Friday, April 30, 2010

Soul Walk

As long time readers know, I do like my walks.  Exercise, schmexercise.  It's more for my head and soul.

And it's been a while.

I went down to my trusty Y.  We were having good weather, so rather than the labyrinth of the indoor track, I headed down to the pond.  From the freeway that goes past it, frankly, it looks like a path around a drainage ditch.  But things are not always as they appear from above.

It's a real, actual, pond, fed by a creek.  A long trail bends around it, then goes off in different directions, finding itself again down the path.  At one end, there's a bench.  I sat down on it, took off my headphones and just listened to the birds, to the scribble scrabble of nature.  Down in the water, there were little fish.  Here, Fishy Fishy Fishy!

While I was sitting there, this big, cool, honeysuckle-scented gust of wind hit me straight in the face.

You can't buy gifts like that.  You can only receive them.

I continued my walk, pausing every now and then to look at a flower, or an interesting branch, or a friendly bird.  I offered her my iPhone, in case she wanted to check her email.  She just looked at me with pity.

When I went to my candidate career assessment last November (one of many  expensive requirements of pursuing UU ministry), the person I saw talked to me about where I have been replenished.  And she urged me to find a local version of such.

I had plans to go up to this town or down to that park, searching for that place with nature, with water, where I could take my soul for a walk.

What do you know, it was located where I already went.  All I had to do was go outside, around a corner, and down a slope. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Announcing "The UU Salon"

I miss the Blog Carnival, and I like it when a conversation bounces from blog to blog.  I could just wait for these conversations to spring up organically.  But I'm like the vulture who says to his friend, "Patience, Hell.  I'm going to go KILL something!"

So, I'm pleased to present, The UU Salon.  I and the other team members will post one question a month.  Hoping it will take off.

First question:  May 1!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Father Mac

Okay, so I have to tell you about my friend, Father Mac.  Father Mac and I are in seminary together.  He’s not Catholic, at least, not anymore.  He’s UCC, via Metropolitan Community and Catholicism.  Originally studied to be a Catholic priest, had problems with their whole anti-homosexual thing, being gay himself, and wound up UCC.  He works for his church, which requires him to often wear a collar, since he goes straight to meetings after class.  And since he only has black shirts, he looks like a priest.  Well, a tattooed priest.

Being a gay UCC and a heathen UU, we managed to find each other.  We are both far enough along in school (and my school has gone through some amazing changes in the last couple of years) that rather than cling to each other silently in a sea of evangelicals, we take great joy in aggravating each other.  He hisses under his breath, so that only I can hear, "Burn her, burn her!" when I speak out in class.  “I’m not a witch, I’m a heretic,” I primly tell him.  He rolls his eyes.  I remind him that our churches are kissin’ cousins.

Last week, in front of our fairly conservative and nonplussed Worship prof, we darn near got in a knock-down-drag-out over denominational “firsts.”  He claimed ordination of first woman and first openly gay minister.  We argued back and forth about the first woman until we looked it up and realized we were both talking about Antoinette Brown, who was ordained by a Methodist into a Congregational Church, but later became a Unitarian.

We called that one a draw.

I am still trying to find out about the ordination of the first openly gay minister, which UCC claims, in 1972.  But I’m thinking there has to be one before that, possibly of the “openly gay to his/her church, but not the world at large,” like some clergy friends I have right now in conservative denominations.

(Be sure to drop me a line if you know the answer to that one.)

In any case, we still have great affection for each other and the other’s church.  Kissin’ cousins, UU and UCC.  And have you seen their ad that’s making the rounds?

I’d teased Father Mac before about the “Unitarians Considering Christ” label for UCC.  At the end of an email he just sent me, he signed his name, and put under it, “UCC (the Undeniable Children of Christ).”

Damn.  I can’t come up with anything good for UUA.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ethnic UUs and Lapsed Unitarians

I had an experience last October that I've been meaning to write about -- a post by the Rev. Thomas Perchlik made me take the time.

My parents, my brother, and my sister, are all ethnic UUs.  If you ask them their religion, they will say, "Unitarian."  My parents raised them in this religion, and then me, when I came along.

Other than a handful of times to see me preach, none of them have been in a UU church in the last 30 years.

Last October, my parents, my brother and I, were sitting around talking about going to church.  "Well, I see no need to go to church," said my bro, "Because the older I get, the less important it is to hear about what'll happen when you die."

My parents and I looked at him as if he had sprouted three heads.  "I can't think of the last time I heard a sermon that addressed that," I said.

"No, no, that's not why you go to church," said my parents.  "You go because of the community, all the people you'll meet and talk to."

If you're thinking about the blind men and the elephant, you're not alone.  Well, blind man #3:

"As the only person who actually attends a UU church," sez I, "and the one working toward being a minister, let me tell you that the reason you go to church is because it helps you become a better person."

And they all looked at me like I had sprouted three heads.

None of them go to a UU church.  But I happen to know that in the last year, all three have told someone about Unitarian Universalism.  And urged someone to check it out.

So, we can say, Oh, they're not really UUs, but here's the deal:  they're probably representing UU out there.

Rev. Perchlik asks:
What does our connection to those people mean? What duty or responsibility do we have towards those persons? How do they change our own self-image?
My answers, which I don't claim are any good, since I've got a whole nest of the vampires, I mean, ethnic UUs, in my family:

Connection (religiously) ... well, I think of them as "lapsed UUs."  Duty/responsibility:  if they show up in church, kill the fatted calf and rejoice.  And invite them to attend a new UU class.  And become a member.  (And smile patiently when they say, "Hey, this isn't what Unitarian Universalism is supposed to be!")  How do they change our own self-image?:  My first response was "Sorry, not at all."  Once I got over my grouse about people who think if that sat in a garage once thirty years ago, they're a car ...

Yes, um, once I got through that moment of pique, I got pragmatic.  These folks are out there, with good intentions, probably mentioning every once in a while something about this cool religion that someone should go check out.

They're Lapsed Unitarians.  Their thoughts about Unitarian Universalism may be a bit out-dated.  They call themselves "Unitarians" when the hospital chaplain ask their religion.  And they know that a UU church "is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Let's have a feast and celebrate.

Friday, April 09, 2010

"Cancer is a Family Affair"

That's one of those things that experts start telling you as soon as the biopsy stick turns pink*. 

And it's true.  And sometimes you won't know how much.  Until your 7 year old, who was 3 at the initial diagnosis and 5 at the relapse, comes home from school and in her backpack amongst her other assignments, is her penny assignment.

In the penny assignment, they tape a penny with the right year on it next to every year they've been alive and write something significant about that year.

And your 7 year old has:

2002:  I was born.
2003: I turned one year old and learned to crawl.
2004: I learned to crawl out of my crib.
2005: My little sister had cancer for the first time.
2006: I was home schooled.
2007: I went to school for the first time.
2008: "LW" had cancer again.
2009: I went to Disneyworld.

And it's so ordinary.  So mundane.  Nothing traumatic.  A year in the life.

And you look around for something to kick.

*that's a joke. There is no biopsy stick.  Unless you count the surgeon's scalpel.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A New Conversion Practice

In the early Church, they had an extensive conversion practice. I propose that, in lieu of the standard "orientation- sign the book - get asked to be Finance Chair" conversion process that we currently have in place, that we adopt this more detailed protocol:

Inquiry: A presentation of the faith to the seeker with an affirmative response

When a visitor requests information about becoming a member, an interview should be arranged between the visitor and either the minister or a trained membership chairperson. This should be a two-way interview, where the seeker can ask questions about Unitarian Universalism and the local church, and the minister/chairperson can ask probing questions about what the seeker is looking for -- why did they begin coming to the church? What do they understand about Unitarian Universalism? What do they think are the responsibilities of being a member? And how are they hoping membership will affect their personal spiritual journey?

The interview process itself should reveal whether the seeker and the church will be a good fit. Discernment should be emphasized for the seeker, in order to make a decision that will enhance his or her life, and not wind up in frustration if the church doesn't change to meet the perceived needs of the seeker.

Rite of Welcome: Welcome into the church as a new catechumenate. Rituals include the rite of the renunciation of religious cynicism and signing with the double circle as a symbol of belonging to Unitarian Universalism.

Once committed to the program, the catechumenate should be lovingly welcomed into the formation program. Rituals include a retreat to identify past hurts and discouragement received at other churches or religious organizations, familial feelings about religion, (see the "Owning Your Spiritual Past" curriculum), and any other "baggage" that will hold the seeker back from maturing in his or her faith.

Other rituals include a "burning bowl" ceremony to ceremoniously burn pieces of paper labeled with such baggage, and a Ritual of Subconscious Cringe. During this ritual, various religious items will be held up for the seeker to view -- a prayer shawl, a mandala, a Bible, a cross, a crystal, deity figures, the Happy Human symbol, etc. The items that cause the seeker to wince or cringe will be set aside, and the religions they represent will be noted so that the seeker can explore the feelings of revulsion.

The catechumenate: A two or three year period of instruction and personal character formation.

During this time, the catechumenate (or catechuperson, to be more inclusive) will learn deep listening, Roberts Rules of Order, will take several adult RE classes to include one on congregational polity, join at least one small group, and will memorize the church's mission and covenant.

The Rite of Election: The catechumenate affirms a personal relation with the specific Unitarian Universalist congregation by writing his or her name in the book of covenant. This ritual is also known as the enrollment of names.

After signing the book, the chatechuperson will ceremoniously light the chalice with a brightly colored candle of his or her choosing.

Period of Purification and Enlightenment: In the spirit of Ephesians 6:12, the soon-to-be baptized person receives a daily exorcism for personal purity of life and faith.

The goal of this exorcism is to remove knee-jerk reactions to things that either justify their opinions or negate the values of groups with whom they do not identify.

The Rite of Initiation: Baptism is usually held on an Easter Sunday morning after the all-night vigil, finding the best blooms in town for the Flower Communion and meditating on saints such as Norbert Capek who have "won a victory for humanity." (Book of Horace Mann, 20:7)

The rite of baptism is accompanied by numerous signs and symbols such as the removal of clothing and the donning of a new organically-grown cotton or hemp gown, the renunciation of intolerance, the washing in oil as a symbol of the reception of the Holy Spirit, the passing of the peace, and the first bloom received during Flower Communion.

Mystagogue: During this period of time the newly baptized Unitarian Universalist learns more about the mysteries of faith, the use of reason, and is taught to be mindful of the needs of others.

Additionally, having mastered a comprehension of congregational polity, the mystagogue will be required to attend at least one UU-themed event outside of their own church, so that they can understand their connection to Unitarian Universalism as a whole, with all its complexities and character.

April Fools.