Sunday, March 29, 2009


I have never been obsessed with what everybody else is. While everyone in Lexington, Kentucky is focused on who our new B-ball coach will be, and the rest of the obsessive world is into Twitter and American Idol, I have developed my own fascination -- genograms! But, wait.. you say, "Been there, done that!" .... everybody's made a genogram by now. Sure. But have you made a genogram using Genopro? Try it free for two weeks. . I guarantee you will love it. (Maybe).

My love of genograms is really a companion obsession to my love of literature, stories, history, and of trying to understand human nature. I am enrolled in an MFA program for Creative Writing, and my extended critical essay (ECE) was on Family Systems in short stories. Genograms are a way of charting and understanding family systems.

Maybe you haven't done a genogram? They look like family trees, but the symbols include so much more information: illness, relationships, addictions, etc. Thereby, patterns can be detected over generations that are incredibly enlightening. Many people, me included, have made big changes in their relationships using the theories of family systems.

When I say "family systems," I refer specifically to the work of Murray Bowen and his followers/interpreters. I learned about it first by reading Edwin Friedman's Generation to Generation (used to be required reading for UU ministry), and later, by taking classes for a year with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center near Chicago. By engaging in the extended conversation and group work the Center offered, I saw the dynamics of my own relationships with family of origin, nuclear family, and church "family" shift dramatically. Hence, my passion for this applied "science."

Back to genograms: I have made my own genograms for: Frank Lloyd Wright, Barack Obama, several members of my congregation (with their input), and I am currently working on one for Kurt Vonnegut. I used a good deal of the information I obtained in a sermon series I did on Family Systems. But now, the series is over, and I just keep making genograms. Yes, I bought the program at a cost of $44. A few nights ago, my husband asked me what I was doing, and I replied that I was constructing a genogram for Vonnegut. Why are you doing that? he asked.

Good question. I think I am passionate about this for several reasons. Mostly, it's a control thing. Placing neatly organized circles, lines and numbers on a computer screen, using this program that makes it incredibly easy --FUN, in fact!-- is a way of managing what never can be controlled: Life, families, human behavior, the random messiness of relationships, all of the potential disasters and diseases and divorces available to everybody. It makes things look tidy and clean. Having finally almost accepted my true powerlessness over most things, I have discovered yet another way to feel as if I have some measure of mastery over life.
Back to Vonnegut.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SHEESH, money.

I read Daniel O'Connell's blog with a mixture of relief and dismay. Change the numbers (300 members, $50k short of goal, we pledge $250 a month), and I could have written it. I hope his congregation is encouraged/persuaded/inspired, and that his church stewardship campaign is a success. I hope every UU church makes its goal! But.. something tells me that this year, we won't. Our Stewardship Campaign is held in the Fall, and this year we had the bad fortune to kick it off right as the worst of the financial meltdown was being realized. Several months later, we are still far from our goal, and have adopted a draconian budget full of reductions.

I heard that William Shatner lives here in the Bluegrass, and maybe he or Ashley Judd will join our church and pledge $50,000. He could arrange all of our travel, too! Barring some such miracle, we will learn to live with it. Members will be cutting the grass (more than seven acres), staff will get by with slashed budgets and reduced hours, and committees will do their own fundraising.

Worst of all, we took our UUA and district dues out of the budget, and although I and several others are determined to raise them by July, I fear we'll come up short there, too. It makes me ashamed and angry and sad that we can not fulfill our Fair Share obligation to our denomination, as we have done for as long as anyone can recall. Frankly, it sucks.

I feel as if there must be a better way.

I know that the members and friends of our church love it, and there are many who give very generously, give beyond what they should be expected to. That kind of bugs me, too. It especially bothers me when I see that there are people of means who give very, very little to the church although they use its programs and services. We have people in our church with very little money, too. More people like that than ever before. That makes me happy! We are becoming a more egalitarian, more economically and culturally diverse place, the kind of place we say we are and want to be.

So, here's my honest opinion. I think pledge campaigns are asinine. I would rather not do another one ever again. I hate getting up there and saying, or writing, the same old meant-to-inspire nonsense. There is just no way that this one-size-fits-all message is going to sound the same to Dr. Mitchell, who can easily give $10, 000, and to Ms. Marshall, who has five kids, and whose husband died in Iraq. Yes, we need to talk money. But it's going to have to be done differently. Starting this year, we are launching year-round, person-by-person stewardship conversations. We're going to need to talk to about 25 people each month. We'll start with those who've avoided us the longest.

I have no idea how we are going to do it.

But I have at least a few courageous people who are going to help me figure it out, and I'll let you know how it works.

Otherwise, we could sell the seven acres. Or, they could dump me. I'm really hoping neither one of those things happen.

Here's to the end of the Annual Canvass! God! That sounds good.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Send Poems... c/o ME!

Lynne sent this poem she'd written awhile back after the viewing last night.

I love when people send poems. They are the nicest gifts!


A contemplative service
Accented at intervals by a single chimed note

Pray for us
Come Creator, Spirit come
So we sang

People quietly spoke as they offered names for prayer
Friends, family, our legislative leaders
Come O Spirit, light of hearts

Work came to mind
I was silent as I thought of those whose recent lives were shattered by my words
Malignancy, cancer
I see what happens
Eyes averted, their head turns
Trying not to show emotion
But I see the fear in their eyes
The ache in the hearts of those who love them

I cried
What can I offer up in prayer?
Not the hope they so want
There will be no cure on the physical plane
I watched the healing, laying on of hands
A spiritual balm for those that came forward
I was moved

I prayed
May some semblance of peace come
To sooth the pain
The knowledge
That life, as they have known it, has an end in sight
May their memories be strong and good
And sustain those loved ones left behind

I feel a calm
Emotions in myself, so often shielded
Let loose for these short moments
Cathartic in release.

Lynne Pharis

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I Been Down to the Crossroads...

After church on Sunday, I learned that a member was in Markey Cancer Center. She'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost nine months ago, so to me, this was not a surprise. Still, I sensed this might be the final visit to the hospital. An extraordinarily proud and private woman, she and her husband are two of the handful of African American members in our Central Kentucky UU Church. I never asked her what led her to our church years back. They used to bring their grandaughters; now their grandchildren are doctors, lawyers, football players, and parents themselves. Charlesmarie and her husband James were both born and grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Both have been leaders and respected figures in the Black community. She worked for State Government for years, they traveled extensively, and they own a beautiful sprawling home near the church, in a neighborhood that, even today, would be considered "white." But, in the UU Church, they have been a quiet, supportive, and unassuming presence. They have been ushers for years. James came in early to work on our newsletter crew. Charlesmarie served on the Board. But when our church members recall her this week, it will be for her always stunning good looks and tasteful wardrobe, and her dignified presence.

Watching her fade and finally depart throughout the week, I came to know her family. She never would discuss with me the possibility that she'd die, even when we both knew that pancreatic cancer, which had killed her brother and her father, was the diagnosis. She became a bit more outspoken about her liberal, Unitarian Christian leanings, and so we prayed together, but she'd only pray for healing. It was not until this week that she let me be close to her, and when she gave me the gift, allowing me to stroke her brow and kiss her forehead, when she laid down what must have been that huge burden of maintaining a wall of secrecy and denial around her cancer, it was like a beautifully wrapped box that I will be examining for some time to come. Her husband told me last night, a few hours after she died, with a dozen or more children, grandchildren and one great-grandson gathered around, that I was one of only two or three folk outside the family whom she'd permit to visit these difficult months.

During this week, our RE Director was in the same University of Kentucky Hospital, about a quarter of a mile away, in the Children's Wing, her very sick twelve year old son having been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. As she and her husband and Max endured the tests and came to terms with the options, I walked the long corridors between their family and Charlesmarie. Midweek, I learned that in between the cancer center and the Children's Hospital, another church member had entered the Maternity Ward and given birth early to her third son, Owen. Within an hour, I saw color return to the cheeks of a pale twelve year old, kissed the head of a dying seventy year old, and touched the brow of a newborn baby. At times like this, I understand our religion more deeply than any theology could ever permit me. I know I stand at the crossroads of life, death, and everything in-between. All of the myriad things I think I have to accomplish fall away. There is nothing to do but what the man in Robert Johnson's song did: get down on my knees.