Friday, October 29, 2010

"Nice haircut"

Even cock-eyed optimists get hit with reality some days.

Over on the chip aisle, I passed a couple of store employees loading tortilla chips on the shelf.  "Nice haircut," one muttered snidely* under his breath.

Now, my children could have told him that not only do I have excellent hearing, but when it comes to snide remarks muttered under one's breath, my bionic bat sonar ear clicks on.

I didn't turn back, I just said clearly, "I shaved it for charity."

Immediate backpedaling.  "Oh, I, uh, think it's really a great look."  I turned back (because I needed tortilla chips) and he gave me an ingratiating smile.  My glance went over him and I perused the chips, expressionless.  "I can help you with anything you need," he said weakly.

I went back to my shopping.

What sort of meaning do I draw from this, I wondered.  Well, on one hand, maybe I'll make him think twice before muttering in public again. Hey, I can take it, it's no hair off my ... elbow.  If it means that when he runs into a cancer survivor whose hair is growing in, he holds his tongue, or better yet, smiles at her ... terrific.

All in all, though, I would handle it differently next time.  Let's not be disingenuous.  My hair has grown out enough that, as a friend of mine remarked, it looks like a choice now.  Out here in the burbs, a buzz-cut woman in jeans and a tshirt is probably seen as lesbian.  So my explaining that I shaved my head for charity put me in the "acceptable" box.  Straight woman do-gooder. Wrong message.

Next time?  Well, if it happens again, I'll turn around and turn on that big megawatt smile that all we Southern women are endowed with and just sweet as sugar, I'll say, "Really?  Do you like it?  You think it's a good look?"

And when he stammers out "Yes," I'll say, "Aww, bless your heart.**  Thank yew."

*It was snide.  And no, I wasn't walking around with a chip on my shoulder.  Between all the kindness and love from my seminary, church, and friends, I'm walking around thinking I'm the bees-knees.  This startled me.

**Which all Southern women, lesbian, straight, bi, and questioning, know to mean, "Screw you and the horse you rode in on."  What can I say.  I'm a work in progress.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Universal Love

First, I have to explain that I feel loved by God. Profoundly.

For me, God is a process, yet one that I can connect with personally, in the same way oxygen is available for all, but I can draw it in to my own body, have it become part of me.  God is a process, and I am part of that process, and I can draw God in, and feel the love of the universe.  I personalize God, some could say anthropomorphize God, but that's the best way my puny brain can make sense of this deep, powerful, sense of love that I feel.

Last week, my Spirituality professor schooled me on Universalism. Not that that was her intention.

"What would it be like," she posed the question, "To fully realize that everyone around you is deeply loved by God?  How would you treat them?"

And, my friends, as the evangelicals say, I was convicted.

As I said, I feel powerfully, overwhelmingly, loved by God.  To look at someone else, maybe someone who I find kinda annoying, who I treat coolly, and realize that he also is loved that overwhelmingly by God ... and I'm going to be politely cool to him?  For no good reason?

I realize that others don't necessarily believe in this love from God -- heck, I got it right here at home.  The Husband, who tends toward deism, says frankly that he doesn't think God gives a rats-ass about him.  And that's okay.  Ultimately, it's just a feeling, and if I translate it into a personal belief, it is one I hold very loosely.

But I hope that everyone has some experience of this kind of love, however they make meaning of it.  From other people, from the agape love of humanity as a whole.

I think this is a beautiful song, and a beautiful video.  To me, it speaks of Universalism.  The Universalism that says You Are Loved.

And there's nothing you can do about it.
You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)

Don't give up
It's just the hurt that you hide
When you're lost inside
I...I will be there to find you

Don't give up
Because you want to burn bright
If darkness blinds you
I...I will shine to guide you

Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don't give up
Because you are loved

You are loved
Don't give up
It's just the weight of the world
Don't give up
Every one needs to be heard
You are loved

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Love Experiment

So if we acknowledge that love is a privilege, but a privilege that we have the power to extend to others, where do we start?  What do we do?

This year, I did an experiment.

I didn't mean it so much as an experiment. I had a sermon where I talked about Forrest Church and why he ended his sermons with "Amen.  I love you.  And may God bless us all."

According to Rev. Galen Guengerich:
“... when I say, “I love you” from the pulpit,” (Forrest) said, “something connects—I get connected to the congregation and they get connected to each other. It’s almost like, for a moment at least, we all part of each other—of something larger than ourselves. It’s the human form of love divine, as Blake put it.” “And besides,” he added, “someone once told me that I’m the only person in her life who ever says “I love you.” She comes to church to hear someone say that she matters.”
That last part kills me.  Every time I read it.  Each time we walk into church, we must realize that there is someone who is there because they need to hear that they matter.

I knew what I wanted to do when I got to that part of my sermon. I'd heard Rudy Rasmus do it in a sermon, and it fit.  It felt, to me, necessary.  A way of taking a sermon concept and immediately putting it into practice.

Did I dare?

I was going to ask the congregation to do something.  Something uncomfortable.  In our independence, in our belief that each person is responsible for their own beliefs and actions, this could be seen as blasphemy.

To make the stakes even higher, the first time I did this, I was preaching at a Fellowship famous for their no-nonsense approach to life and worship. "Give us the intellectual sermons and save that
belly-button-gazing touchy-feely stuff for someone else." A fellowship where one member literally walks out of the service as soon as he hears the word, "I," because he doesn't think first-person should be used in a sermon.

"She comes to church to hear someone say that she matters," I repeated.  I took a deep breath then said:

"Turn to someone right now and say 'I love you and there's nothing you can do about it!'"

There was an intake of breath.  There was a half a second of silence that stretched on for about an hour, it seemed to me.  All the nightmares I'd envisioned ran through my head -- people walking out, sitting stone-faced, throwing tomatoes ...

Half a second of silence.  And then ... total BEDLAM.

People said it, left and right.  Little old ladies hugged each other.  A tall gentleman crossed the aisle to say it to another.  Men said it to men.  Men and women turned front and back, saying it to those in front, in back, to the side, patting each other's arms ...

Three times I tried to start my sermon again.  But love had been let loose and it needed its time, first.

Since then, I have done that Love Experiment at four other churches.  So, five churches total.  Intellectual churches, family churches, dignified, casual.  The result is always the same.  Oh, I'm sure there's an occasional person who could do without it, but for that experiment, I get the best seat in the house.  I'm up in the pulpit and there, I'm the audience.  And I have seen some amazing, beautiful expressions of agape and friendship.  Things that are in my heart, still.  The young woman walking over to the frail man in the wheelchair, kneeling next to him, taking his hand in hers, looking straight into his eyes and telling him she loves him.  And there's nothing he can do about it.  And the light in his eyes as he slowly, tentatively, pats her hand.

A few months after I'd given the sermon at one of my favorite little churches, I was at an area UU workshop.  There was a woman sitting across a large table from me, peering at me intently.  Suddenly, she burst out, "I love you and there's nothing you can do about it!!!"

Okay, that was a Truly Great Moment in my life.

My friend, Good Ole Boy, was sitting next to me.  He'd never heard that sermon.  He looked at her a little curiously, then said, "Wow, that is just wonderful.  We need to all be more willing to say that."  She and I grinned at each other.

Our Unitarian side emphasizes free will.  Our Universalist side emphasizes divine, unlimited, extravagant love.  Balance is important, but if I have to err on one side, I'll take the latter.  Because I've seen what happens when you give people permission to say, "I love you."

But preachers, be prepared.  It'll be a few minutes before you can start talking again.  And you may be a little choked up by what you witness.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Greatest Privilege

I think that we don't talk about what may be the greatest Privilege.

We talk about male, white, heterosexual, American, affluent, middle-class .... but I think those are usurped by something even more basic.  By a Privilege not everyone gets.


This is a profound, profound privilege. Pick up any book on human development -- love affects who we become.  One of the understandings about this is called "mirroring."  Baby cries because she's hungry. Mom picks her up and feeds her.  Baby cries because he's wet.  Daddy picks him up and changes his diaper.  We cuddle babies.  We talk to them in high pitched voices that their ears can better hear.  They are programmed to be loved, and we are programmed to love them.

And sometimes that doesn't happen.  Most theorists -- Piaget, Erikson, and the gang -- say that when that doesn't happen, when children miss out on learning things like "trust," they can never go back and relearn it.

There can be what computer geeks like The Husband call "Work-arounds."  That means that the best solution doesn't happen, so you make a work-around.  It can get the job done, but it's not as easy as having it right to begin with.

I have had much Privilege in my life, from the color of my skin, to the education that was simply expected of me.  But Love, I believe, was by far the biggest and most powerful.

I have never known a time in my life when I wasn't loved.  Wow.

I mean, certainly there were times when I didn't feel loved. Start with my teenage years. And I'm certainly not above having my "I'm gonna eat worms" days now.

But in my life, there has never been a time when I was not loved.  I have had parents, relatives, family friends, siblings, friends of my own, the gift of a Life Mate, who have loved me beyond anything I deserved. My cup runneth over, onto the floor, and out the door.

Not everyone gets that.

And this is one of the things where I believe we can make a profound difference, as a church, and as a religion.  No, we cannot go back to when a person was a baby, but we can help strengthen that "work around."  We can teach people what love really is.  We can love them.  Profoundly.  Extravagantly. Wastefully.

With our children, we can do this.  Drop to your knees, this Sunday, so that you are face to face with a 4 year old.  Call him by his name.  That's one way to love, too. Calling children by their names values them. Ask about the picture he drew.

And do the same for the adults.  Look her in the eye.  Call her by name.  Touch her shoulder and say, "I'm so glad to see you today."  Listen to her speak.

When we love others, we are teaching them something about themselves.  Something you cannot learn in a vacuum. When we love others, whether they are 6 months old or 60, we teach them that They Are Lovable.

What a message of liberation, of empowerment.

We are strengthening their souls.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


No, I'm not going to become one of those blogs that does nothing but post videos.  But great stuff is happening at Pathways.  One night, they had the great Chuck Freeman, one of the great preachers we've got here in Texas that we're so proud of.  This is another one of those "must see" videos.

Tip:  If you've got a Roku, you are lucky!  You can watch Vimeo videos like this one on your tv.  There's other religious channels ... I'm pantingly eager for someone to set up a UU channel.

Pathways UU Revival - 10-20-2010 - Two Ditches and a Vision from Pathways Church on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Watch This. Now.

I know you're busy.  I know this is 34:21 long.  It is worth it.  This is Pastor David Owen O'Quill of Micah's Porch preaching about how we do church.  Thank you to Rev. Tony Lorenzen of Pathways Church for making it available.

What is the reason for your church's existence?

Pathways Church - Sermon from 10-17-2010 - Standing For Grace from Pathways Church on Vimeo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Candidate Lizard Eater

Since so many of you have been on this journey with me, patting me on the back, (kicking me in the butt when I needed it, too) ...

I am in San Francisco where I had my meeting with the Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy.

Candidate status granted.

When I talked about my "support network," I was including you in that -- because it's true. 

So thank you.

And now, it's a gorgeous day, so I'm off to go play in Golden Gate Park. 

Friday, October 08, 2010

Praying Out Loud

My children are all in school now.  For the first time in 14 years, it is possible for me to be at home all by myself.  So what am I doing?

Praying.  Out loud.

As I've mentioned before, I attend an evangelical (not fundamentalist) seminary, where the majority of my fellow students are African-American and come from traditionally black churches, such as African Methodist Episcopal or National Baptist.

And man, can they pray.

In many of the southern evangelical traditions, this is something you do.  You pray, out loud.  Often.  As the spirit moves you.  We often begin and end our classes with prayer.  The prayers are rarely perfunctory.  Frequently long.  Heartfelt.

These are not prayers carefully lined out ahead of time, words carefully chosen.  No.  These come from the heart and with enthusiasm.  With confidence.  With spirit.  With, I dare say, soul.

And with sincerity.

There is a skill and a passion involved.  I am occasionally called upon to give the prayer, and I wanted to feel more comfortable in amongst these Prayer Rock Stars. 

So I have begun praying at home.  Out loud.  Not scripted out beforehand.

When we pray silently, we have the use of a mental backspace key.  We go back and rephrase things in our mind.  Praying out loud, there is no backspace key.

I have heard the joke/statement of fact that introverts need to think before they speak; extroverts need to speak to know what they think.  Occasionally guilty, your honor.

Praying out loud, extemporaneously, I have discovered concerns and gratitude spilling from my mouth that I hadn't even been thinking about.  After I said "Amen," I thought ... Oh.  So that's what I was carrying around.

I felt the Spirit.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hallelujah and Sympathy for Garrison Keillor

Well, I didn't anticipate saying this.

I have sympathy for Garrison Keillor.

I was sitting in my Spirituality class and right now, we're all doing creative presentations. One student made a slide show of photos that are important to her, and in the background she played, "Hallelujah."

No, not Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. An anemic mutant version, an unholy alliance. As the student said, "You may have heard this song before, because it's 'the song from Shrek.' But this is a version where a Christian singer rewrote it to make it more godly."

Tepid, bland, nothing substantive added, but much taken away.
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan’s spell.
As the slideshow played pictures of beaches and mountains the student had visited, I sat there in the dark, seething, malevolent.  "Blasphemy!" I cried internally.   I railed inside, explaining why, and on how many levels this was so wrong, wrong, wrong.  "Spiritual piracy and cultural elitism!" I ranted.


So, given the sudden inconsistency in my beliefs about changing song lyrics, I grumpily cogitated.

I acknowledged that yes, we do take ownership of songs that are not ours.

And, we can feel murderous rage when someone alters "our" song.

And our changes can reduce a song rich in meaning to a puddle of corn mush.

And just who is the other person to think they can make the song "better" anyway?

You can split hairs -- not exactly the same thing, Silent Night had already been changed, it was old, it was public domain, yada yada.

For me, I had to decide -- if the new person has the legal right (and apparently the Christian singer did receive permission from Cohen) to change the song, is it morally/ethically/philosophically/artistically wrong to do so?

Too many questions.  In any case, I decided that I had to  come down on the side of the song being a living object, allowed to mutate.  Sometimes, the mutation will be good.  Lobster enchiladas.  Sometimes it will be bad.  The Grapple

It is my choice to never ever ever buy or willingly listen to a chicken mcnugget version of Hallelujah.  It is not my choice to say it shouldn't be made.

Sorry, Mr. Keillor.  Hey, I have sympathy.  I just went past my initial fury and sentimentality and, you know, thought about it.  Examined my beliefs.

Because I'm a Unitarian Universalist.  And that's what we do.

* However, if the songwriter does not give permission, that's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.  Those of you still singing Go Now In Peace with "love" subbed in for "god" ... you don't have permission.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Parents, Take Your Gay Teen to Church

What should you do with your gay teen?  Take them to church.  Wait now, I need to be a little more specific.

Take them to a Unitarian Universalist church.  Or a United Church of Christ church.  Or a Metropolitan Community church

Take them to a church that uses words like “Acceptance.”  “Affirming.”  “Welcoming.” 

Let them be around kids and adults who will love them for who they are.  Who won’t think their homosexuality is “wrong.”  Who will see them as a normal kid.

Because they are.

Right now, there’s a lot of videos out there of gay celebrities urging teens to hang on, because it gets better.

It will.  But it can also get better right now.  This Sunday. 

Take your gay teen to church.

Because you are welcome here. 


Unitarianism, "in its 400-plus-year history, has claimed that humans begin in good shape with the prospect of getting better. We have been perennially soft on sin and evasive with evil." (from Freethinking Mystics With Hands, Tom Owen-Towle)

Sure, September is a busy month.  Things to do.

But as my blog-lleauge the Rev. Earthbound Spirit, pointed out, there was a very light response to the UU Salon question, "What is the nature of evil?"

And here I am, the writer of the question, and it took me until October to answer the question.

This reluctance to engage the question isn't isolated to the blogosphere.  When I took a class on systematic UU Theology, the week we wrestled with evil was the week when most everyone began their responses with, "This is a difficult topic for me."

Even with the fact that I have written about it before, in that class context, it's still not a topic I jump to.  Writing about evil doesn't motivate me, doesn't fill my heart.  And don't we shy away from it, because of the judgmental aspect?  Who am I to say who/what is evil?

Do I believe in evil?

I do.

I don't believe that evil is a source.  I believe it is a result.  I'll use an analogy to cancer simply because I think it works well for explaining from whence it comes.

We don't always know the cause of cancer.  We often can draw correlations, so we can make assumptions about the cause.  He smoked 2 packs a day for 20 years.  Her mother, grandmother, and aunt all had breast cancer.  And some times we can't.  It's idiopathic.

Sometimes, we can look at evil and see a correlation.  She was mentally ill.  He was abused as a child.  She felt desperate.  He thought God wanted him to.

And sometimes it's idiopathic.  Was he just born that way?

Ah, but now, I have been talking about individuals.  Group evil, systems evil, those exist on another level.  And yet, the systems, the group, are made up of individuals.  How do you look at a report on a design flaw and say, "It'll be cheaper to pay off the victims' families than to fix this"?

And evil is so very hard, because it doesn't arrive in a black coat, twirling a mustache.  Sometimes, it is the child of ignorance.  Fear.  Seeing other humans as "the other."

This week, we saw evil.

The Summary of our Gay Teen Bodycount couldn't even keep up.  It doesn't include Raymond Chase.

And it doesn't include all the teens quietly put to rest with no media coverage.

Were the children who bullied these other children "evil"?  Where do we put the dividing line?  The person who put the video up?  The kid who threatened another?  The child who looked away?

I don't believe these children and teens were evil.  I do believe that they did evil.  And it's real easy to do.

In a sermon, I talk about how we can be the "hands and feet of love."  I believe in that passionately.

But as this week showed us, we -- normal, non-Hitler, people -- can do evil. We can be the hands and feet of hate.  And it ain't even hard.