This month we celebrate the coming of spring. But, this year, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, we can’t have spring because we haven’t had winter yet. Even so, the march of the seasons progresses. This week we celebrate Imbolc, or Oibelc (pronounce it Groundhog Day). The mythology surrounding this day is rich in story and symbolism, but is known widely by the behavior of a rodent, who was originally a Roman hedgehog.
As fate or coincidence would have it, much of what we are doing in our Society is in line with the celebration of this ancient holiday. Of course, the ancient meanings have been thoroughly Christianized. It’s far beyond me to surmise the origins of this day, thought by some to be the first day of spring or the first day of the New Year. Some cultures, like the Chinese, still do celebrate the New Year around this time.
It is also Brigit’s Day in Ireland. Brigit is the Goddess of fire, the hearth, brides, birthing and healing. Those of us who have raised livestock know that this is the beginning of lambing season, following the ewe’s having spent time with the ram in the fall.
According to the tradition that was passed down to me, Oibelc (honestly, pronouncing Welsh words is beyond me!) or Groundhog Day is a time to throw out last year’s candles and make or light the candles for the next year. So, how does this relate with what we are doing at AUUS? Well, we are literally throwing out our old hearth/ kitchen, and replacing it with a new one. What better way of starting a new phase of growth and understanding than replacing the hearth/heart of our building.
All of us, members and friends, at this AUUSpicious time are involved. From committing funds and materials, to providing the labor to take out the old and putting in the new, there is something for everyone. When we are done with this hearth/heart renewal, we will be primed for growth in the new season. The dark of winter is ending. We will take our winter’s introspection and see it put into action.
We, as UU’s have so much to contribute to the world and our neighborhoods. This is a festival of lights and life. Let us let our light shine. We are not in competition with anyone, we are everyone who believes in light in this world. Using the light of reason we can work for a better world, accepting that we don’t have the understanding to answer all of life’s questions and allow the mysteries to inspire us.
As a runner, as well as a man who lost a wife to breast cancer, I wore my “Race for the Cure” shirt with pride. Linda, my late wife, and I ran together from the earliest days of our relationship. So I always felt that I was embodying her spirit. I also felt a sense of connection whenever I would see someone wearing their own Race for the Cure shirt, or a pink ribbon. That time has ended. As many of you have probably heard, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which popularized the pink ribbon, and raised significant amounts of money from its franchise, decided to stop funding Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of women’s health services in the United States. This decision made absolutely no sense. It is absurd as the Defense Department saying it is going to stop doing business with Boeing. The decision was politically motivated, and represents yet another step in the battle to delegitimize Planned Parenthood. The decision has been reversed after a national outcry, highlighted by the news that Planned Parenthood raised more than $3 million within a couple of days, to replace the $700,000 grant that the Komen Foundation intended to end.
There is, I believe, a certain amount of denied misogyny in the battle against Planned Parenthood. As most people know, Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of women’s health services in the United States. Three million women are served by its doctors, nurses, and counselors every year. Many of them turn to Planned Parenthood for screenings and treatment after being turned down for their inability to pay more profit-oriented providers. By their very nature, Planned Parenthood affiliates are also the largest single provider of abortion services. To put this into perspective, 3% of Planned Parenthood’s work is abortion related. The other 97% includes medical services for such things as pap smears, mammograms, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception counseling.
Breast cancer knows no political boundaries. It affects rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, alike. The person responsible for this policy seems to be Karen Handel, a failed Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2010. Handel trumpeted her opposition to reproductive rights, as well as her embrace of photo ID voter laws, which have been used to suppress voter turnout. The Komen Foundation probably made a fatal mistake in hiring her. I hope that they are now wise enough to recognize their mistake and fire her before she does further damage.
Those of us whose lives have been torn apart by breast cancer have seen the search for a cure as nonpartisan: we want to support as many people as possible who are either, living with breast cancer, treating people with it, or doing research to find a cure. Many of us already support Planned Parenthood, and will continue doing so.
There are plenty of races to enter. The Race for the Cure brought many of us together in shared purpose, particularly as we watched women in “survivor shirts” or wearing hats and scarves because of hair loss due to chemotherapy. It remains to be seen what the effects of this debacle will be. Certainly, many of us will think twice before raising funds for Komen, when there are other ways of donating to the cause.
I hope that the national response to this incident will lead self-righteous politicians to think twice about their efforts to destroy Planned Parenthood, and to wage their ugly war against reproductive rights. Women’s health is too important to be treated like a kickball for misogynists. It is time to end this perverse and politically motivated game of attacking Planned Parenthood, and others who provide essential medical services to women.
Stan Sears, Minister
If you do not believe in gay marriage, do you believe that you should be paying to support lobbyists who support it?
If you are opposed to any form of birth control—regardless of whether it includes contraception, the “morning after pill,” or abortion, do you believe that you should be subsidizing groups that are lobbying for it?
Those of us who support gay marriage and/or reproductive rights have been pondering these questions for some time. Atheists and the 15% (and growing) of the population who claim no religious affiliation have also been wondering about this. They go right to the core of the fairness of what are called “charitable contributions,” and who gets to use such funds.
One of the benefits that religious organizations, as well as other “do good” groups receive is favorable treatment under the tax code. This encourages people to contribute towards what is ostensibly “the public good” because their contributions are deductible when they file their taxes. In all honesty, this deduction enables congregations and other organizations to provide far more in the way of programs than we would be able to accomplish without the deduction. This goes back to the days when there was less of an official separation between church and state, and churches were charged with the task of providing moral instruction in their local communities.
Over the years, charitable status has extended to numerous other groups, such as museums, food banks, and other community organizations. Charitable status also helps fund numerous forms of medical research. All of these are important, particularly at a time when government funding is being cut. It enables all of us, as individuals, to support causes that are particularly important to us.
Unfortunately some very egregious abuses of this status in recent elections have led me to question its future. One very prominent abuse was the Mormon church’s injection of $22 million to end marriage equality in California. Some Catholic bishops have also attracted attention with various threats to deny communion to politicians who support various forms of reproductive rights, as well as their followers, and for their recent decisions to withdraw Catholic Charities from participating in the adoption process because of the bishops’ opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. Over the years, I have gotten to know numerous people who have worked for Catholic Charities. Many are non-Catholics who are more concerned about the work they are doing to help the poor and those in need than they are in the political aims of the bishops. I have to believe that many of them are cringing in embarrassment at the bishops’ actions.
The privilege of using tax exempt funds is something that all of us serving religious congregations take seriously. By law, we cannot endorse political candidates. This is not to say that we should be agnostic or silent on issues that we believe are morally important. How we use our tax exempt funds, however, should be studied. It does not take a scholar in theological ethics or moral reasoning to know that something is wrong when groups such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization are allowed to collect and use tax exempt funds. To be blunt, it cheapens the term “charitable giving” when blatantly political organizations use tax exempt funds to pay for professional lobbyists or television advertising to influence political campaigns.
The absurdity of this has been pointed out in recent weeks by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who set up their own “Super PAC” to collect money. As a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine pointed out, Colbert used some of the funds for ads supporting the National Basketball Association owners. The Super PAC, which he turned over to Stewart’s control last week, has been running ads in South Carolina, as it prepares to hold its primary election. The ads satirize the process that allows this to happen as much as they poke fun at individual candidates. As the Times article pointed out, Colbert offered to underwrite the cost of either the Democrat or Republican primaries if they would include a referendum asking whether corporations are people, or, if only people are people.
Every year, Americans give hundreds of millions of dollars to tax exempt organizations. These are funds that are not available to pay for schools, roads, our wars, or the care of veterans who will need help for the rest of their lives. In a recent online article, Martin Marty, the esteemed scholar on the interface between religion and society asks whether this practice make sense. As Marty writes, “the generally free ride given religious institutions even in a “secular time” should inspire thought: With all its contradictions, the United States remains a wonderful place in which religions can prosper. They do well when they serve the common good freely and openly.” I believe that this is more important, as well as a more appropriate use of these funds than as morally questionable ways of funneling tax exempt dollars to political action committees, or any groups that function that way…regardless of what they call themselves.