Tuesday, October 27, 2015

PA's Budget Impasse

OK, Pennsylvania, it's now getting to be goddamn ridiculous.  119 days and counting with no budget.  State House and Senate have both borrowed millions of dollars in order to pay their staffs, because the last time this happened, we made it illegal to not pay state workers in the event of a budget battle.

It's hitting close to home now.  My daughter has been effectively laid off for a month.  She works for the State as a permanent floating temp, going from office to office as needed.  She was forced to leave a great position at the Department of Education because they had nothing for her to do; all the work was on hold pending approval of the state budget.  Which was supposed to be done by July 1.  Instead she had to go to another department, to a less attractive position, which was then cut completely in a frenzy of cost-saving.  She can only earn pay for hours worked, and because of a statewide hiring freeze, no new position is forthcoming.

People all over the state are suffering because of this idiotic pissing conteste between a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor.  It's time it was ended.  I don't want my tax dollars to be spent on loan interest because the Republican senate can't get their minds around a tax on fracking.  (PA is the only state out of 50 that imposes no such tax.)  There are other sticking points, but that's the big one.

Cut the crap, do your freaking jobs, and get the state workers back to work.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Oh, Heavens, It's More Kvetching About Church

I grew up Catholic.  I'm 62 years old as of this writing, and that means that when I was first exposed to Sunday services, they were performed in Latin, with the priest's back to the congregation to preserve the mystery of transubstantiation (or whatever) and apart from the sermon (usually a request for money rather than a lesson of any sort) it was in large part unintelligible to me.

Then Pope John XXIII held Vatican II and the world went crazy.  Suddenly the Mass was being said mostly in English, everybody could see what the priest was doing (it wasn't much, it turns out) and it was all done in understandable colloquial English.  In an effort to add more community to the service, a bit was added where we all had to greet our neighbors and "offer them a sign of peace."  ("Peace be with you.")

Man, I hated that.  Not Vatican II or the English, but that greeting of strangers.

I am fairly introverted, and extremely uncomfortable around people I don't know, even people who are only acquaintances.  So when my Unitarian church added a bit to the Sunday service which involved getting out of the pews and greeting your neighbors, it gave me fits.  I don't like it, and I rarely choose to participate in it.  I don't feel like I'm being true to myself when I'm forced into phony sociability with things like "greeting my neighbor."  So, just like I drop out of prayers or meditations that mention God (I am atheist, strenuously so,) I only choose to greet the friends immediately around me and I don't go looking for others.  I'm not antisocial, I'm just a bit shy and a bit introverted, which is why I sing in a choir.  It does me good to get out of my comfort zone a little, and generally on Sunday mornings I'm already surrounded by people I like so I can get away with not wandering out into the congregation at large.

Now this will seem like I'm going off on a wild tangent, but bear with me.  Like most librarians, I hate the movie/TV stereotype of The Librarian who is a buttoned-up plain woman who likes to SHHH people.  However, we have in our church a librarian who is, unfortunately, the living embodiment of that stereotype.  Severe clothes, permanent scowl, and a tendency to over-enunciate when talking to you as though you were some unfortunate idiot with comprehension issues.  She chose this morning to barrel her way through to where I was sitting and frown a stern "Good morning!" at me.  It was anything but a wish that I have a good morning.  The tone was definitely one of admonishment, with an undercurrent of "why don't you get up off your ass and get out there good-morning-ing with the rest of us?"

So I wished her an oblivious "good morning" right back and stayed right where I was, on my ass.

Which she can kiss if she doesn't like it.

You don't get to judge me, or anybody else, lady.  You don't know what kind of baggage or damage people might bring with them, whether it be from previous church experiences, or family experiences, or life experiences.  If someone doesn't want to hop up and glad-hand with strangers simply because they were ordered to, that's their business.  Leave them the hell alone.

If I see someone I particularly wish to have a good morning, I'll tell them.  Otherwise, as Unitarians, I expect to have my privacy respected.  If there are elements of the service that make me uncomfortable, whether it's being asked to say that "what we know about God is a piece of the truth" (because what I know is that THERE ISN'T ONE) or if it's processing down the center aisle like an Episcopalian or greeting our neighbors and wishing them peace which makes me feel like I'm back in a Catholic service ... I reserve the right to refuse to participate, and moreover, I ask that those reservations be respected.

That's all I'm looking for.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Autumn Anthem Antinomy

"Antinomy: a contradiction between two beliefs or conclusions that are in themselves reasonable; a paradox."  (Okay, I'm stretching the word "reasonable" here in the service of alliteration, but I'm getting ahead of the story.)

Last night at choir we began rehearsing a song called "Autumn Canticle" which is, as our choir director commented, one of those pleasant musical pieces that we can pull out of the hat when there's nothing obvious in our playbook to tie in to the theme of the sermon.  Luckily for us, choral composers have given us a plethora of seasonal songs to choose from throughout the year:  if you think about it and know anything about choral music, there are a ton of songs about Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter out there which are relatively church-friendly.

In last night's piece, there are a couple of lines about the Lord's blessing and other such nonsense that some sensible humanist Unitarian choir director changed to "the Earth's blessing."  (And this is why I feel like I'm stretching the word "reasonable," because I find nothing reasonable about belief in God.)  We have a couple of Jewish folks in our Unitarian choir.  They are not members of the church, nor are they Unitarians or Universalists -- they just come to sing with us.  During the rehearsal for this piece, one of them muttered quite angrily, grumbling, "Why do they have to take God out of everything?"  I leaned over and whispered, "Because He isn't there."

It was not particularly well-received by the mutterer, but I frankly don't give a single crap.

First of all, I was offended by the use of the word "they" in her grumble.  I always find language that uses some form of the phrase "those people" or "you people" offensive, and this was no exception.  Secondly, if you are going to sing with Unitarians, you have to be at least a little sensitive (or at least knowledgeable) about their history.  While recent years have seen an increase in spirituality in the music and language of Unitarian church services, the fact remains that for a good stretch of our recent history -- say, the 1960's through the early 1990's -- Unitarian congregations were largely white, liberal, humanist, and agnostic or atheist.  (I myself am a large, white, liberal humanist atheist.) So probably twenty or so years ago, some previous choir director thought to themeselves, "This is a really nice piece of music.  We can do this easily.  All I have to do is change the God language."  (Well, probably the thought was more likely, "All I have to do is change the 'God" crap," but I digress.)

I regret my flip response to my fellow singer, even though it prompted a welcome chuckle from the people sitting around us, but I feel entirely justified in my bristling reaction to her use of the "they" language, as well as to her frustration with our removal of God language where possible.  I appreciate that she and others in our community value their theism, but I also feel disrespected when objections are raised to our humanism and agnosticism in the Unitarian church.  Especially when those objections are raised by people who refuse to fully join the church.  A lot of us joined the Unitarian Church because we were damaged by religion.  We are deeply uncomfortable when we find God in our language and music.  I personally take it a step further.  I find the idea of God not only to be completely unreasonable, but an active negative force in how human beings act with one another.  "Imagine no religion" indeed.  As an atheist, I sing because I like performing, and I sing in the Unitarian Church because I believe that, unlike many, they walk the proverbial walk by actually doing good work in those parts of our community that most need it without worrying about who or what might be one's Personal Savior.

I'm very happy to raise voice in song with anyone who wants to join with us.  Anytime.  Ever.  But if you're missing God in your music, well...I hear Temple meets on Friday nights.