Monday, March 30, 2009

Right Where I'm S'posed to Be

Don't you just love it when you are given a moment of clarity, something that just tells you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be?

After my Pastoral Care class tonight, a classmate and I stood outside, talking about our upcoming papers. Hers is going to be about a project she's working on for her tiny church.

She's in a rural area and she wants to find a way of gathering together all the resources and programs out there so that the people who need them, can find them. In the big city, there's different permutations of this. Out in the country ... not.

Here's what started her down this path ... she's a pastor, which is not an unusual thing at this seminary. For many of the African-American churches, the order is Call first, Work second, Education third (or concurrent with second). There's work to be done, best get at it.

Anyway, one of her parishioners is a 75 year old lady, with 9 adult children, and many grandchildren. She was talking with my classmate about what she wants. Well, she said. I always did want to learn how to read.

This isn't as unusual as we would like it to be. My classmate, when she leads the adult Sunday School class, never ever asks people to read Bible verses. Because, she explains, they might not be able to read, and that would humiliate them. And then they wouldn't want to come back.

So, she wanted to make her parishioner's dream come true. Literacy programs are fairly easy to find in town, but out in the sticks, it's harder. But there are programs and she's finding one that will fit. And that made her think about all the other dreams, or just plain needs, out in her rural area. And programs to serve those needs and dreams.

She wants to call the program LINKS. And for her, it's all about getting the information out, to teach people how to find the programs they need, not just dropping it in their laps.

She held up my hand with hers, under the streetlight in the parking lot. Mine pale pink, her's dark brown. "This is what I want to see," she explained. "I can just see it ... all colors, all kinds of people, getting linked up. Learning how to find the resources you need. You want to learn to read? You want to learn about computers? You need a loaf of bread? This program will show you how to link up."

We talked more, about the details, and about the Holy Spirit at work. (She and I both like to use humor in our sermons, and she does a mean impression of Bishop T.D. Jakes.)

I got in my car and drove home. I had a major midterm exam tonight, but I wasn't thinking about it. I was thinking about my classmate's dream. And her 75 year old parishioner's dream. And I knew with all certainty:

I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Ham and Eggs

This is Ham and Eggs lantana. It blooms during the Spring. The rest of the time, it's a big, bushy, weed of a plant. Not particularly invasive, but hardy, hardy.

When when first moved into this house, I didn't know what it was. It was just this big thing growing in our front garden. I assumed it was a weed and hacked it down to the ground.

I turned my back for a week ... and it came back, uttering joyous leaves of green, to paraphrase Whitman.

My mother visited. "Oh, you have lantana. I've been trying so hard to get it to grow at my house, but I just can't."

Maybe you're being too nice to it, I proffered.

There's a beautiful picture of a weed at Unmitigated Bliss. I like these weed flowers. It's botanical Darwinism at my house, bud. If you want to stay around, you'd better be hardy.

I'm more of a weed myself. I like to think that I'm like the lantana ... cut me down, and I'll just shoot back up again when you're not looking.



The best thing about lantana -- the company it keeps.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Morning Blessings" - A Year+ Later

Last year, I wrote about how we were moving Joys and Sorrows before the service, to be its own small ritual, "Morning Blessings."

A year later ... I love it.

We've never achieved that "critical mass" of people coming to it. Maybe once we have a minister, if they are involved -- that might make a difference there.

Because we only have a handful of people that regularly attend, we considered dropping it. First, though, I talked to the people who did come.

They were pretty passionate on the subject. And I realized something I hadn't before -- that for them, this is a spiritual practice. Sitting in the stillness, sharing or not sharing, hearing about the joys or sorrows in other lives, focusing their own thoughts and energies on others' concerns ... it was, and is, a spiritual practice. And it is different from joys and sorrows -- there is a liberation in knowing that the only people there want to be.

They were sad when I broached the idea of removing it.

Then I talked to those who didn't come on a regular basis, but came sporadically. That was perhaps even more eye-opening. Again and again, what I heard was, "If I have a need, I want it to be there." It wasn't something they felt compelled to go to every Sunday, but when they needed it, it served an important purpose.

So ... since there was really no downside to it (except that musicians and speakers need to be done with setting up by a quarter til the main service, which, of course, they should be anyway), we kept it.

The one thing that was missing was a tangible moment of community, where we were all connected. So I added in something that we had always liked about joys and sorrows, about a sorrow divided and a joy multiplied.

So here it is. If you want to try something different, why not give this a try?

Morning Blessings

Good morning. Welcome to this time of community and contemplation, where we may share the joys and the sorrows going on in our lives. It is right that we pause to remember all who need love and support; who are ill or in pain, either in body or in spirit; who are lonely or have been wronged, and it is a blessing to share in each others' celebrations and happiness.

Please enjoy the experience of sitting in restorative silence until you are moved to light a candle, sharing your joy or sorrow if you feel comfortable doing so.

(Group shares joys and sorrows. Because we've been doing this for a year, there are always a few moments of silence between people getting up. If you were just beginning this, you might add in something about, "Please allow a few breaths of silence after a person speaks, so that we may focus our attention and energy on his or her concern.")

Let us pause to dwell inward. Spirit of Life, please meet us where we are in the ways we move forward in our lives, and bring our world forward with us. Let us open our minds and hearts to a place of quiet, to a silent prayer for the healing of pain, and the soft, gentle coming of love. Let us observe a moment of silence and let our thoughts be with those who have spoken or been spoken about, here this morning. (moment of silence)

Please say with me: “May a sorrow shared be a sorrow divided,”

(repeats)

“And a joy shared, a joy multiplied.”

(repeats)

Amen, Blessed Be.

Testify!

Here's that sermon we talked about earlier this week.

Testify!

Sound quality is a little rough.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Music for a Sad Day

Over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Dan Harper asks:

So as a minister, I have a question for you. When you are sad — I mean seriously sad, not just sad because you broke a nail, or because you didn’t hit the lottery (again) — when you are seriously sad, what music do you prefer to listen to?
Well, I’m not a minister yet. Just a Lizard Eating Seminarian.

Seriously sad, very seriously sad, as in “I’m sorry, but the cancer is back”? No music. Because there’s no winning. Sad songs make it worse. Happy songs become tragically sad. When LW was diagnosed the first time, on that first night, she was fussy (she was still a baby). I picked her up and lightly bounced her, singing in her ear – “Blue skies, shining on me, nothing but blue skies, do I …” I couldn’t continue. I choked. It was a long time before I could sing that song again.

When she was in the ICU after her first surgery, we played a continuous loop of Pachelbel’s Canon. Oof. Do you know how many happy events they play that at? We even have a hymn set to it. This past weekend, she was flower girl in a wedding. She walked down the aisle to it. But for the rest of my life … poof … we are back in the ICU, wires, tubes, and monitors.

I love music. Not in a generic way. I mean, I LOVE music.

But I haven’t figured out a way to listen to it during seriously sad times. Music renders me too vulnerable. And during those seriously sad times, the last thing I need is more vulnerability.

But once I get a bit of hope, just a smidgen, I can listen again. Or even sing. You know, there are lots of jokes told about UU hymns, but it was actually those that The Husband and I turned to, during some of those dark times. We would bend over her hospital bed and sing, “Come, come, whoever you are … ours is no caravan of despair …”

So many times, I would catch myself humming, “My life goes on, in endless song, above earth’s lamentation … it sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing.”

A minister friend came to visit me in the hospital, at a very low time. Afterwards, I remember looking out the window and hearing in my head, "...and I'll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find..."

During sadness, for listening, I usually turn to pure, unadulterated escapism. Lots of different types. Willie Nelson. If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time. Or hard/alternative rock. Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove. Or silly pop, like this past summer and Mamma Mia.

What do I listen to during the sad times? Everything. Nothing. All of the above.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Learning from Perhaps Unusual Sources

Okay, something fun for Friday ... tell me, what's something valuable you've learned from an unusual source?

Here's two of mine:
When I get standard anesthesia, the sedative wears off before the paralytic. In that post, I referenced telling an anesthesiologist about it, and him explaining it all to me. But The Husband reminded me -- a few days before my emergency appendectomy, we had watched an episode of ER where a character had a similar (but more dramatic) experience. So when I was in the ER, I mentioned the episode and explained what had happened to me. He corroborated what I thought, made adjustments, and I had no problems that time. So, see kids, you really can learn from TV!

Second: my sister and I used to live in the same town and were avid garage-salers. Well, we were at one sale, and there was this big, hairy guy wearing a wifebeater, sitting in a folding chair. He looked at one of my sister's exposed arms and asked, "Psoriasis?" She was surprised, because usually she gets "Oooh, what's that?" or "What happened?" or wary looks. She confirmed his suspicion. He then proceeded to tell her about his sister who had bad psoriasis, until she began taking flax seed oil every day. This guy was an evangelist for the flax seed. My sister began taking flax seed. Not only did it have a dramatic affect on the psoriasis, she sailed through menopause, barely realizing it was happening.

Fast forward to last weekend. A friend of mine was having hot flashes about twice an hour. She was miserable. I mentioned the flax seed oil. The next day, she was Heysanna-Hosanna-ing me. Apparently she went out right away, got some, and had maybe two mild hot flashes in 24 hours.

All cuz of a big sweaty guy in a wifebeater. Angels come in all sizes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mistakes and Candidates

I like people who can admit to mistakes. I'm a believer in the old saw about how if you're not making any mistakes, it means you're not taking enough risks. And I also believe that saying "I was wrong," is another way of saying, "I'm smarter today than I was yesterday."

Cuz, you know, I make mistakes.

Anyway, on the UUA Election email list, this part of a debate was recently discussed. I found good stuff in both answers. Thought I'd share it here, in case you're not on the list. It came from HERE.

REV. GIBBONS: I'm going to try to get in two quick questions before we go to our closing statements. And that may take us just a little bit past the 11:30 mark, but I am hopeful that it will not be much beyond that. I'm reminded that once upon a long time ago when Ted Kennedy ran for president and was asked personal questions, he objected to them as couch questions. And this, perhaps, verges on being a couch question but it is this: “In the past, how have you responded to, evaluated and learned from mistakes, your own or those of your team?” Laurel?

REV. HALLMAN: Oh, I get to go first.

REV. GIBBONS: You do.

REV. HALLMAN: Thank you.

REV. MORALES: I get more time to think about mistakes.

REV. HALLMAN: [LAUGHTER] Mistakes. Oh, I'm running through them here. I'm picking one. I know that, and it's important for me to speak to this because I know it's out there in some ways, and that is the project that I was very much a part of, the Pathways Church Project in the Metroplex, Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. And what I think is my mistake may surprise you, so let me tell you a little bit of the story.

We, the ministers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, began to talk about places where we needed congregations and also about ways to help the congregations that already existed, what were the next steps? And as part of this conversation we began to talk about the fact that the ministry of the Horizon Unitarian Church in one of the suburbs had been, had come to Dallas at exactly the same time as I had, and we had started, First Church had been part of the starting of Horizon Church with 32 members, and the church now has 300 members. It's actually been one of the most healthy and important start-ups by the extension department of that time. And Denis Hamilton has been the minister of the church during his whole career, and he has done a magnificent job, a phenomenal job of moving from 32 to 100 to 150 and to 200 and then building, being in a storefront and building. But that is a lifetime, a minister's lifetime.

And so I began to work on the problem of how do we start new congregations, which we need to do, but fast start. I'm going to need more than 30 seconds, OK? How do we fast start congregations? And so the Pathways Project came out of that yearning, so that we would not have that slow, painful, inch by inch up to 100 where we stop and stay and stay and stay until we can do something else.

Now, if we fast-forward, we called the minister. I raised about three-quarters of the money in the Dallas church, and the rest of the money came from Boston and also some of the money from our district, our North Texas NTAUUS, which gives grants. And we called a dynamic, wonderful, fabulous minister, and we spent money, some of that money, a significant amount training in fast start.

Now, I clarify we were not creating a mega church. We never intended to create a mega church. We intended to create a fast start church. My mistake was not in any of that. It was well-conceived the people who were the donors were very excited. We knew it was an experiment. We went off. The initial sessions and planning seemed very promising, but the benchmarks which the plan had set, and we did have benchmarks, the benchmarks which we had set almost from the onset were not met. And by that time I had let go of the project, and that was my mistake.

I firmly believe that had we kept the management of the project local, that we would have changed the benchmarks as we saw the project not performing at the level that we had originally anticipated, which was we now know somewhat grandiose. So the money was spent out, and then rather abruptly stopped, so when all the staff that we had to be fired except for a part-time minister, so the church really took a hit.

Now just to say a little bit about the end of that, that church exists. The minister who, Anthony David, who was called, is now the senior minister. He’s been called to be senior minister of our large church in Atlanta, Georgia. I expect him to use all of those skills to make that church take off in a new and wonderful way. Pathways, people say how, why did it fail? Pathways is alive, it’s growing, they’ve called a new minister. It has the DNA which we wanted to put in it, which was dynamic, it still continues. But my mistake was letting go of it and I’m going to encourage people who have local projects to keep the management of them close.

REV. GIBBONS: Learning from mistakes, Peter.

REV. MORALES: Oh golly. I’ll just give you a recent one and it’s, happily it’s smaller than that. But I wanted to talk about the way that the mistake was designed, implemented, and then I’m done. We’ve been a fast growing church, and we did an addition and remodel, which was completed four years ago and our growth continued, and we were past that kind of 75, 80% crowding level at both of our services.

And scratched our heads about what to do, we were not able to accommodate, RE was overflowing, our parking lot was full. And in looking at alternatives it looked like making better use of our existing -- there are no possibilities for expansion where we are of our existing location -- would be the best alternative. So we went to having three services on Sunday morning, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30.

And the sad fact is, especially time went on, it became the perfect Goldilocks problem. We had one service that was too early. People tried it but trust me, you could not consistently get UUs to an 8:30 service, at least in Colorado you can’t do it. They try it and they move to 10, a bunch, as it spread out, people decided that 11:30 was too late, it ran into lunch, and it made 10 o’clock horrific. So we had two services that had decent attendance but not very high, and we were overflowing at 10.

The important thing is we stopped it, and it wasn’t easy to say “Hey guys, this didn’t work.” We planned it, we looked at it, we gave it a good run, and we stopped it. We didn’t keep pouring enormous amounts of energy into something that was a failed model.

Many of you have seen the membership videos that we did for the first UU University in Saint Louis. And one of the things that gets me now is it’s used in training, is like, “we don’t do that anymore,” on part of it.

Because what I want to emphasize here is a culture of taking risks and trying things, but having in place ways to evaluate whether they’re working, and admitting that something doesn’t work, and stopping it. It’s very hard for us to do, but one of the things I will bring in as president, is that sense that nothing significant gets implemented without an evaluation plan at the beginning, not at the end, but designed at the beginning, not being evaluated by the person who’s implementing it. None of us wants to say that our child is not beautiful and smart. So that we develop that culture of being able to first take risks and try new things, but two, stop the ones that aren’t working so that we can put our resources into those that are successful.

Prayer Box

This looks like a lunchbox, but it's actually much, much smaller.

The BFF-DRE gave it to me when LW and I were in the hospital, kind of a portable altar.

Now, I've turned it into a handy-dandy ready-anywhere prayer box. Teeny little candle, matches, a battery-operated candle for when I'm somewhere where I shouldn't light up, little book into which I collect prayers, chalice lightings, etc. I've had this book for a couple of years. All of a sudden, I'm finding more verses I love, thanks to the World Prayer Wheel, which is where I found this.

So, since the candle is lit, something from one of my favorite theologians*:

At the center of the universe is a
loving heart that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.


* Fred Rogers

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Claiming (for the first time) religious language

I preached a good sermon Sunday. (I'm endearingly modest, as you can tell.)

The subject was evangelism and during the course of the sermon, I used these words:
  • Evangelism
  • Holy Spirit
  • Sin
  • Redemption
  • Testimonial
  • God
  • Faith
  • Prayer
  • Revelation
People responded well. Really well. The kind of "really well" that scares you because, you know, people might start having expectations of you. Most gratifying -- the Born-Again-Atheist who doesn't even want the worship committee to be called a "worship" committee ... said it was the best sermon she'd ever heard.

Yikes. And yay.

There's been a lot of talk over the last few years about reclaiming a language of reverence. But you know, after chatting with some other UUs who are also cradle UUs, as I am, I realized that "reclaiming," for most of us, isn't it at all.

These words are, to us, new words.

I don't mean we'd never heard the words, I just mean that they were never on our radar.

It's like this: I'm not a sports fan. Now, I've heard the terms line of scrimmage, shortstop, top of the key, but I don't really know what they mean, and frankly, don't care.

But if I really got into football, I'd learn about the line of scrimmage. And I'd have an appreciation for it. I wouldn't have a chip on my shoulder about it -- I was never tackled on the line of scrimmage as a Little Leaguer -- it would be something new, and interesting. And I might find great value in it.

Can we get off the sports metaphor? Because I'm kinda at the end of being able to fake it.

Anyway, for some of us, we don't bring in baggage attached to those terms. It's not about finding a new definition for the terms. It's about getting in and exploring them for maybe the first time. It's eye-opening. And heartening. "You mean sin means 'missing the mark'? Well, heck, I can relate to that!"

I think that for others, who did grow up with the words, there is a power in the reclaiming. And in saying, Hey, I'm not redefining a Christian term, I'm using a word that did not originally mean what they say it means.

Like worship.

A prayer I agree with

Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down
lift your heart toward heaven
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled,
and it will be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting
your heart toward heaven — only you.
It is in the middle of misery that
so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good came of this,
is not yet listening.

a prayer - clarissa pinkola est├ęs

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's Okay to Be Bored

A week or so ago, as I lay in bed, mind racing, trying to get to sleep, I had the startling realization that I am constantly, constantly feeding my brain.

Too much of a good thing tain't better. And there's been plenty of junk food mixed in there, too.

I've just gotten in the habit of constant mental stimulation. TV, internet, books, studying, listening to podcasts ... no silence. No time for digestion. Here we are now, entertain us.

Well, knowing and making a choice to change are two different things. Just got done preaching three Sundays in a row, now time to study for a test ... I needed more time for silence, not less. Yeah, didn't make a single change, though.

I wanted to take a long walk at the gym, so I got on iTunes this morning to load up my iPod. And two of my favorite UU preachers didn't have their podcasts updated yet. And the third, I'd already listened to her's (well, her intern's) on the way to class yesterday. Refresh Refresh Refresh. Come on! Don't these churches know there's a seminarian just dying to hear their words? Refresh refresh refresh. Oh peas. Okay, fine. Found some other sermons. Loaded them.

Ear pods? Ear pods? Finally found them.

Off to the Y. Drop off Little Warrior in her room. On to the track. As I was unwinding the long winding road of ear pod wire, I dropped my ipod. It froze up.

Nooooo! I mentally screamed. Trapped, on a track, with nothing to break up the monotony of walking around and around and around. Okay, LE. You can do this. You can just walk.

Just walk. Nothing to hear but the quiet pad pad pad of other feet. Nothing to see but white painted walls. Silence.

Well, not in my head. Do you know what happens when you allow a brain to just relax? Not be inspired, not studying, not entertained?

It goes a little haywire. Forget monkey mind, I had all of Noah's ark up there, and maybe even a few creatures not from the natural world.

But it did take some time to explore some things like why I harbor a fear of being bored. And at the end of my walk, I realized:

I hadn't been bored at all.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the computer, turn off the tv ... partially because I know I need it, and partially because I'm afraid the universe is going to strike both with lightning if I don't take the hint.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Themes in the UUA Presidential Race

So, I asked what are the issues that interest you, in terms of the UUA presidential election, now to open it up more … what are the broad issues or themes that you think matter to others?

I’m in a small church and I usually preach at small churches, so, no surprise, I hear a lot about “What about our small churches and fellowships?”

The Small Talk newsletter endorsed Peter Morales, and in the newsletter, Morales wrote this:

“I feel as though the UUA does not know we exist. I feel as if they just take our dues and then ignore us when we need help.” I hear this comment over and over as I travel around the country, and I find it deeply disturbing. Our small congregations typically feel unappreciated and neglected. Small congregations too often feel s though they are struggling along and that the UUA does not care about them.

You can go read the rest:
http://www.spiritoflifepublishing.com/newsletters/smalltalkmar09.pdf

(If someone has a link to something Laurel Hallman has said about small churches, please send it to me. I couldn’t find anything, but that probably speaks more to my lack of searching skills.)

So … there’s one theme: Small Congregations

Another theme I’ve seen on the UUA Election list concerns Policy Governance. I will freely admit that I do not even know enough about it to have an opinion.

Any issues/themes that you think are at the forefront?

Facebook -- So, What Are We Learning?

ChaliceChick is asking some questions about Facebook and YRUU. Good stuff and I hope she prints the answers.

Many of us dived in to Facebook with both feet, to try out the medium. Some of us have devoted large amounts of time to this new (to us) medium, all in the name of discovery. What might look like addiction or a diversion/aid to procrastination was, in fact, a noble pursuit, dedicated to finding the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

Ahem.

And some of us have figured out, by trial and error, our boundaries. Only friending "real" friends, not friends of friends. Realizing that the flip side of connecting with old friends from high school is that the old acquaintances from high school whom you also friended can now see the minutiae you post about your life. And you will see the minutiae about their life and how they want Christ back in Christmas and have no patience for people who don't get that we're one nation under GOD and then when you post a status update referencing your evangelical sermon, an old boyfriend wants a copy of it so he can debate you ...

Lot of pros and cons about Facebook. It's a great tool for passive evangelism -- posting UU videos, articles, etc. Except there are some folks we probably wouldn't evangelize to, who might be on our list.

So, how big do you allow your Facebook pool to be?

Safest, of course, would be to keep it to just family and friends. But even that could be risky. Do you want your mother seeing your best friend's comment about the party you both attended?

I remember reading some where that because we all wear different masks depending on who we are talking to, it's very difficult for children when their worlds collide, e.g. Mom and Dad up at school, chatting with their teacher. They wear one mask for Teacher, one mask for their parents. Standing between them, they're trying to switch the masks back and forth. No wonder they act a little squirrely.

Facebook is where our worlds collide. I have my UU friends, my high school friends, my cancer-parent friends. Different worlds. Different masks.

I love, love, love that I have several minister friends on Facebook. They allow me peeks behind the curtain. We commisserate when we're procrastinating on a sermon. I get glimpses of how they combine personal life and ministerial life.

And I've seen them do Facebook in different ways -- making it wide-open, friends with their parishioners, or more restricted, making another hard and fast rule against friending congregants.

It's easy to see there are pros and cons both ways. Open it up, and conversely, you need to be less free with your status updates. Keep it just friends and family, and you can be more open.

But what a great tool it is for ministry, and so I'm still stuck, trying to figure out the boundaries. If your congregants are also Facebook friends, you can post notices of upcoming events, generate excitement -- "Get to church, Friends! It's going to be a good one!"

And you get to see in their lives, in real time. Someone is sad -- there it is, on Facebook. Someone has a birthday, loses a dog, loses a job, has a date, has an ill parent ... the mind swims. How much, as a minister, do you respond to? How much ministering are you going to do because of the information you glean from Facebook?

It's enough to make a wee seminarian decide to cancel her Facebook upon ordainment!

So ... what are the rules you're developing? So far, mine are: only friending 1 degree people (e.g. no friends of friends), not responding to status updates unless I'm willing to reestablish a relationship with the person (face it, there are some people whom I enjoy knowing what's going on in their lives, but I just don't have the time to add in an active relationship) ... and not releasing sermons to ex-boyfriends.

Those are my rules. What are yours?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wishing Your Kid Had Cancer

Apparently there's a book out called "I Wish My Kids Had Cancer: A Family Surviving the Autism Epidemic." No link -- if you want it, go search it out.

I won't get into any moral outrage over the title of the book, though I will admit to feeling physically ill just reading the title.

But it did bring to mind the question -- which poison would you choose for your child? Potentially lethal poison, but other than that, your child will be "normal"? Or a non-lethal poison whose affects will last your child's entire life? The penultimate Sophie's Choice.

I don't have an apple-apple comparison to make with the book.

But I do have a friend, Nancy, whose blog I follow, and she, mine. I don't remember how we found each other. But we "met" when Little Warrior was going through Cancer Part One. At the time, she was trying to come to terms with the diagnosis given to her only child -- Williams Syndrome.

She and I have never contrasted our children's situations. We have compared notes. There's some overlap between our experiences.

I know that I have never looked at her and thought, "Oh, I wish Little Warrior had that instead of cancer." I have read her blog and felt myself lucky at times. And by the sympathy she has extended to me during hard times, I feel safe in saying there have been times when the last thing she would have wanted was to be in my place.

Nothing's clean in either story. Even if LW makes it to be called "cured," for the rest of her life we will have to worry about cardiac toxicity, secondary cancer caused by the chemos, issues with the radiation .... etc etc etc.

William's syndrome has its own health problems, necessitating trips to various specialists. Like me, she reads stories of other children with the same label as her child ... and some have very sad endings. And she cries. Just like I cry.

I don't wish my child had autism. Or Williams Syndrome. I doubt she wishes her child had cancer.

I wish my child were healthy. I bet she does, too.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Do You Want in a UUA President?

I think we're lucky.

From what I can tell, we have two candidates for UUA president who are very highly esteemed by their colleagues. I've spoken to supporters on both sides and heard both admiration and love for Morales and Hallman.

At a party last weekend, I spoke to a minister, asking which candidate he supported. He told me and I noted, "And you know that person." I didn't mean that as any sort of "Of course you're supporting ..." Quite the opposite. Familiarity can mean that you know the person's weaknesses. To hear a full-throated endorsement of someone they know on a personal level has weight.

Of course, for many of us, we know of the candidates, but don't know the candidates. So for us, it's not the singer, it's a matter of supporting the candidate who sings our song.

My question, and I do have one ... what do you want to see in a UUA president? If you don't know who you support, so much the better. I'll have more posts about the UUA election. Right now, well, to quote the Spice Girls ... Tell me what ya want, what ya really really want.

Or do you even care?

Artist at Work

People who take pride in the work they do touch me.

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store, for once, remembering my big reusable bags. Filled the cart up. Went to check out.

The gentleman checking me out took his time, carefully reaching over to grab all the frozen things to ring them up first, putting them in one bag, then the refrigerated items, sorting, lifting the bags to make sure any one bag wasn't too heavy. "Please hand me that," he said, pointing to one item. He worked as carefully as an artist putting together a mosaic, making sure they fit just so. As I paid, I told him, Thank you, that was like watching an artist. You could go into professional organizing! He laughed and said that, well, there's just a certain way to do things, if you want to do it right.

So true.

When we were in the hospital, there was a man from housekeeping who came by to clean the room. Very friendly, and very careful about what he was doing. As he mopped, he told LW, "I'm making this good and clean so you can play on the floor." When I thanked him, he said, "Well, it's very important that we keep things as clean as possible so the little ones don't get sick."

During our 6 month in-an-out, he and I saw each other several times and always enjoyed a good conversation.

I thought of him yesterday, watching my groceries be carefully bagged. My hospital friend saw his job as every bit as important as that of the doctors and nurses. He knew that his job was -- literally -- a matter of life and death.

I am sometimes careless with some of the jobs that I do, in and around the house. These people inspire me to do better.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marriage

A friend of mine is getting married this weekend. Actually, I should say two friends, since his fiancee is now also a friend.

They are both glowing.

On the subject of marriage, I have said more than once that I am against marriage, unless you just HAVE to.

I don't mean you or your intended are pregnant. Or looking for a green card. Or any of the other eminently logical reasons to get married.

The Husband and I got married at ages 21 and 22, because we just had to. No logical reason; we were both still in college so actually, it went against reason. But there was something in us ... we just had to.

I guess, for me, marriage is like having babies. Truly, I see little logical reason for either. But both things, I just had to do. It was just a force inside, the heart wanting what the heart wants.

Oh, I know there are logical reasons for marriage. But to me, the most important part is the non-logical part. The part that, nearly 19 years after setting sail on this marriage of adventure, I still can't explain.

I guess it's not really the legal aspect of getting married -- to me, that's just a byproduct, the easy part. (Sigh ... but not for everyone.) But making the decision to pledge to be together for the rest of your life ... whew. That's big.

For my two friends, this is not their first marriage. They've each been married before, each raised children and seen them leave to begin their adult lives.

There is such joy that they take in each other. On his facebook page, along with other favorite activities, he lists "loving Sasha."

It makes my heart swell for both of them.

I don't believe in marriage. Except for when I really do.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scab

Life goes on, and with it comes great conversations about our religion, calling, classism. I go to class, tend to my kids, work on my church. Preach, in our pulpit, or others.

Read, read, read. I am brimming with ideas, spilling over with enthusiasm. I am mad for progress now ... ready to Get This Show On The Road.

When my children fall and bleed, I tell them about how great blood is, how wonderful scabs are -- nature's band aids -- because once you have a scab, you can go back to running, climbing, having fun. Your body is healing itself and protecting itself.

Of course, the wound is still beneath. I am grateful for the thick scab -- it came quicker this time. I worried that I needed to "take off" time to heal from LW's last bout with cancer. I worried that I was going back to school too soon. Actually, I've been frustrated at not taking more classes.

But all in good time. We're going on LW's Make-a-Wish trip in April ... more classes would have made that more complicated. As it is, I'll need to turn in a paper a week early, arrange for review notes, as I'll return from Disney and have to take a final exam 4 days later.

Life goes on. And CancerWorld also goes on. I haven't posted it all here, but my heart has broken a few more times, as we lost three of our Wilms' Warriors in one week. One, so fast! how could it happen so fast? And another so heartbreakingly slow. I never knew that a young child could rage, rage, against the dying of the light, but this one did. Just a couple of days before she died, whenever she would wake from her drug and pain induced unconsciousness, she would talk to her siblings about how next year, she would start kindergarten and they would walk to school together.

Oh ... God ...

Hope, too, in our Warriors' struggles. One experimental drug, Sorafenib, seems to be working for a while for some, slowing the progress of tumors. And one of our strongest fighters, who has fought with wisdom and spirit for five years, is now trying out a brand new drug, so brand new, it has no name and only goes by a set of letters and numbers.

In addition to caring for these other children, each drug that possibly works gives us another future chess move. If LW were to relapse (oh, God, if you knew how it hurts to write that word) again, she would probably do a protocol called ICE. If she were to relapse again, then maybe sorafenib or this new drug.

To think of having to go back to CancerWorld is excruciating. But to know that there would be something they could do gives a bit of balm. A bit.

So, every once in a while, I spill it all out on the floor, shuffle through it a bit, then rake it all up into a corner. Because sometimes the woods aren't lovely, they're just dark and deep.

And I have miles to go.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More on Classism and confession

Thanks for all the comments.

Reponding to Kerry and Kristina, I think some of it depends on the church. If you walked into my church, you wouldn't get much of that, simply because our congregation is made up of ... oh, what would I call us? Well, not college professors. School teachers, nursery workers, bus drivers, blue and pink collars, stay-at-home moms ... you get the idea. Not as many blue collars as I would like ... by the same token, not as many PhD's as I'd like.

I like diversity. We're very middle-of-the-road. I'd like some growing edges.

Still and all, I know that I, personally, have made the assumption before that everyone is like me, everyone has a college degree. This is less a crime of judgment and more a crime of "everyone is like me" -itis. Everyone has kids, is married, has a college degree, and an understanding of 50 different kinds of chemo, right? Um, right?

What prompted the recent post on classism was a fairly innocuous statement on a UU discussion group ... one that I realized, I could have said.

The context was a conversation about a website and whether it reflected a bias. One writer wrote (and I'm paraphrasing) that any college-educated adult could discern a bias.

Didn't make me pause a second. Until someone else posted a response that said, I find no way to read this where I'm not offended. (Again, paraphrasing, I didn't save the emails.) The responder pointed out that plenty of youth can ascertain bias, nor does it take a college degree.

(I believe the responder was a DRE. Pay attention to the Directors of Religious Education in your church, even if you don't have kids. They are often one of the best living examples of Applied Unitarian Universalism.)

The response made me go, "Woah!" Because I knew I could have been just as guilty for unthinkingly phrasing something such as that.

Still thinking about that Right Relationship team ...

The newest version of the "I have to take a test and I've never been to class" nightmare

This is funny.

I don't usually get nervous about being in the pulpit, but this Sunday, I'll be filling the pulpit for a minister friend of mine, one whom I really admire.

Well, the subconscious reveals all ... in my nightmare, I arrived at the church and didn't have any of my readings, sermons, etc.

On top of that, their first hymn lasted 30 minutes, so I began trying to figure out what I was going to drop, and how I was going to make it all fit without going over the sacred hour time mark.

I guess I'm lucky that I had all my clothes on!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Would You Be Willing to Sacrifice for UU?

So ... I've been thinking about classism and growing Unitarian Universalism, and what I keep coming to, is what are we willing to sacrifice?

Red Sphynx asks, "In order to defeat classism, are we willing to give up the piece of the UU DNA that leads to those bumper stickers? I mean, our anti-authoritarianism is part of our identity."

Are we willing to give some of that up? Anti-authoritarianism is not just a problem in the context of classism, it can be a real church killer. I know I've heard or read countless times that church growth and anti-authoritarianism are not pals.

What about our reverence for higher education? This is more of a tough one for me. I do hold education in high esteem, and get frustrated with an American culture that says Joe the Plumber would be better at solving our problems than an Ivy-League, advanced degreed person.

But ... does this attitude make others, without that advance degree, without a college degree, feel inferior?

At the Women's Convocation, name tags identified those with a doctorate. "Jane Doe, Ph.D." On one hand, we take great pride in this -- look at how many of our members have advanced degrees! On the other hand ... we take great pride in this. And what does it mean, in that setting, if someone has Ph.D. on their name tag? Should their opinions count for more? Are they of more value?

Does this keep us small?

I want my grandchildren to be able to go to a Unitarian Universalist church. Heck, I want them to be able to choose from several UU churches in their area. Without having to move to Boston.

What do I need to sacrifice, to make that a reality?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Blogging for Sanity, for Love, for Connection

In Flogging for Blogging, Ms. Kitty delved into the meaning and worth of blogging.

I can't say enough. I could write a book. Which, to folks familiar with my blog, will come as no surprise.

And that's on the top 10 list of Great Things About Blogging. People are familiar with my blog. And they are familiar with me.

I spoke to someone last weekend about blogging pseudonymously. "Oh, I guess that's a good idea for a seminarian," the person said. Ehh ... well, that was originally why I began blogging under a pseudonym. Sporadically. Very.

And then ...

And then.

Well, those familiar with my blog know what happened next. The record screeched, and my foray into seminary abruptly came to a halt. And my entry into the world of Childhood Cancer began.

I've never been a dedicated journal-er. I was the person who started a new diary with great hopes and plans, and petered out after a few weeks.

Somehow, for some reason, the week after we entered the hospital, before we even left, I began blogging in earnest.

And never stopped.

Many of you have been with me from the beginning. You've seen me, through my words, cry. Rage. Deal with my baby daughter fighting cancer. Deal with my complete disillusion with life, my complete disengagement from any idea of pursuing ministry. Lose God. Go to utter dry ashes. And be born again, breathe life again, come back and say I think I'm going back to seminary. You watched me go back to seminary. Conservative seminary. Engage in normal life.

And you were here when cancer came back.

And again ... you were here when she completed treatment. Got clear scans. Went back to seminary. Again. Again. Again.

Blogging is not journaling, though I've been as open and blunt as I could ever been in a lock-and-key diary. Blogging is not a online bulletin board, though we've had conversations through its medium. Blogging is not essay writing, though I've done some of that, and been educated, moved, entranced, by those who incorporate that into their blog.

Blogging is introspection with an audience, but an audience who doesn't just watch, they call you on your bullshit, give you knowledge you don't possess, grieve with you, care for you.

I've met some of my friends that I've made through blogging and last week received two opportunities because of blogging. I've toured iMinister's church with her, sat in an airport for 4 hours with Peacebang and as a present for my 18th wedding anniversary, The Husband arranged for me to go visit my twin, Auspicious Jots.

What do people outside the blogging world think of us bloggers? Pajama-wearing hermits, making the only kind of connection we can, in an impersonal world?

Well ... I do like pajamas.

But I also have a very tight circle of best friends (who have probably found this blog, but love me enough to not mention it), a larger circle of good friends, and so forth and so on. This blog is in addition to "real friends," not a substitute. And it serves a different purpose. I love you guys, but I don't feel I have to protect you. If I get too raw, if my life is too painful, you can look away. You can not click on the headline. Not so the person sitting next to me in the hospital room.

I haven't yet done my Career Assessment Program, reason obvious. I'm hoping to get it done this summer or early Fall. I assume that there will be a question or two about how I've dealt, emotionally, with Little Warrior's cancer. How I've kept connected with my religion. How I've been fed, spiritually.

I hope the person I see is a blogger.

Because if you're not a blogger, I don't see how you can adequately understand what I mean when I answer:

"I blog."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Group Devoted to Dismantling Classism within UU

We have great groups that are devoted to dismantling racism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression within Unitarian Universalism.

Does anyone know if there is a group devoted to dismantling classism?

We make such assumptions -- and I am as guilty as any -- that everyone is college-educated, and to a lesser degree, came from a middle class or higher background.

I'm just wondering ... and please, play along with me in my fantasy for just a moment ... what would happen if we began having an influx of those not possessing college degrees, those working as roughnecks, as factory workers, as cab drivers?

Would there be a backlash? Would we say, that's great, but act more like us?

Okay, I didn't mean to go into that ... my question, and it is a real one, do we have a group devoted to addressing classism in our association? Should we?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What's Our Guinea Worm Straw?

At the ICUUW, we broke into small groups to determine the major problems facing women worldwide, then we narrowed those down, then we discussed actionable solutions.

When we got to the part about solutions, I asked, "What's our guinea worm straw?"

I got a few strange looks before I explained.

I heard President Carter tell this story in a speech -- basically, the Carter Foundation wanted to find a significant problem that had a simple solution, so that they could do something and make a measurable difference.

Well, they did their research and learned of the problem with the guinea worm, or dracunculiasis.

They further learned that the disease requires humans. If you can stop humans drinking or entering infected waters, the thought goes, you will be able to eradicate the disease.

Through providing fine-mesh filters and pipe filters (the guinea worm straw), cases of dracunculiasis are down over 99%.

So you can see why I asked, "What's our guinea worm straw?"

Well, Jewish World Watch has their own version of the guinea worm straw to fight violence against women -- A solar cooker.

In a nutshell ... women in Darfur are attacked when they leave their camp to gather firewood. For $30, you can provide 2 solar cooker kits, which means they don't have to leave the camp. I'm squinching my budget a little this month so I can do this.

Look, it's not that I don't think we should pass resolutions giving voice to our disapproval of certain things. But we're a small group. I really like the idea of finding our own guinea worm straw ... or solar cooker.

Response from Morales Campaign

This question had been asked in comments:

What else has (Morales) got to offer towards significant growth of UUism?

I received this answer from the Morales campaign:

The idea of a satellite congregation is just one idea for growth. The real potential in our movement is in the 1000 congregations we already have.

The fact that dozens of congregations have grown rapidly in the last decade shows that fast growth is possible in a number of settings (urban, suburban, small town). The fact is that we get around 250,000 visitors each year. Most never return. The key to fast growth in our thriving churches is that they do a better job of engaging the seekers and of holding on to the members they already have.

There is no reason we could not realize growth of 50 percent in a decade. Many churches do that. Several of our districts have come close to that growth rate.

A number of effective growth ideas are presented in the DVD "Ideas for Growth" produced by Jefferson Unitarian Church. In it the Rev. Morales and members of his staff show ideas that have helped that church grow from 400 to 780 in 9 years.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Little Warrior Eats Something

Okay, you have cried with me at times, today you get to laugh AT me.

The Boy came in the kitchen. "LW ate something and she won't tell me what. She says she'll get in trouble."

The Husband goes to her. "What did you eat?" She shakes her head. "I don't want to tell you. You'll get mad."

"I won't get mad, just tell me."

She wouldn't. "Honey, I won't get mad about what you ate. But I am getting mad that you won't tell me." Silently, she shook her head.

I got involved. Stern. "C'mon. We won't be mad. Tell us."

We cajoled. We got cross. I hollered. We put her in a room by herself. We counted to three ... multiple times. We threatened. We questioned. Medicine? A quarter? A toy? Candy?

20 minutes of this.

"I do NOT want the first child I spank to be the one who had cancer twice!" I hissed at The Husband.

Finally, I asked, "Will you whisper it to me?" Yes.

She crawled in my lap. "LW, I won't be mad, but I am very worried. Now, what did you eat?"

She leaned in and whispered:


"Booger water."


I've done many things in my life, but not bursting into laughter on the spot was by far one of the most difficult.

She could read it in my eyes though. Her worried look dropped away and she smiled.

The little booger.

"Right Relationship Team" for congregations?

Does anyone know of a church that has taken the "Right Relationship Team" concept and narrowed it down for use at the church level?

I'm not talking about covenanting, I'm talking about the actual "rapid response team" approach.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Calling ...

There's a great conversation going on over at Transient and Permanent. My comment was going so long, I decided to move it over here.

First, go read the original post:

Do Unitarian-Universalist Ministers Have a Calling?


Then scroll down to comments to read the conversation.

Now, to answer:

T&P:

What isn’t addressed overtly is the matter of where the calling comes from, or what it means to use an action verb like “calling” when there may be no being to voice the call. Must one anthropomorphize–if even on the most attenuatedly abstract level–a higher power in the universe in order to maintain the concept of calling? Could you clarify by what you mean by the “mutual” in “inner mutual longing”? I’m curious to learn how different people understand what is going on with this concept, especially those who indeed have a strong sense of such a calling. How did they determine it was a calling, and for the ministry in particular? What does this say about their theology? Perhaps the key to this issue of calling lies in your reference to longing for a unique purpose?

I wonder if the sense of a calling to the presidency of the UUA by a layperson would be acceptable grounds to someone who expected the president to understand the sense of calling to the ministry.


Well, I can only speak for my beliefs. (Why do I say that? I mean, duh.)

Could someone who is strictly atheist – and by that, I mean someone who does not believe in God as a force, a spirit, a process, nuttin', and someone who sees no plan, no “magical” connection of events or people – could that person say they felt “called” to ministry? Well, heck, I dunno. I was only like that for a brief, dry, period. And at that time, I thought I’d never go back to seminary. I was not called, I had nothing to say, how could I minister?

Well, Spirit came back and Spirit said “Do,” so I’m back on my path. So, what I mean by “mutual” is this: that there is a force, a transcending mystery, that knows our spirit force, is connected to our spirit force, and is made up of all our spirit forces (okay, I don’t know where “spirit force” came from and I don’t like it, so just consider it a placeholder for a better term) that wants to best utilize our uniqueness to advance our world.

“Must one anthropomorphize …” Again, I dunno. I did. But I certainly don’t hold myself up as more spiritually mature, or more anything for that matter. Spirit communicates to me through all kinds of mediums, including stupid pop songs. I’m sure there are folks on higher levels than I, who can get the message without such clunky devices as perceiving God on a personal level … but I need it a little more easily digestible.

Now, can a minister pursue ministry purely on logical terms? I know one who did, just seeing it as a natural progression of their skills and what they liked to do. I can’t speak to how it’s working for them.

Probably someone who had a more subtle, complex “call” could respond more eloquently (or at least not as clumsily) as I. For me, my call was a burning bush, Road to Damascus moment, that was then corroborated for me through a series of blatant coincidences that left me tilting my head up to the sky and hollering, “Okay, I GET IT already!!!!”

So, for me, if someone said, “I feel called to be President of the UUA” (or for that matter, called to write a book, establish a foundation, go to law school), it wouldn’t even occur to me that they couldn’t understand my sense of calling. But then, some of my best friends are school teachers. Now, you want to talk about a sense of call!

T&P:
This is a bit of a side note, but I do wonder if the sense of calling to the UU ministry specifically can be mistaken. We have few spiritual practices, and many UUs who thirst for spiritual deepening or greater religious knowledge seem drawn to the seminaries as a way of indulging these understandable desires. Some may believe this represents a calling, when their real motivation is not service to others or to God/whatever, but personal questing (not a bad thing in itself). Because we lack monastic orders and systematic religious practices, the ministry may seem like the only option to UUs who want more and are already conditioned to fulfill religious needs by yet more reading and debate. But is this a calling as it has been usually understood? Not meant as a slam on people who enter seminary for mixed or questing reasons, just an open question that seems somewhat related.

I do think that’s an issue. I’m very glad that someone is devoting their time and energy to working on it. We have to have more choices than “give them a book and direct their independent study,” “channel their spiritual longing into leadership development,” and go to seminary. Okay, I know I'm simplifying. But I really like the project.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Church Planters

David Throop, on the UU Church Planters list just posted something interesting:

Last night, I attended a dinner where the Revs Peter Morales and Laurel Hallman (candidates for President of the UUA) debated.

Rev Morales discussed UU growth. He described a plan of large churches planting satellite churches. Typically, an established church of 600+ members opens a satellite campus at another location. E.g. a big downtown church opens a suburban campus. The members at the satellite are full members of the mother church. The Sunday worship is video-streamed to the satellite. The events at the satellite are listed in the common newsletter. A junior pastor has office hours (Sundays & during the week) at the satellite. RE programs are available at the satellite, but the trainings etc are done at the mother church.

Later, in the hallway, I talked some with Morales. He said such a satellite takes less than half a full-time position, but can offer the full-featured experience of a large church. He also commented that, in a metro-plex, large churches eat small ones, without meaning to. People attend a 50-member suburban church, join and stay for a while. Then they visit the larger church. They experience the difference between an RE program with 8 kids and one with 100 kids. They try out all the offerings at the larger church. And they decide its worth driving the extra 30 minutes for the better quality. The small church stays small, even tho it is doing a good job for a church its size.
This is very interesting to me as I'm in a dwindling small church ... a church that does so many things right ... but yeah, we can't offer what the big ones are. I've never heard it phrased as Morales did, but it seems to be very honest and very on point.

I like the satellite idea, but it seems to me it needs to be that way from the inception of the satellite church. Could a large church "annex" us successfully? I don't think so. It's just a completely different way of doing church.

Meanwhile, I continue to ponder what the heck the solution is for the small church in a big area. Our little portion of the universe is filled with gifted leaders -- leaders who are becoming well known in the larger UU community. But our church isn't growing.

Too much to unpack right now ... I'm still at ICUUW. As someone said this morning, "my brain is so full, words aren't making any sense anymore."