Will the Republicans Self-Destruct?

John McCain’s choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin seems not only unlikely, but foolish.  I don’t understand his reasoning.  Does he think that Hillary voters will support a woman who is pro-life?  And a life-long member of the NRA?  And does he believe that the social conservatives he’s wooing will be comfortable with a female leader–any female leader? 

There are other problems with his choice. Although squeaky clean herself and a reformer to boot, Palin is from one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation.  Alaska is the embarrassed home of the “Bridge to Nowhere,” and it seems that every other political figure there is under indictment.  It is not logical or fair that she should suffer from “guilt by association,” but it is inevitable that she will, to some extent.

Then there is the fact that Alaska is more than a little removed in the minds of most Americans, and is home to only 670,000 people.  It is difficult to picture Alaska bringing much in the way of votes or national support for the GOP.

But the most significant difficulty with McCain’s choice of Palin is that he is 72, with significant health issues.  She is a young and vigorous change-agent, but totally inexperienced in national politics and has no foreign policy experience.  One phrase that we’re going to hear a lot in this campaign is “one heartbeat away from the Presidency”–as in, “Do we really want someone that inexperienced one heartbeat away from the Presidency–especially somebody who might actually become the President?”  For this reason alone, Sarah Palin should have been taken off McCain’s short list early on.

Senator Charles Shumer described McCain’s choice as “a hail Mary pass.”  I would have to agree.  It has desperation written all over it. 


Will the Democrats Prevail–or Self-Destruct?

I keep reading that many of Hillary’s followers have never gotten over her defeat in the primary.  A few are saying outright that they are going to vote for McCain.  Some of the major fundraisers who worked for Hillary refused to even show up at the Democratic National Convention now in progress in Denver.  Other delegates are leaving the Convention early, before Obama speaks on Thursday.  These Hillary supporters are complaining of slights, saying that “they don’t like the way they were treated” by the Obama camp.

Are you wondering why these women are so deeply disappointed?  Why they are taking Hillary’s defeat so personally?

Well, let me tell you about Josephine Ruth Woolsey Dana, a long-time Portland resident, who died last Thursday.  I didn’t know Josephine, but I found her obituary instructive, in regard to Hillary’s followers.  Shortly after her birth, Josephine lost her mom, and so she and her sibs were raised by their father.  Josephine showed exceptional writing talent and wanted to study journalism, but as the obituary states, “girls weren’t permitted to major in journalism at Oregon State.”  So she took a degree in secretarial science. 

Josephine pushed on toward her goal, though, finally joining the editorial board of the Oregonian in the 1940′s, making her the first female newspaper editor in Oregon.  Later, she married the son of the editor, Marshall Dana, and then dropped out to raise her children.  She returned to work as an editorial researcher in the 1960′s and for years wrote a regular column for the Oregonian.  One need only ask the simple question about this gifted woman: had Josephine been Joseph, how would her life been different?

According to a recent editorial by Susan Faludi in the NY Times (8/26), today the US ranks 22nd among developed nations in its proportion of female federal lawmakers.  Some 86% of our elected officials are male.  Women’s real annual earnings have fallen for the last four years.  The 20 top occupations of women in 2007 were the same as they were in the 1950′s: secretary, nurse, grade school teacher, sales clerk, maid, hairdresser, cook, etc.

This is why some women are so disappointed, so angry.  They have waited too long, worked too hard for change for long years, to be able to shift their loyalties.

Nevertheless, I would say to them it’s not about you.  It’s not about women’s rights.  And as pleased as I am that an African American may become our next President, it’s not chiefly about healing the wounds of racism.  It’s about securing leadership for a country that has lost its integrity and its direction.  It’s about saving this fragile planet.  It’s about getting our soldiers out of Iraq.  It’s about making sure that all our citizens can go to the doctor when they fall ill.  It’s about creating an economy that serves the people as a whole and not just the rich.  It’s about saying no to torture and yes to civil rights.  It’s about taking our place as a moral leader in a world that has lost respect for us, and rightly so.

Liberals have a habit of pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory, as they say.  Why is this?   Is this why Nader blithely ran on his green ticket, taking precious votes from the Democrats and losing the race?  Is it because we are idealists and impractical, to a fault?  Politics is not the realm of the ideal–it is the realm of the possible.  Earth to Democrats everywhere, of all genders and stripes: we can’t afford to lose this one.  Whoever you are, it’s not about you.  Get on board.


What’s It All About, Alfie, Part IV: Personal Questions

I’ve decided to answer all the personal questions–here goes!

Question: “When will you be ready to learn about Oregon’s Death with Dignity law and all the checks and balances required of a terminally ill, cognitively intact individual to make decisions for themselves at the end of their life?”

Answer: This is a “when will you stop beating your wife?” question.  The questioner seems miffed because I brought up some ethical concerns about the Death with Dignity movement in my previous e-news blog (8/21).  I am quite familiar with Oregon laws in this arena.  Moreover, I have had congregants who have made the choice to take their own lives through self-deliverance, and I have supported them totally.  And I have concerns.  It is my job as a minister to raise such concerns.  Others need not agree, but this is a significant subject matter that should be discussed freely and openly.  All opinions should be aired and considered.

Question: “Which writers and theologians and philosophers are personally most inspiring to you, both now and in you past spiritual development?”

Answer: This answer could fill a book, so let me limit it to three.  The theologian would be Paul Tillich; the philospher would be John Dewey; the writer would be William Shakespeare.

Question: “Beatles or Elvis?”

Answer: Elvis is the king.

Question: “They say that every minister has one key sermon theme–name yours.”

Answer: Redemption: that is, we can take whatever experience comes to us and “buy back” or redeem the good from it.

Question: “Have you (and how) ever trul felt the presence of a ‘greater power’ in your life?”

Answer: I do not feel what some people call the presence of God (a comforting or peaceful presence) when I pray.  I have, however, occasionally had moments when I felt that I was a part of all that exists, and that all was as it should be–a time of perfect peace and harmony.  And I have had two or three mystical experiences in which I felt so strongly led to go somewhere or to do something that I could not refuse.

Question: “What is your favorite hymn, and what meaning does it hold for you?”

Answer: “Amazing Grace”: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

Question: “How has growing up in the Catholic and Southern Baptist traditions influenced you as a Unitarian Universalist minister?”

Answer: As a Catholic, I learned about beauty and sensuality in worship; I learned discipline in Catholic school; I learned that some people cared enough about their faith to give their lives in service (nuns and priests), givng up a personal, intimate life; I learned about beautiful Jesus and his message of sacrificial love. 

As a Southern Baptist, I learned to put the Word at the center of the worship service; I learned about passion and full-bodied preaching; I learned to sing the old traditional hymns; I learned about church structure and leadership, though ours differs greatly from those early patterns.  A lot about Jesus again.  I’m very high on Jesus.

From both, l learned that women couldn’t be spiritual leaders.  I had to unlearn that lesson in the Unitarian Universalist church, and because I was able to do so, I will be forever grateful.

Question: “Why can’t we be friends?”

Answer: We can’t be friends so long as you are my congregant, for the same reason that you can’t be friends with your doctor or your psychotherapist.  A friendship implies a peer relationship and an equal sharing of thoughts and feelings.  I am a professional, and my job is to be there for you as a minister.  That role prevents me from sharing as I would with a friend, for that would put an untenable burden on you as a congregant, and you would in effect lose your minister.

Question: “What’s it all about, Marilyn?”

Answer: It’s all about love. 


What’s It All About, Alfie, Part III, Problems of Living

Question: “How does a mother deal with difficulties with her grown daughters?”

Answer: All of us who have adult children know that parenthood never ends–we will always be moms and dads to our children, and we will always be concerned when they are in ill health or when their lives seem to be going awry, for any reason.  I’m not sure what kind of difficulties you are referring to, but generally parents get in trouble when we try to exercise control over our grown children.  About all we can do is to be there for them and to be sensitive to their stated needs–in other words, to be a loving presence in their lives.  We should always let them know that we care about them, and we should not withhold approval and praise, for even though they are grown, they need this kind of support from their parents and will continue to need it, whether they are 25 or 65.

Question: “How do you love someone who continues to hurt you?”

Answer: You would have to be something of a saint to love someone who is continuing to hurt you.  I’m assuming that you have some control over the relationship.  You should not allow anyone to hurt you, even if this person is a relative or close friend.  I suggest that you tell the individual how and why you are hurting, and if the behavior doesn’t stop, then withdraw from the relationship.  At this point it will be much easier to practice forgiveness.  Remember, however, that forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation and renewed pain.

Question: “What is the best way to mend a broken heart?”

Answer: This is not my area of expertise, believe me!  Longing for love, we internalize in our very flesh the memory of belonging and connection from the last intimate relationship we experienced.  We must grieve that loss, and then, in my experience, we must find a new love, else memories of the old love will continue to haunt us.

Question: “How can our faith help with the anxiety and despair we have over the environmental crisis?”

Answer: There must have been other times in history when people thought that surely the world would end–perhaps during the Black Death of medieval times or during the World Wars of the last century.  The fact is that we do not have ultimate control.  All we can do is to face reality with courage and to do what we can to heal our earth and its people.  If we are depending upon ourselves alone, that is a frightening prospect, indeed.  But remember that we are partnered with the Holy.  That is the assurance that makes us strong and faithful in challenging times like these. 


What’s It All About, Alfie, Part II, Unitarian Universalism

Question: “What is the relationship of Unitarian Universalism to Christianity?”

Answer: Unitarianism came out of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, and therefore was a Christian faith and remained so until the 19th century in our country.  At that time new influences made their appearance: the Free Religious Movement, transcendentalism, Biblical scholarship bringing doubts to the surface, influences from Eastern faiths. In the second quarter of the twentieth century, the humanist movement greatly impacted our churches, and fellowships without ministers were started, often in college towns, often by humanist lay leaders.  Because we are a free faith, with each person responsible for his or her own theological beliefs, our institutional umbrella became larger and larger, and today includes every religious tradition, and includes as well atheists and agnostics.

Our churches are congregationally based, so each has a different flavor and theological leaning.  Virtually all our churches, however, contain congregants with a wide diversity of beliefs.  Because New England was the place where our faith first took root in the New World, most of our predominantly Christian churches are still there.

There is a notable difference between Christians, as that term is usually defined, and UU Christians.  Most Christians believe that Jesus is the true path; Unitarian Universalists tend to believe that Christianity is a path, but just one of many.  Jesus is seen as a prophet, a wise teacher, and not a god. 

Question: “What sort of commitment must I make to become a member of a Unitarian church?”

Answer: Each church is different and sets its own standards for membership.  In our church, you must be of age (at least 18), you must sign the membership book, and you must make a financial pledge that is generous within your means.  You also are agreeing that you will continue your religious deepening, in community, always being open to new truth when it might be revealed to you. 

In terms of how we are to be together in community, Our “Purposes and Principles” are instructive.  Our church is presently working on a church covenant, which will help guide our behavior as we relate to one another.

Question: “Why do people think this is a ‘feel good’ religion?”

Answer: Perhaps because our public relations has been so poor through the years.  People who do not know us well have heard jokes that imply we are a vague and shallow people, who “can believe anything.”  Actually our faith is the most difficult of all, because we do not accept easy answers, or answers in fact that are given to us in a package; we require our members to search out their own truth and then to live out of that truth.  Not exactly what I would call a “feel good” religion.

Question: “What does it mean that UU churches are ‘covenantal, not creedal’”?

Answer: We are not required to accept any particular creed or dogma.  But we are asked to relate in certain specific ways to one another and to the earth.  (See our Purposes and Principles on the web site or on the Sunday bulletin.)