May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Illegalizing Hemp has contributed significantly to America's Downfall

Here's an interesting piece by a writer with a bit of a smarmy attitude. If you're interested and can get past the attitude, read his long "job interview" narrative.  Otherwise, here's a good list he wrote at the end (Search on "Now for the point of the article").

So while the War On Drugs continues with no end in sight, did allowing this piece of [blanket illegalization] legislation to pass with no debate, actually lead to the down fall of America?
Consider for a moment what it has caused to happen;
• Pollution on a world wide scale, not just in America.
• Becoming dependent on a finite fuel source from mostly foreign imports.
• Inflation due to an inability to become self sufficient.
• Crime in our cities due to the criminalization of a natural resource.
• Farmers inability to raise a cash crop.
• The rise in health care mostly due to obesity and inflated drug prices.
• Deforestation from the need for trees in the manufacture of paper products.
• Millions of jobs lost due to the criminalization of one plant.
• Allowing the monopolies to continue to make policy in America.
• Cheaper more cost efficient products that actually biodegrade, cutting down on garbage.
• The rise in prices of pharmaceuticals. 
Ask yourself, does anyone really know what is in those drugs? I know I don't, how many of your friends or family members takes some sort of pharmaceutical on a daily basis.
The bottom line is they want you to spend money on drugs, but just the ones they make and can control.

I include it here because that is one of the most comprehensive lists of simple economic injustices (not including the more obvious social injustices) created by illegalization of hemp and cannabis.
This all makes sense, considering the way that corporate America has turned any/all questions on codified morality into concerns for the growth of the economy and the profit motive's bottom line. 

The legality of cannabis is most certainly debatable in a moral sense.  However, simply put, for hemp (with little to no THC content) to be illegal in this dark hour is a repugnant abomination of blatant injustice.

pax hominibus, agape to all, joel

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Excited about the recent #OccupyWallSt Vision Statement

Pic from here.

"You can't evict an idea whose time has come!" 

I first came across this OccupyWallSt list of points when Michael Moore copied it to his own post which was on a link from the OccUUpy group on Facebook. (Funny how information gets around.)

Anyway, here is the text of the most recent draft:
We Envision: [1] a truly free, democratic, and just society; [2] where we, the people, come together and solve our problems by consensus; [3] where people are encouraged to take personal and collective responsibility and participate in decision making; [4] where we learn to live in harmony and embrace principles of toleration and respect for diversity and the differing views of others; [5] where we secure the civil and human rights of all from violation by tyrannical forces and unjust governments; [6] where political and economic institutions work to benefit all, not just the privileged few; [7] where we provide full and free education to everyone, not merely to get jobs but to grow and flourish as human beings; [8] where we value human needs over monetary gain, to ensure decent standards of living without which effective democracy is impossible; [9] where we work together to protect the global environment to ensure that future generations will have safe and clean air, water and food supplies, and will be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of nature that past generations have enjoyed.

What excites me about this? Any visionary counter-statement from those who would instead be corporate overlords will pale in comparison if it even dares to mention money.  This vision statement, and this movement are an idea whose time has come, democratically and wondrously.  Seems that the tyranny of "power-over" only knows how to respond with more and greater tyranny.

lyrics: "Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.  Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.  How often at night when the heavens are bright with the light from the glittering stars, have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds that of ours.  
(Thanks, Gramster Hamster!)

colors: red, white, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, black, indigo. 
mood: really okay.  a little stressed over an upcoming career interview. 
chant/prayer/mantra: om, om on the range.... 

pax hominibus, agape to all, joel

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Sunday, November 20, 2011


Transgender Day of Remembrance

I saw it coming this year, and was barely able to get the word out before it zoomed by.  Remembered my transgender friends today but did not go to any gatherings or events.  Next year I will have/make more time. pax hominibus, agape to all, joel

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I ought to watch this video every day

When my faith and trust falters, this video is the paradigm shift I need to wake up my trusting self.

pax hominibus, agape to all, joel

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Uploading for posterity's sake

Can't wait for these monstrosities to become abandoned relics.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Joe Gerstandt on flying your freak flag

Do you know who you are?
Do you know what you are here for?  purpose, calling
Do you know what your gift is?
Wrestle with these if you want to live a life of truth.
Is there any evidence?  If this is who I claim to be, am I acting accordingly?  Am I doing something different?  Am I downplaying playing it safe?
Freaks love to find other freaks.  Others won't know how to respond.  You'll scare some people by confronting them with your own freedom.
Difference is the genesis of conflict, and conflict is the genesis of change.
Be willing to be different.  There is no progress without deviance.
Your odd piece of the puzzle will provoke the future that we want together.
You are now free to fly your freak flag.

Been so busy lately.  Will post something more meaningful later in life.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Sermon: Imagine this City as Heaven

Imagine This City as Heaven
Delivered to First UU San Francisco on Aug 8, 2010

During the several years between graduation from college and the time I stumbled upon Unitarian Universalism’s saving grace, I was on a spiritual quest. While studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics at the University of Minnesota, I had been a Bible study leader and a large group leader in a non-denominational evangelical Christian group. After leaving that group my senior year, I was left with some pretty big spiritual questions. Neither the theology nor the group’s way of being in the world sat right with me, yet I had only just begun to determine my own understanding of theology and of how I wanted to be in the world.

Part of my quest for a new understanding of spirit included the use of cannabis and other entheogenic substances. The word “entheogen” is similar in meaning to “hallucinogen” or “psychotropic” but implies a spiritual or religious use, contrasted to what some call “recreational use.” The use of these plants didn’t really provide me with many answers, though they did help me raise countless questions regarding matters of the spirit. I am not sure whether I would have thought of them (or focused on them as I did) had I performed my search steeped entirely in sobriety.

As a matter of caution, I must add that while the use of these substances aided me in my search, the use of awareness-altering substances can be harmful, especially under the wrong circumstances, and I do believe very strongly in preventive education and counseling. I will also add that I am very glad to be among Unitarian Universalists who understand that the United States’ war on drugs is ill-conceived and is overall more harmful than the drugs themselves. The UUA has issued several statements of conscience over the last four decades expressing that understanding clearly and showing a path to real justice.

Now, returning to my spiritual quest: One of the questions that came upon me and stuck was the one from today’s reading, from a song from a local band in Madison, Wisconsin. “What if you thought you were an angel?” Sometimes the effects of hallucinogens can include a heightened state of suggestibility. So I thought, “Yeah! What if?!” And then I came back down, and though I all too soon realized I am destined to remain in this human body, the question did stick with me. In what ways am I an angel? And when am I not? And what does it mean that I’m even thinking this?

Ever since, the question in that song has led me to a wide variety of questions, along with a few responses:
Q: Why do we tend to think of ourselves as humans with a spirit, and not the other way around?
A: Actually, since finding UU, interestingly enough, I have heard several people quote Christian writer CS Lewis on this subject. In response to the question, “Do you have a soul?” He replies, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
Q: What is a good working practical definition of angel?
A1: Simply put, an angel is a messenger from the divine source. An angel can also be a messenger to the divine, or between divine beings. (And to be clear, my understanding of “divine source” here is most definitely intended to be inclusive of theologies with different understandings of an ultimate source.) I have heard it said that sometimes with prophets and all the wrestling they do with the messages they are called to deliver, their identity as messenger gets all jumbled up with that of the angel.
A2: Whenever we speak prophetically--and I believe we each are capable of it on a good day, and our bold voices are so often needed these days—when we speak prophetically, in delivering the message to whomever needs it, we become the prophet and the angel, and the spirit of the message is released to another who needs it.
A3: I also believe that these angel-messengers share the words we hear from others to our innermost divine. This is shared ministry and pastoral care of the finest order. We are given two ears and one mouth for a reason—our ears are so often needed these days. There is not much in the world more healing than being heard, especially in the spirit of Namaste—the divine spark within me greeting the divine spark within you.
Q: Many Christians talk about everlasting or eternal life, as something that happens as an afterlife. This led me to another question: What about this universe, this life we share in the here and now—is there a difference between everlasting and eternal?
A: I say yes, and the distinction is important. Everlasting is one more followed by one more, implying living forever. A million years, then a million and one, then a million and two. You get the picture, and frankly I think after a million years, there’d likely be diminishing returns. But eternal is a sense of infinite wonder that we reside within. This universe we live in, for all practical purposes, has no beginning and no end. The eternal moment of life we live within is the here that includes every part of the universe, and the now that spans from the beginning of energy and matter in the universe until the end of the universe. We are living in eternal life right now. I won’t speculate about what happens to our consciousness after our bodies pass on, but as UU’s we believe in an interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part. Life is a part of that existence, and we are born into life, we grow into complex beings capable of being part of the universe, experiencing the universe, acting on the universe, and then eventually we must depart from it. But that life which we are enjoined into is eternal, given from one generation to the next, knit together like a chain.
And a final question: What would heaven be like, in a practical sense, here, on Earth, while we our spirits are alive in these bodies?
Heaven. I will call up another set of recent Christian imagery as leverage to pry open the pearly gates. Here is St. Peter at those gates, letting the good individuals enter into a life of bliss, and the bad people… they get the trap door—damned to hell forever! Well,… actually, that’s a story told upon a story told upon a story originating with Zoroaster in ancient Persia around the time of Moses, but there is something here from this story worth preserving. Yet since I’ve painted such an ugly picture for you (and I know it’s ugly) I will casually remind you that the Universalist theology of yore says that our creator is good and would not do such a dastardly thing to its creatures.
However, if this is actually “This-City-As-Heaven” we’re talking about, we need to bring up salvation and damnation, and there is the all-important question of spirits. If we let one bad seed in, that’s a recipe for spoiling everything. Our heaven will only be as good as the spirits that thrive there.
And some spirits must be damned. For the sake of justice, those spirits must have their energy diminished or extinguished. I am NOT talking about damning or diminishing the energy of people here, I am talking about the spirits that enter in and out of people’s personalities. Some spirits pass by gently, and others set in and take hold. And when I say “spirits” here, I am also NOT talking about apparitions or exorcist-type possessions here either.

I am referring to down-to-earth spirits we all can recognize. These spirits exist not only within people, but also within organizations, and within codified laws and policies. For heaven to be real in this city, some spirits need to be damned—to be weakened and starved for energy—the spirit of fear, the spirit of animosity, the spirit of stinginess; the spirit of cynicism, the spirit of mistrust, the spirit of ennui; the spirit of anxiety, the spirit of misunderstanding, and the adversarial spirit.

In heaven, in this city, we call upon the spirit of love, and seeking to save it, we add our energy.
In heaven, in this city, we call upon the spirit of a mighty kindness, and seeking its salvation, we add our energy.
In heaven, in this city, we call upon the spirit of realistic confidence, and seeking to salvage it, we add energy.
We call upon the spirit of beneficence, and seeking to save it, we add energy.
We call upon the spirit of enthusiasm, and seeking to save it, we add our energy.
We call upon the spirit of calm assurance, and we add our energy.
We call upon the spirit of samadhically clear perception, and we add our energy.
In heaven, in this city, we call upon the spirit of cooperative harmony and amiable rapport, and seeking its salvation, we add our energy.

Seeking the salvation of this city and of ourselves, we know these spirits must thrive. Fear and insecurity will have no place in heaven, and they should have no place here in San Francisco either.

I’ve been talking about this city as heaven. But I think you know how this can scale. The sixth UU principle talks about one world community, with peace, justice, and liberty for all. These spirits need to thrive in the world at large. These spirits need to thrive in this congregation of course—love, a mighty kindness, confidence, enthusiasm, assurance, clear perception, and cooperation.

And for a community or a world to attain a condition, that will be the case when the hearts of the people attain that condition, because the world (at least the human-centered social world) is made up of people. It’s been noted before, that as Unitarian Universalists, we are less about getting people into heaven than about getting heaven into people. So each of those good spirits--get them in you, and let them catch fire. As for the spirits of fear, animosity, cynicism and the rest, I ask that you not allow them a home in your person. And as ministers are often preaching to themselves as well, I include myself in that request.

As Unitarian Universalists, we have the capacity to make these changes in ourselves and our communities. While other religions are waiting for the return of their messiahs or for signs of the end of the age, we are getting busy building heaven, and turning the corner into that next age the others all are waiting on. And we need those in other religions to join with us. If we turn on all those spirits, I think our light will be bright enough to attract them. I think it will also attract those who have given up on spiritual matters, whose spirits are dusty or under-exercised. It will attract those who go to the church of the Sunday morning paper with coffee, to feel again the importance of coming together in community.

And I think this heaven needs to be concrete. Like a solid rainbow. Those good spirits--given energy--will bring a monumental paradigm shift.
In heaven, in this city, the energy we pour into the spirit of cooperative harmony will call people out of the individual boxes of isolation and into community, to share words of mighty kindness together.
In heaven, in this city, the spirit of compassion—zealously kindled—will call us away from a system of class oppression, so that all have physical and economic security and none are left behind to live in the streets, or to wonder where the necessities of life will come from.
In heaven, in this city, our energized confidence will restore our faith in that which we believe has capacity for good.
In heaven, in this city, our clear vision will call us to create a sustainable way of life for the sake of future generations.
And finally, in heaven, in this city, we will set the spirit of love alight and stand in the midst of it. The spirit of that love will stand forever: dynamic, indefatigable, and unwavering.

May it be so.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,

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Sermon: Atonement as Humanity's Present Purpose

Atonement as Humanity’s Present Purpose
Delivered to UUFLG August 1, 2010
Why are we here? Perhaps the easiest way to answer that question is to frame it within a context where “here” means “in this building at this time.” Why do we come to worship in this building? You may have your own answers to that question, and a few things come to mind for me as well.
  • We are here because we desire to be among a chosen community—not just family or work mates.
  • We are here because connecting with each other in this community energizes us.
  • We are here to dedicate ourselves toward a common purpose—a purpose that gives our lives meaning.
Having a purpose we feel good about is critical to happiness. Further, our purpose in this community need not be different than the purpose of humanity at large.
I began with the easy question of why we are here in this building. Regarding the question of why humanity is here, or even why this Earth is here, perhaps it’s just luck and there is no purpose, other than to live and to seek happiness. Perhaps there really is an ultimate purpose to this existence we find ourselves in, and we still have yet to discover it.
I do know that humanity has created a purpose for itself. Through the actions of the Homo Sapiens species, we have done immeasurable harm to the planet and to others in the same species—immeasurable harm, but hopefully not irreparable. I believe humanity’s present purpose is that of atonement for those harms. Of putting things right again, and returning into right relationship with the planet and each other.
For many people, atonement is one of those religiously tinged words, and some even call to mind the substitutional atonement, in which Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to atone for humanity’s sins. When I’ve asked people to explain how that works, almost invariably, the explanation requires a great leap of logic or faith. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t ask those giant leaps of us. We can see that Jesus (the man) died perhaps as a result of people’s sins—people in his present day, unwilling or unable to live up to the community he was trying to build. We can also see that today Christ (composed of the movement of people seeking to save humanity from its own disaster) is still dying as a result of unatoned sins, and harm brought on by powerful people and corporate forces.
I just mentioned “sin” and I realize that with our theology of people with inherent goodness, some may be uncomfortable with the word “sin,” so I want to define it clearly as “missing the mark.” And what is the mark that is being missed, again and again? Right relationship! With the Earth, and with each other.
Restoring right relationship is what atonement is about. Being “at one” with the Earth, and “at one” with the human community is the creation of harmony. The seventh UU principle upholds “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” And our sixth principle is similar, except it’s about nurturing the interdependent web of human community, specifically “The goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”
Humanity is such an interesting beast. Humans have completely dominated the planet—scraping its surface for minerals, abusing its topsoil, and poking it full of holes to find fossil fuels, continually missing the mark of Earth’s Sacredness. But that’s only part of what’s interesting. The other part is that most of humanity does not consent to this. Many would choose far different courses of action, yet the power of our collective decision-making is far from democratic. Those who benefit from privilege and positions of power make decisions based on what will keep them in privilege and in power. In its desire to acquire this planet’s resources, that system of privilege and power also seeks to acquire the planet’s human resources as well.
In the process, it oppresses the rest of humanity according to class, race, gender, and other categories, while seeking to label them as workers and consumers, not as citizens and as humans. I will also note that there is complexity here. As an example: We, the good people of UU are sometimes complicit members of this privileged class, and at the same time, we may be among the oppressed.
Without a doubt, this way of life misses the mark and begs for restoration and atonement. So how do we atone? First, we certainly can’t do this alone. If all 200,000 UUs engage with our seven principles, and get into right relationship with humanity and the Earth, we do not have the critical mass to do the trick, especially since this all is interconnected. We need to invite everyone. We will do this by living our moral lives out loud, and by inviting others to do likewise—even sharing our faith as we find the occasion arises.

We must empower the part of humanity trying to save itself. This will require a concerted effort, because it means getting a strong voice in the public sphere. Often it seems that those who work to be a voice for the voiceless against the power of oppression find their voices squelched.

Three days ago, Unitarian Universalists in yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” shirts flocked to Arizona to protest the new profiling law SB1070. Twenty UU ministers and 63 others were arrested by the sheriff in Phoenix as a result of their intentional civil disobedience. These are people using the power of their voices and their bodies to serve justice. As Rev. Susan Frederick Gray said as she was being arrested, ‎"Love is where our future is. Not fear, and not hate." And to help draw a clearer picture, this was not just a joyless protest of shouting at police dressed in riot gear. There was also a vigil for those arrested, including singing, salsa music, and dancing.

You may not be able to travel to Arizona or anywhere for events like this. To be sure, there are justice actions that we can and ought to make happen right here in the neighborhood Los Gatos. And we also must remember that efforts like these, to be sustainable, need economic power, also known as money. It cost these protesters quite a bit to travel to Phoenix, and also there is the question of bail money for those arrested.
Most important is that we engage, that we use our bodies, our hands, and our voices to do things that further impassion our lives. I do not know what actions can and ought to happen here in Los Gatos, nor do I know which actions are the best fit for you as individuals or for this congregation. I do not know which of you could become leaders, but I sincerely hope that none of you think, “I can’t be a leader. I’m not that extraordinary.” Leaders are often ordinary people who see a need and have a passion to fulfill that need. As Howard Thurman, an author, theologian, and long-time minister at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples says:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Coming alive now is what we each must do, as it’s obvious that NOW is the time! That’s not just a handy phrase for the UUA fundraising campaign. In each of our lives, every day is a gift, and an opportunity to make the world better. Perhaps there is some longstanding unfinished conversation in your life that you’d like to have, which has been emotionally blocking you from moving forward. Perhaps there is something you’ve always wanted to try, but never have. Perhaps there’s something in your life you want to give up. Today is always the only day in which we can make changes. You can never do it yesterday or tomorrow.
I recall musician Warren ZEvon, living the last few months of his life with cancer, responding to David Letterman’s request for wisdom on life and death. He said simply, “Enjoy every sandwich.” That, to me, translates as, “Don’t waste a single heartbeat.” Uneventful days could become a habit, but we are called to make every day count, in some large or small way.
We need to be unafraid of the tremendous impact our religion can make on the world, and share it. Now is the time for us to have maximum impact. There is an angel at work here. A very large, deep, compassionate angel that spans the ages. As it arrives, the world is taking notice. The arrival of this messenger is an eschatological age-ending event, a game-changer, causing a paradigm-shift. As if it’s the rapture, but in theological terms to which we can relate, with no people magically disappearing.
More and more people are awakening to an understanding of what the leak in the Gulf of Mexico really means about our relationship to the Earth. With the end of easy petroleum resources upon us, humanity struggles to get enough oil to energize the world it’s made.
The book of Revelation, chapter 8 refers to 7 angels sounding their trumpets, and 1/3 of the Earth being despoiled and 1/3 of the sea being despoiled. I sense we are getting pretty close to that. Knowing UUs as I do, I realize many of you may be skeptical of the sacred texts of revealed religion—and perhaps rightly so—after all, we could deconstruct the text, equating angels with messengers, and the trumpets with the clarion call of what the Earth is trying to tell us. However, in our nation, there are many who live their lives based on a concrete understanding of the Bible, and they will be called on by somebody to act.
By whom? By us!—we can call on them! We are at that time, one-third of the Earth, one-third of the water. The Gulf of Mexico is just one of many oil spills, and raw sewage makes its way into our streams and oceans. Don’t forget the giant growing collection of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are in a time of much needed change. We can either have the change happen to us, or we can shine our light and work in concert to make the necessary changes in a controlled fashion.
So what is the light we hold? Our theology of a loving God is one of real saving grace that can help people get past the guilt, shame, and anger, and onto serving the world as love and justice-bearers. We have a growing religious inclusivity that is learning to make way for the many theologies and worldviews people bring upon first entering our doors. We each carry our own copy of truth and meaning, and know to value each other’s spirituality. And we know that community and action are every bit as important as having right beliefs, if not moreso.
In fact, in religious terms, it’s safe to say that the light we share when our words and deeds are at their best is nothing less than an expression of the divine working from within us. I believe that the light of our reason is critical in our conversations, because it helps to orient and focus the lights of others like a Fresnel lens (the really bright amplifying one you find spinning slowly in lighthouses). If we hold back our light (or are unable to deliver) when it’s expected or needed, the absence of our voices will be like an inactive lighthouse, which is more dangerous than a reef. We do not need more ships running aground. We want them not to miss the mark of right relationship.

Our nation, and some of its religious bodies, tend to think in terms of war. There are the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our government has declared a war on terror, a war on drugs (which is also a war on people of color), there was a war on poverty (and now it seems there is a war on the poor). Some Christians have labeled the penchant of merchants to say “happy holidays” as a war on Christmas, Fox News has been labeled a war on journalism, and the band Wilco has even declared a war on war. It’s rare for the US government or people to declare peace on something.
The peaceable people of this country have tried to declare peace many times, but it seems their overtures have been outright rejected. Last week, I mentioned Faithful Fools Bible Stud, part of a UU-affiliated community outreach ministry in downtown San Francisco. David, a regular at the Bible Study, introduced to me the concept of declaring LOVE on someone.
When you declare love on somebody and mean it, they can’t fight you as they may be in the habit of doing. It is love that comes from the heart level. Intellectual arguments and our search for truth have their place, but the way the light we carry is going to reach people is going to be when we complement it with a declaration of love. Perhaps that’s the key to our atonement

To the glory of light! Blessed be.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,

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Sermon: It's a Rorschach Test

"It's a Rorschach Test"
Delivered for UU Fellowship of Los Gatos, July 25, 2010
Introducing the Rose
This is a rose. [hold up rose]
As Gertrude Stein said almost a century ago: “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Yet it is so much more!
This rose is yellow.
It is visually pleasing.
It is fragrant.
This rose is from my next-door neighbor’s garden.
It is dangerous. So please be careful of the thorns, as you pass it around.
As it makes its way to you, I encourage you to reflect upon any associations that may come to mind.
According to Shakespeare:
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Ultimately, this thing exists independently in a pre-verbal existence before we ever had words to name it.
Ultimately, it is just this. [hand off rose]

Metaphor Everywhere: For many people, similes and metaphors are just figures of speech, reserved for poets. But when we consider the translation from pre-verbal existence into words, we’re always defining one thing in terms of another. This is this. In the dictionary, words are always defined in terms of other words. They don’t ever give the direct experience of the word. And almost every sentence has some form of the word “is” in it, which places some form of metaphor between our stories and the underlying world those stories are trying to tell us about.

Henry Learning Names: Our 14-month-old child Henry is getting to the age now where he’s just learning to talk. The only words I can make out reliably are “S’at?” and “S’is?” which I interpret to mean “What’s that? What’s this?” He points at anything and everything, wanting to know its name. Now that he’s communicating, and realizes that things have names, he’s soaks it all in like a sponge.
Sa?” – “A kitty cat.”
Sa?” – “Grapes.”
Sis?” – “A shoe.”
Sis?” – “A Pedometer.”
Sa?” – “A handle.”
Sa?” – “A housing for the handle.”
Sa?” – “A blue star.”
Sis?” – “A toy car.”
Sis?” – “A product of China.”
Sis?” – “A molded piece of plastic large enough that it’s not a choking hazard for you.”
Sa?” – “It’s a Rorschach test.”
Sa? – “A Rorschach test."

Rorschach as a Method of Perspective Recognition

Also known as an Inkblot Test, the Rorschach Test is a tool in which psychologists show subjects several cards with non-descript inkblot pictures. They then ask the subjects to describe what they see, in order to determine a person’s personality characteristics. A person obsessed with one thing or another will tend to interpret the images in terms of their obsession.
The basis of this method of analyzing what people see in an image can be extended and applied to people’s subjective interpretations of experiences and events.
When presented with any object or event, if we step out of the way of standard thinking, of naming things as they come, we realize that in a sense, anything capable of being interpreted or named is a lot like a Rorschach test, giving an opportunity to learn about where our thinking is rooted.
Here’s an example: A few weeks ago, I was attending the Bible Study at Faithful Fools’ Street Ministry program in downtown San Francisco, and the topic of study was Jesus’ “Parable of the Great Feast,” in Luke 14. In this parable, a man prepares a great banquet, and sends out his servant to summon all of his friends to come. Each of his friends comes up with an excuse of why they can’t attend. So he sends his servant back out to invite all the ailing strangers in off the street, and there turns out to be plenty of food and entertainment to go around. One member of the Bible study, who had been having a rough go of it lately, said, ‘I think a better name for that story is “The Parable of the Rude Friends!”’ He saw that story from an entirely different perspective.

Another example: On the day of the protests regarding the trial outcome over the killing of Oscar Grant, as I was walking into Whole Foods Market in Oakland, I overheard one woman talking to another. She said, “I’m going to avoid the idiocy happening downtown.” I wondered what her perspective was that she would use words describing 1000+ justly angry people assembling to convey that anger as “idiocy?”

One final example: Proposition 19 is going before the voters of California in November, regarding the legalization and taxation of cannabis (marijuana). Those in favor say that by treating cannabis more like alcohol, our cities will be safer, our state will save and earn money, and non-violent people (especially young males of color) will be much more free from police harassment and unnecessary incarceration. Those against the proposition say legalization will cause a big upsurge in use, it will cost the state money, and it stands against current federal law.

Parable of the Great Feast,” or “Parable of the Rude Friends?”
Idiocy?” or “An expression of anger?”
Liberation?” or “Status Quo?”
Perhaps in these cases, both views have merit.
Maybe neither is all that accurate.
Whether it’s a rose, a parable, a protest, or a proposition, there is the thing in and of itself, and then there are the words that describe the thing. The words naturally reflect the perspective of the speaker, and rarely do full justice to the actual thing. A person experiencing only descriptions will necessarily experience something different than the actual thing.

The Mirrors of Conventional Reality

How is this spiritual?
Where does this fit into worship?

The words we use on ourselves, on others, and on our world, help to shape and form the spirit. Likewise, the words that others assign to us can shape our spirits as well, sometimes for the better, but often for worse.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is an understanding of the world existing in two primary realms. First, there is ultimate reality, which is the underlying nature of all the events and matter in the world. Ultimate reality is the actual events that occur, and the matter that does exist, prior to anybody speaking a word about it, or even thinking upon it.
In contrast, there is conventional reality, which is composed of the stories that we tell. Conventional reality is the books and magazines we write, and the media we produce and consume. Conventional reality has a tendency to feel “consensual” and shared within cultures. Yet each of us has our own conventional reality stored within the frameworks composed in our own minds. The story we each think about the world is not accurate. Often, it’s inconsistent, and it’s impossible for our worldview to be comprehensive.
The two relate like this: Conventional reality is the mirror that we use to try to obtain a view of ultimate reality. When a story is blown out of proportion, that mirror may be curved like a clown mirror, making our midsection look 4 feet long. Or our conventional reality may be a make-up mirror, allowing a close-up view so we can focus really deeply on some aspect of life. The mirror may be really choppy like a wavy lake reflecting the sky on a windy day, so it’s difficult to make sense. And sometimes the mirror is mostly dark, or there is no mirror at all, because there are parts of reality that receive little to no attention.
Ultimate reality is the whole truth. Conventional reality is the story we use to make meaning out of some portion of that truth. Our fourth Unitarian Universalist principle speaks to this: “We, the member congregations of the UUA, affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” A lot of this world we live in centers around meaning. We see the stories in the news and then a pundit explains what it means. Events happen in the world, or in some sacred text, be it the Bible or a Kurt Vonnegut novel, and we want it to mean something, to make sense.

Breaking our Bodies Free: We live in bodies abundant with stories. When you look in the mirror in the morning, whether you think it’s a bad hair day, or it seems you’re looking extra snappy, that story has a tendency to stick with you all day. Now imagine that the mirror tells you a categorical story about the quality of your sexuality compared to others, the quality of your skin color compared to others, of your gender, of your physical ability, and the quality of your economic location. There are also stories told onto your lifestyle, your culture, and your nationality.

I think most of those stories have about as much meaning as eye color and shoe size. Our first UU principle—the inherent worth and dignity of every person—tells me this. As part of this beautiful creation, we are a part of ultimate reality. Our bodies and our lives exist prior to the words. Whatever these things “body” and “life” are, they exist even before and beyond these words we sum up as “body” and “life.”
Now where does that leave us??? It leaves us with our feet on the ground (another metaphor), and with a lot of power. When we intentionally determine which stories we will allow upon our selves, and which stories we will tell upon others and the world, we gain a great deal of control. We can decide to step out of the story and analyze the story to find out more about the storyteller. We can ask questions about why they’re telling that story, and how close it is to our understanding of ultimate reality. We can ask how well it correlates to our own actual experiences. Then we can confirm, edit, or dispel the stories as they’re told.
During an interview with the UK Guardian in 2002, Richard Gere shared this wisdom: “I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe, and someone said I was a snake, I'd think, no, actually I'm a giraffe.”
Who are we then? Who am I? Who are you? On our spiritual course, we may identify ourselves as one thing or another, or we may find ourselves telling a story such as, “Oh, that’s not me. I just couldn’t do that.” Who is this me? If we are part of a larger community, there is a responsibility to remove our self-imposed limitations and go beyond our self. After all, in addition to all the ways we might describe ourselves, we are also possibility. And we are the breath of our ancestors. And we are dust. We are great visions. We are lovers of life and builders of nations. We are nothing less than beautiful, and we are whole, and perfect in our imperfections.
Please take a moment to pick up your hymnals. Actually, the hymnal you’re holding is not yours. It is a hymnal, technically owned by this community. Yet, even ownership is just another part of the stories we tell. The receipts and titles we hold that say we rightfully own something are part of a story told onto ultimate reality. As with much in this world, we are only stewards of these hymnals during our shared time here on this planet.
I believe it’s critical that as Unitarian Universalists, we tell our stories into that conventional reality, because it provides a dynamic mirror for people that they may not get elsewhere. Tell them about our search for truth and meaning. Tell them about inherent worth and dignity. Each of the principles we promote has a story to tell about the condition of the world, and about our vision for how things ought to be.

Is vs. Ought: This brings me to a very important spiritual point. In addition to telling accurate stories about the way things are, and have been, we also must share our vision of the way they ought to be. By sharing the stories of possibilities, of how this world can and ought to be in community together according to a democratic process, and by including the totality of the Earth’s interconnected web in our decision-making, we affirm a direction, with an energy both positive and inviting. That same energy may even draw people into this fellowship.

This Community: So, when Alice’s caterpillar comes to this congregation, wanting to know more, and asks that tough question, “Who are you?” What can you say to draw them in? Would “We are the UU Fellowship of Los Gatos” suffice? What if we tell them we’re inclusive and welcoming? Does that give them a mirror reflecting our deep meaning? We might tell them that we are transforming ourselves into a band of love and justice bearers, so that we might prophetically influence the direction of the community-at-large. Any of those may bring meaning. Perhaps the deepest thing we can share with them is the inadequacy of words to describe the passion we have for justice based on love and compassion, followed by sharing that deeper part of ourselves that comes before all other words. [long pause].


pax hominibus,
agape to all,

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Sermon: A New American Dream

A New American Dream
Delivered to Napa Fellowship
Sunday, July 4, 2010 11:00 a.m.

I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me here. It is an honor to be here among this fellowship of Unitarian Universalists in such a beautiful part of the world to worship together this morning on such a wondrous yet complicated holiday. I feel truly blessed.

I recall back when I was a child--probably around kindergarten age-- my sisters and I would go out in our pajamas and sit on the curb of County Road B. We were joining many of the neighbor kids to watch the nightly fireworks display held at the Minnesota state fair grounds. Every Summer, for the week leading up to labor day, we did this faithfully every night that the Minnesota state fair was happening. And they also had fireworks on the 4th of July as well. I figured out that was just for the one night, though the fireworks display was markedly more impressive that night.

Until about a decade ago, my favorite of all the fireworks had been that one that stands out because it’s so different. Most of the fireworks explode into showers of beautiful patterns of glittering color. I enjoyed these as well, but my favorite was the one that just exploded as a big gray dot. Given that the fairgrounds were about 3 miles away, we’d see them and then it would be several seconds before we’d hear the sound, and I always looked forward to that one for it’s louder POOMPH! sound.

I miss those carefree innocent days sitting in my pajamas on the curb. Now when I experience the fireworks, I think not only of their glorification of war and war patriotism, but I think also about this country’s multitude of combat veterans with PTSD, for whom that loud POOMPH! sound brings dread and horror. And I am shocked that our country, even during times of ongoing wars, and shellshocked soldiers, continues this practice wholeheartedly. In my dream for America, I can see a place for fireworks, for people to remember the wars long-past. Such a commemoration could be a thing of beauty, but with our nation actively engaged in two major wars, it seems to me that this part of the American dream is in need of change.

At this year’s General Assembly, our delegates said YES to a statement of conscience committing ourselves to the path of creating peace. More than ever, I know that Unitarian Universalism is a good home for me, and I hope you do as well. In this mission, we truly are anointed by God to create peace.

This is about peace not just for our nation, but also in our lives. Peace in our lives is at the heart of my American dream.

War is an American way of life. Correction: War has been an American way of life, but it need not continue to be so. When war is firmly embedded in the greater culture, it affects each of us in the way we live our lives. This includes the foods we buy--when our nation went to war in 2001, the prices at the grocery store rose dramatically. A culture of war affects the transportation we use, especially when our wars are associated with national energy policy. It affects the housing we purchase (or are unable to purchase). A looming budget for war also greatly affects the budget available for education, social welfare programs, and energy research, just to name a few. With war as this nation’s top priority, I believe each of us struggle to keep warlike “us and them” thinking from finding a place in our own psyches.

War comes thundering for resources, garnering them for its own uses. When we think like war, we clutch our wallets tight when asked for money, look for the highest return on investment, and cling to individual bank accounts, even as the banks dream up ever more novel and insidious reasons for charging fees.
War operates on fear of retaliation, always seeking to have the upper hand. When we think like war, we want to be in control of whatever situation, lest we be wounded or taken down a notch.
War has a tendency to leave a trail of decimation in its wake. In our own lives, how often do we find ourselves unable to engage authentically with another person because of the economic decimation that has been visited upon them, often through no fault of their own.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can’t survive this way in the long term (even if some people might do well in the short term), so another way of life is necessary. A new vision is necessary, focused on a new center. I recommend that that center needs to be peace. One might imagine our world leaders and corporate leaders all coming to a decisive conclusion that “enough is enough” and declaring an end to this competitive system of resource acquisition, where billions of lives are on the line. While most definitely welcome, such a change would be a discontinuity of the first order.

No, that center needs to be peace in our own lives. The trickle-down theory didn’t work in economics, and indications are that it likely wouldn’t work for peace. Peace needs to follow the bubble-up method within each of us, and we need to share it. I believe it will start small.

Peace on the individual level begins when we realize that we can and must forgive ourselves. Whatever it is that we think we’ve done, or what we’re thinking or feeling, it starts with a big breath in and letting our shoulders release. It begins when we take our first principle to heart, for ourselves. The inherent worth and dignity of every person—that includes each of us here in this space.

Once we’ve done that, that basic level of inner peace can open us up to search for our path of personal peace. We can build our lives around that peace path. I feel that a good next step is a little reflection on where our lives are at and where our energy is directed. Reflection is always important, and often a critical step that gets skipped. Three important steps in discerning action are to:
  • First, figure out what’s happening;
  • Second, to reflect on the meaning of the event at hand.
  • Third, decide what to do.
Many people skip that second step of reflection.

Upon reflecting on the fact that by some miracle I’m alive and have forgiven myself, I believe a high priority ought to be establishing sufficient dedicated time and space for quiet fellowship with our divine source. That source may be from the divinity within each of us, or it may mean the divinity between you and a friend, or the divinity that wends its way among you and your community of friends. Or it may be the divinity beyond what you’ve thus far known. Your seeking soul may want to know other cultures, or open up imaginatively to an infinitude of possibilities and understandings that exist in any moment. Or you may find your divine source in all of those places, or somewhere else entirely, or you may choose to call it something else entirely. Wherever it is, connecting with that source is essential.

Those divine connections take time to grow. As we invest time in that spiritual growth, our anxieties and insecurities diminish, and we will more deeply discover right-relationship with others in our lives.

A part of my American dream is for us to develop deep and engaged connection with each other. I have a note to myself to write a sermon one day about how “a strong interpersonal presence makes room for a rich sense of community.” Who am I including in that community? Obviously, all of the people in this congregation. Further, I’m referring to the people we meet on the street, and even the people whom we’ll never meet. Here, I mean giving deeply of our energy through taxes and labor into a commonwealth, a trust from which we all may draw in time of need. Earlier, during my rant about what war does to us, I said it garners resources to itself. With this culture’s tendency toward radical individuality, we each feel the pressure to fend for ourselves and hold our wallets tight. We squirrel away for our own individual retirement, or try to get away from living paycheck-to-paycheck, which creates a strong urge to not make our energy available to everyone else. When the commonwealth/trust of collected resources that we rely on is running on empty, there is a feeling of abandonment and being on our own. I get this feeling a lot when I hear about forces within government seeking to cut taxes, to borrow money from the future, and still spending mightily, but spending on things that do not support our common welfare and security. This undermines our trust and faith in one another, and in our leaders who we wish to be good stewards. In cases where a pool of resources has been built up, there is greater security, a stronger sense of community, and a deeper trust of one another and of our leaders.

When we develop these resource pools in small groups, and the groups become larger and the pools become larger, it will be the leaders who feel abandoned. Lately, those in control in America have shown us visions that amount to rubbish anyway. In a time of plenty—we still do have plenty, look at any grocery store, clothing store, or housing classifieds section and you’ll see there are more than enough resources to go around, but it’s a matter of deciding who gets use of the resources. In a time of plenty, these leaders seek mainly to serve their individual empires; and by turning a blind eye to the poor, or giving small charitable sums from mostly ill-gotten fortunes allowing only for basic subsistence—by treating others this way, they do not foster any sense of community and security for anyone. That American dream is thriving, but the way of life it represents is like a vampire, leeching blood and energy away from everyone else’s common dreams. But before we decide to drive a stake into the heart of this vampire, we may do well to do a little reflection. Lest we look into the mirror and find ourselves only a shadow. Perhaps since we’ve been going along with somebody else’s dreams for so long, grafting ours onto an unkind pattern of existence, the common dreams we were born with may seem distant and dim. At this point, I’ll drop my shoulders again and take another deep breath and say we need to forgive ourselves, because it’s a new day.

Eventually, all of this dreaming is for the purpose of creating some concrete reality. I’d like to share a bit of the things that I foresee us doing as a result of our commitment to peace. As a result of our commitment to peace within ourselves, to our neighbors, and to our spherical home, we will build a new world.

In this world, I see us making peace with the planet by choosing abundant renewable natural resources. I see us learning to share on deeper levels, with consensual co-housing where groups of families live together with private space for each family and shared public space. We would also share gardens, vehicles, friendship, and tools, recognizing our positions on the planet as that of temporary stewards, rather than as permanent owners. I see us building beautiful homes from the most natural materials available.

In this world, I see us adopting a mantra of “simple living is a good way of giving,” where we realize that when we own lots of stuff, that stuff begins to control us. Not only can we spread our own wealth around, we can make sure that everybody gets firsts before we go back for seconds and thirds. Then again, when we know that ours is a culture of plenty, we will unlearn old habits of hoarding.

In this world, I see a large pool of publicly-held resources, democratically controlled by responsible ethical stewards. This pool would go where our public need is greatest. With the end of inexpensive oil upon us shortly, we will need better mass transit systems. From this pool, we can create a multitude of jobs building trains that run on electricity. Trains for transporting people and supplies both within cities and between cities.

I see a world where we conserve energy by moving around a lot less. As much as possible, we will get our food and resources locally, or even from our own backyard gardens. And using current communication technology, we’ll be able to virtually visit anyone anytime we like without traveling, and we’ll be able to spend significant time at home.

In this world, I see every employable person actually employed. There is so much work to be done in this world, be it planting trees, picking up trash, cleaning beaches, or gardening. So to have even a single person instead devoting their energy full-time toward finding a job is a crime. Furthermore, instead of some people working huge hours and some unemployed, we could all be working 25-30 hours per week. Today’s unfortunate high level of unemployment is an artificial creation, caused partly by a lack of trust on the part of those in control of the resources necessary for production, and partly because when there is a surplus of workers available, it is easier for businesses to get cheap labor.

In this world, I see people earning a basic living wage regardless of their station in life, and nobody without a home or food. A simple 2-bedroom mud-brick home with electricity and running water can be built for $20,000. Doing the math, to house 2 million people would cost $20 billion. If we were to reallocate the US military budget toward housing, we could build new permanent housing for well over 60 million people every year. It’s a question of priorities. Of course we don’t need to build that many homes because there aren’t that many homeless people, and there actually are a lot of empty buildings already available.

All this talk doesn’t mean we have to “give everything up.” Much of the technological progress that has been made is remarkable and will be part of the solutions we arrive at. Humanity has always valued cheap labor, and has always tended toward greater efficiency. Our systems of automation have greatly increased worker productivity, and soon we will have non-sentient robots to do many of the most difficult, dangerous, or unwanted jobs. Since this is wine country, I will share a particular dream I have been pondering. In the not-too-distant future, we will be able to turn water into wine automatically, perhaps with only the aid of a vintner to get the mix right. Robots can tend and harvest the grapes, de-stem them, crush them, and mix them into the fermenter, bottle them, and perhaps even deliver them to your door.

When I think upon what we will do with that free time, I realize there is still so much to do before that happens. But one day with that time, we will build community gardens, we will play musical instruments for the simple joy of it, or horseshoes, or Frisbee golf. We will spend time in fellowship with our divine sources. We will write books, and we’ll continue to explore life’s mysteries. There will be time for all who want a full education to get one. We’ll sing songs together. We’ll make gifts for one another. We’ll give a present to this planet by working to restore and heal all that we can. And we’ll break bread together, often, in peace. Amen.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,


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