Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lizard Eater's Hat Goes to the Big Easy

Auspicious Jots left her home and went to Mississippi to do good work. After that, she drove to New Orleans. Lizard Eater finished up with LW's scans and a big ugly Old Testament midterm, farmed out her kids to accommodating fools, I mean, wonderful people, and also drove to New Orleans. Accompanying those two were Bad Bad Man and The Husband.

Jots recognized me right away, even though I was traveling incognito.

blogcognito? inblognito?

Bad Bad Man is practically an honorary citizen of New Orleans, so we put ourselves in his capable hands. The Husband mentioned that he is a fan of hole-in-the-walls, so BBM took us to nothing but hole-in-the-walls. Dives. Dark and funky. Fabulous, delicious food. Jots wouldn't use the ladies' room in any of them.

She has issues.

Actually, the first was not dark. But it was funky in that you should be thankful you get to eat there, and shaddup about the service. Mother's. We stuffed ourselves with cafe au lait, eggs, biscuits, homemade sausage and grits. Ahhh. Jots had fresh fruit. There's a reason she's built like Barbie.

After Mother's, we went back out into the drizzly rain well fortified. Walked around a bit, then headed into a hole-in-the wall bar/laundry/game room.

My clothes would have been much cleaner in college had we one of those.

Hung out, chatted, talked about our most interesting jobs. I could tell ya, but you know, then I'd have to kill you.

After that, we took a streetcar for a bit of a journey. Tip: don't let Jots ride sideways.

After she recovered, we headed to Cooter Brown's. It's a sports bar with really killer food. Jots, BBM and The Husband scarfed down some oysters before we dove into plump, perfectly cooked fried shrimp and muffalettas.


Later on that day, in amongst our wanderings, we found a pretty special forest. This was right after I spotted a white-bearded fella in a red shirt. "Look!" I squealed, pulling on BBM's sleeve. "It's Santa Claus!"

"Huh. Looks like the same guy who asked me for a dollar yesterday," he said.

Well, duh! How do you think he buys all the toys for all the girls and boys???

Anyway, after that, we found the magic forest. Now I know where white flocked trees are born.

That evening, before we headed out for dinner, The Husband made them one of his famous margaritas. They marveled at them. "This really is the perfect margarita," they said. Yep. No argument here.

For dinner, we met friends of BBM at Mulate's. Zydeco music, great food, yum.

Ostensibly, Jots has retired from ministry. After being around her for 48 hours and watching her minister to everyone including the kindly white-haired gentleman whom she danced with, I say, "Um, tell me when you actually retire." You can take the girl outta the church, but you can't take the church out of the supposedly retired minister.

BBM's friend brought Jots something she'd left at a funeral convention. This is the sort of thing that makes her squeal with delight. Dead Marilyn.

Jots and I danced, thus liberating the floor for other same-sex couples, including an apparent threesome of suburban looking moms. Jots' observation: two women on a dancefloor will dance. Three will stand there and talk.

The Husband and I danced, Jots and BBM danced, Jots and the kindly white-haired gentleman danced.

We ate till we thought we'd pop. Shrimp and corn bisque, frog legs, crawfish, catfish, jambalaya, etouffee ... Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Sunday morning, we got up and headed down to the French market. Touristy, but I wanted a little Cafe du Monde. Cafe au lait et beignets, oui? Ah, non non non. Line going about 2 blocks long. We skipped that and hit a cafe for more grits etc. And coffee!

"Jots, if I take a picture in here, it'll be back lit."
"That's just the way I like 'em, Baby."
She is wise, my friend Jots.

Then, it was time for a mule-drawn carriage ride! On Jeeves! To the cemetery!

"Um, Liz?" said The Husband.
"Jots is positively beaming."

Death becomes her. Really.

We wandered around, marveling at the generations of families all buried in the same crypt. Frankly, I'm envious.

Bad Bad Man found Marie Laveau's grave. He should be careful. I'm sure there's a few women who bought voodoo dolls of him in his youth.

Have I mentioned all the truly horrible dirty jokes he told during this trip? And the fact that my sweet Husband was egging him on?

He's a bad influence.

I'm not saying which one.

It was some time after this, once we'd be returned to the Market, that Jot's knee went out. I mean, OUT. Rheumatoid Arthritis ain't for sissies, folks. We propped her up against a streetpole and continued our souvenir shopping.

Oh, please, it's not like we didn't bring her back a tshirt.

Through a combination of piggy back rides on BBM's back and using The Husband and me as crutches, we managed to cripple down to Coop's, another great divey hole-in-the-wall bar with great food. No, great doesn't do it justice. Incredible.

But first, a Sazerac for me, Bloody Marys for them.

Lunch: four bowls of dark seafood gumbo, followed by plates of shrimp etouffe, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and the most incredible fried chicken I have ever tasted. Ever. And I'm a southerner, y'all. We were moaning with joy. Wisely, we split two plates, so we weren't quite groaning with pain.

Bad Bad Man and The Husband went back to the hotel to get the cars. Gimpie's knee was doing a little better, so we slowly strolled around. There's so many great signs under which to take a person's picture!

Trashy Diva. I mean, really, what can top that?

Well, for Death Becomes Her ...

He's a Bad, Bad Man. But he's a heck of a tour guide. Priceless.

Go to New Orleans. Drink a Sazerac. Dance to Zydeco. Eat some crab claws. And know that you're helping a great place return to life. In return, it'll give you a little extra life in your life.

Even if death becomes you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Radically Inclusive

I want the radically inclusive church. I mean, really radically inclusive.

A few years ago, the big buzz you heard at all the UU things was "Radical Hospitality." I went home from GA or Fall Conference or wherever it was, and looked on for a book about radical hospitality. Found one. Bought it.

Boy, was this NOT the book all the UU's were talking about.

Puhleease, we talk about radical hospitality and often what we mean is "don't ignore people when they come into your church." That's not radical anything.

This book I picked up was written by some missionary-type Christians. They talked about picking up homeless folks and taking them home with them. And that, my friends, is radical hospitality. Not that I'm recommending you (or I) do the same. Just don't pat yourself on the back because you engaged someone in conversation and think that you're radically hospitable.

So, forgetting missionaries for the moment, what do I think RADICAL inclusivity within a UU church would look like?

Well, I can thank The Husband for this. As I mentioned earlier, I recently preached a sermon on Isaiah 6:8 at my seminary. I said "God" - a lot. I talked about being convicted by the Holy Spirit.

I am not a Christian. My definition of "God" is most probably quite different from that of my classmates. But I tell you and mean it: I did not say a single thing I don't believe.

The Husband heard my sermon, a few hundred times. (Well, I practiced it a lot, I knew I wasn't using a script.) It's a great sermon, he said. You should give it at church.

Uh, yeah, with a whole lot of editing.

See, I don't understand that, he said. (He is often about UU things as I am about communion -- if you didn't grow up with them, they're odd.) "UUs talk about being so pluralist, so inclusive. We have banners on the wall from different religions. So, you should be able to stand up and do that sermon."

Rabbi Shaman and I were talking about this recently. About having a UU message from the pulpit, but utilizing religious language that is Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Muslim, all those cool symbols and flags we post around the church ...

I think that would be radically inclusive. I don't think radically inclusive means that you exclude anything that might push someone out of their comfort zone.

Of course, you could have a church where the vast majority love the sort of language used by Christopher Hitchens.

Maybe the next "radical" that we're going to embrace is "radical congregational polity."

Huh. Now that might be interesting.

Some of our best friends are straight ...

One of the things I love about LIFE if that if well-lived, you just keep learning stuff till the day you die. New experiences. New understandings.

Let me tell you about my father.

He came from a small town, and when he was college age, he went to visit a friend he’d grown up with. Well, the friend had two male roommates, one of whom was extremely flamboyant. That’s how he found out his friend was gay. This was in the late 1940s. My father was so shaken by this, he beat a hasty retreat. For years – no, decades – he was convinced that gays “recruit” young men. No arguments would sway him.

Round about his 60’s, three things happened: he got to know my brother’s law partner, whom he highly respected, and who is gay. He began reading those articles that said you’re born gay. And then, after retirement, he and my Mom were adopted by their new next-door neighbors, “The Boys,” a middle-aged gay couple.

He’s 80 years old, and if his knees could handle it, my dad would now be marching for gay rights, especially gay marriage.

This Thanksgiving, my parents will be going to dinner at The Boys’ house. There will be a total of 8 people – my parents, The Boys, another gay couple whom my parents are fond of, and a transgender lesbian couple.

My mother has raised an eyebrow over the years at her “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” kids and our friends, so it was with great pleasure that I asked her, with as serious a tone as I could muster, “Do you have any straight friends?”

She thought about it for a moment. Last Sunday, they hosted another couple for brunch. The nice lesbian couple from down the street.

“Well, not really,” she said. “We really should get ourselves to that little UU church congregation in town so we can meet some people like us.”

Yeah. No chance they’d meet anyone LGBT in a UU church.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What do we prove?

After taking my OT midterm, I headed to the mall to exchange out my Mac power cord that died on me while studying for said midterms. After that, I did a little wandering, and was snared by one of those kiosk guys -- this one, selling some sort of a nail care kit.

He was good -- I'm usually adept at the polite smile and moving on, but I found myself in his clutches, literally, as he polished up one of my fingernails.

Now, don't tell Peacebang, but my hands are just not a point of beauty focus for me. Between cooking, playing guitar, helping kids build volcanoes, my fingertips are all about the functional, baby. If I manage to not have dirt under the nails or jagged edges, I am pretty fancy indeed.

But I had to admit, his little buffing, lotioning, was pretty dramatic. Looked like my fingernail had been polished. I wasn't even looking to buy, but he proved it to me.

So, since I'd been thinking about what we're selling in our churches, this made me think about us -- what do we prove? Especially to the people who aren't even looking to buy?

The price for this nail kit was too rich for my blood, so I moved on. But the next time I'm in a Walgreens, I'm probably going to pick up a little buffer set.

They work. Someone proved it to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, SNAP! Small Church Marketing ...



A couple of weeks ago, I passed a small restaurant, and on the marquee, their words were:


I drove past it, and about a mile down the road asked The Husband, "Is that really their big selling point?"

I mean, I could understand it this were wartime, or the Depression. They would be differentiating between themselves and those places selling powdered eggs. But now? Can you even buy powdered eggs anymore?

That got me to thinking about our churches, though. Are we still selling ourselves based on the circumstances from decades ago?

I mean, saying, "You have freedom of belief here!" is kind of like "Real Eggs!" isn't it? In a world of Bishop Spongs and Christopher Dawkins and heck, the New York Times, what are we really trying to sell? Our competition isn't the Assemblies of God Church down the road. Our competition is the Sunday news shows and soccer games and sleeping late. Guess what? The people watching Meet the Press and reading The New Yorker already have Freedom of Belief.

I don't want to try a new restaurant for REAL EGGS. You're going to have to find something else to sell me.

Never saw the sun shining so bright

Nothing but blue skies, from now on ...


Monday, November 16, 2009


No phone call from the doctor yet.

So, no news.

It could be something real simple, like the doctor is out of town, or too busy, or anything.


Or there's something he's unsure of. And he needs to wait for the radiologist to make an official report.

You know, I remember being in college, studying for a Shakespeare exam. It was a hard one, too. And some students down the hall were being loud. I thought it was impossible to study.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Studying, A Haiku by Lizard Eater

Noise outside is loud
But just a whisper, next to
Noise inside my head

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me

Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me

Things have been crazy ... yet great. Preached 5 times within 13 days. (Got double points today -- 2 services.) Assessment. An interfaith dinner. A baby shower. Stuff. Good stuff. It feels like things are moving. After five years, I'm seeing progress. Maybe I really will be a minister when I grow up.

My Big Fat Old Testament Midterm is Wednesday. Technically, a 3/4 term, but Wednesday it is. Studying, studying. Well, trying to. "Be able to place all of the latter prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) in their historical context, which might include date, circumstances, and contemporaries (both biblical and non-biblical). Also know the basic purpose or theme of each latter prophet" was one of the study hints.

If I take in my Assessment Tests that show that I am highly an abstract thinker, think I can get a pass?

Yeah, I don't think so, either.

Of course, the real issue isn't study style or thinking style or any of it.

Tomorrow, scans.

Specifically, tomorrow is 1 year scans. And an echocardiogram to see if the Doxorubicin gave any ill effects to her heart.

Meanwhile, Little Warrior is bouncing up and down, "Again, again! The Black-Eyed Peas!" We are watching their clip from SNL, singing "I Gotta Feeling." She shakes her booty. She shouts, "Let's kick it!" She sings, "Mazel Tov," turning around to inform me, "We say that!"

Will I know by tomorrow night? Will I be dancing, singing, shaking my booty tomorrow night?


You'll have to excuse me, just for tonight. I try to avoid the self-pity. Everybody's got something, as they say. It's just really hard to study for a test on Wednesday, knowing that tomorrow, my life could stop and begin spinning backward. Again.

This could be a really good week. Scans tomorrow. Get that mid-term out of the way Wednesday. My beloved Deep Listening group Wed night. Follow up with the doc on Thursday, which is highly enjoyable when, you know, it's good news. Friday, we toss our children into different households and meet Auspicious Jots and her entourage in the Big Easy.

It could be a fabulous week.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

A-HA! on that Freedom From Religion Ad

Well, I got my UU World today. It recounts some of the letters for and against the infamous Freedom From Religion ad. Old news, now. And then, at the end of the wrap, on page 13, comes a reply from Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
"Our ad was not an attack on the UUA, it was an espousal of the views of most Unitarians! Perhaps the infiltration of the UUA by new members who are not freethinking, who do not really understand its creedless position, accounts for this mind-boggling reaction."
And suddenly, I get it. If you believe that those who have a problem with that ad are exclusively:
  • new UUs
  • not freethinking
  • not understanding the creedlessness of Unitarian Universalism
then you truly do not understand this religion yourself. Ms. Gaylor, I am a life-long Unitarian Universalist and a seminary student. My parents, both fairly atheist, have been Unitarian Universalists since the 1950s.

They, and I, were mind-boggled by YOUR ad. Respect has always been a part of Unitarian Universalism. Mocking and belittling others is NOT a part of my religion -- it is a part of yours? Oh, I forgot. You want freedom from religion.

Yeah. I get that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Assess This!

Got up at 3:45 am Monday morning and flew to the town of my candidate career assessment. Intensive and intimate, but since my personality is the open and ready to share type (you've never noticed that, right?), nothing bad. And I now have the test results to prove that I'm the open and ready to share type. And an extravert. And a big picture person. And "Joyful."

Very nice assessor, willing to go deep with me. No surprises in the assessment. Before we went over the test results, my assessor asked me to pick five words about myself. All five were represented in my test results, often in capital letters. So, I got confirmation that I know myself. Hmm. Is there a teensiest bit of disappointment, that perhaps there was some secret deep inside that even I didn't know about? Alas, I am no woman of mystery. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

And part of that, very comforting, is that I am, boringly so, of a personality type that is a good fit with ministry. There was some concern about my preternatural appreciation for ABBA, but with some trepidation, the assessor agreed that it's not technically a psychosis.

Now for those not in the candidating loop, the assessment centers where you are sent are specifically for those entering ministry, and we UUs (at least at the one I went to), are a tiny percent of the patrons, most of them being Methodist, Lutheran, and so on. I say that to give some background to the following exchange:

I was telling my assessor about a numinous experience I had this summer. I said something about "of course, it wasn't like a literal voice from the heavens, and it certainly could be my imagination, and I'm okay with that; imagination and God are certainly not ...

"Why do you do that?" she interrupted me.

I knew what she was referring to. "Because I'm a Unitarian!!!" I said. And we both laughed.

And then we talked further about that. And I spoke plainly, without all of the extraneous protestations -- "God said to me ..."

We talked about why I feel the need to do all the explanations, clarifications, justifications, about how I am often speaking to people who have a wide range of understandings of the divine.

"Do you feel that is burdensome, or a challenge you relish?"

And I had never thought of it before, but the question made me smile. And light up. And say, "A challenge I relish." Because it's not about proving my vision of a divine. Or trying to convince others. It's about finding the common grounds in all of our understandings. This was a bit revelatory because I have had the experience of mentally rolling my eyes as we split into subparticles yet another word or concept. Really, Bill Clinton must be a Unitarian -- "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." -- classic UU! But it's a challenge I relish. For the past few weeks, I've been cogitating on a definition of God, fit for those who do not believe in anything transcendent. But that's a post for another day ...

A world where people just nodded in agreement if I said, "God said to me ..."? How flat! How boring! How spiritually lazy I could become!

(That doesn't mean I don't want it sometimes and want to keep my tight group of intimates whom they know what I mean, and I know what they mean, and we can skip all that.)

Now, this did bring up another issue -- that of being authentic. Which I've taken to refer to being upfront and honest about your doubts and uncertainties, but she made the point that if you believe in the transcendent, but don't own it, ya ain't being authentic.

So, I haven't seen the official report yet, but my assessment of my assessment is:

* I know myself
* I want to be a minister
* I'm a Unitarian Universalist

We ended early, and I had given myself a good cushion of time before my flight "just in case," so I wound up at the airport with 4 hours to waste. I asked about switching my flight, and learned that my time isn't worth very much, as I was unwilling to pay $87 to change it. Called The Husband, told him about the assessment and that I was just going to use the extra time to study for my Big Fat Old Testament Midterm.

And proceeded to instead eat a cinnabon and cruise Facebook.

My assessor probably would have predicted that.

Monday, November 09, 2009

"I Am Jesus."

Mother-in-love came up and stayed with the family today so that I could fly away and get my assessment. Conversation she had with Little Warrior -- they were listening to Christmas music in the car (MIL is in a church choir and learning some new songs):

LW: They said 'Jesus!'
MIL: Um-hm. What do you know about Jesus?
LW: I am Jesus.
MIL: Uh ... what do you mean by that?
LW: Well, like, when I take cupcakes to the hospital.

Sure beats the Apostles Creed for me.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Skydiving with an Outline

Ogre said, "I want to hear more about the first steps on that path to no manuscript."

First, you have to really want it. It is definitely skydiving without a parachute. Well, not entirely -- that would be preaching without any notes. I still had my one page outline, even if it was on the lectern behind me.

Is it worth it? Oh yeah! Warning: it just may ruin ya for using a manuscript. Today, I guest-preached at one of my favorite little churches. I was doing a sermon I've given at other churches; it is heavy with the quotes, so I wasn't even going to attempt to not use my manuscript.


I mean, they liked it, it seemed to go well. But for me, it was like the difference between giving pastoral care over the phone versus sitting next to the person. There is an intimacy that comes from eye contact, and when you have less time looking down at notes and more time with the eye contact ... and even better, when you can roam down next to people ... it's addictive, I tell ya.

So, how to do it?

1) You do have a manuscript as a part of the process. In Power in the Pulpit: How America's Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons edited by Cleophus James LaRue, most of the preachers talk about manuscript as an important part of their process. By writing out a manuscript -- not just an outline -- you find the rhythm of the sermon, and you find particular turns of phrase that you want to be sure to remember.

2) After that, create your "pulpit outline." I learned to do it on one page, horizontal layout, two columns, like a book. (Because I'm at a Christian seminary, and many of the preachers here will put their outline in their bible.) This includes a little information about your introduction, the proposition/big idea of your sermon, the main points, and any examples/illustrations. And info on your conclusion.

3) Memorize your introduction. Whereas the rest of the sermon, you can work from your bullet points, you want your introduction to be smooth and well-memorized. This will give you the comfort and confidence to relax and enjoy preaching the rest of your sermon.

For me, the above book was liberating, because one point that was made (by several of the preachers, as I recall) was "Look -- by not using a manuscript, you probably will drop something here or there. But it's okay. This gives you the freedom to include in things that just hit you there as you're preaching."

I am, first and foremost, a writer. Doing a sermon this way taught me the important lesson of "Get OVER yourself. Your words are not so precious that you can't lose a phrase here or there. It's about the lesson, it's about the stories, it's about the application. Using just the exact 'perfect' word is overrated."

My next step: to try using index cards or a very small notebook, so I can carry my main points (and any quotations) with me as I walk away from the pulpit. I felt like there was a bungee cord attaching me to the lectern, as I had to get back to it if I wanted to glance at my outline.

So ... have just preached 3 times in 6 days. Whoo-hoo! Early tomorrow am, I'm leaving on a jet plane to go get my career assessment.

Wonder what they'll tell me I should be when I grow up ...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Uni-costal Preacher

Wednesday was a really good day.

My preaching professor had invited me to be the preacher at this week's Wednesday chapel at my seminary.

Fine enough, right? I mean, I preach all the time. Of course, I'd be preaching in Christian, which is my second language. No, actually, it's probably about 5th, after Ubbi Dubbi, Pagan, and French. Hubbi, mon magick ami!

But to make it more of a challenge, I've been pushing myself to preach sans manuscript. I had a one page outline on a lectern, but I mostly did the roaming preaching, walking down closer to the congregation.

And I preached fairly charismatic, as that's the most-spoken language of my classmates.

Sitting in the front row before going forward, it was a surprise when I got up and faced the audience to find that every professor and the school president were there. Manuscript! Manuscript!

No manuscript.

What a blast. Now this is the kind of roller coaster I could get into.

I received some really nice comments afterward, including one from my favorite professor, a soft-spoken man of few words, none of them hyperbole. "You were good," he said in that way that some people have that just has a particularly satisfying ring for all its simplicity.

So, a powerful affirmation of what I want to do.

(Next week I'll see the video and will come plummeting back to earth, but let me glide for now.)

What made it 100% good? I did not preach anything I did not believe wholeheartedly. I used some language not often heard in a UU church -- convicted, Holy Spirit, God, humility -- but it was all me, baby.

Me. The Uni-costal.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Scan-xiety scheduled

Okay, so, I have my super intensive Career Assessment/Head Shrinking on Nov. 9. One of the forms I had to fill in laid out several "issues" and asked what my current status was with them. Anxiety, fear, worry, stress, and some others.

To which, for each, I basically put, "Not a problem right now, but one week before scans, HOOOBOY!"

I phrased it a little different.

So, we just found out when scans are. Exactly one week after the career assessment.

Well. They can't say I didn't warn 'em.