Monday, January 25, 2010

Tom Stites and the Banyan Project

Huge congratulations go out to former UU World editor Tom Stites. Because of his work with the Banyan Project, he has been nominated for the WeMedia Community Choice Game Changer Award. He needs your help to win it, though. Just go to and click next to his name.

Apparently the Game Changer Award will be presented in May at the WeMedia conference in Miami; the winner presents the conference's keynote address to a room full of influential journalism people and -- most important -- foundation executives who include the top people from the Knight Foundation. Winning the award would give the not-for-profit Banyan startup a huge boost in its search for funding.

From Tom:

Why should people vote for me, other than because you'd be doing the asking? Because at a time when newspapers are dying and the Supreme Court is bombing democracy, the Banyan Project would strengthen it.

Banyan's journalism will be tailored to meet the distinctive needs of the hugepublic of less-than-affluent Americans, the everyday citizens so ill-served by mainstream news media. It will thus not only serve democracy but also address a significant justice issue: Media critics tend to overlook the class and economic injustice inherent in today's top-down journalism, which aims almost entirely at serving the elites, and the damage to democracy that it causes. Overcoming this injustice is a major element of what drives the Banyan Project.

In short, Banyan exemplifies UU values, not only by upholding our Fifth Principle but also by creating a wholly new model for journalism rooted in a consumer co-op where the editors are accountable to readers the way a minister is accountable to a UU congregation.

So -- if this is something you support, activate your networks, get that whole UU-interconnected thing working and get out the vote!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Interseminary Retreat

So, last week, I met 3 others from my seminary, and we, plus our dean (my calls-himself-a-conservative-Christian-but-acts-like-a-liberal-theologian professor and advisor) drove three hours to an interseminary retreat. In attendance there, were conservative rabbinical students, Muslim seminary students, Catholic seminarians, and an assortment of liberal to mainstream Christian seminarians.

Yeah baby!

I have to back up and admit that I was quite nervous before we left. Why? I guess just because I didn't know what to expect -- there were no clear schedules or agendas sent out beforehand. Which caused me to remember that really, we need to be SO CLEAR on our websites about what people can expect Sunday morning, because I'm not a particularly anxious person, so surely there must be other folks who look at our sites, and make plans to come, but then chicken out at the last minute. But that's a sermon for another day.

But back to the retreat ... my suitemates included a young rabbinical student, an about-to-graduate Methodist from a Presbyterian seminarian who is my age, and my roommate (Baptist), from my own seminary.

That she and I were put together was intriguing, because we have a mutual friend who tried to match us up a couple of years ago. It was right after Obama's speech on racism. My roommate is a pastor at an African-American church close to my church. Our friend and I had the idea of putting together interracial dialogue groups. But then Little Warrior was diagnosed with the recurrence, so that went to the wayside.

But now, she was my roommate.

Tuesday night, the Jewish scholar gave a presentation on Abraham's angels, and what hospitality means within conservative Judaism. We chatted afterwards, found we had some similar experiences and clicked. Dontcha just love it when that happens?

The Jewish scholar, hereafter referred to as "The Kick-Butt Rabbi" (a name she has already been given by others, but that I wholeheartedly endorse), was also in my small group. I'm so glad, because she made things real interesting.

The next morning, there was a presentation by the Christian scholar (UCC) on the symbolism of Abraham's angels from a trinitarian perspective.

Afterwards, in our small group, the about-to-graduate Methodist from a Presbyterian seminarian asked the Rabbi what her thoughts were on the presentation. "Do you really want to know?" she responded. The seminarian answered in the affirmative.

The K-BR pulled no punches. "I was completely offended," she said. She went on to explain her feelings about Christians appropriating the Jewish Bible. "It's not the 'Old Testament,' it was not superseded by the New Testament, and Judaism did not end with Jesus," she explained. "You have your own scripture, use it!"

The Methodist seminarian and a Baptist from my seminary (not my roommate) were hurt and confused. This was their first time to run into this. "But, we're grafted from the same root," protested the Methodist.

"That is not what we believe," said the K-BR.

The conversation went back and forth. It was interesting to watch, but at a certain point, a bit frustrating, like watching people speaking two different languages. The Christians just genuinely could not relate to this idea of appropriation. So I jumped in, thinking of Garrison Keillor's recent essay about Christmas. I believe I even quoted his "buzz off" part.

"You know how some Christians feel about Christmas? 'Keep the Christ in Christmas' and that sort of thing?"

They nodded. They felt the same way.

"Okay, I believe that's how the Rabbi feels about her holy books." K-BR nodded assent.

"Now, how do you feel about the Tanakh being studied with forward, not backward motion?" I asked her. (Or something like that.) "Not using Christian theology to interpret it, but to give an understanding to the Judaism that informed Christianity?" K-BR endorsed that.

This, of course, didn't fully answer the wants of the Christians, who protest that they cannot interpret the Hebrew Bible without applying their Christian interpretations to it. It is their holy text, they believe, so for someone to say "Hands off" just doesn't connect. (Although I talked to my Methodist suitemate later, bringing in "Revelation is sealed," vs. Mormonism ... she got the point.)

But it was great to both witness the honest exchange and to come up with an example that seemed to resonate.

More later ...

Friday, January 08, 2010

We interrupt this show for an important breakdown ...

Okay, so, I jump from the Interseminary Retreat straight into a Very Amazing New UU Curriculum Training. No problem, right?

Unless, of course, I have some conflicting feelings left from the retreat that I haven't dealt with?

The conflicting feelings were not at all about the retreat itself, or the interfaith dialogue therein, which was all wonderful and which I'm really going to write about, I promise.

No, the conflicttion was about ... what else, childhood cancer.

Issues: a) don't want to be "that" person -- the "Hi-my-name-is-Lizard-Eater-and-my-daughter-had-cancer-twice" person.
b) don't want to talk about it, period, because it's a conversation killer. Toddler with cancer -- it's gotta be right up there on the list of "Things That Have Been Enshrined As Too Horrible To Think About" ... at least, thinking about them for longer than a St. Jude's commercial.

So, I went to the retreat, with Not Going to Talk About IT fixed firmly in my mind.

And kept finding myself talking about it.

Didn't want to. But this was a religious retreat, we were talking about Deep Meaningful Experiences, and darn it all, it kept coming up. Not in any sort of a big way, but it just always seemed to be popping up; I kept having to reference it in some fashion. It's like this -- you're talking about hospitality and about the deep need people have to take care of each other. Well, I've had a pretty powerful experience of that this year. But I can't talk about that without mentioning Make-A-Wish. And I can't mention Make-A-Wish without explaining that my daughter had cancer. So I wound up doing this quickie little thing each time, that went kind of like:

"Okay, see, my daughter had cancer twice, she's 4 now, but she's completely fine now." Done all in one very fast breath, kind of like one giant word -- "Okay, see, mydaughterhadcancertwice,she's4now,butshe'scompletelyfinenow."

Inauthentic? Me?

And since then, I've been kicking myself over and over, not for being inauthentic, but for talking about it at all. "Can't you find other examples?" I berated myself.

This was one of those experiences where the real magic came through people being open and honest, two things that, for better or worse, I've always been. Probably too open and honest. Til now. Because the truth of the matter is, my pain can hurt others. It just can. A child with cancer is too many people's bogeyman.

But hey, retreat is over. I need to deal with it, and figure out a plan. Maybe I'll send an email to X, who has gone through something similar. When I get time.

That whole "God said Ha" thing.

So, I'm in this Very Amazing New UU Curriculum Training led by someone I've gosh darned nearly worshipped for years, and we're talking about religion. And emotion. And the connection. And then we watch a funny clip of a movie, except that it's not so funny because the funny character in it is me, happily going along, "Yeah, yeah, Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, the play was a success ..."

And then we listen to a song about a missing heart and armor and roadblocks and oh shhhhhhhhh....

I've mentioned before that God is occasionally not at all subtle with me because, I don't know, maybe I have a brick head or something?

So, here's the layout: It just kinda happens that on one side of me is the BFF-DRE who has lived and cried with me all through this. On the other side is Prez, whom I've known casually for several years, but who had the amazing "luck" to call me the night before LW had her Big Surgery (age 8 months) -- the friend who asked what he could do, and was tearfully told, "Well, if things don't go well, can you help me find a UU minister who will do the funeral?"

In front of me is Rabbi Shaman. Next to him was the Elder Stateswoman, who has sat silently and comfortingly with me in hospital rooms.

You know, because subtle doesn't work on me.

So, we listen to the song, and then we are to call out what we are thinking or feeling. And so, with tears now streaming down my face, I choke out,

"Sometimes we don't share our pain because it will hurt others.*"

You know how sometimes ... very, very rarely ... we're able to actually see ourselves as something separate, like another person? Well, there it was. "Oh you poor idiot," I said to her. "You were at a spiritual retreat. Your daughter just finished treatment a year ago. And she's had cancer twice. It WAS an intense experience. OF COURSE it is going to inform your feelings on just about everything right now, certainly on anything religious. I mean, really, you think the examples that spring to your mind are going to come from Schleirmacher or Kant or even Frankl? Your daughter freakin' had cancer. Twice. By the time she was 3. You poor, dumb, sweet girl."

So, the breakthrough happened. Unfortunately, sometimes when the waterworks start, the knob breaks off and there I am, a weepy leaky faucet.

Sometimes, a breakthrough looks like a breakdown. So be it. "So don't mind if I fall apart; there's more room in a broken heart." And this is Unitarian Universalism. Our religion. Our religion that helps with the healing of broken hearts. So may it be.

*Personally, it kind of pisses me off that the Hysteric Cleric (see comments: Dec. 29) called up God and ratted me out, but what can I say, it is a scary power he wields. The tattletale.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Servant of God

Just got back from my interseminary retreat -- evangelicals and conservative Jews and Muslims, oh my! Will be writing more about that later. Short version: amazing, AMAZING experience.

On the drive back, our school sponsor, my calls-himself-a-conservative-Christian-but-acts-like-a-liberal-theologian OT professor and I were talking about movies. He's a bit of a movie buff, big fan of Pulp Fiction. I told him about From Dusk Till Dawn that the Hysteric Cleric turned me on to, which is worth watching (it's a vampire movie) if only for this exchange:

Seth: So what are you, Jacob? A faithless preacher? Or a mean motherfuckin' servant of God?
Jacob: I'm a mean, mhm mhm servant of God.

So, I'm telling Prof about that part, and joking about how the Hysteric Cleric and I have to figure out how to include that in my ordination service. "Well, you're a Unitarian Universalist, they wouldn't have a problem with that, right?" he joked.

"Eh, no, that would be a problem," I replied.

"Oh, so even in a Unitarian Universalist church, you couldn't say M-F?"

"No, no, that would be okay," I said, completely straight-faced. "It's the word 'God' ..."