My partner of 38 years and I got legally married yesterday. We will have the wedding in 6 months. Never let it be said that we do things in the usual order. Even parenting we did backwards from what most people do. We started with a 14 year old, a nephew. Then we had a 9 year old foster daughter. Then we decided to have babies ourselves, and my partner gave birth to our oldest son. Almost 4 years later, I gave birth to our twins.
That old jump rope rhyme is running through my head today. Theresa and Anne sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes (pick a name) with a baby carriage.
Marriage certainly wasn’t an option for us when we got together in 1975, and only became a real choice for us to consider after the Supreme Court decision just two weeks ago. Yes, we could have had a religious ceremony at any point and yes, for the last ten years or so, we could have gotten married in a number of different states or foreign countries. We have lots of friends that did both, and I admire them all for their trailblazing courage. But until the the DOMA decision granted federal recognition, getting married just felt sort of fake. It wouldn’t be completely real anywhere in this country. It would have also been a huge hassle trying to figure out taxes and other legal issues. Our marriage is still not recognized by the State of Utah, but here’s the key – it is recognized by federal agencies even in Utah. Utah will eventually have to come around to equality, and in the meantime, our marriage has real economic benefits. Yes, I will have to file state taxes as a single person while we will do a joint federal return. Weird that is, but then again, even ordering a drink can be very quirky in this state.
The big deal for us was inheritance rights and the federal estate tax. We own two houses jointly in two states and if one of us had died before we were married, the federal inheritance tax might have meant that the survivor would lose at least one house. At the very least our California house is now safe. This is why we got married before our wedding. We want a real wedding with a minister, rings, music, the whole shebang. You can’t plan something like that in 3 days. Doing it this way, we will just have more anniversaries to celebrate. I think we deserve it. We have waited a long time.
You said yes
So many years ago
Yes to love
Yes to sticking around
So many years
Troubles and trips
Sorrows and celebrations
You said yes
I was so grateful
Will you say yes
Will you sign the paper
We could not get
Yes to love
Yes to sticking around
Will you say yes to me
Every day from now on
Through troubles and trips
Sorrows and celebrations
Yes my love yes
My answer to you
Is still and always
Driving from Utah, a state that says no never no-way, we talked about getting married. Driving through Nevada, a state which is thinking about saying maybe, we decided. It has only been 38 and a half years since we began our relationship. Three different houses and three kids later we hope to be legally married this week in California – a state that now says yes. We will have a religious wedding ceremony on our 39th anniversary, also in California. The kids are all here, and it is my home state, although I will continue to live and work in Utah. We will ask our wedding guests to make a donation to Equality Utah instead of buying gifts. We really don’t need any more toasters or blenders at this point. Maybe we can help Equality Utah help change things for those who come after us, who could use some wedding gifts on a special day, a day when the only thing that will matter is the love and commitment that is shared.
Sometimes it is slow
Drops of water
Falling onto stone
Wearing it away
Sometimes it is fast
A rushing torrent
Out of the path
Most times it is just
A muddy pond
Bubbling up the alchemy
Of the artesian spring
I was inspired by how twitter was used this year at both Ministry Days and General Assembly. I had only signed up for twitter a few weeks before and didn’t really understand hashtags. I got into it though. The “back-channel” conversation was engaging and actually helped me focus on what was being said at the microphones. It was also a ready made place to go back and get highlights of what had happened. The one liners that people quoted jogged my memory in way I don’t think written notes would have. I also could see what other people thought was important.
Always liking to try out new things, today was the second Sunday in a row that I encouraged people to go ahead and make comments on twitter during the service. We had about 85 people in church today and only 4 participated in the twitter experiment. Fascinating though, I think I love it.
Not surprisingly, no one tweeted during the prayer. Most were during the sermon. (Here)
Some of the tweets:
The reading was from Frederick Douglass. I love it here!
Cannot carry a tune, but like the music here
Not every one in this country is free. The poor struggle struggle with basics of survival.
Independence cannot exist without interdependence. What affects one of us affects all of us
Independence needs to be balanced with interdependence
What is it that keeps us from being free?
Healthy spirituality can help us realize that freedom
If all are holy, then we need to seek liberty and justice for everyone
Someone yelled woot at the end on the sermon. Rock on
that sermon needed a “WOOT!” Beautiful!!
Theresa hits the bullseye AGAIN
Interesting, yes? Going back over the tweets later, I could see what resonated with at least the people who were tweeting. I have always believed that sermons are conversations even if only one person is talking. It is how the listener interacts and filters it through their own experiences that brings the Spirit into worship. I think, as time goes on, more of the folks will get into twitter (or whatever is coming next) and the conversations will go deeper.
I do need to say that I don’t think it was at all disruptive for those who were no participating. It might be different if almost everyone was doing it. There is also the question of access. Not everyone has a smart phone and not everyone can afford to buy one. It does allow some access to those that can not attend a service in person. The tweets can show the flavor of what was happening, something that can be missed if you just read the written text. People who “follow” those who are tweeting also might be intrigued enough to come check us out some Sunday. I hope so. We have a lot to offer I think.
We will see how it all plays out, but so far, it is very exciting!
I hope you had a good Independence Day this week. But I wonder if maybe we should start calling it Interdependence Day instead. The holiday celebrates the Declaration of Independence where a group of feisty colonists decided to break from England. It was the beginning of a revolution that would sever the political and economic ties between a colony and an Empire.
That revolution was not just about independence, however, the colonies also banded together in common cause, eventually forming a country that would create its own empire. It also wasn’t just about freedom or about having a say in what affects you – it wasn’t really about following our Unitarian Universalist principle about the democratic process. Women could not vote and neither could men who did not own property. Blacks were still enslaved. Native American villages were being burned and the people slaughtered.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass, said this:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
Harsh words, but we know that they were true. Just as it is true today that all who dwell on this country’s soil are not free. Undocumented immigrants are one obvious example, but what of the masses of people who are poor, who are homeless, who have little real freedom, because most of their waking hours are concerned with survival?
So what is freedom? What is liberty? Is it something we have in this country? Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Freedom and justice are intertwined. You cannot really have one without the other.
A lot of people don’t seem to understand that.
It plays out in the political and economic spheres of course. A corporation’s freedom from government regulation can destroy the environment. Is that justice?
What about the individual who simply throws away a soda can rather than taking it to be recycled. That is freedom I suppose, but hardly justice.
Employers are free to pay whatever low wages they can get away with, so low that their employees are eligible for food stamps. Is that justice?
Independence needs to be balanced with interdependence. We try to do that in this faith tradition. Several of our principles mention freedom, the right of individual conscience, liberty, the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But others also lift up world community, justice, and the awareness that we are each truly bound and connected to all the rest of existence.
What affects one of us really does affect us all. Our freedom sometimes needs to be limited because our doing whatever we might want would limit someone else’s freedom in more important ways.
How free are we anyway? Are we not all constrained by our circumstances?
We may not be slaves, but we need to show up at our jobs and do some work or else we won’t be paid. Students have to go to school, even when they may not want to go. Some might call that justice, some might name it responsibility, but it is a limit on freedom.
I believe in free will. I think that we each have choices to make in our lives. It is not all laid out in some pre-destined way. But every choice we make, limits our future choices. It is way too late for me to become a physicist, for instance, even if I had both the desire and aptitude for that discipline.
Our liberty is limited by our stage in life and by our circumstances. We also can deny the freedom we do have. If we don’t use it, we don’t really have it. We limit ourselves sometimes before we even try. ‘That can’t be done.” “It is no use.” “It has been tried before and did not work.” It isn’t always other people that tell us we can’t do something, the conversation inside of our own head is often enough to stop us.
“I am not good enough.” What will people think?’
Think if you will, for a moment, about you own sense of liberation. What holds you back from being the person you would like to be? What is keeping you from doing what you really want to do? What are the chains, either of your own making or of the larger culture and society that keep you from breaking free?
This is where spirituality comes in. If you don’t already have a spiritual practice, I encourage you to find one. It could be prayer, mediation, doing yoga, or even taking walks in nature. A spiritual practice can be anything, whatever stills that negative self-talk, whatever frees you for at least of few minutes from the busyness and frustrations of your daily life.
James Baldwin said,
“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be”
His statement does not meant that people who are not free don’t want to be. People do not generally choose their chains. But freedom, liberation, begins in the human heart and mind. You have to imagine it, have a vision before it can come to pass. In slavery days, songs were sung in the fields. They helped make the long days go by, but they also kept the hope of freedom alive.
Oh, liberty and justice! We can’t find either of them alone. You can’t be free until you know who you are. And you can’t really know who you are until you find at least one kindred spirit who will see you, really see you. We all need somebody who will see us as someone who has something to offer to the world, who will look at us and recognize that divine spark that each of us carries inside.
We say Namaste here sometimes. It is a Hindu term that is used as a greeting and basically means that the divine in me bows to the divine in you.
Namaste means are all holy. It doesn’t matter who we are or how much money we have. It doesn’t matter what we have done or haven’t done. We are holy.
Do you believe that?
Do you believe that the lives of all people are sacred? Do you believe that your life is sacred?
Sometimes that last one is the hardest.
Try it with me. Even if you don’t think it is true, just try it.
“I am holy.” It is OK to cry. Some of you have been told that you aren’t an OK person. That was wrong. Say, “I am holy.”
Now, look around the room as we say, “You are holy,”
We are all in the room, so let’s say, “We are holy.”
Expand your awareness to our neighborhood, the folks living in the downtown Ogden area.
“They are holy.”
Fly up in the sky and look down at the earth. Think of all the people in all the countries. Imagine the plants and animals too. See the mountains and the oceans and look at the white clouds circling a blue green globe.
Say now, “All is holy.”
That is where liberation comes from. The deep spiritual understanding that everything is sacred. Life is a miracle. We are miracles. I am holy, you are holy, we are holy, they are holy, and all are holy.
If we are holy, we cannot stay in chains.
We need to speak our truths and we need to struggle to be free. If we are holy, we need to love ourselves.
We need to forgive ourselves for any mistakes we may have made. We need to live the best lives that we can, honoring who we are and where we have been, and stretching ourselves so that the sacred will look out from our eyes.
If all are holy, we need to work for justice, for equality, for freedom, so that all people can be recognized as the miracles they are. We must practice compassion and mercy in how we deal with others. We can look for the sacred in everyone’s eyes.
If all is holy, we also need to take great care with how we tend to our planet. We need to keep the air and water clean. The earth sustains us and we must sustain it.
Yes, God Bless America. God bless all the countries of the world. God bless the entire world and all its creatures. God bless you and God bless me.
Namaste, my friends, Namaste, may all of us find liberty and may all of us know justice.
Oh sweet Egypt
You have suffered so long
Slaving under Pharaohs
Kings and tyrants
Your history stolen
For London’s Museum
Still you struggle
Freedom is not easy
You dare not rest
Dreams cannot be denied
The pyramids will stand
If God wills it
If you do your part
If you hold the vision
Peace and blessings
Blessings and peace
Will come to the valley
Of the precious Nile
The same as freedom?
To stand alone
Liberty or death
Don’t take my guns away
The same as justice?
Treating everyone the same
No helping hands
Tax breaks for the homeless
Health care for no one
Oh for the liberty to live
In a world where love
Guides all that we might do
Justice need not be blind
Compassion can clear the vision
So we can find the dream
Loving the intellectual challenge and caring passionately about my own beliefs, it is sometimes hard for me to walk away from a debate. I need to try harder, however, and simply look for whatever common ground I can find with others. Unitarian Universalists are fond of saying that we believe in “deeds not creeds.” Almost every Sunday I start the worship service by welcoming visitors telling them that we value diversity of all types. Our congregations include people who self-identify as Christians, Pagans, Humanists, Agnostics, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Spiritualists, and pretty much everything else. I say that what matters most is how we treat other people and how we care for this planet of ours. That is another way of saying “deeds not creeds.”
Our faith tradition has a long history of respect for the individual right of conscience. Believe whatever makes sense to you about God and what happens after we die, but let’s see if we can get together and try to make our own lives and this world a better place. We can discuss differing theological beliefs. I love hearing what others believe about the big issues, and I like to talk about my own, always evolving, sense of the universe and what this life of ours is all about. Arguing is pointless, however, and generally serves to increase the distance between people rather than bring them closer together. We’re pretty good at this at our church. We talk about differences, but we try to do so with respect and as an attempt to understand. We had to work on this and it didn’t happen overnight. Some of our members had been hurt badly by religion they grew up with. They were victims of what I would name spiritual violence. It takes some time and a lot of love to heal those wounds. They can heal, however, and an inclusive religious community can be the perfect place for that healing. I knew that we had come a long way here, when a woman made the sign of the cross before adding her water to the bowl during our water communion. (We do it prayerfully, not as a travelogue). Others noticed and mentioned it to me afterwards. The miracle was that everyone who spoke to me (including at least one atheist and at least one ex-Catholic) was thrilled that she felt comfortable enough with us to engage in a religious practice that clearly held great meaning for her.
Some of the folks in our wider movement, however, and unfortunately some of our congregations apparently don’t understand this. They freak out if God is even mentioned and heaven forbid if someone wants to pray. This reaction comes from fear I think, fear that Unitarian Universalism will become the religion that hurt them, that they ran from. They are afraid that they will be left out and left behind. It is not a totally unreasonable fear. Unitarian Universalism is changing and we will keep changing; change is in our DNA. We were formed from the merger of two Christian denominations, both of which date back to the 1700’s in this country. That history is still part of us, but I don’t think many of our religious ancestors would necessarily recognize us today. We brought in science and humanism, incorporated wisdom from other world religions and from the earth centered traditions. The Transcendentalist also had a huge impact. For those of us who believe in God, revelation is definitely not sealed. For those of us who believe in the human spirit, change is simply part of life.
Our faith tradition has a long history of respect for the individual right of conscience, but that doesn’t mean that our churches and worship practices will not change over time. It does mean that we take diversity of belief seriously, however. I see a real spiritual hunger out there in the world today. People are looking for meaning in a world that devalues spirit, that judges people in so many hurtful ways, and that values profit over compassion and caring. They are not very interested in dry lectures on Sunday mornings. They want to sing, to weep, to think, and to be inspired to do something positive to make the world better. This year, the Service of Living Tradition at our General Assembly provided that. I loved it. At the close, maybe 2300 people were rocking to the gospel music, waving their hands in the air and dancing. Maybe 1200 were freaking out because of the God language in some of the music. (This was NOT a count at all. Just a wild guess at the numbers. Maybe only 200 people were upset and maybe they are just very vocal.)
We need to work through the hurt and the fear if we are going to grow as a faith. No one is going to be left behind, but they will need to learn to both welcome and respect those among us who are yearning for a deeper spirituality. We are better together and there really is room in Unitarian Universalism for all who are looking for vibrant religious community that makes a real difference in the world.
It is time to stop arguing over our theological differences. Embrace them, learn from them, and get busy and do something wonderful.
The fires have come
A planet is burning
An agony of dry heat
Blown by the winds
That would not listen
Fueled by neglect and greed
Sometimes people are brave
They stand solid and ready
Risking all that they are
To protect the precious
Beyond all duty
There is a place
For those who give
In full measure
Here our hearts
Beat with gratitude
Awe beyond understanding
It is not too late
We hope we pray
Clean the air
Let the forests breathe
Honor the lost
Help fight the fire