Monday
May272019

Pillar and Cloud

As one who not only believes that all women should have an unrestricted right to make their own reproductive choices, but who also believes in the separation of church and state, the anti-abortion measure recently passed in Alabama is more than just a little bit unsettling.

In order for such a law to withstand constitutional scrutiny, and similar laws, such as the “heartbeat” laws that were just passed in Georgia and Mississippi, and similar legislation that is being proposed like an epidemic across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court would have to reverse Roe v. Wade.

That’s because it is impossible to reconcile the constitutionality of these toxic laws, with Roe, so Roe will have to be reversed by the court if such anti-abortion laws are to pass muster.

Overturning Roe v. Wade in its entirety once and for all is, of course, what is motivating the sponsors of the draconian anti-abortion legislation that is making the news. This is misguided in so many ways, and for multiple reasons.

Decisions like Roe become a part of the law of the land because we in the United States have since before the nation was born followed a centuries old tradition inherited from the British common law known as stare decisis, which means that “things decided” are matters of judicial precedent. The whole point of stare decisis is to avoid re-litigating over and over again things that have already been decided by the courts.

The underlying assumption is that, having decided something once, the courts won’t change their minds. That allows citizens and businesses to manage their affairs with confidence, knowing that if something happens the result will be X, because the courts have already decided X.

Litigators frequently try to avoid the consequences of stare decisis by arguing that their case is distinguishable from a prior precedent.

And so, court decisions frequently get sliced and diced, “distinguished” in legal parlance, so that sometimes different results obtain if the underlying facts of a case are not sufficiently similar to those in a prior decision. That’s how the original US Supreme Court decision in Roe has become whittled away over the last several decades.

For a US Supreme Court precedent to be entirely reversed by the court though, it has to conclude that its prior decision was wrongly decided. That is a big deal.

For one thing, it places judges in the position of being legislators, by allowing them to change the established law just because they disagree with another judge’s decision. One of the foundation stones of the rule of law is that judges are obligated to follow the law even if they disagree with it. And that includes the common law set down by their predecessors under the doctrine of stare decisis.

The proponents of the recent anti-abortion legislation are counting on the court to violate this principle, emboldened no doubt by recent appointments to the Supreme Court.

And who can blame them? Just last year the Supreme Court, in the Janus case, reversed a long-standing precedent that had protected public sector labor unions’ finances for decades.

When business interests act in partnership with the judiciary, we are on a slippery slope indeed.

And the same is true when religious interests seek to partner with the judiciary, as they did for centuries before the modern era separated church and state. What’s scary to me is the conservative religious right’s recent ability to impact the passage of religiously-motivated laws that flaunt the constitution’s guarantee of a secular society where church and state are separate.

Shamelessly seeking to impose one’s religious views on the entire population though legislation of this kind serves only to deprive one’s fellow citizens of the right to conscience guaranteed by the constitution. That seems to me to be a very un-Christian way of living.

Jesus of Nazareth, by the way, never said a word about abortion one way or another. There is no passage in the Bible that speaks directly to the issue.

Yet if the Supreme Court is persuaded to reverse itself, the door will be open to all sorts of quasi-religious oppression through the judicial process. Let’s not forget that Jesus did opine about the morality of getting divorced (Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”). Will anti-divorce laws be coming next if Roe is reversed?

What’s at stake in the upcoming litigation to determine the constitutionality of these anti-abortion statutes is the rule of law itself. As well as the desire of a minority of citizens to re-establish the United States as a “Christian Country.” Our Unitarian Universalist principles, I believe, call upon us lawfully and peacefully to resist.

Monday
Apr292019

Pillar and Cloud

The Book of Genesis begins, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” On this Earth Day, 2019, I can’t help but wonder whether climate change and environmental degradation, fueled by over-population and denial, are leading the Earth back to where it began, a formless void, and darkness.

Like many people, I yearn for an Earth Day on which we can celebrate the good things we are doing for our beloved planet. Instead, year after year, the news seems to get ever bleaker. Perhaps it is because the reality is sinking in with me that my grandchildren, who are now nine and six years old, will very soon be inheriting the world that my generation leaves behind. Or, maybe it is because I’m disheartened by the fact that our country has decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Whatever the reason, I am feeling more concern, and I am feeling more vexed, on this Earth Day than in prior years.

I wish that our politicians, business and civic leaders could see the environmental health of our world in spiritual terms. See this vulnerable and tiny blue dot, so alone in the vastness of space, as a work of creation to be nurtured and prayed over.

In 2014, the European Journal of American Studies published a study analyzing the denial of climate change in the United States over the prior 20 years. The study exposed the deliberate efforts of corporate America, most notably the fossil fuel industries, to use climate denial in an attempt to hinder governmental regulations of their activities. It highlighted the strong ideological commitment of small-government conservatives and libertarians to oppose, on principle, any form of government regulation. And it revealed US climate change deniers’ efforts to disarm their opponents, by claiming to be defending the American way of life.

After summarizing the evidence for this latter phenomenon, the study wryly concluded that “The American way of life is clearly defined as the unlimited and ever-expanding ability of all American citizens to engage in material consumption. This is an aspect of the debate particularly embraced by climate change deniers because it allows them to stand for the creation of wealth and higher standards of living for the American Middle Class.”

A recent episode of a new television documentary series, Our Planet, caused controversy because it con- tained footage showing hundreds of walruses plunging to their deaths. Because of a shortage of sea ice (known as a “haul-out”) on which walruses customarily go to rest when they are not hunting for food, the walruses had hauled themselves up 80-metre high cliffs on the coast of Russia. Instead of falling a few feet into the sea when they were ready to start hunting again, the camera showed them plummeting to their deaths as they crashed onto the rocks below. I have watched the scene on the internet, and I have to warn you that is very upsetting.

The person who produced and directed the episode received considerable criticism for including this footage. “We thought long and hard about this sequence and what to show, and whether to show it,” she said, “We felt that this sequence kind of sums up ... the effect loss of sea ice can have on some animals. We just felt it was a very important thing to document.” Regardless, climate change deniers have been busy on the internet, claiming that climate change was not responsible for the walruses’ predicament.

Concern for the environment is nothing new. When I was preparing my Easter Sunday sermon, I stumbled across a passage from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream that resonated with our current situation. (My sermon preparation is always an adventure!)

In Act 2, Scene 1, Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, bemoans the state of affairs to the impudent Puck:

...[T]he winds, piping to us in vain,

As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea

Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,

Hath every pelting river made so proud

That they have overborne their continents.

The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,

The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn

Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard.

The fold stands empty in the drowned field,

And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;

The nine men’s morris [an English Country Dance] is fill’d up with mud,

And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,

For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.

The human mortals want their winter here;

No night is now with hymn or carol blest.

Therefore the moon (the governess of floods),

Pale in her anger, washes all the air,

That rheumatic diseases do abound.

And thorough this distemperature, we see

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts

Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,

And on old Hiems’ [i.e. Winter] thin and icy crown

An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds

Is, as in mockery, set; the spring, the summer,

The childing autumn, angry winter, change

Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,

By their increase, now knows not which is which.

And this same progeny of evils comes

From our debate, from our dissension;

We are their parents and original.

The bard was no climate-change denier. This Earth Day, I am wishing there were more people with Shakespeare’s gifts to help overcome resistance to the accepting the truth that we must mend our ways if our children and grandchildren are to enjoy a world other than a formless void and darkness.

Monday
Apr012019

Pillar and Cloud

They say that March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. As we move into April, I am feeling grateful that the harsh winter weather is finally behind us (I hope!). It is part of the human condition to look forward to Spring—a time of renewal, a time to be outside and get some exercise before it gets too hot. And, a time to marvel at the wonders of nature and the cycle of the seasons.

I was deeply moved by our recent Spring equinox worship service, and I am grateful for the fact that so many members of our congregation were both involved and appreciative. It is exciting to envision that Granite Peak will have its own CUUPS group in the near future.

Yet, despite the advent of spring, lately I have been experiencing some mixed feelings about some things that have been going on in the world of Unitarian Universalism.

Some of you may have read the recent article in UU World magazine entitled After L. G and B. If you did, you probably also read or heard about the angry responses from members of the transgender and gender non-binary community to the article. If you didn’t, I recommend that you do read it, as well as the various responses to it.

In response to those responses, UU World issued an apology for having published the article, and our denominational leadership also issued statements of regret.

The gist of the complaints seems to be that the article was written by a person who is not a member of the trans or non-binary community. How could anyone who is not a member of those communities write an article about something concerning which they lacked personal experience?

Fair enough, except that any objective reading of the article reveals that it was empathetic and supportive of the trans/non-binary community. As a transgender minister, I was very disappointed by the reaction with which the article was greeted by a community with which I am identified. I believe the article was a step in the right direction; it was progress.

It is certainly true that, historically, people who identify as trans and non-binary have had an uphill struggle to find acceptance in UU congregations. That’s mostly because our congregations have faced the same confusion, lack of information, and, frankly, surprise at the rate of change, as the wider community.

Yet we have made amazing strides these last few years. I am living proof of that. Shortly after I came out as transgender, I sought a spiritual home in a UU congregation that I had never visited before. I was immediately made to feel welcome, supported, and loved.

Since then I have served three different congregations as student minister, ministerial intern, and now as your minister at Granite Peak. All three congregations have welcomed me with open arms.

My personal experience is not unique. I have witnessed the way other transgender and non-binary people have been accepted and loved in several different congregations. Including transgender children and youth, and their parents and families.

I know that across the country ministers and lay leaders and individual congregants are engaged in ongoing conversations with trans and non-binary members of our community.

There is much work that remains to be done, including some here at Granite Peak. Nevertheless, I would personally recommend any trans or non-binary person seeking spiritual comfort and support to make a visit to their local UU congregation, especially ours.

This probably won’t be my last word on this issue as the discussion continues within our faith community. For now, I will end by saying that those who spoke out against the UU World article do not represent the views of all of us transgender UUs.

By the time most of you read this column, I will have shared with you the name of the congregation where I will be serving after I leave you at the end of June. I have feelings of great excitement and joy at the prospect of my future ministry. I am also feeling sadness and grief at the prospect of leaving you all.

I have grown to love this community very much in the short time that I have been here. My gratitude to you, the beloved community of generous and big-hearted Granite Peakers, is enormous.

I am also hopeful that by the time you read this column this beloved congregation will know more about my incoming replacement – your next minister.

Let us hold one another in love and support as we move forward during this time of transition and anticipation. As Charles Dickens once wrote, these are the best of times and the worst of times.

In faith, love and appreciation, Rev. Terry

Monday
Feb252019

Pillar and Cloud

I have been reflecting lately, with some indecision, on whether designating Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March) are sufficient, or appropriate, to acknowledge the role of people of color and women, respectively, in our shared American and World history.

It feels to me as if people of color and women have been relegated to a supporting, which means secondary, role in history; making a contribution to the whole but not really being a part of the whole. Whereas the reverse is true, the history that has been made, and that is continuing to be made, by African Americans and other people of color is all of America’s history. The same is true for women in our country, and throughout the world.

There is an element of patriarchy, even colonialism, in designating months or weeks or days as history months for a class or classes of people, when every month, week, and day is filled with reminders of America’s past, as well as of how deeply intertwined with the whole these groups are. The reminders pop up, for me, in the class system in particular, which continues to favor white males over all others.

And yet, I feel that it is important to recognize the heroic struggle against oppression, and the many achievements against the odds, of both people of color and women. These accomplishments, and the bravery and dedication of so many, should be lifted up as shining examples to all of the resilience and worth of the human spirit.

In his 1965 Ware lecture at the UUA General Assembly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasized the importance of constantly reinforcing the message that there is no such thing as an inferior race, lest we slip back into the evils of the past. Continuing to honor Black History Month is one way to reinforce that message, and so I think that Dr. King would have approved.

It is important to remember that Black History Month is the brainchild of an African-American
professor of history, Carter G. Woodson, who wanted to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization. I think that is important, especially under the present circumstances, when racism both locally and in Washington has emerged from the shadows where it was hiding and is once again vocally assaulting human decency and dignity.

For example, W.E.B. DuBois (pronounced do-boy-zz) was in the opinion of many, including me, one of America’s most important public intellectuals during the 20th century, and yet relatively few people, and in particular very few white Americans, seem to have even heard of him, much less read any of his great books.

Women’s history month is a more recent event than Black History Month. It began as a week in 1978 organized by the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women to help address the absence in the K-12 school curriculum of classes addressing women’s history.

The public response was highly favorable and the idea spread. In 1979, various groups came together to support an effort to secure a “National Women’s History Week.” In February, 1980 President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week, a move that was followed soon after by a Congressional Resolution for a National Women’s History Week.

Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.

By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.

Despite my reservations about having special months, I think that at least until the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S, Constitution is ratified by all of the states and becomes a part of our law, a month dedicated to Women’s history is important.

In his Presidential Message to the nation designating March 2-8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week, President Jimmy Carter noted that.

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. . . . Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.

This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

If we were to designate a white history month, would we dedicate to the accomplishments of a few, such as Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969? Or would our country use that week to highlight the ongoing oppression of people of color in America.

A few weeks ago, a member of our congregation sent me a photograph of a sign outside a church in New York City that said that instead of building a wall on the Mexican border, we should build a mirror so that America can see itself as it really is.

I think that Black History Month and Women’s History Month are useful ways of looking in that mirror, and so I feel we should continue to support them. Let us not forget the very important fact, however, that America’s history is the history of women and people of color writ large.

Monday
Jan282019

Pillar and Cloud

Last month, the night of the winter solstice was also a full moon. This is a rare occurrence. I remember remarking about it at the time. It seems like I blinked, and the full moon came around again just the other night. It doesn’t feel like a complete lunar cycle took place, but it did. Time is flying by, and my days are busier now than ever.

And I know that many of you feel the same way.

One of life’s greatest challenges is to find a work-life balance. Unlike our neighbors in European countries, self-care and quality of life take second place to making a living, being a responsible parent, and attending to the countless emails and texts that constantly cross our smartphones.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed with me that many of our seniors who have the label “retired” seem to be very busy nonetheless.

A couple of years ago I had an idea to solve the problem of unemployment by reducing the normal work-week from five days to four. If twenty percent of the current labor force needs were transferred to people who were seeking work, I thought, everyone would have a less stressful life and more leisure time.

People would be better educated because they would have more time to read. They would have more quality time with friends and loved ones, and they would live longer and healthier lives. Who knows, maybe people would attend more Sunday services because of the additional leisure time (and more time to volunteer!)

This would all have to be paid for by employers, of course, because my grand plan does not envision people taking pay cuts when their workweek was reduced. But this would all eventually be washed through the economic system. After all, it wasn’t that many years ago that the normal workweek was six days. When the workweek was reduced to five days similar concerns were raised.

The incessant march towards automation has made the need for human labor to be less and less. I read a story recently about an industrial economist who quipped that soon the entire labor force will consist of one person and a large dog. The person’s role will be to feed the dog. The dog’s role will be to make sure the person doesn’t touch the machines that make and do everything for us.

So why can we not pass the benefit of labor-saving machines along to workers rather than simply see reduced labor costs be translated into increased profits for multinational companies?

The answer is that we can, but we need compassionate and determined leadership from our elected representatives to show the way. In my recent sermon I shared my view that we have leaders who elevate power above principle, profit above people.

Where are the leaders who can bring about the change that is needed to restore justice and democracy to the workplace? I know they are out there somewhere.

In this month of February, with its lengthening days, Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day, my thoughts are becoming more and more pre-occupied with the need to make our abundance work for everybody. Time is a precious commodity, and we all deserve to have as much time to focus on our spiritual and other needs as nature and technology can afford.