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.

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.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Witch Has a Party for Dorothy!

... you KNOW your friends are cool when they put together a birthday party based upon your favorite story... The Wizard of OZ.
It was planned by my 14 year old daughter who was every bit as stressed as I usually am when I entertain, while I rolled in after 24 hours at my farm.
Hurry up!You have 5 minutes to dress up like Dorothy, the wicked witch with icing all over her fingers commanded me. Then the rainbow & Glinda arrived.
Our huge dog Duchess (NOT Toto) escaped her confinement and ran across the yellow brick road, tearing it up. The cat finished it off. The Wicked soundrack wouldn't play, so we had to listen to hip hop and do the solja boy dance... again. Marjorie forgot that it was cream cheese I usually color green for tea sandwiches, and she made green tuna fish.
Last year I had a kids only party that I planned myself. This year it was cool women & their daughters.
I'm not sure when I will let men back in. They kind of spoil the party.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

It's All About Me... and Innisfree

I am thinking some people do not know that finally I bought the farm...

The farm that I have dreamed about for decades. It's in Washington County, Kentucky, about one hour from here, a beautiful drive down the Bluegrass Parkway from Lexington.

Just far enough out that it didn't draw horse farm prices (easily ten times higher immediately around Lex), and that the Internet and cell phone don't work, but close enough to run away to, even for an afternoon.

Someday, I hope to turn the farm into a retreat where UUs and other progressive & loving people can come together to study/write/practice mindfulness/meditate/celebrate/learn, especially about sustainability & environmental justice. Let me know if you have a few hundred thousand dollars to spare and we'll roll.

Meanwhile, it's my retreat... quiet, beautiful, loaded with reminders of birth and death and change and renewal, of hope and of loneliness. Can you tell how much I love it? As soon as I finish my homily for Evolution Sunday, I'll be on my way. A fire in the fireplace, my walking stick, and some good reading material.... ahhh!

It's called Innisfree, after a very well-known poem by Yeats. But in case you have forgotten it, here 'tis:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there,

a hive for the honeybee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

LABELS are WICKED!!!!!!!!!

Last Friday I had the chance to see Wicked in Cincinnati. It was awesome, but I nodded off for 5 or 10 minutes in the first act, because I was so exhausted from ministry, and life, and driving up to the 'natti in a snowstorm(ish), and it was so warm in there, and someone was singing so beautifully. Anyway, I got about $78 of my $80 worth, and I'm glad I did. I already knew what Wicked was about. We all know the story already anyway. People are labeled because they are different, and the labels begin to define them. Only through unconditional love can they return to their original state, which is wholeness.

I love sitting around and musing about the connections between the various aspects of my life and experiences. I guess that's what all ministers do? I couldn't help noticing the parallels between the story of Elphiba and the stories of our UU teens, fifteen of whom came to our Coming of Age meeting Sunday night, and after we shared our faith/theologies and ate sundaes with a variety of toppings brought to represent each of our beliefs, our DRE had us place sticky notes on ourselves with all of the labels people had given us. As each person (youth and mentors too) tore them off and read them, I had the most powerful realization of what our teens face, and how courageously they face it, with humor, wisdom, and tolerance. Some of the teens had 20 labels or more.

I am going to copy them now. We had to crawl around and salvage them off the floor, and some are crumbled and torn. I just dumped them out of a Kroger bag. Here goes:

Emo, lazy, anti-christ,stupid, hick,ugly, hippie, WRONG, outcast, smart, tree hugger,satan worshipper, sinner, geek, jock, stupid, lesbian, atheist, satanist, tree hugger,nerd, tree hugger (this one was popular), liberal, liberal, confused, hippy, nerd, going to hell, nerd, meaningless, don't believe anything, square, witch, liberal, gay, poser, trailer trash (hey, it's Kentucky), hippy, liberal, insane, weird, lesbo, lazy, crazy, ugly, bossy, controlling,unethical, close-minded, witch (n keeping with the "Wicked" theme), tomboy, atheist, Unitarian, tree hugger, Damned, atheist, hippy, angry, immature, don't believe anything, radical, smart aleck, hippie, strange, tomboy, hippies, wrong, agnostic, certain, unspiritual, wishy washy, redneck, hippie, atheist, sick, loser, satanic, damned, satanic, agnostic, liberal, intolerant, crazy, non christian, flakey, god-hater, odd, geeky, lazy, interesting, smart, goth, teacher pet, hippie, lazy, devil worshipper, emo, cult, lesbian, loser, heathen, radical, sinner, long-haired hippie, sinner, lazy (???!!!i who is this... the parents??), hippie, unbeliever, no faith, lesbian, weird, dirty vegan (my personal favorite), and finally (drum roll): f**king Unitarian. Guess the above speaks for itself.

Hey, guess what? At the bottom of the Kroger bag (what do y'all who don't have Kroger stores call those plastic shopping bags??), there were 4 M&Ms and 1 chocolate chip. I ate them. The post-it note labels are sitting here in a big pile next to me. The teens wanted to burn them. I think I will.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Whatever happens.. this song/speech is amazing. Come on, don't be afraid. Put down those hymnals & sing with me...

Yes We Can

It was a creed written into the founding documents
that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists
as they blazed a trail toward freedom.
Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores
and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized;
women who reached for the ballot;
a President who chose the moon as our new frontier;
and a King who took us to the mountain-top
and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes we can to justice and equality. (yes we can)
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can. S
i Se Puede.
We know the battle ahead will be long,
but always remember that no matter what
obstacles stand in our way,
nothing can stand in the way
of the power of millions of voices calling for change.We want change!
We have been told we cannot do this
by a chorus of cynics who will only grow louder and more dissonant.
We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check.
We’ve been warned against offering
the people of this nation false hope.But in the unlikely story that is America,
there has never been anything false about hope.We want change!
I want Change.
The hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon
are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA;
we will remember that there is something happening in America;
that we are not as divided as our politics suggests;
that we are one people;
we are one nation;
and together, we will begin the next great chapter in America’s story
with three words that will ring from coast to coast;
from sea to shining sea -
Yes. We. Can.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

You Know You're from South Jersey if......

..... Groundhog Day is a really important holiday, not just the title of an annoying Bill Murray movie from the nineties. You have memories of jumping out of bed and wondering all day, until some evening TV reporter finally told you (there were no instant internet reports from Puxatowney) whether or not "Phil" really saw his shadow. It was important! You were sick of winter... the anticipation of snow had ended, Christmas was over, and everything was grey and brown and cold and ugly. To you, a child, six weeks sounded unbearably long to wait for warm days. Somehow, we all took this bit of whimsy seriously, for I can recall asking, later in February, "Did he see his shadow this year?" when I'd forget how long I had to wait.

You know you are from South Jersey if you associate New Years' Day with Mummers' Parade, not the Rose Bowl. You know you are from South Jersey if you think Mother Leeds' 13th child really lurks in the Pine Barrens. And, you are chagrined when you learn that these customs and rituals are regional. Indeed, people in other parts of the country have their own, thank you very much.

But as you stay longer & longer away from your homeland, you cherish its idiosyncises more than you ever would have imagined. You dream of them on cold winter nights, waiting for spring: Diners. Farmer's roadside markets. Cheese steaks. Wawa. No one else understands.. unless they are from South Jersey, too.

Like the Groundhog, you'd love to go back in your hole for six more weeks, and dream of home, of all you loved and all you left behind.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Looking Up.........

This is the first picture of me with my three children in .... hm? maybe ever. There are pictures, of course, but there's generally other people in them. That's because we haven't all lived together in the same state since 1999. So, visits have been short, and hectic, and pictures have been taken at relatives' homes or at restaurants with large groups of family/friends.

It's hard to look at some of those pictures. When active addiction has entered a family, it often results in what Family Systems theorists call cutoff. Family members go to great lengths to avoid one another and the pain they know they will cause/experience. Of course, distancing and cutoff don't fix or heal anything, and they make so many things worse. One of the worst parts of this is the lack of honesty that addiction compels. In order not to hurt those you love, you hide/dissemble/even lie, and we all know that one untruth leads to lots more. A good sign someone is on the recovery road is that he/she starts telling the truth.
This weekend I'll be preaching on addiction and UUs. The sermon is caled "The Pink Elephant in the Middle of the Room." When I planned the topic, I had no clue that my son would be here this weekend, moved in with us, trying again to make recovery work. I do know now that I believe recovery is possible, and that I accept that it's a process. There was a time when I couldn't possibly have imagined my son in a12 Step meeting. Today's his 26th birthday, and that's where he plans to go. Things are looking up.