The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Purim Principles

[Reflections on the story of Esther as portrayed in the Feb 24 DUUC sermon]

I didn't really know much about the Jewish Purim holiday prior yesterday's service. Afterward, I have more questions than answers. Let's see if that works out better for me now than it did during my fundamentalist Christian upbringing.

The first part of the story is about the king wanting to have his (attractive) wife parade around in front of his court buddies to show her off like a piece of meat. [I don't remember if this was mentioned in the sermon, but in the original story the king is "merry with wine" at the time.] The wife, Vashti, does not comply, and the king strips her of her crown and banishes her. [In the original text, this is decreed in such a way that all husbands are designated as rulers in their homes, and all wives are to honor their husbands.]

My reaction (with apologies to Mel Brooks): "Good to be the king!"
Emmy Lou's commentary (as I heard it): This was Vashti's own fault. She may have been within her rights to assert herself, but those rights were nullified by her lack of people skills.
My question: doesn't this demonstrate a spectacular level of inequality and sexism, and shouldn't we be taking Vashti's side unequivocally?

Next, the king orders the kingdom's virgins to be arrayed before him so that he can choose a replacement queen using a process of visual inspection.

My reaction: (see previous)
My question: (do I even need to ask?)

The king chooses Mordecai's cousin, Esther, as his new queen.

My reaction: Yay, Esther!! Way to... be... the prettiest virgin?
My questions: Is this one of those things that we just have to accept as being part of the times in which the story was set? Like animal sacrifice, or slavery? (Because God is powerless to affect social changes at a rate faster than humans can work them out on their own?) And if you're female and not the prettiest virgin, are you just [euphemism for not being a virgin any more]?

Ok, this is all setup for the main story line, so maybe we don't need to pay much attention. Now things get interesting. The king's minister, Haman (queue vociferous shaking of mac&cheese packages) is vexed because Mordecai, in accordance with Jewish tradition, does not bow down in Haman's presence.

My reaction: Whatever, every story needs a villain and some conflict.
My questions: Presumably Mordecai doesn't bow for the king either, so why does this bother Haman and not the king? And presumably Esther doesn't bow for either of them, so why is it only Mordecai who gets noticed? Or, because Mordecai had instructed Esther to conceal her Jewish identity, maybe Esther DID bow down (and thereby violated Jewish law, but was never punished, so maybe that particular law wasn't really all that important?)

ANYWAY, Haman decides to use Mordecai's obduracy as a pretext to petition the king to issue a decree (which he does) ordering the killing of all members of  "a certain people" (without mentioning Jews by name), along with the confiscation of all their property for deposit in the royal treasury.

My reaction: Obvious Hitler parallel. 
My question: No question, this seems plainly immoral, and (spoiler alert) Haman eventually meets his end. But how the heck does the king issue a blanket execution decree against "a certain people" without knowing who they are? Is he not the least bit curious? Does he allow any other ministers to issue blanket execution decrees, or just Haman?

Once Esther learns of this decree, she

  • asks all the Jews to fast for three days, and 
  • sets in motion a plan to have a series of banquets for the king and Haman. (The fact that no other court officials were invited to these banquets stokes Haman's ego and reveals Esther's people skills.) 

Meanwhile, Haman builds a massive gallows in his front yard on which he intends to hang Mordecai.

At the same time, the king

  • learns that Mordecai had once saved his life
  • asks Haman what reward would be fitting for someone who had saved the king's life, and
  • orders Haman to provide the reward he had suggested (thinking it was for himself) to Mordecai.

My reaction: Ok, having Haman being forced to shower Mordecai with rewards is a reasonably clever plot twist.
My questions: What is the fasting for? Why are the Jews supposed to fast, when Haman and the king are the only ones who will be feasting? Will the fasting hide their Jewishness and help them fit in better? 
How does a gallows in your front yard impact the resale value of your property, especially (another spoiler alert, sorry) with you hanging from it? 
And what is it with the women always in charge of the food?

At the second feast day, Esther reveals to the king that his blanket execution decree is actually against Jews, and that she herself is a Jew. The king asks who is responsible for this decree, and Esther identifies Haman. The king has Hamon hanged on the very gallows he (Hamon) had build for Mordecai, on his front lawn.

My reaction: Cliche, the plot is revealed, justice is done, blah blah...
My questions: Is Esther still a virgin at this point in the story? If not, couldn't she have used some influence other than culinary arts to get an audience with the king? (If she is still a virgin, is there something about "biblical marriage" that we're not being told?) And at the risk of repetitiousness, how much wine has this king had that he doesn't know that he has ordered mass executions?

In the sermon, the story ends when the king -- being unable to alter prior decrees -- issues a followup decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In the full biblical story, the followup decree gives Jews the right to conduct preemptive murder against would-be attackers, and... well, let me quote the source: "And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them. Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them." And then Esther asked that the (already dead) bodies of Haman's ten sons be strung up on the gallows in Hamon's front yard, and asked for the Jews to be allowed to keep killing for a second day, and then they had several days of feasting. Mordecai became the king's right-hand man, and to this day the celebration of Purim is held every year on the 14th day of Adar. The end.

My reaction to the sermon: The ending seems much tamer than most such Old Testament stories. Also, EL made the initial point that Vashti was somehow at fault for not being as subtle and manipulative (my interpretation, not her exact words) as Esther had been in speaking truth to power. Then later, when discussing the tactics of elder women she remembered from her youth, she seemed to reverse herself and suggest that women should be able to speak truth to power more directly, with less use of feminine wiles (again, my interpretation, not necessarily her words.) 
My reaction to the full text:  Oh yeah, THERE'S the biblical morality I've come to expect.
My questions: The king cannot change a decree? Seriously? The ONLY possible solution was to issue a counter-decree authorizing preemptive murder-at-will? And once the two offsetting decrees were in place, why did the Jews seem to have the upper hand? Did the Jews massively outnumber the gentiles back then (in which case, why was Mordecai the only one caught not bowing?) Were Jews naturally bigger and stronger than gentiles in those days, or better with weapons? And what does it mean that the Jews "did what they would" to those that hated them? (Esther 9:5) First they smote them with swords, then with slaughter, then with destruction, and THEN they "did what they would"?!?

Regarding the speaking of truth to power, can this be done directly (with all possible civility, of course), or must some level of subterfuge  be involved? If subterfuge is deemed necessary, are there any rules on how far it can be taken? If Vashti's direct approach was in the right, what does it mean that the story seems to approve of her dismissal?

What moral lessons are we to learn from this? "If you are the prettiest virgin in the land, you can ask the king to release you from one immoral edict by issuing another immoral edict, as long as you serve him dinner and liquor him up first"?  Why is this a better source of moral guidance than, say, Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales?

Thursday, February 21, 2013


This was presented February 10th, 2013

Good morning. I’m Jack Pace. Ginny and I just received our pins for 25 years of membership in DUUC. Here’s what we remember from 1988, the year we joined.

As former UUs, we visited the nearest UU church and didn’t shop around for other church options. DUUC was friendly, had a great minister in Kendyl Gibbons, and had just launched an expansion program to build what is now Kreves Hall. I don’t think we had a mission statement back then , but the church soon adopted the motto A Growing Church for Growing Times.

The staff consisted of minister, part-time DRE and part-time secretary, all sharing space in what is now the Clara Barton room upstairs. Bonnie was pianist, but the choir was directed by a series of volunteers. Child care was provided by parents taking turns.

The social action committee was a forum for lively discussions, but our only community involvement was collecting food for Peoples Resource Center. Since then, our social action program has grown to include PADS, Bridge Communities, Green Sanctuary, and Statements of Conscience, as well as a Public Ministry Committee to advance social witness in the name of the church.

The church had no Endowment Fund, but established one soon after we arrived.

The Service Auction brought in hundreds of dollars. It has grown into an event that nets tens of thousands.

Kendyl was only the church’s 4th minister. She suggested that DUUC become more open to the LGBT community, but it wasn’t until Lois White interned with us that we embarked on the Welcoming Congregation program.

Since that era, our religious education curriculum has grown to include the Chalice Lighter, Coming of Age and TAG programs.

Altho we had only one service in 1988, we soon added a second service to accommodate growth in church attendance.

Ginny and I felt that this church would be the right one for us. That anything that needed to be fixed, we could help fix. As the church and its members have grown in wisdom, strength and community service, so have we. We are proud and happy to be a part of this growing church community. We are proud to support it.

Jack and Ginny Pace

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


This was presented on February 3, 2013.

It may seem strange to you that Sally and I are presenting this little talk about life in the DUUC during the seventies, having just received our five-year membership pins a few weeks ago. However, we first joined this church in 1974, and we want to share our memories of congregational life nearly forty years ago. 
The property at that time included: the original one-room school house, now the Founders Room; our present sanctuary, built some time before we arrived; and part of the entrance foyer. That's all there was.
The congregation was also very different in 1974. We had about 150 members. Congregational concerns were mainly with money (surprise?) and internal affairs. Church governance was simple. We had only one employee, and relatively few corporate responsibilities. We had a Board, but all major financial, business and policy decisions were made in true democratic fashion - that is, by discussion and vote at congregational meetings. Some of these meetings were exciting affairs, and tempers flared - but the good thing was that after the vote, everyone put away their verbal weapons, picked up their coffee cups and got on with the business of being a loving, caring Church.
One thing that Art felt was missing was a choir. Corinne Kreves, the minister's wife, played very nice piano, but aside from hymns and an occasional solo from a member, there was little music in the Church. Art organized the first DUUC choir, and Sally sang alto. The choir became a regular part of services for many years.
Another legacy that we created was the annual All-Church Campout on our 50 acre property near Newaygo, Michigan, called "Hidden View." The campout was held the second weekend in July, every year beginning in 1976. Camping gear included everything from pup tents to RVs, all welcome. What great times we had: tubing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, tractor rides for kids, cookouts over our big community charcoal grill, evening campfire songfests. 
One memorable scene from Hidden View deserves special mention here. Shortly after Kendyl Gibbons began serving as our Minister in 1983, she and her husband, Mark, came to an annual Hidden View campout. They were not seasoned campers, but they had borrowed a tent and some gear for this weekend. That was one of the few nights during which we had serious rain - a real whiz-banger category 7 thunderstorm. Kendyl emerged the next morning, sopping wet, and announced with as much dignity as she could muster, that this was one Church function that was going to have to carry on in the future without her participation. Kendyl was a good sport, and the campouts did, in fact, continue, until 1991.

Art and Sally Freedman

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A group of church members is meeting to discuss Beth Terry’s book, Plastic Free—How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.  Most plastics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and they are expected to persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Furthermore, numerous health issues have been identified that are related to chemicals found in plastics.   In our first lively discussion many ideas were raised.  The easiest things EVERYONE can do to reduce their use of plastics are:  1) bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and 2) stop using single-use water bottles.  I offered to compile resources we were exchanging and the group thought that it would be fun to share this information with our entire congregation.  So, here you have it—the first installment of miscellaneous information and the what-you-can-do—of our discussion—which ultimately boils down to ideas for living with a lighter footprint on planet earth.

1. Need to recycle VHS tapes?  Dorothy sends hers to Training, Inc.  2200 Burlington St, Columbia, MO 65202.  See http://www.actservices.org/.  Individuals with disabilities recycle VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, and the plastic storage cases for tapes and discs.  You pay shipping.
2. Want to eliminate your use of plastic produce bags? Some Jewel stores now sell reusable mesh bags in the produce department. Also see: http://www.earthwisebags.com/
3. Shampoo bottles? Eliminate that plastic.  Pat uses Zum bar soap that she buys at Whole Foods to wash her hair.  Also available on-line at http://www.indigowild.com/category/natural-soap/
4. Susan suggests that if you want to bake your own bread, AND you need an easy recipe, here’s one to try.  You can make round loaves of different sizes and the dough can be conveniently refrigerated. There are pictures with the recipe to help you along.  http://lisasdinnertimedish.com/?p=732
5. Interested in raw food?  Rick says you must look into it and here is a website he recommends: http://www.vibranthealthandwealth.com/vibrance/index.html
A local “raw food” restaurant getting good reviews is Borrowed Earth in Downers Grove. See  http://www.borrowedearthcafe.com/.

We’ll share more after our next session!

Susan Camasta

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Who is your teacher" - Feb 3 service

When I saw the announcement for this service, my first thought was "I wonder what poor sap they are going to get to volunteer for that."

Then I thought about it for a minute, and I wondered "if I were going to volunteer, who would I put forward as my teacher?"

Pondering my long philosophical journey from the theistic Lutheran fundamentalism of my childhood to the naturalistic humanism of my present, I tried to think of one dominant influence -- one teacher, one author, one experience that would have been the prime factor in my deconversion. But it was a long, gradual process for me, with many stages or steps along the way. Every book, every author, every conversation, every experience gave me a little bit more to think about and moved me a little farther down my path. Looking back on it now, I have the sense of having been placed in a deep hole by my childhood upbringing, and having to pull myself up a ladder one rung at a time. Carl Sagan may have provided a rung, Christopher Hitchens may have provided another rung, and Charles Darwin another, and the Dalai Lama still another, but I had to climb all those rungs to get to my current perspective.

Now that I've climbed out of that particular hole and had some time to look around, I've noticed that the landscape seems familiar. Many of the moral and ethical positions that I'm arriving at are ones that I've seen before, in stories from my childhood. Not so much the stories I heard from my parents and relatives, but stories I saw on TV. 

The stories of one particular storyteller stand out in my recollection. These stories center on the crew of a spaceship as they trek from star to star and encounter civilizations that were supposed to be strange and alien, but were actually all too human. Let me give you a few examples:

In one episode, the crew comes upon a planet inhabited by a powerful, advanced alien. This alien offers to return to earth and restore an earlier, nostalgic golden age of paradise with all humanity had ever desired: health, happiness, comfort, and safety. All that is required in return is for humanity to welcome the alien, agree to become his slaves, and worship him as a god. 

In another episode, the crew comes upon a planet inhabited by a race with equal parts black and white pigmentation, sharply divided down the center of their bodies. These people are at war with each other, and are on the verge of total annihilation. When asked what the conflict is about, one of inhabitants points to his opponent and says "isn't it obvious? HE is black, on the left side. ALL HIS PEOPLE are black, on the left side. (I am white, on the left side.)"

In still another episode, the crew comes upon a planet with a shining city, not on a hill, but actually in the clouds (in low orbit.) This cloud city is inhabited by a gentle race of scholars, artists, poets, and other sophisticated types. Meanwhile, the planet below is inhabited by a violent, brutish race of limited intelligence. These surface-dwellers are only suitable for domestic help, or working in the mines which produce the precious ore which pays for the cloud city.  But it turns out that these two races are actually the same. Originally they had planned to rotate between leisure time in the cloud city and work on the surface. The surface-dwellers behave as they do because of exposure to toxic fumes in the mines, while the privileged cloud-dwellers who benefit from the surface labor are secluding themselves behind the walls of the ultimate gated community.

As a boy, I was more impressed by phasers, force fields, and photon torpedoes than by the underlying morals of the stories. I grew up in an all-white, all-Christian community where thinking of a god as a petty, narcissistic slave-master would have been sacrilege.  I had little awareness of racial prejudice and discrimination, and the phrase "we are the 99%" was decades away. Women and minorities in leadership positions, the first interracial kiss on network television -- all lost on me at the time. I also didn't sit through all the closing credits back then, so I didn't know the storyteller's name. I only knew the names of the actors who played the leading characters: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, George Takei. It was only much later, when I had climbed many rungs on my ladder, that I learned it had been Gene Roddenberry (recipient of the American Humanist Association's 1991 Humanist Arts Award) who had shown me the preview of my ongoing mission to boldly seek out new truths and deeper community.