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January is the time for New Year’s Resolutions, and in my social circle, Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “Rulin’s” make the rounds every year about this time:

woody-guthrie-resolutions

(click on photo to enlarge)

Normally, I’m not one for New Years Resolutions. I just don’t seem to have the knack of them.  This year I briefly toyed with the idea of resolving to spend less time on social media, and immediately went to post about it on Facebook before realizing that maybe that wouldn’t be my path forward. Most years, I try to spread the self-improvement out year round.

Still, I can get behind a list like Woody’s. I mean, here’s a guy who knows himself – both what he can do: “Wash teeth if any,” and what he needs to do: “Keep hoping machine running.” Taken as a whole, his list boils down to “Take care of yourself, take care of the people you love, be creative, and do your part for the world.” I think I could do that; I think any of us could. It’s as if Woody were saying, “Make this year count.  Don’t try to be anybody but yourself; just be a good Yourself.”

This year needs to count.  So I decided to come up with my own “New Year’s Rulin’s,” which I gladly share with you (sans doodles).  What would yours be?

Dan’s New Year’s Rulin’s 2017

1. Open your eyes.
2. Wake up before 11 every day.
3. Polish shoes.
4. Listen.
5. Be generous.
6. Open your heart.
7. Love like it matters.
8. Wash dishes.
9. Fold laundry.
10. Cut hair if any.
11. Pay attention to children – all children.
12. Forgive mistakes – mine and others.
13. Sing.
14. Write.
15. Remember.
16. Hope.
17. Enjoy world.
18. Change world.
19. Read.
20. Breathe.
21. Dream.
22. Resist injustice.
23. Build good.
24. Make time sacred.

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When conservative activist Marco Gutierrez warned about the consequences of a loss for his side in November – “taco trucks on every corner” – the internet rejoiced. “I’m not seeing a downside here,” any number of people commented. A friend pointed out that panang curry trucks would be nice too, and it would be awfully helpful to have easy access to some good shwarma and tabouli, along with a real New York bagel.

Our conversations about immigration in the United States have tended to center around fear. It is, after all, normal to be afraid of what we don’t know or understand. The problem is that when we hold our debate on these terms – one side expressing anxiety, the other reassuring – we miss the real benefits cultural diversity brings.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I live in a world defined by differences. My faith is rooted in the idea that we are stronger when we’re surrounded by people of many backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities, abilities, cultures, gender identities and sexual orientations. Each week I preach the value of a community of diversity, in which all of us deepen through our connections with people who don’t see the world as we do, or have different life experiences, or bring different gifts and perspectives. Each week we remind one another that we grow when we interact meaningfully with people who are different from us.

This isn’t just a religious idea. It is the best of what America can be – a country in which we learn from differences, honoring the unique cultures which have come together to make our diverse society. Every culture has value. In my America the cultures of the West Virginia hollers, North Philadelphia neighborhoods and Latino communities of South Texas each form an essential part of a rich whole. In my America we embrace not only the food and the music of every culture, but also the wisdom.

I believe in an America in which we don’t just tolerate differences – we celebrate them.

Yes, America needs more taco trucks. We also need more Asian festivals, more pow-wows, more African American poetry, more old time fiddle music, hip hop and banghra, more mosques and temples and gurdwaras, more Humanist societies, more diverse churches of every stripe. We need more libraries filled with books by every kind of author. We need real community shared with thoughtful neighbors of every political persuasion. We have moved beyond the old idea of a melting pot, in which each of our cultures loses its distinctiveness; instead we are a tapestry, woven together by our connections and conversations. We are better when we are not all the same.

Politics aside, I think the United States is moving in this direction. It is the inevitable product of a world in which communication across cultures has become the norm. That world may be frightening, sometimes – the unfamiliar often is – but if we embrace its promise, there is no end to the wonders and wisdom that await.

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Yesterday I shared a blog post about the anniversary of the shooting in Tucson. It was pointed out to me later that I had made a rather embarrassing typo in the title (“Tucson” in in Arizona; “Tuscon” is Italian), so I’ve reposted with a new permalink. The issue remains a serious one, with over 2,000 American children EVERY year murdered by gun violence. And Tom Paxton’s song, linked to in the post, is powerful and deeply moving.

The Song and the Sigh

Today is the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people lost their lives and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head.  In the intervening years we have seen similar shootings at an Oakland, California college, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and, most horrifically, a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school.  Sadly, the actual list is far too long for me to recount – the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence lists over 70 mass shootings since Tucson, and that only tells a small part of the story.  Every day in the United States, gunfire kills 87 people – 8 of them children, 5 of those murder.  That’s over 100 Newtowns every year, and most of us don’t even notice it.

After the Newtown shooting last month several gun control opponents cited a mass stabbing in  China, correctly pointing…

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I love Christmas.  I love the carols, the greenery, the candles, the meals with family and friends, the silliness, the gift-giving – all of it.  But perhaps what I love the best is the way we talk about Christmas in my church – that the birth of a child is always a time for celebration, and every child brings hope to the world in their own very unique way.  Over the years I’ve told the age old story in countless ways – through songs, stories, and more.

Most years I write a poem for Christmas, and I’d like to share my personal favorite – written ten years ago for the candlelight Christmas service at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  Enjoy, and Merry Christmas to all!

A Christmas Poem

It happened years ago,
down between the folds of the hills,
beneath the light of so many stars and one.
When the first cries of the newborn
pierced the midnight air,
it was a new song of life.
And those who came to see the princeling
wrapped in soft sheets of his mother’s love
discovered each one a soul made new
by the light of an infant child.
Though centuries push forward,
the story is the same,
ever the same.
A child born,
a mother’s love,
a new wonder under the stars.
It is the gift of ages,
small and regal,
looking up into us
with hopeful expectation.

– Rev. Dan Schatz
Christmas 2002

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What is this Blog?

The creek of life goes winding on
Wandering by
And bears forever its course upon
A song and the sigh

– Henry Lawson

I’ve always loved Henry Lawson’s poem.  Somehow it brings together song and spirit, art and ordinary life. That’s what I try to do as a musician, and it’s part of what I try to do in ministry.

Spirit, after all, is far more broad than religion. Listen to a 1929 blues recording of Henry Spaulding or a Fred Cockerham banjo solo, and you’ll know what I mean. Open a book of poetry, or the sacred writings of just about any religion, and you will find unique and precious revelations of humanity.

These musings are my small attempt to bring these things together, honoring life, song, justice and the human experience.  Some posts may be writings I’ve used elsewhere, others will be wholly new.  It’s all a grand experiment, and I don’t know how things will evolve, but I’m excited by the possibilities.  I invite you into conversation and community.

 

 

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