lotusbiosm: (god bless)
Unconditional Love'--Rev. John T. Crestwell, Jr.

First of all, I have discovered the perfect way to get in sermon time and gym time: listen while at the gym. Average All Souls sermons are about 20 minutes, which is a reasonable amount of time to spend on the treadmill.

Anyway, on to the sermon.

Rev. Crestwell makes the argument that all love is conditional. We love our children because of self-preservation, we do acts of love because they make us feel good inside. Which is a valid argument, I think. My friend Lauren is fond of saying that no act is entirely selfless, that even the most giving and self-sacrificing act usually comes with some sort of reward for the person doing it, even if it's just that good feeling, and I think she's probably right.

Rev. Crestwell also talks about how loving someone in spite of your differences isn't really love, it's tolerance, and that the challenge is to love someone because of your differences. And that we should find in the diversity of the universe at large inspiration to love the diversity of humanity and want to create a community that celebrates that diversity.

There actually wasn't much that I found particularly spiritually uplifting about this sermon, it was mostly a relatively common UU theme: church should be a place where everyone is welcome and we have to work to make that happen. Which I suppose is actually something that we should work on broadening to our other communities. How do we make all communities inclusive, loving and welcoming? It's hard for me, sometimes, when new people show up seeking to join my community, to welcome them as openly and warmly as I should. Not because of race or religion (though sometimes because of politics), but usually just because I don't want to be friends with them personally, which really ought to be irrelevant.
Hey, look at that, something useful did come out of this sermon!
lotusbiosm: (god bless)
And now that things have calmed down a bit (last couple of weeks have been taken up by chaos of helping friends move), here's the first Lenten entry. I'll try to get caught up by the end of the week.

The sermon I listened to was The Purpose of Prayer by Rev. Lyngood (link goes to mp3 of sermon).

I'm going to start by quoting Dawson's Creek, because I'm a dork. There's an episode where Jen (played by Michelle Williams), is talking to her grandmother, who's a devout Christian, and they're talking about prayer, and Jen's questioning if prayer actually changes God. Her Gran's answer is "prayer doesn't change God. It changes me."

So, being a good Unitarian Universalist, my faith has a certain level of scepticism to it. But I am of the opinion that the objective truth of one's faith is less important than the effect that said faith as on a person's life. If being a Christian makes you feed the hungry and visit the lonely and sleep peacefully at night, you should be a Christian. If it makes you start Crusades against the infidels, not so much.

And likewise, while we certainly hope that someone is listening and will grant our petitions, frequently the purpose of prayer is what it does to the pray-er. It can be grounding, meditative, relaxing, calming, etc. Prayers of thanksgiving help cultivate a grateful heart, which makes you see opportunity and blessing everywhere, and generally creates a happier outlook on life. Prayers for friends and family and yourself can help you sort out what it is that you're worried about, where your concerns are. When we feel helpless, prayer gives us something active to do. My grandmother can't get me a job or keep me safe, but she can pray for me, and it makes her feel better to do so. When we feel weak, prayer can make us strong. And does it matter if that strength comes from our own inner resolve or from a higher power? I also find that repetitive prayer can be very calming and soothing. Repeating well-known words over and over helps calm my mind down. I do it when I don't feel well, I do it when I can't sleep. I sing hymns to myself or say the Hail Mary or the Our Father, and it helps. And yeah, a folk song or a poem would probably do the same thing (I've recited "The Walrus and the Carpenter" to myself when I needed a distraction too), but there's something about saying a prayer that's got a little extra kick.

In this sermon, Rev. Lynngood also talks about how UUs often get caught up with not knowing to whom they should pray. There's a joke that UUs pray "to whom it may concern." Which I have actually done. I don't believe that I have the knowledge or wisdom to know for sure which gods do or don't exist or all of their names, and sometimes you just need help from whatever quarter it may come from. If it serves Loki's purpose to help me out of a jam (and said help comes without strings, which with tricksters it generally doesn't), I'm not going to turn it down. There are names I know better, but I've also read too many fairy tales to not suspect that there may be listeners I don't know. Of course, I also function with the belief that ultimately all gods are just different manifestations of the same divine force, so it really doesn't matter what name we call it. One of my favorite invocations is the one Neil Gaiman uses in Blueberry Girl: Ladies of light, ladies of darkness, and ladies of never-you-mind. I will also sometimes add in the one common in Catholic Mass that calls upon the Blessed Virgin and all the saints and angels.

But ultimately, again, I think it matters less who you're praying to and more who and what you're praying for, and what that does to you.
lotusbiosm: (Default)
OK, so I live in DC. Which means that I get to see political ads from Maryland and Virginia. There's a candidate in the Virginia governor's race who apparently doesn't believe that the death penalty is justice. His opponent is using this as the basis for an attack ad, using grieving relatives of crime victims to tug at our heartstrings and make us cry out for justice. (It's such an obvious tactic, it's kind of insulting, actually) What they don't seem to understand is that this makes me want the other guy to win. Because I don't believe the death penalty is justice, or moral. It's vengeance, which makes people feel better, but it doesn't make us safer, it doesn't make us more civilized people, it doesn't bring the dead back, it doesn't act as a deterrent and it basically doesn't do anything to actually further the cause of justice, it merely makes the system appear tough. The problem is that the death penalty is almost never given to people who confess, as they make deals and get life in prison. It's those who plead not guilt and who are convicted that are sentenced to death. And it costs us all lots of money in appeals. And it costs us all in goodness too. When I was a child, I saw some tv movie about someone who was falsely convicted of a murder he didn't commit. I don't remember much about it, other than that he was black and some of it was racially motivated, and that it left me with the thought that if it's possible to mistakenly convict someone, that means that it's possible to wrongfully execute someone, which basically makes the state a murderer.
On top of that, it makes the argument that some lives are worth more than others. And they're not. All lives should be equal before the law. I know that sometimes it's not that simple, that sometimes we have to decide between two lives, and we make choices, based on any number of things. But in principle, if we believe that life is sacred, that means all life is sacred. Christians who advocate the death penalty seem to forget a few things: Jesus was a victim of capital punishment, we are called not to judge others, and we can all be forgiven. The death penalty is a statement that we believe people to be beyond redemption. Which, for a Christian would seem to defeat the central tenet of the faith, since Christ's death is supposed to redeem us all, so we can't be beyond redemption, and if we are beyond redemption, then his death on the cross was just another one of billions of historical examples of needless violent deaths. For those of us who aren't Christians, the death penalty should be similarly morally and ethically abhorrent. One of the fundamental philosophies of the American experience is that we all can have a second chance, and raise ourselves up. Beyond that, if we are using capital punishment to punish those who take the lives of innocents, but yet we cannot guarantee that those we execute are guilty, we are hypocrites of the worst order. It's brutal punishment, and it's not befitting a land that claims to be a land that celebrates justice. We criticize those nations that exact other forms of corporal punishment, but yet we do it too. Our president claims that he wants us to have a culture of life, but yet he was governor of the state that executed the most people of any state in the union. That's a culture of revenge, not life.
Every Sunday at my church we say that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and that we are called to express our faith through acts of justice and compassion. The death penalty is neither just nor compassionate.
lotusbiosm: (Default)
but, I'm going to write about it.
On Bullshit (Penn & Teller's show on Showtime), they're talking about creationism.
This guy claims that accepting the theory of the Big Bang means that you say that God doesn't exist, which means you're not accountable to anyone. Which is, as the title tells us, bullshit. The Big Bang does not preclude the existence of God. What it does is offer an explination of how the universe started, with or without an entity to start it. Nor does the absence of God mean that I am only accountable to myself. I'm accountable to my fellow man. To humanity. To my children, and their children. To my parents and their parents.
If I commit murder, I am accountable to the justice system, and can be imprisoned or executed (that's a whole other rant). If I steal, there are consequences for that. On top of that, I have my own conscience to deal with. I should (and try to) do the right thing because it's right, not because I am afraid of conquences, whether in this life or the next. Doing the right thing because you are afraid of punishment is nowhere near as ethically/morally mature as doing the right thing simply because it's right. I don't kill because killing is wrong. I don't steal because stealing is wrong. I try to be nice to people because I believe it's good to be nice to people. I try to be environmentally conscious in my decisions because I care about the way my actions affect other people, including those not yet born.
Do I believe that these actions make God happy too? Sure. I think God wants us to be good stewards of the earth and to love each other and be good to each other. But I don't think that the existence or non-existence of any deity or higher power, heaven or hell, reincarnation, karma, whatever, should change whether or not we do what's right. Do you really think that when you get to the pearly gates that the God who knows what's in your heart will be happy with your actions knowing they were based not out of love for humanity, or even for Him, but rather out of fear of His wrath? If you need a theological reason, and you believe in God, then do good things out of worship- in gratitude for the things you have that you didn't earn, for the grace that gives you the things that others lack, to show your love of God by demonstrating love to His children. Let your actions be a witness to the presence of your deity in your life. Don't live your life in fear of fiery torment or being reincarnated as a bug. Live your life being accountable to yourself, and let the supernatural take care of itself.
What's right is right, regardless of whether or not the universe started in a Garden in Mesopotamia, on the back of a turtle, or in a Big Bang.

I started this last night but got interrupted by a call from you-know-who
lotusbiosm: (Default)
This site may be of some interest to my Progressive Christian friends.
lotusbiosm: (Default)
Directly copied and pasted from [livejournal.com profile] unitarians

Boldfaced religous discrimination
This order can't possibly stand, but just the fact that it happened is mind-boggling. Please pass this around to raise awareness.

Synopsis: A judge in Indiana ruled that the son of a divorced Wiccan couple can not be exposed to non-mainstream religions. Both parents are Wiccan, and religion was never an issue in the divorce.

Indiana Star - Judge: Parents can't teach pagan beliefs http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050526/NEWS01/505260481

(cross posted to [livejournal.com profile] unitarian_jihad


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