Tuesday, April 29, 2008

STRAIGHT FROM THE Press Conference.. yes, that one!

Here I am in Washington, DC... meeting with leaders of local affiliates of The Interfaith Alliance, who've gathered from across the country to share ideas and to learn. If you don't know about The Interfaith Alliance, you should! Our own Denny Davidoff has been a leader at the national level, and Rev. Galen Giungrich sits on the National Board. www.interfaithalliance.org

Even better, we get to spend a bit of time with Rev. Welton Gaddy, who is doing an amazing job here in Washington as well as on his weekly radio show (listen online... www.stateofbelief.com )
at protecting religion from government AND government from religion! But Welton hadn't slept well. That's because he spent yesterday at the Press Conference that Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave, and last evening at a related prayer service. He's concerned.

What Welton Gaddy is concerned about concerns me too. His words were:The chasm between Jeremiah Wright & his supporters & the working press is Grand Canyon wide. Jeremiah Wright is more right than wrong. The working press does not understand religion in America. They certainly do not understand the prophetic tradition in Judaism and Christianity.

He quoted another attender at Press Conference, who said:

“We are caught up in an epistemology of ignorance.” Indeed!

He's worried that 1) new voters who have come into the political process will give up if Obama fails and 2)if Obama succeeds, expectations of these new voters may be unrealistic. But he's also concerned that if Obama does not get the nomination, resentment will be enormous. I agree.

As we ended the conversation, he was considering The Interfaith Alliance's response to all of this. I understand that he plans to address it comprehensively on the radio program this week.

The Interfaith Alliance has been a large part of my ministry and my community witness the past 8 years. I am so proud to be a part of this organization and to help advance their goals. I admire the integrity, commitment, and passion of Welton Gaddy and my colleagues in this work. I am delighted that he seems deeply committed to using the resources and energies of his organization to address the deepening and alarming racial divide that has been exposed by all of this. I hope every leader and organization of conscience does the same. That will make some of it, at least, bear fruit.

Here are some pictures from our Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Beautiful Idea Made Real By Women...

There is a very special place in Eastern Kentucky that will restore your faith in the ability of humankind to find creative solutions to tough problems.

It's called Pine Mountain Settlement School. Last weekend, we took about a dozen high school youth from our UU Coming of Age Program along with some of their mentors to spend a few days there. I'd been there before, and enjoyed the home cooking, the wildflower lore, the bird watching and medicinal plant workshops, but I had never delved into the history.

Now, more than 5 years since my last visit, I am somewhat limited by a bad knee, so I spent part of an afternoon reading all of the old newsletters that were displayed in "Laurel House," the big lodge where meals are served and folk dancing is taught.

I discovered that Pine Mountain Settlement School was the creation of women -- two in particular, Katherine Pettit of Louisville and Ethel deLong Zande, of New Jersey. The buildings were designed by a woman architect! As I read, I marveled at the strength, determination, and forbearance of these women. Almost 100 years ago, they had the courage to hike miles and miles through Eastern Kentucky to connect with the simple people who lived there. They had the will and focus to try to make something better for these people to aspire to than poverty and resignation. But most amazing, they had the creativity to imagine and to bring to life a place where people could learn, celebrate, grow in competence and confidence, and not only transcend but also preserve their cultures -- the cultures of Scotland and England they had held onto for so long.

It's a magical place. So much love, laughter, and learning have poured out upon these meadows and hills that they seem to throb with echoes of a charmed past. One feels safe, comforted, and held by the land and the people.

I've been thinking about it ever since. I marvel at these women and what they were able to accomplish even though they didn't have modern technology, transportation or tools. In spite of fire, financial challenges, and frustrations galore, they remained focused, graceful, and gracious. I am so inspired by them!

I am touched by some of the connections to the woes of today. Misses Pettit and deLong describe families left fatherless by ongoing feuds, marauding gunslingers on horseback, and children leaving school at age 13 to work or marry. I was particularly struck by the similarity of these challenges to my current work in gang prevention.

I feel saddened by how much the kind of work they did is still needed in a region beset by the ravages of strip mining, unemployment, and drug abuse, a region where the KKK plans to hold a rally in the coming weeks. What they brought was dignity, enlightenment, hope, and joy. It's still there, and it's a beautiful treasure. www.pinemountainsettlementschool.com

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

This is a picture of me with my good friend Rabbi Marc. He is a man with a huge heart, a gifted teacher as well as a dedicated social justice crusader. As President of the Human Relations Commission, he just started a city-wide initiative to prevent fledgling gang violence. He serves on any number of boards & task forces, in addition to serving his own congregation tirelessly. Last Wednesday, we posed for this picture after a meeting of The Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass -- I am President and he's the VP. Every week we have breakfast together with two other clergymen, a Presbyterian and a Baptist. We laugh, alot, and support one another through all sorts of travails.
Less than 48 hours after this picture was taken, Marc's wife Cindy died suddenly of massive heart failure. A nurse and mother of 4, Cindy was only 46 years old. At the funeral, more than 500 mourners filled the Temple and a fellowship hall nearby, and included the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Imam, the owner of the Lexington Legends, and the Governer of Kentucky. All of these people knew Marc from his active service. Cindy was behind the scenes, caring for the kids, holding down the fort. Their youngest daughter Rachel is only 8.
These untimely and seemingly inexplicable deaths are the catalyst for so much examination of self and soul. I find myself thinking each day about the fact that we really don't know how much time we have on earth, no matter how we pretend we do. So many times my Buddhist teacher Caitriona has said, your own death may be many years from now, or it may be later today. This made her words real.
Indeed, my own mother died in much the same way Cindy did, when I was even younger than Rachel. I am wondering, and my fellow Breakfast Club members are too, how we can best help. Marc was on Cindy's insurance... and their home was purchased with the expectation of 2 salaries. Today he spoke to me of how we (clergy) really do not learn how to walk with the bereaved through everything... he could not believe how painful it was to choose the burial site. He sounded so utterly exhausted and so bereft. If you pray, please include Rabbi Marc and his children, Corey, Josh, Ilana & Rachel in your prayers tonight.