Progressive Faith Sermons - Dr. Roger Ray

During the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a mass exodus of people, especially women, from the workforce, returning and staying home as caregivers to the young, the old, the sick, and the disabled. It’s another instance of exposing the USA’s lack of infrastructure and policy to support this most basic of social functions. At the same time, caregiving jobs are often among the most labor-intensive and lowest paid. Time and again, our society has demonstrated how little we value caregiving, a trend rooted in racist, sexist, and ableist norms. With greater awareness of these limitations and their impacts, we can begin to ask: What might a society look like that reorients itself around supporting and valuing the giving and receiving of care?

Direct download: 20220925_Sermon.mp3
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Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke contains what has been called one of Jesus’ “strangest parables,” a tale of a rich man with a clever manager, who wiggles his way out of economic and social ruin. Rather than speeding by the economic aspects of this story, we can use it as an opportunity to both better understand how debt and economic justice often go hand in hand (then and now) and better act to create societies where people’s lives are valued for their humanity, and not for their potential to be exploited for profit.

Direct download: 20220918_Sermon.mp3
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On this 21st anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks, we pause to consider the story of one detainee from our prison in Guantanamo Bay, Mansoor Adayfi. He was just a teenager, a Yemeni far from home in the wrong place at the wrong time and was sold by Afghanis to the American soldiers who were looking for al Qaeda terrorists. Mansoor was innocent but he was none-the-less held prisoner and tortured nearly to death for 14 years. He serves as an example of how a fear-based war on terror turned America into terrorists.

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Labor Day is a compromise holiday in America because we didn’t want to honor labor on the first day of May, May Day, as it is observed all over the rest of the world. May Day, some of our early 20th century presidents and capitalists believed, was too closely associated with Communism and Socialism and we never wanted to be a part of that. America wants to honor laborers, they just never really wanted to pay them very much. Somehow, in the richest country in the world, we still can’t figure out how to honor labor by paying workers a living wage and until we can do that, we will continue to stand on the verge of class warfare.

LA Progressive article mentioned at 14:50: https://www.laprogressive.com/ economic-equality/the-economic-policy-façade

Direct download: 20220904_Sermon.mp3
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Black churches have traditionally talked about civil rights and organized voter events like Sunday voting bus trips called "Souls to the Polls." But do predominantly white churches talk about voters' rights? Now that many states are eliminating polling places in minority neighborhoods, ending Sunday early voting, discouraging mail-in voting, and adding onerous ID requirements to vote, shouldn't all churches be concerned about the growing influence of institutional racism? Maybe it is time for us to pause and reconsider what we mean by "salvation" if we are passively watching people having their human rights taken from them?

Direct download: 20220828_Sermon.mp3
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While we have watched news reports about Brittany Griner's trial in Russia with shock and horror, similarly insane court proceedings have taken place in our own country. The Supreme Court's decision to strike down Roe v Wade came at the same time of another decision that would have commanded public attention if it had not been for the furor over the abortion case. Early in May, in a decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the state of Arizona was given permission to execute Barry Jones, after it had been proven in court that he was innocent of the murder charge for which he has been on death row for 27 years. Thomas wrote that mere innocence is not enough to prevent the state of Arizona from carrying out the death penalty against Jones. We do not have a justice system. We have a legal system and that system sometimes becomes the enemy of justice which is not acceptable when it happens in Russia but it is even more unacceptable in the USA.

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The world is witness that gun violence does not have to be the norm. But until the United States is willing to reckon with the deep structure and enduring legacy of our own gun culture, we will not escape it. Gratefully, for all of us who long for healing, and the peace that comes from belonging to a place without the constant threat of violence and death, we have a way forward.

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In 2013, an Italian programmer named Alberto Brandolini observed that - "The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than is needed to produce it." It became known as Brandolini’s law, although it is an astute observation rather than a scientific conclusion. Unfortunately, we’ve had nearly a decade to observe just how often this is true, with the flowering of conspiracy theories and proliferation of disinformation all around us. Though the situation is daunting, with a better understanding of why humans are so susceptible to conspiracy theories, we can chart a way forward.

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Philosophy and Religion departments in universities, once considered to be the "queen" of a college campus, are now being relegated to subheadings in either History or Anthropology departments, treated more like a scourge than a source of wisdom and guidance. The failings of organized religion cannot be denied but maybe we are being a bit hasty about this transformation. There is, after all, more to life than work and mindless entertainment.

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Many of us like to say that we are “spiritual but not religious,” but what does that mean? As church attendance of all sorts is in steep decline, what exactly are we turning away from and what, if anything at all, are we turning to?

Is there a way to hold onto spirituality and still try to remain in community of some sort?

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All over Europe there are memorial stones set in streets where the victims of the Holocaust once lived. These scattered memorials serve as reminders of the moral failure of the Nazis and their many sympathizers. In the USA, we have been more inclined to memorialize Confederate military leaders than to acknowledge the evils of slavery they sought to protect. The resistance to teaching a factual American history to young students about our nation’s moral failings leaves us vulnerable to making the same mistakes again. In fact, in many ways, we already are.

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We are all connected to one another. We may not insist that our neighbors to the south use child labor to produce our fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores but, if they don’t keep the prices down, we won’t buy them. Our casual daily choices in which we are legally simply exercising our rights, has an impact on others that we often do not see. Still, our choices to do legal things, like buying an assault rifle or a handgun, choosing not to be vaccinated, or not to take public health precautions seriously, is why we have so many gun deaths in America, why we have lost over a million Americans to Covid-19, and why most of the people in rural Central America are still very poor. Hopefully, becoming aware can change our attitudes and eventually, our behaviors, so that the outcomes will eventually change as well.

Direct download: 20220710_Sermon.mp3
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Given the decisions handed down by an increasingly out of touch Supreme Court, today's message will be a reading of an article Dr. Ray has written for the July 4th edition of the LA Progressive outlining some of the philosophical challenges surrounding the court's decision to strike down Roe v Wade and the suggestion that they may go even farther in taking constitutional rights away from American citizens.

Direct download: 20220703_Sermon.mp3
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Victor Frankl, reflecting on his own suffering in Auschwitz, said that the extremities of the concentration camp revealed the true selves of his fellow prisoners. Some became saintly in their self sacrifice and acts of compassion, while others became moral monsters, turning on one another in their desperate desire to survive. In our current hard times with the rise of fascism around the world as well as in the United States, many are still simply seeking diversion rather than engagement but it is time for those who have the potential to be saints to rise from their slumbers and to act for the good of refugees from Ukraine, women of child bearing years in the USA, as well as the children in our schools being taught to hide from “active shooters” in their schools.

Direct download: 20220626_Sermon.mp3
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It may be true, as suggested in a recent Atlantic article, that America has been uniquely stupid over the past decade and our gathering cloud of ignorance is largely due to our over exposure to partisan news sources and the scourge of the internet, with its unfiltered social media. How can we, as Soren Kierkegaard suggested 150 years ago, become less concerned with freedom of speech and more concerned with freedom of thought?

Direct download: 20220619_Sermon.mp3
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More than three months into the unconscionable invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the international community is still wringing its hands, asking themselves, “How can we survive without oil and gas from Russia,” while the purchase of Russian oil funds Putin’s terrorist military campaign against the Ukraine, destabilizing the entire world’s markets, and threating several regions of the world with food shortages. Why can’t we stop the Russian armies from this rampage of rape, torture, murder, and destruction of cities? Because we have failed to take seriously the need to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable wind and solar energy sources. We should have done it for environmental reasons years ago but now we are faced with the fact that the market in fossil fuels provides almost all of the funding of terrorism everywhere in the world. We need to stop funding global bad players and, incidentally, save the planet from environmental collapse at the same time!
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Our culture often speaks out of both sides of its mouth, acknowledging in popular proverbs that “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” or, as my homiletics professor often said, “the mortality rate is 100%” while still commonly insisting that we all have a certainty of life after death (either in reward or punishment). Progressives began to be dismissive of the belief in a burning hell but, for the most part, have held onto the security blanket of belief in a wonderful eternal existence after death. The sad fact is that there is no evidence to support this belief and it amounts to a denigration of the value of the only life that we actually know that we have. Perhaps it is time for spiritual communities to accept mortality as a fact and stop trying to push our hopes off into an imaginary future.
Direct download: 20220605_Sermon.mp3
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Why are mass murders so common in the USA and so rare among our global peers? Every other western democracy has managed to regulate guns effectively but the Republican led effort to protect the gun industry from any meaningful regulation has resulted in literally selling the lives of people attending religious services, buying groceries, attending a music festival, or just going to a public school in exchange for political donations. This is evil on a scale that defies any further attempt at diplomatic conversation. Now, it is absolutely necessary to reject the Republican Party as a legitimate American political party. They have sacrificed themselves on the altar of greed for power.

Direct download: 20220529_Sermon.mp3
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The leaked Supreme Court document concerning Roe v Wade has confirmed our worst fears since the appointment of the last three justices to the court, all of whom were chosen specifically for their anti-abortion views. But perhaps this is not the time to begin to rehearse the arguments we have been repeating for the past fifty years. Maybe it is time for us to take action to change the kinds of people we elect and appoint to powerful decision making positions. We cannot continue to lend tacit political support to politicians who have shown us that they do not believe in civil rights or even in democracy.

Direct download: 20220522_Sermon.mp3
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I stumbled upon the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh in 2005, at a time in life when I was struggling to hold together my own social activism and spiritual practices. It is a custom to offer reflections of gratitude for a Buddhist teacher on the 100-day commemoration of their death. May 1 marked this continuation for the Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, and this is my belated offering of gratitude.

Direct download: 20220515_Sermon.mp3
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Pt 1: The leaked Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade is not exactly surprising, but it is terrifying news for millions of people. Yet even as we process the shock, we need to reconnect with our commitments to act in ways that bring social and economic justice, including reproductive justice.

Pt 2: Estrangement and isolation are the everyday reality for huge numbers of Americans, weighing us down with both grief and a “sense of incompleteness.” It has also made it challenging to know when and how to trust, and when and how to distrust, in healthy ways. The spectrum of trust is a simple conflict tool that can help us strengthen the positive aspects of our relationships, work on weaknesses and places that need healing, and maintain healthy boundaries.

Direct download: 20220508_Sermon.mp3
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It’s May Day, so let’s look at the present status of labor rights and celebrate working class history, as well as the recent successes of union organizers in unfriendly places! But let’s also do more - we can all contribute to the process of creating and sustaining a movement for true change in the direction of economic and social justice.

Direct download: 20220501_Sermon.mp3
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Islam is the youngest of the major world religions and yet its extremist factions are the most wedded to a violent and oppressive form of a religion that Muhammad would not recognize and which none of us should be willing to tolerate in modern civilization. It is a mistake to associate all of Islam with wars among Muslim factions and international terrorism but the fingerprints of official national policies in the name of Islam cannot be ignored. While all of the major religions of the world are in need of serious reform and a thorough process of demythologizing, Islam is crying out for a new and post theistic way of becoming what most Muslims say that they want, a religion of peace.

Direct download: 20220424_Sermon.mp3
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Beyond the sentimental and supernatural retellings each Easter, the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus continues to resonate with us in very human and hopeful ways. Every year - in the midst of constant wars, intractable conflicts and oppression, and ecological devastation - it invites us to ask: how can we go on? And more especially, how can we go on when the world has found a way to make things that we thought wouldn’t - couldn’t - get any worse, worse? It acknowledges the terror we feel in the wake of violent injustice, and it speaks to us of hope - a hope that comes to us, even in our weariness, and says: “Please don’t give up.”

Direct download: 20220417_Sermon.mp3
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The numbers of people interested in and practicing earth-based spiritualities has soared over the last 30 years. This has been empowering and healing for many, especially for members of oppressed communities. However, it has also brought new challenges, from the rise of pagan White supremacy to the profit-driven trend of “Spirituality for Sale.” We’ll explore these issues, as well as the (re)emergence of “Naturalistic Paganism.”

Direct download: 20220410_Sermon.mp3
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The Christian religion is the largest in the world and has been a part of the global culture for nearly two millennia. During that time, it has been used to justify wars and even genocides. Christian scriptures have been used to promote homophobia, misogyny, racism, and sectarianism. Still, the Christian faith has encouraged generosity, compassion, peace, and reconciliation. As faith in mythological and superstitious religious claims rapidly declines in the modern world, we have an urgent need to extinguish the morally reprehensible and intellectually insulting aspects of Christianity while trying to preserve its helpful moral influence in the world.

Direct download: 20220403_Sermon.mp3
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Rabindranath Tagore once wrote to a friend: “Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin… Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all the great glories of [humanity] are mine.” This openness is a fitting aspiration for the pluralism that has often characterized Hinduism, the Sanatana Dharma (“eternal law/way”), over its long history. But, like all cultural and religious traditions, Hinduism has also struggled with religious nationalism and violence. Today, that violence again threatens the wellbeing of India and Hindus around the world. So against “all forms of bigotry and oppression,” from caste to Hindu supremacy, many Hindus are organizing to build a society free from hate, and free to feel that unalloyed gladness and peace.

Direct download: 20220327_Sermon.mp3
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Buddhism has been subject to the same limitations as any other cultural or religious system, including fundamentalist violence. However, various Buddhist traditions also contain important insights and practices for “learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom.” Using the first three of “The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings” from the Plum Village tradition as a reference point and guide, we’ll explore one Buddhist pathway that helps us “transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and the world.”

Direct download: 20220320_Sermon.mp3
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We too easily think of modern Judaism as being an ancient religion that hails from Abraham and Moses. The truth is that Judaism began as a polytheistic faith rooted in a priestly cult that practiced animal sacrifice. A religion that bears very little resemblance to what we would encounter in any modern synagogue. Religions are always fluid, changing, growing, and, frankly, they are almost always in need of review, evolution, or reform. Judaism is not exception to this rule. Especially as we consider the unique relationship between the Jewish faith and the state of Israel.
Direct download: 20220313_Sermon.mp3
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The world's major religions have roots in antiquity when historical literacy was not highly valued and when it was common to "personify" aspects of nature, turning the world into a place full of gods and spirits. In the 21st century, it is important for us to be able to demythologize all of the world's religions to mine them for moral insights and instruction while leaving behind much of the magical and mythic thinking which has led to so much prejudice and abuse.

Direct download: 20220306_Sermon.mp3
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If we want to understand the world, to be able to read current events with insight, we need to take the time to understand the history. This sounds so obvious, but it is a necessary reminder in a society that has struggled to learn how to remember and tell its history in meaningful, truthful, and transformative ways. No where is this more obvious in the US experience then in the observance of Black History Month. As LaGarrett J. King pointed out, “We can’t get Black history education right because we teach about Black history instead of through Black history.” Let’s remember why this annual focus is still necessary and our responsibility to not just study Black history, but to truly listen and learn, be changed, and change the world.

Direct download: 20220227_Sermon.mp3
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As a pastor, I have worked with veterans who were still struggling with the cost of war decades after they were discharged. As a peace worker in Cambodia, I saw the trauma of war still living in people’s hearts, influencing cultures, and scarring the land itself, decades after the official end of war. The wounds of war are deep and last a long time, unless and until we decide, as a society, to do the work to heal them. In the current situation, we have both the immediate responsibility to help bring about an end of the war in Ukraine as swiftly as possible, and a long-term responsibility to help bring about healing and rebuilding for all who have been impacted. Note: Our regularly scheduled sermon will still be posted 

You can read this reflection online, including links to articles and resources: http://archives.spfccc.org/2022/02/reflections-on-russias-invasion-of.html

You can also read Dr. Ray’s earlier reflections, "Will Arms Sales Set the Stage for Ukraine?", at the LA Progressive: https://www.laprogressive.com/will-arms-sales-set-the-stage-for-ukraine/ 

Direct download: 20220226_Reflection.mp3
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Growing up, the way I learned Jesus’ teaching on loving my enemies was confusing and even harmful. Especially where abuse and oppression were concerned, rolling over and looking the other way could not be options. But I also understood that violence and hatred could not create a just, compassionate community. I felt the trap: fight back violently, and become like those who had harmed me, or do nothing, and allow myself and others to get hurt again and again. Encountering Walter Wink’s reinterpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, I found a way forward that empowered me to stay grounded in goodwill without giving into the demands of oppressors.

Direct download: 20220220_Sermon.mp3
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Most of us have spent our lives in communities that made it more difficult for us to thrive and flourish as human beings. And it is very likely that we have picked up on those very habits, mistreating ourselves, others, and the earth. We add to that the exhaustion that comes from suffering from, resisting, and transforming oppression, and the odds seem to be stacked against us. And yet we still carry inside of us this conviction that it is possible for us to live together in such a way that everyone can flourish, and the aspiration to make it so. When we act on that aspiration, we make space for our own well-being and keep alive the possibility of a compassionate and caring world.

Direct download: 20220213_Sermon.mp3
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As the world waits to see if a ground war is about to start between Russia and Ukraine, it seems good to give some thought to how we got to this deadly threatening point. How has the spread of nuclear weapons and NATO bases in Eastern Europe led to war always being proposed as the solution to the world’s problems. As Sting once sang, “I’ve never seen a military solution.” We have much better options and spiritual communities should never stop pointing towards the pathways to peace.

Direct download: 20220206_Sermon.mp3
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Jung suggests that the dragon, a mythological beast common to virtually all cultures, is unconsciously an archetype that reflects human potential. After all, a dragon is a snake that can fly! Spiritual people need to rise above the situational ethics that ignores moral misconduct in others that allows them to slither more than their soar! Remember, a snake doesn't have to bite you to be a snake.
Direct download: 20220130_Sermon.mp3
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Despite the insistence on being the “land of the free,” the United States is the global leader in both total number of prisoners and per capita rate of imprisonment. The prophetic vision of proclaiming release to captives and letting the oppressed go free is a good opportunity to reflect on the vision and practices of the restorative and transformative justice movements. These approaches invite us to look more intentionally at the world we have, and then ask what kind of world we want to create.
Direct download: 20220123_Sermon.mp3
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The world as we know it has been shaped by an approach to development and success that has fueled terrible inequality, catastrophic climate change, and now, vaccine inequity. Thankfully, other approaches have been offered that help us re-think how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the earth. The development of a patent-free vaccine called Corbevax is one example of how we can reimagine society to prioritize personal and social well-being and realign our policies and institutions to create conditions where our human potential can be fulfilled.

Direct download: 20220115_Sermon.mp3
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Fiction author, Kurt Voneggut, once pointed out the hypocrisy of many loud conservative Christians who demanded that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public buildings and court house lawns without ever asking to have the Beatitudes publicly posted. He was certainly no theologian but he hit on a very good point. Religion that is "useful" in controlling the conduct of civil society is always going to be popular with the "law and order" crowd but the moral teachings of Jesus about love, hope, forgiveness, generosity, and compassion, those tend to make the self-righteous pretty uncomfortable and therefore are largely ignored.

Direct download: 20220109_Sermon.mp3
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Jesus Seminar founding member, Marcus Borg, first described the message of Jesus as being “radical compassion.” Peer and fellow seminar member, Karen Armstrong, took that concept to an interfaith (or no faith) form of spirituality, saying, The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

The opposite of spirituality is not atheism. It is, in our partisan, narcissistic, and cannibalistic capitalist society, more akin to sociopathy. The good news is that we get to choose which path we want to follow.

Direct download: 20220102_Sermon.mp3
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