Friday, April 17, 2009

Cosmic Rebirth

This image depicts the Trifid Nebula - a 'stellar nursery' (i.e. where new stars are born) - 9,000 light years from earth. I cannot help but remember the New Testament post-resurrection verse: "You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48). God is truly majestic.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prayer for Understanding

Alongside the economic crisis at home and a slew of never-ending diplomatic flares abroad, President Obama faced an onslaught of harsh critique on Main Street this past week. Tea Party protests dotted the American landscape with frustrated and downright angry citizens demanding lower taxation and, more generally, vocalizing feelings of contempt for the current administration. As with many oppositional and 'counter-cultural' events, the mood quickly degenerated into hate-filled bigotry. Huffington Post shares the following snapshot:

Whether progressive or conservative, socialist or libertarian, as an American such belligerent and spiteful utterances should trigger an alarming response. Rather than merely dismissing the protesters as ignorant and uneducated (which may, in certain cases, be true!), however, we should all pause to reflect on what it feels like to represent a minority position. I applaud the Tea Party participants for expressing their concerns, even if I seriously question the methodology, timing and hate-speech involved. More importantly, I encourage Obama supporters of faith to practice the first Unitarian Universalist principle. Undoubtedly, it is very hard to affirm the worth and dignity of anyone holding a sign that reads "Guns Tomorrow."

Yet, we are called not to stigmatize and abandon, but to acknowledge and engage. We must stand up for life-affirming values in the face of violent prejudice, but we also must remember that the spark of God resides in all.

God of justice,
Help us attune our hearts to hurting.
Help us see with the eyes of compassion.
Help us build life on the rock of mutual respect.
When we encounter hatred,
Help us assuage human fragility and fear.
Bless our worldly affairs with the mark of sincerity.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sharing Global Faith

View the inaugural issue of Sharing Global Faith, a monthly e-devotional featuring international Unitarian and Universalist voices.

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Religion in the Public Sphere

How do we adjudicate the formation of the ethical subject in public spaces? Today, it seems, I find myself tenuously balancing on the cusp between the feuding camps of secular liberalism and new traditionalism. The former follows the post-Reformation telos in privatizing religion to the point of its hyperrational diffusion, while the latter parochially elevates the religious particular to the status of a political absolute. There must be a middle way.

Jeffrey Stout argues in Democracy and Tradition for a vision of democracy as a set of social practices within which responsibility depends on difference. On this view, the ethical political domain engenders a process of reasoning together - in effect, the empowerment of individuals to bring 'private' commitments (economic, racial, cultural, religious, etc) into the public sphere, so as to employ particular reasoning to arrive not at universal justification but at a general claim with universal reach. For example, I might turn to Exodus 20:13 to argue that murder militates against human goodness (notice that I am not claiming that a specific scriptural passage must universally justify this position; rather, that I have arrived at a potentially universal truism out of an explicitly local context).

Stout's distinction between universal justification and universal reach raises questions about the universalizability and translatability of our own seven Unitarian Universalist principles in non-Western spaces. What does it mean to stake the following claim: I take the inherent worth and dignity of every person to be a platitude that applies to all situations, but I don't purport to have a single argument that universally justifies this position? What inclusivist sensitivity is gained by adopting this model and what authority is thereby lost?

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Matthew 7:1

Susan Boyle renders visible the log in our own eyes.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Proclamations

Amidst the haze of uncertainty, there abounds Easter clarity

The Gospel of Mark, believed to be the earliest gospel text (composed around 60-70 CE), records the Easter episode in a provocative light. Far from joyous celebration, candy and plastic eggs, the scenario depicted in Mark lifts up the human experience of disbelief, doubt and downright fear.

When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:4-8)

Bookending an account of Jesus that time and again reports the disciples' ignorance and unfaithfulness, this description of the Easter event speaks, I believe, so directly to the heart of our contemporary world. Is ours not a similar age of 'saying nothing because we are afraid'? How often do we flee the tomb of trust and hope in favor of 'realism'? What would it mean to venture beyond proof? To live as if regardless of whether in fact? When the promise of a new optimism presses through the darkness of the unknown or hard-to-believe, let us proclaim the miracle of Easter.

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