Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Very UU Movie Disguised as a Catholic Movie.


On the way home from the movie theatre, our exchange student from Germany commented that there are way too many fat people in movies and TV shows and even cartoons who happen to be German. Add that to the current rash of movies about the Nazi era, and one would feel a bit awkward being German in America just now.




So it's no surprise that she did not want to see "Doubt" with us since she is also Catholic! From the trailers, the movie appears to be another Catholic-bashing vehicle, with Meryl Streep playing a dour, spiteful nun, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman a misguided/misunderstood/miscreant (you will wonder about this all through the movie) priest.




Let me begin by saying that these are Oscar-level performances, and Amy Adams as the naive, trusting nun is no slouch, either. But, for me, the movie raised far more questions about my own faith than it did about Catholicism. My faith, the Unitarian Universalist faith.




The film begins with a homily given by the genial priest who serves a parish as well as a middle school. It's all about doubt. Bottom line: it is doubt that makes us human, uncertainty that unites us and keeps us humble and real. Doubt is not a bad thing. It's good.




Needless to say, this homily triggers the suspicions of Sister Aloysius (Streep) who becomes more and more convinced that the priest is talking about his own doubt in himself, and who targets him in a kind of gender-reverse witch hunt.




I won't reveal the end, even though it is subtle and far from shocking.




But the story line is tight and the acting thoroughly convincing. It's a film about humanity, and there will be no doubt, by the film's end, that the way of questioning, what I call the UU way of "living with uncertainty" is far better for our souls than unwavering commitment to any set of guidelines, rules, commandments, or dogmas. It's not an anti-Catholic movie so much as an anti-certainty movie. See it and see whether you agree.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Movie Called "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"...

At first, I tended to agree with Roger Ebert. He gave this newly released film starring Brad Pitt only two and a half stars even though it's being promoted as a sure thing for the Oscars. Anything that starts out with a cancer death-bed scene and a dead man's journal as the framing device can not be good. Perhaps it is because, as a minister, I've been through enough real ones, but dramatic/untimely/extended movie deaths have been a huge turn-off to me since "Love Story." Especially hospital ones. Add to that the fact that this one was taking place in a hospital in New Orleans, just as Katrina was hitting the city, and you have a recipe for disaster... the movie kind, not the hurricane kind.




Don't worry.. I won't give away the big surprise, because there really isn't one! It's a film based upon the conceit that a man's life is lived in reverse. Born old, he ages to infancy. We should be moved to some insights about life, death, and all that's in between, no? Instaed we go away thinking about how cute Brad Pitt was back in the Thelma & Louise days. I fell asleep halfway through (we happen to be on the Gulf Coast, rebuilding a house felled by the real Hurricane Katrina) and found out later on Wikipedia what happened in the middle. Strangely enough, I didn't lose the thread when I awoke 15 or 20 minutes along. Let's just say I found the movie mildly interesting.










But then, as it ended, I looked at our 17 year old exchange student, a German girl named Anke, who was nest to me in the theatre. She was sobbling. And next to Anke, my own daughter Marjorie was in tears. I touched Anke's cheek. It was wet! Now THIS was curious. I'd not seen the girl cry since she arrived in August. Homesickness, calls from Mum, the second anniversary of her father's death, Christmas in a foreign land, illness & soccer injuries.. all had passed with nary a tear. But now she was sobbing. The girls continued to cry as we left the theatre, found the rest of our team (who were not sobbing after seeing "Seven Pounds") and walked to our van. They had a beautiful cry! I envied them. I wish that curious movie had moved me to tears. I need a cry, too. Sometimes the good cry is worth the price of admission. All I got was a nap!




The literature fiend/English major/theologian in me wanted to discover some redeeming depth in this mess. All I could think was that it was like a sermon that tries to do way too much, and ends up doing exactly nothing. (I'm thinking of some of my own! )




In addition to the cancer-mother-daughter-farewell-Katrina thing, there was the whole prelude about the clock that was built by a man whose son was lost in the war... a clock that ran backwards! He wished that time could rewind itself so that dead soldiers could get up and live again. At the end of the movie the water from Katrina comes in to the basement where the clock is stored, and, presumably, stops it running backwards (I hope that's not the big surprise). Then there was Benjamin's father, who makes buttons! He comes back into Benjamin's life sporadically, and leaves him lots of money when he dies. I guess that explains why BB doesn't really need to have a real job. I've been puzzling this all out since last night, and it's taking way too much brain energy. I now understand how sermons that take on too many themes and have too many layers can be annoying and disconcerting to people! So all was not lost, for me!




I did love one part of the film. There was an old-age home in New Orleans where Benjamin was raised by Black parents who found him. (Writing this makes it seem even more contrived than watching it). It was the best place ever! The old folks, all white, accepted the old man baby who became a baby old man. The Black folks who ran the place were saintly. Somewhere in that house is the heart of the film for me. I'll be thinking about it today, and wondering what happened to the folks who were still there when Katrina hit... while sawing wood and toting boards for a real house. I am curious about what the movie meant. To be continued.....




Sunday, December 28, 2008

RAISING WALLS & BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

UU Church of Lexington Biloxi Team 2008

It's not difficult to understand why people go down to the Gulf Coast to volunteer. Three years after Katrina, many folks are waiting to have their homes rebuilt and their lives restored. There is work to be done and a system in place that makes working and helping possible. Folks from Lexington, Kentucky have been going, alone and in groups, since the week after the storm. It's possible to drive to New Orleans or Biloxi in one day, and to work for a week or a long weekend and make a difference. It's a no-brainer! The organization that our church works through has hosted more than 1, 600 volunteers just this fall. Religious organizations, civic groups, and schools send teams of volunteers and find a warm welcome. People like to be useful. Most people enjoy doing something that helps others. And people like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Thank God people still go.

But here's a question: why do people go back?

Doug Roederer, the man who coordinates what appears to be evolving as the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington's annual Christmas Biloxi trip, has been back dozens of times. He's helped restore houses and built entire homes from the ground up. Yesterday, out first day on the job this year, a volunteer asked me: what do you think drives him?

After all, we could work closer to home. There are plenty of folks who need homes in Kentucky. But there's something about Biloxi that makes me convince people ages fifteen to sixty to leave their homes and families on Christmas Day and head south to sleep in cramped quarters and pound nails or carry boards. It's about so much more than the work. After all, we could probably contribute the funds we raise to travel and rent accomodations for the week, and skilled laborers could be hired to do the job better in half the time, if all that mattered was the product.

It's the process.

Driving South, we see that the Gulf Coast is miles, not worlds away. Meeting the family whose home we will build, hearing their stories, we understand why they want to stay in the neighborhoods their people have lived in for generations. On the job site, we can't help but compare the gleaming casinos a few blocks away, rebuilt within months, to the tattered and still vacant shells of homes begging for attention around us. Nowhere is a more stark and visual symbol of the ineffectiveness and inhumanity of our government and our institutions apparent than in East Biloxi. Why, one cannot help asking, are these people dependent upon volunteers to build their homes more than three years after the storm? Why are billions of dollars available for war and bailouts, when private foundations and donors must restore neighborhoods and dwellings devestated through an act of Nature? Hard questions, inadequate answers.

But then, there's the joy. Neighbors come by with food. Local folks stop to admire the progress. A pile of lumber becomes a home. Since our group invites some of Lexington's exchange students, people from Africa, Europe, and Asia meet one another and form the deep connections only possible through shared work. Love grows and barriers tumble as walls go up.

Humans need that kind of love. We need, as our Wendell Berry says, real work to do and we need real connections. We need the process as much or even more than the recipients need the product. That's why we go back, and why we will go back, for as long as we can.

video

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Whole Truth, Nothing But....

Everybody: Stop and think.

What is happening? If we slow down enough to absorb the implications of the vicious, race-tinged attacks upon the Obama campaign, attacks that increase as we near the final days of this campaign, we people of faith can not but reach a similar conclusion: this is wrong!

Therefore, I am convinced that if we do not unite to denounce and descry all use, no matter how veiled and costumed, of racial bias as a tool or strategy in this election, we too are wrong. We are a part of the problem.

It occurs to me that the reason the so-called liberal media have been endeavoring to reveal instances of hate-based speech at rallies and even more smear-laced telephone campaigns is that they are playing the role of the ones who uphold whatever is left of moral and ethical standards in this land. Somehow it seems that should be our job.

Looking over the blogs written by colleagues recently, I see some addressing these deeply troubling issues, but many more (my own included!) dealing with things like online games, seasonal changes, personal issues, pets, and sports. I point no fingers, except at myself! I merely ask those whose eloquence and/or loquaciousness impel them to write to consider my proposal, below.

Clergy people ought to be at very least far more likely than the average citizen to be honest. It is our job! If nothing else, we are called to filter the muddy waters of contemporary life, removing the pollutants and distilling the clear essence. We are called to package that essence and to deliver it to as wide an audience as we can without regard for our own safety or security.

Are we doing so? I know there are glaring cases in which I have not been doing so. And, I know that there are those among us who do so tirelessly and fearlessly. This is a call to all of my fellow clergy everywhere, no matter your affiliation, to join me in emulating our courageous sisters and brothers who have been unafraid to stand up and speak out since this nonsense and deception began (at least since 9/11/01 but undoubtedly far longer) and use whatever skills and talents and platforms we have access to to reveal the horrifying underbelly of racism that threatens to derail this campaign.

Here's my initial offering:

* I have just received a report from a member of my congregation that, under cover of darkness, a paper was left upon his doorstep in Lexington, Kentucky, showing two pictures of Obama wearing Kenyan attire, with the words "America will bow down to Islam" emblazoned across the picture.

* I was told by a service provider who is a Republican and a conservative Christian of the following incidents:

One woman whispered to her that Obama is a Muslim terrorist.

Another said this : The Klan hasn't done their job. But they will.

All of these incidents happened in Lexington, Kentucky. This is not even a contested state! Obama is barely even campaigning here! There must be far more and far worse examples in other places.

What have you or the members of your congregation heard and seen that echo these ugly sentiments? We need a place to report and gather all of these incidents and comments, a national repository of truth-telling. Let's hope that people still believe that clergy are more likely to be honest. At least, let's hope that if we have a wide, interfaith coalition of clergy invested in revealing the truth, it will be credible.

I know that I will work with my organization, The Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass, and with our Human Relations Commission, to endeavor to do so locally, but I am also dreaming of a way that we could share these incidents and reports across this nation, as leaders of faith communities, bound to be truthful and vigilant?

Several years ago, I went to a Flea Market in my home state of New Jersey. There, I bought some apples and cider from a woman who ran a produce stall. It was about $4 worth. I handed her a $20 bill and she gave me change for a five. Interestingly she had not laid my twenty on the register as most cashiers are required to do. When I accosted her, she loudly protested and accused me of lying. I didn't want to lose my fifteen dollars, and my righteous indignation was triggered. I don't lie! I told her. I'm a minister! To this she replied, still loud and accusatory: "Ha! They are the worst kind!" I gave up. She kept my $15, but left me thinking.

We clergy ought to be the "worst kind" to people like her, and people who are using deception and sleight-of-hand to try and steal this election. Even when those people try and turn the indignation and accusations upon those of us who bring truth to the table, we can not walk away. What is at stake is far more important than even this election. It is the moral fiber and the integrity of our nation, of the people we labor to serve, to save, and to stand beside.

If we can figure out a way to bring our offerings of truth together, to stand together via electronic means or otherwise, our outcry will be heard. If we don't..... what does that say about us?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Luckiest Person in the world (me)

No, I didn't win the lottery.

But I had a full weekend, ministry-wise. Finally, I am in my bed, in my PJs, with my BFF Ms. Laptop. When I close my eyes, a mad swirl of images blows through. Some I want to hang on to; others trouble and distress me:

I see the smile on a Bride's face as she recites her vow and a tear runs down her groom's face. I feel the soft skin of a three week old baby, his tiny heft cradled in my arms. I see the bright colors of a dressing gown worn by a member who has been diagnosed with and is bravely fighting pancreatic cancer. I haven't seen her, and she's lost fifty pounds. A beautiful, stylish woman, she is shrunken into the African print gown. I hear the jumble of childish voices as a big group of toddlers gather for cake at our new emerging congregation. I see smiles. I feel hugs and handshakes. I wipe away the tear of a woman far from her homeland.

I feel so inadequate. Who am I that people turn to me with these rare and precious moments? How did I deserve the smiles, the hugs, the words of encouragement and hope?

I will never know, but I do know I am blessed! Good Night! Sleep Well.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

EXCUSE ME... but has anyone mentioned BREASTFEEDING?


Friends, in matters of religion, and most matters of politics, I am as liberal as they come! I have sometimes described myself as a socialist, and have even considered anarchy (of sorts) a viable philosophy.

But when it comes to ethics, there are some areas where I am plain old-fashioned. Call me a conservative. I don't find that word, in its pure form, as offensive as the "right" seems to find the word liberal. I taught history. I love old things. I admire old people. I think the past has much to teach us. I think my Kentucky neighbor and acquaintance Wendell Berry is a prophet.

And, I can NOT understand how the mother of a FOUR month-old could run for Vice President and care for her infant. Forget about the pregnant daughter! ...that could happen to any parent. Was the woman supposed to follow her daughter around every minute, or install a chastity belt? The fact that her daughter is pregnant does not cause me to question her parenting. But her failure to breastfeed her child(ren) does!

I guess this is where I part company with feminism, as it has come to be understood. I really believe that babies need mothers. That's because only mothers can breastfeed, and for me, there is almost no excuse for not breastfeeding. I realize that this is a very conservative position. I hear the indignation when people ask why is it OK for Obama to run when he has 2 young daughters, and yet questionable for Palin. But, to me, feminism is about claiming, owning and celebrating all aspects of womanhood. I don't understand how it came to be defined as the mandate for women for to be successful and powerful in the traditional ways men have been.

Maybe it would be an ideal world if women could work and breastfeed, but you would have to prove that to me. I think women, because they produce breastmilk, and because it is far and away the optimal nutritional and emotional and developmental substance for all infants (in fact, special needs children like those with Down's need breastfeeding as much or more than healthy children) should be given the space and time to care for their infants. Yes, it's true: for some women, especially in today's economy, it seems virtually impossible to stay home and to stay afloat. In that case, the best situation for infants is to have one primary caregiver who is always available to that child. Anything less will be detrimental to children.

Now, all of that said, one can breastfeed, stay home, be perfectly loving and nurturing, and still have their children face problems.. addictions, mental illness, and yes, unplanned pregnancy. I am the first to attest to that! But what I will never have to do is wonder whether, had I stayed home, or had I breastfed, or had my children had consistent nurturing, things would be different. And, even through my own kids' challenges, I see the core of self and of humanity that I believe their early years instilled.

So... there you have it! I am conservative. I think some women who believe, as I do, in unrestricted breastfeeding, co-sleeping, responsive mothering, and child-led weaning, are seen as liberal, even radical kooks. But, in truth, that is the most ancient way, the one that brought all of human evolution to this point. Extended, exclusive breastfeeding is not unnatural, it is un-culutural.

A few minutes ago, my son asked me: so what do you think about Palin... to which I answered (because I am writing this) "I think she should be breastfeeding her infant." He replied, "OK, but what about how she would govern the country?" .... to which I replied, She scares me!

The same son who asked me that question was my infant 26 years ago. It was then I realized how incredibly important, almost more important than anything humans can do for future generations, breastfeeding and natural parenting is.

I have never changed my mind... not for a second. Am I the only one who has THAT reaction to Sarah Palin?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

First Lesson in Disaster Preparedness







First Lesson



by Philip Booth






Lie back daughter, let your head



be tipped back in the cup of my hand.



Gently, and I will hold you.



Spreadyour arms wide, lie out on the stream



and look high at the gulls.



A dead-man's float is face down.



You will dive



and swim soon enough where this tidewater



ebbs to the sea….


My first swimming lesson was at Girl Scout Camp, Camp Kettle Run, deep in NJ’s Pine Barrens, a sandy, desolate region of fragrant scrubby pines, wild blueberries, and rare orchids. The water, tinted brown from bog iron, was commonly called “cedar water.” The “barrens” are not barren, either… they overlay one of the biggest and purest aquifers anywhere on the East Coast, and they are evidence of continental shifts millions of years ago, a completely unique and precious eco-system. Thank the goddess, they have been preserved.

At camp, the F shaped swimming pier extended from a small island. I remember it vividly. One night each summer, we’d sleep on the island, and one year Connie Blue sleep-walked right into the water and ate seaweed. (Lake-weed?) After swimming, the camp nurse squirted vinegar in our ears to kill the organisms that caused ear infections.




I did love camp, but I hated swimming lessons! The F of the dock was divided into three sections: the shallowest for non-swimmers (pink caps), the upper part of the F for blue caps – Intermediates – and the coveted deep area beyond the far dock was reserved for advanced swimmers, the White Caps! At a ceremony on the last day of camp, You’d get a certificate, and the following year could claim your new cap, following a little test. It took me 3 or 4 years to get out of the shallow part! And, another thing.. swimming lessons were before breakfast, around 6 AM. The water was cold!

To this day, I don’t like swimming. My sons and daughter have been subjected to the same lack of aqua-skills… the direct result of spending most summers at the New Jersey shore and never in swimming pools or lakes! You do NOT learn to swim at the shore. You learn first to run away from waves, later to jump them with some adult holding your hands, and ultimately, to surf them in to shore, usually landing in a rumpled, undignified heap on the beach, your suit full of sand and your belly full of sea water. One thing learned early is this: at all times, the ocean is in control. Not you.




The poem “First Lesson” is about learning to trust. It contains a fundamental truth: Fear is our greatest enemy. As a young student wrote about this poem:

In water, the only people that drown are the people that are frightened and distressed, same with life. If you close your heart because you are afraid that your trust would be betrayed, you are closing the door on life. Don't be afraid, use that trust you learned long ago, look around, and just lie back, gently, onto the sea of life, you will float, and you will get to your destiny.

Water is the matrix and the sustainer of our existence. We can not avoid it any more than we can avoid life itself. Or death. Some of us are the “pink caps” in the great seas of life’s trials and tribulations. We didn’t learn adequate coping skills, and we avoided the lessons that would provide them. We let fear cramp our hearts and stayed victims. Some of us even learn to enjoy the waves that knock us down and keep us from going forward. But just beyond those waves, the sea is calm, and the sea will hold us if we learn to trust. I am reminded of Emerson, whose stern father tried to teach him to swim by forcing him into the water off some wharf: The mortal terror was so strong after forty years Emerson could still recall the fright with which I heard his voice (as Adam that of Lord God in the Garden) summoning us to a new bath and I vainly endeavoring to hide myself.” There are pink caps hiding everywhere.

How do we learn to trust when fear cramps our heart? I think many of us were touched and inspired by Michael Phelps as much for his story as for his achievement: he overcame merciless taunting, teasing, and rejection time after time. Maybe his mother, or other adults, gave him that first lesson. Whatever it was, he did not succumb to fear.

Our reaction to a tragedy like Knoxville is to talk about security. But, there really is no security that can prevent every random tragedy. We might instead talk about a different kind of disaster preparedness, the kind that empowered those brave souls and that can empower any one of us as we face the myriad tsunamis that life will aim at us: trust.

How can we learn to trust?

· Practice breathing
· Find a teacher
· Practice in the shallow end (small challenges)
· Relax, let go (yoga, laughter)
· Be in community
· Use reason and intellect

Daughter, believe



me, when you tire on the long thrash



to your island, lie up, and survive.



As you float now, where I held you



and let go, remember when fear



cramps your heart what I told you:



lie gently and wide to the light-year



stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.






Philip Booth


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Nightmares and Dreams a World Away





I was halfway around the world when tragedy struck my fellow UUs in Tennessee. On my second day of a 9 day Interfaith Dialogue tour of Turkey, I stumbled into my hotel room in the Aegean port of Izmir and scanned the TV channels for something in English, jet lagged after nearly 24 hours travel, a brief night's rest, and 16 more hours of a packed itinerary that had just begun. I was drifting into that dazed travel slumber when I heard the two top stories on the BBC: first, a bombing in Istanbul, the city I'd left that morning and would return to for the last three days of my tour, had killed 13 and injured 150 others. Since this terrorist attack followed another the week before I left, I was trying to integrate my alarm when the second item was announced: A church shooting in the United States has left one dead and at least 8 seriously wounded..... then these words: a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee was attacked by a gunman. It was midnight in Turkey, just late afternoon here in Kentucky. The details were sketchy. We had to be up at 6AM for another flight to Antalya. There was really no one I could reasonably talk to. I trembled and prayed until I fell asleep.






I have heard that the real source of what we call "jetlag" is that the body has traveled through space so quickly that it takes a while for the soul to catch up. It sounds a little new-agey, but it does suit the feeling one has, of being so disoriented and detached that everything seems like a dream. The next morning I could not remember whether I had really heard this news, or had merely dreamed it (no.. I wasn't drinking! Our tour was led by and sponsored by observant Muslims!) until I spoke with a UU colleague, also on the tour, who by then had heard the news, too. Beyond creating disruption and delay for the rest of the group, there was indeed almost nothing he or I could do for several days to contact, reassure or comfort our congregations. Since we are in the neighboring state of Kentucky, and since we represent the only two full time called clergy there, a gap was left. Would our own folks be okay with us so far away? It wasn't a good feeling, and throughout the remainder of the trip, I shed lonely tears for my beloved UU family.








I need not have worried about their ability to handle this tragedy. Our colleagues Todd Ekloff, Gary Bennett, Kelly Flood, and Esther Hurlburt, as well as my amazing DRE Stacey Stone, were in Kentucky and rose to the occasion with an alacrity and clarity that even today leaves me humbled with gratitude. There were candlelight vigils led by clergy at all of the UU congregations in Kentucky on Monday evening, and even, on the following Sunday, at the newly forming UU Community of Frankfort in our state capitol. There is nothing I could or would have said that these colleagues did not say. With grace and eloquence, they showed what the best of Unitarian Universalism really is. It is courage, clarity, compassion, and love. It really is an astounding beautiful way of being in the world. It is the same passion and fortitude that galvanized Greg McKendry and all of the TVUUC members who saved countless lives. Something called them and they went toward danger rather than run away or cower. We are blessed beyond measure.






In the ebb and flow of church life, we forget this. It is as if we are so far from our roots of love and tenderness that we are like jet lagged dreamers, stumbling around and reacting rather than responding. We need to reunite our souls and our bodies. That day I had visited Ephesus, one of the greatest sites of Greek and Roman ruins, replete with the visions of paganism, Christianity and Islam for nobility, truth, and justice. There are a lot of earthquakes in Turkey, and precious things have been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Still, some of its greatest monuments have withstood even nature's terror. What struck me above all was the determination humans have to rebuild: our faith, our communities, our covenants.... the faith and the optimism to keep standing up for peace no matter what. I really do believe, as humans have believed for eons, that this beautiful dream can be realized on earth, and that nightmares can end. But we must each stand up when we are called.



Friday, July 04, 2008

Behold... a New Blog Post!

Fourth of July Homily to be delivered at Interfaith Faith & Freedom Shabbat at Temple Adath Israel:

FREEDOM’S NOT “FREE”

Faith & freedom homily July 4,2008


Not long ago, I watched a film called Aviator, about the life of Howard Hughes. I had always known how enigmatic, eccentric and…filthy rich he was, but I never realized how incredibly innovative he was as well. Sadly, his intelligence and creativity gave way gradually to his mental illness, an undiagnosed and untreated form of OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. His later life can only be described as tragic.

In some ways, we are like Howard Hughes. No, we don’t woo movie stars and we wonder how we can afford a tank of gas when he could have afforded a refinery! But like him, we have both the capacity for brilliance and courage alongside the human tendency toward ennui and passivity.

But what does this have to do with Fourth of July, or with our purpose in coming together.. a celebration of freedom and of faith?

It’s simple: what we think about when we contemplate Independence Day are these things: Liberty; patriotism; America; and Freedom. And what we, who call ourselves people of faith, must do together is to ask ourselves what our responsibilities are on this day and in these matters.

It is as if, for the last, say, eight years, we have been living in a dream – a bad dream, the kind of dream in which you try but fail to get somewhere or find something, or say something, or call for help. Your efforts are thwarted again and again. You feel helpless and hopeless, and wake up in a cold sweat.

It is as if we have suffered, these past years, from a vast mental “illness” of sorts, that has distorted our vision; dulled our reason; and eviscerated our courage. It is as if all of us, progressive and conservative alike, have been duped, divided, deceived, and deluded. HH was the quintessential American entrepreneur, the epitome of the American spirit. But he succumbed to something seemingly bigger and more demonic than he could manage: mental illness.

It’s no wonder some have resorted to cynicism and despair. We all know people who, like the very innovative George Carlin, say that there really is no hope. We know now that George Carlin, and Howard Hughes for that matter, were also victims of drug addiction. But their cases are different from ours only in degree, not in design. We too dull our senses of being disconnected and disenfranchised, if not with drugs then with TV, Internet, food, and things.

There is a sense in which, like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, would cry: What has been is what shall be. What has gone on is what shall go on. And there is nothing new under the sun. But, PT reminds us, the answer to Preacher is also in the text. He points to Isaiah: Thus says the Lord/ who made a way through the sea/ A path through the mighty waters/ Remember not the former things/ Neither consider the things of old/ Behold, I am doing a new thing/ Even now it is springing to light/ Do you not perceive it? (43:16, 18-18) I am doing a new thing.

Howard Hughes, after months, years, of giving into his illusions and obsessions, pulls himself out of his self-imposed exile, cleans himself up, and makes an appearance at a Senate hearing in order to defend his reputation. One can see, in the film, the extraordinary courage and will it requires for him to do this. Experts in the disease say that had it been 20 or 30 years later, medication as well as self-discipline techniques could have given Hughes the resources to manage his illness and live free of his agony.

To me, this was the most poignant part of the story, and I believe that it is a poignant part of our story as well. Some of us have tried and tried in numerous ways to respond, to resist, even to revolt against what we see as 8 years of infringement upon democracy, upon freedom, and upon collective well-being. We have picketed, prayed, fasted, and festivalled. We have sat through hours of lectures and panel discussions and read mountains of editorials, if only to reassure ourselves that we are not alone in our sense of alarm and deep chagrin. For certain, some of us have been more persistent and focused than others. The numbers of those who have resorted to resignation, indifference, or distraction have not been small.

But those of us who consider ourselves part of the faith community must remember this: it is our obligation to both endeavor and to hope. We are obligated by our covenants and our promises to believe that the possibility of something new, something even beyond our control, may present itself at any moment. There is no legitimate faith that does not contain a core of renewal, reconciliation, revival, or rebirth. No one articulates this more clearly than the theologian Paul Tillich:
The new being is born in us, just when we least believe in it. It appears in remote corners of our souls which we have neglected… It shows a way where there was no way before… The birth of the new is just as surprising in history. It may appear in some dark corner of our world. It may appear in a social group where it was least expected. It may appear in the depth of a national catastrophe… The new in history always comes when people least believe in it. .. when no way out is seen. The first thing about the new is that we cannot force it and cannot calculate it. All we can do is be ready for it.

All we can do is be ready for it. That does not diminish our responsibility to act. But it does underscore that our faith requires more than action. It requires contemplation, discipline, and commitment. That is the way in which we, as members of covenanted communities of faith as well as of interfaith movements, can best be ready when the Eternal says, Behold, I am doing a new thing.

Then we will know what to do. We must be ready; and we must do a new thing, as well.We see these glimmers of the new in such unexpected places. For example, the hundreds of Facebook youth who have all changed their middle names to Hussein in support of Barack Obama. Not unlike the non-Jewish citizens of Bozeman, MT, who in 1993 lit menorahs in their windows all over town to support marginalized Jews, these young people are a source of hope and a light. They are reminding us of how we can respond creatively and courageously. Behold, they are doing a new thing.

Tillich: The saving power of the new is the power of the Eternal (which T. says is love).. It remains new so long as the Eternal shines through it. Love is the power of the new within every (person) and in all history. It is working even today toward a new creation.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Better Never Than Late?

One hesitates to even whisper the name Jeremiah Wright now that it has become a faint echo from, lo, a whole week ago. I'm sure most folk in the Obama camp hope they never hear it again.



But the story of Rev. Wright and his famous congregant have not ceased to echo in my mind and to trouble my heart.



Call me touchy-feely or wishy-washy, but I make a lot of my decisions based upon intuitive reasoning. Much of what I understand about the Universe and the people in it is communicated to me not through words or formulas or prooftexts but in visual language, through sound and feel and maybe even something less quantifiable than that. Since most ministers, I am told, are "NF" on the Myers-Briggs scale, they ought to understand. This way of "knowing" the world has grown even more dominant for me as I get older. Is that what they call wisdom? Maybe... I know that sometimes, I AM wrong!



So, what I am about to say is what I have gleaned from those intuitive sources above, filtered through a week or more of contemplation and rumination. I agree with Boyce Watkins (http://www.boycewatkins.com/) that the real tragedy here is that a Black man and his pastor and friend of 20 years have been forced to sever their relationship by a media that hounded and pounded at them mercilessly. There are so many ways in which Barack Obama is being forced to deny and repress his "blackness." But when he dismissed his pastor for once and for all, I thought I saw pain, not artificial but genuine pain, in his face and heard it in his voice.



Wright has made some errors, but we know that he is a brilliant and distinguished man of deep faith and commitment. I also know, as do my fellow clergy, that even the most intelligent and insightful members of our congregations may see us through filters and lenses that make us look more super - human than we imagine. No doubt this was the case with Obama/Wright. After all, Barack had come to his discovery of his faith under that man!



When, for whatever reason, the veneer comes off and the clergyperson is revealed to be human, flawed, and especially when the perception arises that the clergyperson is in any way abandoning his/her congregant, the pain, anger, and disillusionment are so deep and so distressing that some people even lose faith.



But most don't. In fact, they may grow. That is my prayer for Barack Obama.. that he will emerge sadder but wiser. And for Wright... may he be wise enough and intelligent enough to see deeply into why it had to be this way.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

STRAIGHT FROM THE Press Conference.. yes, that one!

Here I am in Washington, DC... meeting with leaders of local affiliates of The Interfaith Alliance, who've gathered from across the country to share ideas and to learn. If you don't know about The Interfaith Alliance, you should! Our own Denny Davidoff has been a leader at the national level, and Rev. Galen Giungrich sits on the National Board. www.interfaithalliance.org

Even better, we get to spend a bit of time with Rev. Welton Gaddy, who is doing an amazing job here in Washington as well as on his weekly radio show (listen online... www.stateofbelief.com )
at protecting religion from government AND government from religion! But Welton hadn't slept well. That's because he spent yesterday at the Press Conference that Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave, and last evening at a related prayer service. He's concerned.

What Welton Gaddy is concerned about concerns me too. His words were:The chasm between Jeremiah Wright & his supporters & the working press is Grand Canyon wide. Jeremiah Wright is more right than wrong. The working press does not understand religion in America. They certainly do not understand the prophetic tradition in Judaism and Christianity.

He quoted another attender at Press Conference, who said:

“We are caught up in an epistemology of ignorance.” Indeed!

He's worried that 1) new voters who have come into the political process will give up if Obama fails and 2)if Obama succeeds, expectations of these new voters may be unrealistic. But he's also concerned that if Obama does not get the nomination, resentment will be enormous. I agree.

As we ended the conversation, he was considering The Interfaith Alliance's response to all of this. I understand that he plans to address it comprehensively on the radio program this week.

The Interfaith Alliance has been a large part of my ministry and my community witness the past 8 years. I am so proud to be a part of this organization and to help advance their goals. I admire the integrity, commitment, and passion of Welton Gaddy and my colleagues in this work. I am delighted that he seems deeply committed to using the resources and energies of his organization to address the deepening and alarming racial divide that has been exposed by all of this. I hope every leader and organization of conscience does the same. That will make some of it, at least, bear fruit.


Here are some pictures from our Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Beautiful Idea Made Real By Women...








There is a very special place in Eastern Kentucky that will restore your faith in the ability of humankind to find creative solutions to tough problems.






It's called Pine Mountain Settlement School. Last weekend, we took about a dozen high school youth from our UU Coming of Age Program along with some of their mentors to spend a few days there. I'd been there before, and enjoyed the home cooking, the wildflower lore, the bird watching and medicinal plant workshops, but I had never delved into the history.






Now, more than 5 years since my last visit, I am somewhat limited by a bad knee, so I spent part of an afternoon reading all of the old newsletters that were displayed in "Laurel House," the big lodge where meals are served and folk dancing is taught.






I discovered that Pine Mountain Settlement School was the creation of women -- two in particular, Katherine Pettit of Louisville and Ethel deLong Zande, of New Jersey. The buildings were designed by a woman architect! As I read, I marveled at the strength, determination, and forbearance of these women. Almost 100 years ago, they had the courage to hike miles and miles through Eastern Kentucky to connect with the simple people who lived there. They had the will and focus to try to make something better for these people to aspire to than poverty and resignation. But most amazing, they had the creativity to imagine and to bring to life a place where people could learn, celebrate, grow in competence and confidence, and not only transcend but also preserve their cultures -- the cultures of Scotland and England they had held onto for so long.




It's a magical place. So much love, laughter, and learning have poured out upon these meadows and hills that they seem to throb with echoes of a charmed past. One feels safe, comforted, and held by the land and the people.




I've been thinking about it ever since. I marvel at these women and what they were able to accomplish even though they didn't have modern technology, transportation or tools. In spite of fire, financial challenges, and frustrations galore, they remained focused, graceful, and gracious. I am so inspired by them!




I am touched by some of the connections to the woes of today. Misses Pettit and deLong describe families left fatherless by ongoing feuds, marauding gunslingers on horseback, and children leaving school at age 13 to work or marry. I was particularly struck by the similarity of these challenges to my current work in gang prevention.




I feel saddened by how much the kind of work they did is still needed in a region beset by the ravages of strip mining, unemployment, and drug abuse, a region where the KKK plans to hold a rally in the coming weeks. What they brought was dignity, enlightenment, hope, and joy. It's still there, and it's a beautiful treasure. www.pinemountainsettlementschool.com

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes


This is a picture of me with my good friend Rabbi Marc. He is a man with a huge heart, a gifted teacher as well as a dedicated social justice crusader. As President of the Human Relations Commission, he just started a city-wide initiative to prevent fledgling gang violence. He serves on any number of boards & task forces, in addition to serving his own congregation tirelessly. Last Wednesday, we posed for this picture after a meeting of The Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass -- I am President and he's the VP. Every week we have breakfast together with two other clergymen, a Presbyterian and a Baptist. We laugh, alot, and support one another through all sorts of travails.
Less than 48 hours after this picture was taken, Marc's wife Cindy died suddenly of massive heart failure. A nurse and mother of 4, Cindy was only 46 years old. At the funeral, more than 500 mourners filled the Temple and a fellowship hall nearby, and included the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Imam, the owner of the Lexington Legends, and the Governer of Kentucky. All of these people knew Marc from his active service. Cindy was behind the scenes, caring for the kids, holding down the fort. Their youngest daughter Rachel is only 8.
These untimely and seemingly inexplicable deaths are the catalyst for so much examination of self and soul. I find myself thinking each day about the fact that we really don't know how much time we have on earth, no matter how we pretend we do. So many times my Buddhist teacher Caitriona has said, your own death may be many years from now, or it may be later today. This made her words real.
Indeed, my own mother died in much the same way Cindy did, when I was even younger than Rachel. I am wondering, and my fellow Breakfast Club members are too, how we can best help. Marc was on Cindy's insurance... and their home was purchased with the expectation of 2 salaries. Today he spoke to me of how we (clergy) really do not learn how to walk with the bereaved through everything... he could not believe how painful it was to choose the burial site. He sounded so utterly exhausted and so bereft. If you pray, please include Rabbi Marc and his children, Corey, Josh, Ilana & Rachel in your prayers tonight.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Visit me! www.istenaldjon.blogspot.com

"I Just LOVE Kentucky! "


I spent a whole day thinking about how selfish people are. And mean! Mean-spirited, y'know? Tight-fisted, and .... stingy!


I decided to write my blog on the subject.



But then G.O.D. reminded me... I could write instead about how generous some people are. I could write about blessings instead of curses.



Here's one way to look at my chosen home... Kentucky. People stand up when they hear this song. And, they cry. It's kind of racist, though. I wonder what the young Black men in the video are thinking. I have mixed feelings about the song. After all, the original line was "all the darkies are gay." And, did you know that UK was like the last university to integrate their basketball team?





You gotta love it, though... what other state had someone named "Happy" as a governor? And he def. sings better than Bush!


Now here's another view of Kentucky. It's a wonderful place to live. It's beautiful, but mostly it's the people I love. They are amazing. I wasn't born here, but I'm going to die here.








Thomas Merton... Nappy Roots... Wendell Berry..... Adolph Rupp.... Ashley Judd... & me. Did I mention George Clooney?



I forgot about how selfish some people are. I live in a place where most people are generous with their smiles, their friendliness, and their time.



It's a blessing we woke up this morning, y'all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In Da Club wit God in the mix

Warning: please do not watch this if you are offended easily.





Confession: I like hip-hop. I wish there had been hip hop when I was a teenager. I feel like I would have had so much more... fun! When I think about the way we danced in 1973, it was kind of stiff and...very.... caucasian.



Most hip hop artists are Black, but hip hop fans are about equal Black & White, and almost every race, ethnicity, and religion in the world now has some form of hip hop. Even youth in Burma are using rap & hip hop to express themselves.



This video, which features a very gangsta- type rapper, 50 Cent, fascinates me. I just sit there and stare at it. I feel like I'll be skewered for saying this, but I actually like the song, even though I don't agree with the lyrics. The video is definitely sexist, and hints at violence, but its way better than some other rap videos I have seen. I love listening to hip hop. It makes me feel like dancing, but usually I don't because it would humiliate my children, and, anyway, my knee is shot (one year, eleven months & counting till knee replacement!)And, it's more honest than most churches, 99% of politicians, and 3/4 of the people I know. "I'm into having sex, ain't into making love," is so not politically correct, but it is the way many people feel at various times in their maturity & life cycle. It's kind of brutally honest.



I just have two questions: who would want Eminem to be doing experimental surgery on them (sorry, I don't know who the other guy is, but I'm sure someone will tell me), and why does 50 Cent need to have a legal tablet & read the lyrics while he's recording? I already know almost all of the lyrics & I am old & out of it.



Confession #2: I miss God. I don't think I ever really believed in a God, but I have at times believed in G.O.D. Just this morning I took my son to work, and he put a hip-hop station on. After I dropped him off, the announcer started talking about his relationship with God. I was entranced. I sat there in the 20 degree weather in the car, and cried. He said, "you got to have God in the mix." He spoke about how his plans always led him to the wrong places, but how, when he turned his life over to God, God took him in such a different/better direction. I am not so sure I believe in anything some days, but I like thinking about Providence. I could choose to believe that G.O.D./Providence/Grace has saved my son(s) from certain death, restored all of us to sanity, and given me strength to carry on. I don't mean that some "God" personally is managing our lives. NONONO! It's just that sometimes undeserved good comes, along with a great deal of undeserved trouble. So, maybe it's just randomness, or the law of averages. But maybe it is Grace. All I know is that it wasn't by my will, or their plans. The announcer said, write it down: God is great. There. I wrote it down! Skewer away!

Monday, March 10, 2008

YRU WHO???

Some of our teens who spent winter break in Biloxi building a house for Katrina victims.





I know there is supposed to be some controversy over funding of YRUU, but down here in Kentucky, it doesn't have much relevance to what we are about.


I don't think my bright, energetic, very committed Unitarian Universalist daughter could even tell you what YRUU is.

Nor, for that matter, could most of the High School age youth at our congregation.

I know that YRUU has worked mightily to overcome the culture that led folks like me to be disinclined to recommend its gatherings to youth in the congregation, far less my precious daughter. And I respect that. But I am beinning to wonder whether some things can be overcome.

Without any prompting from yours truly, she has come to the conclusion, via her powers of observation, reason, and intelligence, that the kids who come to Sunday morning HS RE, the kids who have time to go to "cons," and the kids who appear to have claimed the UU Youth territory, are some combination of the following: artsy (attend creative arts school); homeschooled; "emo"; or "goth." (If you don't get the last two, ask a youth). None of these things are bad or wrong: indeed these are great kids, wonderful kids. I'm guessing some of them need UU stuff more than she since they don't have as many other affinity groups. But does it follow that she doesn't need it?

Yesterday she stayed in church for the sermon. I didn't realize it until half-way through, and when I asked her, she simply stated she didn't want to go to HS RE and listen to the same thing one more time. At 14, she chose worship even with MOM doing the preaching! Maybe she'd rather be at home~ but if you read my recent posts, you know that ain't an option.


She's not alone. Almost all of the kids in our church who are involved in academics, sports, theatre & music programs either do not go to high school RE or GO TO OTHER CHUCHES!

This makes me angry, and sad. Something's wrong, and pushing YRUU and/or "cons" (maybe we should pick a new word.. one that doesn't sound like prison inmates??) harder is not going to fix it. Something has to change, and better minds and younger spirits than I will have to change it. We might start by paying YOUNG, SAVVY, clean-living, respectful and respectable youth leaders. Like the churches all of my daughter's friends flock to & try to recruit her to. You can't keep doing the same things & expect to get different results.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hello? This is BURMA calling? You're too busy? Oh, OK, never mind then. Sorry to BOTHER you!!!



Those fortunate enough to live in societies where they are entitled to full political rights can reach out to help their less fortunate brethren in other areas of our troubled planet.


Aung San Suu Kyi


People had so many more reasons than usual to skip church today. It snowed! and there was the whole time-change thing. Very confusing. Did I mention the UK game? It started at noon (yes, a few people actually got up and left at noon.)


But for those who came, to contemplate the troubles in Burma aka Myanmar, to learn about working with despair and moving from denial to compassion., it was a good day.


About half of those who bothered to show up also remembered to wear orange/red, and I was able to acomplish my goal of having a picture to put up on the website -- a site that we hope will be seen by many people in Burma -- http://www.dontforgetburma.org/


Was it a silly waste of time? Well, I don't think so. What do you think?
Use your liberty to promote ours... Aung San suu kyi

Saturday, March 08, 2008

.. so much depends upon a red .....

....disc harrow beside the white.. snow drift?


wouldn't cha know WCW was from new jersey, which explains why he was writing about red wheelbarrows & white chickens (well, explains it to everybody who is from New Jersey, not to everybody else who thinks it's a toxic waste dump and asks you "which exit?" when you say you are from NJ).



Anyway, I do love my birth state (OK, technically I was born in PA, but you-know-what-I-mean) but nothing is as sweet to me now as the blue skies of Kentucky and the rolling hills of Washington County.





But even at my farm, all alone, I couldn't completely forget. Which is a good thing....








http://www.dontforgetburma.org/

Friday, March 07, 2008

Note to Self: PUT DOWN YOUR DUKES!


... yes, I really wore this shirt to Southland Christian Church, when I attended the Dave Ramsey Live event last night.

But I wore it under a button-up oxford shirt & a jean jacket. It was supposed to be a joke for the other UUs I attended with, but, like so many "it's just a joke" statements, it masked some serious issues. Of mine.

More on Dave Ramsey later! I want to blog about WHY AREN'T UU churches teaching Financial Peace (because I see only one reason.. it's Christian) .. but it's now or never if I plan to get to Innisfree today. It's already snowing (are you jealous yet? The farm in snow!! NO phone! No email! No WORK!) and I have an hour's drive.

I should have worn something to camoflauge the big chip on my shoulder going into Southland. No one hit me over the head with crosses, or Bibles, and the 3,000 people gathered appeared to include all sorts of folks. I learned about more than Financial Peace.

The mega church way is NOT my way, but it's the way for many, many people. I don't have to be so judgmental. At least, not about that. There are far worse things for me to shine my prophetic light upon. And my passive-agressive T shirt is.. well, I still think it's cute. Duchess my goddess, I mean doggess, does too. Teehee!

Monday, March 03, 2008

A CHILD NAMED Liberty IS BORN...

I Love UU kids' names! They are so amazingly creative and expressive. In our own congregation we have Echo, Willow, Ishan, Malik, Zebulun, Bahni, Neileasha, Weston, Gethan, Daghain, Rique, Kirkland, McAuley, Oliver, Jules, Sarita, Zoe, Micah, seveal Elis and two Gareths.


In the picture, Cheyenne is lighting the chalice at the Inaugural Service of the Frankfort UU Community along with Liam.





They just keep coming! This week, a new family arrived with a baby named "Nia."


I believe that UU parents bless their kids with unique names, because they want to make s strong statement that each child is unique.


One of my student friends at UK, a young Black woman named Kimber, wrote one day on her facebook: I am the living dream of my ancestors.


She is, too. And so is every child.


But here's the best one yet: two weeks ago, a baby named Liberty visited our church with her parents.


Maybe we are coming out of a long tunnel of fear and disillusionment, and the names of babies being born show that. Maybe we as a people are becoming unafraid to dream of Liberty.What a beautiful idea!


I hope it is so.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Warning: Your Kids' Souls May be in Danger!




Here's my newsletter column. I feel good about speaking my truth on church attendance. Let's see what the rest of the gang thinks. Ha!



WARNING! If you do not want to know what I really think about church attendance, and especially children’s church attendance, read no further.

Okay, for everyone still reading, here it is. Church is a spiritual community of seekers, of servers, and of advocates for freedom, reason and diversity. We have important work to do on ourselves and in the world. That said, there’s nothing wrong with having lots of fun doing it! As you know, I am all for dancing, shouting, singing, eating, and playing together. And laughing. Especially laughing.

But, it’s no laughing matter that over and over, I see people who have allowed their children to eschew church attendance coming back around and talking about some very serious issues their kids have had to face. And, I see people who have themselves decided church is optional come crawling back when illness, tragedy, death and despair loom large, acknowledging that they really do need an actual physical place to go to tend to their spirits.

That doesn’t mean I think that all UU kids will avoid troubles and all who drift will be in danger! Heck, my own sons have hit just about every bump in the road you could dream up. They almost never come to church now that they are adults. But when I see them treat people with respect, stand up to injustice, and apply reason and wisdom, I know for a fact that a big heap of what’s strong and brave and true in their spirits came from their UU experience. And yes, I had to drag them, bribe them, the whole nine yards. It was not an option, and that was so even before I was “the minister.”

All kids, almost without exception, go through periods when they don’t want to go to church! It is the responsibility of the parents to make sure those kids keep coming to church. That’s what I believe. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and you can try to convince me otherwise. If you don’t love, cherish, and feel strongly enough about this faith that you chose!!! to make sure it is the faith home for your children until they are adults, I wonder about that. This is where I think liberal parenting goes astray. Going to church on a regular basis, whether that is once a month or once a week, shouldn’t be optional. It’s not about whether your kid thinks Sunday is cool enough, entertaining enough, or stimulating enough to bother coming. Because the world needs you and your children, your gifted, courageous, phenomenal children, to be Unitarian Universalists. It’s not about what you and they can get; it’s about what they can give.

Everything I said above applies to adults as well. If you come to church with a consumer mentality, if you check the sermon blurbs like movie ads to see if you are “interested,” if you judge church by what you get, consider what I said. How about what you can give to a broken and hurting world? That Sunday you opt to blow off church might be the day that your smile, your handshake, your word of kindness could literally save a wounded soul. No, I am not exaggerating. You are that important!

And, shoot, I miss you when you aren’t here. I miss your kids. Think about it. Don’t wait until your spirit in danger to really join in this community. There is only now.

See you in church!

Below: A few of our beautiful, courageous youth bein' allies at the GLA Prom 2007...


Friday, February 29, 2008

"How To Start a UU Church in 3 easy steps"



This is the view from our new church, the UU Community of Frankfort!

This Sunday is our Inaugural Service. Hereafter, we'll hold services every other Sunday at 4.

We have our own Office/Meeting Room in an historic downtown building. In addition, we rent the huge, airy & sunny yoga studio for our bi-monthly services.

We have about 20 at worship, & a mailing list of 50. Attendance should increase dramatically now that we have this space & can meet on Sundays.

We'll declare ourselves a congregation in a year or so... maybe sooner.





These are a few of the people. See them smiling? They're excited about the possibilities for uu-ism in the state capitol, a lovely old town with the oldest historic Black University, the grave of Daniel Boone, and a half-crazed legislature trying to ruin our state with nuclear power plants, mountain top removal, and anti-gay legislation. Can you say creation museum??? UUs have plenty to do here.

O.K., here are the three steps. Trinitarian --ish , I know.... they were on to something with the threes, though.

1. Patience! It's an organic process. Time and roots are required. Years, love & much tending of the soil. Try keeping out the weeds & pests, though.

2. Listening & Leadership. I think a good minister is required. I am doing this in a rather guerrilla fashion, since most of my own congregation is at best indifferent about it all (even though it's technically a satellite church.. whatever.) Things started moving quickly when I took charge. Sometimes strong leadership is required. Right now, I have no days off, and I'm exhausted. This too, shall pass, for the church will find a minister that they can call & pay. That's the goal.

3. Courage. Some risk-taking is required, and... not to harp on this too much, but folk are more willing to take risks when their minister is walking with them. Don't wait for your District or the UUA to help. So far, the answers I have received have ranged from a flat "Well, you know there's no money for this." (way to kill a dream.. lol!) to "Great News!" I can't wait to see who takes credit for it when we declare ourselves a congregation.

Anyhoo, I'm ready to start my next one.... gas prices are high & folks are getting to where they can't drive to Lexington. If you want to start a UU church, minister-friends, if you have time & heart & chutzpah, just do it. At least try. We owe it to this amazing faith to make it available to all. Best I can tell, no one's going to stop you.

www.frankfortuu.org

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

THIS AIN'T NO CAMELOT, This is the 'natti!

Maybe the pictures tell the story. Yes, I let my 14 year old skip school. Yes, we stood in line for 2 hours in the damp cold of Cincinnati. Yes, we took pictures and acted like we were at a concert. The cynics among us say this is hero-worship, projection, a phenomenon (phenomenon comes from a root that means not real). But I used all of my senses (did you know there are 11, not just five?) to come to my own conclusion about Barack Obama.

Maybe the long line is a good place to start. Ahead of us were an elderly Black couple. They stood in line to see this man who might be President. Like I, they must have never thought it could happen in their lifetimes.

Behind us was a very stylish, tall Black man, alone. Maybe he was gay? If so, I wonder how he felt when Obama included the word "gay" in his list of people who must be considered for us all to be free. Funny, even though he was speaking in Cincinnati, before a mostly African American crowd, and, hey... don't Blacks have an issue about gay folk?? .. there was only applause. Gee, maybe all of the things we have been thinking about ourselves and one another could be re-examined.




That brings me to my senses: it was not what I saw. Yes, Obama is handsome and charming, but if that were all it took, George Clooney would be running for President. There are equally handsome, charming people selling drugs all over this country.

It wasn't what I heard; it was the same stump-speech I could almost recite by heart now. I did want to hear how he said it... with what degree of sincerity and authenticity. I heard.

It was what I sensed all around me. That's what I was listening to and watching, smelling and feeling and absorbing.

All around me were people who were excited again about the future, hopeful again about peace and justice and equity, alive again.

Then it ended, and Marjorie and I stayed for awhile to watch what happened after. Obama stayed for 45 minutes or more, shaking hands with every individual, very slowly making his way to the exit.

Then he held the baby.

Of course, all politicians hold babies. But this one moment wasn't for the cameras -- they were gone (except for people's cell phones & digitals). It wasn't for the crowds. They were gone, too. I'm thinking he already has the votes of those of us who hung around. She was about a year old, a girl, African American. I was filled with wonder about what tragedies and triumphs her life would bring. Then, right before he left the hall, he paused and looked up. He made eye contact with those of us standing above him. Somehow I believed that he wasn't just posing but that he is also capable of absorbing the expressions on the faces of all the people he meets. He knows what we are dreaming. I was crying even before he did this, not because of what he said or did or how he looked. It was because I felt so many of us gathered together, and for that one, brief slice of time.. that one shining moment... stopped being afraid to hope.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Defiled or Immaculate...




Defiled or immaculate,
Increasing or decreasing -
These concepts exist only in our minds.
The reality of Interbeing is unsurpassed.

Gatha for Using the Toilet




After ten years of on/off practice & study, I am still a newborn when it comes to Buddhist philosophy. But it doesn't bother me at all.... what I haven't learned lies before me like a vast ocean full of unrealized treasure.




But I have learned a few things. One is that phenomena can be both beautiful and ugly, even simultaneously. When I first read the words.. "defiled or immaculate," posted on the inside door of the potty stall at Manzanita Village in California, I thought speculating about the beauty and repugnance of human waste was taking things a bit far.




But learning to be mindful and to observe provides many wonders. One is that I can see grace in horror and beauty in danger and destruction. "The reality of interbeing is unsurpassed." I can also see both in me.




We thought an ice storm like the one that hit us here in Kentucky 5 years ago was coming on Thursday, so I dug out the old pictures. This was the first thing I noticed: broken tree limbs, ruined rooftops, and crushed cars filled frames of very gray and ominous skies. At the time we felt as if it were something like the end of the world might be.. so cold... so quiet.. so devastated.




Still, a few of the pictures were taken (by me) in awe of the splendor and magnificence of nature's wrath. The very ice that ruined thousands of glorious trees, pulling them to earth with its weight in ominous cracks like gunshots, was the same ice that glistened and tinkled like precious crystal on limbs of a shrub.




Maybe ministry is just this: a search for the beauty in all of life's terror and sadness and destruction and waste. And in ourselves.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It Didn't Hurt & I Never Regret It!





Somehow a conversation about ministers with tattoos has begun. I never

considered getting a tattoo ~ never! So, maybe it was some sort of mid-life whim, but I don't regret it.



My DRE and I went to the contemporary worship conference in San Diego. Besides enjoying warm weather in the mid-winter and getting some great ideas about music, ritual, and liturgy, we spent some time with her brother, and got talking about his tattoos.


I asked him where he'd suggest I go to get one, and he responded by calling his tattoo artist and making me an appointment.


That night, I thought about what image I would have & where (on me). UU chalices were out.. too predictable. Peace & yoga signs... too common. I started looking at Buddhist symbols on line and came across the Tibetan script for the chant I love so much, the well-known om mane padme hum. It was pretty, and I didn't think too many people would have it. In fact, the artist didn't know of it, and had to get the image from my laptop.


Figuring out where to get it wasn't hard. When you are 52, there are only a few places where your skin isn't likely to get saggy and mess up the tattoo. So, I did it. It didn't hurt, the guy did an outstanding job, and it healed very quickly.


What are the pros & cons? My 14 year old loves it and brags to her friends that her mom has a tattoo. It's fun to shock people who think I'm fairly conventional. It makes me feel closer to my nephew who passed away (remembering him was one reason I did it.)


On the down side, I didn't think about how often I wear sleeveless dresses in the hot summer, and there are times.. for example, leading worship.. when I am not totally comfortable flaunting it. When I went to Romania, I was informed that many people would associate tattoos with convicts, and by no means would it be acceptable on a woman mnister!And (I didn't even consider this) you can't give blood for one year after getting a tattoo. Gazing upon the image is supposed to bring profound peace, but I never see it unless I look in the mirror.


One of the funniest experiences I've had with my tattoo is that I ran by the church to meet with a couple for whom I'd be doing a wedding, and pulled on a cardigan over my sleeveless top. When I went out to meet the couple, the groom-to-be was covered with ink, and had several piercings as well! I didn't need to worry about offending him!


It's been about a year this week. Guess I'll celebrate by donating some blood!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Write LOVE on your arm...




It came up as a group on facebook. Three hundred thousand people are taking part: young people mostly, but some old folks (for example, me), who agree that this time of year, and Valentine's Day especially, is very hard for depressed and suicidal people.The group urges everyone to write the word "love" on their arms, and, when asked, to explain about suicide prevention, about the group, and ask in turn to write "love" on their arm.


My daughter and I took part in the suggested ritual. Unfotunately, it was a snow day, so were at home until noon, and then we had to wear long sleeves.


So.. I am sharing a picture. Maybe Love is the Movement can help you or someone you know. It can't hurt. Oh... Duchess is talking part, too. Reminds me that a good dog can help get you through a bad depression.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

... so much for "new games"...


Maybe we UU types are just a little more competitive than we let on. Can't help noticing all the
lobbying for blog awards... I know, it's all in jest, but hey, let's admit that a little knock down drag out competition is fun sometimes. And... motivational. I couldn't get up much enthusiasm for keeping this blog going when only a few folks were reading it. But I shall be the first to admit that I love it when my blog floats to the top of the DiscoverUU list, so I post more frequently. There's nothing like knowing that a colleague is coming to your worship service to get you preaching at your best. And hey... those check-ins at clergy retreats? Come on, y'all, everybody's kids can not be doing THAT well.




We are all prone to one-upmanship. And something about the minister-biz feeds that. The congregations rate our sermons and look at upcoming services as if they are members of the Academy cruising for Oscar winners. The whole candidating process is so much like a dating game that some of us would rather stay where we are forever than get out there and be compared, judged, and analyzed on our fancy tap dances or our fancy schmancy packets.




I remember the first time I worked with youth and we used the NEW GAMES book. It's cool that UUs believe in cooperation and stuff. But sometimes I just want to have contests for who attends church the most, or start a volleyball team and challenge the Baptists, or publish everybody's pledges so theycan see who is on top.




I'm from New Jersey and we thrive on competition. Think Philadelphia sports fans. I love to argue. My husband once said, "That's not a conversation, it's a competition." I don't gamble, I don't play sports, and I have never played a computer game or video game, but I can be viscious about Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit and I used to be a mean ping pong player.




I know I am competitive. I love to win. And my M.O. has been that if I can't win, I don't play. I'll be working on that.. but meanwhile, I'm going to start figuring out how to make my blog cool so I can be in the Blog awards next year!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Crashing Charlie's Party: Thoughts About Interlopers, Tolerance & Evolution

Revival 2006 at Asbury College, Wilmore, KY.


"The mission of Asbury College, as a Christian Liberal Arts College in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, is to equip men and women, through a commitment to academic excellence and spiritual vitality, for a lifetime of learning, leadership and service to the professions, society, the family and the Church, thereby preparing them to engage their cultures and advance the cause of Christ around the world. "

Asbury College is just down the road a piece. It took me a few years, after moving here from California, to figure out why all of the Methodist Churches here are so conservative. In CA, I'd worked closely with progressive clergy and laity from United Methodist churches. I even attended Wesley Seminary in D.C for a year with other UUs, including our beloved late Marjorie Bowens Wheatley. Yes, they were theologically conservative, but there were women clergy, gay and lesbian members, and what appeared to me to be great diversity and vigorous life in the churches. Not so here in Central Kentucky. Both Asbury College and Asbury Seminary are among the most conservative for their denomination.

You can imagine our discomfort when we were first visited by students from the college~ students carrying Bibles and sitting together, and upon discovering they'd been sent by a professor to observe our services. Still, they were given the same warm welcome as anyone, at least at first. I still have not determined whether the incidents that occured were encouraged by the teacher, or initiated by the students. I am guessing the latter.

But, on several occasions now, I have had to ask students to leave when, after services, they have cornered members & (more likely) other visitors, and attacked our church in a hostile, aggressive, and most evangelical manner.

Some UUs probably think it's fine for them to come and question.. after all, aren't we tolerant and open? Don't we encourage debate and don't we have "freedom of the pew?"

Here's what I think: it's fine for them to come. If we happen to offer open discussion that weekend, they'd be welcome there, too. But to enter into the sacred space of a worshipping congregation with the express intent to accost people about their views is an invasion, an unacceptable transgression of boundaries. So.. even when no one else wants to confront them, I do. I simply tell them that this is our time of worship, and whether they approve or not, we also don't agree with their beliefs, but we would never invade or disrupt their time of worship. Then I ask them to move on. Usually, they are rude, call me a hypocrite, and the like.

I will never forget the time we engaged in a meditation where people were asked to make eye contact and those students tried to avoid participating. One young father from our congregation turned to them and with more Christ-like love and compassion than I have witnessed in a long time, included them in his care. It was a transcendent moment.

Since then, two former Asbury students have joined our UU Church, and have helped me understand, and, on one occasion, have taken on the interlopers.

What bothers me most is when they insist upon talking with visitors, who have no doubt gone through a long process of deciding to come. Anecdotal evidence tells me that here in Central Kentucky, people are confronted with such negative propaganda about UUs that just taking the risk to visit is a huge decision. And, then, to be cornered, and aggressively proselytized? Not on my watch.

Yes, I have contacted the school and the teacher, and the evagelism seems to have abated, but they still visit. I have requested that the students identify themselves, and yesterday they did. I don't know whether it was intentional, but they picked "Evolution Sunday" this semester. Interestingly, they left before the homily piece, a (hilarious, if I do say so myself) readers' theater/skit called "Charles Darwin meets the UU Barbies and the Code Pink Team."

Maybe they or others from the college (by the way, the Seminary, though also conservative, does not engage in this behavior, and actually has some outstanding, almost progressive, faculty) will be on hand tomorrow night, when the Kentucky Association of Science Educators and Sceptics present a talk de-bunking the wildly successful and very scary "Creation Museum" recently built in Northern Kentucky.

Then the gloves will be off, and KASES can take on the faithful. Funny how little humans have evolved when it comes to civility.