Saturday, December 25, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 25

Okay, so you know this song, but maybe not in this langugage and this version.

The Bruce Cockburn Christmas album is just so, so, terrific.  If I could, I'd buy copies and mail them to every one of you. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 24

Children sleeping, snow is softly falling
Dreams are calling like bells in the distance
We were dreamers not so long ago
But one by one we all had to grow up
When it seems the magic's slipped away
We find it all again on Christmas day

Tonight, at midnight, after everyone else in my house has gone to bed, I'll sneak outside in the dark and the cold. Bare feet, probably.  In one hand, a leather strap with sleigh bells.  1, 2, 3, I'll shake them with a flourish, like the bells on Santa's sleigh.

Perhaps someone will hear them -- half asleep? -- and decide it was a dream.

I believe in Christmas magic.

And I believe in my power to make Christmas magic.

A very happy Christmas Eve to you.

Josh Groban

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 23

Okay.  You totally know this song. In fact, you're probably sick of it, it's so overplayed on the radio.

But overplayed doesn't mean bad.

Last December 23, The Husband and I looked at each other and faced something potentially devastating. Little Wren's eyes were crossing. The cancer might be back, and in her brain. We made the decision to not say anything to anyone until after Christmas.

Privately, we couldn't help the thought ... what if this is the last one with all of us?

I know that there are others out there, carrying fear through Christmas. Sometimes, it's just unavoidable. That's life.

If you must have fear this Christmas, I pray that it may turn out to be nothing significant, as ours did.

If it is significant, I pray that you may have people to support you and give you their strength when yours wearies.

But most of all, I hope you have a good one, without any fear.

And please God, may war be over.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 22

Today's is for A. L., S. B., and others who are hurting.

Sometimes all you want for Christmas ... is for it to be over.  It magnifies every hurt. Can I just sleep through it, this year? you muse.

I love those churches that do a "Blue Christmas" service a few days before Christmas. Sometimes, misery does love company.

Even when we're not having a sad Christmas, even when things are happy, sometimes we need to shed a few tears.  A few tears for sad memories, a few tears acknowledging that there will be other Christmases that are not so merry.

Joni Mitchell wrote this song. There are lots of great versions (I really like the Robert Downey version, too), and I just found this one. It's simple, clean, sad, and lovely.

Allison Crowe

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 21

Most remakes of A Christmas Carol are pretty bad.  The latest, Christmas Cupid, completely stripped away any message of interdependence and responsibility to fellow man, making it a shallow show all about how a woman shouldn't just have a career, she should also love a hunky guy.  O the humanity. 

But Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.  Ahhh.  A classic in its own right.

How can you not love the Cratchits?  Though poor, they “are cheerful because they cannot help it, and because they all love one another.” 

I don't know what razzleberry dressing is. I probably wouldn't like it.  But this song makes me giggle and feel happy inside.

May you have a Christmas more glorious than grand.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 20

I like the real.

Even though my parents don't get drunk.  Well, Mama might get a wee bit tipsy with champagne, but only on Christmas Eve. And she still maintains her dignity.

But I'm pretty sure I have kinfolk in Harlingen, though I'm not exactly sure how we're related.

And football is often on during the holidays, except this year, since my 'Horns didn't make a bowl.

And someone always has to run to the convenience store for this or that. And then at least 5 voices add something to his list.

And I like margaritas.

And if you don't have some of these characters in your family ... well, your family just can't be very big.

Merry Christmas from the Family

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 19

I believe in Santa Claus, I know he exists, and I absolutely love it when I get to be Santa Claus.  It is a big rite of passage when our children are able to become "Level Two" Santas.  Deep crinkles appear between their eyebrows as they work their brains, trying to decide who they'll Santa and how.

You can, too.  Consider it a gift to yourself.  Be like my hero, Larry Stewart, and be someone's really secret Santa.  Take a bill -- a little more than you can afford -- and look for the right person.  Perhaps it's someone in the dollar store, trying to stretch their paycheck.  Or someone at the bus station.  Pretend to pick up something by them.  Hand them the bill and say, "I think you dropped something."  Give them a wink and a smile.  And disappear quickly.

Or something less dramatic.  An outrageously large tip to someone.  We usually stop by Sonic and pick up drinks for our trip driving around looking at Christmas lights.  A teenager working Dec. 23rd will be really happy for a $20 tip.  Or more.

You don't have to judge whether the person "deserves" it.  This is a gift for you.  You get to be Santa Claus.

Shake Hands with Santa Claus
Louis Prima

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 18

Do you allow room for magic in your Christmas?

I believe in Christmas magic and can't be talked out of it.  I've seen too much evidence for it -- impossible snowfalls, things falling into place "just so" that long-for dreams can come true.

I love acapella music, especially at the holidays, and I think this is a wonderful combination of two songs.

Pure Imagination/White Christmas
The Blenders

Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 17

Baby, It's Cold Outside
Ray Charles & Betty Carter

Best Version Ever.

Smooth.  Rich.  Sometimes being tempted to naughtiness is sooo delicious.  sigh.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 16

This was on one of those Very Special Christmas albums.  I remember people saying, "Why the heck is that song on a Christmas album?"

I understood.  That guiding star they say the Magi followed ... what is your guiding star?  What would you believe in, even if it meant your friends forsaking you, getting ridiculed, meeting failure again and again?

What sustains you?

I Believe in You
Sinead O'Connor

I believe in you even though I be outnumbered.
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back.

Don't let me change my heart,
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue.
And I, I don't mind the pain
Don't mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
'Cause I believe in you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 15

Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)
The Ramones

Hey, I gotta put some classics on here.  And I'm really, really hoping someone will do a mashup of this song + The Carpenters "Merry Christmas, Darling."

That would be awesome.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 14

Driving Home for Christmas
Chris Rea

I don't drive home for Christmas anymore, and haven't for years. For one thing, my childhood home was sold years ago.  And once we began having kids, it got more and more challenging. We're the only ones on either side of the family with kids, so we just let everyone know that they're welcome to come to our house.  Family in all its forms land on our front porch.

But I remember that feeling ... stuffing the car with suitcases and presents, playing Christmas songs on the car stereo.  Passing drivers on the interstate, their cars similarly loaded.  Knowing that we're all driving home for Christmas.

I take look at the driver next to me
He's just the same
Just the same

And that moment of getting there -- walking into the warm house, seeing the tree, smelling good food, and the crush of hugs and greetings.  Now, we're the ones with the warm house, tree, food, and hugs.  Both sides of that equation are good.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 13

The year is ... um, 1980-something.  My family has saved up their pennies all year so that we could take a trip together for Christmas.  No gifts this year, other than the gift of being with each other.

My siblings are grown, and I'm on my way, almost college age.  My brother is going through a painful divorce.

We arrive on a small island in the Bahamas.  Nothing touristy here.  There are two places to eat, plus the kitchenette in my parents room.  Groceries are expensive here, so my mother packed a baggie full of flour in her suitcase for frying the fish she was confident we'd catch.  Yes, customs saw it.  Yes, they pulled her aside.  Yes, we teased her unmercilessly, and still do, to this day.

The island is so small, we walk everywhere, no cars.  Because of that, and the general holiday spirit, and the tastiness of Rum Punch, the adults are imbibing a little more freely than normal.

Christmas Eve, a boat full of Haitian refugees is docked at the island because of a storm. They aren't allowed off the boat.  My brother, who has had some of that Rum Punch, or perhaps a couple of Bahama Mamas, feels sorry for them.  I can still see him -- out in the balmy air, he stretches his arms out and serenades them with our family favorite, "Children Go Where I Send Thee," all 12 verses.

Children Go Where I Send Thee

We always listened to the version by Odetta, and sang it with those verses, but as the years went by, different versions crawled in, changing this verse or that one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

CPE and Full Circle moments

We interrupt your holiday music schedule to share this "Full Circle Moment" with you.

I'll be doing my CPE -- Clinical Pastoral Education -- this summer. Originally, under the advice of a mentor, I'd looked for one in mental health, but the certified CPEs are all hospital-connected here. I wanted a place that treated both kids and adults. Under advice of other seminarians and new ministers, I wanted a supportive CPE program.

When Little Wren was being treated, we had to go to another hospital for her outpatient radiation. The people at this place touched me, impressed me, both with their medical expertise and their spiritual care.

I really hoped I could CPE there.

Got my letter today.  This is where I'll be this summer.  A spiral moment.

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 11

Il est NĂ© le Divin Enfant

I had a French professor in college who taught me this traditional carol.  He was from France, and quite laid-back.  He would roll his eyes at conjugating and such, and declare that if the school really wanted us to learn French, they would simply let him take us all to Paris for 6 months, where he would make sure we weren't hanging out with any other americaines, and at the end of it, we'd be fluent.  He was a kick.

The song reflects the joy and celebration about the birth of the Christ child.  Combined with our belief that "Every night a child is born is a holy night," it bring to my mind a gorgeous picture -- Now is born a divine child!  Play the musette, play the tuneful oboe!

I couldn't resist putting in two versions.  One by the great Edith Piaf, and then I happened to find one -- and a fine one! -- by Siouxie and the Banshees.  C'est bon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 10

What is it about toy trains that just says "Christmas" to so many of us?  For some, it was a train 'round the Christmas tree.  Or the memory of putting one together Christmas Eve night.  Or coming downstairs to find one Christmas morning.

My little boy is a big ole high schooler now.  But every time I hear this, I blink and am back to the Christmases when he was a roly-poly little scamp, his eyes lit up with the magic at it all, gleefully bouncing up and down at seeing a new wooden train set.

Old Toy Trains
Roger Miller

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 9

1) Because Punk fans like Christmas, too.
2) Because I'm a mom, and I can understand Santa finally reaching the point where he loses his mind.
3) Because how can you not love a song that screeches "Oatmeal Cookies???  Oatmeal Cookies???"

Oh No It's Santa
Jingle Punx

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 8

Hey, I'm a Unitarian Universalist, and some stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason.  It just wouldn't be a UU holiday song list without a Peter, Paul, and Mary song.

But as far as I'm concerned, this song transcends it's PPM origin.  It even transcends the fact that it's in our hymnal.  And I didn't just choose it because it's a Chanukah song.

Light One Candle
Peter, Paul, and Mary

For the rest of my life, this song will take me back to the holiday season of 2001.  3 months after 9/11, we were already seeing Fear turning us into what we didn't want to be.

I'm not comfortable singing in front of people.  But for this, I was willing.  My Canadian friend "Buzz" and I did a duet, singing with full hearts and teary eyes.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe;
Light one candle for those who are suff'ring
The pain that we learned long ago;
Light one candle for all we believe in,
That anger not tear us apart;
And light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our heart!

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died?
We cry out "they've not died in vain,"
We have come this far, always believing
That justice will somehow prevail;
This is the burden and This is the promise,
This is why we will not fail!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 7

Thank God It's Christmas

There are some people who just hold on through all kinds of garbage and pain the rest of the year, because something inside them wants to get to Christmas. And Christmas can be magic, and it can be love, and right after that it's a brand new year, and this year, please God, it will be better.

I know.  Because I've been one of those people.  Twice.

Oh my love we've had our share of tears
Oh my friend we've had our hopes and fears
Oh my friends it's been a long hard year
But now it's Christmas
Yes it's Christmas
Thank God it's Christmas

Monday, December 06, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 6

Christine Lavin and the Mistletones
A Christmas/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Chanukah/Ramadan/Boxing Day Song

It's an acapella round that gets in all the holidays.  It's cute, fun, and my church has replicated it.  For a deliberately pluralist faith, it's perfect.  

Edit: I had a link up to a "free download" that makes me nervous - sends you to an .exe file.

So, here's the link to it on Amazon. You can play the sample for free and if you like it, download it for .99.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 5

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is one of those songs that most people know exists, but they've never really listened to it.  It's the filler song on the Christmas album, just wasting space between Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire and Silent Night.

I think it fair to say that its writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was broken.  He had lost his first wife and the baby she was carrying. His second wife had died from a tragic accident with fire. His son had been wounded in battle.  The Civil War raged.

Christmas comes, and when we have been hurt, ripped up, all those sweet songs are like salt in our wounds.  So false.  So artificial.  "Give me a freakin' break," we mutter.  The first Christmas after his second wife's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays."

That discord between our pain and the joy around us ... it's like a magnifying glass for our pain.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It doesn't compute. It doesn't make sense. Reality intrudes and we reject the pretty words, melodies, ideas.

And in despair I bow'd my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

But if we are lucky, if we have just the teeniest little opening, we may find that hope manages to squeeze in there. Hope that we'll survive. Hope that there is a greater meaning. Hope that the world will get better.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

There's many versions of this song, but I think my favorite is that of Johnny Cash. His voice, gravelly, a little flat in places, seems more attune to the story than other versions. Now if I could just find a naked version that strips "the Nashville sound" out of the background. A pox on Chet Atkins.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 4

Today is Mama Lizard Eater's 80th birthday. Don't let her know I told you -- a lady is supposed to only get press on her birth, marriage, and death, you know.

Her favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night, which I kinda assume you've heard. But this is one of the other top contenders. Being the wife and mother of a bunch of Christmas-grinches kinda wore down her enthusiasm over the years, but a few days before Christmas -- especially if family was coming in -- she'd play this and even sing along with it. And Mama doesn't sing. But she couldn't resist and when she thought no one was around, her voice would peal out, "Cantcha hear them bells, ringin', ringin', joy, joy, hear them singin' ..."

Every time I hear this song, I hear her voice on that chorus. I hope I always do.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Holiday Music Bonus

Before you start your weekend ...

Lots of indie holiday music -- FREE.  I've downloaded all three albums and can confirm there's some good stuff here.  A few faves:

THe BAcksliders - "That's How We Do Christmas" 

Here Comes Everybody - "Snow" (Nice kind of Elvis-Costello -y vibe.)

Master Slash Slave- "All I Want For Christmas" (How can you not like a song that says "All I want for Christmas is to get the band back together ...?)

Jessie Torrisi - "Christmas Don't Be Late" (for we Gen-Xers who grew up on that know-it-all mouse in "Twas the Night Before Christmas."  Don't you just know he's a UU?)

Piney Gir - "Snow Snow, Beautiful Snow"

Other good stuff, too.  There's a couple of dogs, but for the most part, good originals and covers.  

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 3

Sometimes, you just need FUN.  If you don't have a bit of just silly fun mixed in your holidays, I humbly contend that you're missing a crucial ingredient.  Like salt.

And it's a Gen X thing.  For a generation of us, it's just not the holidays til we hear this.  Memories of parachute pants, skinny headbands, giant earrings, and gargantuan shoulder pads.  Ahh.  Good times.

Christmas Wrapping
The Waitresses

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 2

I love Christmas.  I love the idea of transformation.  Scrooge, George Bailey, Grinch -- they ring true in my heart. Hope triumphing over cynicism.

That's why one of my favorite Christmas songs is a little known one -- Christmas, by Blues Traveler.  It's honest and it's real, and I can see it laid out and performed as a one-song opera.  Do you ever do that?  Do you ever hear a song and you can just see it performed, stage musical style?

If I had a church of my own and a corral of talented, willing folks, here's what I'd do:

Singer 1: cynical, disillusioned
Singer 2: the teacher

Blues Traveler 
Words by J. Popper Music by T. Anastasio and J. Popper

Singer 1:
Comes the time for Christmas
And I really have to ask
If this is feeling merry
How much longer must it last

I wish a one horse open sleigh
Would come carry me away
But I've been waiting here all day
And one just hasn't come my way

Now excuse me if I'm not being reverent
But I was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me
Save me from my righteous doubt as I watch helpless
And everybody sings

Choir (with joy):
If it's Chanukah or Kwanza
Solstice, harvest or December twenty-fifth
Peace on earth to everyone
And abundance to everyone you're with
Laha da da da da da
Da da da da da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da da
Laha da da da da
Laha da da da da

Singer 2 detaches herself from choir and crosses to Singer 1, singing:

Comes the time for Christmas
And as you raise your Yuletide flask
There's like this feeling that you carry
As if from every Christmas past

It's as if each year it grows
It's like you feel it in your toes
And on and on your carol goes
Harvesting love among your woes

Singer 1, singing to Singer 2:
I want to buy into the benevolent
And I was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me
Make me know what it's about
As the longing in me makes me want to sing

Singer 2 and Choir:
Noel or Navidad
Season celebration or just the end of the year
Christmas can mean anything
And I mean to keep its hope forever near
Laha da da da da da
Da da da da da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da da da
Laha da da da da
Laha da da da da

Singer 1:
As if a cold and frozen soul is warm to love
By love's own hand

Singer 2:
So goes the prayer if for a day peace on earth
And good will to man

Singer 1:
At twenty below the winter storm it billows

Singer 2:
But the fire is so warm inside
And the children while nestled in their pillows
Dream of St. Nicholas's ride

And how the next day they'll get up and they will play
In the still falling Christmas snow
And together we'll celebrate forever

Singer 1, interrupting:
In defiance of the winds that blow

My god in heaven now I feel like I'm seven
And spirit calls to me as well
As if Christmas had made the winter warmer
Made a paradise from what was hell

Both Singers:
As if a cold and frozen soul is warm to love
By love's own hand

Choir Crosses to Singers, singing with them:
So goes the prayer if for a day peace on earth
And good will to man.......

 (Rounds of the song, sung over each other by all)

Singer 1, (all by himself, smiling)
I wish a one horse open sleigh would come carry me away
And I'll keep waiting through next May
Until Christmas comes my way

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 1

Latke Clan - the Lee Vees

It's funny but not mocking, it manages to pull together the homey feeling without having that manufactured sound.  It's sweet.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving and The Real

Little Wren gets it.

When a Christmas commercial comes on the TV, she begins yelling urgently, "Change it, change it, change it!"  Then she puts her hands on her hips, all righteous indignation, and demands of the TV, "What about Thanksgiving???  Let us have Thanksgiving!"


I love Thanksgiving.  It's just so much more real than Christmas, you know?  It's forgetting the rolls, and fretting about the frozen turkey, and balancing the holiness of pausing with family and friends to express gratitude and celebrate abundance ... with The Big Football game.

Well, that's how I grew up.

You can see this mix of reality and nostalgia in some Christmas songs, some Christmas movies ... but it's part and parcel of every Thanksgiving movie.  "Home for the Holidays," "Pieces of April," and the ultimate Thanksgiving show, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

There's no magical handwaving that results in a puny tree being transformed to a lush one here. Instead, it's someone who doesn't know how to cook making a feast of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans, and ice cream sundaes, and serving it on a ping-pong table for a bunch of ingrates who weren't invited in the first place. 

Thanksgiving is about all our great intentions.  That sometimes go terribly wrong.

Thanksgiving isn't about miracles.  Thanksgiving is about the real.  And being thankful for it, in all it's broken messy glory.  And loving each other, in all our broken messy glory.
Mr. Larson: Dear Lord, we realize that lately everything’s changing too fast. And all sorts of things are always the same — even things we hated, like shoveling the turkey and stuffing the snow and going through the same crap year in and year out ...

Mrs. Larson: The food is getting cold.

Mr. Larson: As I was saying, dear Lord, before my wife interrupted me. Give me those old-fashioned pain-in-the-ass traditions like Thanksgiving, which really mean something to us, even though goddamit, we couldn’t tell you what it is ...

Monday, November 15, 2010

What is a Unitarian Universalist?

Edit:  This post is in response to the UU Salon's November Question:  What is a Unitarian Universalist?

Boy, this is something I've given a lot of thought to, gone back and forth on.
  • To recognize anyone who self-identifies as a UU, as a UU, is too broad for me.
  • To refuse to recognize anyone who is not currently a member of a UU congregation, as a UU, is too restrictive for me.
To explain:

The Potential UU

I met someone recently who self-identified as a Unitarian Universalist.  How exciting!  We got to talking, and although I found her a fabulous person, who has the potential for being a UU, I would not describe her as being one currently.  Why?
* she had never joined a UU church
* she had only visited a UU church once; found that congregation disorganized, and never visited another
* she had never read anything substantive about Unitarian Universalism
* knew nothing of our history or theology

All that she knew was that we were not Christian and had freedom of belief.  She also likes New Thought, Unity, etc.  I suggested she take that beliefnet test, not because it's a significant arbiter of religious belief, but just as a starting point.  Her top was UUism, followed by some of the usual suspects.

So, I believe she has great potential to be a Unitarian Universalist.  However, I do not believe she is a Unitarian Universalist.

And on the other side:  Unitarian Universalist as Identity

I was born into this religion.  Its values are so deeply ingrained in me, they are a part of my identity. Isn't that something we want with our children?  Not to raise them in a way that Unitarian Universalism is not merely a choice of churches in the area, but something that becomes part of their DNA, that affects how they see the world, a way of being?  Progressive, missional Christianity struggles with this; I think we should, too.  What is Unitarian Universalism itself?  Is it a system of beliefs/non-beliefs, the club we belong to at the moment, a history, or a way of life?

For my children, for myself, I want it to be a way of life.  The Way of Unitarian Universalism.

Then, too, there is this:

Ordination vs. Membership

At some point in the foreseeable future, I hope to be fellowshipped, then ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister. Once I am, unless de-fellowshipped, I am forever an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister.  Even if I do not have a church, I will be recognized as a UU minister, by other churches, by my colleagues, by our association.

So how can we say that once a UU minister, always a UU minister, but once a Unitarian Universalist ... "well, only so long as you maintain membership in a UU church." ?

Now, balancing back the other way ... there sure is a lot more involved in becoming that UU minister.  An M. Div. degree, CPE, internship, numerous gatekeeping functions throughout the fellowshipping process and you're still not an ordained UU minister until a congregation makes you one.

Contrast that with:  come forward in a service (perhaps you didn't even have to attend a new member class), sign your name in a book, hear some pretty words (but you probably don't have to state any words of commitment), receive a carnation.  Back to your seat, now.  You're a member of our congregation and hence, a Unitarian Universalist.

So, do we just leave it like that?  Easy in, easy out?  No real commitment required from you to become a UU, but your identity as such is just as ephemeral?

I do not attempt to answer here what a Unitarian Universalist is.  I will answer what I would like a UU to be.  For this, I've thought about other religions -- to be recognized a Catholic, you've gone through rigorous religious education, baptism.  To be recognized a conservative Jew, you've gone through rigorous religious education, a test that you must pass, a ritual bath, a ritual circumcision or symbolic blood-letting.

I'm not proposing we embrace the latter.

What I would like to see --

A Unitarian Universalist has:

* Taken classes in Unitarian Universalism: history, theology, polity
* Been encouraged to journal/pray/meditate/study how this fits with their personal journey
* Taken classes that specifically deal with their local church: its history, mission, what will be expected of them, and what they should expect in return.
* Had a one-on-one conversation with the church minister or the membership person (who takes their position seriously) about why they want to join the church, why they want to be a Unitarian Universalist, and how they will live under the church's covenant.
* Joined a Unitarian Universalist church -- both receiving and giving words of covenant and commitment.

Just as when a church ordains me, that ordination will be recognized by other churches, even after I leave the ordaining church, so should the identity of one as a Unitarian Universalist be honored even if one leaves their "conversion" church. 

(They still fall under the rules governing membership in joining a different UU church -- still need to learn about that church, its covenant, have the conversation, and go through a joining ritual -- but their identity as a Unitarian Universalist remains in effect until they say, "Nay.")

Monday, November 01, 2010

Good news

Little Warrior had scans today.  Big scans.  2 year scans.

And we got those three letters we hold so dear.  N.E.D.  No Evidence of Disease.

On one hand, this is not a huge deal.  It gives no promise against relapse.  But on the other hand, it's a pretty big deal.  2 years off-treatment is a milestone.  She doesn't have to go back for 6 months.  Since she was 7 months old and first diagnosed, this will be the longest stretch she has ever gone without seeing her oncologist, with two months to spare.

Back when she was an infant and we had never heard of Wilms' Tumor, I referred to her on this blog as The Wren.

LW:  Little Wren.  I think we'll transition to that, now. 

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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Bald Woman's Penseive

 Random thoughts on it all

* I wondered if I would get emotional when my head was shaved.  Not at all.  I was the first to go and it was so hot, I couldn't wait to get that mop off.  Plus, all eyes were on me, so my inner master-of-ceremonies took over, keeping a running commentary.

* Afterwards, someone handed me a mirror.  My first thought was, "Oh! That's still my familiar face!"  I think that I anticipated the change being so dramatic, I would no longer look like myself.  Well, of course I looked exactly like myself, just with no hair.

* Every shavee had a reason to be there.  Some of those reasons would break your heart.

* ...Like the cancer survivor who is currently on treatment, but who wasn't experiencing any hair loss.  He was one of our firefighters.  Weak from treatment, had to get out of the heat -- but still came to be a shavee and raise money for childhood cancer research.

* Way more people came out just to be there and support us than I imagined.  They cheered, gave more money, took pictures, and told us we were heroes.  What I neglected to say then, that I regret -- that they are heroes, too.  Reaching in to your pocketbook can be just as much of a challenge to some as getting your head shaved is for others.

* UU ministers are insanely generous.  And the IRS has the proof.

* Ditto some of you layfolks and seminarians.

* I have not experienced one single second of regret about shaving my head.

* You really do lose 90% of your body heat through your head ... unless it's sunny.  Then your head becomes a solar panel.

* Counting all the checks and cash, the event raised over $14,000.  I expect it to hit $15K by final tally.  (Not too late to contribute.)

An interesting juxtaposition:

* An amazing amount of people who know me have taken the time to give me very sweet compliments. 

* But in the grocery store, strangers won't meet your eye.  They see the bald head then quickly look away.  To think of a sister with cancer pulling up her energy to go to the store, then getting that ... I'm so sorry. 

* Speaking of that ... I'm wearing a pin that says, "Ask me why I'm bald."  No one has.  (I'm not surprised.)

* Out on the trail around "my" pond, a fisherman smiled and held my gaze.  Yep.  That's how we are.  Bald woman?  Whatevv.  But are they biting and what kind of bait are you using?

* The one thing I really didn't expect ... shavees coming up to me and emotionally thanking me for the chance to do this.  They thanked me for the chance to shave their heads and nag their friends for money.  That, friends, is pretty high on the "I'm not worthy" experience list.  Beyond humbling.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Losing Hair, Gaining Much

Supposedly Luther once wrote, "I have so much to do (today) that I should spend the first three hours in prayer."  Well, I have so much to do today that I should spend ... well, a bit of time ... in blogging.

Tomorrow is our St. Baldrick's event.  At this point, sitting down to be shaved sounds like bliss.  At that point, everything will be underway, the work will be done.  All done but the shaving and sweeping.

This has been quite the experience for me, and frankly, one that took more "bravery" than agreeing to shave my head.  I organized this event.  

The tests they make you take, if you're pursuing ministry, all show me to be an extravert, and most people who know me would probably agree with that assessment.  Certainly The very introverted Husband would.

But being extraverted doesn't necessarily mean that one feels comfortable contacting strangers, asking for favors.  Come those days, and I was a bunny wabbit in the headlights.

I've done it now.  It's not huge, but we will surpass our goals. I asked, and got a bunch of firefighters and a venue and some people willing to shave their heads.

Actually, scratch that last part.  Other than Father Mac and the firefighters, I didn't ask anyone to shave their heads.

And there's a pretty good lesson there.

People talk about leadership.  If you're going into ministry, they want to know, "Will people follow you?"

No.  I don't believe so.

I don't believe people follow a person.  I believe people follow a mission, an idea, a goal.  If they believe in the idea, and they trust the person, they will walk together toward that goal.

No one would shave their heads just because I was.  No one.

But they believe in the cause.  Many of them have heard a story.  For some of them, they heard Little Warrior's story.  And so they said, of their own volition, "I will shave my head."  Each one of them has their own story, and their own reason to do this.  They dared to think, "I can make a difference."

Every one of them is a hero.

I have gained so much in this.  The next time, I will feel comfortable -- well, more comfortable -- going and asking for help.  Because the world taught me that I can.  I was not slapped down.  I was not made to feel like a fool.  The world -- you -- said, "Great idea."  Here's a venue.  Here's some money.  Here's some publicity.  Here's my head - shave away.

I have been "emboldened by faith."

Will I do this particular event again?  Mmm, I don't know.  I picked this time to stand for a cause dear to my heart, childhood cancer research, because it might be the last time I can.  I do CPE next summer -- my hair will be grown out.  Next, if all goes well, comes graduation, internship ... I have no wish for this to become my identity, "Cancer Mom."  I am grateful to those who take up the mantle, and I will always carry my membership card in my wallet, but I don't believe it is my calling to always wear the tshirt. 

I have another mission and another ministry.  Very bluntly and with total humility to the task, I feel called to love the hell out of the world.

This was just one step.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Hair

One week from right-now-this-second, I will be bald.

It would be disingenuous to act like this hasn't affected me at all. Okay ... it would be a big fat whopping lie. I would love to be one of those cool-as-a-cucumber types, "Eh, it's just hair," giving no more thought to it, and instead focusing my brain energy on the best way to provide nutritional supplementation to starving children or how to build vertical gardens to save land.

But it's taken up a sizable beanbag in my brain, popping up every now and then to say, "You do know you won't be able to wear pigtails, if you got a yen."  And then I remind myself that in the last 15 years of having long hair, I've never once had a yen to wear pigtails.

I have a seminary friend -- male -- who cut off his waist-length dreads last year.  He did so because he felt he needed to look more conservative.  Kind of funny, we agreed, that me doing the same thing will mean that I look more liberal.

Being a mom-in-tennis-shoes with long hair, usually clamped up in a bun, has given me a fair amount of anonymity.  I'm a mom.  I look like a mom.  A conservative one, at that.

But now ...


It will be interesting seeing the reactions to a bald woman.  Already, the reactions to my impending shave have been quite interesting.  One woman from my church said she thinks I'm the bravest woman she's ever met.  She said it with sincerity.  And she was talking exclusively about me shaving my head.

Okay, so at that point, I do become the "It's just hair!" person.  I mean, really.  It's not like I'm removing something that won't regenerate.  Bravest?  No.  Not even a little.  I know people who are brave.  Volunteer firefighters and people who do work in the inner city and my sister-in-law, who travels by herself into Mexico for her environmental work.  And trains as a mountain guide in Ecuador.  That's brave.

Hair?  Not so much.

I'm a little scared, but not so much about not having hair.  My life has so much going on right now, 4 kids, three schools, 1 seminary, traveling husband ... a little simplicity, even if it's just in the shower, sounds great. 

I'm a little scared ... oh, I hate to admit this ...

I'm a little scared of what I don't know.  My head.  I have no idea what my head looks like -- do you, yours?  I blame Shel Silverstein and reading Where the Sidewalk Ends at an impressionable age.
I thought that I had wavy hair
Until I shaved. Instead,
I find that I have straight hair
And a very wavy head. 
So, a week from now, I'll know.  Bumpy head, birthmarks, moles, all will be revealed.

Still taking donations, and thank you!  DONATE TO ST. BALDRICKS

Thursday, September 09, 2010

but the flesh is weak

At my seminary, classes are done in complete blocks.  So, rather than a 3 hour class meeting for one hour MWF, it meets for 3 hours, once a week.

I live about an hour away, depending on traffic, and have 4 kids in 3 different schools, so fitting these blocks around their comings and goings is a challenge.  The Husband and I decided I'd have one monster day, plus one morning that fits into when they're in school.  He makes it home by the time our Elementaries are getting out.  Have I mentioned how great it is to have a supportive partner who has a somewhat flexible schedule?

Anyway, Wednesdays are a long day.  I love the individual parts, but ...

I begin with a 4 hour class, that's broken up in the middle for Chapel, making for a 4 1/2 hour block.  Christian Spirituality.  Love, love, love the class, highly participatory, love the professor.

Lunch.  Then History of Christianity, 3 hours. Really love the professor -- he's the one who first introduced me to missional ecclesiology.  He's one of the reasons why the seminary I attend today is very different than the seminary I started with.  (But still the same seminary.)  He'll point out (in this evangelical school) that "Various heresies forced the early church to articulate the truth more precisely.  Sometimes too precisely – they were articulating things they didn't have the biblical basis to make." 

But it's a straight lecture class.  Type, type, type, faster faster faster!

Then Research Methods, 3 hours.  Team taught, and I'm geeky enough that I enjoy it.  Love picking up new tips.
When doing a critical book review, make notes on your inside cover as you go along, with page numbers, e.g. "Unclear writing, pgs 24, 87, 123 ..."  That way, when you're done reading the book, you should be able to write your entire paper in about two hours.
I am, I must admit, a bit loopy by that class.  The iced Vietnamese coffee that I pack in a big mason jar probably doesn't help.

I get home about 8:30 pm.  Now the point of all this is not to complain ... hells-bells, I feel darn lucky for all of it.  But it has made me realize how much my physical situation affects my brain and spirit.

I get home ... I've loved all my classes.  And yet ... I don't want to be a minister anymore.  I don't want to be a wife or a mother anymore.  I'm usually starving, but don't want to eat.  Nothing is good, nothing is happy.  I'm irrational. "What, I'm going to shave my head???"  "My living room is a wreck and will never be clean again!"  Little things are overwhelming.  Overwhelmed, depressed, exhausted, but my mind is spinning and won't settle down.

Stressing may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

I wake up in the morning, even without a good night's sleep ... and it's all okay again.  It's now happened three weeks in a row, enough that I can draw a correlation.

We are animals.  Our physical state has great power over our minds and emotions.  Hormonal changes, being tired, not eating right ... we are, effectively, not in our right minds. 

As for me, I'm going to make a few changes.  Limiting myself to one afternoon coffee.  Making it a top priority to pack nutritious meals.  Drinking lots of water. 

And realizing that just as I don't take my 5 year old seriously when she's tired, I need to not take myself seriously, either.  "Go to bed and sleep it off," I tell myself.  "Things'll look better in the morning."

Because they probably will.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Saints and Poets and Friday Night Lights

Emily:  ... Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?
Stage Manager:  No -- Saints and poets maybe -- they do some.

It is Friday night.

You'll have to excuse me if I am particularly pre-nostalgic over the life I'm living right now.  It's just that it's the start of the school year, the fall, a little crazy, a little stressful, and utterly, utterly normal

God, normal tastes delicious.

But as I was saying ... It is Friday night.

The Boy is across town, playing sax in the high school marching band at a football game.

The Husband came home from work and the girls and I piled into his car.  Went to a local Tex-Mex hangout.  Husband has said he'll go pick The Boy up (probably about 11 pm) when they get back from the game, so I was free to have a happy hour margarita.  Whoo-hoo!  It comes in a glass so heavy I'm afraid to pick it up and happily, tastes of fresh lime juice rather than the pickled taste of mixer.  Thank you, Jesus, for good margaritas.  And by Jesus, I mean the man behind the bar, Hay-zeus.

Chili con queso and chips and crispy beef tacos (with potato) and cheese enchiladas with chili gravy.  And a short Mexican man with a keyboard, playing -- I do not lie -- The Macarena, followed by "You Sang to Me."  LW gives her daddy Big Huge Eyes behind her glasses and cons him into going over and dancing with her.  He's a sucker for all of his kids.  His wife, too.

Friday night.  The restaurant is crowded and it seems like there are high chairs at just about every table.  The Princess and The Husband are teasing each other now, and for the millionth time, I threaten to separate them.  "You're a bad influence on your father," I tell my eldest daughter.  She smiles proudly.

She and Bo Peep have both cleaned their plates.  I give them each a bite of my cheese enchiladas, off my fork.  "Hope none of us are sick," I mutter to The Husband. 

Well, if they get a bite, then LW wants a bite, even though she hasn't finished her own dinner.  I sigh, and give her the last piece.

I'm certainly not a saint, and not much of a poet.  And I disagree with Thornton Wilder.  I think most of us realize life.  Oh, okay, maybe not every, every minute.  But a whole lot of the time.

Give us a good margarita, some gooey yellow cheese spilling across brown chili gravy, and those Friday night lights, and we realize how good we have it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Welcoming Raised UUs

The Rev. Christana Wille McKnight wrote a guest post on the uugrowth blog and presented a workshop on the subject at GA 2010.  I wasn't there, but I saw the slideshow from the presentation.  It included a recommendation that we "Educate clergy, membership professionals and lay leaders about appropriate methods of integrating and welcoming raised UUs as adult members."


I vented recently on this subject and received some comments wanting to know more about being a raised UU.  I've written before about all the great things about being reared UU, so, okay.  Time to give a little of the other side.

First, a little bit about some of the negative that I've seen or heard about we "Cradle UUs" as adults.  Let me preface this by saying that though this is irritating when it surfaces, it's thankfully not a widespread issue, certainly nothing that I would consider to be a prejudice.  But it's popped up enough to prompt me to stand up and say, "Please do not continue."

What does it look like?  It looks like the people on the UU discussion lists (and even in a UU seminary class!) who say that they just don't have as much respect for those born UU -- they didn't have to work as hard to get here.

It looks like the curricula and surveys that assume anyone taking them came from another religion.

It looks like a minister who begins a sermon at a UU function with, "Everyone who was raised UU, please raise your hand."  Several of us do so.  Minister scans room and then says, "Me neither."

Ha, ha.  Yes, I get the joke.  But the message is, "I don't see you.  You are not one of us.  You are not a significant part of this religion."

The sermon continues, talking about how brave one must be to find this religion.  And I completely agree.


What is also brave is the kindergartener who is continually told that they are going to hell by their classmates.

The middle schooler who continues to patiently try and explain their religion to their friends.

We are called a chosen faith.  Here's the dill, pickles.  Even if you are raised Unitarian Universalist, this is a chosen faith.  Because we have been raised to go out into the world, explore it, explore our theological beliefs, and make a choice.  With my generation, frankly, I think our parents went a little too far with that.  "She can choose her religion when she grows up," was a statement heard far too often.  Well, of course your child can choose a religion as an adult.  Everyone can.  But sometimes our religious education was a little too heavy on preparing us to make this choice and a little too light on Unitarian Universalism as a way of life.

I'm thrilled that our modern religious education is rectifying that error.

So you've been raised in this religion.  I heard Gini Courter (raised UU) talk about how the one aspect of coming out as a lesbian that was no big deal was the "you're going to hell" part, because she'd already been hearing that one since kindergarten anyway!

In your own way, you've been fighting for religious freedom your whole life.  Explaining it, to kids, teachers, scout leaders, who asked you "What the heck is that?"  Trying to understand why Susie's mom won't let you come over anymore or the Smith family won't let you babysit.  Watching your friends have bar mitzvah parties, receive special Confirmation gifts from grandpa, birthday money from godparents.

You're a young adult, and you go to a UU church ... but you were always in the basement with the youth group, so the service is unfamiliar to you.

You visit other churches as you were trained to do.  Try different religions on for size.

You realize that being a Unitarian Universalist is not just a system of belief. Not just a covenant. It is part of your identity.

You come to church.  And the religious authority in the front says, "Who was raised UU?"  Excited, you raise your hand.

"Me neither," he says.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In my neighborhood

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day

We are very fortunate.  We live in a neighborhood.

My son got on his bus this morning.  High school is the first opportunity the kids have to ride a bus, though after one week, my son would scoff at the word "opportunity."  Builds character, Son.

After that, I hopped on my bike, with bike trailer, and rode LW to school.  It's just over half a mile away, plenty close enough to walk, but it's insanely hot right now.  In a couple of weeks, I'll have them out pushing the pavement.  Said Hello to Mr. G, the Crossing God, who asked about 'Peep.  He's the grandpa to one of the girl's friends, and has been there on the corner for about three years.   LW has been chatting with him during all that time.  If he hadn't been on the corner that first day, I'm afraid she would have just refused to begin kindergarten.

We go in to the cafeteria and LW goes up to Miss Lindy, the cafeteria monitor, who is grandma to one of The Boy's friends.  We see her at every band concert, and she comes to our Halloween party.  This morning, when LW was nervous about going to school without Bo Peep, her sisters reminded her that Miss Lindy would be there.  And that made it all okay.

Bo Peep is sick, so she stayed home.  After I got back, it was time for The Princess to hop on her bike and go around the corner to the middle school.  She'll wave at Mr. G as she goes past and he'll tell her to have a good day.  He means it, too.

I call the elementary school to tell them that Peep is sick and won't be in.  The lady at the desk, who lives two streets over, asks me to please tell Peep that she hopes she gets better soon.  I hear the school nurse in the background, who, because she kept up with LW's progress, knows us all so well that when one of mine winds up in her office, she'll call and say, "She says she's sick, but she seems okay to me.  Want me to just let her lie down for a few minutes?"  or "She's got that dull look in her eyes, I think she really is sick."

And then there's the man around the corner who runs the ice cream shop where we'll be having our St. Baldrick's event, and who gives afterschool jobs to 24 high-schoolers, and the mechanic who we actually trust, and all the neighbors in my cul-de-sac who we rode out Hurricane Ike with.

It is a privilege to live somewhere like this.  Where I know the people in my neighborhood.