Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reproductive Rights

The following is a guest blog from Rev. Greg Garland, Pastor at United Church of Broomfield and Vice President of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Rev. Greg Garland

It’s all about justice.

“Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5:23] 

There can be no more foundational issue of justice than having the right to one’s own body. Yet, it has been a constant struggle for women to gain and retain that right.

Reproductive Justice is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives.

[A New Vision for Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights, and Reproductive Justice. Oakland: Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, 2005]

The Unitarian Universalists recently passed a “Statement of Conscience” that states, “As Unitarian Universalists, we embrace the reproductive justice framework which espouses the human right to have children, not to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments and to safe guard bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely.”

Reproductive Justice is about protecting the most basic of human rights. Attempts to lessen, disregard, or deny such a basic human right is nothing less than sinful. But such attempts abound in the name of God. The war is a waging, and all we have to do to lose it is to do nothing.

Since Roe v. Wade, the ‘anti-choice’ movement has been on the offense. Recently, the target for the ‘anti-choice’ movement has been Planned Parenthood due to their provision of legal abortions.

The provision of legal abortions is a very small part (3%) of what Planned Parenthood provides. The other services include nearly 400,000 pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, which are critical services in detecting cancer. Planned Parenthood also provide nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,000 HIV tests. Planned Parenthood is extremely pro-life
  • Estimated number of unintended pregnancies averted by Planned Parenthood contraceptive services each year: 516,000.
  • Estimated number of abortions averted by Planned Parenthood contraceptive services each year: 217,000.
  • Number of women, men, and young people worldwide provided with sexual and reproductive health care, education, and outreach by Planned Parenthood each year: 5,180,000. [Planned Parenthood].

If one is interested in reducing abortions, their appeal should be directed at those who wish to reduce or restrict contraception, rather than at the most empirically effective providers.
If you take away Planned Parenthood services (and other services like it), it will result in more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions and, in a return to pre- Roe v Wade days, much more harm (and even death) to women. A painful recent example in Colorado was the denial of funding for LARC (Long Acting Reversible Contraception); a highly effective program that reduced abortion by 40%.

The demise of Planned Parenthood and other abortion care providers means millions could lose access to their trusted, high-quality care provider. This falls hardest on low-income people, who are more likely to be young people and people of color. Many people turn to Planned Parenthood as their only source of health care…

The latest attacks are one part of conservatives’ broader agenda of not only eliminating access to compassionate and safe abortion care, but also removing access to health care services for low-income people. From hacking health care provider websites, to passing legislation about the size of health center hallways, to dozens of attempts to repeal President Obama’s health care law, and refusing to expand Medicaid, conservative politicians are attempting to take away health care through a “death by a thousand cuts." 

It may be hard to fathom, but the Roman Catholic Church and Planned Parenthood are both after the same thing. They would both like to put an end to abortions. But one wants to do it by dictatorial force, while the other wants to do it through education and empowering the rights of women.

The opportunities, rights, and justice that women have attained in the past century are the direct result of their ability to have some control over their own bodies, and especially their reproductive abilities. There are people who want to see that end. 

As goes Planned Parenthood, so goes women’s rights and opportunities.

Rev. Gregory Garland
Pastor, United Church of Broomfield, UCC
Vice President, Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
– the primary religious voice for reproductive justice in Colorado

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Congregational UCC in Buena Vista, CO Celebrates 135 Years of Service

Last week, my wife Lara and I attended Congregational UCC's 135th Anniversary celebration on the invitation of CUCC's pastor, Rev. Rebecca Kemper Poos. 

Before I get into the celebration itself, let me say: If you have not visited Buena Vista, CO before, you should make a point to do so, sooner rather than later. The drive was beautiful and only took about two hours. The visit was timed perfectly so that the Aspen trees on Kenosha Pass were a stunning golden-yellow.

Buena Vista itself is an incredibly charming town. There's a drive-in movie theater (it was playing American Graffiti the weekend we were there), hot springs (packed!), boutiques, a microbrewery, and a big cycling/rafting scene. It's surrounded by peaks on all sides, so no matter where you look, you'll get a big beautiful view of the mountains. 

Best of all are the people. We had planned to stay in a hotel, but we stayed in a cabin owned by Bewy and Helen Duncan (Helen's the Vice-Moderator of CUCC). The Duncans are kind people, so they would never say what I'm about to say, which is that the cabin is inSANEly beautiful. It's right next to a dang river down in a forest. And their hospitality was second to none. 

So yeah, get out to Buena Vista when you can (I recommend fall). 


Congregational UCC of Buena Vista has been serving its community for 135 years. That's a long time. It's been through a handful of buildings, several pastors, wars, movements, and generation after generation of congregants. Rev. Kemper Poos did some rough math during her sermon, and calculated that the amount people served over the years at CUCC was well into the millions. 

She also explored what exactly it means to serve. From her point of view, serving someone can mean anything from lending them a few dollars to helping them build a home. 

We talked about the good that CUCC has done in its community, but I also experienced the good that happens within their congregation. One by one during the celebration lunch, members of the church stood up and told stories about how they had been affected by the church. These people are servants of the community, but they too are served by the church.

The stories made this evident. People talked about times when the church supported them through financial difficulty, helped them raise their children, offered them a place of solace, or gave them a meal to share with others. 

It's a good reminder to me that the Conference doesn't support churches; churches ARE the Conference, and the work that the "Conference" does is really a shared history of kind acts and grace between neighbors. When a church like Congregational UCC in Buena Vista serves its community, it often means a community made up of good individuals who regularly do what they can to make life easier for other people.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Keep Your Spirits Up: Oklahoma Loves You

Today marks the 14th anniversary of 9/11. 

It's insane to me that it's been 14 years. Right now, my wife is teaching a classroom of children who weren't born yet when 9/11 happened. To them, 9/11 may as well be Vietnam or the Titanic. 

In the fall of 2001, I was just beginning my sophomore year at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. I'd just had my heart broken for the first time, and I was still feeling overwhelmed by the transition to Crete from my hometown of Ventura, California. 

That morning, I woke up to an email from my college newspaper editor/adviser. He informed us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and he needed writers to cover it. I mentioned it to my roommate, and while I was oblivious to what was going on at the time, he instantly knew what was happening (he was a Middle-Eastern Studies major). 

He jumped out of bed and turned on the TV, just in time for us to watch the second plane crash into the North Tower. 

Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz via Creative Commons license
Coincidentally, I had Political Science 101 that morning, and together, we watched the coverage in class. Our professor told us, "Watch this; this is important. This will define American politics for years to come." She was right, of course. The effect that 9/11 had on our world was immediate and intense. No explanation needed. 

Now, 14 years later, the pain has subsided. The Iraq war has (thankfully) ended, and the nation's focus is inward, rather than outward. The outrage and contention about our foreign policy has been replaced with outrage and contention about America's racism, sexism, civil rights, and social justice. 

At this time, I am wondering what it means to never forget. I've visited Ground Zero several times (before and after construction of the new towers), and Lower Manhattan holds a special place in my heart. Since 9/11 happened at such a formative time in my life, it will forever be a focal point in the narrative of my passage from youth to young adulthood. So I wonder, what is to be done now? What should I learn from this tragedy? 

St. Paul's Chapel - New York City, New York
My favorite spot in all of New York City (and maybe the country) is St. Paul's Chapel, right across from Ground Zero. The chapel is home to Trinity Church. Built in 1764, it's Manhattan's oldest surviving church building. To me, historical buildings are sacred; churches even more so. This is likely the most sacred building I've ever stepped foot in. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, the church took on a whole new sacredness. For eight months, the church gave rescue workers a place to rest, meals to eat, and solace during a most trying time in their lives. 

The church also served as a beacon for prayer. People from all over the world sent postcards, patches, and letters of support to America, care of St. Paul's Chapel. Even today, there are banners and notes displayed in this holy space. 

I feel like there's some sort of very tangible thing I am supposed to take away from 9/11. Maybe I am supposed to learn the names of the victims, or maybe I am supposed to try and understand the hate that led to this awful event. It's hard to do that. I am not sure how to incorporate the lessons of 9/11 into my everyday life in a meaningful way. 

Maybe the biggest takeaway there is from 9/11 has nothing to do with politics. Maybe the message is perfectly encapsulated in the grace of God present in all of those messages from good people around the world, still on display in St. Paul's sanctuary. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Camel, Needle, Etc.

Summer is coming to an end in the RMC. Fall programming is starting back up, there are new and familiar faces each Sunday, and Church Stewardship season is upon us. 

A man walking around in autumn, thinkin' 'bout Jesus.
This should come as no shock to you: The church survives on donations, which means we have to ask for money (kind of a lot). Which also means that we have it down to a science. Sometimes, we build entire webpages dedicated to it

It's not that pastors love asking for money. In fact, I think most of them probably hate it. It doesn't feel good to ask for money, especially when you're asking it of those who already give so much to the community. But we've got to send the offering plate around in order to continue doing the good work that we do. 

Thank you.
Usually, solicitations for donations are in the "We know/But" format. "We know you are struggling to get by as it is, but anything you can give helps." "We know you donated a substantial amount last year, but it's this year, and we need you." "We know you already volunteer your time for the church, but our building is falling apart." 

All of these have something in common: They name giving as a sacrifice necessary in spite of the donor's well-being and peace of mind. 

I recently learned that it's a relatively new development, at least in the Western World. Professional Acting Associate Conference Minister Tamara Boynton recently told me that, while she was researching her genealogy, she found several notes from ancestors indicating that giving away one's money was a necessity for moral purity. Notes like "And near the end of his rich life, he donated most of his fortune to the local university, in order to keep his soul and heart pure." 

I made that up but it sounds legit old-timey so I am going to leave it. 

Not impressed.
The point is, giving seems different when we view it as something that is essential to our well-being, rather than something detrimental to it. 

I thought this sounded familiar, and then I remembered about the Bible. The scripture that most folks can quote is Mark 10:25: 
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
There are as many interpretations of this short phrase as there are Christians in the world, but most of us can agree it means something like, "Being generous is divine." Or maybe "If you love something, give it away." Probably not "Cross-stitch a picture of a camel." 

This Stewardship Season, let's think of giving as something we can do to be more holy.