Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Monday, January 23, 2012

By their fruits you will know them

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. [Matthew 7:15-17]

Living Faith

It’s 2012 and the Mayans say we are all going to die! These are the last and final days for democracy as European countries fall into fiscal chasms. The US is being overrun by illegal terrorist kidnapping drug dealing atheists! Run for the hills! Protect the children and widows! Aaaargh!

Perhaps it is stirred by the silly season of the presidential primaries but don’t you see and hear false prophesy, false confession of faith, ugly condemnations of the “other”, well—everywhere-- these days?

I’ve lived through several decades now and notice that each era does seem to call us forth to make choices, to clarify our basic commitments and beliefs in light of present circumstances. Always there are professions of faith by politicians and televangelists aiming to guide the masses to a better time, a better world, a better credit rating?

Remember 1999 when we were told of potential disasters when the clocks flipped and the computers would not be ready? Some very serious people went stark raving nuts with worry, but many more charlatans and opportunists jumped into the gap to fill in the blanks for vulnerable souls. As a pastor in a small congregation near Chicago, I received a slick mailer exhorting me to bring my flock to a nearby mega-church for an important night of prophecy and preparation. Intrigued and delighted by the potential show, I convinced one parishioner to go with me. The stories I could tell of that night! I could regale you for 10,000 words. The hubris of the “prophets,” the avaricious passing of plastic buckets for the offering, the calls to kill our own parents if they refuse to believe the end times were near, the sale of long guns and pistols in the kiosk on the concourse, the gold bouillon for sale. By the end of January 2000 the mega church had changed its name and started over as though none of the insanity had transpired. Some parishioners were left wondering and wandering, as though awakened from a trance, needing a safe harbor. It was funny at first, but then so very sad.

Of all the admonishments attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew, his call to beware of false prophets seems the most valuable today. Thousands of false prophets entice us into giving up family fortunes, beckon us into the deadly sweat lodge of their greed, pull at our heart strings to give more and more and more so that we will be rich, rich, rich! Pray for a RED Mercedes. Be specific in your prayers and they will be answered. Vote for me and I’ll set you free!

But what are the fruits of these sheepish wolves? They ask us to turn on our brothers and sisters, they tell us not to be chumps, don’t think about the common good, just get YOUR share of the pie and offer nothing but pity to anyone who has been left behind in the brutal scramble for acquisition of more stuff. What are the fruits of such an attitude? Empty “zen” homes of enormous coldness, lack of trust in others, plenty of toys, but no purpose. No connection to a larger world of beauty—and suffering—where our labors are needed.

A friend showed me a gift she was given: two small pendants meant to be worn together. One is brass melted, pounded and shaped into a little leaf with the word LIFE stamped on it. The other is the bottom of a bullet, left as it was found in the killing fields of Liberia. The leaf is also made from a bullet casing. Lovetta Conto, the young woman who designed this jewelry was helped to build a life outside of a refugee camp by a person who decided to create every opportunity she could for as many children as she could. The proceeds from the sales help the Strongheart Fellowship to help other children of war to rebuild their lives.

No one needs to ask Lovetta-- or Cori Stern who co-founded Strongheart-- about personal faith. By the fruits of their labors in the field of creating goodness and happiness from the worst circumstances imaginable you would know them….

Which brings me to the rest of that verse in Matthew:
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

I am not so sure that goodness cannot come from a bad start. We can re-shape and re-build. We can structure our faith in happiness and we can cultivate a living faith full of wonder and beautiful fruits. We can remake the world by turning away from feel-good charlatans and toward the prophecy of hope born from the hard work of living faith.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sometimes you really MUST intervene

My friend Kelly Lee Williams is a very funny man (professional comedian), but he has a very serious side too. Today he posted a facebook status update calling on everyone to intervene when a child is being abused. His call to action resonated with me. It has always been my practice to do whatever I can to stop abuse anywhere I see it. This does not make me popular with abusive people.

Kelly's admonition brought me into reminiscing about a few interventions I have executed and thinking BIG about intervening in abuse of power.

When I was a young mother, my brother and his wife were separated and headed for divorce. Their daughter was a little younger than mine and had already had a very challenging life before they adopted her. To try to punish his wife for her decision to leave the relationship and to control the terms of the separation, my brother "kidnapped" my niece, refusing to return her to her mother. I found out about it, went to my parents home, where brother and niece were "hiding," picked up my niece and started for the door. Everyone made a big fuss and told me I had no business intervening. I just kept going, drove my niece to her mother's house and that was the end of the game=playing by using the sweet child as a pawn. I will not stand by when people use children as pawns in their relationship struggles--someone should stop it!.

Over 20 years ago I was shopping at a mall for a long day. I kept running across a multigenerational family: grandmother, daughter, three pre-schoolers. Over and over I witnessed the two women berating, scolding, smacking and slapping the youngest child, an adorable little boy. Eventually I decided I had to do something. i walked up to the young mother and tried to engage her in a conversation about something, babbling on and on. The grandmother quickly faced off with me, saying, "Don't think I don't know what you are doing. You are trying to distract my daughter from doing her duty as a parent to scold this child. This is necessary to break him so that he will not grow up to be a rapist--your worst black nightmare." I responded, "Actually by treating him with such disrespect you are creating a potential rapist by teaching this child to hate women." I then knelt down to see the child eye to eye and said, "You deserve a better life. No one has the right to treat you this way." The women advanced and raised their voices, but I wasn't listening, I was walking away, having made my position clear to the little boy.

One day when I was in seminary, walking down a Chicago Street (in Barack and Michelle Obama's neighborhood actually) I saw a young man in the street struggling with two elderly women over possession of a purse. Without thinking, I ran across the street waving my arms and screaming for him to leave them alone. He did it! Dropped the purse and ran off, calling me crazy. Maybe it is foolhardy to intervene in robbery, but someone needed to do something to stop this!

I cannot even count the number of times I have called the police when I witnessed men abusing women, boys beating up other boys. And I will get directly into the fray when necessary. Someone has to stop abuse!

People only do what the community permits them to do. If the community stands by and watches, the violence and abuse rolls on and on and on. Of course, as I said, this does not earn me friendships with abusers--except when they are jarred into realizing that they want to be different. I am gratified to know that a few times the person I called out has taken my intervention to heart and made better choices in the future.

Last week Officer Bologna blasted pepper spray into the faces of several young women protesting in the Occupy Wall Street actions and was videotaped by many passersby and protesters. He and the NYPD are defending his abusive actions--as too often happens when people in authority find endless justification for their abuse of power.

Although various media had failed to find any reason to cover the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street actions, the NYPD helped to give them a reason by abusing their power. And that is exactly why the people are protesting. Too many abuses of power are going unanswered in our society--most significantly, abuse of economic power.

Financial abuse by the rich (and consequently powerful) must stop! We already have the collective power of the 99% who are not ridiculously rich.

Here are a few things the average person can do right away to stand up to the mega-rich and corporations who are abusing us all:
1. Stop watching any television show entitled with "The real housewives...". Crazy rich women act like fools to make you think the rich are harmless clowns. They might be clowns, but not harmless. Same with Kardashians, etc. Maybe watch only Current or Link, or Freespeech TV!
2. Stop shopping at Wal-Mart. Yes, you are addicted to the low, low prices, but you can find ways to get by without spending your money on THE WORST abuser of workers and consumers ever to populate a big-box store. The owners OWN YOU if you shop there. After we get rid of Wally world, we'll start in on Target.
3. Refuse to vote for any politician who does not show you where their campaign money originates. Vote for a write-in, vote for a flakey third party, vote for none of the above. Turn in a blank ballot if necessary, but show up and vote in the most radical way you can.
4. Refuse to buy ANYTHING with a recognizable corporate logo. You'll probably need to start small and work your way up to this one. Sometimes, I resort to buying the thing I want/need and then I remove, disguise or cover the logo. OH! that reminds me, my car's logo is still very visible. I was more highly motivated to cover up the Cherokee insignia of my last vehicle.
5. Join or start an Occupy _____ in your community.

Lets see where American Autumn can take us!!

What are your ideas of how we can stop abuse everywhere we see it?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Debut of daughter and granddaughter in music video

Friday, February 25, 2011

AynRandians are astonishing

While progressives nd other hopeful world citizens send pizzas to the protesters in Madison, WI, the apologists for the super-libertarians are explaining why organized labor must die. The first reason they cite: unionized workers, especially public employees are overpaid. Astonishing BS! To make this citation they must use incalculable calculations which leave out the entire upper-class cohort who don't actually earn salaries, but instead OWN the country.

Then, they assert that public employee pensions MUST be eliminated because, wait for it, pensions are unrealistically generous! They say that the workers should suffer through a 401K just like the non-unionized workers! The same people who claim that social security should be eliminated in favor of "privatizing" retirement investment because private investment is better, now claim that defined benefit pension plans are too good for middle class workers.

Gov. Walker of Wisconsin was duped into telling a prank caller posing as the ultra-rich David Koch that his plan to kill unions was unfolding as planned and spreading to other states ruled by Repugnacrat governors. He bragged about taking down unions as part of a scheme to make the rich richer. So refreshing to prove that we are not paranoid about the intention of these puppets--or their puppeteers.

The greed-is-good AynRandians must be feeling a tad pressed to justify their position. They have consistently argued that people should not band together in cooperative ventures, that people should instead only be judged as individuals and thus step on the neck of anyone they need to vanquish in order to gain market position.

As Rachel Maddow points out we are at war now--a culture war that is being run with military-precise planning. The generals are super-rich funders of astro-turf (fake grass-roots) organizations. Disaffected down-trodden forgotten people (the troops) get riled by the likes of Glen Beck about the loss of jobs, foreclosed homes, dried up pensions combined with abortion, gay sex and other unpleasantness. So now actual grassroots folks throw themselves in Tea Partying and other such self-hatred.

It is all so astonishing to me. But it shouldn't be. All it took was removing liberal educational goals about 25 years ago. No need for classes such as logic and humanities, no encouragement to read and reflect, think and analyze. Rote memorization is now favored over creative thinking and careful analysis. If you make sure a couple of generations are cultivated into good automatons with an appetite for televised drivel, there will be no need to use forceful means to control the masses.

There are people left with intact intellectual capacities, but they are seriously suspect as elite and out of touch. Astonishing I tell you, that the super-rich AynRandians have succeeded in flipping socialism on its head. Now the proles do the bidding of their oppressors and gladly.

Astonishing. Truly Astonishing. Drinking the Kool-aid a la Jonestown while believing they are actually going to end up in Nirvana/heaven/the promised land.

I hope they wake from their stupor soon enough to join a union to protect what little solidarity that could be left.

But today I am not optimistic. Hopeful is hard to find too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

If a movement does not get any press does that mean it isn’t moving? The Wisconsin labor uprising got no national press for the first two days—except from Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Now the Green Bay Packers have joined the team to support public employee unions in Wisconsin! That’s smart politics for them since the NFL players are rising up against their owners to demand a bigger slice of the cheese. I hope they succeed but that isn’t a middle class fight, just more rich guys squabbling, but I always side against “the owners” of anything when they think they don't need to share their wealth.

Seeing actual public servants and teachers getting their knickers in a twist should give me hope that middle class people are finally realizing that their solidarity has been misplaced for too long. Instead of identifying UP the economic ladder and defending the right of corporations to enjoy the civic benefits equal to humans, we need to rise up and FIGHT THE POWER. (OK I just heard Chuck D talk last night so forgive my re-radicalization.) No time for dreaming of the day when we too could step over the down-and-out man sleeping on the grate. Soon enough if the Republicans and DINOs have their way, we will BE those down-and-out grate-sleepers. First the banks took homes, now they’re after our jobs…what else can we give to the oligarchy?

Now we know what else is wanted---our very freedom from oppressive intrusive laws--we can give them control of our wombs! Now the dignity of the American woman has been taken. Finally, though they have tried in vain for decades, the forced- pregnancy politicians have de-funded Planned Parenthood.

The President’s proposed budget takes money out of the heating assistance program: HEAP. What does he expect? For Hugo Chavez to send more money from Venezuela to keep impoverished Americans from freezing to death?

The Repugna-crats new budget eliminates WIC subsidies that boost the nutrition of poor children AND PREGNANT women, while it tears away at Social Security and Medicaid and every other “entitlement” program designed to keep the poorest Americans alive (but not well).

America as a great nation is over. That ship has sailed. We are now in full class-warfare. Perhaps if the middle class and those in poverty build solidarity we can salvage something of the dignity we once enjoyed. But if we do not stand together, we are toast.

Take away the annual $330 million from family planning support for Planned Parenthood when we are spending A BILLION DOLLARS EACH WEEK ON THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN? How can any thinking person accept this? They can’t. Only thoughtless automatons and robotically equipped heartless bastards can.

In the past 25 years I have marched on Washington for reproductive rights several times and a couple of times for housing rights; more than ten times for peace and once for gay rights. I would go again in a heartbeat, but it gets harder and harder to believe that marches on DC help.

I’ll go back to Washington and protest when---
--the college students rise up against unconscionable tuition and lousy loan programs,
--and small farmers protest a lack of effective subsidies and policies that do not give agri-giants an unfair advantage
--and Wal-Mart workers unite to demand the right to unionize (and bring their brothers and sisters from Target along too)
--and nurse’s aides explain that wiping your grandma’s ass for a poverty wage is not sufficient job satisfaction
--and the 10 million discouraged workers who stopped hoping for a job and who have nothing better to do anyway
--and the officially unemployed take an interest in their own plight
--and women in the military are ready to fight back against universal rape
--and women of all ages and backgrounds throw off the shackles of mandatory pregnancy without mandatory child support

Maybe then we can ALL go together and TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Upcoming preaching dates

Just wanted to let my readers know that I have two preaching gigs coming up...both on Sunday Feb. 13.
At 10:00 I will be a guest at All Souls UU Church in Brattleboro Vermont. (Thanks to Rev. Barbro Hansson, for the invite!)
At 4:30 I will be the guest preacher for an emerging congregation: Two Rivers UU Congregation in Clifton Park, NY (meeting at the YMCA)
Call me crazy, itinerant preaching in two locations three hours apart in February in the snow belt.
And maybe you can offer a prayer that conditions allow safe travel.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

When is a rosary not a rosary? When it could be a gang symbol.

Public school officials in Schenectady believe they have a gang problem and they believe they can quell gangs by regulating accessories and items of clothing worn by children. No caps or hats of any kind may be worn indoors. No display of handkerchiefs or scarves, no wearing of beads, no obvious religious symbols. Those are the rules and no exceptions are accepted. Period. Last year my granddaughter wore a hair clip shaped like a tiny hat and was made to remove it. Laughable when you think about it. An iconic hat as well as an actual hat is considered dangerous in the 6th grade.

Regulating symbolic clothing (beads, hats etc.) does nothing to make Schenectady schools safe or serious learning environments. Gangs are not effectively deterred from recruiting new members through regulating school-aged children’s garb. No matter which rules the school imposes, determined gang members develop a new set of images to suit their purpose. One gang now uses Sponge Bob Squarepants as their symbol. Others use athletic teams or Disney characters.

The media have been reporting on a specific case in which a middle schooler has taken to wearing a rosary as a necklace (rosaries have beads, thus COULD be a gang symbol). Rosary Boy has reportedly said that it makes him feel protected and close to two dead relatives to wear the rosary over his clothing. He could not be persuaded to wear the rosary under his clothes. His parents support his desire to wear the rosary as he sees fit. So does a right-wing civil liberties foundation from Michigan—they have swept in to protect the youngster’s religious rights.

While the Rosary Boy and his family are not Catholic and thus do not feel compelled to use the Catholic rosary in the same way a Catholic might, they still feel that it expresses something profoundly important to them. Who is to argue with them? Religion is in the heart of the believer, not in the eye of the beholder. If the kid feels tied to this symbol as a way of feeling a deep connection to dead relatives, who is to say that his commitment is invalid? Developmentally it is entirely appropriate for a child of that age to experience a concrete connection to god through a physical item. If he thinks his relatives are with god and believes this rosary connects him to them (the dead and god), I think we should all support his right to wear the rosary.

The official position of zero tolerance for potential gang symbols is bunk. Schenectady schools tolerate all sorts of bad behavior through impotent inaction when it matters most (trust me, I’ve been on the front lines of this for two years of watching my granddaughter experience severe bullying). The zero tolerance is directed solely at symbols rather than actions. If it looks like a duck squash it, but if it ACTS like a duck, well then the duck’s right to be a duck must be protected. It is facile to write down a rule about clothing and then enforce it to the letter, but how do you write down a rule about behavior that can’t be abrogated by nuance and he said/she said arguments. Enforcing civil behavior is simply more difficult than enforcing symbols, so the schools go with the easy path.

What looks like a religious argument, it turns out, is really just an argument about a child whose parents back up his right to be an individual in the midst of an institution that fears groups. We tested this out. My granddaughter began openly wearing and flaunting religious symbols in the same school as the Rosary Boy. If I had a rosary handy, she might have worn that to test our theory, but alas, all I had were Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice symbols. No one even noticed. So it seems that the more obscure your religion, the more you can flagrantly show it off! This is NOT about religious symbols.

There is a tendency for public schools to follow a path of adamant consistency when deeper understanding would pay off bigger dividends. Rosary Boy misses his dead relatives. The more exercised the school became the more determined the parents became. The parents will win this fight with the backing of well-funded religious zealots. There is no doubt about it. But what becomes lost along the way is common sense. Stopping a boy from grieving his own way will not stop gangs from operating in the school. Is anyone paying attention to common sense in Schenectady schools? Anyone? Anyone at all?