Thursday, January 31, 2008
We left on Christmas Day, and arrived early on December 26th -- twenty members and friends of the UU Church of Lexington. Why Christmas? Some of us, tired of the materialism and commercialism of Christmas, had decided to spend our holiday helping others. Some of us needed to start Dec. 26th in order to be back in school or at work within a week. Ranging in age from 4 to 64, we were an international team: a Partner Church minister from Transylvania, an Alabanian exchange student from Germany, and one American born in Saudi Arabia. The family for whom we were going to build a house are African American, working-class, lifelong residents of East Biloxi.
We completed our task, and surpassed our goal. Within a week, the new house was framed, and the outer walls were begun, and sheathing on the roof. Astounding for a team of mostly novices! There have been several other groups from Lexington in our wake, and the family should be moving into their completed home this weekend. After almost two years in a very small FEMA trailer on the site of their former home, and 6 months across the bay in a FEMA trailer camp, it will be a momentous homecoming.
Since then I have discovered that the UU funding program gave $50k to the East Biloxi Relief & Coordination Center, the agency with whom we worked to complete our mission. How cool is that??!! We also had the blessing of attending services at thedetermined-to-survive Gulf Coast UU Fellowship, with their wonderful minister, The Rev. Susan Karlson. Connections abound!
Most of our team will never see the results of what we did, except maybe in photographs. What amazes me, one month later, is how many other things were begun and built during that week: Confidence. Friendships. Trust. Leadership. Skills. Goodwill. Faith.
What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in Biloxi comes home with you and continues to unfold for a long, long time.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
We must become ignorant
Of all we've been taught,
And be, instead, bewildered.
Run from what's profitable and comfortable
If you drink those liquers, you'll spill
The spring water of your real life.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
I have tried prudent planning
Long enough, from now
On, I'll live mad.
Sometimes, in mid-winter, it's hard to believe that good as well as bad things really do happen. It seems as if every phone call brings bad news. And, it has been proven that more people die at this time, and that depression does increase, and the weather in my part of the world reflects that outlook.
So, when I was invited to participate in an all-expense paid trip to TURKEY, it came as not only an enormous surprise, but a reminder that grace really does happen. I never win anything! I don't believe in any sort of gambling, and have never even bought a lottery ticket, so my chances of winning are pretty slim. Imagine my surprise when three young men, all PhD students at UK, with whom I have worked on several interfaith projects, invited me and another community leader to dinner at a delightful Turkish restaurant, and after a lovely meal, presented us a brochure describing this ten-day trip, and told us we'd been chosen to go! Sponsored by the Istanbul Cultural Center, an Atlanta based organization that promotes interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue, the annual trips are offered to two small groups with tour guides and translator: Ephesus! Cappadocia! Ankara! Rumi! Whirling Dervishes!!
Now, I would never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that I'd go to Turkey! First, there are no UU groups there (it's 99.8 % Muslim!); second, I didn't know anyone from there; and third, I didn't know enough about Turkey to know how spectacular and rich in Christian as well as Muslim history it is.
After the initial shock, I had an interesting array of reactions: guilt (what about the rest of my family?); suspicion (what do they want?); relief (I'll miss the GA and won't have to decide what to do about the security kerfluffle); unworthiness; anxiety; more guilt. But underneath these mostly negative, self-critical emotions ran a thread of child-like delight, wonder, and awe... that feeling you knew when a great aunt gave you the most perfect, absolutely beautiful stuffed bear, the kind with movable joints, a real treasure that your parents would never have chosen: Yes, I deserve this and I am special! I knew it! Somebody noticed! they picked me! Whoppeeeee!
It occurs to me that this joyful, childlike self is and has always been there, buried beneath layers of self-defeating muck. After ten years of Buddhist practice, she emerges more frequently than not. I love acknowledging her and letting her out, even though I know others will take up where I left off, and try to trigger my guilt, fear, anxiety, mistrust, etc. I will try to smile and wish them well. Because whatever they say, I am going to Turkey! Good things happen, probably at least as often as bad. Call it Grace; Call it karma. I promise to send a postcard.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Okay. I confess! The reason I went to Southland Christian Church (see last post) was for a luncheon given by Financial Peace University.. encouraging pastors to offer Dave Ramsey's program to their congregations. Don't know about Dave Ramsey? You will. With the pending recession, more and more folks in our congregations are going to "hit bottom" financially, and many will need encouragement, help, and inspiration, because we are going to have to change!
Now: if you are debt free, use cash only, and are prepared for retirement, read no further. But, if you, like the average American, have 5,000 to 50,000 dollars of consumer debt, buy almost everything with plastic, and have very little in savings, you might consider a radical ovehaul of your relationship with money. Dave Ramsey is just one of many gurus out there. But he is the most wildly popular (national radio & TV shows, huge publishing enterprise) because his program works. I am convinced, but I know I shall have a hard time convincing many UUs.
Here's the kicker: Dave's program is very Christian. It's taught almost exclusively in Christian churches, and all of its materials include Biblical references and trinitarian, even evangelical, language. For me, it's okay. I attended non-UU seminary, attend a 12 step program, have worked extensively in interfaith and anti-racist groups that include conservative Christians, and hey, I live in Kentucky. Hence, I am able to overlook, translate, or tolerate portions that bother me.
My partner church minister's reaction was fascinating. Transylvanians, especially those in villages, don't have the problems Dave solves. Since most are not employed (they practice sustainable agriculture), and those who are employed make perhaps $100 a month, the vast majority of our Unitarian cousins in Transylvania don't have mortgages, credit cards, or car payments. Still, these things are creeping into the Romanian economy, and Bela learned a great deal.
But he was angered that Ramsey chose to use God as a vehicle for his message. It's fairly clear that 1)Ramsey is himself a devout Christian and understands things in those terms and 2) churches are a fantastic marketing vehicle for his product: books, tapes, CDs, and much more.
Still, if we could lay cynicism aside -- just for a moment -- we might see that financial peace is a spiritual quality, one that UUs could also use. The basic principles are not in conflict with our beliefs. My husband and I are taking the class now, at an all-Black, Seventh Day Adventist church. Our relationship with money and with one another has improved dramatically. We have replaced despair with hope and aversion with fascination at how we can work together to reach our goals. Now I want to find out how Financial Peace can be made humanist-, Jewish-, Buddhist-, or agnostic-friendly. I'm guessing I am not the only one!
Finally -- maybe most exciting for clergy-types and church leaders: Dave teaches folks to give away a chunk of their money to charity! He believes that we should give first, then save, then pay bills. I am convinced that our congregations are full of folks who could, and in many cases, wish they could, give so much more to our good work and to sustaining and promoting our faith. Financial Peace type classes could address that, while bringing tremendous benefits to those we serve. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
what's a blueser? zoltan knows--he made it up. Zoltan's the teacher in our partner village in Nyomat (Romania). It means someone who loves the blues! Passionate! It came to me as I was planning a guided meditation for today's service. The sermon was called Bible of the Blues.. and all week I was listening to everything from Robert Johnson to Nirvana. My daughter could not figure out why her dad and I were having so much fun wailing the Allman Brothers' Tied to the Whipping Post (try it; it's very gratifying, and confuses teenagers). I decided to use the crossroads story (you know, the one where Robert Johnson traded his soul to the Devil for his musical talent) and expand the metaphor.
The story might leave one thinking there are two ways you can go at the cossroads, back or forward. In fact, at any crossroads, there are 4 ways to go. Right? I mean, correct? And here's what I decided. At the crossroads, there's a choice to be made. A decision. Something has happened that has provided new information. You can:
* go back and pretend you never saw the crossroads (snoozer, because you'll never know )
* go back, and refuse to change, even though you know more (Loser, because you'll never grow)
* go forward & deal with the new knowledge recklessly (boozer)
* go forward and deal with the crossroads experience by becoming more authentic, more courageous, more YOU (blues-er)
I made it all up but I like it. What will it be: blues-er, boozer, loser, or snoozer? You be the chooser.