Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Things & people that make life worth living #2: Small Banks (like Bank of the Bluegrass)

I have been telling people about my bank for 5 or 6 years now.. it's very small-- just two offices, and ATMs in the local Shell Stations. It happens to be our church's bank, too; that's how I discovered how incredibly kind, personal, and personable they are. Having tellers know you, light up when they see you, and help you joyfully rather than ignore or shrug off your concerns is a source of delight to me after all these years. Heretofore, we banked with National City, and whenever we got close to being overdrawn, they (like many banks) would deduct the largest debit first, so that rather than one overdraft, we'd have 4 or 5. No one knew us, and no one cared when we split. But I agree with the Huffington Post and others who are advocating this simple method of changing things -- if hundreds of thousands switch to small, local banks, the big ones will  care!

Check out the video and the list of banks near you that make the cut!

I also love my bank's Mission Statement. Here it is:

We operate our bank for a fair return to our stockholders. Our plan is to deserve the profit because we deliver a quality personal service our clients deserve and want.

Our guidelines for this service:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."




Patience - Understanding

Immediate action

Go the extra mile


Spirit of friendliness and teamwork

Responsiveness to needs

Knowledge of products

Know our clients by name

Keep a sense of humor

We believe that by carrying out this mission each and every day, we will reach our primary goal: to remain an independent bank.

They don't just say these things.. they do them! Makes living a little more worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"In Case You Were Wondering..."

.. about that structure in front of the entrance, it's a manger."


This is the UU Church the week before Christmas. The co-chair of the newly formed UU Christian Fellowship has come to the podium to explain the presence of something new at our church.. a manger built by the UUCF folks who will also help fill it on Christmas Eve with children portraying the Holy family.

Someone, seeing it for the first time, remarked that perhaps it was a guerilla manger, placed there by the orthodox who wish we would come back to the "true" faith and stop including everyone.

What's so funny? for the non-UUs reading this, we are an eclectic faith as far as our beliefs go, incorporating Humanists, Pagans, Buddhists, culturally Jewish as well as liberal Christian members. We celebrate Christmas as the birth of a great teacher and prophet. We also observe Kwaanza, Easter, Winter Solstice, and Yom Kippur. We  have our own holidays,including one called the "Flower Communion." In the past, we have had Christmas Pageants, but never a manger! This is new. This is different. This manger is so..permanent, and it asks us to consider more deeply than we may otherwise have done, the centrality of this Holy Day to Western Civilization. Dan could not have said a more perfect thing. His sweetly sardonic comment defused the situation and helped us laugh at ourselves without mocking anyone.

You see, among us are people who have been hurt deeply by traditional religion. As children, their bodies and/or spirits were beaten into submission with threats of Hell and sin. They may be gay or lesbian, and may for a lifetime have suffered Biblical interpretations which make them less than human. Many of them have left traditional religion behind.

The manger is where is belongs, right outside the door of the UU Church. I like it empty, because its symbolism is so piquant. It asks us, in case we are wondering, or even if we weren't wondering, "What is this place? Who is the child that will be born here? Who belongs in this empty creche?"

To me, the manger is in each one of us. It is our heart, waiting for a guest who will bring hope and light. The child is the Christ within, our own spirit of boundless love that waits to born, and born again, year after year, night after night. The miracle is available at any moment, to any one. Just in case you were wondering.....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Changing ScrUUge

an image from Dickens' "The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,"
 on which Sunday's service/skit will be based!

There have been countless renditions and interpretations of  A Christmas Carol, Dickens' beloved tale of redemption and transformation. Just yesterday, I saw a Curious George  episode  in which the man with the yellow hat (George's owner) dreams that he has given his beloved naughty monkey away only to be visited by the proverbial three visions of past, present, and future, and to awake,  joyful that George is still with him.  Most UU s know that Dickens, who didn't think much of organized religion, was closely associated with the British Unitarians, and is believed to have first conceived A Christmas Carol  after attending a service at a Unitarian Church. However, although the story is set on a "Christian" (really pagan) holiday, there is not a single religious symbol or icon in the whole tale! So, it is universal and open to endless interpretations throughout time.

Eight or nine years ago, I wrote a version for a church service, called  A UUCL Christmas, with Carols. (Two women named Carol were in the readers' theatre type skit.)It stars out with a grumpy and penny-pinching Board President named Elouiza ScrUUge, who only wants to spend money to preserve the building and keep things just as they are. She decides to get rid of the Staff to save money, and falls asleep.

Best line: "We'll use the money to install permanent pews! We're tired of moving chairs around to suit the whims of 'creative' people like our former music director!"

Her first visitor is the Ghost of UUCL Past, a sixties-era hippie, with a tale featuring "the barn," a hugely symbolic sacred cow that we talked about but never acted upon year after year. The barn reminds them of the Crachitt family, who bring Tiny Tim to church only to be ignored by a greeter who is smoking and reading The Whole Earth Catalog  and who flicks a few ashes on their Bible and send them out to the "RE" program, which consists of "unsupervised Chaos." They grab Tiny and flee to the Episcopalians with their million dollar bequest.

Best line: (ScrUUge)"Past schmast! UUCL has no past" Ghost: "UUCL has no archives! But there is most assuredly a past!"

Next is Christmas Present, an over-worked, over-committed soccer mom. She has exactly 17 minutes per week to spend on the church, and is very stressed. She quickly reminds ScrUUge that the Crachitts returned when Tim was a teenager, looking for a youth group, but that the congregation was too busy with a squabble over a tree that had been accidentally cut down at a grounds clean-up (that really happened, the tree, not the squabble) to notice. The tree starts telling the story of the history of our property, a wonderful tale about an early Kentucky farmer, who broke with the Baptists to build a house for freedom of worship in the wilderness and whose property synchronistically ends up owned by the Unitarians 150 years later.. but the tree is interrupted by the soccer mom, who rushes off.

Best line: (ScrUUge) "They couldn't have been turned off by the smoking this time! Why, we've even done away with coffee during the services.. we've practically gone Presbyterian!"

Finally comes the ghost of UUCL Future, accompanied by none other than Tiny Tim, now a MacDonald's employee working at the McD that has been built... where the church used to be!ScrUUge is told that due to her policies, even the most loyal members have left, and finally the property was sold to make a huge shopping pavilion featuring all of the retailers that UUs claim to detest. ScrUUge, horrified, is transformed by these visions and returns from her dreams a new woman, ready to make the church more welcoming and to pay attention to every visitor, and of course, she and the church thrive.

Best line: (ScrUUge) "I know thw rest, Tiny Tim dies for lack of teenage socialization, the Crachitts go away mad, and you point your long bony finger to my........ FRENCH FRIES!@#$???"

I re-read the play this week, and considered staging it again. It  is VERY funny! But, heavy-handed as the message is, it doesn't really apply ten years on. We truly have become a church where everyone feels welcomed, and we have changed. We still have challenges, but they are different ones. Our church has become more Universalist, with lots of families, many more native Kentuckians, and fewer PhD and Yankee intellectuals! Because we are far less classist now, we have trouble with income. So, we're changing again. We are learning that a church that's not sustained by rich members will have to do lots of fundraising beyond the pledge campaign. This year, for the first time, we had a gift tree with items for a family who are members of our church. Were I to stage A UUCL Christmas today, my message-lightly-cloaked-in-humor would be one about egalitarianism and overcoming classist stereotypes.

I'm actually delighted that it would have to be written all over. Change is painful for people and for congregations, but it is the only way to grow, to evolve, to adapt, and to become whole.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

JEEZ.. it's about US!

I am only mildly interested in whether the man Jesus was actually born and lived upon this earth.

Like most good literature, the story of Jesus' birth, life, and even death is "true" whether or not it is factual.

What's important to me is that even during our own lifetimes, people who were like Jesus in many ways have lived. We can see them, touch them, listen to them. We may even have given birth to them.

Most children, until their spirits are firmly squelched, have a wonderful sense of adventure and a living urge toward justice, freedom, and self-expression. Our Seth is a great example! He definitely needs some squelching; otherwise he will never "fit in." But I only want him to fit in just enough. To me, it is a crime equivalent to crucifixion to kill the spirit of a child. And yet, it happens around us every day.

My second son was sent to live with his father for over a year when he was around eight to nine. His father shamed him, punished him for normal kid things like spilling milk, and treated him with derision and even contempt. He wasn't beaten or neglected in any visible way. He had expensive vacations and lived in a showplace home. He attended a top-notch school and mingled with wealthy kids. But, from afar, where I prepared for ministry and cared for my newborn girl, I could see that part of him was dying. It was that natural will that questions, rebels, fights to be autonomous, and asserts what is fair and right. When we were together, and in photographs, I could see the veil that was being pulled over his rambunctious nature. He looked pale, frightened, and almost drugged. These were among the most distressing and terrifying months of my life. I didn't learn until much later that his father, in addition to the harsh discipline that took the light from my son's face, also told him repeatedly that I was deserting him to become a minister. Evil? Yes.

Since Seth has been with us, I have encountered plenty of subtle judgment aimed at kids who don't fit the expected mold. Even far more well-behaved, "acceptable" children aren't always honored as I believe they should be. It takes time, effort, and a real ability to extend oneself to truly hear and acknowledge a child's spirit. Assuming we always know what's best, forcing our own plans and agendas upon them, and expecting that the results will meet our approval -- these are spirit-squelching acts that go on in loving homes, "great" classrooms, and "child- centered" churches all over the place.

Children who refuse to play by all the "rules" are a threat to our idea of order, just as Jesus was. But they still have something to tell us, to show us, if we will truly listen. Let us learn to guide them, not corral them. Let us learn to honor them, not show them off. Let us learn to see them, not our projections of them. Let us heal our own squelched and broken inner child before we attempt to raise children, lest we carry out our frustrations and crushed dreams in our expectations of them. Help us see them as already whole, in need only of safety and a modicum of respectability, not conformity and unquestioning obedience. Let us not kill their spirits, lest we crucify the Christ within. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Nightmares & Dreams

Seth at Salvation Army party

"Seth is home."

These are the words our four year old grand nephew spoke as he lay in his big warm bed drifting off to sleep with "Eric Poppa" nearby.

We lost Seth, who had lived with us nearly a year, back in September when his biological mother came to Lexington and took him. We had asked my sister, his grandmother, to move out in late July, and that set in motion a string of dramas which led to his departure. For a long time, all we knew was that he was with his mother and grandmother, living in the family wing of the Salvation Army. I reassured myself that both were kind to him and loved him in their way. I knew he was safe and not completely homeless. I knew that he went to Early Start every day and kept the same teacher.

We tried to fight for Seth when he left, but we were told by Family Services, lawyers, and the police that there was nothing we could do since we did not have full legal custody (unless we had evidence of physical abuse or severe neglect). Salvation Army social workers never even returned our call.

This week, I learned that Seth's mother had left the shelter with a male friend for several days, and upon return, was not permitted to stay. Seth was alone with his grandmother, who did not have custody, and who needs all of her energy to care for herself and try to make a new start (which, blessedly, I now see that she is doing..). We started making calls. First, Cabinet for Child and Family Services, where I was told by an intake worker, "His mother can leave him with whoever she wants." Really? She could leave him with a known pedophile, or in a meth lab? This is our government at work. This is what people are being paid to do. Did that woman care one bit about what I was telling her? Nada. She was rude, abrupt, and cut me off before I could even get the story out. She said someone would contact me in 48 hours.. they did not.

Those answers did not suit me. I talked with another relative who had been in touch with Seth's grandmother. She told me Seth had been sick, to the hospital, and that my sister was sounding overwhelmed. I knew something had to happen now, not 48 hours or more likely 48 days from now. I called lawyers. The first two were busy and could not help me that day. The third was willing to help, but told me repeatedly that no judge would grant an emergency order, and that we'd wait,maybe weeks, to get a hearing. I persisted. I sent her more information.I pleaded Seth's case, all the while realizing that even if she gave in, her heart wasn't in it, and it probably wouldn't work. Meanwhile lawyer #1 called me to check in.. she said that she would absolutely file for the EPO if she were us. Lawyer #3, sounding annoyed that I had talked with another attorney said, "Feel free to contact someone else." But she agreed to look over my materials, and then she did a wonderful thing. She sent me a link to the forms for filing an EPO. She told me we could do it ourselves, and how to do it. She warned me that the clerical people would tell me only the Cabinet could file these. But, in truth, anyone can! A well-kept secret. I worked all morning to get things together.

By noon, my husband and I were at the District Court, Juvenile Division. I stood before a plate glass window festooned with colorful holiday stickers... something kids would love. A woman named Rhonda tried to send me away. She told me that I could not file as an individual. "It's protocol that only the Cabinet can file these." I told her it might be protocol, but it wasn't the law, and I refused to leave until she went to talk with somone.She was gone for about fifteen minutes. When she came back, she put the papers down and said, "OK, I need to swear you in."

We waited another ten or twenty minutes for a judge to look at the request. We were in this outer office, and Rhonda was the gatekeeper to everything else that was going on. Needless to say, we felt pretty disenfranchised and not too hopeful, after all the times we'd been told, in not so many words."Go away."

Lo and behold, the door opened, and the Judge herself came out. She said she would absolutely sign an EPO right away, and that we'd need to come to Court Monday to be granted custody. She called the Prosecutor who came right over and sat with us, explaining everything. He gave us his cell # and e-mail address. He could not have been more thoughtful or concerned. We had a court order, and we went to pick Seth up at school.

When I saw him, I almost didn't recognize him. He has lost eight or ten pounds and his hair is scraggly. He is pale and felt like he had a fever. But most of all, he just wasn't the same Seth. He's subdued and quiet, anxious and clingy. The teacher told me he had regressed terribly. He clung to me and, when Eric arrived with the car seat, he ran to him and held on.They both cried.

Over the two days he's been with us, I have learned from the teacher that every day, Seth would tell her, "I not go home on bus.Momma Cindy pick me up in her car." My sister, who is supportive of our having Seth now, told me that one day he said, "Gramma, where's my best friend Momma Cindy?" I need not have worried he'd forget. He was waiting for me to come back.

Thank God for the teacher who has been his constant ally, the kind people at the Salvation Army who obviously care about him, lawyer #1 who encouraged me not to give up, a certain police officer who went way beyond the call of duty because he cared about this little boy he never met, the Judge and Prosecutor who "got it" immediately, and all of our friends who held out hope and offered up prayers along the way.

Woe betide people who call themselves "community servants," like some of the social workers, administrative people, and others who work for the courts and Family Services.How can they sleep at night after shrugging off pleas for another broken and neglected child? The lack of compassion is just horrifying. I think they must forget, overwhelmed with cases as I am sure they are, that each child is a human being who hurts, longs, dreams, wonders, and deserves a chance. I don't know how they can do it.

Seth is doing OK. He has been eating constantly and sleeping well. Besides his less rambunctious nature, the biggest change is that he calls us "Mom" and "Dad," something he must have gleaned from TV or at school. He only wants to stay home, "Seth's house." We want to promise him that he will never leave again, but it will be a while until we can honestly say that. In his words, "Seth's home."

Left, in August

Right, yesterday at Salvation Army

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

No mas muertes

Seems as if the news media have picked up, big time, on the story of Walt Staton, a UU from Arizona,who is studying for the ministry. Perhaps the very wide and sympathetic exposure to the inane idea that he might be sentenced to prison for "littering," leaving water in the desert for migrants who might otherwise die, will bring attention to this humanitarian crisis. Wish I had thought of him when I was putting my ideas together for a sermon on self -differentiation. I will post the sermon tomorrow. And here is a sermon from our own Heather Carpenter on her experiences with No More Deaths and in the borderlands:

Meanwhile, none of the broadcasts I have seen mention that he is a UU, studying for the UU ministry, or that "No More Deaths" is a ministry of the Tucson Unitarian church! So, I thought I would let y'all know. Prayers for Walt and all who wander.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Obama the Dog & Obama's Doghouse

This adorable dog is named Obama, and the happy girl is my daughter. She's spending the whole school year in the Canary Islands, becoming even more fluent in Spanish, and having beaucoups interesting experiences! The host family named the dog Obama because he was the darkest one in the litter.. this is Spain, not South America. Everyone is very blanco; skin color still determines nobility.  But I know it was an honor, and my daughter says he lives up to the noble name.

Kind of funny that she told me that yesterday, when our Obama was getting into the proverbial doghouse with his decision on Afghanistan. He has disappointed and angered many liberals and lovers of peace. Yes, it's true... Obama is another politician. He dissembles, compromises, and plays spin games with words. In our system, only that sort could ever make it to the top. I think we all knew that, but we wanted to believe something else.

Still, I feel for Barack Obama the man. I would not go so far as to say that he isn't entirely the man we wanted to think he was, a person of integrity and character. I still think that he is thoughtful, intelligent, and humane. Even wise, in some respects. But we, the citizenry who elected him, have allowed, through our passivity and indifference, such a political system to thrive and evolve for centuries now. We won't even stage a decent protest against these wars, and I'm as much to blame as anyone. Blaming him alone for the escalation in Afghanistan is projection. We are all responsible.

Now, here's the reason I feel for him. Although my job as leader of my little UU congregation is a speck of sand on the huge beaches of time, and he is leader of the free world, there are parallels. What minister is not the lightning rod for the projections of those who can not look within? What religious leader does not try to please, to find middle ground, to serve the needs of her people, to reach the spectrum of people with his words ( a particularly convoluted and seemingly endless spectrum in a UU church!)? What clergy person doesn't strive to make decisions that will benefit the organization, even if they seem unpopular at the time, only to be greeted with criticism and mean-spirited gossip? Find me one, and I vouchsafe that they are fibbing. And what leader of any organization doesn't feel glum sometimes when the one hundred good decisions she made are glossed over and the one unpopular one is trumpeted?

What I observe in some clergy is that they become vapid in order to avoid the barbed critiques that greet anything other than the most middle of the road expression. They choose white bread people pleasing over
a more fiber-rich but harder to digest diet of truth-telling and decisive leadership. They placate, and they hide their true beings. It's political. They want to keep their jobs, and they want to avoid being talked about, or fired, and my fear is that Obama the individual who had the potential to be a true leader will become as lost in the game as they have. So, yes, even in my little corner of the world, I relate to him.

That's why I still want to believe that what Cheney called "dithering" on Afghanistan was a process of deep and wide discernment. I still want to believe that this man does not lightly or without troubled conscience send troops to their deaths. Because I know that leadership is lonely, frustrating, challenging and sometimes painful. In my case, it is also deeply rewarding, fulfilling, and uplifting. That's on those days that I am not in the doghouse!

Monday, November 30, 2009

A UU Minister on SPEAKING of FAITH!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have a "Lockdown" Holiday?? No, thanks.

I just saw a TV commercial letting me know that there will be a "Lockdown" marathon all day long on Thanksgiving.... what? I can't think of anything that would be worse on Thanksgiving than watching hard-core criminals in jail for hours on end.

I honestly don't get these jail reality shows. Other reality shows, I don't like, I don't watch, but I get  how people could get fascinated with them. Curiosity, fascination with human nature, etc. But.. prison? How can anyone be fascinated with prison? Do they know anyone who has actually gone to jail or prison? Have they been inside a prison, talked with inmates, taken part in a program that serves women in jail? I have. It's boring, unpleasant, and subhuman. Yes, the people in jail and prison are still human beings, but they are there because they have done seriously wrong things, hurt other people, or because they themselves are seriously mentally ill or struggling with addiction. In other words, they are bad people, or they are hurting people.... All of these things are sad, not cool. They are tedious, ugly, painful, cruel, and nasty... not sexy and exciting. I guess it makes me angry. I really do feel as if these shows glorify the whole prison/jail thing, almost making it seem glamorous and thrilling in a sick way.

At the very least, they acquaint people, and that includes young people,  with the interior of a prison. They create a sense of familiarty which always diminishes fear. I know that when I was a kid, just the word "jail" or "prison" was horrifying. Now, I wonder whether it would deter a young person at all?

There are major problems with the whole system of incarceration in this country. It's racially skewed, it houses way too many people who ought to be in treatment for addiction, and it is an industry in itself. Others have written with much more credibility than I on these matters.

But I have experience and I know what I know. This week, I sat and talked with a young man who is serving time in jail for a DUI. His crime is his addiction. He's getting no help for that.. instead, he is housed in a locked unit with some of the most violent men in the jail. Maybe there is a way in which these shows could expose the unfair, absurd, and dehumanizing way we try to solve crime... but I doubt it.

Oh, Happy Thanksgiving! Here's a prayer:

Spirit of Justice and Peace, let us remember with hope and empathy every soul who is imprisoned this holiday season. Especially we send prayers for healing to those who are young and whose addictions have sent them into jail. May they find the guidance and the courage they need to recover and avoid criminal behavior. May they feel the love of their families and friends. Let our citizens and our lawmakers awaken to the vast injustice we call our "justice" system. And let us keep in our hearts every person who is imprisoned behind walls of their own making, made from fear, judgment, separation, envy, and self-loathing. May all beings be free.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Breast-eria.. Worried about BC? Try nursing.

The debate over new guidelines for mammograms is growing. I don't think the folks who issued those findings were in touch with what an emotional issue this is. Even for someone who has not had breast cancer, or ever had a family member with cancer, it's easy to get the drift. Just walk through retail stores, read women's magazines, watch TV. Breast cancer and its omnipresent pink ribbons are far and away the most popular cause among illnesses. I think that's fine, unless, as some contend, it takes resources away from other, less well-advertised causes that need funding and research more.

What bothers me is that we only ever talk and argue and fundraise and run in 10K races for the disease, and rarely do we consider the causes. So few people know that breastfeeding prevents some breast cancers, and that the longer one breastfeeds, the more protected one is. There are numerous studies showing that even women who give birth after age 25 ( early births also prevent some cancers) get greatly reduced risk if they breastfeed long enough. This appears to be due to the length of time that estrogen is suppressed, although more needs to be learned.

Granted, there are millions of women who did not breastfeed, for any number of reasons, and those women can not change that! But for young women who have not yet given birth, or are still in childbearing years, it would be so fabulous if there were as huge a campaign to get them to breastfeed as there is to raise money through pink ribbon campaigns. I'm not against self-exams or even mammograms, and I know that women who breastfeed can still get cancer! I just wish the emphasis on ways to lower risk were as great as the emphasis on detection and treatment.

The coolest thing of all is that breastfeeding is so beneficial to babies, and to mothers in so many other ways (including helping to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer!) that it's a win-win situation. In fact, unless the mother is on drugs that pass through the breastmilk, there is almost no reason not  to breastfeed. You won't hear this over and over on the evening news. Why? Because you can't make money from breastfeeding, but you can from formula, paraphernalia, and all the other stuff parents buy for their babies when they could just hold them, keep them close, feed them as nature intended, and make life healthier for all concerned.

Here are a few links to information on these topics:

Friday, November 20, 2009

JESSIE'S VISION STATEMENT.. way better than mine!

Here's a link to Jessica Bollinger's website and  her personal vision, which she shared with us in church. She's an amazing woman!

Personal Vision

This past Sunday at our Unitarian Church, I was asked to speak about my own personal vision. Our church community is working on a vision for the church. Our minister thought it would be helpful if the congregation could get a sense of what visions can mean to us on a personal level.
My vision is small-"healing the world one couple at a time".

How did that vision begin? I can remember sitting in my Masters of Social Work class and the professor looked out at us, and asked, "How many of you chose getting your Masters because of a difficult event that happened to you in your life?"

I raised my hand. I looked around and everyone else had his or her hands raised.

We are who we are by our experiences. We make our choices because of our experiences.

Having a "vision" helps you put the road in place to have the experience that you want.

Why did I go back to school to get masters of social work? I had just had the heart wrenching experience of a relationship ending, and my partner who was the biological mother took our child. Ben was 3 and ½. I was the primary caregiver. He was my life.

* Many times, our visions are based on something bad that happens to us, and we want to change things so that it doesn't happen to others.

After this happened with Ben, I thought to myself: "I don't EVER want this to happen to children-where they get 'caught' between their caregivers relationship, and hurt by separation".

This had happened to me when I was a child. My parents divorced when I was about 12. No matter how easy my parents tried to make it on us, we knew that it was difficult for them. That was 39 years ago. As kids my sister and I adapted to what we needed to do to help the situation.

When that happened with Ben, I made a conscious decision; "I am going to help couples so that this never happens where children are put into the middle.."

*A vision is like a rudder on a boat-it ends up unconsciously steering us to where we really need to go to succeed at that vision.

My Dad always had a boat on the Ohio River as I was growing up. I like to use that metaphor. I can remember being a little kid at the helm. Feeling big, feeling close to my Dad. Sitting up on the pilots seat with a cushion underneath me so I could see better. He would tell me to "look up ahead at that mile marker on the shoreline, and steer for that".

I would keep the boat in that direction, adjusting for speed and current, moving out of the way of barges and other craft. As I would get closer to the "mile marker" on the shoreline, then I would readjust to a new point to steer towards.

When I would look back over the rear of the boat, I could see my path in the water. It was not a "straight" line. The currents had carried it, the adjustments for other vessels had made it curve a bit. But I could see where I had come from, and it was pretty direct.

My vision of helping couples took me on the path I was supposed to be on.

We know we are on the right vision if:

Things feel "right"-
We feel comfortable in our body with this vision-
Serendipitous things happen along the way to help us along on this vision
We feel positive, with a positive purpose.

So here I was, an MSW graduate. I was working at Catholic Social Services as a counselor.

And then....A big Barge appeared in my path. My new relationship was in trouble, I felt like a hypocrite trying to help couples and mine was in trouble.

I happened upon an article. In the Family Therapy Networker Magazine. "A New Way to Love" It was an article about Imago Relationship Therapy and how it gives tools to have a great relationship.

I looked it up online and I found a workshop-the Getting the Love You Want Workshop. We attended. It was down in the Maggie Valley in North Carolina.

It was very life changing, giving us the tools to have a conscious intentional relationship.

I became trained and certified. It changed my practice.

Relationships are the "test"-we cannot NOT be in relationship. We are always in relationship-with our boss, our co-workers, our kids, our families, our partners.

Visions are conscious and intentional. They are our spiritual practice.

Staring at the mile marker ahead. If couplehood is loving and respectful where two whole fully alive selves can be fully differentiated. Where the two can cross the bridge into the others world and it can make sense to them-they don't have to agree or disagree-- They can be a witness to each other.

This creates a relationship environment where children can truly prosper. Where the parents can truly live consciously and intentionally and meet the needs of their children.

And then the children grow up to live consciously. They grow up with no baggage of unmet needs. They have a model of how to have a good relationship from their caregivers. They witness wonderful communication; they feel the environment of respect and love.

Thus healing the world one couple at a time..

It is a vision. The vision gives me a path.

The path winds and curves, but keeps me on course. It gives me hope and satisfaction.

And this conscious form of communication-called the 'intentional dialogue' that Imago teaches -being able to cross the bridge into the others world has been presented at the UNITED NATIONS.

At conferences I have witnessed an Israeli and a Palestinian practice this dialogue. Crossing the bridge into each other's worlds-they see that they both want the same thing.

Their children to be safe.

So in summation:

A vision is formed out of our past experiences
It is a roadmap that helps us stay on course.
It creates the occurrences and things along the path that support that vision.
The vision is correct for us if our body feels good with it.
Our visions give us hope and purpose.
Our visions are good for other people and the world.
Visions help us live intentionally and consciously.
They are part of who we are-our core, thus a vision is our spiritual practice.
The vision attracts what we need to learn to keep moving towards that vision.

And let me tell you more about my vision-

This coming January 12, I am beginning a 6-week class about relationships--one night a week for 6 weeks. It is going to be held at the Lexington Unitarian Universalist Church. The whole community is invited. I want singles, couples and young adults to come.

I want YOU to come, invite a friend, a partner, a co-worker, your teenagers.

It will be about how to connect, how to have healthy relationships, how to communicate effectively.

This will help you everywhere in your life, work, home, play.

See you then! Jessie

Tuesday, January 12th and the 19th, 26th
February 2nd, 9th and 16th.

Cost $10. per person per evening
Daycare available free

If you would like pizza, let me know when you register:

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Ahhh.. this blew me away. I feel this way about the people in the congregation, when I am centered and in a place of joy and love.

If you just want to hear the poem, move the cursor to about 2:30.

I actually don't like Garrison Keillor much, but he can read some poetry! And he picks em good too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Vision Statement, Part 1

I don't think I've ever written down my own vision statement. So, this is a first. Like the church, I am pretty sure  I have a vision for my life, but since it hasn't been articulated, my energies scatter and even boomerang. It's worth a try. I'll follow the same guidelines I gave Don & Jessie for our Sunday service.

My own vision took shape, albeit a murky, shifting shape, in childhood. I knew from earliest times that my passions were two: nature and words. I loved being out of doors, and I was blessed to live in a big, very old house with several acres of trees and meadows and lawns in which to play and imagine.There were no happier moments for me than those I discovered on a beautiful spring or autumn day, squirreling myself beneath a tree or behind a shed to dream, breathe, and write or think.

Inside the house was tension, veiled anxiety, and (I see now) evil. I don't think evil is too strong a word for people whose narcissism and addictions lead them to acts destructive of self and others. We appeared "normal" on the surface, I'm sure, but even as a child I must have been aware of the tentacles of control and the utter lack of affirmation. Since my stepmother stayed indoors, I could escape by going outside. I still treasure the sounds, the colors, the textures and intricacies of almost any sort of natural environment.

Words. I can barely remember a time when I didn't read voraciously. I crawled into books and stayed there as long as I could. Almost anything I could find around that offered a change of scenery, a different era to contemplate, a character I could befriend for a time would be read over and over. I didn't go to bookstores, and rarely got to go to libraries, so, unlike kids today, my choices of material were limited. I read whatever was around our house and whatever people gave me for gifts. Luckily, this included books like Heidi  and Little Women  that I read many times. Just words on paper could save me, so I knew my loyalty to them would be life-long.

It's come to pass that this earliest of loves, nature and words, are still the core elements of my personal vision.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vision Statements: What's Yours?

Don Blevins and Cynthia in Eastern Ky 2006

For the first time in over ten years,our congregation has been going through a complete Vision Process. We've managed to do two whole five year Long Range Plans without revisiting a very ancient mission statement. Finally, we have taken on the task!

It didn't take long for our Task Force to agree that this work is vital. But it's taken months, and many meetings, for us to agree upon how we can engage the congregation in this work. Whether we'll succeed remains to be seen.We have a diverse and geographically scattered congregation. Two of our members drive up from Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky, about four hours each way!

So, leading up to next week's big Vision Sunday, we have tried to intrigue, excite, cajole, and court the membership into participating. We had three Sunday services on "vision" related topics. The first dealt with historic and visionary Unitarian and Universalist figures; the second with storytelling and the value of story in vision. By far, the third service, dealing with personal visioning, created the most buzz.

Since I didn't preach, I can only take credit for coming up with the idea of using this topic as an entree to congregational vision, and choosing the right people to help present it. I also devised a list of questions for them to consider... but they did the heavy lifting. In about exactly ten minutes each, Don and Jessica gave their individual accounts of how they created/adopted a vision for their lives. People were mesmerized, energized, and excited!

I hope our members take some time this week to think, and write, about their personal visions. I plan to! It was pretty close to what I expected when I asked folks to raise their hands if they felt they lived from a sense of vision/mission. About ten percent raised their hands.. maybe 15 out of 150 adults. But when I asked how many had written it down, the number of hands decreased to 5 or 6. Are we living our lives, or are they living us?

Here are the questions:


o What is your vision?

o How did it arise?

o What decisions have you made to move toward it?

o How has it changed?

o How has it changed YOU??

o What obstacles have you encountered?

o What have been your greatest ah-ha’s?

o What would you say to your child/ a child or young adult about living with vision/purpose/intention?


o How does it connect with your spiritual practice, your inner life, your beliefs, your “soul”?

o How do you balance having a vision with trusting life and being open to surprise? That is, how do you keep your vision from being too rigid??

Don Blevins.. he's thinner now!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Now That's What I'm Talking About: Mementos!

Evidently, the wonderful, assorted, poignant, funny and tragic offerings that people leave at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC are being preserved, catalogued, and cared for. I am so delighted about this!

There is power in objects, power that evokes memory, and memory makes "kings and queens of us all." That's why so many of us have trouble throwing away little outfits our kids wore, that old wedding bouquet, the notes from our BFF in high school.

Over the years, I have culled most of this stuff, but it still fills a few boxes. I have some drawings and some writing from each child's school days, the newspapers from when Princess Diana died, and other trinkets precious only to me. If I don't toss them out, it will be someone else's job after I am gone, and I don't love the idea of someone having to sift through my flotsam and jetsam and clean up after me.

But today's CNN program about the Vietnam mementos gave me a new idea! Maybe someday I will organize some of them into a little museum of me, get rid of the rest, and leave it for whoever wants to know.

If you had to choose six things to keep from your memento drawer/box/suitcase/pile. what would they be?

Here's the clip:

Friday, November 13, 2009


My younger son, Colin, turned twenty-five yesterday! Wow. When I was 25, I was pregnant with my first child, and had already been a High School teacher for three years. You just never comprehend that time will pass so quickly and your own children will reach those same milestones. But what I was thinking about yesterday was that I used to say that I was born the day Colin was. So, that makes the new "me" twenty-five plus one day, too.

Most people who know me now don't believe it, but I was extremely shy and had an enormous amount of self-doubt when I was a child and even a teenager. By working as a waitress, and forcing myself to walk up to people I had never met and converse with them, and later, as I prepared to be a teacher, I started to overcome the shyness. But still, I had low self-esteem and worried, alot. I really didn't know how to accept myself and the world. I was conservative, conventional, and co-dependent. Most of my choices were made from a place of fear.

After my older son was born, I joined La Leche League. That's where I found my strength, my courage, and my community. There is no doubt in my mind that this quietly radical group of women were the ones who helped me uncover my true spirit... the one that knew what was best for my children and myself.

It's not just breastfeeding that gets taught at LLL! Through the meetings, the materials, and the acquaintances gleaned there, I learned about real natural birth, whole foods, attachment parenting, education, and living from one's convictions. I devoured the books in their library like boxes of chocolates. I never turned back. I know that, had I not found LLL and become a Leader, I would never have had the courage to attend the Unitarian church, which is now my faith home, my community, and my calling. As a group, we are as politically and socially and theologically progressive as LaLeche was about personal and family choices. I found me.

Still, I was pretty securely stuck in a marriage that did not support this new part of my inner self. When I became pregnant with Colin, my husband refused to participate in the classes that had been recommended for natural birth following a Cesearean; actually, he went to one class, and after he found out that we were going to do a visualization, wrote the whole thing off as hippie nonsense. But I had been exposed to just enough encouragement to hold my own on this. I refused to have a scheduled Cesearean and went to the classes alone. I felt riduculous, but I was damn determined! When I went into labor with Colin, I knew it would be long (I'd already had a late miscarriage after 30 plus hours labor, and a C-section after 36!) so I stayed home for almost a day and a half until I was sure things were well along. I staged my own civil disobedience (I was only a few miles away from the hospital) and took myself through labor, refusing interventions and getting up and moving around. My husband was there, but had nothing to do, because he had not attended the classes, and I wasn't using lamaze! Colin was born completely naturally about three hours after we got to the hospital. I felt that I had been born!

In a way, I was. I wouldn't name him after his father, so he went unnamed for about 6 or 7 hours. I decided to go home that same day, so that my not-yet three year old could have his family together again. I didn't continue with DPT vaccinations for Colin after he had a bad reaction (and he was a much healtheir child than Casey!). Most of all, I began taking the steps toward independence of mind and spirit so that my sons would not grow up with an oppressed and depressed mother.

Colin has been like a guru to me. He had a mind of his own from about Day 3, stood up for himself like a trooper, met every experience with zest and daring (he is very accident-prone) and just barrelled into life like a clown at a circus. He was blessed to have teachers that appreciated his spirit and didn't squelch it. I used to sing You are my sunshine... to him, over and over. He still brings me sunshine and laughter every time I see him. He has a heart of gold. He's athletic and smart. He is generous and full of love. He's loyal and believes in honesty. He is a fantastic older brother to his sister Marjorie. He is a deep thinker and he can do anything he sets his mind to.

Life has not been without its thorns and its valleys. Colin suffered from all of the bad things that accompany a bitter divorce, and he has met a lot of obstacles. But that is his story, not mine, and he is still writing it. I have faith and confidence that he, like me, will somehow, one day, experience that second birth when everything he is meant to be and to enjoy and to give to the world become manifest. Happy Birthday, sunshine!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Joy Killers

I read a facebook posting by a colleague that said she'd recieved an anonymous piece of hate mail. Of course it hurt her, as that can be the only reason for such a thing. I do not know her well, but I know that this person is witty and vivacious and spunky. My guess is that she exudes joy and even spontaneity. Some people hate this more than anything, because they have no joyful living left in them, or they are so constricted by their own inner demons that they could never live from that joyful, spontaneous place.

I picture these people as dour-faced grumps who sit on the sidelines watching and judging when other dance.

Ministers are subject to every form of criticism. Best I can ascertain, we are expected to be pretty much perfect at all times by some people. The weight of the expectation can be crushing, especially if it is added to one's own self-doubt. There must be a better way!

Almost as hurtful as anonymous hate mail are comments, either reported by or written to a third party, that contain diffuse, non-specific criticism. Not long ago, someone wrote in a note that she'd stopped attending church because she expected a spiritual leader and I was not such an animal. GAK!  I have no idea what she means by "spiritual," but I can make a few guesses, based upon the fact the she joined during the tenure of, and was obviously pleased with, my predecessor. I was shown a copy of her letter, so I wrote to her, directly. I told her how much it hurt to hear that I was the cause of her ceasing to attend church, and that I wish she had come to me and told me of her specific concerns with my demeanor or my words. To her credit, she did try to continue attending for several years, and she did comment on some surveys regarding my sermons, but I felt I had never been given a chance to learn much from her dismissal of me. It made me very sad.

Criticism is almost never helpful. My deep impression, after years in this industry, is that the more spontaneous, joyful, and confident one is, the more these pointed barbs will come your way. Joy-killers are everywhere, and one good way to recognize them is that they like you much better when you are miserable, suffering, or struggling. I also have a sneaking suspicion that this happens more often to women than to men.

Last night I dreamed that I was at a high school get-together, and all of the others were socializing and talking while I kept trying to get a doctor's appointment. When I came into the room, and made some joking, teasing comments, one girl said very harshly, "WE don't say those kinds of things here.. etc." I have to see "her" as both a symbol of the joy killer ouside of me and of the one within.

That's the only one I can do anything about. What can I do? Maintain a spiritual discipline. Keep learning and striving to do better. Forgive myself and others. Understand. Cultivate peace and inner joy. Watch for signs of joy squelching in my own behaviors. Find ways to laugh (to me, that's the most "spiritual" practice of all), even/especially at myself. Listen to my death. Prioritize. Feel God's love and approval. Keep striving for understanding,compassion, and peace.Pray for those who wish me ill:

Great Spirit of Lovingkindness: Remind me to practice loving me a little every day. Let me feel for myself a wide-open door into authenicity and joy, Let me never utter words that make another feel shamed, oppressed,or judged. And when these words come my way, give me strength and remind me that I am accepted by the great and wide Universe that is my home. Amen.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Come to My Farm!!

The name of my farm is Innisfree.  You know the poem, right? Yeats. He was writing about a small island in a lake of Ireland, so not everything about the poem applies to my 25 acres in Kentucky's outer Bluegrass.. but the gist of it does:

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.

W.B. Yeats

We bought the farm (literally) exactly three years ago. Our dream is to have a small working/learning environment where people can visit, stay and reconnect with God , the Universe, and their own spirit.

I wish I could convey how restful and quiet it is! The place is about half a mile down a gravel lane, which is 2 miles down a side road, which is about three miles south of a tiny hamlet called Willisburg. You can NOT hear traffic at all! Sometimes, there is almost total silence. It is so healing, so restorative, so restful.

If you want to, you can just sit and look at the many birds of prey as they swoop over the hills and valleys. You can sit of the porch of the cabin and see bluebirds, hummingbirds, and even woodpeckers at their solitary craft. Or, you can walk the mile-long trail through the woods, and come upon deer, turtles, a startled family of wild turkeys, even a fox. At the pond, you'll startle thousands of tree frogs and toads when you approach. Water lilies bloom in spring. All along the hillside, wildflowers attract a multitude of butterflies and down at the back of the ridge top, we have bees!

There's a log cabin that was started by the former owner, and our goal is to finish restoring it and make it available, free of charge, to ministers and clergy, UU & otherwise, social activists & artists. The cabin has a loft and a bathroom and a huge stone fireplace. My husband built a covered porch that goes all the way around the cabin. Here you can spend the day from sunrise, which you'll view coming over the farmer's pasture next door, to sunset.

It's beautiful all year round. Just a fifteen minute drive from Central Kentucky's Bluegrass Parkway, a scenic, lightly traveled  road that stretches from Lexington all the way to Elizabethtown. Nearby is the place where Lincoln's parents were married, the monastery where Thomas Merton lived, and the distilleries that produce Kentucky's finest bourbon. Doesn't it sound delightful?

We hope to have the cabin finished within a year or so. We need either time to do it ourselves or money to pay someone to! Or.. someone who'd do the work in exchange for a place to stay. It still needs chinking, and the kitchen and bathroom need to be finished. Still, if you'd like to put in your reservation for Fall of 2010 or beyond (sabbatical coming?) we will pencil you in! UU Ministers get first choice! I would love for colleagues to avail themselves of the delights I have enjoyed for three years now... no Internet! no cable TV! Just the sound of silence and your heart's delight.

Notice the hammock!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Things to do with food... other than eat it.

During the last few years, as my knees became increasingly problematic, my activity level diminished accordingly. I had once been a slim girl who could eat anything at all as long as I stayed active. Then I became a young mother who could still eat pretty much anything, as long as I was very active.  Since I love food, and exercise, I jogged, hiked, bikram yoga-ed, aerobicized, and danced. In the process, I undoubtedly added to the premature demise of the cartilage in my knees! As I got older, I still needed lots of exercise, as well as a stint at Weight Watchers every few years to drop the accumulated ten or at most 15 pounds. Even when not an active "weight watcher," I had to refrain from eating whatever I wanted. The days and nights of noshing at will were over. Turning fifty and having very bad knees added a bit more than that! I GOT FAT! I am back at weight watchers, got the first ten nearly off, and feel better already. Best of all, my knees are fixed, and I am looking forward to vigorous exercise once again!

Meanwhile, food is something to be mostly avoided. Right? Wrong! In fact, there are lots of ways to enjoy food without shoving it down the hatch! Here a few:

Plant a gorgeous garden, visit it frequently, and pick oodles of fresh vegetables (most of which you can eat without guilt.. NO BUTTER!)

Read about food! So far, I have finished all of the Julia Child-related books, and have waiting Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink  and Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life  by Mimi Sheraton, a reknowned food writer. Then there are food magazines! Yum. Is that drool on those pages?

I've just gotten into food blogs. Endless! Try chocolate and zucchini... French and fun!

Enjoy it with your ears. I love NPR's The Splendid Table  with Lynn Rosetto Kaspar. That woman's voice alone is succulent! When she describes food, it sounds like she's rolling scrumptious things around in her mouth. She doesn't just do recipes; she talks about all sorts of ingredients and accoutrement for cooking. Sadly, she's on at one on Sundays, so I usually miss her. But the show can be heard in podcast, and she has a little weekly e-mail you can sign up for that sends an inspiring mid-week recipe.

You could watch food shows on TV.. I don't, but there are plenty! I do love food movies. Julie and Julia, of course, and my favorite one of all is Big Night. Fabulous. Lots of good literature has wonderful food descriptions too. Fictional food has zero calories!

Make food for other people. A big part of my food loving is cooking. For me, it's like meditation. It's also creative: choosing the elements of a meal, combining colors and tastes and textures, seasoning and garnishing. I love baking pies for people because I make a mean pie crust and people get great pleasure from my pies. It's also a good idea to bake for people since you can't cheat and take part of the pie or cake before giving it away! Here's an apple cake I make for my son and his friends:

Write about food. I am starting a memoir that is based upon the recipes I have collected over the decades, and all of the memories that are triggered by each one, good and bad. Not the most original idea, I know, but fun and theraputic.

Make things with it (I did not make this..)

Or this, but I was there when someone did...

This is the Easter cake that I make (almost) every year...

You can also dream about food, talk about it, take pictures of it, learn about it, and look at it. Bon appetit!