Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who's Going to the International Convocation of UU Women?

I just signed up, right under the wire. So, who else is going? Anyone want a blogger meet up?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I Love Multi-Age Religious Education

This a Hokey-Pokey Elmo. I know, it looks like Little Warrior. But it is not. It is a Hokey-Pokey Elmo, in the "off" position. Her brother is turning the switch to "on" so that Hokey Pokey Elmo can begin doing the Hokey Pokey.

What this Elmo probably doesn't realize is that she's also healing. Not herself, but her brother.

The Boy is Type A with a capital AAAAAAIGH!!!! I don't know where he got it, as both The Husband and I were underachievers at that age. But he pushes himself to make straight A Pluses (Straight A's aren't enough), along with winning speech/debate trophies, band, and learning about any and everything there is that crosses his path.

He's 12. And he's already figured out that he's going to get an Accounting degree in college, then a law degree, then go into politics.

He just might.

Just as some parents work with their child who has learning difficulties, gently pulling them along, we work with trying to get him to ease up. Sometimes gently, "Don't study something you already know, move on," and sometimes more forcefully: "You've studied enough. Tomorrow, if you get up early, play a video game."

What a strange life I've wandered into.

We do have one secret weapon in helping him chill out. His baby sister. "Mom, I've already done most of my homework. Can I take a break and play with her?" Well, you betcha.

3 years old and 12 years old. They play together. And then, his stress level noticeably lower, he heads back into his studies.

It's not limited to siblings and this is why I love multi-age RE. I'll be writing about that towards the end of this RE year, in the spring, when I can give a full report. I'll just say now that I'm really, really impressed with tossing out age-divided classes and doing RE a different way. I think it's good for the young ones and the older ones.

It might even be healing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Buffy and Spike and Meaning

Just when you think you're safe, just when you think you've armored yourself with pop shallowness, Meaning forces its way in.

I understand that some think of UUs as intellectual brainiacs, finding meaning reading Niebuhr and Thich Nhat Hanh. Or in something more poetic, like gazing out on a field of golden waving grasses.

No one will ever think of me in that way.

I do the deep reading, but when does the Universe smack me upside the head? Generally, when I'm listening to something ... um ... pop. Shallow. Frothy, even.

I blogged before about having a big Aha moment to ... no, not A-ha, but close, Howard Jones.

Today, I headed out to the Y for the first time since LW was re-diagnosed. I drop her off in the kids' play area and go up to my labryinth. Okay, it's an oval indoor track.

Round and round and round. I know that I am a wee bit on the fragile side, so I've carefully stacked the deck, loading up a playlist with pop stuff. And joy! This morning, one of the $5 downloads is the soundtrack to the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Score! I mean, it's funny songs from a campy musical episode about a vampire hunter? Pretty safe, huh?

Let me pause ... if you have never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, don't go any further. I can't explain it all. And I'll just sound even more ridiculous. Save yourself, all to the lifeboats!

Okay, now that it's just me and the Buffy-philes ...

So, I'm walking along, thinking about nothing deeper than Hmm, some say you should eat after a workout, but others say you shouldn't ... when it gets to "Something to Sing About."

And I'm listening to the song, well, half-listening, because I'm starting to feel a little hungry and I'm wishing those so-called experts would just make up their minds on the whole exercise thing and the song stops and then goes real slow as Buffy sings:

So that's my refrain
I live in Hell
'Cuz I've been expelled
From Heaven
I think I was
In Heaven

And I start getting a little teary. Because I was in heaven. I had gone through the fire, but I was in the heaven of being able to not live with fear as my constant companion. When we went for those scans last spring, I even admitted to The Husband that I would be really surprised if something showed up.

I think I was
In Heaven

And now, I'm working, I'm doing. Taking class, tending my family, even doing Weight Watchers. Planning vacations.

But I'm not in heaven. Because Fear will not leave me, not even for one day. Fool me twice ...

I live in Hell
'Cuz I've been expelled
From Heaven

And so I learn to live with it. I learn to hope for the best and live life as close to normal as possible.

After Buffy sings that above little bit, the music speeds up, and she begins dancing, dancing furiously. So fast, so hard, that it's going to cause her to literally explode.

And as that part of the music is playing on my iPod, I'm realizing that that's the sound deep inside me, because hidden away is this frantic, frenetic out-of-control dance. Waiting to explode.

Spike steps in and stops her:

Life's not a song
Life isn't bliss
Life is just this
It's living
You'll get along
The pain that you feel
You only can heal
By living
You have to go on living
So one of us is living

I think Thich Nhat Hanh would agree.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A World With No Sick Children

There are many stories for one who has an experience that transforms them from one who hasn't seen reality to one who has -- from Siddhartha to The Matrix's Neo.

The message that is always repeated is: once you've seen reality, you can't go back. Blue pill or red pill?

I have entered into yet another community, that of Make-a-Wish parents. And so I've left the at-least-familiar world of just cancer and entered into a world filled with cerebral palsy, heart defects, congenital abnormalities.

Or, as M-A-W says, "life-threatening illnesses."

Before Little Warrior was diagnosed, I really did live in a world with no sick children. I mean "sick" yeah -- colds, rashes, even asthma.

But not Sick Children.

You can know something exists ... all those diseases, all those challenges ... and not know. There is a certain knowledge that only comes through direct experience.

I don't know how to explain it. But whether I wanted to or not, I took the red pill. And though I regret all the things that Little Warrior has gone through, I do not, by itself, regret the loss of my innocence.

Painful truth is better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading the Bible

I'm reading The Bible for Hope right now. Not for fun, I must admit, but because its one of my textbooks. It's basically a Bible, written in American language, with articles interspersed written by different people. Like Tim LaHaye.

My professor seems like a nice guy. The class is Pastoral Care. His background is in psychology and he has a day job in a secular hospital.

But I am yet again made aware of our differences when he says something like, "Now they're (a pastoral care conference) not like us ... they make not come out and say, 'I think you're going to hell if you don't believe in Christ,' but don't think that those are my beliefs."

Unpacking that ... yes, he was really saying that students shouldn't hold it against him if the people at the conference don't condemn others for not being believers.

I'm not sure conservatives would be a fan of me reading the Bible. Because it's making me ask questions. Questions like, "Do you marry divorced people in your church? But you're against gay people. How do you reconcile that, when Jesus clearly said that someone who marries a divorced person is committing adultery?"

No, I haven't asked that in class yet. Not on the first day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Late at night
Middle of the dark
In a quiet, still house
She screams

"What's wrong?"
Asks her mama
Hurried to her room

she says.

All the radiation, anesthesia,
Chemicals meant to kill what's in her
But only the bad parts

she says.

She crawls between
Mama and Daddy.
It is warm. It is safe.

Mama curls around her,
Her breath warm on Baby's head
Baby smiles, and sleeps.

Late at night
Middle of the dark
Making no sound at all
Mama screams.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Racism

My favorite non-UU minister, Rev. Rudy Rasmus, has a good post on his blog. Titled "Are You Racist?" he talks about a recent study, delving into how tolerant we are of racist behavior.

I thought his conclusion was very simple and on the point. If we expand it to include any differences (e.g. the person who is obviously homeless), I think it gives a good guide for addressing what's inside us, and moving forward through those feelings:

First, admit that you are afraid of people different from you. Second, feel the vulnerability that comes with the thought of allowing the stranger access to your space in the world. Third, act as though the fear cannot keep you from loving the other person.
Now, many -- especially liberals -- will look at that first sentence, "admit that you are afraid of people different from you," and protest. I'm not like that! I'm not afraid! Well, fear is not just being afraid that the bogeyman is going to steal your wallet, knock you down.

What I see in our liberal circles is a fear of offending, a fear of looking foolish. Mama said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." And we obey. We clam up. But how can understanding arise from a circle of silence? We have to be willing to be vulnerable, willing to say something stupid ... so that someone can say, "You know, that was kinda stupid." Otherwise, we just keep that not-well-thought-out-thought in our heads, and it is never corrected. And we don't grow.

Here's an exercise: set up a circle of Unitarian Universalists and get them talking about race. I'm going to make an assumption that the circle is all-white, because that is often the make-up of our churches. Okay, now drop in one African-American.

What happens? Does the conversation stop?

It's not for bad reasons ... we are sensitive to others' feelings, we UUs. Don't want to offend. Don't want to appear ignorant. Don't want ... to talk about it.

In that above post at Rev. Rasmus's blog, there's also a place for comments. If you can separate out your emotion and read them dispassionately, it is very interesting. Just by giving his post the provocative title, "Are you a racist?" brings out a bitter defensiveness in some. One person wrote something along the lines of "We elected an African-American president, what else do you want, for all whites to leave the country???"

I admit to having a hard time maintaining my dis-passion. So here's something cool and positive ... all the presidents, morphing from George Washington to Barack Obama. After seeing those historic faces, I admit, I had another one of those "WOW" moments of again realizing, "Holy Smokes ... Barack Obama is going to be President of the United States of America!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin Walked So Barack Could Run

Martin Walked So Barack Could Run
A sermon given 1-18-2009

November 14, 1960, three little black girls walked past a screaming, taunting mob to enter New Orleans’ McDonogh Elementary School, to integrate it.

This Tuesday, two little black girls will walk into a house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They will probably be holding the hands of their father …

The President of the United States of America.

49 years.

Today, I am proud to be an American. No matter how we voted, we should be proud of this moment, not only as Americans, but as Unitarian Universalists. This is a moment that we were significantly involved in making a possibility.

Though we have struggled and fought over how to do it, when to do it, achieving equal rights for all is ingrained in our religion and acted upon by our members. People like Mary White Ovington, co-founder of the NAACP, and a Unitarian. Or the approximately 100 UU ministers who answered Martin Luther King’s call to march from Selma to Montgomery for Voting Rights. One of those ministers was Rev. James Reeb who was fatally beaten there. Or the hundred more Unitarian Universalist laypeople who came to march.

One of those was Viola Liuzzo … she was a mom of 5, 38 years old, who had recently gone back to school. She drove from Detroit to Selma. After the completed march, she began ferrying marchers back to Selma from Montgomery. On one of these trips, they passed a car with burned out taillights. Viola saw the African-Americans inside and said, “These are our people.” She instructed her passengers to roll down their windows as they passed, to let them know about the taillights.

After dropping off most of her passengers and heading back to get more, a car came upon hers. The occupants saw her out-of-state plates and the black passenger sitting by her and guessed why she was there. They rolled down their windows --

And shot her point blank, killing her instantly.

People have died for this day.

Turn to someone right now and say, “We honor them.”

Born the year after Martin Luther King died, I do not remember the news stories about James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo. But I will not forget.

People have marched, worked, lived and died for this. It is good for us to take pride in the part of our religious heritage that helped this to happen, but what walks hand in hand with this pride is a responsibility to continue the progress. Our first principle is that we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people – all people – and in the words of Dr. King, “we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

The deaths of Rev. Reeb and Mrs. Liuzzo led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is a sad fact that it took the deaths of people with white skin to spur public outrage in a way that the deaths of people like Rev. George Washington Lee and Jimmy Lee Jackson, both African-American, had not.

Some say that because we have elected an African-American man president, that proves that we are now post-racial, racism is dead, long live the King. But this is another Mission Accomplished banner that’s simply too early.

The election of the first black president that fills so many of us with such pride and hope is also bringing racism and hatred out of the shadows. Because where we have hope in our hearts, others have fear. And fear can very easily turn to hatred. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that election of the first black president triggered more than 200 hate-related incidents. Obama himself has received far more death threats than any other president-elect, ever. And conservative estimates peg the increase in hate-groups at 40% since 2000.

The theory is that when people feel powerless about something they can’t do, they look around for what they can. It’s an insidious version of think globally, act locally. They can’t hurt Obama, so they look around for someone they can hurt … someone who looks like Obama.

But many will continue to say, “We’re there. We have achieved a fair and just society.” Indeed, the Voting Rights Act that was bought with blood, heads to the Supreme Court this April. Opponents of it say that election of Obama proves that there is no more need to protect the voting rights of our citizens.

Well, I just know about a friend of mine in Arkansas, who volunteered this year to help with voter registration. She called the county clerk’s office to request some voters’ registration cards that were in Spanish and was told, “You have to be able to speak English in order to vote.”

I do not remember African-Americans being given “citizenship tests” before they could register to vote … but I will not forget.

So many things work together to make Change happen. It was Rosa sitting and Martin walking. But it was also a multicultural Sesame Street and a very normal Cosby family. It was musicians and actors. It was companies and universities that simply wanted the best and the brightest. It was people willing to give a hand-up to those who did not have their same advantages. Scholarship programs. Churches who said it is wrong to discriminate and laws that said it is illegal. The world changed.

Continuing the progress in the face of people scared of change, worried about their jobs and afraid someone else is going to get their piece of the pie – and we may share those fears -- will take all of our heart, soul and strength. Moving forward, it will be necessary for us to march again, this time, not with picket signs, but with shovels, canned goods, and our intellect. In 1994, Congress designated that MLK day be a day of service. Tomorrow, the Obama family is making good on that promise. They will spend the day serving others and are encouraging the rest of the country to do likewise.

What can you do in one day? You can:

Clean a park, clean downtown, clean the 3rd ward, clean a highway, clean a community playground. You can sort food at a food bank, sort merchandise at a charity thrift store, drop off canned goods, paint a mural, clean up from painting a mural, repair and recondition donated bicycles, donate blood, donate platelets, donate toiletries, donate money, donate gently used household goods to those in Galveston still trying to recover from Hurricane Ike. You can assemble sandwiches for the homeless, feed the hungry, feed and entertain kids ages 5-14. You can help build a clubhouse.

All of these opportunities can be found by going to: – put in your zip code, and a giant list of opportunities will present themselves. If you’ve got kids at home, there are things you can do with your kids. If you have to work, then give some blood during your lunch hour, or stop at the grocery store on the way home, load up a basket with canned goods, and drop it off in one of those barrels by the front door.

Do something. “These are our people.”

Inherent worth and dignity of every person genuinely means every person. Your neighbor next door, the person next to you in the grocery store, the man you pass sleeping under the bridge. These are our people. It even means the people who do not agree with us.

As far as I know, Melissa Etheridge is not a Unitarian Universalist, but I think she’d feel right at home in one of our churches. I was profoundly moved by an essay she wrote about Rick Warren. Right after it hit the news that Warren had been selected to give the Invocation at Obama’s inauguration, Etheridge was scheduled to sing for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. She writes:

I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night... Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, "Are you really about peace or not?"

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en masse and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they won’t fear us.

I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.

These are our people. Melissa Etheridge and Rick Warren. I actually have hope for Rick Warren. I believe anyone is capable of transformation. Like Billy Graham. In 1952 – 2 years before Brown vs. the Board of Education – he was having a rally in Mississippi. And he went out into the area where the people would be and tore down the ropes that separated the white and black sides. He would not have segregated rallies. And in 1957, he welcomed Martin Luther King onto the platform beside him. So … call me a dreamer, too. I have hope.

I think we should reach out with love – love in our words, love in our service, love in our actions. But we should not retreat from the cause of treating all people with equal fairness and rights. We stood up for civil rights in the 60s and said now is the time. And history has proven us right. And as we stand on the side of love today and say that now is the time for gay couples and lesbian couples to be able to marry, adopt, and pursue happiness with all the according rights and privileges, history will again prove us right.

I do not remember Martin Luther King on the night before he died, vowing that he had seen the promised land. But I will not forget.

Rev. James Reeb was with Rev. Clark Olsen and Orloff Miller when they were attacked in Selma in 1965. In 2002, Olsen and Miller returned to Selma. Olsen said, "Every time you choose to stand for something that's right, enormous good could come from it. Perhaps, something profound, deep and wonderful could happen."

There are many people, some of them here, who do remember listening to Martin Luther King. The universal words, amongst all colors, is what my mother said to me the other night. “I never dreamed I would see this day, a black man becoming president.”

This is a day we do get to see. And I am sure, we will never forget.

Sermon Block

Well, I have experienced and survived my First Major Head-Banging-On-Walls Sermon Block.

(We will pause whilst all the experienced ministers pat me on my pointy little head and mention that it won't be the last time. And chuckle when they think I can't hear them.)

MLK Sunday and the Sunday Before the Inauguration of Barack Obama, Bringer of Hope, and Oh Yeah, Also the First Black American President. But no pressure!

I could have written 50 sermons on the topic, no problem. But to narrow it to one? So what will be the focus? Historical import? Responding to the the Call to win a victory for humanity? Day of Service? Contemporary Racism? Anti-oppression? Love?

Well, I prayed and meditated, and learned again what a temptress Research is. (So much easier to read and research than to actually write, have you noticed?)

I know Sermon Block will happen again. But I'm glad I'm done with this one.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Two Things Not To Say to Someone Going Through Catastrophe

I have a friend who was diagnosed with kidney cancer (not Wilms' Tumor, she's an adult) about a year ago. They caught it early and she is doing fine right now.

In a recent email meme about herself she mentioned that she still really hates it when someone tells her how lucky she was that they caught it early. Lucky, she thinks, would be not to get it at all.

She's right.

Now, first of all, let me reiterate that when someone is going through Something Bad, the one thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to say nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do friends ... if you say nothing, don't call, don't write, you create a vacuum. Chances are good that your friend will fill in the vacuum with their own thoughts, and they often (the DRE-BFF tells me) have no basis in reality. Thoughts like, "Oh, I guess I thought we were closer than we are," or "I guess I'm really self-involved and they don't want to have to listen to me," or "They think I need to just deal with it and get over it, don't they?"

But enough about me.

But here are two handy rules of thumb ... even though one might have the best of intentions, two things to avoid:

a) "You're lucky." There's always a reason someone is lucky. I'm lucky because even though she's fought cancer twice, Little Warrior is still alive. Someone who loses two children out of four is lucky because he still has the other two. Patrick Swayze is lucky because he can afford healthcare and still has a job.

But this is something that can only be decided by the person themselves. Having someone with perfectly healthy children tell me that I'm lucky? Having someone who has never had cancer tell my friend she is lucky?

b) "Helping" the person to find meaning in the catastrophe*. Or, what I've been guilty of, proclaiming that there is no meaning.

Now, if your friend asks you, well, that's something different. They have opened the door, and you are welcome to go in.

I learned the first go 'round that there is no meaning in my daughter getting cancer. There could not be a good enough reason for this. But you see, she is my daughter. Perhaps Mary thought it was worth it for Jesus to die ... I would not be so generous with humanity. I am too selfish in my love for her.

This go 'round, my father and I had a conversation. He had cancer when I was a child. "Luckily" it was an easy out. They went in, did surgery, and that was that. No need for chemo or radiation.

But if affected him profoundly. He feels that his life has been better ever since. He found meaning in the cancer; it made him realize that "there are no bad days."

In our conversation, he told me that he hopes I feel like that some day, that LW's cancer makes life better.

Well, I thought about that for a while, and then talked to him about it again. "Our own lives are cheap," I said. "The meaning that we find, it was worth what we went through ... assuming we survive. But could you feel that any meaning you found would be worth your child facing death?"

My father has lost a child. He understood and agreed.

"But ..." said I, comprehension dawning, "It's not up to me to decide the meaning of this. Because even though this affected me profoundly, ripped my heart to shreds, it did not happen to me. It happened to Little Warrior. And when she gets older, she is the only one who has the right to decide whether this had meaning."

And I realized that I cannot take it away from her by proclaiming my view, that there was no meaning in this. It is not my decision to make. All told, if she grows up to say, "You know, this happened to me, and it made me who I am and I really like who I am," who am I to argue?

The Cliff's Notes of "a" and "b" are the same thing: Don't assume you're wiser than the other person.

Even if she's only 3 years old.


*I don't need to tell you that defining what is and is not a catastrophe ain't yo thing, neither, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Religion-neutral prayers win the day

"The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear a case challenging a local government policy that requires religion-neutral prayers at public meetings.

The dispute at the center of the legal challenge pitts the city of Fredericksburg against a local City Councilman who wants to pray in the name of "Jesus." It dates to 2004.

That councilman, ordained minister Hashmel C. Turner Jr., later filed suit against the city, seeking to overturn a policy requiring non-sectarian prayers at government meetings..."

True anecdote for those familiar with the hymn "Come Sing a Song With Me"

So, The Husband and I were taking the ornaments off the tree. "Shoot," says he, "I was taking off several ornaments and one slipped off and went into the middle of the tree. Now I can't find the 'Hope' ornament."

"That's okay," I said. "Sometimes hope is hard to find."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Holy Water

I would do a communion
Of water
Water shared, each one taking a sip
Basis of life throughout time
The water cycle, nothing destroyed, nothing
Entirely new
I take a sip
It has traveled, bathing a Mayan infant
Raining in the desert
Snowing on the mountain
Its presence brings life
Its absence, death.
A sip of water to say 'thank you' for its gift
A sip of water to be connected to all of existence
A sip of water to express the reverence that we are all human
We are all connected
We are all in communion, life to life
Water drop to water drop
We are of the earth
We are of its water
We drink together.

Monday, January 12, 2009

YOU can help overcome the Nepal caste system

Or ... "How would you like to support the future Martin Luther King, Jr. of Nepal?"

My family has been sponsoring the education of a young boy named Alish, who lives in Nepal, and is lower-caste. He's the same age as The Boy and kind of sounds like his twin. Top of his class, very clever ... they even kind of look alike.

As the Worship Chair at my church, I've gotten to know the leader of ANSWER (American-Nepali Students' and Women's Educational Relief), Earle Canfield, and he has spoken at our church a couple of times, on his trips through town. His goal is pretty straightforward -- to overcome the caste system of Nepal.

He visits UU churches and finds people who want to pay about $250 - 280 a year to sponsor a child's education. That money puts a poor, low caste child into a private school, paying for their uniforms and tuition.

They are beginning to see the fruits of their labors ... lower caste children are completing college, and moving into professional positions -- business, nursing, teaching.

But that ain't all.

As I mentioned, it's not just about "helping the one starfish." It's about making a profound difference in a whole society. Every Saturday, they lead Social Welfare clubs for the students, teaching them about making a difference in the world, about how we each have a responsibility to each other.

Talking to Earle is very inspiring -- he is very passionate about what he does. His voice will crack and he'll tear up occasionally. You will, too.

Because of the huge problem with child-trafficking, they don't open up the gates wide over the internet. But I know y'all. If you're interested in sponsoring a child, email me at lizardeater at gmail dot com. I'll put you in touch with Earle. You can specify girl or boy, pick an age, etc. Twice a year, you and your student will exchange letters and pictures. Mine sends us his report card, too, to let us know how he's doing.

You know, he might be the future Barack Obama of Nepal.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My Dinner With Peacebang

Er, I mean, my coffee with Peacebang while she was on layover between flights.

Okay, at the risk of sounding like an overeager fan/sycophant/stalker, she really is funnier (and skinnier) in real life.

Lizard Eater and Little Warrior stalked, I mean searched, for Peacebang in a Really Big Airport, finally, thanks to cell phones, meeting her in the International flights area, which was the only one with no security checkpoint to get through. It's a good thing, too, because those security people were already looking suspiciously at Little Warrior and I think if I'd had them page "Peace Bang? Ms. UU Peace Bang?" it might have set up one of those TSA incidents you read about in the alternative press.

(Stops and realizes ... wait, so the only part of the airport where a person with no ticket can sit and have a coffee with a ticketed passenger is the International area? Let's ponder that for a moment, shall we? Okay, moving on.)

We wound up talking for hours and she was not only incredibly patient with all of the seminarian's questions about ministry, more ministry, and how I should cut my hair, she seemed happy to have Little Warrior climb all over her, try on her shawl, and jabber away. PB even did an Oscar-worthy interpretation of The Grumpy Old Troll Who Lives Under the Bridge that was upstaged only by her version of The Cowardly Lion, which you should ask to see whenever you meet her.

One of the things that comes through loud and clear is that this reverend LOVES her congregation, y'all. Just about any praise was deflected ... it's always thanks to her DRE, choir, staff, congregants. I'm madly jealous, both as a layperson without a minister, and as a potential minister.

Lots, lots, lots of great ideas swimming through my head, so much so that I got on the wrong road driving home. It was worth the extra tolls.

I'll feel better, though, when she logs on that she's in Amarillo, as we wound up talking longer than either of us planned on. And she had to go back through security (we'll be writing a country song titled, "Do yew luv me enough to go through security to see me?") and the word might have gotten around that she had been meeting a couple of shady characters in the International section.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When you wish upon a star ...

Tonight, two really lovely young women from Make-a-Wish came to our house to talk with Little Warrior and find out what her wish is.

We asked her a couple of days ago, The Husband and I. She responded with, "To be a grownup." As in, right now. "Oh, you don't want to miss out on being a kid, going to school, being a teenager ..." I protested.

Have you ever seen a 3 year old roll her eyes at you?

And then after I explained that Make-a-Wish doesn't have that kind of power, she actually cut those self-same eyes at me. Like she knew they could, but I was saying no.

"Mom, quit harshing my buzz," she said.

Okay, she didn't say that. But all the rest is true.

Anyway, when they came out tonight, she told them that she wanted to go to DisneyWorld. To meet "everybody." The princesses, and Mickey Mouse, and Winnie-the-Pooh ...

(In case you haven't picked up on it, we're not one of those anti-Disney UU families.)

So, they have to do their paperwork, and contact our doctor to verify that it's okay for her to travel. If it's all approved, if they grant her this wish, then it's going to be ... well, beyond amazing. There's a special resort to stay at in Orlando called Give Kids the World that's just for wish kids. The resort itself is made to be a child's wish come true -- ice cream anytime you want it, a carousel, horseback riding, a life-size Candyland game. Their goal ... and the tears well-up every time I describe it, including now ... is to take all those family vacations that may not happen and jam pack them into one incredible week.

I was writing to my father about this tonight and I said that I understand how -- especially if you lose a child -- it would be easy to become bitter about life, about how hard it is. But based on our experience, it would be difficult to become bitter about your fellow humans. There's just something about sick children that seems to bring out the best in people. Well, my hero Louisa May Alcott said it best in Jack and Jill:

Jack obediently closed his eyes and listened while the boys sang "The Sweet By and By," softening their rough young voices for his sake till the music was as soft as a lullaby. He lay so still his mother thought he was off, but presently a tear slipped out and rolled down the red cheek, wetting her hand as it passed.

"My blessed boy, what is it?" she whispered, with a touch and a tone that only mothers have.

The blue eyes opened wide, and Jack's own sunshiny smile broke through the tears that filled them as he said with a sniff,

"Everybody is so good to me I can't help making a noodle of myself."

"You are not a noodle!" cried Mamma, resenting the epithet. "One of the sweet things about pain and sorrow is that they show us how well we are loved, how much kindness there is in the world, and how easily we can make others happy in the same way when they need help and sympathy. Don't forget that, little son."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Commitment, Mamma Mia, and even Jesus

Here's the third thing about Mamma Mia and why I think it, improbably, works:


A whole lotta people loved the Mamma Mia movie and I think it can be traced back to commitment. Commitment in the face of glaring imperfection.

If you're a performer, commitment means putting aside your insecurities, any worries that you'll look ridiculous, and going in, 100%. It is, metaphorically, stripping off all your clothes -- all the way to the skin -- and jumping into the ice-cold pool. No dipped toe, no towel by the edge of the pool. Make a choice and commit to it 100%.

With one (in my opinion) exception, that's what the actors did. After watching a "making of" on the bonus disk, it sounds like Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan were scared to death, literally having nightmares. But they jumped in. They committed.

Did Skellan Skarsgard likewise commit? Didn't seem that way to me. He looked uncomfortable, stiff, and almost rolled his eyes.

Hey, man. You don't want to be in the show, say No. But if you say yes, say yes with your whole body.

So, I'm thinking a lot about commitment and what we commit to with our words, but not with our whole bodies.

I have been as guilty as anyone else -- saying Yes when I should have said No, then not jumping in wholeheartedly. A lot of time, the lesson here is to not say Yes in the first place.

But if I do ... if I say yes, then like Colin Firth, I want to jump in with my everything.

And if it is something I want to do, I want to put aside my insecurities, put aside my fear that I will look or sound ridiculous. and let myself be vulnerable. Because that's how truth will come out. And that's how excellence will have a chance.

Commitment doesn't equal excellence. Commitment doesn't even assure that excellence will be reached. But I don't believe it is possible to get there without commitment.

(I feel the need to explain everything I'm not talking about. I'm not talking about a lack of boundaries. I'm not talking about unending commitment. "Merely" commitment. Merely 100% commitment to the job at hand.)

I like what Jesus said, quoting from Deuteronomy, about loving God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Sounds like he was talking about commitment. He probably wasn't talking about Mamma Mia.

But I bet he would have enjoyed Dancing Queen.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Time for Everything -- Even Imperfection

Or ... "Why Mamma Mia Works, Pt. 2 of 3"


I think there is a time for perfection. In preparing Worship services, as a lector/coordinator, my goal is perfection in what I do. The reason is not ego. I am fully guilty of ego in many instances, but in this instance, it's the opposite of ego. My goal is to be so smooth, that the "me" in me is rendered invisible. I don't want to get in the way of anyone's worship experience.

Plus, we are without a minister, so it's a different speaker every week. We use many guest musicians, so different musicians, too. The opportunity for an "oops" is so great, there's no need to add to it with a lack of preparedness on my part.

It's a goal and life invades. A sneezing fit, a missed cue -- hey, that's life. At least I aimed for perfection.

But there's a place for imperfection, too. And we can't be so afraid of imperfection that we play it too safe.

I think one reason why people flocked to Mamma Mia ... and then flocked back again ... has a little to do with imperfection. We see these movies with impossibly beautiful people, saying impossibly perfect things -- and then, along comes the anti-perfect movie. Meryl Streep is too old, and not model-thin, Pierce Brosnan is completely beautiful, but with an imperfect voice ... we take a deep breath and relax.

These are amazing people ... but in the movie, they're willing to relax, let us see their soft underbellys. They are not perfectly polished. But they look like they're having a lot of fun.

The story is imperfect, it doesn't add up, it requires a huge willingness to suspend disbelief.

Well, to everything there is a time ... a time for My Dinner with Andre, a time for Mamma Mia. A time to read deep philosophical texts and a time to read Carl Hiassen.

And a time to pull on sweatpants, put the hair in a ponytail, and sing karaoke.


Friday, January 02, 2009


So what does "happy" mean, anyway? Well, I feel no need to parse and define it past "the state of not being unhappy."

Which is a state I find to be pretty darn good.

Happy isn't perfect, isn't (necessarily) fulfilled, it's on the move and frequently fleeting. It's having a messy house and an overweight bod and bills to pay but being able to put the worries down in the corner and listening to the thundering footsteps of all the kids being home and just feeling a smile inside.

For me, anyway.

Maybe that's why I love Mamma Mia, the movie.

It's wholly imperfect (and apparently much work was put into making it so), ridiculous, frothy, meaningless, and boy, do I love it.

I saw it soon after it opened, in between hospitalizations, with a big bunch of my girlfriends. I can't say it removed me from my situation ... you never quite forget the reality you're living ... but it was a break. It was fun. It was happy. When Pierce Brosnan sang, the theatre erupted in spontaneous laughter. A shared moment amongst strangers. That just made it more fun.

Just a few days later, I thought of it and said, I need to see it again. I called my sister, who lives about 3 hours away and said, Come down. You and I and Mom need to go see this.

She did and we did. It was the first movie we'd seen together since I was 16, when we saw Crimes of the Heart.

This time, I could have a beer with my movie.

Mom and Sister both loved it. I burned my mother a copy of the soundtrack, plus a copy of ABBA's Greatest Hits. Every morning, she would wake up and put on the soundtrack. "What is an ABBA?" my father asked, befuddled.

Very simply, it made us happy.

I got my super-deluxe with extras DVD for Christmas. I watched it with The Husband and the kids. They all loved it. Well, the kids did. I think The Husband enjoyed it, but he's not going to go on the record about it.

My mom wanted to see it again. Yesterday, our last day together before she and my dad left for their home in NM, she made time so she could watch it again. And was delighted all over again.

Sometimes, "just happy" is a powerful thing.