Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Essay I Won't Be Sending the RSCC

In preparation for meeting with the RSCC (no, I don't have a date ... the spring ones were filled by October, so I'm patiently waiting for the next round), I've been working on my essays. One is How do I hope to serve the UU movement?

I worked on it for a bit, and then realized that I wasn't really reaching deep and getting my truth out. So I put that document aside, and said, "Okay, forget writing in a professional way. It's time to get down and dirty, because LE, you need to know for yourself the real answer to this question. This one ain't for the RSCC -- it's for you."

So ... I'm sharing my answer. I'd love to know what it is you wish to serve. And how.


How do I hope to serve the UU movement? How do I hope to serve the UU movement? By pouring my time, energy and soul into making us something other than a “non of the above” option for those who want to be around like-minded people, want their kids to learn something innocuous about religion, but don’t want to actually, you know, have to drive too far or give too much or change.

I want to be an apostle, rooted in the challenging values of Unitarian Universalism, who knocks on doors, and rolls up her sleeves, and sweats and cries and works her ASS off, because this is a *&$!! hard religion to be in. Things that Jesus said, like how not one single sheep is expendable and we’re supposed to give and give and give and then give some more – Unitarian Universalism is about that kind of thing, and we don’t get the easy out of spouting a sentence and knowing then that we’re saved. Because we know down deep in our heart of hearts that salvation is an ongoing process and we are responsible both for saving others and allowing ourselves to be saved, because when we allow someone else to save us, we’re granting them salvation, too. And it’s all mixed up and mashed around and it’s hard hard HARD but not only is the end result one of joy, the process itself can be full of joy.

We each are born with a soul, intact, and ready, but we have to strengthen those souls. They need some nurturing, but they also need some work blisters, because that’s how they grow and expand, and get stronger.

And so my job is to minister. Which means holding someone in my arms whose heart is breaking, and sobbing with her. And lifting up a new baby, a new member, a new marriage, a new adult and saying, THIS is a holy time and a celebration, and consecrating the moment. And pushing someone when they’re ready to hop into a new phase of understanding, but they just keep dipping their toe in, again and again and again. And grabbing someone by the coattails when they feel they’re about to blow away. And standing up in the pulpit and telling an entire community that THIS is who we are and THIS is what we’re supposed to do and GO OUT and fill in the details yourselves because YOUR details will not be the same as HIS details, just be sure to come back and tell us about all those details YOU discovered because your details just might be exactly the details that SHE has been searching for, but didn’t know where to look.

How do I hope to serve the UU movement? With all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, because anything less would be cheating myself, my friends, my family, my church, all the people who have molded and shaped me, given me their attention, their love, their criticism, and their tortilla soup.

And I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet. It’s going to take a lot of passion and energy and it’s going to mean that I swing for the fences, knowing that sometimes I am going to crash and burn in phenomenal failures. I sympathize with Noah’s God, just toss them all away and start fresh, but I don’t think that’s fair to the people who are already dedicated UUs who want to do great things and are just itching for the chance. I have visited many UU churches and I have yet to walk into one where I did not LOVE the people in them, cranky, change-averse, and obstinate though they might be. Because they are Unitarian Universalists and at the end of the day, they want a world where everyone is fed, clothed, educated, and cared for. They want to live with the privilege of the “illimitable mind.” They want justice and fairness and heavenly earth. They want The Kingdom of God even if they choke on the word God and try to replace Kingdom with a more gender- and democratically- inclusive word.

They are my people and together, with all the others who we just have to reach out to, just have to prove a little of ourselves to, we CAN build a world. Because it’s not enough to serve the “UU Movement.” I, and they, are here to BUILD a world and SERVE a world.

So, there, that’s how I’m going to “serve the UU movement.” I’m going to help BUILD a world, and SERVE a world, and most of all, LOVE THE HELL out of this world.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mob mentality and TV "Authority"

Patrick Murfin has a great post about the Tea Party participant who mocked the man with Parkinson's.

Meanwhile, I've been reading about the documentary everyone in France is talking about:
Eighty people who thought they were participating in the shooting of a pilot for a French reality series were willing to deliver potentially lethal electric shocks to a contestant who had incorrectly answered knowledge questions, according to the documentary, "The Game of Death," airing on French TV on Wednesday night...

In "Zone Xtreme," the faux contestants who gave all the wrong answers were actually actors. Each "contestant" was strapped into an electric chair. The 80 wannabe famesters were each asked to punish the contestant, when a wrong answer was given, by administering up to 460 volts of electricity. The majority of them ignored the contestant's screams and obeyed the orders of the weather-chick hostess to ratchet up the jolt. They also obeyed the chant of "Punishment!" from the studio audience -- which did not know the game show was a fake -- until the contestant fell silent and appeared to have died. Only 16 contestants walked away, according to press reports.

The idea for the show came from the work of psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted the experiment at Yale University in the 1960s. Milgram found that most people, if pushed by an authority figure, would administer ostensibly dangerous electric shocks to another person. His experiment became famous, having been conducted at the same time as the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

"People never would have obeyed if they didn't have trust," Nick was quoted as saying in the paper's Wednesday edition. "They told themselves, 'TV knows what it's doing.'"

"People were convinced that they'd never succumb to this — and then they discovered they did it in spite of themselves," Nick told The Associated Press in an interview, referring to the participants. "They were stupefied."

Said the Tea Partier, "I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can't explain it any other way."

Facebook as a Spiritual Practice

Dontcha just love it when it seems like you and others you know are all thinking the same things at the same time? I've been ruminating on how much I like Facebook, and how it has become a part of my daily routine, and then iMinister posts so eloquently about why ministers should be on Facebook.

For me, Facebook is like the lounge that was at my college dorm, except without time. I poke my head in and look around -- a friend may not literally be on Facebook at the same time as I, but she has left a status, so she is still "there." I comment back to her, and so even though we're going in two directions at once, we are "meeting" in the lounge.

But ... spiritual practice?

Well, perhaps in the context of those who say they are "spiritual but not religious," I should say that Facebook is a religious practice to me. It is where I connect with others, on a routine basis.

I pop in, in the morning. I see who has what kind of day planned. For some, it is day in which they need more strength. I say a little prayer for them. Whether the prayer does anything for them ... eh. What is important is that I feel more connected to them. And when it is someone who I know takes strength from the prayer of others, I tell them.

For others, it's more routine, and we swap info back and forth. Hey, try this kind of cloth diaper! And have you tried the low carb bagels?

Some are inspiring, like iMinister's I Ching twitters. Or Rev. Sean's quotes.

And I post. Sometimes a quote, sometimes an "I'm off to ..."

Every now and then through the day, I check in, popping my head into the lounge. Sometimes just for a quick look around, but occasionally a ripping conversation will catch my eye, and I have to give my 2 cents, not even worth that much.

It's a magic way of seeing how parallel so many of our lives are. Christmas morning, many of us logged on to say what was happening at our homes. It just takes a minute, and we are connected. Saturdays, there are often quite a few ministers and seminarians in da house, getting sympathy for sermons unwritten. We touch base, go away, come back to compare notes, back to work, then finally post, "It's done! I can go out and play now!"

Sunday morning Facebook ... oh, there's my joy. Oh so briefly, because there are great works to be done, we check in. My AME and Baptist sisters and brothers, other UUs. We are off to church, ready to raise the roof, ready to do some preaching, ready to hear some wisdom. Praise be! Happy Sabbath!

Yes. I consider Facebook to be a spiritual, religious practice.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


It is after midnight.

My papers due this week are done.

Everyone is asleep. Except me.

And now I can cry.

Along with the other Wilms' mothers, I have been effectively standing vigil. Two of our precious, human, funny, wonderful children are dying.

We know the routine, now.

It begins with "it's not working."

And then goes to, "We're not sure what to do, we have a meeting scheduled with the doctors to discuss our options."

And then, the one that rips a new gash in all our hearts. "They say there's nothing left to do."

And we begin standing vigil. Through the good days and bad days. Sometimes long, sometimes impossibly short. Through calling hospice. And trying to make their child comfortable. Through, "Grandma stayed home with her today so we could go make plans at the funeral home."

Through, "It's getting so hard. We just want him to not be in pain."

And then we check, and the email has come. It is over.

"She has earned her wings," some say. Or "He has won his fight with cancer. Now he's in Heaven."

And some just say that they are gone.

Those who are not in the club often can't understand. "Why do you do this to yourself?" we are asked by our family or friends. They don't understand that we are family. And we are witnesses. And it is a sacred duty.

And at midnight, when everyone else has gone to bed ... we weep.

And get up in the morning to stand vigil again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Church Plants - Where and Why?

The BFF-DRE and I have a question.

Do you know of any UU churches that were planted in the last 20 years that were not planted as a function of "we want a UU church that is more convenient to us."?

(Other than Micah's Porch and A Third Place.)

Edited to add: (And other than all of the UU Albuquerque satellite churches.) Kit's already mentioned some congregations planted as outreach churches. Keep 'em coming. And if they were deliberately planted in low-income areas, let me know that, too.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A snappy new day

"It's such a good feeling ...."

After a somewhat stressful morning -- they went back and redid scans, I swear the techs wouldn't meet my eyes, so you know my stomach was churning -- we finally got the news.


No Evidence of Disease.

So many friends were along with us, checking my incessant tweets. (I ask you -- "Living on a Prayer" done as music therapy on the pediatric cancer floor? Really?) And we are celebrating tonight. Not just the good news, but all the love. As Rev. Sean said, Ice Cream for Everyone!

Friday, March 12, 2010

So, it's that time again

So ... life is good. Seminary is good. My parents come in town today. They haven't seen their grandkids since last July. Spoiling will ensue. Spring Break starts today. I'm planning for a wedding. (as an officiant. I'm not quite at Mother of the Bride stage yet.)

And ...

Scans are Monday. Early early.

4 months have gone by, and here we are again. By Tuesday, our lives could completely change again. God, it freaks me out just to write that. Is there a superstition that I shouldn't acknowledge it?

By Tuesday, we could be celebrating in a big way. Wood, salt ... really, where is the Letitia Baldridge Guide to Superstitions that Will Protect You Against Cancer when you need one?

Some things put me in a pretty good place. Three of the folks just a few months or a year ahead of us, on the same treatment protocol, came back recently with clear scans.

But I'm also carrying around some grief. Long time Wilms' friends, who have reached the end, no more treatment, and are figuring out how to meaningfully and lovingly navigate their children's last days. With one, I share When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love. She thanks me, said it was just what she needed.

They teach me lessons I pray to my depths that I will never use.

Life is messy and all mixed up mashed together. "To Do" list for today includes 1) vacuum house, 2) Do SKSM reading, 3) Email bride/groom, 4) Find BFF-DRE's bday present, 5) cry.

So, I've blogged, shed a few tears. Time to go vacuum. Shoot, I forgot to put "eat lunch" on that list...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Birditarian Birdaversalists

And what prompted the story of the Penguins and Purple Martins:

Two seemingly related worlds sharply diverging from each other.

Purple Martin World: UU seminary/ministerial world. Here, everyone I run into – UU seminarians, UU ministers, UU professors – would agree that the number one mission in a UU church should not be community. It should be a result, not the raison d'ĂȘtre.

Penguin World: small minister-less UU churches who agree that their number one mission is community.

(Yes, there may be UU ministers who don’t fit Purple Martin World and small minister-less UU churches who don’t fit Penguin World. But these are what I have had experience with.)

On Facebook, I reposted a quote I saw on Peacebang’s status:

"Transforming Congregational Culture" by Anthony B. Robinson: "Too many churches have adopted as their implicit purpose the maintenance of a congenial community for their members."

A member of Penguin World posted:
“And this is wrong because …………….?”

Ms. Kitty responded:
I think "Community" is only one of the reasons for being a church. Without a common purpose that is larger than "community", a congregation will be hard-pressed to really be a community. Our churches need to be striving for something larger, like feeding the poor or housing the homeless or working for justice.
And more folks responded, the majority of them revealing whether they live in Penguin World or Purple Martin World.

At the same time, I was talking to someone helping a Penguin congregation figure out their values. Their top 3 values are all permutations of inward “community.”

Two different understandings about the purpose of church.

Rosemary posted:
Sad Story.
These poor penguins did want to fly but they didn't have the wings...

And poor Rev Purple Martin who now has a mess on her hands....

Can the Association of Birditarian Birdiversalists do a better job of preparing Rev Purple Martin to understand and navigate congregational dynamics?

Love that!

But I have to argue with point 1 … the penguins didn’t want to fly, not for some selfish reason, but because in their world, that’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to swim.

So I think that in answering the greater issue: what do we do about these penguins and purple martins? -- we have to address both sides.

  • Yes, the Birditarian Birdiversalists need to prepare Rev. Purple Martin in understanding the difference between a Penguin church and a Purple Martin church, and how to better navigate, teach, work with, etc, her beloved Penguins.
  • AND, the Birditarian Birdiversalists need to discover how can they affect the evolutionary process of the birds. Because it’s an evolution. In this metaphor, the penguin and the purple martin both start as the same thing, but they evolve in different ways. Is there a way for new church start-ups, the ones who say they want to be minister-led, to evolve with wings? Wouldn’t that work better than try to figure out how to retrofit them with wings later on?
Is anyone else envisioning Opus lighting a chalice at Bloom County UU Fellowship?

Now, I am revealing what world I identify with, in that there is an assumption on my part that it is better to "fly" than to "swim." Yup, I'll own that.

But you often can live for a long time just swimming and eating fish. Might not grow the flock much, but they could be content in their penguin-ness.

So I think we need to figure it out all around, own it, and move on. During search, don't tell the minister, "Sure, we want to fly!" if you want the benefits of flying, but don't actually want to fly. And minister, if you see that they are swimmers and don't want to change, are you sure you want to play the "I can change him after we get married" game?

But hey, I don't know. I'm still a Lizard Eater.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Penguins and Purple Martins

I believe a church evolves, just like animals do, albeit a lot faster.

A church that has evolved without a minister is a different animal than a church that has evolved with a minister. So the church without a minister has evolved into -- let's say, a penguin. And they look at themselves at say, Yes, this is what a church looks like, and this is what a church is supposed to do -- swim.

But they're not doing much growing, because all they do is swim and eat fish in their tiny little pocket of the world. So they hire a minister, who evolved to be a purple martin. And the martin says, Okay, it's time to fly! But the penguins look at her and say, "What are you talking about, birds are supposed to swim!"

The martin somehow manages to convince them to come up on the roof with her. They're looking a little leery, so she gets them to the edge and then pushes them off, expecting them to be like baby martins and open their wings and fly.

Splat splat splat.

They didn't evolve to fly.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Authentic Gift

I purchased “The Gift, Poems by Hafiz” translations by Daniel Ladinsky recently. I had for years been a fan, picking up stray poems here and there; I don’t know why I wasn’t prompted to buy one of the Hafiz books.

But I have it now, and love it. Even if

Makes me
In a peculiar sort of
Rhythm and

It puts my thoughts into a Hafiz-type meter, and even the words of my thoughts themselves seem affected.

I can’t read Hafiz
Without Weeping
I say to

These Words
Reach me on another level
My box of
Opens wide

It is not so much
That I
These poems
As I

I know there are those who quibble with Daniel Ladinsky’s interpretations (for interpretations are what he calls them, not translations); they say they are not authentic to the original.

To which I say, “Who cares?”

I respond to the words themselves, not to who wrote them.

A few years ago, many people fell in love with this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

It was often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela. Truth is, it was written by Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love. Oh, but it had so much more value when people thought it was written by Mandela!

I’ve seen the same happen over Oriah Mountain Dreamer. When they thought the writings were written by an old Indian man, they were treasures. But then they found out Oriah was a white middle class mom … oh no!

Phhbt, I say. Like the words or dislike the words for themselves.

And back into The Gift I go.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What Moves Us -- making it hit home

It's the details, good and bad, that bring our stories alive.

Sam Sanders talks about this in his article, Taking Black History Out of the Peanut Gallery. When we just talk about the positives, the over-arching accomplishments of our heroes, we're just reporting dry history.

It's those details that make stories come alive. And we have some fabulous stories in our UU history.

That's why I love, love, LOVE the new What Moves Us curriculum by Rev. Dr. Thandeka.

The program uses the stories of our theological forebears. But wait, don't change the channel yet. The purpose of the program is not to learn about the forebears. That's ancillary. The program is about going into your memories, your experiences, prompted by their stories. Finding out ... well, what moves you.

So, to do that, details of our forebears lives are brought out. They become alive. Learning that by age 9, Margaret Fuller would spend a grueling day having her head stuffed with knowledge, only to be awoken at night by her father who would make her come to his study and report everything she learned that day. You can see it -- the demanding father coming into her bedroom, intrusively waking her with a kiss on the lips, carrying her to his study and quizzing her about the day's lessons. It comes alive, warts and all.

I've mentioned before that, being a Southerner, I come from a long line of storytellers. My father integrated the stories he learned about the Unitarians into his rotation, and oh, how he would make them come alive. Michael Servetus was his favorite -- he related to a guy whom he said, "up until the end, still believed that if he and Calvin could sit down together and talk, he could persuade Calvin to his argument." Like other fathers telling ghost stories, he recounted how they strapped Servetus' book to his side, adorned him with a crown of thorns, and, on Calvin's orders, used green wood when they burned him at the stake, so as to make the misery last longer. I get chills just remembering it!

It's the details that catch hold of our imagination. Learning that Olympia Brown had a falling out with Susan B. Anthony, (whom we think of as such a militant feminist -- hmm), because the latter said that Brown should work for suffrage of both Negro and woman, not speaking one extra word on behalf of women. (Meanwhile, Brown was out on the circuit with Black men who spoke in favor of Negro suffrage, but not votes for women.) It was complex. Life is today, and it was yesterday. Simplifying the stories only renders them lifeless.

We are human, and we have weaknesses. Learning about the internal and external battles of our heroes, their clay feet, makes them relatable. Knock them off the pedestals so we can all reach them! It won't make us love them less, it will make us understand them more.