Friday, June 26, 2009

Love hurts

Little Warrior climbs into my lap. She wraps her arms around my neck, pressing her cheek to mine, and squeezes hard. She pulls back and looks in my face. "Did that hurt?"

No, I assure her.

She crinkles her forehead and squeezes me again, harder. "Did that hurt?" she asks.

Why does it need to hurt? I ask her.

"Because I love you soooo much!" she explains happily. She squeezes me again. It hurts.

But not from the hug.

It is hard to sing today

The little one that I told you about, the one who on Tuesday prompted so much rejoicing as an x-ray revealed the tumors had shrunk ... today, his parents will take him home to die.

The chemo was working well, but it was too late. The tumor in his lungs is strangling him. There's nothing they can do except try to keep him from pain.

The news is filled with Farrah and Michael and so sad about their deaths. Meanwhile, a young, funny boy named Pablo will die with much pain for those who love him, and little notice by the rest of the world.

Last year, the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act was signed into law. "This act holds the promise of $30 million, each year for the next five years, in funding to support childhood cancer research."

But as I'm learning, passing something into law doesn't mean anything. There also has to be an agreement to fund the Act.

Please, please contact your congressperson today and ask that they add their name to the "Dear Colleague" letter that is being circulated by Senator Jack Reed (RI) and Senator Johnny Isakson (GA) to secure funding for the Act.

And if you pray ... say a little prayer for Pablo. That his passing is peaceful and without pain. For him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Random Post About Random Things

I am checking this site a bazillion times a day, hoping they post this year's Berry Street lecture. Everything I've read has me jumping up and down in anticipation.

Right after writing my below post on How Can I Keep From Singing, I checked a Wilms' friend's blog. About a month ago, they'd been told "It's growing and we don't know what else to do." Well, they found a brand new experimental chemo. Tuesday, they got the news that the tumors had shrunk by 50%. Even as I write that, I cry again. Their blog is filled with comments from others crying with joy. When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?

End of the semester, I couldn't wait for summer and a break. Already, I'm chomping at the bit to get back. I'm meeting my advisor today, to sign up for an Old Testament class and Principles of Preaching. Since the OT class is his, I'm hoping he'll tell me what books I need to get, so I can start reading them.

Yes, I am Hermione. What I'd give for a time turner! There's a class on church growth ...

I am packing to go up into the mountains. We had this trip all planned for last summer -- my crew, my parents, my brother and his wife, one of my husband's sisters. Of course, we had to cancel it last year because the cancer came back. I couldn't call and cancel. My heart just wouldn't let me. My mom canceled our reservation when she canceled hers.

Tuesday, we'll be there.

I'm packing: flyrod. Camera. Guitar. Clothes. French press. Bathing suit. (There's a hot tub outside our cabin.) Apples to Apples game. Kleenex. Because I'm probably going to burst into tears when I see the cabin.

At the hospital, there was a "calming" channel that played gentle music with video from nature. One bit of footage they ran often was a forest stream in the mountains. So I never put on that channel. Too symbolic of all that we were missing.

We were at the hospital yesterday. Dropping off cases of Girl Scout cookies that my glamorous sister-in-law donated to the cancer clinic. And getting one of LW's teeth checked. (She has to see a special dentist, due to chemo teeth.)

My gang of ruffians was with me. Sitting down for a quick snack, The Princess reminisced about the slumber parties we had there. "We even made cancer fun," she said.

That made me feel inordinately proud.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My favorite song

Books, movies, art -- the #1 spot, the favorite, of each of these changes fairly often. But for music, my favorite stays steady. I'm so glad it is in our hymnal ... even if my favorite verse, the fourth, isn't.

In our hymnal, we call it by the first line -- "My Life Flows On in Endless Song." But to me, it is always "How Can I Keep from Singing?"

To me, it is a prayer. It is a hope. It is my personal mission statement.

We don't always live up to our mission statements. There have been times when I could not sing. My lips couldn't form the words; it was all I could do to breathe, I couldn't spare the air to do more than that.

But inside, I like to think my soul continued to sing.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.

Down here with my earthly and emotional attachments, I can feel as if I'm not moving. But my life continues to move forward with this gift of existence.

I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation

When I stop, when I take a break from focusing on my existence, I am in awe of the process that continues to create -- create a person, an idea, seemingly from nothing.

Above the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

Honking horns and illness and pain ... but there is a sweet song, of love and life. If I listen, I can hear it. I comes from all over the universe ... and it also comes from inside me.

What through the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.

The tempest can be so loud, so very loud it seems to drown out everything else. But still it is there. The truth. That loves exists. That we exist. And it is all a gift.

What through the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

The dark night can be so very dark. There are times when life hurts more than it brings joy. But we can still find the song called hope. And it gives us strength to go one more day.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

I strive for this. As I cling with bloody hands, just to hang on for one more day, inside I try to find that quiet confidence that knows that there is limitless,undying love, and it will sustain me.

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,

The tyrants can be literal, those in power who know their time of power is passing. The tyrants can be internal, those forces that hold me back. And they can be literally internal ... cancer cells being extinguished.

When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?

Part of this power of the universe, this love, connects us all. I send out a notice -- clear scans! -- and friends all over the earth sing out joy.

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging.

So many prisons. Today, I think of those in Iran. Tomorrow, I think of the parents looking out the windows of their children's hospital rooms.

When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

No matter our battle, we continue, unbroken, still walking in integrity.

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin,
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway clears,
Since first I learned to love it

It's so hard to see past the clouds sometimes. Recently, though, I began to see the blue sky again. Every day, I see a little more sky, as I regain my love and joy for life.

The peace of God restores my soul,
A fountain ever springing

Whatever words I use to understand "God," the Process, the Universe, the Love -- God provides healing. Limitless healing. My soul can be battered ... and restored, yet again.

All things are mine since I am loved
How can I keep from singing?

I am loved. I am loved on a personal level by friends and family. I am loved by complete strangers, I know that now, I have evidence. Whatever my understanding of God, and it is fluid and often changing, it always, always, involves love.

There is a force of love in the world that connects all.
Existence is a profound, overwhelming gift.

If I know those two things, then I am hearing the song of the universe. It comes from the farthest stretches of space, all along the earth, it swirls around me, I am inside it, and then from inside myself, the same song can be heard. I am in the song and of the song.

How can I keep from singing?

A New Way to Elect President?

On the Election-L list through the UUA, a conversation began yesterday, prompted by Mike Durall, about a different way to select a UUA President.

Come to find out, there's already a proposal to do just that. I missed this -- was there much talk in the blogosphere about it? If so, I was out to lunch.

Under the proposed changes to the elections process, the UUA would establish a Presidential Search Committee, which would choose two candidates for the presidency. The search committee would consist of seven members, with five elected by the General Assembly, one appointed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, and one appointed by the Board of Trustees.

The search committee would become the UUA’s sixth standing committee, alongside the Nominating Committee, the General Assembly Planning Committee, the Commission on Appraisal, the Commission on Social Witness, and the Board of Review.

Other individuals could run for the presidency by petition.

Tamara Payne-Alex, trustee-at-large from San Jose, Calif., chaired the working group that wrote the proposed changes. “Congregations are not present in the current process,” she said, because self-selected presidential candidates begin the process of seeking endorsements and fund-raising largely behind the scenes. “Congregations find out who the candidates are only after the slate has been presented. We wanted to make it more like a ministerial search process. We want to use this as an opportunity to energize and engage the electorate.”

... Under the new bylaws, the president’s and moderator’s terms would be shortened from a maximum of eight years (two four-year terms) to one six-year term.

I realize a whole lot of the blogger folks are at General Assembly, but I'll ask anyway: Thoughts?

Of course, this is just about the nomination process. The process of running for office, the money involved, the travel ... that's a whole other question.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Ordinary Birthday

When I was 17, graduating from high school, I was bemused at those who filled in their “senior form” for the yearbook that they wanted to be accountants, engineers, secretaries. An ordinary life, that was what they hoped for.

I was the kid with the paragraph next to her name – drama, speech, newspaper, French club, Student Council, choir …

I was voted “Most Talented Girl,” probably because I won awards for UIL. But, you know, the “Most Talented Boy” could ride a unicycle.

Disclaimer: I can’t ride a unicycle.

Also next to my name, it said something about how I was either going to be a journalist or a stage actress. Not just actress, mind you. No-ho-ho, much too snobbish for movies or (cough, cough) teeveeee. Only the stage.

Well, life happens. I decided that being an actress … well, I saw some extreme self-focus, and decided it wasn’t for me. (This was before blogs had been invented. I’m sure my younger self would be appalled.)

And I decided I wanted the white picket fence. I graduated, got into Big Bidness. Turns out, I had a talent for putting out purple prose of the advertising sort. Became a nationally published copywriter, hawking jewelry that also required me to come up with form letters that apologized for when the golden roses fell off of the sparkling, genuine silver rings.

This led me into marketing, and coming up with great campaigns, many of which played upon the emotions of proud parents. “I love you, Son,” read one of the most popular.

Eventually I retired my pen and by then, my graphic design portfolio. I had the white picket fence, complete with the toddlers trying to scale it.

The Husband and I went through a rough patch. Not between us, but life, in the form of a company collapsing, a lawsuit.

We survived. We were glued, through the phone, on 9/11. 9 months later, we had child 3.

My graphic design skills were still in use, for free, by my church and my district. That district called and said, “We’ll send you to GA.” I went to GA. I received a call I could no longer ignore. I began seminary. A month later, I found I was pregnant with my 4th child. Just like the others, planned, and still, amazingly, right on schedule. Well … might be a little early.

Took a short break from seminary. Bought a house. Had a baby. Sold old house. In that order. Sweat, sweat, sweat.

Ready to go back to school. At Christmas, we toasted our plans.

Two weeks later, I took my baby in to the doctor, just a strange little bulge.

The earth cracked apart.

A year and a few months later, God tapped me on the shoulder and said, I love you. And I want you as much as you want me. And it’s nobody’s fault.

And a couple months after that, I went back to seminary. And I healed.

And a year after God tapped me on the shoulder, life kicked me in the gut. And ripped out my heart. And it was much, much worse this time.

And still, I finished the semester.

And then I went in the hospital. Every couple of weeks. And I told sweet stories when her fair fell out, about sweet little birds making their nests out of the hair. And I baked cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes. And I grew fat.

But the warrior didn’t lose weight.

And we survived. All of us. All six of us, and all those around who loved us.

And I immediately went back to seminary. And Weight Watchers. And planned for a big trip. And then another trip.

And did it all. And then … I could stop fiercely treading water.

And I began to sink.

But sooner than I imagined, my feet touched bottom. I wasn’t as far from shore as I thought.

I touched bottom, and pushed off. Made it to the surface. Swam to the beach. Lay down.

And breathed.

And cried.

I’m still crying.

But I’m also still breathing.

Today, I turn 40.

I am thankful for my life.

A friend, for my birthday, wished me gratitude. Most days, I am awash in it.

And those days that I’m not … are short.

And the next day, I am thankful yet again. For an ordinary life. Because now I know.

There is no such thing. There are only extraordinary lives.

Each and every one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UU Parents and UU Kids

As well as being a UU Parent, I'm also a UU kid. Actually, a Unitarian kid. I don't believe my parents have ever referred to themselves as Unitarian Universalists, not out of some idealogical belief, but for the same reason my mother calls my dad "Tommy" while the rest of the world calls him "Tom." When they met, he was Tommy. When they began going to church, in the 1950's, they went to the Unitarian church. They're Unitarians.

Growing up, if I pressed them about their personal religious beliefs, they usually used the word "agnostic" as "humanist" hadn't yet gained its current popularity. But they were Unitarians, dedicated to freedom of belief, and so they always emphasized that it was up to me to determine by own beliefs.

But guess what? I grew up and my beliefs didn't match up with theirs.

I did my religious experimentation ... UCC church camp with a friend in junior high, Christian Student Union in high school, visiting whatever church my current boyfriend went to -- Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Pentecostal.

I remember distinctly being 20, standing in the kitchen at home on Christmas break, and casually telling my older sister and mother that I believed in the Virgin Birth.

I'm glad they weren't holding anything breakable, as they surely would have dropped teacups, goblets, vases. What? they asked. Didn't I know that "virgin birth" was found in so many religions, it wasn't even original, and didn't I understand metaphor and and and and ...

Several years later, I discovered Wicca. It hit home at the time. I was so excited. I understood now my Baptist friends and their fervor, their feeling of being "born again." Mine wasn't being born again in Christ, but in a Goddess religion that reflected so many of the deep feelings inside me. Pantheist and panentheist thought sparkled in me -- so many ideas, so many concepts!

I attempted to share some of this with my mother. In the same way that some people just have no interest in football or scrapbooking, my mother really has no interest in theology. She looked at me blankly, having no idea why anyone would want to spend so much time reading and thinking about religion. Now social action ... that was something real!

All this is to explain why I have a foot in each camp of the theist/humanist wings of our religion. I get very excited about the UU ministers who are getting comfortable with the "language of reverence." I hope, as Rev. Christine says in her recent Imagineering Faith sermon, all our churches can be places "where its safe to speak about my tender, precious spiritual life."

I am also tenderly protective of those whose feelings are reflected in a recent question posed to the UU presidential candidates:
...many of the secular humanists of previous generations, despite the acceptance of diversity that we say we believe in, are feeling bereft – bereft of a sanctuary from the world of deity (Christian or otherwise). The UU church was the one place in many UU’s lives where those who lived to a different drummer, theologically speaking, could live without the expectation that they subscribe to a divine being.
Many theist new UU's don't have that same sentimental tenderness. They have come from Christian or unchurched backgrounds, and they don't understand that these previous generations have been here for decades. Generations who have seen their fellowships where God was never uttered, where you went to a program not a worship service, be infiltrated with people who beat drums or light candles, who not only have a moment for reflection, they meditate or ye Gods! pray.

Teach your parents well, teach your children well.

Of course, there are those who have always been deists, just as there are brand spankin' new agnostics coming to our congregations.

But what I've been seeing lately is a generational shift, from older, humanist UUs to younger, theist UUs.

My father has said before, of raising children, that you raise them to think for themselves and the first thing they do, they think the wrong thing.

(As a mother of a 13 year old, I have my moments of agreement.)

Balance, balance. Balance to not recoil when someone says, "I love God." Balance to not feel defensive when a theological scholar presents a program that challenges what you believe.

Like the Virgin Birth.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Twitterers ...

Passed on from Rev. Sean:

For those who tweet: Change twitter profile to location: TEHRAN, time zone: GMT+3.30. Iran govt hunting 4 bloggers. If we're all Iranians harder 2 find them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Don't call me Bitch, BOY!

Speaking of gender expectations ...

Today at church, one of the teens was in a room with a bunch of younger children, dropping F and S bombs left and right. The Boy came and alerted me when the teen told my eldest girl (9 years old), upon seeing her drop a toy, "Pick it up, bitch!" In a joking tone.

Oh no you don't. Not my child and certainly not in my church.

The Husband went and found the teen's father and alerted him to what happened. The teen's father was visibly appalled and went off to handle it. (The Husband would have addressed the teen directly, with his father present, but couldn't find him.)

At home, we let The Boy know that at church, it is fine if he wants to speak up himself, and tell the other person, "Do not talk like that around the younger children," or more personally, "Do not call my sister that." And we went on with our day.

Um ... duh? I'm empowering my son to defend his sister's honor?

Went upstairs to where all the kids were, with The Husband. Explained to The Princess that at church, she should feel comfortable standing up for herself. We did some role-playing. We talked about the fact that no one has the right to call her names or speak to her with disrespect. We talked about whether she has ever heard her mother or father talk to each other like that, even when we disagree.

I don't condemn the teen ... okay, not too much. He's just trying out new behavior, experimenting with his "dark" side. Trying it out in front of younger children is pretty turkey-ish, but hopefully it will lead to a long conversation with his parents.

Still, I think that if The Princess had narrowed her eyes, put her hands on her hips and said, "Don't call me bitch, BOY!" it might have had a more lasting effect the next time he thought of talking to a girl with disrespect.

As for me, I feel a bit turkey-ish that my first thought was about empowering her brother, not her. It is startling to find yourself unthinkingly falling into attitudes you didn't know were lurking inside.

I am a gay, black, non-girly man

Or so Facebook tells me, in a variety of online quizzes. Well, specifically, that I'm gay, black and non-girly.

This isn't a diatribe against Facebook quizzes, though one certainly is allowed to roll one's eyes at quizzes that, based on whether you like fried chicken or not, or if you're "flamboyant" or not, determine your race and sexual identity. Oh, and the girly ... really, there are people who wear mascara to the gym? Really?

Rather, my weariness is to the larger world that insists on clear-cut boundaries.

I think of the scene in Tom Sawyer when the woman tosses a ball of yarn at Tom. He pulls his legs together, this "outs" him as a boy. I don't think this test would work today, do you?

I often watch the first 10 minutes of "The View." It seems to be a fairly reliable guide to what folks are talking about around the water cooler.

This week, they talked about Thomas Beatie, the man who just gave birth to his second child.

Whoopi was definitive in her opinion, which she presented as fact, that since Beatie has a vagina, he is a woman.

Oh, Whoopi.

A day or so later, Elizabeth Hasselbeck explained that merely by wanting to have a baby, Beatie revealed himself to be a woman, because she's never known a man who wanted to bear a child.

Really, Elizabeth? Really? Because I've known scads who admitted that they were quite envious that I could carry a baby in my own body, birth it into life, and then provide its only nourishment from my own body.

There is a New Yorker cartoon that shows a bull, looking up at a moon with a cow jumping over it, saying to his calf, "Son, your mother is a remarkable woman." I've had the privilege of knowing many men who feel that way about any woman who has given birth.

Whoopi, Elizabeth ... you're wrong. And Facebook Quiz writers, you're wrong. It's not cut and dried. Sexuality, gender ... and yes, even race. Look at all the people who will argue about whether Barack Obama is white or black.

We are, all of us, such mutts. Race and sex. Spreading your legs to catch a ball doesn't identify you as female anymore.

Neither does spreading your legs to give birth.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rocking Bo Peep into the World

7 years ago tonight, I was rocking in a rocking chair.

Ceaselessly. Rock, rock, rock.

I had a big ole belly and my obstetrician said that if I didn't go into labor on my own by the next day, she was inducing. I'd had pitocin in the middle of my first labor, with The Boy, without an epidural, and I just remembered bad pain. No pitocin! No pitocin!

I tried everything. Yes, everything.

Rocking in the rocking chair kept my contractions going. If I stopped rocking, I stopped contracting.

(No comments, please, about how I should have just let my body determine the timetable. That's true for most folks. But I had gestational diabetes and an extremely rare condition, unless you're Chilean or Scandinavian - I'm neither - called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Or as I called it, Itching So Much I Wanted to Jump Through A Plate Glass Window.)

We were due at the hospital at 5 am. C'mon, Body, birth!

My Mother-in-Love, bless her patient heart, stayed up with me, talking with me about all kinds of things as I rocked. Religion, tv, family ... okay, I'm lying. I have no idea what we talked about. But late into the night. Finally, about 2 am, I gave up, and went to bed.

(I wound up being induced for Little Warrior's birth and discovered that when paired with a nice nip of epidural, pitocin wasn't bad at all. Yes, I know. I'm a horrible mother for having an epidural. Add it to a list that includes downing a margarita that the BFF-DRE snuck in after I gave birth.)

The alarm rang in the morning and I managed to roll/slide my way out of bed. I stood up.


By the time we got to the hospital, the contractions were going strong. I refused to let them put me in the wheelchair to take me to the maternity ward -- didn't want those precious contractions to slow!

Bo Peep was born just a couple of hours later, no pitocin needed. Two pounds over the size of my other kids. I just remember the doctor calling out, "Here come the ears!"

She was born exactly 9 months after Sept. 11. Like each of my kids, I'm especially fond of her.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Rule: No "Girl Power!" if your product isn't selling

Nia Vardalos has been making the talk show rounds, promoting her new movie My Life in Ruins. Only problem -- apparently, it's a stinker of a movie.

Solution? Sisterhood! Hollywood has decided they're not going to make movies anymore with a female lead, she says. Therefore, it behooves all women to pull together, "speak up with our wallets" and go see her movie! The state of women everywhere depends on it! Pull together, sisters! Show our power! Go see her mediocre movie!

The Sisterhood is too powerful to be used to try to sell something that folks aren't buying. Asking women to support something solely on the basis of gender dilutes the genuine power we have. Do not make "Support Women!" the go-to step to try and circumvent a failure on your part.

As a woman, I cheer for the efforts to support women's excellence. I'm concerned about a lack of quality films starring or directed by women. (I'm also concerned about the lack of quality films, period, but that's another post.) But supporting a sub-par product is not the solution.

Happily, women are smarter than that.

(Please, oh please, let Julie & Julia be good ...)

Monday, June 08, 2009


I am, I will admit, a bit of a curmudgeon about the world "miracle." A normal baby birth? It's not a miracle, it's a biological process. And with Little Warrior -- a miracle? No. A lot of luck, to be born here, to find the right doctors, to be able to afford good healthcare. But it's medical science. It is chemo and radiation and surgery.

That's what my head says, anyway.

When my hard drive died a couple of months ago, unbacked up, it took with it practically all of the pictures of LW while in treatment. A mixed ... wait, what's the opposite of "blessing"? Curse, I guess.

The Boy recently uploaded his camera contents. Pictures going back to about Christmas. And there was this. A little blurry, but clear enough.

December 2008
May 2009

Maybe my head's not as smart as it thinks it is.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Under an Almost Full Moon


Last night, we went to the Drive-In picture show for a double feature -- Up and Star Trek. Perfect combination, if you ask me.

The days are getting long, my friends, and since they don't start the movie til dusk ... and a very dusky dusk, if you ask me, they didn't begin Up until almost 9 pm, which meant that Star Trek didn't start til 11, which meant we got home a little before 2 am.

.. but uh-oh those summer nights

I enjoyed it all. The humidity wasn't oppressive, the mosquitoes stayed away, the Dippin' Dots was cold. The kids had a blast. Both movies were good.

I also enjoyed the conversation with the Serious Trekkers when I dragged myself to church this morning about whether The Big Thing That Changes Everything Henceforth was a good thing or a bad thing.

It's a good thing, if you ask me.

Not that you did.

I'm not usually a big fan of summer -- it gets so hot here, and buggy. But last year, I spent a whole lot of summer looking out a big hospital window. And even at home, we needed to stay inside, at home, no pool, no being around people, no parties, no church.

We still had fun. I kinda insisted on it.

But I discovered that I missed summer. I'm glad it's here again. It's a gift, bugs and all.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Old Friends on My Bookshelf

What are the books that you pay repeat visits to?

Last night, I was perusing our upstairs "library," trying to decide what novel I wanted to read. I have several new ones, given to me by friends during this past year. But ... no, not right now. It is the start of summer. My children had their last day of school and we did our traditional dance in the living room to -- of course -- Alice Cooper's School's Out.

There is nothing like the joy on a school child's face when they shout, "School's! Been Blown! To Pieces!!!"

It is summer and I didn't really get a summer last year. I want to travel to a well-familiar place, not somewhere new. Ah. "Dandelion Wine." I plucked it from the shelf.

The novel had been in the back of my mind ever since Jots and I discussed the book for about half an hour before we realized we were talking about two different books. (Jots, I still don't know what the hell you were talking about, Ray Bradbury doesn't have any other books with "Dandelion" in the title that I can find.)

Dandelion Wine is not Bradbury's usual sci-fi genre. If you miss the thrill of summer, I recommend it.

How many times have I read it? Gosh, at least a dozen. It is warm and familiar, and yet every time, I get something new out of it.

My other book like that is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I have probably reread even more times than Dandelion Wine. Dandelion Wine affects how I see things, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helped form me, it shaped my values.

What are the books that you return to, again and again? And why? I want to know. They might be the next things I read.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Connections and Coincidences

After hearing Peter Morales in the debate at the Women’s convocation and talking to him afterwards about being a seminary student in a non-UU seminary, I felt so strongly about the candidate that I sought out his campaign manager to talk to her a little bit about the campaign.

The next morning, I saw her sitting out in the main area, and sat down to chat with her some more. Peter stopped by, on his way to forage for coffee. I directed him to a closer stand (though it turned out to be closed on Sunday. Oops.)

While he was gone, Dea asked me about why I blog under a pseudonym. I explained that though it was first done because I was a seminary student, the real reason changed when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and I needed a place where I could be brutally honest and not have to be concerned about worrying my friends.

That led into a conversation about what kind of cancer she had. I referred to it as “kidney cancer” because unless you’re in the Wilms’ world, no one knows Wilms’.

Hmm, she said. Peter’s son had kidney cancer.


When Peter returned, after talking a little bit about the campaign, I abruptly changed the topic.

“Did your son have Wilms’ Tumor?”

SURPRISE on his face. Like I said, “outsiders” don’t know about Wilms. He confirmed, yes.

My youngest daughter, too, I explained.

Peter didn’t respond the way most of us would – “Wow, what a coincidence!” Instead, his face just dropped. “I am so sorry,” he said. . With obvious sadness, he shook his head, disbelieving. “It’s such a rare cancer …” I think he didn’t want to believe that another UU would have to go through this.

We mentally left the others for a few minutes, entering into Wilms' world – discussing the chemo regimens, what the effects of radiation have been on his son, how they moved forward. Gently, he asked about how it was affecting our family and my seminary experience. He was extremely encouraging. And he knew the best thing to say to me – “My son is now a 36 year old astrophysicist and avid cyclist.” :)

This didn’t affect my opinion about his campaign – hey, he had me at “reeks of privilege.” And frankly, I’d be a lot happier if mine were the only UU child to ever have cancer. (Only child, period, but you know, we can start with the UUs.)

But you takes whats you gets. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that hearing that another person went through this, and still turned into a successful minister, didn’t give me a lift.

And of course, getting proof that LW could go through this, with no detriment to her brain, and be a physically fit adult, enjoying life ... well, butterflies in my heart.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Speaking of God ...

I read The Shack.

A couple of people had recommended it to me. I saw that it was on the bestseller list and read some reviews where readers raved that it had changed their lives, so of course, I had no interest in it. (Blame Jonathan Livingston Seagull.)

But, it had been several years since I forced myself to read the first Left Behind book and it's summer. And if a book with a religious theme is striking a chord in lots of people, I think church type people should check it out.

I will admit that when I picked it up, I expected to not like it.

Reading the first half, I was not moved from this initial prejudice. The writing is often stilted, there are clumsy plot solutions, and the characters lack dimension.

But as I read further, and things that I predicted did not happen, I was drawn in. I was expecting a fictional depiction of standard Protestant dogma -- think Godspell, not Jesus Christ Superstar -- and instead ... huh, he's talking about universal salvation. Huh, that's pretty panentheist. Hmmm.

"Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims.... I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters.” Jesus, The Shack, Wm. P. Young
The Shack did not change my life, nor my understanding of God. There are lots of holes, and an extreme reliance on the message "independence is bad, just leave everything up to God." Don't even get me started on Original Sin. And after doing an imaginative job in illustrating various religious concepts and questions, the author just leaves the big question -- Why do bad things happen? -- with an anemic "God understands more than you can."

BUT ... there's some good stuff in there. There's a bit about loving one's children equally but feeling "I'm especially fond of that one," when thinking about each individually -- it's sweet and a good metaphor for those who feel a personal connection with God. It would make a good reading for a service on parenthood.

There is charm in the book.

Whoa ... do I have more in common with my fundamentalist friends than I think? After completing the book, I googled it.

Bwahahaha. Okay, for some reason, I had it in my head that this was the latest thing that "all" conservative Christians were rallying around, like Babywise, or Left Behind. I mean, it had an endorsement from Michael W. Smith on the back!

Not the conservative, fundamentalist Christians. They have written scathing reviews for its heresy, its emphasis on God as love. They call the book dangerous.

So ... no wonder I wound up enjoying it.

Would I recommend it to UUs? You know, I would -- just so that you can see that this is what people are responding to. God is love. Universalism. Unity amongst religions.

We are not so unusual as we think we are. And a lot of people are looking for us.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I love God!

Okay, Fausto is correct, of course. My favorite description of God is "limitless, undying love" -- I respond to love with love. When I think of the special, transcendental moments I have experienced, it always involved the feeling of being surrounded, immersed, in love.

But back to the question ... how would you respond if you heard someone say "I love God" in your church?

If you love God ... would you admit it?

Fear holds us back. We don't want to appear like Miley Cyrus at the MTV movie awards, waving her hand up at the sky and saying, "I wanna thank God. Hellooo! The only reason I’m here!" We don't want to annoy the "non-God" people. We know what we mean by it, but we presume that others will misunderstand.

We don't want to look stupid.

If we aren't willing to talk about these things in church -- a Unitarian Universalist church -- a religion that talks about the free and responsible search for truth and meaning ... is there something wrong?

Maybe, maybe, if it makes us feel a little queasy inside to think about saying "I love God" in church, maybe that's not "good" fear, the kind of fear that keeps you from touching a hot stove or wearing skintight fuschia leggings with a tube top. Maybe that's a sign that we're taking a risk, going outside our comfort zone.

Maybe we should embrace it as a sign of growth.

Unitarian Universalists are brave folks. We invite Muslims to speak in our churches a week after 9/11, we face public scorn marching for what we feel is right. We willingly go to jail to prove a point. We speak up to the bigot in the office.

But in our churches, will we admit to a love of the divine? Will we say, with no irony, "I love God"?

I love God.

Now excuse me, I need a Tums.

Do you love God?

In his sermon yesterday, Rabbi Shaman told of a woman at another UU church who had stood up and announced the oft-heard "I'm a UU and I never knew it" and the rarely-if-ever-heard, "and I love God!"

"I love God." Wow. Just when I think I'm pushing boundaries, someone comes up and pushes the boundaries a mile from me. I love it!

It sounds like at many of our churches (definitely mine), we are becoming more comfortable with using the "G word," understanding that it encompasses a lot of different ideas.

But how would your church respond if someone said, "I love God"? Would they recoil? Giggle? Direct the person to the closest Unity or UCC church?

I thought about the phrase in terms of my own life. Would I personally say "I love God"?

Hmm. Well, it's not something I've done in a long while. Why is that?

Part of it is my feelings about anthropomorphizing God. My understanding of God is moving closer and closer towards God as a verb, which I guess means I'm moving towards process theology. Which is a little strange, since I have yet to hear a description of process theology by a process theologian that didn't send me running for a dictionary, thesaurus, and slide rule.

Can you still buy slide rules?

Where was I? Oh yeah, loving God.

So how much of all that is me splitting hairs? I mean, I "talk" to God. It is always with the underlying belief that the God I am envisioning is a metaphor for the transcending mystery, for that which is beyond my comprehension.

Dude, the Christians at school just call that the "ineffable God." Not too different.

I love life. I love the interconnections of everything and everyone. I love the inspiration that seemingly comes from nowhere, that leads to scientific advances, art, greater understanding.

Do I love God?

Gonna have to ponder that.