Unitarian Universalism

A Very Brief Primer on U.S.-Mexican History

In the early 1800s, U.S.Americans started settling into a territory of Mexico known as Texas.  Alarmed by the fact that the immigration rate was so high that U.S. settlers were starting to outnumber Mexicans, Mexico closed the territory to further legal immigration.  But U.S. settlers continued to pour in illegally.  Rather than attempting to learn the language and culture of the country to which they had immigrated, U.S.American immigrants in Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836.  (One has to wonder what the Mexicans whose families had already been living in Texas thought about that.)

In 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed as the 28th state, and President Polk was eyeing Mexico’s territories west of TX, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  The annexation of Texas, which Mexico continued to think of as a rebellious territory, caused Mexico to break diplomatic ties with the U.S., but it did not declare war.  Polk needed Mexico to be the first to engage in hostilities so that he could frame his expansionist intentions as defensive.  He sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to Texas to push its southern boundary from the Nueces river (the border that Mexico recognized) 150 miles southward to the Rio Grande (the border that the U.S. wanted).  The ploy worked; in April of 1846, a Mexican detachment attacked a U.S. patrol in the disputed area, killing 16 U.S. solders.  The U.S.-Mexican War was on.

In the meantime, Polk had sent word to U.S.Americans in California, also a Mexico-owned territory, that the U.S. would support any efforts of “independence” against the Mexican government.  When word of the U.S.-Mexico war reached California, U.S. settlers there played “the Texas game” and declared revolution.  (Again, one has to wonder what the Mexicans whose families had already been living in California thought about that.)

Weak from internal instability, the Mexican government was no match for the U.S. military.  By September 1847, U.S. forces occupied Mexico City.  Mexico had no choice but to accede to whatever the U.S. demanded.  The U.S. secured its hold on Texas, established the border at the Rio Grande, and received land that would become all or parts of the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  (Again, at the risk of repeating ourselves, there were Mexican families who had lived on these lands for generations before they suddenly became part of the U.S.)

All of the events above are well-known to anyone who has studied U.S. history.  But there is something that is not as widely known – which is that while U.S. forces occupied Mexico City, the Senate debated whether or not to annex ALL of Mexico.  To be clear, there were moral voices against the war and its subsequent land expansion, including but not limited to a then young Rep. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and former President then Rep. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts.  But overall, the country was in the grips of “Manifest Destiny” fever, and we might well have annexed Mexico if not for the persuasive argument made by Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina:

…it is without example or precedent, wither to hold Mexico as a province, or to incorporate her into our Union. No example of such a line of policy can be found. We have conquered many of the neighboring tribes of Indians, but we have never thought of holding them in subjection—never of incorporating them into our Union. They have either been left as an independent people amongst us, or been driven into the forests.

I know further, sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of society. The Portuguese and ourselves have escaped—the Portuguese at least to some extent—and we are the only people on this continent which have made revolutions without being followed by anarchy. And yet it is professed and talked about to erect these Mexicans into a Territorial Government, and place them on an equality with the people of the United States. I protest utterly against such a project.

Sir, it is a remarkable fact, that in the whole history of man, as far as my knowledge extends, there is no instance whatever of any civilized colored races being found equal to the establishment of free popular government, although by far the largest portion of the human family is composed of these races. And even in the savage state we scarcely find them anywhere with such government, except it be our noble savages—for noble I will call them. They, for the most part, had free institutions, but they are easily sustained among a savage people. Are we to overlook this fact? Are we to associate with ourselves as equals, companions, and fellow-citizens, the Indians and mixed race of Mexico? Sir, I should consider such a thing as fatal to our institutions.































Sen. Calhoun convinced the U.S. Senate to let Mexico remain an independent nation, not because it was morally wrong to annex countries by conquest, but because Mexicans are Indians and the U.S. could not have Indians as U.S. citizens, as equals to “the free white race.”  (I am sorry to say that John C. Calhoun was a Unitarian, a member of my beloved All Souls Church, in DC.  But I am proud to say, so was John Quincy Adams.)

Why am I writing about this?  There are people who complain that immigrants come here and do not attempt to assimilate into U.S. culture.  That actually isn’t true, but it’s clear from our history that U.S.Americans have done just that, and not only refused to assimilate but then took the land from their host nation…twice.  There are people who have said that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are ignoring the law by crossing the border between our two nations without papers.  It’s clear from our history that Mexicans have lived on this land long before it was called the U.S.  When the U.S. annexed the land (by force) it split extended families apart so that some were now U.S. citizens and some remained Mexican citizens.  There are people who draw a firm distinction between Mexicans and Indians (Native Americans), tolerating the presence of Native Americans but insisting that Mexicans should stay “out” unless they have a piece of paper allowing them “in.”  It’s clear from our history that even Euro-Americans once recognized the commonality between Mexicans and Indians and there are Native people who still recognize that commonality today.  Some of the most vocal protestors of SB1070 are Native Americans, who object to the exclusion of their sisters and brothers down south, and who themselves are the targets of racial profiling.  A recent activist arrested for protesting SB1070 asked a question that has stuck with me, and I hope it will stick with others: “Why are people who are indigenous to this land being checked for status by people who are settlers of this land?”

Border Trip: Pilgrimage

Part 1 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border.

A few months back I spied a notice in my congregation’s weekly bulletin about a trip to the Border being organized by Rev. Louise Green, our social justice minister here at All Souls, DC. It said that participants would be going to part of the border between Mexico and the U.S., with the possibility of also visiting Native American nations in the area. The trip, organized by Border Links, would feature immersion experiential learning and we would be expected to reflect and write on our experiences. I knew immediately that I had to go. But I also felt tremendously guilty at the idea of going. Both for the same reason.

Some of you may remember my post about bitter experiences with the health care system as my mom was taken by cancer. With Mom’s passing, the thought of taking a week to go anywhere other than San Francisco where my family is seemed incredibly selfish. But on the other hand, with Mom’s passing, I have been thinking more than ever about the journeys that she and Dad took from China to the U.S. – the many obstacles they had to overcome to get here, some recounted on this blog and others not. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be Chinese American – to be both Chinese and American and yet not fully either in the views of many.

Does one cross a border? Or does one straddle it? Or does one go back and forth?

Both the Border Links website and Louise in our group discussions leading up to the trip have asked us why we are interested in going. Fair question. Complicated answers. I am going to better understand my neighbors – their perspectives, their stories, their roots – but I am also going to better understand myself. I am going with the assumption that although our families come from different countries, different cultures and different circumstances, there will be at least as much that we have in common in the immigrant family experience as there will be differences. I also expect that there will be surprises, perspectives that I assume we share in common but are not the case. In any case, the process will be informative.

If you are interested, I invite you to stay tuned. The All Souls DC trip to the Border will take place Nov 8th – 14th and I plan to be blogging about it before, during, and after our pilgrimage.

Sharing a Family Secret

When Mom passed away recently, her niece, my cousin, flew into town for the funeral. Later that evening as we sat around the dinner table, my cousin asked questions about her aunt. Most of the stories that my dad told in response were ones that I had heard many times before. How Mom’s and Dad’s respective families had fled the communist takeover of mainland China and landed in Taiwan. How some family members on both sides had been left behind as the curtain descended. How they had met each other while working for the Taiwan post office. How they had immigrated to the U.S. as masters students at Brigham Young University. And how I was the first baby born to the community of Chinese students there – quite possibly the first Chinese baby born in Provo, UT.

Almost as an aside, Dad mentioned something that I had never heard before – that he and Mom had once been divorced. My grasp of Mandarin is not the best so at first I figured that I had simply misunderstood him. But as he continued talking, it became undeniable that I had heard correctly. Although married in Taiwan, Mom and Dad had divorced, immigrated to the U.S., and then remarried again. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” my dad explained, “U.S. immigration officials would not grant visas for married couples. They only gave visas to single students.”

I immediately understood why. Prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there was a strict quota based on nationality that discriminated blatantly against Chinese and other immigrants of non-Western European origin. U.S. immigration policy sought to “preserve” the county as a “white” nation. The U.S. would not have granted student visas to a Chinese married couple as they would be much more likely to have a child while in the U.S., who would then pave the way to permanent residency and citizenship. I sat there at the dinner table stunned both by the revelation of a family secret that I had never known and also by the lengths to which my parents were willing to go in order to get into the U.S.

As the daughter of immigrants, I have always been sensitive to public anti-immigrant sentiment and its racial overtones. It doesn’t matter that public ire is currently directed at immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. I know that blame was once directed at people who looked like me and could easily be so again – all it takes is a spy plane incident or a weak economy to turn us from “model minority” to “yellow peril” – just as it has been directed at successive waves of people who looked and acted differently.

Indeed, as I look at the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S., I can see many similarities with the situation facing immigrants from Latin America today. Chinese immigration started in sizaeble numbers in the mid-19th century because of work available on the railroads and in mines and the lack of economic opportunity in the homeland. Their growing numbers stirred anti-immigrant sentiment even as the railroad and mining industries happily took advantage of their cheap labor. (Does that sound familiar?) The Chinese were accused of being too insular, keeping to themselves, and unable to assimilate into “American” culture. (Does that sound familiar?) Chinese migrant workers were ambushed, beaten and sometimes killed. (Does that sound familiar?)

Anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment culminated in the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act,” the only law passed by Congress that bars immigration and naturalization based on race. By the 1920′s, the Chinese and eventually all Asians except Filipinos (because their homeland had become a U.S. colony) were prohibited from marrying whites, owning property, and/or becoming citizens, and subject to a slew of other degrading and racist laws. While I don’t expect things to get quite that bad ever again, the actions of authorities like Sheriff Arpaio make me wonder.

Most people nowadays would argue that the immigration debate isn’t about race at all, but the rule of law. “Illegal aliens are criminals because they’ve broken the law.” It may be easier for someone whose family has been in country for generations and is not viewed as “foreigners” – most likely a white family – to say that undocumented workers are “breaking the law.” It sounds so objective, unbiased, fair… But that ignores the fact that the law itself is unfair. If the law is written such that it makes it a lot easier for one group to “obey” the law than another, then there is something wrong with the law. My parents did not do anything “illegal” per se but they took drastic steps in order to circumvent the intended purpose of the law at that time… because they knew that the law was discriminatory and unjust. To what extent would someone go who does not have the privilege of applying for student visas?

My parents took the drastic measures that they did so that they could give their future children a better life. And I am not just referring to the divorce. They left their friends and family, their native soil and their culture, all for the sake of their children. Other parents right now are going to even greater extents – braving deserts and vigilantes, breaking the “law” – driven by the same love for their children and a desperation to provide for them what they know they cannot in their homeland. We are all (or nearly all) immigrants or descended from immigrants here, no matter how long your family can trace its roots in the U.S. And all because our ancestors were looking for a better life for their progeny.

Is Unitarian Universalism a Prophetic Church?

Any Facebook friends who’ve paid attention to my “status” will know that the recent Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministries has been on my mind for the last two weeks. Last week, my status worried that I might not make it to a session due to winter ice. This week, I’ve spent more time pondering what came out of the discussions, such as wondering “whether Unitarian Universalism can preach to both the comfortable and the afflicted in the same congregation(s).” From talking with others who attended, I know that I am not alone in being deeply impacted by the experience. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, the president of Starr King School for Ministry and a presenter at the Convocation, even mentions the Convocation (and our blog) in her e-newsletter to the seminary.

At a meeting of the First UU Church of Second Life last night, I asked fellow UUs there whether they consider Unitarian Universalism to be a “prophetic church.” This question, of course, raised other questions: what does it mean to be a prophetic church? After making clear that I did not mean a church that predicts the future, but rather a church that speaks the truth of justice to unjust power structures, we moved on to other questions. Have we been a prophetic church in the past? Are we now? Will we be in the future?

Due to logistics, the Convocation was not open to everyone, but these discussions are not meant to be limited to attendees. Essays were submitted, presentations were filmed, and a book and a DVD will come out of this for others to have the same chance for reflection. In addition, this will be taken up at the social justice track of UU University at General Assembly in Salt Lake City.

But in the mean time, I am asking our readers what I asked the UUs of Second Life: Is Unitarian Universalism a prophetic church? Do you want it to be, and if so in what way?

Reflections on Pluralism and Theologies of Justice

Like Adam, I am lucky enough to be able to attend the Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministry currently being held just outside of Baltimore. It is late Wednesday night, almost Thursday morning, but I am just posting about Tuesday because it’s taking me that long to digest the rich diet of ideas being offered.

We started the Convocation by devoting the first session to our UU theological and historical background in social justice – our religious grounding. We heard from three provocative panelists – Rebbecca Parker, Dan McKannan, and Jill Schwendemn. One theme that emerged was to recognize the rich history that we have coming out of two liberal Christian traditions – the Unitarians and the Universalists, and the importance to ritual to reaffirm our values. This being a UU convocation, those of us in the audience were asked to engage in these questions for ourselves – to think about how our own faith impacts our social justice work. I thought about how both the Christian tradition of the culture in which I grew up and the Buddhist tradition of my ancestral culture were equally important to me. The Judeo-Christian stories are so familiar and emotionally powerful. Yet at the same time, I do not want those traditions to be privileged over others such as Buddhism and Hinduism. The need to recognize the religious pluralism within our UU congregations mirrors the need to recognize and celebrate diversity in all its forms in our society.

The second session took up the problem of suffering, brokenness, and evil in the world, and our appropriate response. If the earlier session celebrated our UU and American heritage, then the evening’s panelists – Taquiena Boston, Victoria Safford, and Sharon Welch – all gave beautiful, painful testimonies as to where we have been unable to fully address the challenges that arise in an imperfect world. The room struggled with the concept of evil and wondered whether it was necessary to confess complicity by making the statement “I am evil.” Dr. Welch stressed a non-dualistic approach, recognizing and addressing acts of oppression while at the same time not labeling others as “evil” in a way that evokes animosity towards them and thus perpetuates the cycle. And Rev. Safford talked about how the choices that we make to no longer do harm are not one-time events. The choice must be made over and over again. What I understood from her was that we have been conditioned to be inclined to make the choices that we make. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for our choices but it recognizes that simply choosing once would not be enough.

As I listened to the conversations from both the afternoon and evening – discussions of “sin” and the means to “reconciliation” – I felt that it would be helpful if we UUs became conversant in other faith traditions – if we truly understood the concept of karma.

I do not mean the Westernized understanding of karma as a punishment and reward system. That comes from imposing the concepts of “good” and “evil” and a “divine judge” on an Eastern concept. Karma is not based on judgment. It is merely the consequences of one’s actions. Harmful acts have harmful consequences. Understanding this allows us to name and admit to oppressive acts without the debilitating judgment of “evil doer.” It tells us that the need to choose to end oppression is urgent for every moment that we allow it to continue (which is a choice), we generate more bad karma, the consequences of our actions (or inaction). What’s more karma reminds us that even when we choose the loving act, our work is not done. We will have to choose over and over again because the consequences of past harmful choices are still with us. It reminds us that there are no easy fixes to repair the world and build Beloved Community. But it also follows that if we act in love, steadily, that reconciliation and wholeness are inevitable.

Unitarian Universalism 101

By Eric Burch

Delivered at First UU Congregation of Second Life

On Nov 30, 2008

>> Chalice Lighting.
The flaming chalice is one of the symbols of Unitarian Universalism.
Many Unitarian Universalist gatherings start with the lighting of a chalice and the recitation of some words,
not only services, but meetings and even informal dinners in homes.
Every month, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists has a "Global Chalice Lighting"
and distributes a reading that many congregations use for one service every month.
The following is the November 2008 chalice lighting:
Que este cáliz, que encendemos juntos aquí, impregne e ilumine este lugar,
aclarando en nuestros corazones la dirección a tomar, que solemos olvidar durante la semana que va a partir.

Que sus haces de luz brillen profundamente en el alma,
prendiendo en su interior sabiduría nueva y nuevos proyectos.  
Que simbolicen la luz del deber y el entendimiento y el esplendor de la justicia, la verdad, y que nos den calma.

May this chalice, that we are lighting here together, pervade and light this place,
showing in our hearts the right direction to take, and that we not forget during the following week.

May its rays of light shine deeply in our souls,
kindling new wisdom and new projects inside us that
symbolize the light of duty and understanding and the magnificence of justice and truth,
and bring peace to us.

 -—from the Coruña congregation, Unitarian Universalist Society of Spain

>> Opening Song.
Music is an important part of UU services.
The communal expression of ideas, sung in a group, binds us together.
Unfortunately, SL isn't the best place for us to try to sing together; small groups have sat and sung here, but more than about 5
simultaneous people on voice chat causes problems.
We do have some recordings made in UU churches, and we're going to use some from Nashua, New Hampshire.

Our welcoming song "Come Come Whoever You Are" is sung many places to gather the congregation; the words are from
the 13th century Sufi poet Jalalud'din Rumi.
This next song "Spirit of Life" was written about 25 years ago by Carolyn McDade, and many UU congregations, including my RL
church, sing it every week as a sort of doxology.
In just a few lines it manages to express a hint of the emotion that binds our community:


Spirit of Life,
 come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind,
 rise in the sea;
Move in the hand,
 giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close;
 wings set me free;
Spirit of Life,
 come to me, come to me.

>> Joys and Concerns.

Now is the time of the service when we say our Joys and Concerns.
If there is something that has recently happened you wish to share, happy or sad, you may say it now.

We know that there are joys and sorrows in our hearts not said here.
Hold them, and use the power of this community to help you in your time of need,
or with your joy may it be increased.

>> Offering.

The operation of this fellowship, like any UU fellowship, depends on the time and talents people give to help out.
Not only do we have the services here, but you can drop in at times and find people just hanging out and chatting.
Being here, now, is a great contribution.
Another way you can help is to send some L$ our way.
There is an offertory basket in the front the sanctuary, always available for your donations.

If you are interested in leading a service or other event here at UUSL, there is a yellow box you can touch for information, behind you.
You can lead a discussion group, or a "hang out and gossip"--whatever; we have a meeting circle that a few groups have used.
If you want to lead a service, our free pulpit welcomes interesting discussion.
You can IM me anytime; in fact, there are seven logical follow-ons to this service that I can help you with:
if you are a UU and have a story about one of the principles it could become an interesting service.

>> Reading
The reading is the "Principles and Sources" of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations:

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote
    * The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    * Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    * Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    * A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    * The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    * The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
    * Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

    * Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures,
which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
    * Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice,
compassion and the transforming power of love;
    * Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
    * Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
    * Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us
against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
    * Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and
instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith,
we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.
As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

>> Homily "Unitarian Univeralism 101"

We have a few new avatars attending services here, and one of the most frequently asked questions is "What is Unitarian Universalism?"
I think it may even be asked by some of the people who have been here for a while, and I would
say we ask the same questions at times in our Real Life congregations.

Literally, "Unitarian Universalist" represents the merger of two Protestant Christian denominations in 1961.
Christian Unitarians are "anti-Trinitarian"--there are no three manifestations of one God; Jesus is a great teacher, but
had no more divine nature than anyone else.
(Note how I worded that: we all have a divine nature.)
Ultimately there is only one God.
Christian Universalists believe in universal salvation, that Jesus died for the redemption of all sins.
All of us are going to heaven--everyone.

The Unitarian movement started in Eastern Europe in the 16th century--indeed today there are many Unitarian churches where worship appears
to be identical to the Catholic mass--about the only external difference is married clergy and some different hymns.
Joseph Priestly, who first isolated oxygen, was a English Unitarian minister forced from his home in 1791 and
founded the first Unitarian church in the United States near Philadelphia.
Congregationalist churches in New England, where the members of a church determine the nature of their worship,
started accepting the Unitarian ideas soon after; throughout the Northeast the denomination spread.
The First Parish Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts today is a Unitarian Universalist church--Thanksgiving in the USA
has acquired Unitarian Universalist roots!
Unitarians, questioning the dogma that was the core of orthodox Christianity, started to question other aspects of their faith.
Knowledge revealed to only a few was discarded--starting about 125 years ago the denomination was becoming less Christ-centered.
Today, maybe the most theological thing you could say there is "one God"--but the definition of "God"
is subject to thoughtful and open discussion.
I like to say that sometimes God is a set: for Trinitarians, a set of three; for Jews and Muslims, a set of one;
for Atheists, the null set; and for Buddhists, possibly the set of everything, or no set at all.

The Univeralist church started in the United States in the late 1700's.
It spread thoughout the US Midwest as the country moved westward; in 1830 it was one of the larger religious denominations.
Univeralists were early abolitionists and advocated women's rights; the first woman to attend a seminary, Olympia Brown,
was ordained a Universalist minister in 1863.
There have been several universalist movements through the ages, and not only Christian universalists.
Writing and revising statements of common Principles has been a Universalist tradition for over 100 years.

The Unitarians and Universalists had been cooperating for nearly 75 years before the merger in 1961.
Before then, they shared a common youth group and a common religious education program,
and cooperated in ventures such as the Service Committees.

For a small denomination, there have been many notable Unitarians and Universalists.
Samuel Adams and John Molson were Unitarians--I'll drink to that!
There is currently one UU in the US Senate, and two in the House of Representatives; a lower number than usual.
And even though we are traditionally a pacifist denomination, two of Clinton's Secretaries of Defense (Bill Perry, Bill Cohen) are UU.
 - - -

There is no creedal test for being a Unitarian Universalist; no one set of words is sufficient to describe any one person's beliefs.
Indeed, one common religious education class UUs attend at many churches is called a variation of "Writing Your Own Theology."
If anything, we try to live a principle-centered life, and the seven principles enumerated in the reading is one set.
The lawyers among us will note that the covenant statement in the reading applies only to the congregation as a whole, and not any individual.

We call ourselves theologically liberal; we are proud that our denomination is open to consider new ideas.
Since 1970, we have been openly supporting the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgenered community;
many of our congregations are "Welcoming Congregations" where we actively support GLBT causes.
There are many other interest areas with support groups in the UU world,
including Humanist, Christian, Buddhist, Earth-Centered, and Mystic.
Our services range in flavor from Christian to Buddhist to Jewish to Earth-Centered; we celebrate a holy day a few times a month.

In future weeks we can consider each of the Principles individually.
Collectively, they describe a set of related values, expanding from the individual to all existence.
The Sources reflect our heritage, and the various streams that have merged to make up our denomination.
 - - -

People who study "church polity" will tell you that most religions have three different models for how they are structured:
 - Episcopal:  Clergy, with a hierarchy of bishops, guide doctine,
 - Presbyterian:  Laity, with a hierarchy of elders and some clergy, guide doctine, and
 - Congregational:  Every congregation stands alone, with no overall doctrinal guidance.

Unitarian Universalists are congregational: each congregation calls its ministers, and each congregation is free to determine
its own theological direction.
Some congregations are "fellowships," which traditionally do not have a professional minister, but instead depend on the members
to minister amongst themselves, or depend on the assistance of a minister from another congregation; UUSL is more of a fellowship.
Not all UU congregations call themselves "churches", but some use the term "society," "community," "fellowship," or "congregation";  
in Oak Park, Illinois you can find Frank Lloyd Wright's "Unity Temple," erected while he was a member there.

Organizationally, Unitarian Universalist congregations have membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association, or "UUA."
The UUA provides organizational advice and structure, ministerial certification (or "fellowship"), tax-exempt status, and
religious education programs member congregations can use.
The UUA maintains programs and participates with various organizations, seminaries, and international organizations.
It runs a publishing house (Beacon Press) and a magazine (UU World, online at http://uuworld.org/ ).  
Congregations who enter into covenant with the UUA are bound by the Principles, and other obligations.

Whereas other religious groups have a cathedral or other "mother church" as their headquarters, if you visit the main
offices of the UUA, at 25 Beacon Street in Boston next to the Massachusetts State Capitol, you will find that the
first floor is a bookstore.

As congregations, we meet every year in "General Assembly" to discuss the business of the denomination and other things.
One difference we have from other denominations is that we review the basic statements of our faith.
This year the Commission on Appraisal is completing a two-year-long review of the Principles and other foundation statements,
and this summer during "GA" we will vote on updating these statements, including the Principles.
(If you are RL UU perhaps I may see you in Salt Lake City this June 24-28.)

Not all groups that call themselves Unitarian Universalist are member conregations of the UUA, like this little fellowship here in SL.
But there are people in the UUA who are watching what we are doing here, now: we have a few UU ministers
and members of the UUA staff who drop by SL, and possibly even sitting in our little group right now.
Many, but not all, of the principals running this little fellowship are RL UUs.
This virtual church has been written up in the UU World magazine, and has been featured on some UUA web sites.
 - - -

I was raised a Catholic; I have a few uncles-x-times-removed who are priests; my grandmother was nearly a nun and
a few close male relatives went to seminary to become priests, dropping out just before they took their vows.
I'm one of the few non-Catholics in my extended family; when I visit my parents I sometimes attend Mass with everyone else.
I really had a serious problem with "revealed knowledge"; accepting something as true blindly, especially when
it seemed to not really make any sense, and that made the whole dogma start to collapse for me.
Yes, as a child you blindly accept what is told to you, but once you nibble at the tree of knowledge
the old tales, while perhaps teaching a moral lesson, no longer make sense as being literally true.

People have said to me that "well, string theory in physics also requires a leap of faith."
That may be true; I rely on people who may have dubious purposes to present those ideas.
But no-one was every thrown in jail for saying "plate tectonics is how the earth was shaped" or "protons
are composed of quarks, which are further decomposed into vibrating strings."
Yes, notable people were put under house arrest by saying "the earth moves around the sun," but that was by a
religious court: the earth does not move, if you interpret some Bible verses. (Psalm 19:6, I Chronicles 16:30, Ecclesiastes 1:5)
We have observed speciation caused by natural selection; some religious folks are upset because that is thought to contradict the
literal reading of the first two stories of the Bible--but I digress.

Unitarian Universalism works for me two ways:

First, it answers the question "How does one live an ethical life?"
Some people claim that there are absolute moral and ethical rules for living life.
I would say that is not true; take "thou shalt not kill."
Governor George W. Bush signed execution orders for 152 inmates;
his direct, conscious actions led to the deaths of those individuals.
Some would argue that his actions were moral and justified; others would disagree.

The Seven Principles have given me, as an individual, guidance for making correct choices.
The first two, especially: "affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every individual"
and "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations."
All person have inherent worth; I must always look beyond how someone presents themselves at first.
The second Principle tells me that I should strive to counter disadvantage with justice,
treat my peers with equity, and when I encounter injustice by others, to use compassion in sanctions.

The second thing Unitarian Universalism gives me is a community to live my values in the world.
As an individual, I can live the Principles, but with minimal effect on the world at large.
I want the world to live my Principles.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, Maryland gives me opportunities to help the world at large, and the UUA allows the
quarter-million Unitarian Universalists in North America to speak as a united force for living our Principles.

>> Discussion.
Smaller UU fellowships, and here in Second Life, many times will follow the homily with a discussion.
In larger congregations, the discussion will wait until the coffee service.

If you are a UU, how do the Principles guide your life, if at all?

If you are stumbling into UU, would you like to see the Principles again?  

Gulf Coast Anniversary

Three years ago, on August 24th, a tropical depression became a storm in the Atlantic ocean. Meteorologists named it Katrina. It would become the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. When it made landfall for a second time in Louisiana on August 29th (after pummeling Florida), it was the third-strongest recorded hurricane to reach the United States, and became one of our five deadliest. It laid waste to large swaths of both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Natural disasters cause wide-spread misery by definition, but the tragedy following hurricanes Katrina and Rita was largely human-caused, and revealed the devastating impact of systemic racism and classism. The levees protecting New Orleans had already been flagged as dangerously unsafe, yet these warnings were ignored. The flooding from broken levees caused more deaths than the storm itself.

Before Katrina’s arrival, evacuation plans relied on individuals to make their own way out of the hurricane’s path, ignoring the fact that many did not have access to private transportation. Fleets of buses lay unused, and then submerged. And in the hours and days following Katrina, our government failed to respond to the disaster. The lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and the violence that ensued from this chaos, claimed many more lives.

The media showed us images of white Americans and told us they were “searching for food.” The same media showed us images of black Americans doing the same thing and told us they were “looting.” We saw members of communities that were less hard hit forcibly preventing desperate people from entering their towns. For almost two days, American citizens were referred to as “refugees” in their own country. And in the analysis afterwards, it was starkly clear that the areas most affected corresponded to neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and of color.

Three years later, the misery wreaked by Katrina and Rita continues, as government bureaucracy and apathy slow the rebuilding process. Casinos and luxury hotels were rebuilt relatively quickly, but much of the old neighborhoods where the tourists seldom venture are still waiting. The Gulf Coast disaster is at least as much human-created as it was “natural.”

My Symphony

To live content with small means.
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy not respectable,
and wealthy not rich.
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently,
act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes,
and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully,
do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

-Wiliam Henry Channing

Jonah, or What Makes a Prophet?

by Kat Liu (2005.04.13)
based on the book of Jonah

There was once a great city called Ninevah. Because of its greatness its people had become prideful and lazy. They squandered their natural resources, diverted rivers for their own use without thought for the lands downstream, built factories that belched dark soot into the skies, dumped their waste into the oceans, chopped down whole forests and dug away whole mountain tops. They took advantage of people less powerful than them to do the work that they did not want to do. All so that they could have what they wanted cheaper and faster.


And the Lord came to a man named Jonah and said, "Jonah, somebody's got to convince these people that they can't go on like this. The earth and waters and skies are polluted. My other creatures are disappearing. At this rate, the world will be ruined and death will rain down on everyone like acid rain. Somebody's got to stop this and it might as well start with you."


But Jonah thought to himself, "This is such a hard task to undertake. The world is so big and the problems are so great. No one else seems to care, why me? What can one man do anyway? Let me sleep on it and perhaps tomorrow I will act." Tomorrow became today and Jonah said, "Let me sleep on it and perhaps tomorrow I will act."


Meanwhile, the problems in Ninevah had gotten so bad that Jonah had to leave the great city to move to a safer, cleaner, nicer suburb called Tarshish. Tarshish had nice Spanish architecture, tree-lined streets and neat green lawns and for a while it seemed like Jonah could forget his troubles.


But the people continued with their ways, and soon Tarshish too became polluted and crime-ridden. As the problems in Tarshish became more apparent, Jonah's neighbors cried in distress, "Why is this happening to our nice community?" And each one of them sought to lessen their fears in their own ways, buying guns and fences and security systems, air purifiers and water filters. They bought more and more things and still the problems got worse and worse. Each day Jonah said, "Let me sleep on it and perhaps tomorrow I will act." Then one day the community leader asked Jonah, "Jonah, why aren't you buying bottled water and gas masks like everybody else? Is there something that you know that we don't?"


Roused from his apathy and looking around the ruin that he could not escape, Jonah got very depressed. And he said, "I do not want to live in this world that has so much violence and greed! Where people act without caring how they affect others!" Concerned by his outburst, his neighbors checked Jonah into the mental ward of Moby Dick hospital and Jonah stayed there for three days and three nights.


Deep within the bowels of the hospital, in a windowless room, Jonah reflected on how God had called him to act and he had not, how his world was getting worse and there was no place to hide from it, and how he would never know what life could be like unless he tried to do something about it. And he vowed to God and to himself that he would do what he could to save the world.


So Jonah went back to the great city of Ninevah, and he started to work. He taught others about the ecological diversity, global economics, and class and race disparity. And he found others who shared his views. And they worked together, educating, protesting, lobbying. Slowly, the laws and practices of the people of Ninevah started to change. They recycled. They took public transportation. They looked for locally grown organic foods. Slowly, even their elected officials started to take notice...occasionally. The minimum wage and funding to public schools were increased, and social security was saved. It was still not a perfect world by far. Many people still paid no attention, making it all that much harder for those who did. Jonah saw this and grumbled to himself about it.


One day, a man drove up in a gas-guzzling sports car and threw some trash out of his window, right in front of Jonah. "Young man!" Jonah sputtered in disbelief, "don't you realize that everything you polute comes back to haunt you? We are all interconnected in this world and..." The young man interrupted Jonah saying, "Oh please old man, that's just a fish story that you over-reacting alarmist liberals tell us in order to get us to pay higher taxes. You've been saying these things for years and yet there is no crisis. Ninevah is still here." And Jonah said, "Ninevah is still here because some of us have worked to prevent its demise. You too must work with us and..." The young man snorted, "whatever" and zoomed away, leaving skid-marks and a fog of acrid exhaust.


Then Jonah became very angry. He said, "Lord, is this not what I said in the beginning?! After all this work, there are still stupid, selfish people who don't understand! They pollute the environment and cause misery to others and yet still they prosper! And they won't even acknowledge what we're doing for them by our sacrifices! Why, oh Lord, should I have to work so hard while they laugh? Why did you create people who would destroy your creation? There is no justice! If you were just, these people would not exist and the spotted owls and us good guys could live in peace! I'm telling you, I don't want to live in this world that has so much violence and greed! Where people act without caring how they affect others!"


And Jonah's anger made him very hot and uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than the heat from the global warming. So God caused a bush to grow up in front of Jonah and shade him from the sun. As its flowers burst forth, the blossoms were so beautiful and fragrant and pleasing that Jonah temporarily forgot his self-righteous anger and was very happy. But the next day God caused a worm to attack the bush and the flowers withered and Jonah was once again displeased and hot with anger.


God said, "Why are you so angry that I killed the bush?" And Jonah said, "Because it was beautiful and pleasing! You are simply unfair Lord. The good perish while the wicked are rewarded and I don't want to live in this world with your injustice." Then God said, "You are this concerned about a bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow and which lived only one day. Should I not have at least the same concern for my people whom I created and for whom I have labored for so long? Don't they deserve the same opportunity to bloom? Would you only love that which is pleasing to you?"


O God to whom we pray for truth

O God to whom we pray for truth, be with us in out trembling lest we find it. We fear its light; our lives are full of shadows: what shall we do for shelter when we stand before the brightness of truth? We do not want, O God, the truth that troubles us and seeks to save us; we look for truth that brings us safety, comfort and repose. . . . We do not want the truth that tells of a world of human wretchedness, with wrongs to be set right and justice calling us to serve it. For if we see this truth, we must admit our own betrayals: our callousness and our cowardice, our evasions and our love of ease. We do not seek at all the truth of conscience. We want Thee in thy tenderness, Thy loving kindness . . . What shall we do, O Spirit of the Holy and Highest? What shall we do to be saved?

- A. Powell Davies



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