It is the married same-sex couples, not heterosexuals in other parts of the country, who are financially and personally damaged in significant ways by DOMA. For the Obama administration to suggest otherwise simply departs from both mathematical and legal reality.

Heterosexual supremacy is the obverse to homophobia.   It is the extreme of heterosexual privilege which not only exists but is codified into our laws.  We have as a nation dismantled most of the laws that enforce white supremacy.  We have a harder course of action to dismantle white privilege.   The same is true for heterosexual supremacy.  The laws are in place to uphold and enforce it.  DOMA is one of those laws. 

In Obama’s run for the White House, he stated he believed that DOMA was wrong and promised its repeal.  Yesterday, this brief is evidence of the Obama administration betraying the people who voted for him based on this promise.   Yes, it is true that the Senior Trial Counsel member who  helped write  this brief, W. Scott Simpson, is a Bush Adminstration hold-over and a conservative Mormon.  That is no excuse.  This brief was more than just upholding the current law, it was a blatant heterosexual supremacist political statement to tell those who seek equal marriage rights to stop and desist.     

The Justice train stops for no one until it reaches its destination.

Mature Spirituality

There are several people that come to mind when I think of people I would classify as spiritual people.    Perhaps these are obvious or not so obvious choices but I would place the following into this category:   The Dalai LamaThich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati (nee Joyce Green).

There are reasons for each of these people to be in my list of spiritual people.   The first and foremost reason is that I do not get a sense of judgment from these people when I hear them speak, or read their words, or observe their actions  in relation to other people’s sense of spirituality.  This is not to say that these individuals have not made judgments about what is true spirituality versus  a veneer of spirituality.  But I do not get a sense that these individuals have shown arrogance towards another’s spiritual path, in short placing their spiritual path above the rest as the true path. 

That for me is the defining marker for a mature spirituality.  To be so comfortable in our own spiritual (perhaps could be also be called faith) development that we are not threatened by another’s journey. It is perhaps the rare individual that starts their spiritual journey with such an awareness of equity between each other’s spirituality. 

So where does a person start in beginning a spirituality?  One begins with one self.   I remember being aware of being loved for who I was.  I was taught as a child that God loved each of us, totally, wholely for the wonderous unique creation we were.    But not everyone even begins there.  Someone else might become aware of being part of something greater than themselves… maybe as the True Blood character Amy states, being aware of being one with Gaia, being one organism with the earth.  This beginning awareness is also a bit self-centered, as it is an awareness that I am one with  Gaia, the universe, all that is. 

Sometimes when we first accept a new idea or new insight into our developing spirituality, we become a bit fanatic about our find.   We want to share it with everyone.  And we are a bit surprised when not everyone shares our enthusiasm for our discovery.  This can have a variety of responses.  We can re-examine our new insight and see if it indeed holds the truth we thought it did.  We can reject our new insight as a passing thought of fancy.  Or we can latch onto it with an arrogance of I know better than thou. 

If we move towards the arrogance side of things then there remains this tinge of doubt that perhaps we are not right that we fight against.  Our spirituality isn’t yet a  grounded spirituality.  Arrogance, I believe,  is an expression of being  threatened by another’s spirituality that is not understood.  If we are grounded in our spirituality then another’s path is not a threat to what we believe to be true. 

I remember coming home from an interfaith retreat for people who cared for people with HIV/AIDS and telling the religious leader of my christian charismatic community about the wisdom I heard from a Lakota Native American.  I was told right off the bat it was satanic.  The conversation was over before it even begun.   He was not open to even hear what I had learned that made so much sense to me. It was the beginning of my pulling away from this christian group.  I no longer understood why I should be afraid of  listening to another’s spiritual  journey.

Unitarian Universalists are just as prone to this fear of others as anyone else.  I hear congregants turn in disgust to another person’s interest in the supernatural, or new thought, or pagan, or orthodox christian views.  I hear my colleagues criticize derisively spiritualities that are heart based and not intellectually grounded.  I hear all sorts of joking about other’s spiritual experiences as if they alone had the true knowledge, the true insight into all Truth.   We have, I believe, placed our sometimes flawed reasoning abilities above all other tools for discerning.  Sometimes we need to listen with the heart and not the critical mind.  

One of our principles is the following:  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  It is listed right after this principle, Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. 

Now I understand that a free and responsible search is a scary proposition.  It essentially means that I am responsible for my spirituality, my faith development.  It means that I am not being told what to believe or not believe by some outside authority; be it minister, sacred text, guru,  pope or god(s).    I take this principle seriously.  When I converse with people on what they believe,  it is with an open ear and open heart.  Perhaps there is something in their experiences that will inform me in my journey. 

The “Acceptance of one another…” is another biggy for me. It means to me that I cannot judge your experiences as false.  I cannot joke about people reading  “Conversations with God” or “The Secret” or “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”  or “The Course in Miracles” or even “The King James Bible red letter edition”.  These books may do nothing for me.  But if I am being true to this principle then I accept each person’s  free and responsible search.  I listen deeply to your understanding of these books and how they inform your path.   We may dialog together about how these ideas inform your life as a spiritual being.  But I do not have the right to dismiss as nonsense what you found for your path . 

I believe it is these principles that attract so many people to Unitarian Universalism.  I also believe it is these same principles that are not being modeled in our congregations that turn these people away, sadly from our doors. 

We need to develop our spiritualities.  I think the people I mentioned above are role models of mature spirituality.  You may disagree with their teachings.  You may have heard of disputes involving these people.  They are human after all and suffer the same frailities as we all do.   But as spiritual teachers I believe they have a slice of the ultimate truth and they try to live that slice as best as they can. 

We need to strive to live our slice as best we can with reverence, with forebearance, with humility, with compassion, and with love for where we are in our journeys. These are the some of the markers of a mature spirituality.  Blessings,

Published in: on June 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm  Comments Off on Mature Spirituality  
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Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting

The shooting todayat the Holocaust Memorial Museum by a “known” white supremacist is disturbing on many fronts.    As I read this news,  my mind flashed back to Dr. Tiller’s assassination a few weeks ago at his church.  Dr. Tiller was a doctor who specialized in late-term abortions.   My mind flashed back to the Knoxville UU shooting last July.  

What do all three events have in common?   They were all committed by people who were on the ultra-extreme right of the political spectrum.   Many people in the public reported feeling that Dr. Tiller’s death was justified.  There is a sense of the vigilante in the response. 

MSNBC Commentator Keith Olberman holds Fox news culpable.  Certainly Fox news commentators Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly do have a histrionic style of presenting the news.  It borders in my mind of yellow journalism. Rational people see through the histrionics as entertainment–albeit twisted and perverse. Histrionics makes the news no longer news but a side show.   But these three individuals, if Olberman is correct and Fox News is to be held culpable, might not see it as histrionics but rather as sincerely felt emotions of a moral character crying out for justice. 

Ultra-extremists, regardless whether of the right or left, are narrow focused individuals.  They have become blind to other possibilities;  other points of views.  They see only in high contrast of black and white.  So the question becomes, not how do we get rid of them, for that answer results in the same sort of blind ultra-extreme response.  Rather the question is how do we create an environment that allows for greater acceptance of the pluralism.  How do we ease the trauma that people feel when they see their world moving away from the contrast of black and white to the colors of the rainbow?

Many people turn to religion to find answers but the answer is not clinging to the dogmatism of one’s faith.  That answer is to slide towards one of the poles of the extremes.  It is to grow rigid when life demands the fluidity of a river to remain clean and life giving.  Instead religion should aid people in being able to be flexible, to seek out the gifts of forgiveness and compassion.  Religion should aid people in expanding their experience of life not in narrowing it. 

The beloved community is not about everyone being exactly like me and thinking exactly like me but rather being their own unique flower in the bouquet of humanity. I don’t have the answers to how to expand the conversation so that those opposed to liberal notions are heard and understood and those opposed to conservative notions are heard and understood.  To honor and respect each other is a life long task. 

That cry seems to be coming into sharper focus these days.  May we find our way soon before the pain that is being felt is more acute in our society.  BLessings,

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm  Comments Off on Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting  
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New blog started

I have begun a new blog which will be a bit of an experiment for me.  One of my dreams that I want to fulfill is to write fiction.  So this blog will be completely fictional including the author of the pieces, a character by the name of Avery Van Dien.   There will be short stories and hopefully a continuing storyline or two that will be developed as well as the story of Avery Van Dien as well.  It is my intention that this blog will be a form of spiritual practice for me.  And we will see where it takes me.   You may see this blog if interested at averyvandien.wordpress.com

I will continue to post here my 6-9 times a month on various issues affecting Unitarian Universalism.  Blessings,

Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm  Comments Off on New blog started  

Blue Boat Home


Thanks Scott.

Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 9:32 pm  Comments Off on Blue Boat Home  
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State Rights vs Civil Human Rights

Former Vice President Dick  Cheney stated, perhaps for the first time, his personal belief that people ought to form whatever unions they desire.  “Freedom means freedom for all” he said.   Then he couched the quest for equal marriage rights not as a human rights issue but as a State sovereignty issue.   

Do states have the right to define what constitutes civil human rights?  And is it just to then have some states deny what other states declare as fundamental? 

This is where this country has historically gotten itself into turmoil in the past.   Slavery was considered a State sovereignty issue and it led us to civil war.  And marriage has also traditionally been a State sovereignty issue and has also been settled on a federal level.  Not as violently as civil war but on a federal level nonetheless.

On June 12, 1967, Loving V. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional.  Mr. Loving and his bride went to the District of Columbia to be married and returned to Virginia to live. At the time of the court’s decision there were 16 states that banned and punished interracial marriages within their state.  Virginia in  its case as to the consitutionality of their denying Mr. and Mrs. Loving their marriage “reasoned that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention, and, consequently, the regulation of marriage should be left to exclusive state control by the Tenth Amendment.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court in deciding Loving V Virginia did not deny the state’s right to regulate marriage.  It did however state the following: 

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

I would argue the same holds true for same gendered couples.  The freedom to marry, or not marry a person of the same gender resides with the individual.  There are no sound reasons beyond religious doctrines (which in a pluralistic society cannot be made into the rule of law over another who does not accept nor abide with those doctrines)  to deny marriage between same gendered individuals.

State rights of sovereignty do not in my opinion trump civil human rights.  It is instead the other way around.