Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thoughts on a Sunday

A week ago today in Knoxville, Tennessee, a mentally disturbed man walked into a Unitarian Universalist Sunday morning service carrying a guitar case. No one who saw him gave it a thought. Lot of UUs like music and carry musical instruments. As the children of the congregation were putting on a program, the man opened the case, removed a sawed-off shotgun and opened fire.

Just before the gunfire erupted, a nearby member of the congregation saw the gunman and immediately realized he was shooting toward the stage where the children were singing and dancing. He threw himself between the gunman and his target, absorbing the first fatal blast. The gunman got off another shot from the double-barreled weapon, killing a woman and wounding seven other members of the congreation before being wrestled to the ground by three brave men who stopped him from reloading and continuing the massacre. The amount of ammunition he carried indicated he had evidently intended to kill many more people.

The gunman, who was obviously mentally unbalanced, had left a bitter note blaming "liberals" for his troubles and vowing revenge on the "liberals" who voted the "liberal" politicians into power. In his warped mind, he equated liberalism with Unitarian Universalists, and thus chose his target.

As a member of my local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship I have been thinking about this horrendous event all week. It had never before occurred to me that I could be taking my life in my hands just walking through the doors of my church--and yes, it is a church, and Unitarian Univeralism is a religion, not a sect or a cult, as some ignorant people have accused. Formed from the union of two older religions, Unitarianism and Universalism, UUs have principles upon which they covenant to agree, rather than a creed of specific dogma which members are required to believe.

Briefly these principles are:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Some of these phrases may ring familiar, as similar phrases are found in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, the signers of which included several Unitarians , notably John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine.

Realizing that in today's world the world liberal has become a buzzword which many people use as a perjorative associated with excess taxation, a soft stand on crime and criminals, and other evils, I looked it up in a Webster's dictionary:

Liberal: 1. favorable to progress or reform 2. designating or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform 3. pertaining to, based on, or having views or policies, advocating individual freedom of action and expression 4. of or pertaining to representative forms of government rather than aristocracies or monarchies 5. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant 6. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.; openminded 7. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts 8. given freely or abundantly; generous 9. not strict or rigorous; free, not literal 10. of pertaining to or based on the liberal arts 11. a person of liberal principles or views 12. a member of a liberal political party

I agree that based on the above definitions, in particular the first 7, most UUs probably consider themselves as liberals. If I had to use a word other than liberal to describe UU's, it would be generous, not only with monetary contributions to social causes but with time, energy, and personal commitment.

So why did a man who was down on his luck, unable to find a job or keep his family together, and obviously crazed with his pain and frustration attack a church full of people who probably would have offered him help if they had known of his needs?

There really are no logical explanations for events such as this. The rambling note he left behind only hints at the deep-seated roots of hate and ignorance that must have been flooding his tortured mind. The really frightening issue for me is that this person is not alone in his superficial knowledge and hatred of Unitarian Universalists. It's frequently true that people seem reflexively to hate that which they do not know or understand. I've never experienced a direct threat, but I have become aware that casual acquaintances who know I am a UU have made caustic remarks about UUs, among other things, that we are "tools of the devil".

Often those who are most critical of UUism are members of other religious groups, usually ones that feel they have a corner on salvation and believe the rest of us are condemned to whatever unpleasantness their particular religion feels comes after death. I don't agree with them. But I'm not about to encroach upon their rights to their beliefs!! (Refer back to definition number 5 that mentions tolerance.)

Of course it's not our tolerance of others' religious faiths or political viewpoints that has many narrow minded people riled up about UUs. Most currently it is our tolerance of homosexuality and our belief that GLBT individuals have the same inalienable right to pursue happiness and exercise their religious faiths as the rest of us. Back in the 60's and 70's, it was our similar tolerance of Afician Americans' rights to vote, speak freely, get a good education, and live and work where they wished that made us target for hate mongers. Same tune, different words.

Last Thursday evening our church had a service called a "Circle of Sorrow and Support" for the Knoxville congregation. Anyone who wished was invited to come and share feelings about the murders and the impact of the terrible events of the previous Sunday. We publicized the meeting in the local paper. During the meeting someone mentioned feeling slight concern about whether some "copy cat" might barge into the building to vent his or her own sick frustrations against "us liberals". It was a sobering thought, and several of us agreed that we did feel some uneasiness. However, every person there verbalized a determination not to allow bitterness and fear to obscure our reasons for being UUs in the first place. This is where we meet to share our thoughts and opinions and support one another; this is where we learn about pressing social issues of our community and our world and where we can take positive action to contribute to solutions; this is where we raise our children to be tolerant, caring, concerned citizens of the world.

The night I heard about the shootings in Knoxville, I was upset beyond words. I called several UU friends and we ventilated our sorrow and cried together. Late that night I still felt restless and needed to do something more. I decided to write down my feelings. This is the result.


I didn't know any of them,
Yet I know all of them.
Children in a play,
Proud parents, friends, neighbors,
Grandmas and grandpas,
Here to see the children sing and dance.

Singing and dancing children,
Then a man with a gun.
Another man who knew he had to act
To save the children.
He took the blast to save the children.

Shots and screams and blood,
But others quickly grabbed the man
Before more shots could tear the air,
Thrown to the floor and tied with belts,
Before police were there.

A man on edge, in so much pain,
Tormented soul who sought to blame,
"It's all their fault my life is bad,
And so they have to die," he said,
As children sang and danced
He ripped their world to shreds.

"Such a shame", the mayor says,
"But don't judge us by just one man,
Our city tolerates the gays,
Who flaunt God's laws on every hand,
We decent folks give them their place,
If they don't rub it in our face."

A place of love and light and song
Became a maelstrom of pain,
But these are people who are strong,
And they will rise above the stain,
The chalice flame will burn on bright,
To guide the way to what is right.

Their children will grow strong and sure,
Their fears will dim, they'll sing once more,
The scars will fade, the wounds will cure,
Our of ashes love will soar.

But for now we weep hot tears,
For sisters, brothers, friends, and peers,
For ourselves and for our fears,
For a world that shifted gears,

When a sad man, bad man, sick man
Lost his mind and lost his way
And charged a price, a vengence fee
That innocents were forced to pay.

Time will pass and in its wake,
We'll care and share for justice' sake,
And our young will dance and sing again,
Our young will dance and sing again.

This was a lengthy post and I thank you for your patience.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Dubious Honor

Today I received an email from eBay announcing I was a Red Star Winner. ( Note here I tried to upload the certificate to show you but the format won't let me upload it as a picture and my computer expertise is somewhat limited. Therefore, try to picture a cheesy looking "certificate" with a big red star on it, certifying that I've reached the goal of 1000 transactions on eBay.)

Now if I were an eBay seller, that would be a real nifty achievement, since it would denote I had successfully sold 1000 items on eBay. I am not an eBay seller. I have never sold anything on eBay and have no plans to do so. Sooooooo, that leaves one other possibility for "1000 transactions", right? You got it. I've purchased over 1000 items on eBay. Now, if I had paid even one dollar per item that would represent a chunk of change. But anyone who knows eBay, knows you don't get too much for one dollar, considering postage and handling, etc.

Sigh. I confess. I'm an eBay shopaholic. It's a little odd, since I really don't much enjoy shopping in "real life". I go when I have to to get groceries or some specific item I need, but I rarely just go browsing (unless, of course, I'm with friends in LA, browsing heaven!)

But sitting at the computer, especially late at night in the dark, the bright screen beckons with all sorts of tempting items. My daughter turned me on to eBay about six years ago, and now she says she created a monster! That's not to say I buy a lot of things I don't need or use--probably no moreso than the average "regular store" shopper. We've all had the experience of seeing something in a store that looked just right, and then getting it home and putting it on a shelf or in a closet and having it never see the light of day again.

However, nowadays, when I decide I want to purchase something, my first thought is, how cheap can I get it on eBay? I've bought so many different kinds of items I can't even begin to list them all: clothes, shoes (I'm a lucky average size and out of at least a dozen pair have only had one that I couldn't wear--still about average for regular shopping), a video camera, film, calendars, books, videos, small furniture items (shelves), an ice bucket, art supplies, dog and cat toys, and much more.

My most recent eBay finds have been coupons. I stumbled onto coupons when seeking a good bulk deal on dog treats. Coupons for $1 off on Madison's favorite treats were listed. I bid and got 20 coupons for around $2.50, including postage. That represents a savings of over $17 on something I would buy anyway at the local stores. It set me to thinking maybe there would be coupons for other things, so I typed "coupons" into the eBay search engine and let it search "all categories". It came up with over 21,000 hits! Good heavens! There were coupons for everything from diapers to dog food, vacations to restaurant meals, and all kinds of grocery and other items. The starting bids were generally low, say $0.99 for 20 coupons for $1.00 off on an item. Now obviously there aren't a lot of items I would generally need to buy 20 of at a time, but I got to thinking: If I pay $2.50 for some coupons and I use even 6 or 7 of them, I've got my "goodie" out of the deal, and I can share the rest with others.

So I jumped into the bidding. Pretty soon I had coupons coming in the mail like crazy. My mailman prefers coupons in envelopes to some of the more bulky packages I have received. He kids me and says, "I can always tell when you've been on eBay again." EBay makes it easy by linking with Pay Pal, on online paying system, which can directly debit either your bank account or a credit card. (I use my bank account, so I'm not tempted to completely lose control!) In all these transactions, I've only been "stiffed" once by a seller, ie. paid for an item and didn't receive it. Paying through Pay Pal gives up to $1000 per purchase insurance, so I will eventually get the money back.

Anyway, I emptied out a hall closet which had a lot of stuff crammed into it that really needed to go elsewhere (or into a yard sale), and cleared three shelves for items bought in bulk, including cereal, pickles, rice, ziploc bags, aluminum foil, deodorant, applesauce, tomato sauce, and several other similar items which won't spoil and that I will definitely need and use. I cleared a space in the garage to stack bags of kitty litter ($1.00 off per bag of the brand I use), and cat and dog food, and cleaning supplies, such as Chlorox, Tide, Lysol spray, and Swiffer refills. Again, these are all items which won't spoil and which I would buy over time anyway. Also, my freezer is choked full of Lean Cuisine, Bertolli's meals, cheese and a few other items I had single coupons for.

Along with bidding for multiple coupons of the same item, you can bid on grab bags of coupons , as for example, "150 grocery coupons, no babies or pets", starting bid $.99 plus $.99 postage and handling. Most of those go for around 2 or 3 dollars. I've won several and so far each batch has had enough coupons I could use so that it more than paid for the lot. I've been sharing coupons with my friends and neighbors, taking them to church, and giving them to my mom and nephew. I have an envelope full of coupons for my daughter, who will be thrilled to see lots of coupons for the energy bars she and her hubby buy and also the soda he likes.

My favorite coupon buy was one for Silk Soy Milk, $2.00 off any size, no expiration date. I bought two half gallons of Vanilla Silk soy milk (which I love!) at Wal-Mart last week. The price was $2.98 a half gallon, so with the coupons, I got 2 half gallons for $1.96!!! And I still have 18 coupons left!

I have to admit it takes some time to sort and file the coupons, since for most of them you have to keep track of expiration dates. I got a couple of small file folders, one for storage and one to use when I shop, to keep track. If it sounds like a lot of bother, consider this: in July I save $220 on merchandise using coupons.

My recent flurry of coupon bidding was what put me over the top to reach the dubious honor of being a Red Star Winner!

How, you may ask, can anyone make any money selling coupons on eBay? I thought about it, and after reading some of the info on seller's pages, I realized most of the sellers seem to be stay at home Moms, who are clipping coupons to bring in extra income for the family. Figure a seller gets all her family, friends and neighbors to give her their Sunday supplements, magazines, and other sources of coupons, plus what she can print out on the internet . She clips and batches coupons and sells in volume, say 10 batches a week making a "profit" of $1.50-$2.00 on each batch. That's around $60-90 a month income with relatively little effort, doing something that can be done at the kitchen table or in front of the TV while watching the kids. Some of the more desirable coupons, like the soy milk, can bring in bids of up to $7 or $8, so the profit is higher for the seller.

So, I guess it comes down to what I'd rather be known as: The Crazy Old Lady with All the Cats, or The Crazy Old Lady with All the Coupons. Either one is OK by me.