Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Listening Bead

I have been doing a prayer bead practice, based on the one outlined by Erik Walker Wikstrom in Simply Pray. I enjoy it; it's a good way for a monkey-mind like me to keep my thoughts organized, or at least to have a way to bring me back to what I was concentrating on.

Today, I was at the third topical bead, that of "Listening." I sat in silence, relaxing, receptive, listening ...


This was not a flight of fancy from my fluttering focus. This was my four year old. Mahnamanah, she trilled, downstairs.

Focus. Relax. Listen above and below.

Thump thump thump. Little Warrior is coming up the stairs.

Can I pray with you? she asks.

Yes. I settle her on my lap. We take breaths together.

"When I breathe in, I breathe in peace ..."

Mama, I'm going to hold the beads for you, okay?

"Yes. When I breathe out, I breathe out--"

Mama, is it this bead?

"Yes. Now take a deep breath with me," I instruct her. She obeys, puffing out her cheeks.

"When I breathe in--"

Mama, is it 4 more times?

"Um, I think so. Yes."

"When I breathe in--"

Mama, can I have a sip of your coffee?

"Let's skip listening and go to who we want to pray for."

There are sages alone on a mountain top meditating in silence. There are seminarians who are full scale in divinity school, living, eating, and sleeping at their school. Sometimes I envy them, no need for balance, the opportunity to be completely immersed in this challenging, exciting world of religious philosophy.

Well, my path is a little different. It merges with the paths of others for whom I am responsible. More than a braid, this path is macrame, like that owl decoration your aunt had in her living room in the 70's.

You know. The one with the beads.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What will turning out The Light mean to Broadway?

I'll admit it. I was a soap watcher. My grandmother watched Guiding Light, my mother watched Guiding Light, and after getting hooked on it the summer I was 16 and down with mono, I watched it.

Oh, how I groaned at the absurd stories. How I would take breaks from it, vowing never to watch again, only to take a glimpse one day and be hooked anew. During college, I missed it during the year, but would catch it in the summer, watching it before going in to my restaurant job. After college, I would tape it on the VCR, watching it at night. Even The Husband got a little hooked, though he won't admit it.

But soaps are expensive to produce and it didn't have enough viewers, a refrain I predict will continue until "then there were none."

But today, as the curtain drops on Guiding Light, I wonder what this will mean for Broadway. GL was one of three New York based soaps. They drew in professional stage actors who wanted a steady paycheck, and fed them back to the stage, as the actors took leaves of absence from the soap in order to star in a play. For young actors, they were the ultimate summer stock, grooming them for the stage.

Soaps have been this quietly subversive force in our culture. Amidst all the multiple divorces, far-out story lines, people coming back from the dead, there were story lines about AIDS, abortion, homosexuality. This wasn't HBO. These were shows playing to middle-American housewives.

Goodbye Otalia, the Four Musketeers, Nick, Dolly. Goodbye to the marvelous scenery-chewing Buzz. Goodbye Cedars. And the Bauer barbecue.

Goodbye Old Friend.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fave UU preachers (with podcasts)?

Okay, friends. I have my handful of podcasts by my favorite preachers* that I listen to religiously (yuk yuk). They go with me on my commute to and from seminary and take long walks with me at the gym.

But I need more. Feed me, Seymour!

Who are your favorites? Who should I add to my podcast subscription list?

*my favorite preachers who provide podcasts. Ahem, yes, I'm looking at YOU, you know who you are, now start putting podcasts of your sermons up, please.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Reverend Erik Walker Wikstrom addresses some of the things I am struggling with on the subject of evil. Go read it; it's good.

The topic of evil was already rumbling around in my head, but now, today, September 11th, of course it is front and center.

I don't believe in Original Sin, I do not believe we are born evil. Boy, those who compiled our high school reading list certainly did ... A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies ... bah.

And yet.

What is this antagonism in so many of us? And I include myself in that 'us.'

Rev. Tamara Lebak, Associate Minister, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, gave a great sermon August 30, titled Conversation That Matters. Another good one to go check out. She talks about our instincts about others, about how rarely we assume good intentions on the part of someone else.

There is a big difference between thinking and acting. Yes, I agree.

The Husband and I were talking about this last week. Do you think Pure Evil exists? he asked. In the person of another? I clarified. Yes, he said.

I don't think that I do. There always seems to be some tiny fraction of a person's soul that still houses something besides evil.

Whenever I think of evil, I think of Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green. Ruth, the maid and mother figure to Patty, says something along the lines of yes, Hitler was evil, but would he beat his own daughter? And yes, your father (who beats you) is evil, but would he cause the extermination of millions of Jews?

There is a big difference between thinking and acting. Yes, yes, I agree.

And yet.

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions." -- author unverified

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said yeah, you know that you're not supposed to murder. But guess what? If you are angry at someone, you will also be judged.

Searching for the roots of evil.

In that context, it is difficult for me to let myself off the hook for my knee-jerk jealousies, antagonism, suspicions, and all around lack of assuming good intentions.

This eye looks with love
This eye looks with judgment
Free me take the sight out of this eye.
-- This Eye, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Two Old Men and a Seminarian

What do an agnostic, a conservative Jew, and a UU seminarian have in common? Well ... a class.

The first two are two old men who are attending Old Testament class with me. You can't see them, they travel along with me in spirit, and at home, they await my emailed class notes.

One is my father, who is getting both textbooks as an early 80th birthday present from The Husband and me.

He and his old college pal have made up, and his pal, of the conservative Judaism persuasion, is also along as a stowaway on my Old Testament trip.

Considering the back-and-forth exegesis my father and I did last year of the book of Job (it involved me referring to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar as "ass hats" and him arguing that they were just trying to help Job figure out things) ... this should be good.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I Want a Bigger Tent

I want a bigger tent.

I want a tent where I can point out, as Rev. Christine did, that we are all at a spot on the agnostic spectrum without a God-Person (G-P) hollering, “Don’t call me an agnostic!”

I want a tent where I can talk about the Holy Spirit without a Non-God-Person (N-G-P) hollering, “Stop talking about God!”

I want a tent where we can discuss different theories about what happened after Jesus died without a G-P complaining that I’m being intolerant to Christians.

I want a tent where I can attend a workshop on “How to Pray” without an N-G-P complaining that we’re trying to turn into a Christian church.

I want a tent where we can talk about the contributions humanism has made, and continues to make, to our religion without a G-P rolling their eyes.

I want a tent where someone can stand up and say “I love this church and I love God!” without an N-G-P rolling their eyes.

I want a tent where, when an N-G-P explains that she doesn’t believe in any sort of outside spirit, she isn’t patted condescendingly by a G-P and told, “Yet.”

I want a tent where, when a G-P talks about a moment when he felt God was sending him a message, he isn’t patronizingly told that it’s fine to anthropomorphize a God as a way to make sense out of life.

I want a tent where I can include a performance of XTC’s “Dear God” and not be told I’m insulting the G-Ps.

I want a tent where I can include “Amazing Grace” and not be accused of trying to exclude the N-G-Ps.

I want a tent where a G-P will genuinely listen to the answer after asking, “Why would an atheist go to church?"

I want a tent where an N-G-P will genuinely listen to the answer after asking, “How can you be a Christian and a UU?”

I want a bigger tent.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I think I'm gonna like it here*

Last week, I walked into the classroom for the first day of my Old Testament class. Professor wasn't there, but two older, male students were. One was complaining bitterly about one of our textbooks, by Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch.

"It's written by a flaming liberal woman," he said.

No, no, that's not exactly it. Accent and vernacular are necessary elements here.

"It's writtn by uh flamin' libruhl WOEman."

I'm not making fun of his accent. I have a matching one. But there's a particular way a Texas man pronounces "woman" when he is speaking negatively. It's like it's a different word from regular "woman." WOE-man is close, but not exactly it. If she's a good little wife, you've got a good "woman." If she done run off with yore pickup and yore dog, she is a WOE-man.

In any case, WOEman or woman, his statement caused a great big smile to come to my face. And I sang out:

Get me now, holy cow
Could someone pinch me please

Okay, so that was in my head. I actually just grinned down at my shoes, sat down quietly, and set up my laptop.

But in my head, there was a full chorus line with top hats and canes.

My professor, who is also my advisor, is a self-proclaimed conservative evangelical Christian. And he LOVES Brueggemann. Thinks he's brilliant. Asked us if we'd ever read anything more brilliant than the first two chapters of A Pathway of Interpretation.

It was at this point that, holding onto the back of my chair, I carefully stepped onto my desk and began doing the can-can. Bemused, but appreciative of my enthusiasm, my professor gave me his hand to help me back down to my seat.

Okay, not really. Dang, you're really attached to this whole reality thing, aren't ya?

I have been going to this school, intermittently, for five years. This is the first time ever that I've had a professor who said, quoting Brueggemann, "Any thought that we may present 'biblical truth' without interpretation is an illusion and indicates an unfortunate deficit of self-knowledge on the part of the interpreter."

And his preferred version of the Bible? Nope, not the NIV.

The JPS Hebrew English Tanakh.

*10 points to the first person who identifies the Broadway musical that's from. No cheating.