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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sacred Cow -- Karma

We have sacred cows in Unitarian Universalism, and right now, I believe the one treated with the most reverence is the concept of "karma."

We have youth programs that revolve around karma, it is regularly dropped into sermons and casual conversations.  From my experience, questioning people about their reverence for it is considered out of bounds.  In fact, when I have discussed my own feelings about it -- not in response to someone else's tenderly-held belief, but just speaking from my own experience -- the reaction has often ranged from "you just don't get it" to outright hostility.

It's a sacred cow, folks.

Hey, I was quite fond of it, too ... until I discussed it with someone who actually is a practicing Hindu.  And that made me confront the other side of the equation.

We're human.  We want to make sense of things.  We are all Job's friends, sitting around with him as he scrapes his sores with broken pottery, trying to figure out what he did to cause himself such misery.

Karma makes us feel good.  Because it takes an ounce of natural consequences, and expands it into a full-blown philosophy that allows us to feel that we have control over the events of our lives.

Look, if I walk around being nice to people, the natural consequence is that I have greater odds of people being nice to me.  That's not karma, it's predictable consequence.

Karma expands that into the metaphysical.  You do good, good things will happen to you.  You do bad, you will be punished by bad things.

Sound fine, right?

But if 1+1=2, we must be willing to accept that 2-1=1.  You can't just accept the first equation.

So ... if bad things happen to you, it's because of something you did. Either in this life, or a previous.
Soum Bunnarith, 41, (is) a former salesman whose wife blinded him with acid five years ago in a rage of jealousy. “I ask myself, ‘Why me?’ ” he said. “But then I think maybe I did terrible things in a past life, and that thought helps me to accept this.”
I was at a multi-faith dialogue dinner, and we were discussing "why bad things happen."  The example of a disabled, disfigured baby was brought up.  The Hindu at the table explained that they believe that is karma, that the baby was a terrible person in a previous life and now is receiving the consequences.

It's his fault.

Now, obviously, as a mother of a baby diagnosed with cancer at 7 months, I can't pretend this isn't personal for me.  But this is part of karma.  We can't dismiss substitutionary atonement with disdain and then turn around and only see karma as sunshine and rainbows.

Do I think you need to just reject karma?  No.  I think that living as if there will be consequences for all your actions/inactions, whether it's through karma, the three-fold law, judgement day, etc, can produce positive results.

But go deep.  Examine your belief.  Educate yourself about how it is applied in reality.  Look at not just the sunshine and rainbows, but also the acid burns and Down syndrome.  Poverty.  Abuse.  Caste.

Examine the differences in understanding about karma.  Buddhist karma is not that same as Hindu karma.  And "American karma" is a whole other concept.

No sacred cows.  Check the teeth.  Sometimes they bite.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Tomorrow, Little Warrior starts kindergarten.

I am indulging in some weeping, and watching old videos, in the perhaps vain hope that I will not be a weepy pile of goo tomorrow.  Or at least, not at the school.

When she had Cancer The First Chapter, diagnosed at 7 months old, the vision I held on to was very simple.  There is a hall with a railing upstairs that overlooks our living room.  In my imagination, I could see her, perhaps 2 years old, a barbie in each hand, trotting down that hall, following her older sisters.  In real life, she was just a baby.  Couldn't walk yet, and because of the expanding tumors, could no longer crawl.  I held to that vision.  Hoping for that.

I got that.  I have looked up from my living room chair to see her, grin on face, skipping across.  Some visions come true.

And now, 4 and a half years, and one more bout of cancer later, she is about to start kindergarten.  Until July, when her scans came back NED, I could never just say, "She'll be starting kindergarten in the fall."  It was always, "She'll be starting kindergarten in the fall ... we hope."  Or "knock wood."  Or "PLEASE."

My kid is a two-time cancer survivor.  As many times as I've said that, you'd think that I'd be able to wrap my head around it.  But I still can't.

The Husband has the same inability.  We look at pictures of LW during treatment -- that bald, eyelash/eyebrow-less little girl -- and can't completely integrate her with the bouncy, occasionally bratty, 5 year old in front of us.  "Whatever happened to that little bald child who used to live here?"

Conflicted is a good word, isn't it?  Because events and people are so rarely all one thing or another.  It makes sense that our feelings would follow suit.

Make no mistake, I am not at all conflicted about LW starting kindergarten.  Hey, she's also my 4th of 4.  This day has been a long one in coming.  Nothing but good on that.

But looking back at the hard times, it's not all bad.  Though the good about cancer doesn't even remotely outweigh the bad.  And as much as many people would like for there to be a "greater good" reason for it, I don't believe that.

But the truth is, because we were in the hospital, just us, Little Warrior and I spent a lot of "quality time" together.  One on one time, talking, reading books, playing, having tea.  We would make a tent in her hospital room, where no one else was allowed.  Just Mama and LW.

Tomorrow, she'll start kindergarten.  That was, at one time, a dream too far-off, too wonderful, too scary to hope for.  I did not envision it, because some part of me didn't believe it would happen.  Even in June, I wouldn't fully let my heart embrace it.

Tomorrow, it happens.  New shoes have been bought, pencils sharpened, clothes laid out.

Tomorrow, she starts kindergarten.

Monday Morning Update:  Yup.  I cried.  Luckily, she is used to Mom crying.  Didn't phase her.  "Bye!"

I SO am not doing officiating at any of my kids' weddings.  In fact, I even think I'll hire a stand-in for mother-of-the-bride/groom.

Did I mention that my oldest baby started high school today?  And The Princess started middle school?  The BFF-DRE is taking me out for coffee this morning.  Or a margarita, she said.  Whichever I need.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Join the Fun -- Virtually

For Ogre and anyone else who might be interested in Shaving the Way to a Cure, from afar:


And as I tell everyone (even Father Mac) -- Ye Gods, don't feel like you have to do this.   I'm crazy, that doesn't mean you have to be, too.  Make a donation and spread the word -- you're part of the team.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shave My Head!

I'm going bald.

Not slowly.  What I mean is, on September 25, I am going to have my head shaved to raise money for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
Volunteers shave their heads in solidarity with kids fighting cancer, and family and friends give generously - worldwide. The St. Baldrick's Foundation uses the donations to fund more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the United States Government.
I found a great place to host the event, a little ice cream shop around the corner with an awesome owner.  Come to find out, this isn't his first time to be involved in saving lives.  A few years ago, he did something far more dramatic -- he donated a kidney to a guy he knew.  Angels are everywhere.

Several of my friends are shaving their heads, too.  The Hysteric Cleric has two pots going at his church -- one for "shave" and one for "don't."  (I might have to tip the scales into the "shave" category.  Shhh, don't tell him.) Blowing my mind, several of my female friends are shaving their heads.

Are they crazy???

Being a female with long hair, I've gotten more than a few questions about why I'm willing to shave off my mane. 

Well, three reasons.  First, I look at Little Warrior, my little two-time survivor.  This second treatment regimen she got, it's a new development, just from the past few years.  And I can't help but think, you know, she might be here today because yesterday someone else was willing to shave their head.

And the second reason is completely self-serving.  I'm not very brave -- I'm just not.  And I'm self-conscious.  But I'd like to be the kind of person who'd be willing to shave my head for charity.  The quickest way I know to become that person ... is to shave my head.  And really ... it's just hair.

And the third reason ... because I'm tired of crying as yet another child "earns their angel wings."  We need more success stories. 

So, there you go.

Father Mac is getting his head shaved, too.  Good grief, he already has a buzz cut.  In one week, he'll be back to normal.  But he had to rib me some.  He emailed me:
OK, let me get this gay, er straight. You want a gay man to cut all his hair off. You might as well ask me to cut off another part of my anatomy that I am extremely fond of. What would my stylist Jose do??????? Do you even realize how much I spend in hair products every month? Sure, go ahead and send me a picture of your daughter when she was having chemo-I know how you operate.
 Well, heck.  If you're going to throw down a challenge like that ...  here's what I sent him:

Hey.  He started it!

(He'll be there.)

There are a lot of reasons to donate and get your friends to donate:

* Like Peacebang, you share a horror of hennaed hair.  (It's all coming off, baby!)
* You have a fetish for Demi Moore in GI Jane or Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3 or ... um, Jane Curtin in Coneheads.
* You know I'll be blogging about the adventures in being a bald woman without hair privilege.
* One blog sharing the blood and guts about childhood cancer is enough.  Prevent "cancer-mom blogging" by preventing childhood cancer.
* Because childhood cancer is different than adult cancer.  (Both suck, though.)
* Because you have a kid.
* Because you know a kid. 
* Because you were a kid.

And kids shouldn't get cancer.  All these years in cancer world, I haven't shaken that gut feeling.  It never became acceptable.  It never stopped seeming completely bizarre.  Kids shouldn't get cancer.  Period.

Oooh, now I'm going to have a great excuse to buy lots of hats.


(Just to be absolutely clear ... all donations go to the St. Baldrick's foundation, which gives grants for childhood cancer research.  No monies go to Lizard Eater, Little Warrior, nor their real-life alter-egos.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blogger Survey Questions

So the Blogger Survey questions are going around again, and I don't think I answered them the first time ...
  1.  Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?

    I have been blogging since 2004.  My "why" has changed, and continues to change.  I began blogging because I wanted to write about what seminary was like.  I really got into blogging when my baby daughter was diagnosed with cancer and it was better to scream into the blogosphere than my backyard.  Now I blog ... hmm, why do I blog now?  Sanity.  Both my own and my husband's, who would have to deal with me following him around the house verbally posting my thoughts to his ears otherwise.

  2. Who is your intended audience?

    Depends on the moment.  Mostly, Unitarian Universalists.  Sometimes, parents.  Other times, cancer parents.  A lot of time, the whole wide world.  But they don't seem to be listening.  Da noive.

  3. Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?

    Lizard Eater owns my blog. 

  4. How frequently do you post?

    Way too much or not enough, depending on who you are.  If I have 3 papers and a sermon due, probably about 10 times in one day.

  5. What is the tone of your blog?

    Indignant.  Navel-gazing.  Weepy.  Excited.  Naive.  Snarky.  Confused.

  6. What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?

    I monitor comments.  But my parents know where it is now, so I'm not sure I can maintain that it is a safe space.  For me, anyway.

  7. What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?

    I blog under a pseudonym.  It is also the worst kept secret within Unitarian Universalism.  And I'm okay with that.

  8. How do you respond to comments and email from readers?

    Sporadically at best.

  9. What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?

    Not to allow myself to begin writing "for" my audience.  e.g. If I know that you, whom I know in real life, are reading, it will affect how I write.  Hence, I maintain the facade of a pseudonym.  It is purely to try and trick me.  I'm quite gullible.

  10. What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?

    a) Getting to know other people through their blogs
    b) Getting to share my thoughts and my story -- knowing that if it bores my readers, that's okay, they don't have to pay attention
    c) Meeting the people that I've gotten to know through blogging
    d) Feeling that I'm not alone with my "crazy" thoughts about this crazy religion
    e) Learning from others' journeys
    f) Being in relationship with other bloggers. 

    You know, none of these things adequately express the most rewarding aspect.  The most rewarding aspect is love, plain and simple.  I've gone into hell and back and I have readers/friends who voluntarily walked with me.  As Auspicious Jots once said, "Don't ever let them say you can't find true love through the internet."  You can.  I have. 

  11. What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?

    First, read the uu blogs.  Get on uupdates.net and follow the links for a few weeks.  You'll see a myriad of ways it's done.  Leave thoughtful responses on their blogs.  Then start yours.  Be authentic.  Don't worry so much about the responses you'll get, worry about being true to you.  If you start feeling the need to impress others, walk away from the computer.

    Keep reading other blogs and commenting.  A blog without relationship isn't a blog -- it's a public journal.  The relationship is what transforms your writing, your blog, and (testify, Sister!) you.

  12. How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?

    My blog is successful because I keep wanting to write it.  Period.  I mean, ultimately, I'm not blogging because I think I have some great insight that will change the world, you know?  I'm blogging for me.  Blogging still feeds me.  Ergo, it's successful.  My most successful blog posts are those that kept me from sitting in a corner, sucking my thumb and beating my head against the wall.  Sometimes it's because of what I have written.  Sometimes it's because of the comments people leave.  "Salvation is not a solo act."  (Thandeka)

  13. What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?

    Never titled a post "How to kill your daddy."  I get hits off that every week, which is deeply disturbing and makes me wonder if I should contact the police.

  14. What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)


  15. Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?


  16. Do you track site traffic? How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?

    Occasionally.  And then I see how many people have found me through googling "how to kill your dad" and I go sit in a corner rocking back and forth with my thumb in my mouth.

  17. Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?

    I like the stuff through UU World.  They're good about tracking the conversations that go from blog to blog.

  18. Please write any additional comments or suggestions.

    Consider giving blogger a red dot to put on their name tags at UU events so we can identify each other. 

    Hey, that's not a bad idea.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Japanese Bowl

MonkeyMind and Celestial Lands have shared their favorite Peter Mayer songs, the ones that have affected them deeply.

I love both songs -- Holy Now and God is a River.  But my favorite is so personal, I can't hear it without tearing up.  Had I heard him sing it with no warning, he would have been killing me softly with his song, telling my whole life with his words.

Of course, remembering how I first heard of it also makes my eyes wet.

The BFF-DRE was at a Peter Mayer concert. She called me, weeping.

The BFF-DRE doesn't weep.  Oh, privately, sure.  But she's made of sterner stuff, good midwest steel stock. 

"He's singing your song," she sniffled.  And then something about Japanese bowls and scars. 

The song hadn't been released yet, but he was playing it, and explaining it, at this concert. 

When his last album came out, I could hear it.  And I weeped.  For me, for everyone, because we all have our scars.  We worry that these scars make us "less than."  Not whole.  Broken.

Readers of this blog know I have wrestled with how open I could be, in my non-blog life, about our time in cancer land.  This song helped ease that struggle.  I do not want my identity to be "cancer mom," but neither do I have to deny or whitewash the experience.

So now every old scar shows
From every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be

But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a much higher price
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine ... of gold.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why I Live, or "The Time of My Life"

Why do I live?

Last week, I was at a UU summer conference with a few hundred of my bestest friends.  Gentle Giant, a member of my home church, proposed that we have an impromptu “Deep Listening” covenant group while there.  We did, and it was wonderful.  Want one every time, from now on.  Such a smart guy.

Anyway, I was the de facto facilitator of the group, and charged with coming up with each day’s question.  I unapologetically cribbed from my uusalon partner, Earthbound Spirit, and presented this month’s question – Why Do You Live?

For a while, the group answered in fairly predictable ways – for our kids, because existence is what we do, etc.

At some point, however, the conversation changed.  We put it more in the context of the movie clip – life and death.  If you were in that situation, where someone kept trying to kill you, would you live?  Why?

We realized that right now, each of us in the group is in a position to simply live because living itself is so wonderful, so delicious.  Of course we live.

We veered into more serious avenues, such as being in a Jewish concentration camp.  One person admitted he would grab the electrified fence and not live.  (This is why it’s good to be in a Deep Listening group.  In a regular discussion group, I would have interrupted, “No, I don’t think you would.”  Because I know him.  But what hubris to say I know him better than he does himself.)

Why do I live? 

I know what it is like to hurt so bad you would prefer death.  I know that feeling. 

Part of why I live is duty.  Because of those in my life now, because of those who went before me, I believe I have a duty, a duty to make the most of my life, a responsibility because “much is expected.”  Life has given me so many gifts, I owe it my life and labor.  I owe it to both to those whom I love and those whom I’ve never met.

Another part is that I love to be surprised, and am continually reminded that each day unfolds more surprises.  What will my life be like in a year?  I can only guess.

At its most basic, though, I feel that by being alive, I have already won the lottery.  Biologically, such a small chance that I, exactly the way I am, would be here. 

As happens so often, my thoughts lapse into the poetry of others.  I live because “I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.”  (R. Frost)

I live because “some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.” (J. Buffett)

Because “even (if) it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Halleluia.” (L. Cohen)

And “For what it's worth it was worth all the while. It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life.” (B.J. Armstrong)

I live because I’ve had the time of my life.

And I keep having it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Miracle Among Ruins

A week ago, I visited one of the abandoned places of the empire, Turley, Oklahoma.

In the heart of Turley, literally and figuratively, is Unitarian Universalist minister, the Rev. Ron Robinson.  ("Oh, don't mention me," he said when I told him I was going to blog about A Third Place.  Sorry, Ron.  It is impossible to write about Turley without writing about this humble visionary.)

Peoria Avenue is lined with abandoned businesses and trash-littered lots.  And smack dab in the middle of that is A Third Place.

Some community centers, Ron explained, are set up very rigidly, with sign in sheets and other intimidating prerequisites.  Not A Third Place.  You walk in, and first find some information about the place, some pamplets and information sheets about community events.  You are welcome here.

Move past the entry and you're in a big multipurpose room.  The first thing you run into is the food pantry.

For quite a while, they ran it just on their own food donations.  But a couple of months ago, they became an official USDA food distribution center.

Past that, you'll find an area to sign up for volunteer opportunities, and a computer lab that stays pretty busy.

If you arrive on a Sunday, as I did, you might also find a table with the remnants of Sunday's communal meal.

Over on the other side of the big room is a library.  They people of Turley kept begging the county for a library.  And the answer was no. Okay, said the people of A Third Place.  They gathered book donations and set up one in their community center.  As Ron says, "We decided 'we' could do it ourselves; a big change we have worked on and are slowly planting is the change from a scarcity 'they' model to the abundant 'we' model."

Close to the library are the two small rooms, equipped with modest but professional medical equipment and running water, that make up the clinic, staffed by medical professionals from the University of Oklahoma.

They do well-woman checkups and basic medical care.  Unfortunately, much of the grant money for this program has dried up and they are down to only one visit per week.

 All of these bits -- library, computer lab, food pantry, clinic -- ring the central common area.  There, people read books, watch movies, converse, and worship.

There is another room to the side, with a small kitchen, restroom, and a play area for children.

The bulk of the room has two purposes:  it is the clothing donation center and it is the meeting room.

Imagine, just for a moment, that there are no rooms in your church used only once a week.  Imagine that every single room has at least two purposes.  A meeting room lined with canned goods, an RE room with donated coats along one wall.

Wouldn't that be great?

When I walked into A Third Place, I was met with a surprise -- the face of Rabbi Shaman.  Great minds and all that.

The tour of A Third Place was only the beginning.  The Rev. Robinson led us on a tour of Turley, showing us what A Third Place has done in the community, and hopes to do.  The elementary school where they've been serving lunches, the additional elementary school they will soon begin helping.  Their community garden.  The abandoned lots they are oh so close to getting, so they can build a community park and garden.  (Just a little more help and they'll be there.  Go here, watch the videos, and drop off a little money in the paypal plate, wouldja?)

We saw the heartbreak, too.  The unlit paths through the brush where people walk to get their groceries.  The trash, the boarded up homes.

And we saw hope.  A small, neat home, with boarded up neighbors, a shiny new coat of paint on a picket fence.  We saw pride returning.

I am very hopeful that we saw the future.  It looks like a giant old church:

When the Rev. Ron Robinson was a little boy, he went by the name Ronnie and he attended this church with his Mama and Daddy and numerous relatives who all lived in a bustling community named Turley.  Then people moved away.  And this church was effectively abandoned.  One of the ruins of the empire.

Now Ronnie is all grown up and he has a great vision.  To gain this church for the community of Turley, to clean out all the mold and fix the rot.  Not to restore it to its former incarnation but to make it something even better.  As you stand out in the 106 degree heat and humidity of Turley in August, there seems to be a cool breeze as he explains how this part of the church will be a community center, and this part will be for communal meals, and over here we'll have worship, and over there, we'll ...

But wait.  I have neglected to tell you the most exciting, the most unbelievable part of all of this.

This grand project, all the things they've done so far ... were done with 12 core people.  They began with 5.  No staff.  And yet, every month, they average about 250 people benefitting and participating in their various programs.

This is the missional life.  To not hide in our churches, seeing them as sanctuaries in the midst of an alien culture.  But to go out into that culture, those ruins, and be missionaries.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing community, health, relationship.

I urge your church to become a partner church with A Third Place.  Yes, they need our help.

But that's not why I urge you to partner with them.  I urge you to partner with them because it will benefit your church.  It will benefit you.  I can see mission trips to Turley as so many other religions take mission trips across the globe.

It will help grow the soul of your church.  It will change your life.

It has mine.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Week in the Desert

Three weeks away from home.  One week in the mountains, one in the desert, and one in a sea of Unitarian Universalists.

The Husband was with us for the first week of this journey, then returned home to support this family in our 4 child, 1 seminary lifestyle.  Can we get a quick round of applause for those partners who willingly accept the job of breadwinning?

This will probably the last opportunity we have for such a trek.  Next summer, good Lord willin', I will be doing my CPE.  Summer after that, the boy will be 16, and ready for a summer job.  Our three weeks was four for him, as we put him on a plane the week previous, to spend a week alone with his grandparents.  A gift to all of them.  

After our trip to the mountains, we returned to my parents' home in the desert.  The Husband and I got up early Sunday morning so he could get a good New Mexican breakfast in his tummy before hopping a plane home.

A few tears later (hey, we've never been apart for two whole weeks before), I returned home.  Pops was in the kitchen, as he would be every morning of our week there, cutting up fresh fruit and flipping hotcakes for his grandchillen.  He undershot on the hotcakes.  He is used to cooking for two 80 year olds (79 1/2, Mama Lizard Eater would hasten to correct), whom I contend only eat on Tuesdays and Thursdays if left to their own devices.

He decided that next time, he needs to quadruple whatever he thinks he needs.

Each day of the week we were there began the same way -- Pops in the kitchen, and four children tumbling out of bed:  "What do we get for breakfast today?"  Dinner was Bubbe in the kitchen, fresh vegetables and tasty nutritious meals.  My children began eyeing me with suspicion.  I don't think they'll continue to believe that the president has called for all home kitchens to be closed this summer.

We had a fun, fairly relaxing week.  Enjoying the cool dry air, reading, relaxing, talking politics, religion, family, life.  The kids and I visited a wildlife refuge and did some touristy stuff in Old Town Albuquerque.  And I got the supreme pleasure of lunch with one of my heroes, the Rev. iMinister, whom I've now known for ... wow, 4 years.   She's been a friend, long-distance mentor, and endless source of inspiration.  I unabashedly podcast-stalk her.  (By the way, if you want to hear/read an excellent, nuanced, educated, sermon on this whole immigration thing, go here.)   And it all began with blogging, when she reached out to a terrified cancer mama.  Don't tell me what we do online isn't important.  I will testify with passion for the opposition.

The week had its surprises, too.  My parents have one cactus that only blooms one day, once a year.  But what a blooming.

And one surprise, that for me, was not so pleasant.  I opened the front door and nearly stepped on this:

Being a mature seminarian and mother of four, I exemplified Non-Anxious Presence.  If, by non-anxious presence, you mean slamming the front door, screaming, and jumping up and down as if I'd been attacked.

(Try that the next time you're in a contentious congregational meeting.)

The children, Pops, and I went around the other direction to view Snakey in such a way that he didn't have the opportunity to enter the house.  Yes, he looks like a rattlesnake, Pops explained, but you can tell that he's a helpful Bullsnake by the shape of his head and the point of his tail.

Yes, next time I will hold open the front door and calmly examine those two ends to ascertain snake-type.

Part of the reason Snakey was at the front door is because it's so dry this year, snakes are constantly trying to get inside.  And part of the reason is because my mother leaves a bowl of water near the front door.

Okay, Mom.  A tree frog I can kind of understand.  But leaving water for the snakes?  Really.  It's time to get a dog.

Mama Lizard Eater, or "Bubbe."  You may note a family resemblance.

The Last Day

"You need to post about the last day," both Mama Lizard Eater and The Husband have told me.

God had a swag bag for me, some lovely parting gifts.  But I'll get to those in moment.

I woke up early, knowing it was the last time, knowing I needed to get up and get moving.  Brother and his wife were about to swing by, leaving earlier than we.  But for a few moments, I just stretched, and lay there, giving thanks for what had been for several years, our temporary home in the mountains.

I told Brother and Bitty goodbye, then proceeded to tell My Place goodbye, feeling a bit like Emily from Our Town.  Goodbye to the stone fireplace, and the giant wooden dining table.  Goodbye to the porch swing and the hummingbirds.  Goodbye to the special place by the river, underneath the cool dark trees, where the fairies danced.

Goodbye to the camp fire.

Goodbye to the deck over the river.

Goodbye to the cabin.

And goodbye to my river.

All packed up, we headed up up up the steep winding road for one last bit of fishing at the ponds.  Suddenly, The Husband stopped.  Another doe in the middle of the road.  She leisurely ambled across then stood there, waiting.  The Husband gently eased the car up.  She examined us.  She posed.  She told me, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

And then she was gone.

Once again touched by grace, we drove on.  Did a little fishing, and a lot of looking.  Not looking.  Gazing.

Mrs. Jemima Puddle Duck stopped by to say hello with a friend of hers.

They swam on, Bo Peep caught a fish to add to the pile, and it was time for us to swim on.  Down, down the mountain.
... climbed a mountain and I turned around
and I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
'til the landslide brought it down
oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? 

Can the child within my heart rise above? 
Can I sail thru the changin' ocean tides? 
Can I handle the seasons of my life? I don't know..... 

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Oh, those Born-and-Raised Unitarian Universalists

Lizard Eater is on vacay right now, but just wanted to put out a request into the universe:
Please stop the meme of "only people who chose Unitarian Universalism" (and weren't raised UU) are brave, smart individuals.  Being dismissed because I was born into this religion makes me all stabby. 
Thank you.