Get pumped for UN Sunday this month! Each week we have posted readings that you can use in your UN Sunday service focusing on this year’s theme: Empower Women for a Better World.
This week is the last in our series of UN Sunday Readings. This weeks reading is a meditation story brought to us by Rev. Galen Guengerich.
UN Sunday Reading From 10/19/2011
Galen Guengerich is Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Holly G. Atkinson, MD; his 18-year-old daughter Zoë is a freshman at St. Andrews University in Scotland.
When the 19th-century women’s rights pioneer Margaret Fuller died, she went straight to heaven. As she approached the pearly gates, she saw a line of people waiting to talk to St. Peter, so she took her place at the end of the line. Moments later, St. Peter glanced up and saw her. “Margaret Fuller,” he called out. “Bypass the line—come on in!”
As Fuller approached, St. Peter said, “I’m sorry to see you so soon. Only 40 years old. Too bad about the shipwreck.”
He sighed, and then said, “Your life was short but exemplary. You qualify for an extra distinction: you can have a private welcome meeting with anyone in heaven.”
Fuller thought for a moment and replied, “The Virgin Mary: I’d like to meet the Virgin Mary.”
“Oh, her again,” St. Peter responded. “Everybody wants to talk to her. Well, you’ll have to wait, but you’ve got your wish.”
After a short wait, Fuller was ushered into the presence of the Virgin Mary. After exchanging pleasantries, Fuller said to Mary, “I saw you everywhere in life. I saw you in paintings, on shrines, in bas reliefs, attached to prayer beads, and even dangling from rear-view mirrors. But I never understood your expression.”
Fuller continued. “You were the mother of the messiah, savior of humanity. Yet you always looked wistful, even a little sad. Why?”
The Virgin Mary looked around to make certain no one else was within earshot, and then said, “Off the record? We were hoping for a girl.”
This oft-repeated story poses the question of which is more unlikely: the mother of a hugely successful son wishing that he had been a girl, or the founder of the western world’s dominant religion being a woman. Actually, I know which is more unlikely.
Patriarchy came first, which is why the god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is male, and why Jesus could not have been a woman. The religious institutions of the west reflect male domination and serve to perpetuate male control. A female messiah wouldn’t have been admitted to the all-male club.
The tendency of men to cloister themselves behind walls has ancient roots. In their book Sex & War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World, scientist and physician Malcolm Potts and journalist Thomas Hayden explore the evolutionary reasons why males have banded together as teams. Potts and Hayden write, “In a handful of social mammals, a highly specialized behavior has evolved […stretching back 5 to 7 million years or more] in which teams of adults—almost always males—attack and kill individuals of the same species.”
In evolutionary terms, male team aggression yielded obvious benefits, such as more territory. “A larger territory meant more resources, more resources meant more females, more females meant the opportunity for more sex and more sex meant more offspring carrying the males’ genes—aggressive tendencies and all—to the next generation. Those males who coordinate their violence in teams became the winners in the ruthless war of nature.”
Male team aggression is a Stone Age solution to a Stone Age problem. Its goal was to destroy competing males, and to subdue and impregnate females. In many ways, however, the Stone Age has not ended. The patriarchy that has controlled our social, political, and religious institutions for more than four millennia has massive residual support: a male god, male prophets and messiahs, and male-dominated economic and political institutions. They were designed to endure—whatever the cost.
And they are fighting back. Religious fundamentalists around the world are building alliances to fortify the all-male club and keep women subdued and subordinate. The backlash against women’s rights in this country has become well organized and well funded. In order to diminish this Stone Age behavior, we need to dismantle Stone Age institutions.
If we don’t, civilization itself will be at risk. Male pattern behavior kept humanity alive during an era when our species had but a fledgling purchase on this planet. For humanity to survive in the coming era, men will need to recognize that the era of male team aggression has passed. Whether the arena is religion, or economics, or politics, unless women assume a more-than-equal role in dismantling our fraternal past and building a different kind of future, we are doomed.
Potts and Hayden observe, “For literally millions of years our male ancestors teamed up and went out to kill their neighbors. For many of our mothers, over many hundreds of thousands of generations, the least costly strategy was to go along with the male agenda of team aggression. It’s a predisposition that leaves the contemporary world spending 3.3 billion dollars a day on the military, while almost three billion people live on two dollars a day or less.” They conclude, “For many, this level of military spending represents a good investment in a dangerous world—until we realize that the world itself need not be so dangerous.”
The all-male club has been in charge since time immemorial, and they’ve come perilously close to destroying life as we know it. The presence of women in structures of power—whether personal or political, religious or secular—breaks up male pattern behavior. When this happens, indicators of wellbeing—emotional, social, and financial—always begin to climb. The world doesn’t need to be this vicious and this dangerous.
If Jesus had been a girl, my guess is that her name would have been Margaret. As it turned out, Margaret Fuller was born two hundred years ago next month, on May 23, 1810. As an author, editor, and teacher, she “possessed more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time,” according to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Raised Unitarian, Fuller was a key part of the Transcendentalist movement, an intellectual peer of Emerson and Thoreau. For several years, she served as editor and as one of the main writers for the Dial, the journal of the Transcendentalist movement. She held popular conversations in her home that women and men alike found transformative. Her major work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, was published in 1845 and became the guide star of the women’s rights movement which began three years later.
In her book, Fuller compares the condition of women to slavery. For the most part, women of her day were politically powerless, legally subservient to men, and emotionally without recourse. If a woman was fortunate, her husband treated her like a child. If she was not, he treated her like a servant. Fuller labored tirelessly for a time when, as she put it, “inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession. As the friend of the Negro assumes that one man cannot by right hold another in bondage, so should the friend of Woman assume that Man cannot by right lay even well-meant restrictions on Woman.”
As to the changes demanded by the champions of Woman, Fuller says, “We hail them as signs of the time. We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done…we believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.”
The present-day travail of the Catholic Church over pedophile priests is a sign of the times. The backlash against the patriarchal presumptiveness of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a sign of the times. The clamor of the fundamentalists is a sign of the times. The redoubled effort to control women’s bodies and subdue their spirits is a sign of the time. They are signs that the all-male club is on the defensive. This is good news for all of us—women and men alike.
“What Woman needs,” Fuller says, “is not as a Woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intelligence to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded, to unfold such powers as were given her.”
In truth, that’s what we all need: to grow, to discern, and to live freely. We need to unfold our powers in harmony with others. This longing for harmony and wholeness is also a sign of the times. A new manifestation is at hand. A new hour is come.
UN Sunday Reading From 10/12/2011
May women’s wisdom wash over all of the world’s systems—
Governments, churches, factories,
Schools, armies, families, streets.
Wisdom tumbling like a waterfall,
coming down from the mountain,
making such a ruckus you have to stop and gape at it,
Going right where it needs to go,
To wear away the stone.
And may every girl, in every country,
In every city, in every village,
In every home, in every neighborhood,
See herself in every mirror
As wisdom, strength, and beauty.
UN Sunday Reading From 10/4/2011
The Rev. Peter Morales, 64, was elected to a four-year term as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in June 2009. As president of the Association, he is responsible to the UUA Board of Trustees for administering staff and programs that serve its more than 1,000 member congregations. He also acts as principal spokesperson and minister-at-large for the UUA.
Morales, the first Latino president of the UUA, was elected on a platform of growth and multiculturalism. Public witness is central to Morales’s presidency; he is especially passionate about immigration reform and environmental justice.
Call to Worship for UN Sunday
Our common faith calls us to be together this morning
We are together in a spirit of love and care.
In togetherness, our souls are nourished – and we become better neighbors to people near and far.
We are together in a spirit of love and care.
We recognize that, in our togetherness, we need to step out into the world, crossing borders and inspiring many leaders with our confident religious message.
We are together in a spirit of love and care.
Today we hold up the unique work of international organizations that hold us all together, regardless of geographical boundaries.
We are together in a spirit of and love and care.
Especially the United Nations, and the UU United Nations Office – the leaders of those organizations and all the people they serve are our neighbors as well.
We are together in a spirit of love and care.
May they and we be strong, together. And may that togetherness foster peace and justice in our neighborhoods and in our world.
We are together in a spirit of love and care.
UN Sunday Reading From 9/28/2011
Mark Morrison-Reed served for 26 years as co-minister with his wife, Donna, in Rochester, New York, and Toronto. During this time he also served as vice-chair of the UUA Commission on Appraisal and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. As a historian of the African-American presence in UUism, he is author of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination and Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism. He also wrote the curriculum How Open the Door? The African-American Experience in Unitarian Universalism and the book In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby. He is co-editor of a meditation manual Been in the Storm So Long and is preparing a new manual for release in 2012. A former president of the Canadian Unitarian Council, he is currently an affiliated faculty member at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.
Interdependence in the Face of Oppression
In the stillness of this moment,
Before the release of the next breath,
In the pause between heart beats,
Before thought once again tramples over intuition.
Let us sense Thy Presence
move among us
along the web of interdependence
which lovingly but firmly
binds us to each other and to all
that ever was or shall be.
UN Sunday Reading From 9/21/2011
Rev. Kaaren Anderson is the Co-Senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY and the co-founder and president of Connect and Breathe an after-abortion non-judgemental talkline. She holds degrees in art and theology. Her interests include: snowboarding, gardening, crazy house art projects, skydiving when the money to do so presents itself, and her sister’s pie.
Excerpt from the her sermon, “Changing the Fairy Tale”
It’s said that when a baby elephant is being trained, she is tied to a post almost immediately after birth. During the first few weeks of life, she attempts to break free of her restraints, but she’s not strong enough. So she comes to believe she can’t get away from what is holding her back even after she has grown large and plenty powerful to uproot the post entirely. As a consequence, even as an adult, she remains tied to the post due to an internally motived behavior that is no longer rooted in external reality. (Feldt)
We are like the baby elephant. So today I’ll offer up four doorways if you will, there are more, but four that I’m asking to you to just pick one. Pick one that you are passionate about, to help set the feminist elephant fully free.
NUMBER ONE: I imagine a world that votes for women.
“A Stanford University Study found women members of congress introduce on average three more bills per session, attract more co-sponsors for the legislation and bring home more money for their districts than their male counterparts.” (Feldt) Women in office help change the power balance. They are also less likely to even think they should go into politics- that gender self doubt stuff- so they need encouragement and faith from people like us,showing our children that we believe in them, and seeing we have our confidence in women as leaders. Vote for women.
NUMBER TWO: I imagine a world that openly expresses our views.
Share your intentions with others. Share your fluidity with gender. The other day in the Wegman’s (grocery) parking lot there was a big burly guy who parked his car. He had on a large parka and was over 6 feet tall. The bumper sticker on his car said: Men Who Change Diapers, Change the world. I almost ran after him to give him a hug!
I realized he was saying more to my daughter who I pointed out the bumper sticker to and her self esteem, than any of us who have convictions, but don’t share them. Elie Wisel the Holocaust survivor upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” If you a man, wear your NOW, your NARAL, your- This is What a Feminist Looks like t- shirt to your next men’s small group or while you lead a workshop or serve as a religious education traveler with our children. Wear your gay pride shirt to the YMCA, especially if you are straight! Share your fluidity with gender everyday, be outspoken about it.
NUMBER THREE: I imagine a world that accepts responsibility for parenting equally.
When George Stephanopoulos was announced as the new Good Morning America anchor to succeed Diane Sawyer, he was asked to keep his Sunday morning show, This Week as well. But he said no. He told the NY Times: “I just can’t do both jobs for long and also help raise a family.” Way to go George! If you are a dad, be open about your family life obligations with those at work, with your friends, neighbors, with those at church, and around our children here. Further, share housework. It has a payoff. Studies have shown by the way that couples who share the load with housework as well as the financial burden, well, how to politely put this, they get more “action” if you will at home. So a bonus. But I’d like you to share housework because it helps your children see it’s not just a mom’s role, another gender specific job, but both of you doing work that is equally valued, family work together.
NUMBER FOUR: I imagine a world that all of us take seriously the gender biases within our profession.
One of my best friends from high school became a dance teacher. She lives in rural Wisconsin. She knows it is hard to get boys whose dads are farmers to think it is OK to take dance lessons, much less pay for those lessons. So every year she offers an entire year of dance free for new male students. And every year, she gets about 20 young little guys in this class. The second year of dance they pay, but by then, their hooked. She has more boy dancers in her studio than anyone in the surrounding area. Further she finds with boys in the class, her girls are riskier, more apt to be adventurous with new routines or difficult jumps, more self assured with the boys in the room than without. It’s a win win for everyone.
Where in your professional life are the gender separations working to continue on stereotypes, holding back some human’s potential, and what could you do to make gender more fluid, for everyone’s benefit.
So there you have it, four ways to change, to set the feminist elephant fully free. For the sake of all of our inherent worth and dignity but also our children who watch us.
I’m telling you, the power is in our hands. Save a kid today. And begin doing more than just mere imagining!
UN Sunday Reading From 9/14/2011
Rev. William (Bill) Sinkford served as President of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 2001-2009. He is best known as an advocate for social justice on issues from Marriage Equality to the genocide in Sudan. He also called Unitarian Universalism to renewed spiritual depth. He was the first African American to lead a traditionally white religious denomination.
Rev. Sinkford received his B.A. from Harvard University (1968) and his M. Div. from Starr King School for the Ministry (1995). He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Tufts University and Meadville/Lombard Theological School.
Bill currently serves as Senior Minister at the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon.
Empower Women for a Better World
I have spent much of my life learning that, as a man, I have a privilege, a position and a power that women do not automatically share. It has taken so long because I have had to learn this lesson over and over again.
As a citizen of the United States, I live in a culture that has recognized and celebrated the equality of women in its laws for a hundred years. Our Unitarian Universalist faith community has worked to make women’s empowerment the norm for decades. And still, it requires intention and vigilance. Witness the current struggle in the US to protect a woman’s right to control her own body.
Much of the rest of the world has not changed the legal second-class status of women, the constraints in education and opportunity or the barriers to leadership. The resistance to these changes is widespread and intense. Worse, abuse, disfigurement and rape are all too common, with religion often used as justification.
Van Jones, progressive advocate, preaches that we do not have any “surplus people,” that in these challenging times we need all the energy and the talent we can find. We cannot afford to limit or shut down the contributions that women make and can make. The Beloved Community needs us all.
More important even than that calculation of benefit, however, is the toll on the spirit that the disempowerment of women takes. It requires energy to “keep women in their place.” When we stand against a group, out of perceived self-interest or righteousness or fear, we diminish ourselves.
It can be easy for those of us in the “developed world” to criticize cultures that disempower and abuse women. Our outrage is justified, but our arrogance is not. We do well to remember our struggle to change the laws that held women back, the long effort to extend voting rights and the on-going effort to even approach equality in pay. Within Unitarian Universalism, full recognition of women’s leadership took decades, nor is that process complete. There still has not been a female President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, despite qualified female candidates since 1979.
It is spiritually critical, however, to hold fast to our vision of a world made fair, with all her people one. All her people, women and men, empowered to build the Beloved Community, blessing the world with our gifts and our creativity.
UN Sunday Reading From 9/7/11
Here is the reading from the week of September 7, 2011, brought to the UU-UNO and all of you by Rev. Shawn Newton:
Enough!: A Prayer for an End to Domestic Violence
Spirit of Life and Love,
We live our lives in the grip of violence.
While wars are waged around the globe,
while we get tangled in the web of life that binds us with all things,
we harbour destructive forces in the sanctuary of our homes
and in the circle of our community.
Broken bones and blackened eyes only tell part of the story.
The scars we inflict upon one another run deep
in the flesh of our common experience.
The outward ripples seem endless.
Violence begets violence.
An eye for an eye.
How many prophets must we ignore before we say, “enough”?!
Let compassion cover the sins of our sorry lot.
Give voice to those who suffer in silence.
Tend to the wounded souls and broken bodies.
Stir up outrage to confront those who abuse others,
and bring healing to the depths of hurt that perpetuate cycles of violence.
Awaken us to say, “maybe it’s time this stopped.”
For it is time, indeed.
We have had enough.
Rev. Shawn Newton serves as the minister of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto