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.