Fire Drill Fridays

I think the first time it really dawned on me that otherwise perfectly reasonable (to my mind) people had extremely different worldviews than I did was when I was 22 and working at a video rental store.

A customer asked me if we had the movie Electric Horseman. I had to ask my boss. She said, with tight lips, that they didn’t carry any Jane Fonda movies. I thought, “Why not? I love her movies.”

I had no idea about her visit to Hanoi, or even what that meant, really, because I was 10 years old when Saigon fell. The Vietnam war was a very confusing, very distant blip on my radar as a child, so one woman’s visit there, and the controversy it stirred up, was something I only learned about later in life.

I’d like to think, though, that if I had been an adult at the time, I’d have been protesting the war, too. Would I have gone about it the way she did? No. Even she admits she has regrets about that now. But I genuinely believe that her intentions were good, and that the mostly debunked rumors surrounding her actions have gotten things so twisted that the truth will never be known.

Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Jane Fonda has lived her beliefs her whole life. She has been an anti-war, pro-feminist, environmental activist, and worked tirelessly for those causes for as long as I have drawn breath.

I really can’t understand people who are against these causes, but I’d at least respect their integrity if they were as devoted and outspoken as Fonda has been. Anyone who puts their convictions into action, and tries so hard to do what they feel is right, is pretty darned impressive. More power to them.

As you read this, Jane Fonda is most likely getting arrested for the 5th Friday in a row as part of her Fire Drill Friday protests for environmental change. She intends to do this every single Friday through January, and actually moved to Washington DC to do these protests on Capitol Hill, to raise awareness in our politicians about the climate emergency we are now in.

As polarizing as she may be, I stand with Jane Fonda in her efforts, and hope you will as well. The health of this planet and all its inhabitants are at stake. There should be no controversy in that.

First Fire Drill Friday in Washington DC

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On Being a Unitarian Universalist

For most of my life I was without a spiritual home. My mother was a member of the Congregational Church, but I can only remember setting foot inside one a handful of times as a child. As devout as she was, as a single working mother her time and energy were limited. I remember her trying to get me to go to Sunday school one cold Connecticut winter day, and we walked about a block and then turned back. It was too cold and I was too resistant to the idea. I think my mother gave up on the concept for me at that point.

Even with my limited experience with Christianity, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. It just never felt right. It didn’t feel logical or like a valid part of my everyday life. It always seemed out of date and based on the knowledge of the world as it was 2000 years ago. We know so much more now. What did the words of Jesus, however wise they might have been, have to do with a world in which we’ve walked on the moon and can talk instantly to someone on the other side of the planet?

That’s the thing, though. In many religions, including Christianity, I do find pearls of wisdom. In many ways that only adds to my confusion, because I’ve also seen the dark side of religion. The intolerance. So many religions assume that theirs is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe exactly as they do, then you’re not one of the chosen, and you’re going to hell.

I can’t subscribe to the notion that a Bushman of the Kalahari, for example, who follows the religion of his parents, is condemned to hell by virtue of the fact that he was born in the “wrong” place, to the “wrong” people. I just can’t buy it. And if it is true, it’s not something I want to be a part of.

Why does my spiritual path have to be the only right one in order for it to be valid? That seems too simplistic to me. There’s too much variation in nature for there to be no room for a variation in philosophy.

So I cast about aimlessly for many years, feeling kind of alone in the wilderness, until finally I found Unitarian Universalism. In this conservative religious world of ours, I find a liberal, all-inclusive church to be a refreshing change indeed. The UU Church believes, as I do, that there are many paths to the divine. On any given Sunday you might find yourself amongst UU Humanists, UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU you-name-it-they’ve-got-it.

For me, most of all, Unitarian Universalism seems to be a place where people who have experienced mainstream religion and have been turned off by it, but still want community and fellowship, can find a home.

And lest you think we’re some lunatic fringe group, here are some Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs you may have heard of:

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft
  • Writers Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, Ethan Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Sutton, Herman Melville, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Fuller, and William Carlos Williams
  • Other recognizable names include Paul Newman, Rod Serling, Adlai Stevenson, Linus Pauling, Paul Revere, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Daniel Webster, Pete Seeger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neville Chamberlain, and Clara Barton

So what is a typical service like? There isn’t one, really. We often discuss various religious philosophies, cares and concerns, current events, or basic concepts about everyday living. Here’s a list of topics that were discussed in various UU churches recently:

  • The Communion of Life: Climate Change and the Unitarian Universalist Response
  • How Do We Know?
  • The Neurobiology of Compassion
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Moderation and Balance: An Islamic Perspective
  • America’s Religious Experiment
  • The Origin of Love
  • Questioning
  • A Glimpse Into the Heart of Terror
  • Joining the Drum Circle: Ancient Rites
  • Celebrating Community
  • Ground Hogs, Possums, and Mockingbirds. Reflections on the human need for control and certainty in a world where there is little of either.
  • Effective Altruism: Saving Lives from the Comfort of your Desktop
  • The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine
  • The Adventure of Forgiveness
  • Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

One thing that can be quite disconcerting about a UU Church is that rather than adhering to one dogma or creed, rather than being expected to conform or walk in lockstep with all the people around you, we UUs can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. But the beauty is that we respect each other’s right to disagree. Here is something we all agree on, however. The seven UU Principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Because most Unitarian Universalists find it unpalatable to recruit people, or risk being perceived as trying to convince people to change their ways, you won’t hear much about our religion. Not from us, anyway. We are loathe to cram anything down your throat. But you are always welcome to come to a service and form your own opinion. To find a congregation near you, go here.

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Rest in Peace, Pete Seeger

It’s a rare thing when I’m moved to actual tears when a public figure dies, but I have to admit the tears are flowing now. The world has lost yet another amazing man.

Pete Seeger was one of those unique people who lived his convictions every minute of every day. He spoke out against war and racism, stood for civil and worker’s rights, and was a champion for the environment. He was blacklisted and arrested and repudiated, but he never gave up.

He believed that messages could be passed through music. To that end he gave us such songs as “We Shall Overcome”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

We have lost much.

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I’m sure one of the people grieving the most today is folk singer Arlo Guthrie. Here’s what he posted on his facebook page:

I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep – Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That’s the great thing about thoughts and prayers- You can go or be anywhere.

I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I’d grown up that way – loving the Seegers – Pete & Toshi and all their family.

I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I’d been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite or plain stupid. “They’ll say something appropriate in the news,” we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.

“Arlo” he said, sounding just like the man I’ve known all of my life, “I guess I’ll see ya later.” I’ve always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. “Pete,” I said. “I guess we will.”

I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.

“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”

Goodbye, Pete Seeger, you wonderful human being. If anyone deserves to rest in peace, you do. You fought for that right your entire life.

I will leave you with one of my favorite Pete Seeger songs, which couldn’t be more apropos at this moment.