Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reverend Lizard Eater and Little Wren say Goodbye

It was just supposed to be a little blog where I could vent about being a Unitarian Universalist student in an evangelical seminary.

And along the way ...

Well, along the way, my baby daughter got cancer. Twice. And my journey through seminary to ministry took 8 years. And I wept bitter tears over my keyboard. Many of you cried with me. And prayed for us. And taught me as much about community, and love, and God, as anything else in my life.

Before any of that, newly in seminary, I looked around at some of the other great pseudonyms in the UU blogging world -- Philocrites, Errant Frogs, Peacebang, Fausto -- and chose "Lizard Eater," to reflect my status in theological puberty.

My friend and soul brother, the Hysteric Cleric, gifted me with an soul-satisfying slam poem on the occasion of my ordination. He ended it by noting that I was a Lizard Eater no longer.

I chafed a bit at that. And yet, he is right. While I will always be a student, I am a student who has graduated and is taking her place out in the world among the ranks of other ordained Unitarian Universalist ministers.

Little Wren has graduated, too.

Today, we met with her oncologist. She got another report of "NED" - No Evidence of Disease. Everything looks good - kidneys, lungs, developmentally appropriate and then some.

So now, she has been referred to "Long Term Survivor" care. She'll meet with those doctors once a year, they'll keep tabs on her for the rest of her life - keeping us informed of any possible future complications from the chemo or radiation she received. You never get the "You're cured!" announcement, but this is a good milestone. Better that that. Great.

So, Lizard Eater and Little Wren bid you farewell. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for arguing, for praying, for laughing. May you experience the same grand feelings of love that I have felt here.

Amen. I love you. May the spirit of love go with us all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ordination as a Theological Statement

It’s happening, friends. Sunday, I will be ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister.

In our tradition, only a congregation can ordain a minister. Not the UUA, or the MFC, or a District Executive, or the UUMA. Only a congregation.

I am awed by the theological significance of the event.

Ministers have many different duties, pastoral, prophetic, preaching, teaching … the sacramental duties are referred to as the “priestly functions,” even though none in our tradition go by the title of priest.  Officiating at a wedding, baby dedications, those sorts of things.

But for an ordination, the congregation as a whole, the church body, does the priestly function. The church body becomes priest. They draw out from their midst an individual, acknowledge the calling on their life, and because we are a tradition of learned clergy, often recognize the education, training, and fellowshipping that has been a part of their preparation. And then they set the individual apart, giving them special authority for ministry.

It takes away my breath, not just the transformation of the ordinand, but the transformation of the congregation itself, into this priestly role. It is incarnation, as the congregation becomes the body of Unitarian Universalism, of our heritage, our traditions.

The ordination will happen to me, but it is not about me. It’s about the holy mystery in which we understand ourselves as a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  We do not require an intermediary or higher authority, such as a bishop, to acknowledge the workings of Spirit; we are that authority.

I tremble. 

Monday, October 22, 2012


I like to ask Unitarian Universalists for their testimony.

Sometimes, they’ll start giving me their “elevator speech.” That’s what we’ve been taught to do – a 2 or 3 sentence explanation of what Unitarian Universalism is.

I went to an evangelical seminary, full of AME’s, Baptists, and the like. None of them ever gave me an elevator speech. They gave me their testimony, they told me a personal story about how their religion changed their life.

So here’s my testimony.

I have done a lot of spiritual exploring in my life. I have found much in the teachings of Jesus that inspire me, but found that the box many Christians try to limit God to seemed too restrictive; the idea that there is only one way, and that coincidentally, it is the dominant religion of the culture, and usually the family, that they grew up in, seemed to lack both personal humility and the giant awe for a force of love so limitless.

I was neo-Pagan for many years. I can remember excitedly reading Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, nudging The Husband to say, “This, this!” Exploring the divine feminine in religion, the idea of  religiously living in tolerance with the differences of others, “So long as it harm none …” made me understand that religious excitement that others might call being born again. Epiphany!

A goddess-group friend said, “I believe it’s all metaphor. But this is the metaphor I’m comfortable with.” An illuminating moment, where I realized the choice we all have, and that, for me, it’s not about finding absolute truth. I don’t believe humans have the capacity to see absolute truth, and it’s a dangerous road, to try to take the metaphors we believe in, and decree that they are not metaphors, they are not the finger pointing to the moon, but our metaphors are the moon, are the truth.

What metaphors am I comfortable with, for trying to conceive of something so beyond me, something I experience, but do not know?

My understandings about what it all means have grown over the years. They’ve also shrunk. They have been dropped as if from an airplane, breaking into a billion brittle shards. I have broken, too; my spirit shattering in that many pieces. I have lost all faith and been desperately, spiritually, alone.

And bit by bit, I have re-found meaning. I have studied texts and wisdom, ancient and new, pushing myself with hard questions until all I wanted to do was put that religion thing back on the shelf and Just. Stop. Thinking.

Sometimes I did. Sometimes I stopped thinking, and just let go. And experienced.

What has saved me through all of this is Unitarian Universalism. Having a religion that values the illimitable mind, that pushes me to go deeper, to question what I most have faith in, to have that examined faith … and to be in a continual process of re-examination , to always, always, know that revelation is not sealed, neither in the big scheme of things nor even my own private revelation … that has saved me.

I have been Christian. I have been Wiccan. I have been a potpourri of thought, I have been entirely devoid of faith, I have been filled with the richness of theology, philosophy, and the direct experience of the transcending mystery.

And through it all, I have always been a Unitarian Universalist. This religion saved me and every day, it saves me again.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)

For those ministers and DREs moving to Texas, there are certain things you should understand about this strange, foreign, beautiful, insane land.

First step is to determine whether you are in a Texas UU Church. This is not as easy as it sounds. There are UU churches in Texas where the leaders in the church for decades have been from Not Around Here, notably Michigan. This will be a different culture than the UU churches made up of born and bred Texans.

If you’re in a Texas UU Church, there is a good chance that the children and youth will call all adults by their first name, preceded by “Mr.” or “Miss.” “Miss,” in this manner, is used indiscriminately to refer to both married and unmarried women. When the youth graduates high school, they will go off to college or begin a job. When they return to the church for a visit, they will no longer use a salutation when talking to an adult. This is a Rite Of Passage, never formalized, keenly observed.

If you have a nickname, use it. I mean, not if it’s “Booger,” or “Keg Face,” but Bill, Jack, Cathy, etc. We like nicknames. It tells us you’re not stuck-up.

However, if someone’s nametag says, “Elizabeth,” and you hear her called, “Liz,” don’t automatically call her Liz. (This goes in all instances, not just for people named Elizabeth.) There is an element of familiarity with nicknames, and whereas some people go by their nick all the time, others are only called the nickname by people they are close to.

This is especially true in the matter of men, and what they are called by their spouses, especially if their nickname ends in “Y.” Tommy, Kenny, you get the picture. Unless the guy directly says, “My name is Timmy,” call him Tim. Otherwise, it’s going to seem like an alpha-male, patronizing throw-down.

Some of us, even as adults, call our parents Mama and Daddy. This is neither cute nor quaint, nor does it indicate a different educational level. It’s Southern culture.

Funerals are deeply meaningful rituals that facilitate the grief process in a formal, communal way. As the minister, you will be remembered for generations for your grace at this time. That being said, if there aren’t enough deviled eggs at the reception afterward, that’s the only thing that will be remembered.

If you are a female minister, women will often begin their conversations with you by commenting favorably on your shoes. This does not indicate shallowness on their part, it is a social nicety, not unlike Hindus greeting each other with a bow and “Namaste.” After the social niceties have been observed, the real conversation can begin. If she has ever met your mother, the shoe comment will also be combined with concern for her well-being, in the word noted by author Jill Conner Browne, “CuteShoesHow’sYourMama?”

We are in changing times, and it will take sensitive religious professionals to be able to negotiate through the grief and confusion this year and probably for the next several. Thanksgiving may elicit emotions among your congregants ranging from anger, to disillusionment, to depression. For generations, new Texas ministers and DREs needed only to be clued in that the Sunday after Thanksgiving, they were to wear neither burnt orange nor maroon, as feelings would be running high. Now, bereft congregants may feel lost and uncertain of the future.  You will need to be tender to their feelings, and just in case, don’t wear red, either

There is no one Texas accent, there are many. Someone from East Texas will have a soft, Southern accent. Those in West Texas will hit their “R”s pretty hard and have more of a twang. And everybody in Austin sounds like Matthew McConaughey. No one knows why.

Oh, one last note. If someone says, “Bless your heart,” it’s neither kind nor complimentary. You might want to start putting your search packet together.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A big step on The Journey

I am in preliminary fellowship. I’ll let my friend Rev. David explain it

We all prepare for meeting with the MFC in our own ways. I’m an information junkie, so doing things like studying, making lists and timelines, and covering my study with random factoid sticky notes was my process.

I also can be guilty of an overabundance of optimism at what I can get done in the last minute, so I wanted some sort of structured way of preparing for this meeting. After watching an episode  of Grey’s Anatomy where Torres agrees to meet Meredith every morning to drill her for her medical boards, I looked around to see who would be my Torres.

… and then realized that with Facebook, I had a whole community of Torreses.

So, for six months, every Sunday or Monday, I’d ask for five “MFC Prep Questions.” Ministers, other candidates, and lay folks would send them on, and I’d answer one a day, Monday-Friday.

Folks would argue with my answer, and argue with each other. Great long discussions took place not only over the 16 Competencies one must have to become a fellowshipped UU minister, but about the very nature of ministry itself. It was GREAT.

Some of my process, both the Facebook preparation and the studying, was less about meeting with the MFC and more about me testing myself. In the same way one might go on a wilderness survival trek, to push one’s limits and endurance, I absolutely immersed myself in the competencies, especially Unitarian Universalist history. I love our religious tradition and I guess there was a part of me that needed to feel I worked hard, HARD, to take my place among the ranks of those who have gone before.

I did work hard. And for myself, I feel glad of that.

And yet, too, there is something beyond all the studying that places me in ministry. I did not receive a common question: Upon what do you root your authority as a minister?

My answer would be that I am a Unitarian Universalist, and thus, my authority comes from the congregation that ordains me.

But my other answer, equally true, is this: I know the exact moment I became a minister. About 7 months after Little Wren had completed treatment for her second cancer bout, I was down on the banks of my beloved Pecos River. For several days, I went down to the river and cried. Sobbed. It was as if I was completely emptying myself out.

And then, one day, I didn’t need to cry anymore. I was emptied, I was calm, and at peace. Down at the edge of water, I received a clear message, that I was now a minister.

A week later, now back at home, a colleague called to ask if I could please do a memorial service.

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Here am I. Send me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pop Song Exegesis or "Why 'Awake My Soul' will be in my ordination"

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes

I zoom from one thing to another, different interests grabbing me – Squirrel!

I struggle to find any truth in your lies

This world I live in gives me lie after lie. If I buy this, my life will be organized. If I look like this, I will be loved. “Buy and save …”

And now my heart stumbles on things I don't know

The Johari window … what is not known to me, known to others … not known to others?

This weakness I feel I must finally show

For so much of my life, I sought to hide my flaws, my weaknesses, my brokenness. Now, I let them show. I am free.

Lend me your hand and we'll conquer them all

You, my parishioner, if we put our hands together, if we reach out to make action, we can commit great acts of love and compassion.

But lend me your heart and I'll just let you fall

Don’t fall in love with me. That’s not what I was called to ministry. It’s not about me being loved. We’re profoundly loved by God. I will love you, but don’t give me your heart. I will let you do what you need to do, which may mean letting you fall. And I will certainly disappoint you.

Lend me your eyes I can change what you see

What I’m called to is to look at life, examine it, turning it over and over and over. Maybe I can show you something you haven’t seen before. (But you can probably do the same for me.)

But your soul you must keep, totally free

Don’t substitute my judgment for yours. My job is to encourage you to strengthen your own soul, not to be a “vicar,” vicariously taking care of your spiritual needs. I will not give you the answers. I will give you seeds that you can plant, or examine and throw away. Keep your soul, totally free to find YOUR truth.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

You can’t run away from yourself. No matter how much you might want to. Trust me on this, if you trust me on nothing else, for it is the broken voice of experience.

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

Yes. Yes. This. We can have the grandest ideas in the world, but what do we love? What do we spend our money on? What do we spend our hours on? We will look back to discover we have filled our bank with investments in that.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul

Let us find awakening. Let us break free from the siren calls of Madison Avenue, of magazines and videos that call us to be crafted of cream cheese and to find our value in what we own, or do, rather than what we ontologically ARE.

You were made to meet your maker
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
You were made to meet your maker
You were made to meet your maker

We were made to be in communion with the divine mystery, with that creative spirit that gave us existence. May we awake, and meet what created us, what continues to make us what we are.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It is back to school time.

We scuttle around, not in the most effective way, yet again beginning our shopping with me in the dressing room with the girls, “…but then what DO you need?” before turning around, coming home, and beginning again, this time, by first sorting through all their clothes, handing items down to the next, and seeing what our starting point is. 

“We have been here before – I remember that tree.”

Those years of youthful preparation for my own back-to-school have marked me. This year, as every year, I find something visceral in me full of hope and possibility. These new lunchboxes will lead to healthful, organized lunches for all of us, this new system we’ve come up with will mean that we never get behind on laundry, we will all be fresh and shiny, popular and smart, homework will always be done promptly and well …

The fantasy may not survive the first week, but shhh, don’t disturb my illusion.

I remember in high school, getting the big thick September issue of Seventeen magazine and devouring its tips. Jean Naté sponsored a 4 page spread where you saw the heroine go step by step through her organized, popular, always-smiling day. Her day began, of course, with a shower and a splash of the sponsor’s product. Aha, that was the key to it all. Along with pencils, pens, and a Trapper Keeper, I used my own money for a small bottle of bath splash.

Perhaps this should turn into a screed against consumerism or not accepting ourselves as we are, the folly of thinking that a new year or a new product will lead to a life change.

But it’s not. Not today. Because we all need Dumbo’s feather sometime. Hope can be hard to find, and if any of us can get a extra boost by the seasonal change, then grab on.

For the first time in a very long time, I am not going back to school myself, not in the literal sense. Last year, I was preparing for my last semester of seminary. When browsing school supplies the other day, I started to automatically pick up some highlighters and fresh pens for myself. No need.

Okay, little bit of a need. I continue on with one ministerial job, and begin another. I have that little matter of meeting with some people in Boston that I need to keep studying for. We are all perpetual students, in some way or another.

If you catch a whiff of Jean Naté when we meet, don’t be surprised. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Young and powerless

My father and I began swapping stories this week, as we do when we get to see each other. We realized that we both had experiences in which we, young and powerless, had someone powerful who was willing to bust through the expectations that they would side with others at their level. And this has made both of us fairly optimistic people who believe that justice can will out.

Not justice in some sort of karmic way, but the justice of “Yes, most people are good and will stand up for what’s right.”

In my case, I was a senior in high school, leaving early one afternoon to go audition for a theatre scholarship at a college. I went around picking up the necessary letters of recommendation. Without a word, the drama teacher handed me his. I read it in the room of my speech teacher. It was bad. I was confused. I knew he and I had some issues between us – I wasn’t the first – but even I knew the protocol for such things. If someone asks for a letter of recommendation, you say “no” or “yes.” But you don’t say “yes,” then write a bad letter. My speech teacher read it, and suggested I take it to our dean. I dropped it off, and went on to my next class.

Between classes that afternoon, my principal met me in the hall. “I don’t know why Mr. ___ wrote this, but it was wrong. And I am writing your letter.”

At least at my school, that just didn’t happen. A principal never spoke against a teacher to a student.

(I got the scholarship. And it turned out the teacher was a sociopath who did things far more vile than write bad letters.)

My father was at a state university that used to be a military college. He was on the school newspaper and a news story he’d written angered a colonel there. Dad was called in to his office and the colonel ripped him up one side and down the other, and demanded a retraction.

The problem was, the story was true. Dad, not knowing what else to do, went to see the president of the university. He explained what happened, and asked for advice.

The president said, “Well, I think I need to have a conversation with Colonel ___ to remind him who runs this school.”

University presidents just don’t do that.

We’ve had other experiences like that, over the years. But it’s not difficult to see how this sort of thing gave us confidence that for the most part, you can believe that justice guides most people, and when it doesn’t, there will be others willing to stand up for you, and against injustice.

Not all people have that, I realize. And so they come to an opposite feeling.

It’s an interesting thought, though, that when we don’t “circle the wagons,” when we stand up for what’s right and help someone with lesser power, especially someone younger, we’re not just affecting the situation, we’re shaping  how they will see the world.