Saturday, August 23, 2014

I don't believe in Bakersfield

Transcript of sermon delivered on August 3, 2014, at Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis.

When I first began my adventures in UU, seven plus years ago, I heard a joke, what do you get if you cross a UU with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason. I told my minister the joke, and he suggested a new punchline: someone who knocks on your door and asks “what do YOU believe?”

People outside UU often don’t know what to make of Unitarian Universalism, but I’ve still heard them say what we don’t believe.  Apparently, according to many people outside UU, UUs don’t believe in God. My daughter told me that her classmate told her that after first asking if she was Christian or Jewish, and telling her friend she was a UU. I responded that SOME UUs believe in God, some do not. Some believe in many gods. Personally, I don’t believe in a white man named God, sitting on a cloud, handing out VIP passes like Halloween treats, which is what I think those other people are talking about… maybe. I don’t believe in much that I can’t see, test, feel, understand. I tend to be an empiricist about most things.

For example, I don’t believe that Hell is an afterlife of eternal suffering. I know Hell to be a town north of Gdansk. I was on a train bound for Hell, but I disembarked in Krakow.

I don’t believe in Atlantis, conspiracy birther theories, extraterrestrial abductions, or the town of Bakersfield.

If you drive north from Los Angeles on the 5, you climb up the Tejon Pass through the Tehachapi Mountains, and come down the Grapevine into the San Joaquin Valley. As you reach the bottom of the Grapevine, there are signs, Bakersfield, next 5 exits, and point to the East. And you look to the East, and see … Nothing. A vast expanse of bare dusty brown valley. I came to the conclusion that there is no town of Bakersfield, that it’s some kind of California practical joke.

A friend found this claim of mine, not to believe in Bakersfield, utterly baffling. “how can you not believe in it? I can show it to you on a map!” I pointed out that hundreds of years ago maps were published with dragons on them and other apocryphal creatures and places. Mapquest frequently tells me to exit the freeway at exits that don’t exist.  Being on a map doesn’t make it REAL.  This is based upon my superficial and unresearched experience, not upon data from outside sources. Still, my experiences count for something, right?

But my belief, or unbelief, aside, it doesn’t affect the world at large. The town of Bakersfield, real or not, is not affected by my lack of belief in it. And I don’t insist on the world adhering to my view. I do not lobby congress to deny Bakersfield city-hood, or remove its representatives from power. Because I also believe that faith, belief, is a personal matter, not something I force on others.  This country was founded upon freedom of religion, but more and more that freedom seems to be a freedom as long as your religion is mainstream.

In June, the US Supreme Court, in it’s 5 to 4 decision on Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, allowed two closely-held companies to opt out of parts of health coverage because, as the majority opinion stated, the owners of the companies “sincerely believe” that some forms of birth control are actually abortifacients, that they cause an abortion. Even though the medical science contradicts this belief, “sincere belief” is apparently enough to allow a company to ignore a federal mandate to provide a certain minimum level of health care to all its employees. Even though not all its employees have the same value system or beliefs, the beliefs of the employer are the factor here.

Peter Morales, president of Unitarian Universalist of America, our parent organization, said, of this decision, “I am deeply concerned by the growing rights granted to corporations by this decision and others of this Court and our Congress. I am also deeply concerned by the growing use of the religious freedom argument as a tool of discrimination and oppression.”

This ruling allows companies to impose their moral views on their employees, and shelter their discriminatory views under the name of religious freedom.  There are religions that object to the use of certain medical procedures, like blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists and several smaller Christian denominations prefer the use of prayer to standard medical procedure. What if you work for a company owned by devout Muslims of Jews? In some places the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine is made with pork-derived gelatin. Can your employers restrict the vaccination of employees children on the grounds of religious freedom, even if those employees are not themselves Muslim or Jewish? Already, there are outbreaks of Measles and Mumps across America because some people believe, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, that the MMR causes autism. If we bring a religious argument into play, there will be more outbreaks as our herd immunity is further undermined.

As soon as that decision was handed down, I knew it would lead to more and more ridiculous suits where the only requirement, the only test, was whether the plaintiffs sincerely believed that they were in the right. Science be damned! Empiricism and testable facts went right out the window with that decision.  If you can deny testable science, ignore it completely, and have your views given credence in a court of law, then what about evolution in schools? How can you support any kind of science or use it as the basis of a judgment if the only thing that your opponent need have is sincerity? What we believe is important, especially if we are determined to impose our personal beliefs on other people.

A couple of weeks ago David Jackoway gave a sermon here about our jigsaw puzzle faith, how UUs believe a wide range of things, and yet we don’t talk about those things too often. My mission here isn’t to create a hierarchy of faith from my position here behind the lectern. I’m not here to tell you how to believe, but to take you with me on a spiritual and philosophical journey. I’m not here to be the Hobby Lobby employer, because this is a place where all spiritual paths are welcomed and respected, because they all lead us here, to where we can be together, in all our differences. You may not choose the same ways to serve our community and world as I choose, but you serve. You may not see the world as I see it, but you see it, you live in it, and we all of us seek to leave this world a better place than we found it.

Faith is a wonderful, powerful tool. Faith builds cities, faith keeps us working toward the future, faith holds our lives and communities together. What I truly believe, and will speak from this position, is this:

I believe in you, all of you in this community. I believe in you to listen to others, to make actions based on careful consideration of the facts and what will be help our community, our city, our country, our world, in the best way we can. I believe that with small actions, we can change the world. I believe that people are more important than companies, that clean energy is a necessity, that access to healthcare should be a universal right, that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. And if we can conquer that fear in ourselves, we can show other people the way to love, also.

And I have faith in you. I hope you have that same faith in me.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Feminist Mother

This is the text of the sermon delivered at  Unitarian Universalist of Indianapolis, May 18, 2014

Sojourner Truth
Ain't I A Woman?
Delivered 1851
Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio 
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Those who know me on Facebook know I have an addiction to quizzes. I have a hard time not taking them and posting my results. I am, apparently, a hipster parent, and if I were a mythical creature I would be a dragon. Any quizzes, even the ones like “which Rap Star are you?” So when I saw the quiz labeled “are you a bad feminist” I’m sure you realize I HAD to take it.  Had to. And I was more annoyed by that quiz that I was about anything that whole week. Because my results were that I am a “problematic” feminist. In other words I’m not feminist enough for “some” feminists in this country. Because I answered yes to questions like “do you wear makeup?” and “do you shave your legs” and no to questions like “have you ever done roller derby.” Really? I’d be a better feminist if I were a hairy legged roller derby player? I’d be the worst roller derby player ever, but that would determine my politics? (My next quiz should probably be “what would be your roller derby persona”)

How can I be a “bad” feminist? I believe in and support the right for all women to vote, to own property, to determine her role in life, to work. To be treated equally and fairly in the workplace and society at large. Is that asking too much, to be given equal status? Some people think so. They think Feminism is damaging the minds and souls of our children.  Feminists kill children, they emasculate men, and apparently are jack booted thugs, since they gets called Feminazis. According to author and Fox News guest Nick Adams, Feminism is even damaging National Security. That’s the next quiz I’d like to see, “how much are you personally damaging National Security?” Pretty sure that one would get me on an NSA watch list.

Some people are so threatened by the idea of women having any rights in society they will go to horrifying extremes. These are the people who still have women in a powerless position, and want to keep them there.  This past spring, in West Africa, a group calling itself Boko Haram, which translates to “Western Education is Forbidden”, has famously kidnapped over 200 girls, ages sixteen to eighteen, and still holds them. Whether they are rescued or released or never get away from their captors, Boko Haram has at the very least disrupted their educations and their lives. That there has not been more done towards securing their return is a shame to all who have the power to do so, and do not.

Not even two years ago, a fifteen year old girl in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by a Taliban soldier for having the temerity to speak out in defense of education for girls. This is a sign. A fifteen year old girl with a book is so terrifying to some men that they would try to kill her. She survived, and has become a figurehead for the movement to educate all children, all over the world.

Malala names her mother, Thorpekai, as the anchor of her family, the source of her strength. Her mother, who does not speak in interviews she attends with her daughter, who does not herself read, who never attended school supports her daughter’s right to an education.

I’m sure that Thorpekai wouldn’t call herself a Feminist, but she is.

Lest you think that an educated female population is only frightening to Muslim extremists, consider that there is a strong movement in America to give girls, and boys, incorrect information on basic reproductive health. In the hopes of preventing girls from engaging in sexual activity before marriage, Abstinence-only education teaches that condoms don’t work, birth control pills are a health risk, and only sluts use birth control anyway. Even more horrifying to me, they teach girls that their moral compass is somehow tied to their reproductive organs. Elizabeth Smart, the woman who at the age of 14 was abducted from her Salt Lake City home and repeatedly raped by her abductor, has publicly blamed abstinence only education for her not trying to escape. In her mind, having been raped, she had been spoiled, and no longer had any value as a person.

The abstinence-only movement has only led to increases in teen pregnancy in the states which used the method. That means more women, barely more than children, becoming mothers.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day being signed in as a National Holiday in the U.S., at the same time that the Suffrage movement to gain women the vote was gaining traction. One hundred years of honoring mothers across the country. One hundred years of honoring the women who created us, who raised us, who cared for us, who didn’t leave us by the side of the road when we were being pains in the butt (thank you, mom, I appreciate that). One hundred years ago, those mothers could not vote in America, could not get birth control to delay or limit the number of children they had, they could be excluded from work based merely on gender, or fired from work for their marital status.

Things have changed a lot for mothers in our country. All women have the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to not BE property. We can file from divorce from an abusive marriage; we can demand equal pay, equal respect, equal rights. The battle for women’s rights in America is over, we’ve won. We can sit back on Mother’s Day and bask in our successes. We can be mothers and we can be working professionals, right? Feminism has done it all, so now it’s time for it to retire and go the way of the Suffrage Movement.

Last year Michelle Obama, Princeton alumni, lawyer, First Lady, and, like me, mother to two daughters, found herself under attack as being “A Feminist Nightmare” because she isn’t tackling “hard issues” of gender inequality as the First Lady. She apparently is a problematic Feminist as well, because she is spending too much time on her family and on issues of feeding children healthy food, instead of lobbying for women’s rights.

What about mother’s rights?

I never intended to be a stay at home mother. But when my first child was born I discovered how difficult it was to find reliable, affordable care for an infant. Nearly impossible. My spouse and I managed to work out a schedule between his full time but unconventional schedule and my full time academic teaching load that had one of home nearly all the time, and the two days a week both of us worked we hired a college student to look after our two month old. When we finally made it to the top of the wait list for a decent and reliable day care that would take infants I found out that my contract with the university would not be renewed. With only one income, the cost of the daycare would be a third of our annual salary. One third. More than our rent.

Unemployed and with a six month old baby, it was natural that I stayed home while also hunting for another job. But after a year of emotionally draining job search, and limited in the amount of research I could continue to produce, I decided to remove myself from the academic job market. That was 9 years ago.

I had it easy. I’m educated and middle class with secretarial and book keeping experience, and I knew that if I needed to work just to put food on the table, I could with relative ease get a job, any job, that would pay somewhat above minimum wage. Many women in this country do not have that luxury. I have a devoted spouse with a full-time job that provides health coverage. 65% of households below the poverty line are headed by single women. And for many of those women, daycare for small children is the largest obstacle. Daycare is very expensive, and though low-income families can get vouchers to pay for it, much of the daycare in our country is of low quality. Church-run or ministry daycares, which are common, don’t have to adhere to the strict standards of private daycare. Much daycare is provided under the table, by completely unlicensed providers.

And of those women who do work, who do manage to find decent care for their kids, what then? The media still loves to whip up the manufactured debate between working moms and stay at home moms. And it is manufactured.

Some would have us believe that staying home is a betrayal of Feminism, but how is this? Stay at home moms don’t just sit at home and eat bon-bons. Many are on school boards, and working on home businesses. They are learning new skills at school or raising livestock and running households. My daughters understand that I have multiple jobs, of which Mom is one. I’m also an artist and a marketing assistant, jobs which are rewarding in different ways. I’m lucky, I have an employer who is understanding and a job which allows me a great deal of flexibility in my hours, so I can be a stay at home mom and a working mom simultaneously. I’m glad I was able to stay home with them while they were younger, to play with them, to cuddle them. Now they are in school, I can still make an impact in their lives, but I can do so by being a foundation, as well as a role model.

I’m not a cupcake-making Pinterest mommy, keeping an immaculate home, making all organic meals, keeping bees, and gleefully embracing the New Domesticity, but so what if I were? It wouldn’t make me less a believer in the equality of women. The only thing that could damage my political beliefs is if I were to do something to actually put women’s equality on the chopping block, like trying to force women to marry, denying them access to education, giving blatantly wrong reproductive health information, or limiting access to child care and health care. Oddly, there are women in this country who think that women don’t deserve or need the gains of Feminism. Most of those have money and privilege, so they aren't worried about their own rights being denied, but they would limit the rights of women who are without power. They don’t see us as their sisters, but competitors for the scraps.  I bow out of the competition.

Some feminists criticize women who choose to stay home, as if this is a betrayal of feminism. The fact is, some women stay home, some work. Many, too many, don’t have the choice of whether or not to work. But what we do have the choice of is what we pass on to the next generation. We can choose to teach our children about the struggle that has gone on for women’s rights. Teach our daughters to be strong, to follow their vision, and not be afraid to ask for help from their sisters. We can teach our sons to respect all women, not just the ones who are “good girls”, to look past the surface and treat women as they would themselves want to be treated. To teach our children, both our sons and our daughters, that all people are deserving of love and grace.

When I look at my daughters, I want them to have more options. I find many of those options here, in this place, in the form of Unitarian Universalism.  Our youth participate in sex education that is real, factual, comprehensive information about respecting and protecting themselves and their future partners. No lies, no shame.

Our youth participate actively in helping the community, including a Habitat for Humanity project each year, to learn to help those less lucky than we. I want these things for my daughters, for your daughters and sons.

I want them to be able to build the world in their own image, the world they imagine it to be – just and beautiful. I want them to find people who love them completely and without reservation. Who believe in them. I want them to have the strength of vision to look into the future and make it come to us.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

8 Things about snow (that I had no idea about!)


I grew up in Los Angeles.  Snow was something that you heard about, saw in movies, and could see resting on the mountains on a clear day.  Sometimes you might drive up to Big Bear Lake and find an icy patch of snow, but that was about it.  Snow was something that closed roads, required chains on your cars, and I didn’t have a clue how anyone lived a normal life when they had snow on the ground for half the year.  Did people in Michigan just hibernate for half the year?  I thought it was cold when the temperatures got down to 40.  Once in awhile I was in cold places, like when I lived in London briefly, but left just as the snow started falling in early December, or when I visited my relatives in South Texas in winter of 1983/4 when the highs were in single digits, but rarely was there snow.


Then I married a Yankee, and the next thing I know we’re living in Indianapolis (to me, the Great White North, to him, not nearly as snowy and cold as his college town, Edinboro PA) and I’m living in a place where it snows every year!  Sometimes a lot of snow!  And I have learned a few things to share with other warm climate people:


  1. Snow is quiet.  After growing up with becoming aware of precipitation by the sound of it falling, snow is really sneaky.  You wake up and all is quiet, you go downstairs, make some caffeine, and look out the window and WHAT IS THIS MADNESS!  Everything is white and I had no clue it was snowing!  This may seem really obvious, I mean I knew that snow doesn’t make sound as it falls, but the difference between intellectually knowing something and finally living it is quite shocking.  I’ve finally learned the sound of snowplows and when I hear it before I look out the window I know what that means. 
  2. Snow looks really fake.  You know those spray-flocked Christmas trees that were all the rage in the 70s and 80s?  They looked so fake, right?  Well, I’ve seen snow clumped on evergreens that looks exactly like that!  It boggled my mind. 
  3. Not all snow can be used to make snowmen.  You cannot make a snowman just because there is snow.  If you have dry, fluffy snow you’d have better luck trying to make a snowman out of flour.  Dry fluffy snow is good for skiing and snow angels, but for snowball fights and snowmen (or women) you need wet snow, so that it sticks to itself. 
  4. Snow is messy.  After scraping snow off my car or shoveling the walk, I come in the house and I am covered in snow.  It sticks to everything.  It doesn’t dust off, it has to melt off.  And if you walk through your house without shedding your outer layers and shoes you will leave a trail of wet everywhere.  Really fun.  Not to mention that the stuff that road crews put on the road makes your car really disgusting.  All that road salt gets mixed in with the snow and melt, and gets thrown into the air and before you know it your car looks like it’s been spray painted white from the bottom up.
  5. You will drive in it.  Without chains or snow tires.  When you live in a place that snows every year, the road crews do a pretty decent job clearing the streets and highways.  They have trucks with snow blades that push the snow off the road, and brine mixtures and salt to help the snow melt.  In fact, most of the winter driving is a lot like driving the rest of the year.  Just colder.  When the streets haven’t been cleared it’s a mess, but then you drive slow, or stay home, and the thing you really learn to fear is ice.
  6. It can be TOO COLD to snow.  I thought my husband was kidding when he told me this, but I’ve come to find it can in fact be the case.  Snow happens when the temperatures are below freezing (usually) but happens less often as the temperatures get down even lower, like down towards zero.  As the skies clear after snowstorms, the insulation of clouds disappears and the temperatures drop.  Note that I am in no way a meteorologist, so this is likely not precise, but believe me, when it’s really cold it’s less likely to be snowing.
  7. Snow is dirty.  The snow as it falls is all soft and pretty… and after it’s been trampled in and driven on and shoveled in a parking lot and pooed on by squirrels… it’s so filthy you just can’t even imagine.  Yuck.
  8. After the snow melts is even dirtier.  All the trash that accumulates over the course of winter comes to light in spring and it is disgusting!  People toss trash in snow like it’s a giant trash dumpster, and it goes … nowhere!  So once the snow melts the side of the road looks like it’s a snowfall of trash. 

Pretty, huh?  Just wait...
So there you go, people of the sun, the fun facts about snow that those people who live in it have no clue you don’t know anything about.  My husband still laughs when I tell him these things with wide eyes, but he had no clue about earthquakes, so I think we’re pretty even.