Archive for June, 2009

Leader’s Message – Ah, summer. . . – July 2009

June 30, 2009

Once upon a time, when ours was an agricultural society, winter was the season of reflection. The hard work and celebration of harvest were over: Food was stored for people and animals alike; the wood was piled high for the stove; and everyone rested. Of course, there were always chores to do, stray animals to find, and blizzards to endure. But winter was welcomed for the opportunity to settle in and renew family connections, read books, and tell stories.

 Today we live in a technological society. The forty-hour work week is a thing of the past now that we are all electronically connected. The ring of the telephone was intrusive enough; now we have Blackberry devices that twitter.  We no longer live with the natural rhythms of the seasons; instead, we create artificial environments and schedule every day’s activities.  Even vacations, though escapes to other places, are programmed to deliver maximum pleasure.

 When do we allow ourselves time to reflect upon our lives?  How can we find meaning and purpose in our lives if we do not listen to ourselves, learn from our experiences,  share what we have learned with others, and listen to them?  We need to stop and take a deep breath, feel that breath in our bodies, and draw inspiration from the simple fact of breathing.  Then we need to settle in and renew our connection with ourselves. 

 Summer offers me some respite, and it started in June at the American Ethical Union Assembly in St. Louis.  Yes, there were meetings many and long, but there were also conversations with colleagues and members that inspired me.  I had an opportunity to reflect upon the nature of Ethical Humanism and why it still offers my life such meaning.

 As we struggled at the National Leaders Council meeting to articulate a clear identity and definition of Humanism as a philosophy, a way of life, and a religion to offer our members, I thought about my own spiritual journey.  I was brought to the religion of Roman Catholicism by my family: Gram taught me to recite prayers; Mom and Dad took me to church with them; my sister and I saved our allowance to give to the missions in Africa.  I loved growing up in St. Anne’s community and cherish what I learned there.  As a young adult, I explored the literature and practices of other religions, drawn as many people of my generation were, to exotic Eastern philosophies.  When I married and had  my own family, Glenn and I found Ethical Culture, and the Brooklyn Society became our spiritual home.

 Now my children our grown and on their own, and I stay. Humanism is my religion, and Ethical Culture is my denomination.  It’s not just about the belief – “a naturalistic philosophy that rejects supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion,” as Corliss Lamont put it – but about the practice of engaging with others and the world.  That is where I find religious meaning. 

 Religion should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  It should provide a transformative experience.  I can settle in with like-minded people and create a comfort zone for us where we are never challenged to think or feel differently.  I can also choose to test the limits of what I belief by engaging with people and groups who form other circles, challenging myself, as well as them, to find common ground.  That’s what founder Felix Adler encouraged us to do.  That’s what my uncle, Father Thomas O’Keefe, encouraged me to do, too, whether it was supporting my journeys to other countries or to other books in the library. 

 Bringing out the best in others and in ourselves means looking for the unique gifts every human being possesses and connecting with their goodness, no matter what their beliefs. I am changed when I listen deeply to others. My life is transformed when I engage in human relationships. I want that challenge and change in my life. It gives my life meaning.

 Take some time this summer to reflect. You just might find religion.

Leader’s Message – Equality and Justice for ALL – June 2009

June 30, 2009

“When two people love each other,” I remember my father saying, “It’s a miracle.”  We were watching my then two-year old daughter playing in my parents’ backyard.  I wondered aloud whether it had disturbed him that Glenn and I had lived together for a number of years before marrying.  “Not really,” he said, although I doubted him.  “At least you’re married now,” he added with a smile.

 It is indeed a miracle when two people love each other enough to make a commitment to each other’s happiness: sharing life’s joys and sorrows, building a family and a future together.  I witness that miracle almost every time I interview a wedding couple.  I see it in the way they look at each other, hear it when they laugh together, feel it when they tell me their stories.  Why would some people imagine that such love is limited to heterosexual couples?  Why would they deny marriage to same-sex couples whose depth of commitment is every bit as real – and as miraculous – as theirs?

 I spent Tuesday, April 28, in Albany with Empire State Pride Agenda, and thousands of supporters, lobbying for the right of other couples, like Glenn and me except in gender, to make the choice that we had made: to legally marry. 

 Beside the 1,138 rights and responsibilities bestowed upon married couples by the federal government, there are another 1,324 rights and responsibilities that come from New York State, including medical decision-making authority, inheritance rights, immunity from having to testify against a spouse in court, and not having to pay taxes on spousal health insurance benefits. Many of these protections, e.g., a Workers Compensation death benefit for a surviving spouse, can be achieved only through marriage or some other governmental recognition of a family.  Neither civil union nor domestic partnership secure the federal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, such as Social security survivor benefits and immigration rights.

In the afternoon, I participated in an Interfaith Service at the Albany Convention Center with clergy and lay people from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist traditions.  It was a celebratory occasion, full of hope and companionship.  Pride in the Pulpit, comprised of hundreds of faith congregations throughout the state, advocates for the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) New Yorkers and confronts religious-based bigotry.  I recited the words of Ethical Culture Leader John Lovejoy Elliott: “The love of the human heart is the most real and the most beautiful of all the realities we know. . . Whatever the length of time may be, to have known something of this is to have experienced the supreme privilege of being human.”

 Being human: That’s what is at stake here.  We experience ourselves as fully human in relationship with others; giving and receiving love, building homes and communities that nurture our potential for goodness.  We need to protect all couples who make a profound commitment to make a home for each other in their hearts and who contribute to the strength and vitality of their communities.  It is our ethical obligation.