Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Almost Church

I recently finished reading a slim volume recommended by my minister. The book is called The Almost Church by Michael Durall. I'll make this easier on myself by transcribing the bullet points I took while reading and then summarize and/or synthesize it all later.
  • What we need is a compelling vision of a way of life that is worth living (9, via Misoslav Volf).
  • What should be a religion of love and justice has been superseded by personal spirituality.
  • A specific tactic: maybe stop posting the sermon topic but actually expect people to show up, not pick and choose.
  • "churches should help people of all generations lead lives that cut across the grain of the consumer-oriented society" (14)
  • encourage an increase in charity [to church/es], not to pay the bills but to give; redefining the good life "as one that goes beyond acquiring ever more consumer goods"
  • "we shall never find the fullness and wonder and the glory of life until we are ready to share it" (15 via A. Powell Davies)
  • What brings people to churches now?
    • How can I lead a deeper spiritual life?
    • engage in something beyond the day-to-day
    • purpose/meaningful community
  • Durall recommends churches give 10% of their budgets to outreach (21).
  • "The primary purpose of the church is to create a community of compassion" (33). All else must flow from this.
  • "Does your church have clear glass windows, through which the congregation looks out onto a world in which sorrow and unhappiness are all too evident? Or are those windows more like mirrors, reflecting only the comfort, convenience, and needs of parishioners inside?" (34)
  • Errors in the way we do things:
    • "foster small-church policies that do not serve large congregations" (38)
    • fail to realize that theological diversity and a large number of worshippers are incompatible goals
  • There is a 'third way.' Religious liberalism does not mean the opposite of fundamentalism. Religious liberalism should be an anti-secularism (42).
  • Do our religion's leaders see themselves as Caretakers of an existing system or as actual Leaders to make the system better? (53)
  • Page 66 of this book describes family-size churches and describes my UU church to a T.
  • Luke 12:48: "to whom much has been given, much is expected."
  • [My thoughts here:] It's about expecting more from yourself, from your church, from your parishioners, in money and in soul. But how do you stake your claim and/or exude authority? Where's the moral or religious gravity?
  • The vision is "not to provide the autonomy of the individual and to seek truth." Instead, the vision is deeper spirituality through service (84).
That's it, isn't it? Deeper spirituality, a better life in and out of church, through serving others. Through not seeing the Other as separate from oneSelf. To stop navel-gazing (as I do with this blog) and actually get out and do something. Sounds like one of the next books I should read is Ron Hopkins' The Power of Just Doing Stuff or, better, going to see him in a couple of weeks in Houston. Or better yet, to up and do. Right now I'm doing for me - eating better, exercising, reading more, spending time reaching out to people I love. And I'm living in a friend's house, which reduces my carbon footprint, reduces her financial burden, and improves a sense of community [we walk together several mornings a week]. I should do more gardening. I should do more with people. So it goes. Not out of pity but out of true compassion. It is only by sympathizing or empathizing with people that we care about them and are willing to change the world for the better.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blue Revolution.2

From chapter two of this book, here are the things I pulled out:

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." ~ Aldo Leopold

There's a lot in this book, obviously, about respecting natural systems. The book definitely shares plenty of stories about how when humans try to mitigate and control nature, we often wind up hurting ecosystems and ultimately ourselves. It's hard to see how everything connects, and especially in the cog-in-the-machine post-modern world, we barely try..

Politics and economics depend on the health of the geography and climate of a place, plain and simple (35).

Specific to the resource mentioned in this book, "There isn't enough water for all interest groups to have all they want, all the time" (42). But we don't like to believe it.

Chapter 3 is the story of how the Netherlands dealt with an unexpected and huge storm/flood in 1953 and how their feats of engineering destroyed the local ecosystem. After a few decades, the Dutch met in participatory democratic groups to work on a better solution which, though it hasn't reversed all of the damage done by the first tech fix, is certainly better than the way they'd done it before. I'm thinking about turning it into a sermon, or at least an article for mass publication. At my church, I could tie it to the principles:
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; and
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Monday, September 02, 2013

MLK Revisited

I went back this Labor Day in search of my notes on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted quotations from his speeches on Vietnam and his speeches to Unitarian Universalists. And then I realized I'd blogged about them all on a separate site, which has now shut down. Let me again post the heresy that convinced the powers that be in the United States to assassinate MLK:

"Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest."

"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [...] we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God."

"Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must [...] rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just."

"A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood."

"All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions."

"It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”"

Of course MLK speaks against communism. He doesn't want to be killed. But let us remember now that democracy and capitalism are NOT the same system. Oligarchy is not the same as democracy.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day."

"We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”"

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. [...] Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”"

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.