Tag Archive | Utah

Desert Journey

Let the wind blow

The harsh desert sand

Will scour any pretense

Howling in the night

Like a lonely wolf

Don’t go to sleep

Unless the sun is shining

And the sky blue

Scorpions are scattered

Under  red rocks

Seeking shade

Walk steady

Walk slowly

Always wear

Thick boots.

 

 

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Marriage is Forever

It has felt very strange to be out of the state while history is being made in Utah.  I would have loved running down to the Weber County Courthouse to help officiate the long awaited weddings that took place there yesterday.  Someone asked me on Facebook if I would have been first in line if I were there.  My answer was, of course: “No, I am already married and marriage is forever.”  Yes, I know, people can get divorced, but they will still have been married – forever.  It is amazing to me that some of my friends have been married to each other multiple times, in different countries and  in different states.  I don’t think it is considered bigamy if you keep marrying the same person over and over again, but it does seem odd to me.  It nothing else, it is a lot of anniversaries to remember.

My life partner (now wife) and I  have only two anniversaries.  One is July 12.  We were legally wed on July 12, 2013 in San Rafael, CA.   The other is January 3.  We began our relationship as a couple on Jan. 3, 1975.  Since then, we have owned 3 different homes, lived in three different states, had three biological children, and cared for three foster children.  We will have a big wedding ceremony and reception on January 3, 2014, also in San Rafael.  We will exchange vows and rings, cut a cake, toss bouquets, and dance to a DJ’s music.  The minister who is officiating is the Reverend Janie Sparr, the first minister we met as a couple and one of the most courageous and loving people I know.  She has been working within the Presbyterian Church for decades, trying to promote love and acceptance for all.

I followed her into the ministry, but as a Unitarian Universalist minister, not a Presbyterian.  Unitarian Universalists have a very long history of support for equality for LGBT people, so the work I have done in that area has largely been in the wider community.

If we had been in Utah this week, rather than in California preparing for that big wedding ceremony of ours, we would have been been at a Utah courthouse.  I would have signed a lot of marriage licenses and we both would have cheered all the newlyweds.  Love is sweet.  It is worth celebrating.  If we hadn’t done the legal thing in California last July, we would have been in the line to be married as well.

But marriage is forever and that fact is recognized and understood here in California.  In Utah that is still not true as the governor there is fighting to have all those sweet marriages declared null and void.   He calls it chaos.   Utah County continues to defy the court order and is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same gender couples.  That is chaos, I suppose, but it is a chosen chaos.  I do understand that much of Utah is in shock at the court’s decision.  I am in shock too.  Who could have imagined  before this week that Utah would have marriage equality before a state like Oregon?  Who could have imagined that this would happen in a state where people can be fired or evicted simply because to their sexual orientation or gender identity?

Utah never took any steps down that so-called “slippery slope,” but this week, more than a few hang gliders were able to fly free, catching the updraft of a brand new day.   Hand in hand, their marriages, too, will be forever.  Blessed Be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Miracle in Utah

What do we do

When a miracle happens

One that had hardly been dreamed?

How do we feel

On the darkest of nights

When a star appears in the East?

Love’s tender blessings

Rain down in the desert

As mountains rejoice in the snow

Kiss me my darling

Let’s dance with our friends

This moment is glory

The miracle real.

 

 

The Terrible Tea Party Strategy

I have to wonder if Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are kicking themselves this week.  All the pain and suffering they caused was completely pointless.  Mike Lee in particular did seriously damage to his own constituency.  The Utah economy is very dependent on both the national park system and federal employment.  Funny he didn’t seem to realize that.  He still says he did it to call attention to problems with Obamacare and that he isn’t sorry.  What he and Ted Cruz did instead was infuriate everyone  with their threats of default and  other shenanigans.  They also managed to distract everyone from any problems with the Affordable Healthcare Act roll out.

Now, because of website glitches, chaos reigns.  I knew single payer would have been much better, but no, Congress went for the Romney plan instead.  I suspect it will all work out eventually, but if the tea party had simply kept the government open, raised the debt ceiling,  and waited a week or two, they might have come across as wise in their misgivings.  No chance of them ever looking wise now.

The Real Sinners

As a Unitarian Universalist pastor in Utah, I serve a congregation composed of many people who have left the LDS church.  Most have left with great pain, shunned too often by family and friends.  Some were shamed for who they are and what they believed (or just could not bring themselves to believe.)  My sermon yesterday addressed some of that pain (click) and I hope it brought some healing to some who heard it.

We always have more visitors during the LDS conference weekend, and the same was true yesterday.

I do follow what happens during the conference and was encouraged by some of the remarks made by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.”

Wonderful words, words that generated hope among many.  If the church could admit past mistakes, perhaps the future could hold positive change.  Then 200 women were turned away from the priesthood meeting.  Then Elder Oaks had to go on and on about how sinful same gender marriages are.  The two issues are not unrelated.  I truly believe if women had more real power in the LDS church, the bigotry against GLBT people would soon diminish.  Almost all Mormon women are mothers, and given the large family sizes, many have GLBT children.  They know the importance of unconditional love to a child’s spiritual and physical growth.  They have also learned that rejecting such a child can lead to that child’s death either through suicide or through risky self-destructive behaviors.

President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was relatively subdued this time.  Elder Oaks took up his message, however, by saying,

“There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and are contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing. These pressures have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations.”

Laws legalizing so called “same-gender marriage,” he added, do not change God’s law of marriage of His commandments and standards.

“We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from bowing down to or serving other gods and priorities — even those becoming popular in our particular time and place.”

I wonder if he answered his own, earlier question:

“Are we serving priorities or gods ahead of the God we profess to worship?” “Have we forgotten the Savior who taught that if we love Him we will keep His commandments? If so, our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.”

Yes, I think the answer is definitely yes.  The priorities of the LDS hierarchy are truly upside down.  Patriarchy, homophobia, greed and arrogance have led them to forget the greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Excluding people from full inclusion in a faith community  based upon their gender and or their sexual orientation does not follow that commandment.  Jesus also did not say the church should build high-end shopping malls.

My marriage to my beloved partner is a blessing not a sin.  The LDS church’s naming it a sin, is the real sin.

So keep praying guys (and you are all guys). Start listening to the God that lives outside your moldy doctrines.  Start listening to the women who could lead you home.

Summaries of the conference talks are (here)

Working Class Heroes – 9/1/13

Reading

The Origin of Labor Day by Rev. Meredith Garmon

The stock market crash of 1893 brought a depression in which 150 railroads closed and unemployment was massive. George Pullman cut his workers’ wages by 25 percent, but did not reduce rents in the town of Pullman at all.

The next year, 1894, 4,000 Pullman employees went on a wildcat strike:…. Soon 100,000 railroad workers across the country were refusing to handle trains with Pullman cars.

The strike shut down much of the nation’s freight and passenger traffic west of Detroit. Various sympathy strikers prevented transportation of goods by walking off the job, obstructing railroad tracks or threatening and attacking the replacement workers the railroads sought to hire. At its peak, the strike involved 250,000 workers in 27 states.

Pullman called up his friend and fellow railroad director, United States Attorney General Richard Olney. With President Grover Cleveland’s backing, troops were sent to Chicago. The federal government secured a federal court injunction against the union, …The Army moved in to stop the strikers from obstructing the trains. Violence broke out in a number of cities: millions of dollars in damages and 30 people were killed.

The Army broke the strike. …The railroads fired and black-listed all the employees who had supported the strike. As soon as the strike was over and the trains were running, President Cleveland and Congress moved quickly to make conciliation to organized labor.

Six days after the 1894 Pullman strike ended, legislation was pushed through Congress declaring that the first Monday of September was a Federal holiday, Labor Day. So we have Labor Day as a consolation prize after the Feds sent in troops to protect corporate interests and break up a strike. … And they put it in September, instead of giving official recognition to the more widely known International Workers Day on May 1, because they wanted to pull attention away from the more radical labor movements.

http://lakechalice.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-origin-of-labor-day.html

(some of the information in the sermon was also obtained from the above source.)

Music: “Joe Hill” as sung by Beth Dion (click)

Sermon:

Ah, yes, Labor Day weekend is here.  It is the last weekend to have a summer fling before the autumn comes.  Fall usually comes fast in Utah, but not this year.  We seem to be experiencing an endless summer of 90-degree weather.  So much for the climate science deniers, I wonder if they have even noticed the lingering heat and the out of control fire season.

Labor day is not just about a late summer holiday or catching the back to school sales.   It is a day to celebrate the working people of this country.

People like Joe Hill should be remembered on Labor Day, particularly here in Utah.

Joe was a union organizer and a songwriter who worked for the Industrial Workers of the World, or the Wobblies as they were known.  In 1914 he was working for the Silver King Mine in Park City.

Joe was arrested for the murder of two men in Salt Lake City.  The trial had many irregularities, but he was convicted and executed anyway by firing squad in November of 1915. It was a national controversy, with labor leaders insisting that the copper bosses framed him.  Mining is still a big deal in Utah.  We know how much power they still have today.  Look at what happened to Tim De Christopher, who went to jail for trying to save our public lands from exploitation.

Hill had said that he “didn’t want to be caught dead in Utah,” so his ashes were sent to labor groups in every other state. Huge funeral demonstrations took place throughout the nation in answer to his admonition; “Don’t mourn, organize!” He was a working class hero.

I have always wondered why we celebrate Labor Day on the first weekend in September rather than of May 1, which is the International Workers Day.

More than 80 countries celebrate it around the world, but not here in the US.

The reading this morning gave us a clue as to why.

George Pullman was not a working class hero.

He was, however, one of us too.

A few weeks ago, I told the story of the Sharps, a Unitarian couple who were true heroes in WWII as they rescued people from Nazi Germany.  Their story is one we are all proud of.  After the service, someone asked me if we had other stories in our history, ones that are not so good.

George Pullman was a lifelong Universalist.

George’s parents had both converted to Universalism, drawn to the “God is Love” message. Both of George’s older brothers became Universalist ministers.

Later in his life, he used some of his railroad money to build a Universalist Church in his hometown of Albion, New York.

History is complicated.  It is never good to gloss over the parts that might make us feel uncomfortable.

There were Unitarian abolitionists and Unitarian slave traders.  The same was true of the Universalists.  Sometimes how you apply your theology to your life depends upon who you are and the position you hold in society.  No wonder Jesus commented on how hard it was for a rich man to enter heaven.  I have wondered this week, at all the self-righteousness about Syria using chemical weapons on civilians.  Have we Americans forgotten that we are the only nation to have dropped an atomic bomb on civilians?

There is a great myth about America being a classless society, that with hard work and effort even the poorest child can aspire to wealth and power.  I am not sure if that was ever really true.  It certainly isn’t true today.

There was a time, however, when things were better.  It was the time when unions were at their strongest.

The percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States peaked in 1954 at almost 35%. Union membership in the private sector has declined since that year, down to only 12% of the labor force.  Public sector union membership is still at 37%. (Wikipedia)

People used to be proud to be union members, but now unions are blamed for everything that is wrong with the economy.

The same is true of government workers, from employees of the IRS to firefighters and schoolteachers.

When history is forgotten it can repeat itself.  Working people fought hard to win decent wages and living conditions.  People died.  What, tell me, is so wrong with people who work for a living having enough to feed their families and to go on a short vacation every year?  What is wrong with having health care and a retirement plan?  What is wrong with having programs like Social Security and Medicare?  None these things were gifts.  They were worked for and fought for.

Let me shift gears a bit here and talk about class.  We sometimes pretend that America is a classless society, that everyone is middle class.

How many of you would define yourselves as middle class?

Politicians talk about middle class families all the time.  The subject of class warfare has also come up more than once in the last few years.  I think it is time we start having some serious conversations about class in this country.

When I studied sociology in college, a thousand years ago, the term used was socio-economic class and it involved much more that how much money you made.  Your class level depended not only on your income level but also on what kind of job you did.  Was it white color or blue collar?  How much education did you have?

Rarely mentioned, but also very relevant was what was the class of the family you grew up in?  Did you listen to classical music or country?  Did your family have the wealth and connections to give you a head start by providing you with a college education or a loan to start a business?  What kind of school was it, was it Ivy League or a state college?

All of those factors create interesting differences between people and can affect how we feel about ourselves and about each other.  Yes, as Unitarian Universalists we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all, but would Joe Hill have been comfortable in one of our churches? Actually, I think he might have liked belonging to this one.   He certainly would have been pleased with how we supported the Occupy Ogden group.

I think it is time that we start thinking about class in a different way than we have before.  It fits with the idea of Labor Day as a celebration and a time to appreciate those who work.

I think everyone in this room is in fact, working class, at least the way I think it should be defined.

In my book, you are working class if you work for a living, or did so before you retired.  It doesn’t matter what you do or even how much you make.  If your income is the result of your own labor, then you are working class. So who is working class?  And kids, trust me, you will be when you get old enough to work.

By this definition, more than 99% of America is working class.  It might feel kind of weird for some of you to think of yourselves this way.  Some of you are highly educated professionals.  But a professor teaching a class is working and a doctor who sees patients is working.  Ministers work too.

If we all see ourselves as working class, then the divisions are not so important.  I have heard people make a distinction between working with your hands or with your head.  That doesn’t make any sense to me. People who do physical labor need to keep their wits about them because their lives may depend on it.  If a roofer isn’t careful, he can be killed in a fall.

I had an interesting experience when I went, almost 8 years ago now, on a service project to Biloxi, Mississippi to help with Katrina recovery.  Someone gave me a crowbar to pull nails from some boards we wanted to use on a deck we were replacing.  It worked great for a while until my face got in the way.  Stupid.  There was no permanent damage, but it was a life lesson.  Physical labor requires using your head to think – not as a target for a crowbar.

Dangerous jobs should in fact pay better than safer ones and all jobs should pay a living wage.  But that is not the way it has been going.  Wealth is becoming ever more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

There has been quite a bit of analysis done in the last couple of years on the Walton family, the owners of Walmart.  Six members of the Walton family have together a total of $102.7 billion of accumulated wealth.  (Billion not million.)  In 2007 that amount was only (it is hard to say only with that number!) 89.5 billion.  This was an increase of 22%.  At the same time median wealth for all families fell by 38.8%.  In 2010, their share of the nation’s wealth was equal to the bottom 40% of all families.  Six individual have what 49 million families have.

(http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jul/31/bernie-s/sanders-says-walmart-heirs-own-more-wealth-bottom-/)

Those numbers make the differences between people making $12,000 per year and even half a million dollars per year, actually paltry by comparison.

The Wal-Mart family is not working class.  No one can accumulate that amount of money simply by working for a salary or a wage. In the meantime, the wages they pay their employees are low enough that most of them qualify for food stamps.

The Occupy movement was an awakening to what was happening with power and wealth America.  The strike this week by fast food workers is a more recent response.

As people of faith, I think we need to support those efforts and to encourage a rebirth of the labor movement.

Our responsive reading this morning was from Leviticus, which may have surprised some of you.  Given how much that part of the Bible is quoted to justify discrimination, you’d think more attention would be paid to lines like these:

“You shall not strip your vineyard bare, nor gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.” (note it doesn’t say “documented immigrant” here, just alien.)

“You shall not defraud or rob and you should not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until the morning.”

It is way past morning.  It is time for all workers to receive their just pay.  We are all working class.  We can all be heroes.  Let’s get to work to make it so!

Married Even in Utah

We never thought marriage was important for us.  Yeah, sure, we knew there were some financial benefits.  OK, a LOT of financial benefits!   (Some of them are listed here) But still, as far as our relationship went, we did not think marriage would make a difference to us.  We’d been together for 38 years after all.  We had kids together,  several foster children as well as our own three biological kids.  We were out and open.  We had friends and our Unitarian Universalist religious community that treated us as a family.  We were committed to spending the rest of our lives together.  Who needed marriage?

As a minister, I have officiated at a lot of weddings.  They can be truly wonderful ceremonies and it is an honor to bear witness to a couple’s love for each other.  It is particular moving to me to perform a marriage for a couple that I know, when one or both are friends or members of my congregation.  It is also a privilege to, on behalf of the state, declare them legally married.   It has always bothered me that I could not perform a legal marriage for every couple whose wedding I performed.

Still, I didn’t really get what a big deal marriage is.   I didn’t know what I was missing.  It isn’t just the ceremony and the party.  We could have done that at any time.  All UU ministers perform same gender weddings and have done so for decades.  I have a lot of minister friends.  One of them did our legal marriage last month in California.  I put up a facebook post asking for someone to do the honors and no less than 5 friends volunteered to help within 4 hours of the posting.   We were married.  We are married.  We’re having a bigger religious  wedding ceremony and reception later, but we are already married.  The legal status matters.  The financial advantages are just that, financial advantages.  We got a few of those in California back in 1993 when we registered as domestic partners.

So what is the big deal about marriage?  What have I learned that I didn’t know before?

I don’t have all the answers to those questions yet.  I do know that a legal civil marriage is every bit as important as the religious ceremony.  A legal civil marriage is recognized by everyone.  A religious ceremony provides recognition by your faith community.  If you are legally married, everybody has to recognize the relationship, not just the people that happen to approve of it.  I think we all know a few married couples that have lousy relationships, ones we don’t really approve of in any way.  It doesn’t matter if they were married in a church or temple or by a county clerk or by someone with a mail order ordination.  We still recognize them as married, even if we might wish they weren’t.

That is what happened when we signed the marriage license and turned it into the county clerk to be recorded.  Everywhere we went in California, our marriage was recognized.  It was an incredible feeling, a powerful feeling.  We can now visit Washington DC, Massachusetts, and a dozen other states and a score of countries and no one, not even the grossest bigot, can say our marriage is not valid.   Ok, they can say it, but it wouldn’t be true.

Here in Utah, however, our marital status is in question.  Things are not clear.  It will most likely take court cases before our marriage is legally valid here.  In a state where publishers refuse to print a bio for an author in a same gender relationship (see article) changing enough hearts and minds will likely be a long, slow, and tedious process.

It is not OK, it is hurtful and wrong, but that is the way it is right now.  It will be different someday.  Progress will continue.  In the meantime, we’ll kept working on those hearts and minds.  We are still married, even in Utah.

Utah to Become a Russian State

So Utah stands firm in refusing to recognize my marriage.

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56729640-78/utah-state-marriage-amendment.html.csp?utm_source=twitterfeed

A driver’s license from CA is perfectly good here.

So are permits to carry concealed weapons.

First cousins who marry in states where it is legal to do so don’t become single when they move here.  Oh, maybe that IS legal here.

“first cousins can marry if both are over 65, or, if both parties are over 55, if the court finds that they are unable to reproduce.”

Just saying, but “Hell hath no fury like a woman whose marriage is scorned.”

Of course you could decide to secede.  I know you are thinking about it, what with all the hoopla about federal lands.  Why not mine your part of the Grand Canyon?  Arizona won’t mind.  We could maybe get money for the public schools that you want to abolish.

If you do manage to secede from the  US  (its been tried before) and if you don’t want to go it alone, Russia might welcome you in.  Or Uganda.

Just saying, but you are known by the company you keep.

Oh, and forget about ever getting the Olympics back.

Rage. – a poem

Sort of Legal in Utah

My long time partner and I were legally married in California on July 12, 2013.  How weird it is to be in Utah now.  How weird the trip home felt.

In California, we went shopping for wedding rings for the ceremony we are planning in January.  Such a joy it was.  Yes, the matching rings are for us.  Smiles all around mostly, although one jeweler made no comment.  Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be.  Just another couple getting married.  Normal, everyday, commonplace, so why comment?  Still, I think we made him a bit uncomfortable.  No matter, plenty of others wanted our business.  We went out to dinner with friends who announce our new status to other friends they see.   We tell almost everyone we meet.  It feels good.  It feels real.

Then we crossed the border into Oregon, “Oh, are we still married here?”  Well no, not yet at least, but they are at least working on it.  Federal recognition only in that state. We “honeymooned” in Oregon but it wasn’t as easy as California had been.   We did not share our news with any strangers there.

Then the honeymoon and our vacation was over and we entered Idaho.   It felt downright creepy being there knowing that most people there would not welcome us as we are.  We have been to Idaho many times, but this time felt different.  Married we were finally, but it felt like we were strangers visiting a foreign land.

Utah felt a little better.  It has been our home for six years.  There are people we love here, that are happy for us.  I serve a fabulous Unitarian Universalist church here.  My congregants were excited to learn we had gotten married.  Federal laws should still apply here, despite  our legislature’s crazy impulses to secede from all the one’s they don’t like.  But it does feel odd to be married here and also not.  When asked if I am married I will say yes now, to doctors, dentists, anyone.  I will say yes because it is true, even if Utah says it is not.  But it does feel strange.  I have not been in the closet here at all.  But somehow, being told that “domestic partner” is not a relationship category here, wasn’t quite so offensive, and at least I was used to it.  Now I will be out as a married woman.  I changed my middle name when we signed the marriage license and now I will need to change all of my federal records.  I’ll try the Social Security office first, and hope they have gotten the word, even here in Utah.  We will see how that goes.  I will let you know.

Marriage Now/Wedding Later

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.