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First Unitarian Church of Baltimore

Rev. David Carl Olson

Rev. David Carl Olson

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Whose Work in Bending the Arc of Justice?

Sunday, 11 January 2015 07:54 Published in The Minister's blog

"Bending the arc of justice once again"  is the title of a recent op-ed by Professor Parsonya Wise Whitehead of Loyola University (Baltimore Sun, Dec 12, 2014). This commentary was brought to my attention by a leader of our church, in part to celebrate the source of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s paraphrase of Unitarian abolitionist Rev. Theooldore Parker with the phrase, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Prof. Whitehead asks that we pay attention to this moment in our lives, this 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. King, this moment when our society is reeling from the impunity granted to extra-judicial killings by agents of the state of unarmed Black men.

She spoke of her own example. "I have spent the semester teaching about Ferguson in my classroom. My students wanted to know what they could do to be part of the change they believed was happening around the country. I told them they should focus on changing themselves and their communities. I had them spend some time examining and confronting their own racial biases. I taught them about the social construction of race and class and assigned follow-up readings to help guide our discussions. I taught them how to facilitate difficult and emotional (but necessary) conversations about race and class. I told them that years from now, they will not remember the tests that I gave them or the parties they attended, but they will remember that this was a time when they actively grabbed the reins of democracy and worked to bend the arc closer to justice."

I visited Chicago this week to attend Winter Convocation of Meadville Lombard Theological School where I am a Teaching Pastor to ministers in preparation in the Baltimore region. The question of a lucid, compassionate, committed response to the state of our country was a theme of our conversations, and I sought a way toward clarity for me, for my students, and for the congregation that I lead and serve. How shall we respond to the reality of the hurt and pain in our cities--including our own Baltimore? How shall we deal with the work that is before us, a work Prof. Whitehead describes as "tiring and frustrating" when Black folk "have to prove to people, every day, that #BlackLivesMatter."

A brief conversation on Facebook among members of our congregation called for the need for mixed-"race" groups to come together for consciousness-raising about this moment. I applaud the sentiment for consciousness-raising, and especially when it leads to action. But I also know that lucid action can lead to consciousness-raising, and it may be that there are enough avenues already described by the movement of Black and other People of Color for White folk like me to be engaged and thus to grow in our consciousness that, indeed, #BlackLivesMatter, and that Black lives are in danger by the status quo which holds (and holds back?) us. It may be that White People need to use the rational sense which is the hallmark of our religion of reason and "walk the talk" of our faith, engaging our heads and allowing the walk to win our hearts.

My dear colleague Rev. Alma Faith Crawford asked that I understand that many Black people have had enough of explaining, for years and decades and centuries, their lives and the injustice they experience, and maybe we are past the place for conversation only. Maybe we can simply look at what is already available on YouTube and Twitter and all the social media we have, and simply commit ourselves to being part of holding the police, for example, accountable in a just way for the work that they do for us all. In the midst of such work, we may examine our own racial biases, and we may engage the "difficult and emotional (but necessary) conversations about race and class" which will assist in the raising of our consciousness. And we may bend the arc of justice in the way that is appropriate at this time, this moment of profound dislocation and dissatisfaction by some of us, which many others of us see as distant and happening only to "the other."

I look forward to our continued conversation--and action--to be about justice bending.  

Worship? Really?

Wednesday, 07 January 2015 16:14 Published in The Minister's blog

Human beings are impelled,
    not compelled,
      by the power of God
        to fulfill the good potential of their lives.
The impulse toward wholeness in humanity
   is predisposed to good,
     though it can be weakened or distorted
         by chaos and conflict.
Authentic worship keeps it alive
   and restores its integrity.

 

This assertion helped form the Universalist convocation known as "The Humiliati," a group of men--largely identified with the theological school at Tufts University--who found Universalism in the mid-20th century a moribund lot. Their belief was that they needed to state universalism in a new way for their time. In part, this reflected the growing acceptance of universal salvation--or, at least, the growing rejection of damnation among protestants in the US. 

 

So they introduced a new symbol, the circle with an off-center cross, to represent their openness to what had been given by Jesus and his followers, but a sense that it was mystery which is at the center. They introduced a bit of scandal when a minister was ordained not to the Christian ministry, as had been the practice, but to the Universalist ministry. And then they made it all the more confusing by wearing very traditional clothes, including collars and stoles; made worship more liturgical and ornate, and spent a lot of time talking about the spirituality of our faith.

 

These ministers had all been trained under Dean Clarence R. Skinner, the great social justice prophet of 20th century Universalism, and while they did not reject their teacher entirely, they did, as a group, have a sense that no social justice action can last without a deeper spiritual core. And so that is where they began.

 

I preached last week a "question box" sermon, including answering a serious question about worship. "What, or whom, do we worship? Is worship about gratitude and reverence, or is their some element of subjugation or at least submission? etc." I loved that question!

 

If has made me revisit my own sense of the "why" of our common celebration each week. I hope this is a question that I never believe has only one answer. But this notion of the Humiliati--our need to balance our wholeness and goodness against the weakening effect of chaos and conflict--speaks to me. 

 

I come to church to consider the things of ultimate worth. I seek a body of people ready to do the same. I hope to draw from our encounter with each other--and with "The Mystery"--Life, mine and ours; and Integrity.

 

That might keep me coming back for a lifetime.

Harry Potter or Samwise Gamgee??

Monday, 29 December 2014 16:59 Published in The Minister's blog

Harry Potter??

A comment was made about our church services a few weeks ago where I was called "Our Harry Potter." I will confess (blush, blush) that I have very little understanding of what that comment means. I have not read Harry Potter, although my nieces and nephews have, and explained the books to me (with great joy!). Still, I have had to "punt" dinner conversations that turned in Harry's direction. I can usually apply a little theological education to the themes raised--and I can handle the rolling eyes of the children I love.

I have to say that there is something attractive about being referred to as a title character of a best-selling saga. What I like most of the reference is the fact that Harry is learning, is building relationships that last, and is growing in skill. I think, too, of his desire for a correct assessment of situations, what we call in organizing knowing "the world as it is." Being powerful is great. but understanding how much power and how little power we have is an invitation to grow greater power through solidarity with others. And that works for me, as the leader of a religious community. I need to be humble about the kind of influence we have on the world today just because of our theological, ethical and moral convictions. Our faith asks great things of us and proposes greater things for the world--and without healthy humility, we can be so arrogant.

I remember when I was leaving my ministry in Boston, one community leader talked about the work I did as President of an important congregation-based community organization, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. That leader hoped I wasn't offended when she called me not Frodo (of Lord of the Rings), but Samwise Gamgee. She said that I was willing to let other people appear in the title role, that we encouraged other people to grow in their leadership capacities, and were the strong, loyal and committed companions to those who were called to carry "the Ring." And when necessary, I accepted the fact that I might need to bear the burden of the Ring when the acknowledged leaders were unable so to do.

That is, to me, what skillful and faithful ministry seeks to be about. To intuit the gifts of people and share that intuition with them; to acknowledge and nurture their leadership of our community and its liberal and liberating mission; to accompany people in their leadership and especially in their growth; and to be grateful for all that we accomplish together.

I'm not sure what of this is about the wizardry of faithful relgious leadership, and what is about the virtue of loyalty. Both, I think, are needed in building Beloved Community. But I am so thankful to be able, in my daily life, to touch the lives of people who are trying to make meaning with their own lives and with their families and public relationships, and even the wider world.  This work of redemption can be a sacred and fulfilling labor. And all in anticipation of a New Year, just hours away . . .     

Is Sauron's One Ring a metaphor for Whiteness?

Monday, 22 December 2014 17:04 Published in The Minister's blog

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

 

Abe Lateiner is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based class activist focused on transformational philanthropy. He makes a startling assertion that we discussed at First Unitarian on Sunday afternoon: Sauron's One Ring, in J.R.R. Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is a metaphor for Whiteness.

 

Consider:

 

*The One Ring was created by Sauron to concentrate and maintain his power over all of Middle Earth. The concepts of "White" and "Black" were created by the early American elite in order to maintain their power and wealth by discouraging poor African-Americans and European-Americans from uniting in opposition to the ruling class.

*The power of the One Ring is, among other things, that it offers invisibility to the wearer. But this comes with a price: the Ring also slowly corrupts the bearer, leading the person to isolation and misery (as we see in the character of Gollum). The bearer slowly turns into a narcissistic, angry, loner, bent on accumulating power at the expense of their relationships. As bearers of Whiteness in America, we get to move through our lives without our race drawing attention to us. We are assumed to be "normal" Americans. Our actual diverse ethnic backgrounds (German, Irish, Italian, Polish, etc.) are largely unnoticed, while dark-skinned people are almost always seen as outsiders, exotic, dangerous, and "ethnic." Thus White people are able to move around much more easily in America. BUT … there is a price to the safety of Whiteness. To accept the comforting "normalcy" of Whiteness is to disconnect oneself from our humanity. The flip side of seeing Whiteness as "normal" is seeing Blackness as the "other," the undesired, the ugly, the dangerous. The safety of Whiteness requires the creation of Blackness as something to which we can be opposed. The result? White Americans are often socially isolated, even in our "own" communities. We're so used to separation that we forget how to be close, even with those we would call our racial kin.

*People are drawn to the One Ring because it seems to offer limitless power to be wielded. But in fact, the Ring itself ends up wielding the bearer, using their physical incarnation to do its will. The seduction of Whiteness is powerful...it offers the bearer preferred treatment in almost every realm of American society--if we are seen as bearing Whiteness, we're more likely to be seen as smart, objective, wise, moral, innocent, pure, and deserving. But the price we pay for this preferred treatment is that we become foot soldiers in the war against Blackness; by cashing in on our Whiteness (even unintentionally), we ensure that Black people remain second-class citizens. Thus we become, as the bearers of Whiteness, instruments in the maintenance of power.

*Part of Sauron himself is contained in the One Ring. When it is destroyed, Sauron is destroyed as well, and this is what frees all of Middle Earth from tyranny. White Americans have so bought into the made-up construct of Whiteness that we take it for granted. If we could expose the myth of Whiteness for what it is, it would shake our identities to the core, while offering us a chance for liberation along with all the people that Whiteness currently subjugates in the service of its maintenance.

 

Lateiner encourages people to share this assertion, especially among Tolkein fans, to see if they can poke holes in his argument.

 

#blacklivesmatter

 

#OneRingtoRuleThemAll

 

#wemadeittomountdoom

 

#throwitinthedamnfiresofmordoralready

 

#wearebetterthanthis

 

selma@50 Still I Rise

Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00 Published in The Minister's blog

selma @ 50 "Still I Rise"

Good evening, my name is David Carl Olson and I have the privilege to serve this community as Minister of First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. On the front of our historic building flies an angel, the Angel of Truth, and I greet you in the name of Truth, and welcome you to this Temple of Truth. Since the founding of this congregation nearly 200 years ago, the corner of Charles and Franklin Streets has welcomed people of diverse belief and coherent action amid the values of unity and tolerance, fortitude and peace.

When our founders created this congregation in 1817 and built this Temple in 1818, they were seeking a more democratic religion, a religion for our country at their time. They based their actions on the example of the Jewish prophet Jesus, and believed that a simple and reasonable reading of his story was an adequate basis for living ethically, morally and spiritually in a democracy. They committed themselves to democratic ends.

We have never been satisfied with democracy, in society and even in this congregation. Over the years, our democracy changed. We began with a small group of pew owners who ran things in this place. We extended voice and vote to include women who could vote by proxy, to Black men who had originally been excluded, to people who did not own pews but rented them. It was in the twentieth century that all members of the church, regardless of social status, were given both voice and vote. Perfecting democracy in this church required the creation of a new understanding, a new application of reason that allowed a new culture to emerge.

In our nation, the perfection of democracy has been a long and involved process—and we acknowledge that even today it is far from perfect. But the year 1965 captured the imagination of the nation as the demands for access to voting was raised as a key demand and related to questions of open violence against African Americans. Jimmie Lee Jackson had been ruled ineligible to register to vote for four years; but took as a tenet of his Baptist faith that he was somebody, and that he had every right to register, every right to vote. Marching with other civil rights workers to protest the jailing of James Orange, Deacon Jackson was gunned down by the Alabama State Police.  In response to the pain of this outrageous violence against a peaceful people, James Bevel and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference called people of faith to march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery. On March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday,” a wall of state troopers met this people of conscience, morality and ethics with violence, and prevented them from crossing the bridge. Dr. King called on people of faith from throughout the nation to join the marchers, and what some call “Turnaround Tuesday” was planned for March 9, where 2,500 people joined in confronting—though not yet crossing—the Edmund Pettis Bridge. That evening, three White ministers were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, and Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb became our first martyr to this cause.

The events of Selma will be remembered this year in this Temple of Truth, not to wax nostalgic about those golden days of Unitarian Universalist leadership and identity, not only to raise the names of martyrs Jimmie Lee Jackson and Unitarian Universalists James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, but to take stock of where we are as a church, where we are as a country. I believe we have a long way to go, and I think our year of thinking about Selma is a year for thinking about how this congregation can reach into the community to find allies and to be part of the cultural change that this nation needs if it is to live into the promise of democracy. We need to find ways to respond to the violence that is being meted out to Black young men—often at the hands of the police. We need to face squarely the “new Jim Crow” which is permanently excising Black men from social and democratic life. We need to be part of the cultural change that this nation requires at this time if the promise of democracy is to be fulfilled.

We are so pleased this evening to be joined by the co-sponsoring people who make this night possible: our co-religionists of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Harford County, the Unitarian Universalists of Fallston; our colleagues in the struggle for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the religious community, the Faith Communities of Baltimore with Pride; and our diverse friends from Union Baptist Church, St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church and St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Parish. Welcome all and thank you for your support.

There will be other selma@50  Still I Rise events this year. Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, author of The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, will be delivering a Zoerheide Lecture on Religion in the Public Square in January or February (date still being worked on). In March, Charles Blackburn, who served as Minister of the UU Church in Huntsville, Alabama during those days, will preach from this pulpit on March 1.  I, myself, will preach on March 14 after returning from the Selma Commemoration. And on UU Unity Weekend, we plan a community concert on Sunday, May 3. Stay tuned as details are developed.

But here we are tonight. This Sanctuary will be blessed by the music of our artist in residence Music Director James Houston; and Orpheus Music Global, artists from Morgan State University, will present the premiere of a work that they will tour later this year, “And We Keep Growing Stronger.” I can’t say how pleased I am that Vincent Dion Stringer and Samuel Springer, joined by Evander McLean and Richard Keller II, under the direction of Dwight RB Cook, have created this evening’s feature piece, which I believe tells a great, long, important, epochal story of a people; tells the story not just to remember, although remember we must, but to prepare us all to writing the next chapters of the human story as we do our part in this living legacy of powerful faith, this living legacy of democracy and social engagement, this living legacy of Truth.  Let us begin. 

 

You Get What You Pay For, by Brian Williard

Tuesday, 23 September 2014 12:58 Published in The Minister's blog

Brian Williard was a member of our congregation who died on September 12 at the age of 38. He earned a Master of Arts degree in Philosphy and taught in community colleges in Pennsylvania before coming to Baltimore. We are saddened and shocked at his untimely death. Published below is a humorous column that he prepared in August he hoped to see in a local newspaper.

You Get What You Pay For

Brian Williard

I love the Circulator busses.  I usually loathe the actual experience of riding them, but who could argue with their avowed principle of “Fast.  Friendly.  Free.”?  (I’ve tried in vain to reach their Grammar Department to suggest changing the signage to “Our Service Is Fast, Friendly, and Free.”)  The degrees of the buses’ punctuality and drivers’ friendliness may vary, but the freeness is constant. 

The lack of a mere $1.60 fare makes its social leveling effects so interesting.  Where else can one find professionals so intimately comingling with drunks and addicts?  Or young children hearing the coarse talk of hoppers on their way to work (people over)?  And then there’s the many people like me, dutifully forfeiting our seats to others and disseminating helpful hints to the ever-so-earnest tourists.  I’ll admit that I feel a slight deflation when I see them asking the driver the same question I had just answered.  Do I look like the kind of person who gets my kicks by giving people false directions? 

On the Circle-You-Later, the more does certainly not make the merrier.  It’s not so much that the conditions make you pissy, but others’ pissiness is contagious.  I generally enjoy making jokes to strangers to observe their reactions; the more offbeat the quip, the better.  When the bus gets extremely packed, to lighten the mood, I may affect a vague foreign accent and say, “If this were my homeland, the next oncoming rider would have to sit on the roof.” 

If my whimsical conspiratorial mindset is correct, this is when the drivers rack up the most points in their game of Passenger Bowling.  The object is simple:  cause passengers to fall by starting and stopping abruptly.  (The elderly, infirm, and intoxicated only count for half a point; someone with two or more such qualities amounts to ¼.)  Legend has it that a Bill H. once got six standing passengers to collapse in domino fashion.

I truly relish when capacity and my conscience allow me to take a seat.  Whether I’ve had a Sisyphean day sitting at the computer or a drunken one sitting at [location redacted], sometimes I’m just in the mood to do more sitting.  Hopefully, I’ll be fortunate and will happen upon a dry one.  If I belatedly discover that I have not, I can only hope that the dampness is from an overturned beverage.  Wishful thinking has gotten me far in life.

I will try to not read nor write, preferring instead to be mindful of the scenery.  I will feel smug self-satisfaction by noting how many people are too engrossed in their electronic toys or their chemical oblivion to just be, to take the world in.  With my Luddite leanings, I deem cell phones a scourge upon society.  They act in concert with many other cultural factors to erode civility.  Speaking or pretending to speak for nonessential purposes to others in a publicly enclosed space is a flagrant sin in this regard.

I’ve thought of taking obnoxious countermeasures in acts of self-righteous absurdism.  I could pretend that they’re talking to me:  “What do you mean, ‘Where am I?’  I’m sitting right across from you!”  Or, I could intrude into their conversation in a faux knowing way:  “Dude, you’re forgetting the best part!  Tell ‘em how Gina had just downed four shots of Jack when that went down!”  What I actually do enjoy doing—see my aforementioned penchant for oddball humor—is saying “I’m not here” when another’s phone rings.

What truly baffles me about public transportation in general is the people who use it to kill time.  In clement weather, surely one can find something better to do.  I understand that sometimes one just needs to sleep and may think they’re in the safest place to do so, but I’m talking about alert and awake people.  And the drivers know such regulars.  They note that so-and-so got on at such-and-such a spot and will have to disembark after one lap.  After all, “There’s [always] another one right behind me.”

But hey, there’s also a pedestrian world awaiting your circulation throughout it.  For better or worse.

_______________________________________________________________________

Brian Williard is a failing humor writer and online businessman.  His less tame humor can be found at funnyphilosopher.wordpress.com. 

Waking up on Labor Day

Monday, 01 September 2014 22:29 Published in The Minister's blog

Rev. Raymond H. Bradley Jr.
(July 25, 1929-August 29, 2014)
a minister of the United Church of Christ

In the summer of 1992, I was unable to sleep. I had had a bad breakup in the late spring, and each night tossed and turned until the sun rose when I would sleep for a couple of hours before going to work. Finally, on Labor Day weekend, I slept straight through for a day and a half, and woke up on Labor Day noticing a cooler air, a brilliant and clear sky, and even a touch of hope in my heart.

I spent the next nine months considering whether I would answer the long-felt call to divinity school (and perhaps to professional ministry). I had three significant conversation partners during that time: the late Rev. Dr. Lucius Walker (Baptist), with whom I went to Cuba as part of Pastors for Peace; the late Rev. Dr. Jack Mendelsohn (Unitarian Universalist), who supervised my year of working as a church sexton; and Rev. Raymond H. Bradley, Jr., who died last week of complications after a car crash on August 10.

I can’t capture my relationship with Mr. Bradley with a little parenthetical. I was one of the first people in Riverside, RI to get to know him. I was a college freshman and sophomore when I served on the Pastoral Search Committee that found Mr. Bradley and recommended him as our first choice candidate to become our Pastor. He counseled me as I came to terms with being gay–something I knew about myself for as long as I could remember, but which I feared I could never share with my community of faith, or even my family. He made me the choir director of our children and youth choir, and supervised my work assisting the church organist as I led the senior choir and created wild theatrical moments for the church. And as I struggled with my doubt, with my search for deep meaning, with my thirst for a spirituality that included emotion and mystery, and my struggle for intellectual satisfaction in religion, Mr. Bradley was open, supportive and encouraging.

He married us; he baptized our kids; he stood with both my Mom and Dad when they served on the Board of Deacons and were called to share in the Lord’s Supper; he helped us welcome people into our family, and when Dad died, he played a significant role in standing with a family in their grief.

Christmas Eve was, for many years, a special time for the two of us. We had an early service at church at 7:00 o’clock or so, and then there were a number of families that had open houses and we’d go to a couple or few of those. But the late service at 11:00 o’clock was the candlelight service that was simple and poetic, very present and full of time-beyond-time. I sang three or four quiet solos in the earlier years; Mr. Bradley read the scriptures and led us in prayer; and all of us would sit in wonder as the announcement was made of the God-with-us in ways that we could know and never fully understand.

After the service, I would go to the Bradleys’ home for a little quiet time. Ever our pastor’s wife, Sally would make tea and light candles, and we’d sit around the Christmas tree and exchange gifts and stories. As I moved on in my life, moved to Boston and beyond, the routine was altered; the late service louder and more energetic, and the after-church visitation sometimes waiting for Christmas Day.

One last time of sitting and speaking came, years later, when I visited their home in Peace Dale after my dad died. We shared tea and shortbread and more stories about our lives and our loves. I confessed my failures in ministry, and he comforted and encouraged me about what it means to be human, and to fail, and to use failures as a way to learn. He shared with me about not giving up, and discerning what was the special quality that each day presented for living a life of faith, striving for wholeness and justice. And he encouraged me to keep thinking theologically; to understand the authority that ministers have in the congregational tradition, and the responsibility we bear for nurturing the life of the congregations we are called both to serve and to lead. And he asked me to hear the divine will in the living of our collective life; to nurture a practice of quiet prayer and enthusiastic detachment, with a view toward a longer life, a richer effectiveness, and a deeper identification with all the human hearts we encounter and are called to love.

Since adulthood, I’ve never known life without Raymond H Bradley, Jr. Now he is gone. This is something entirely new. My fervent prayer is that my life will shine with just a glint of the hope that his life represented, and the deepest conviction that each new birth, each new accomplishment, each new relationship, each new act of justice and each new kindness is proof that God has not given up on us yet; and that we dare not give up on each other.

“Oh Love, that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths, its flow may richer, fuller be.” (George Mattheson, 1882)

"the use of the democratic process"

Monday, 14 April 2014 00:00 Published in The Minister's blog

I was happy to see this Letter to the Editor of the Baltimore Sun written by a member of our congregation:

Maryland First . . . The Other States Will Follow

by Joe Garonzik

Hardly a day goes by without a story exposing wealthy special interests sticking it to the average Joe. One day it’s Wall Street bankers bringing down the economy, foreclosing on the unsuspecting poor, and getting off virtually scot-free. The next day, it’s insurance companies charging exorbitant rates for health coverage yet denying claims whenever they can get away with it.  Drug companies and pesticide manufacturers lobby the FDA to delay pulling a harmful product from the market while unwitting patients or phosphate-breathing farm workers pay the heavy price.  The Sun’s Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin’s article, “Kochs have stake in oil sands,” raises concerns about who really stands to gain from the purported Keystone Pipeline. And then there is Sheldon Adelson.

Maddie Hanna’s March 27 article posted on the Sun’s website described Adelson’s  blatant intentions to hold court for the Republican presidential contenders wishing to compete for his financial support. The victor in this “winner take all” bid for the casino mogul’s backing, stands to pocket a fortune in TV ads from the man who spent  $93 million in his 2012 bid as kingmaker. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nation-world/sns-mct-bc-njgov-adelson-20140327,0,4184062.story

Adelson, the Koch brothers, a handful of other billionaires, working with their front groups and superpacs use their fortunes to control the political dialogue in America’s elections, in large part, because of the Supreme Court’s verdict in Citizens United .  This game of “billionaire bingo” could get even more out of hand if the Court rules similarly in McCutcheon.

There are now 14 proposed Constitutional amendments in Congress that would address Citizen’s United; however, Congress’s failure to act on any of them speaks volumes about national legislators’ own dependence on corporate donations and the power of “dark money” in our political campaigns . Accordingly, the burden now rests  with states like Maryland, who are empowered to call for a convention , under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, expressly to (1) affirm every citizen’s individual right to vote, (2) reject the doctrine that artificial entities have inalienable right, and (3) regulate campaign contributions and electioneering expenditures.”  In all, 34 states (2/3) must issue the call for a Convention to take place.  Maryland, in all its diversity, would be among the first.

We must not delay any longer in responding to the crisis posed by Citizens United .  Maryland can show the way forward now, much as our 17th-century forebears did with the first statute for religious toleration in America. Maryland is poised to accomplish a significant milestone and should summon the courage to act boldly in the face of an existential threat to democracy.

Sincerely,

Joe Garonzik
224 Blenheim Road
Baltimore, MD 21212

Joe Garonzik is a volunteer with the non-profit organization, Get Money Out Maryland

Argow on Darwin

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 00:00 Published in The Minister's blog

Someone gave me a copy of this sermon by our mid-20th century minister, Rev. Dr. W. Waldemar W. Argow. I thought it would be especially interesting to post it on Darwin's birthday.

“Our Debt to Charles Darwin”

A sermon by Rev. W. Waldemar W. Argow, Th.D.

When one thinks about Charles Darwin and his contributions to our common life, it is inevitable that the words of Victor Hugo should come to mind. Said he, “The most irresistible power in all the world is an idea whose hour has struck.”

This is the centennial year of Charles Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species through the Method of Natural Selection.” As I contemplated the coming of the centennial, I have felt for some time that I wanted to speak about Darwin’s contribution, made through this book, to the understanding of our common life and ourselves. Also, by this small token of gratitude, I shall pay tribute to Charles Darwin for what, through “The Origin of Species” and his other great book, “The Descent of Men,” he meant to me personally in those Babylonian years when I was struggling for a rational, reasonable and sensible interpretation of this life of ours, It is, therefore, out of a sense of profound gratitude that I speak this morning.

So stupendous was the effect of Darwin’s writings that it shattered man’s intellectual world, scattering pieces into every nook and cranny of civilization. So revolutionary was it and so overwhelmingly that it produces an entirely different intellectual, moral, social and spiritual climate in which men from there on were bound to live.

It is my opinion that Charles Darwin ranks among the four great men in our Western culture. The first was Copernicus who added vast new areas to our lives. The second was Sir Isaac Newton who gave us an altogether new understanding and concept of this universe of which we are all a part. And lastly there was Sigmund Freud who likewise gave us a revolutionary new understanding, not only of ourselves, but also of our identity with our human past.

And so it is as we contemplate Charles Darwin and his revolutionary contributions this morning that I want to place him in his proper niche in man’s unfolding story.

Perhaps it might be well for just a moment to try to understand who he was and how he came to make his historic contributions. First of all, he was born on the very same day as Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1809, in the little village of Shrewsbury, England. His father, Dr. Robert Darwin, and his grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, were men of profound intellectual power. Both of then were physicians.

Early in life young Charles showed a propensity for inquiry into the mysteries of life all about him. Everything fascinated him. By the age of ten he had already amassed a collection of many hundreds of different insects and flowers. Not only had he collected them, but he had also classified them and he knew wherein they varied from one another.

Understandably, it was the father’s wish that Charles should follow in the family profession of physicians, but the boy was too much interested in the mystery of life all about him. As a consequence, when Charles was in his late teens, his father sent him to Cambridge in the hope that the influence of the intellectual climate there might change his viewpoint. But—fortunately, as things turned out—the boy fell under the influence of some outstanding naturalists.

When I use the word “naturalist” this morning, you must bear in mind that there were only two types of intellectual discipline in Darwin’s time, One was the so-called classical, and the other was the so-called natural. There was no such thing as science, in our modern sense of the term, and anyone who was a philosopher might conceivably also be a naturalist if he were interested in the natural phenomena about him.

While he was there at Cambridge, young Darwin’s soul was electrified by the consideration and interest shown him. His father hoped that if he did not go into medicine, Charles might become a clergyman. This was not in the cards for Charles, however, for the study of theology interested him not at all.

(I often reflect upon the fact that if you fail to make good at everything else, or if you aren’t interested in anything else, people will want to make a preacher out of you! The story is told of the father who, as was the custom in an earlier generation, selected and elected the professions and vocations of his sons. Said he to his wife, “My dear, this oldest boy of ours has a very fine analytical mind; I’m sure we can make a lawyer our of him. Our second son has a sympathetic feeling for people; I’m convinced we can make a doctor of him. But our youngest son—. Well. He’s something of a dullard, as you know. So it must be that he will be our preacher!”

Too often this has been the case. And usually the implication has been that if you can’t succeed at anything else, at least you can putter around in the ministry.)

By the end of his Cambridge career Charles had become more interested than ever in the vast array of facts and bits of information about the natural world that were beginning to pile up everywhere. So in separation he went to his uncle, Josiah Wedgewood, to ask him to intercede with his father.

Now it just so happened that at this particular time the British Crown announced that the Royal Navy was to send a ship around the world for the study of natural phenomenon and to gather all the information it could for the benefit of the navy. Charles was overwhelmed with joy at the possibility that he night be appointed official naturalist for the voyage.

Finally his father consented; and on December 22, 1836, HMS Beagle set sail on her historic five-year long voyage. Perhaps no other voyage, with the exception of Columbus’ first one, has accomplished as much for civilization as the long, long cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship, Beagle.

Month after month, Beagle slowly circled the earth, avoiding the North and South Poles, of course, but sailing into almost every other area of the earth’s surface. Every time the ship dropped anchor, Charles would go ashore, with to the mainland or to some island, and, driven by his insatiable curiosity, would collect seeds, flowers, rocks, bits of stone, fossils, insects and animals that he might bring them back to the shop.

Then, during the night or when the vessel was under way again he would study and analyze and correlate until at last a tremendous amount of facts and information began to take shape which gave him an insight into many new things new and mysterious. Darwin himself did not quite know what he was looking for, but somehow he felt that he was in the midst of a great mystery that was gradually unraveling.

During this time he acquainted himself as much as possible with breeders of plants, animals, fowl, cattle and horses so that he might learn how breeds and new species came into being. After five eventful years, he returned to his home base.

An omnivorous reader, Darwin became acquainted with the work of Jean Lamarck, the French naturalist; Carolus Linneaus, the Swedish naturalist; and Sir James Hooker, the English geologist. Ideas were everywhere in the air. An intellectual hunger was manifesting itself. And Charles was constantly seeking, seeking, seeking for answers.

Now then, what was the marvelous thing that was happening, and why did it come about? In the first place, what Charles Darwin did with his discoveries and his correlation of facts was nothing less than to shatter man’s existing concept of creation! Up until Darwin’s time it had been universally believed and universally taught that on the Day of Creation, which had occurred only 6,000 years previously, God had created every blade of grass, every plant, every tree, every insect, every fish, every bird, every animal, every living organism exactly as it was. There had been absolutely no change whatsoever. People believed in what was known as the immutability of the species. That is to say, everything that exists today is merely a continuation, a reproduction of something that God originally created. There has been no variation, no change.

When fossils were found, particularly the fossilized remains of the great prehistoric animals, men did not believe that these ancient creatures were no longer living. Instead, they maintained that the animals must still be alive—the skeleton remains were those of contemporary creatures—even thought no one had seen them. The world was still a big place with unexplored hinterlands in many directions, and men believed that if only they ventured far enough into the undiscovered regions, and men believed that if only they ventured far enough into the undiscovered regions, they would find these fabulous creatures still alive. The basic concept, you see, was that there had been no change whatsoever in any way in any existing living thing.

The first thing Darwin did was to build a stairway down into the past, and, instead of being 6,000 years long, the path of the stairs was proving to be millions of years long. Down and down and down it went into a post that was utterly different from anything man had dreamed of before.

This was the way in which Darwin built up his conception of the past: in all of his studies, during all of his voyages, he had seen the rise of volcanoes and the disappearances of land masses. He had seen sedimentary rocks, and in the3wse rocks he had seen the skeletons and fossilized remains of animals which no longer existed upon this earth. He looked and looked and found that there was a total dissimilarity with everything that lived today.

Another thing that was startling was the fact that a species of plant or animal which he found in one place was very different from the same species found in another place. He first discovered this phenomenon in the Cape Verde Islands where he found that the birds, the flora, and even the animals on the Cape Verde group were completely different from those in the Galapagos group. Also he found that the mice on the East side of the Andes were significantly different from those on the West side.

All these discrepancies caused Darwin to ask questions. During the Beagle’s long voyage had kept a detailed account of everything he saw and found. In his notebooks he made voluminous notes indicating exactly what he had found in this insect, this fossil, that plant. He noted the soil, the moisture content, sun, winds, rocks, and the chemistry of anything that could give him any clue. And still he had no answer as to why this was different from that.

But now he was convinced that there was a power at work somewhere in the nature of things, an orderly power that apparently worked according to some definite law which, as yet, he was unable to put his finger on.

In addition, he became an astute and careful student of anatomy, not only human, but anatomy of all skeletal substance. By a process of comparison, he discovered that the hand of a man, the paw of a mole, the flipper of a seal, the wing of a bid, and the hoof of a horse were similar in function and must have a common origin.

All this anatomical similarity began to persuade him back, back, back down the long corridors of time, life had suffered certain changes n form, and that one fragment of life must have grown out of another fragment of life. As yet there was no real science, certainly not of genetics and very little of biology, and all that he did had to be done by the long tortuous method of induction.

One day he came across Thomas Malthus’ famous book on the problem of human population. In this book Malthus had written that population, be it of plants, or animals, or insects, or men, increases or decreases according to environmental factors, such as food supplies of enemies. As a consequence, Malthus contended that the force behind these various population problems was basically the same: it was a struggle for existence. When this struggle for existence is intense and powerful, the weak are pushed aside and the strong survive.

At long last Darwin had found the clue he was looking for. What happens, he maintained, is that the fit mate with the fit and the unfit with the unfit, and sometimes either way, but in the end it is the fit who are able to survive in the struggle for existence. So here, finally, was his answer to the mysterious something he had sensed at work in life, and he defined it by calling it the survival of the fit by the process of natural selection.

Now just at this point there occurred one of the most remarkable episodes of which I know so far as humility and deference of one mind to another were concerned. Way over on the other side of the world in Australia lived a naturalist buy the name of Alfred Russel Wallace who independently had been doing a lot of research very similar to Darwin’s. The two men had corresponded, but only in a vague and desultory way.

Darwin’s friends had been trying to persuade him to publish his conclusions. Said they, “You should now gather all the information you have, out it into book, and give it to the world.”

Darwin was about to do this when one day he opened a letter from his friend Wallace in which considerable length Wallace presented a theory which was almost identical with Darwin’s theory. Darwin gasped in amazement! To think that another human being, without any interchange of ideas or information, could come to the same conclusion!

And yet, instead of being angry, instead of brushing aside Wallace’s letter and trying to ignore it, Darwin went to his friends and said, “I am not entitled to publish my book because if is really Alfred Russel Wallace who has made this great discovery, and he is entitled to the credit.”

Wallace, it turned out, was a man of equally fine character. After some further correspondence, he urged Darwin to go ahead and publish, which Darwin did.

When the book was published, a veritable earthquake took place in the intellectual life of England. The abuse that was heaped upon Darwin’s head was almost beyond belief. He was called a God-smasher, a man whose insane desire was to disrobe and dethrone God. Leader of the attack upon Darwin was Bishop Wilberforce of the established Church of England. Speaking out in behalf of Darwin was—as you might guess—a Unitarian clergyman, Dr. Charles Kingsley. Said he, “Let God smite men dumb not with ignorance, but with understanding! If this be denied, let the truth be told.”

Darwin’s staunchest defender at this time was the great Thomas Huxley whose grandsons we know today by their writings. Huxley published a long, approving article on the book in “The London Times,” and when Thomas Huxley put his stamp of approval on what Darwin had discovered, or at least on his theories, the climate of opinion began to change and it became respectable now at least to inquire into Darwin’s concept.

What was that historic concept? What contribution has Charles Darwin made to our understanding of ourselves? It is almost impossible to give it to you in any categorical fashion, for you need to disabuse and empty your minds of such concepts as we have today and try to think yourselves back a hundred years to the time when Darwin’s book was published.

In essence, here is what he gave us: first of all, this is a living and growing universe. Such a position is commonplace today, of course, but you remember that Darwin pioneered it. Ours, said he, is a living universe in which all life has had a common origin. Furthermore, it is an infinite universe in which life, not biological life, exactly, but life substance in its mysteriousness is triumphant and universal. Still further, said he, by the change from the simple to the complex, all human beings share in the common life stream and we are all related part and parcel to all other living things and pulsating things. And, finally, it means that all life carries within itself the best qualities of its own past.

It remained for Sigmund Freud to make us aware of how immediate the past is in every one of us; that the past is not dead and that we belong to a great, unbroken human stream; and that therefore we carry a kind of immortality within us.

Take, for example, your own personal case. You are the child of two people, and these two people are the children of four people, and then sixteen, and then thirty-two, and so on, and so on, and so on. And after you get through the human stream, you go to the prehuman stream, and after that you go on back and back and back with ever an unbroken line. There has never been a moment in that long, mysterious record of billions of years in which there was one single break between you and the origin of life. If there had been such a break, you wouldn’t be here! All of this means that we carry within ourselves an immortality that goes back to the very heart of things.

Still another thing Darwin gave us is this: in the evolution of man, with the emergence of reason and intellect—first instinct, then reason, and then the spiritual qualities of love—it is as if the Creator had said: “now I am finished with the evolution of man. I am turning the process over and placing it in your hands. With instinct, reason and live you now have the power either to destroy yourselves, and all other life too, or you can go forth and create a world more nearly to the heart’s desire.”

The last thing to come out of Darwin’s revolution is some realization of the supreme dignity, majesty, and awful responsibility of man. Do you suppose we could get this concept across to people? This feeling of identity? This sense of intimacy with the greater cosmic stream of life? If only we could get this across to people—particularly our political. Military and other leaders—would any of them still tinker or flirt with the possibility of destroying life upon this earth with the atomic or hydrogen bomb? What tremendous moral responsibility rests upon us of this generation! For all we have it in our power to destroy all life from the face of the earth, every last vestige of living protoplasm, until only a burned out cinder is left.

Now I am willing to grant that perhaps we have a right to destroy ourselves; maybe our own little lives do belong to us to do with what we will. But do we have the right, the moral right, to destroy all other living substance which shares the common quality of livingness with us? Certainly it is a madness that has possessed us, something only an insane man would tolerate—much less conceive.

What does all this mean for our day and generation? Assuredly it means this: that traditional religion must face up to the facts of evolution as Charles Darwin gave them to us: that all life is one; that we have all sprung from the great universal heart of life, and that we all have a moral responsibility to one another and to life in general. I say, unless traditional religion accepts these foundation facts in place of its childlike image of a magical creation in a mythical Garden of Eden, it is morally derelict to its great responsibility and it needs desperately to be awakened to the facts of life.

In the year 1882 there came one day a lovely Spring morning when the earth was being re-carpeted with its perennial green velvet, blossoms were bursting forth our of the darksome earth, and birds were relearning their almost forgotten, throaty songs; and on this day—it was Aprul1 17th—the magnificent heart and mind of Charles Darwin returned to the great world soul which he had learned to revere and so splendidly honor.

In a few days Darwin’s body was carried from the manor house where he had lived, taken to Westminster Abbey, and there placed alongside the remains of another great man who had also added much to the realm of human knowledge—Sir Isaac Newton.

How true of Charles Darwin are the words of James Russell Lowell when he said:

“Great truths are portions of the souls of men;
Great souls are portions of eternity.”

Darwin, I thank you for what you have contributed to our understanding of the greatness, grandeur, and magnificent glory of life!

Raise the Minimum Wage in Maryland!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 18:49 Published in The Minister's blog

Here's a copy of my testimony presented to the General Assembly of the State of Maryland this week.

  Support SB331/HB295
Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014

Senate Budget and Taxation Committee
House Committee on Economic Matters

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland represents 24 congregations from across the state, approximately 4,700 people of faith who understand that “love is the doctrine of this church, and service its prayer.” Our congregations include people who are working for the minimum wage. Our ministers provide pastoral care to minimum wage workers trying to better themselves and care for families. We do service to those who live in and near poverty, and we profess the worth and dignity of every individual.

Our principles affirm justice, equity and compassion in human relations. We live in a moment when nearly half a million people will benefit directly from raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as proposed by Senate Bill 331/House Bill 295. I see this as a matter of equity in the richest state in the nation—that those working people on the very bottom of the economic ladder may see some benefit from the general prosperity our state is experiencing. I see this as a matter of racial and ethnic justice, as the majority of minimum wage workers are people of color; and of gender justice, as most minimum wage workers are women. Raising the minimum wage is, too, an act of compassion, recognizing that special attention must be paid by society at large—in this case, through the mechanism of our legislature—to those persons least represented in the halls of power and most affected by the indignity of a wage that keeps their family in poverty.

Unitarian Universalists call particular attention to the provision of SB331/HB295 which increases the tipped sub-minimum wage from 50% to 70% of the minimum wage. Our Unitarian Universalist Service Committee works to raise consciousness among our members and the larger community about the reality of restaurant work, and 1,000 congregations nation-wide are participating in a common read of the book Behind the Kitchen Door, written by Unitarian Universalist-raised attorney and labor leader Saru Jayaraman. The three features of SB331/HB295—a stepped increase to $10.10 an hour, indexed for increases in the cost of living, with a raise of the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees to 70% of minimum wage—comprise a law that will address the dignity of labor and the laborer, and be about justice, equity and compassion.

On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland, on whose Board I sit, I urge a favorable report for this important legislation.

Please contact Rev. David Carl Olson, Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore at (410) 350-9339 if you have any additional questions.

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