Monday, December 12, 2011

WEEK NINE! Checking in.


A NJ beach house, long gone, called FLYING FISH... the setting for my novel.

I told you I was writing a novel. DONE!

This is such a crazy idea, writing an entire novel in one month, but thousands of people do it every year. The website is http://www.nanowrimo.org/

When I finished my 50,000 words, on November 30th, and went to the site to confirm my completion, I discovered that the NaNoWriMo people do not trust your word: you have to paste the 50,000 words into a window, after which they verify that you are indeed a WINNER!

I decided to do this for several reasons. I can't travel much during the sabbatical, but I thought writing a piece of fiction would take me away and provide some virtual travel, through time and space.

I wanted to learn more about what it's like to write everyday, to have some discipline about writing, and to understand the creative process by virtue of my own experience. It was challenging, fun, and very rewarding. I actually love the results, and plan to go on and edit them, and send the novel.. somewhere.

NOW... my December plans:

These are going to be MUCH more difficult than writing a novel.

Have you seen the Discovery Channel show about Kentucky's Turtle Man? We actually met him! He's from Lebanon, which is near our Washington County farm.


Seth with Turtle Man....

I have been called "Turtle Mom" because I spend so much time alone, and I've been challenged to come out of my shell. So... I've been making some plans for social interaction. That probably sounds easy to most folks, but for me.. not so much. I actually prefer to be alone! But I have put out some calls and e-mails, and I'm setting up some get-togethers. I really enjoy people, love listening to their stories, and exchanging ideas. But I just have a hard time getting out there, like many of my fellow introverts. I'll let you know how this is going.

Meanwhile, I have been staying in touch with some far away friends, like our Partner Church members in Nyomat. Here's one of our scholarship recipients, a reminder that we'll need to fund that scholarship again soon!


Cseh Edit, daughter of our Partner Church lay President, in her traditional dance costume


Finally, I have returned to a  formal meditation practice! I completed a weekend Contemplative retreat at a Buddhist/Christian meditation center not far from here, and I have plans to become more involved. This was a major goal of my sabbatical because, since my knee replacement, I have been unable to sustain the kind of sitting needed for a strong practice. Let me report that my new knees held up just fine, and I was so delighted to be "home" in my beloved Buddhist practice.

The other joy of my sabbatical has been reading! I'll share some of the books I've finished in a future post. Meanwhile.. here's Seth. He's growing and thriving, and I'm off to pick him up now! Love You All!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week Sex/ I Mean Six... of sabbatical


I promised I would "check in" via this blog about my sabbatical activities. I have been on leave for six weeks, and I have too little of interest to report!

What am I doing? I am trying to live what I preach: Life one day at a time; practicing presence and awareness; valid and productive introspection; honoring and making space for creativity.

Since November 1st, I've taken part in a project called NaNoWriMo, a great opportunity to write enough words to constitute an entire novel in one month's time. I have a feeling the novel itself will not be anything earth-shattering. But the process has been well worth the time and effort.

I have learned a great deal about motivation, about how imagination works, about how important story is to forming our lives and our sensibilities. Like most, but not all, of my fiction, the novel is heavily, but not entirely, autobiographical. To write it, I have spent many hours attempting to evoke the sensory elements of a place far away, long ago, and indeed, altogether gone from the earth. It's a house I spent a part of each summer in as a child, a house set on the beach at the Jersey shore, a very old and in many ways magical house. In addition to memories that are based upon real events and characters that are modeled after some of the incredibly quirky real people I've known, there are invented characters, imagined events, and a good dose of introspection.

I think what motivated me to visit this particular place and time of life is that the really dreadful MTV series JERSEY SHORE captured the fascination of people from L.A. to Italy, and that those of us who actually grew up at or near the REAL Jersey shore know that it has absolutely nothing to do with a very special and very precious place and way of life. I don't want to romanticize it, either, so even though the place is magical, there is also a healthy dose of suffering, grief, and struggle.

Photos of Long Beach Island, Beach Haven
This photo of Long Beach Island is courtesy of TripAdvisor



Meanwhile, the backdrop to my writing and musing has been  a scandal that one would have to be far more isolated than I am to avoid -- the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse allegations. Like many people for whom this is an all-too-pertinent issue, including but not limited to fellow clergy and others in the helping professions, parents and grandparents of small children, and survivors of sex abuse, I was at first angry and indignant and self-righteous.

I happen to know a fantastic young couple who attended and dearly love Penn State. I read and considered what they had to say about their alma mater of just a few years ago. I waited until my own thoughts cleared and I could see what lay below the surface of my rage. Everyone condemns the abuse. That's a no-brainer. The controversy is over the actions of those who knew, but did not do, enough.

It is so easy to be critical and judgmental about this. Most people feel certain they would have said more, made sure it was stopped forever, and so on. Others, like David Brooks in this article, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/opinion/brooks-lets-all-feel-superior.html?_r=1

called "Let's All Feel Superior," say that people are really good at "self-deception," and explain it as the Bystander effect, which at some level we are all capable of.

I really had to spend close to a week examining my own soul in this regard. I am not finished. There is a member of my own extended (step-relative) family who I know for a fact committed sexual abuse because I was one victim, and I know the others. I have told this person and many others. I can not do anything legally because this person was not an adult at the time (over 40 years ago). But I still worry that I have not done enough. Short of camping on his doorstep with a sign, how can I be sure that his own step-daughter is not a victim now? This keeps me up at night.

However, I think there are many of us who will not accept Brooks' assertions that we are all just feeling superior when we make judgments about others who ignore/minimize/allow abuse. Some of us don't just THINK we would do more, we have; indeed, we have done it at the risk of relationships, our own popularity, and in some cases our own safety.

In fact, I have reported suspected child abuse and endagerment  to authorities in four different states. I have told people who would rather not hear it when I know something they need to know. I have preached about my own victimization and named the person responsible from the pulpit. I have told almost everyone in the family who will listen (most have done nothing). I have reported my own family members, including my own adult children, to authorities when their behaviors (thank God, in the case of the son, it was addiction-related, NOT sex abuse of any kind) placed a small child in danger. None of these things have made me more loved, more appreciated, or more self-righteous. But they do give me the right to say, yes, there are people who can not live with themselves unless they do what they know is right.

By the way, in most of these cases... the so-called authorities did little or nothing, the family members called me a liar or worse, and my whistle-blowing made me look like a blowhard. I would, and will, do it again, in a heartbeat. So, after this first week of introspection, I say this: the life and safety of even ONE child trumps everything. Everything. Period.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Occupy Your Life

Sabbatical Musings/ Week 5.


Seth suggested the witch costume because my nose is, well, witchy..

I wish I had more exciting things to report. As my sabbatical approached, I found that I had made a decision (by not deciding) that I wouldn't do much traveling. The church does not have the funds to support it, nor do I. Since we decided about five years ago to live within our means rather than charge and borrow, that means sabbaticaling (mostly) at home. And home is rural Washington County, less than an hour but in some ways about thirty years from Lexington!Too, I have a son who needs a great deal of care and attention. It's a joy to be able to be more available to him, in a less distracted way. I can see already that it is having an effect upon his security and behavior.

I didn't have to leave tiny Willisburg to see an awesome WofOz family!!

Up until the break began, I still had a few ideas that involved travel: I hoped to make at least a brief trip to Haiti, since I have felt a pull to be of service there ever since the earthquake, and I have had a vague idea about taking the message of mountain top removal out West, where people are not directly affected, but where they need to know the facts and political realities of this devestating practice. Yet here I am in the second month, and I've made no definite plans. It even occured to me that a few years back, I would have gladly traveled to New York City or Oakland, where a clergy presence is definitely needed at the Occupy Movements. I know many UU ministers, including our one-time intern Pallas Stanford, have gone to these places that there may be a UU presence.

My favorite place in the world..


Somehow it seems enough to me to occupy my own life, one day at a time, listening, watching, and wondering about many things: my writing practice (I am participating in something called NaNoWriMo, which has me trying to pen a novel during the month of November!) ; meditation practice, health and well being, building community, living in rural America, sustainability, parenting, and recovery. Some of these will be active pursuits, others matters of observation and experimentation.

http://www.nanowrimo.org/


I grew these!

It occurs to me that life passes by swiftly and it can be mercilessly challenging. We can so easily miss it, rushing about and trying to get somewhere. What if everyone were to occupy their own life fully, with the kind of intentional awareness that is so difficult to maintain? Would we not be more compassionate, more sensible, more sane?

Local cemetery on Halloween.



Next week, I'll tell you more about the novel, and the dinner party I attended at the home of a true member of the 1%! And believe me, when I say I'm in favor of occupying our own lives, I am in no way disparaging the OWS movements that are happening everywhere... Au contraire! They excite me and give me hope. They are truly the kind of organic, egalitarian change I have preached about for years with my ramblings on Appreciative Inquiry, New Leadership, and so on. It is an exciting time to be alive, scary too... and to see a spirit of solidarity and rage among our young. Rage is sometimes healthy, and guess what? It doesn't have to be mine. May it grow and may it be heard!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cynthia Doesn't Live Here Anymore.....

When we take a break from the routine duties of our lives, there is first a blessed sense of freedom. No weighty obligations or responsibilities beyond the usual family and self-care. What bliss!

Then comes the challenge of open-ended time and the real hard work of trying NOT to fill the time with other duties, tasks and busy-ness. We almost all say we want a break, but really those of us who are wont to be productive are likely to find "breaks" as hard to handle as work. For example, I have been accused of being a "travel-Nazi," filling every moment of family vacations with what I think are worthwhile and educational pursuits. My father instilled this ethic in me. I would call it compulsive productivity. Something must be cooked, written, mailed, cleaned, paid, arranged, created, fixed, etc. every day... preferably all of the above. He had a steady supply of 3x5 index cards upon which he wrote lists every night, right up until his final months of life, of things to accomplish the following day.

So it is not without effort that I have gotten through three weeks of unstructured time.



It's the same phenomenon that keeps most people from sticking with a meditation practice... when we empty our schedules, our minds, our environments of clutter, we are faced with.. ourselves.

It's fascinating to observe the urge to fill the time. To notice the feelings of discomfort, alienation, loneliness, and sadness as they arrive. To acknowledge that so much of my life has been structured around the needs and identities of others, and so much of my identity is wrapped up in being "mom" and "minister" that I am filled with anxiety and apprehension when I am alone and free.



What comes to the surface is anger, regret, confusion, fear, sadness, and even despair. But having long years of practice and study in mindfulness and presence, I know I have the tools to weather this period. On the other side of emptiness is peace of mind.

We took a family vacation of sorts this week, driving to Western Mass. to visit Marjorie at college. It was Family weekend. So, my mom identity was back in place. I have four children ages 6-29,  and all of them are still  very much in my life at present, so it will take some doing to keep returning to that less comfortable space where I look for me and assess my  needs, desires, and plans. But that is my goal, to stay with the emptiness and not fill the days and my mind with the the needs of others, just for awhile, so I can find me. In time, I'll be ready to return to the greater community and serve others from a place of clarity and strength.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Seeing/Being


The Vacation




Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.

He went flying down the river in his boat

with his video camera to his eye, making

a moving picture of the moving river

upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly

toward the end of his vacation. He showed

his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,

preserving it forever: the river, the trees,

the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat

behind which he stood with his camera

preserving his vacation even as he was living it

so that after he had had it he would still

have it. It would be there. With a flick

of a switch, there it would be. But he

would not be in it. He would never be in it.


~Wendell Berry

I do understand what Berry is saying here.

My first set of kids were small when video cameras became widely available, and some parents really did film almost every moment of their poor kids' lives. Even then, way before I understood the Buddhist maxim of "being" here, now, I knew that it was important to put the camera down and just be present.

But I also think that taking photographs can encourage "seeing," by forcing us to look at the world around us, study the juxtaposition of things and people, and choose the colors, shapes, and moments we wish to preserve. It forces us to appreciate the grandeur of nature and impermanence of the beauty and drama we live with.

This week, I have been breathing, looking around me, noticing, and appreciating.

I have been immersed in gratitude for this space and time to do the things I normally can not, to stop and chat with a merchant, to drive slowly, observing the hues and inhaling the scent of fall leaves, to watch people, who are endlessly fascinating.





I wanted to buy a French butter keeper for my friend in New Jersey, since it's her birthday and I will see her this week. But I needed to look up the name of the potter from whom I got mine two years ago. Finally I found her, and drove to her home, and knocked at the door. She pulled out all of the butter keepers and we talked while I chose one. I drove on to Harrodsburg and studied the mailbox quotations on the farms of the Mennonites. I saw four Amish girls in a discount store looking surreptitiously at a Teen magazine. By the time I got a cart and returned they had disappeared. I picked up the magazine and saw that it was all about Selena Gomez, a popular Latina star. Neither of these things are a big deal, but I treasure them because they took time, which I often do not have.

I drove home a different way. I found a corn maze and saw beautiful rolling hills. More leaves.

Sometimes I feel sad that I almost never have time to just be present to life and to all the visual treasures there are to take in. So my meditation for this week is just to see, to be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sabbatical~ Week One



Stay-cation


Many ministers start their sabbaticals with a vacation, or some travel, just to make a break with the compulsive workload and responsibilities of clergy life. Last sabbatical, I traveled to Romania and, later in the fall, to Great Britain with Eric and Marjorie.

Seth(6) has this entire week off from first grade – “Fall Break”—and Casey (29) is still only partially employed, so my inner travel-nazi wants to GO somewhere! I haven’t traveled anywhere with my eldest for over a decade, and I think we both have preserved memories of camping and hiking trips and cross-country journeys from the years before the complexities of divorce, addiction, and economics put an end to any thing remotely like a family getaway.

But a survey of the bank accounts tells me that even a foray into Tennessee, to see fall in the Smokies, or to Cincinnati, where Seth loves the art museum, are not feasible right now. We’ll stay in Washington County. The elements seem to approve of this decision, because each day is more glorious than the last, weather-wise. The colors are more vibrant at Innisfree, our farm, than they have been in the five years we’ve owned it, and the skies are brilliantly clear, the air warm and dry.

After all, what would you wish for on a vacation? Watching the sun rise and set, good food and wine, art and culture, lots of rest, something great to read, companionship, pampering, and maybe some intellectual stimulation…. Almost all of these can be had right at home, or close to home, with a bit of creativity.



I know I am blessed to have this place to live, where it is so peaceful and so far removed from any of the stresses of the city, but I have also noticed that despite having invited dozens of people to visit, both family and friends from far away and colleagues and acquaintances from Kentucky, only a few make the trek. It’s not far, either… 45 minutes’ drive from the start of the Bluegrass Parkway on Versailles Road! I know there were any number of times when I was exhausted beyond belief, but couldn’t bring myself to make the drive out here, even though I knew how much I’d appreciate it once here.

What I am saying is that, often, peace and serenity are very close at hand, but we do not avail ourselves of them. And, I please guilty to this!

So, this first week of sabbatical, I really did take a sabbath in the traditional sense. I refrained from driving, spending money, and from most sources of electronic media.

I noticed that each day, the sunrise happens in a unique way -- sometimes a gentle rosy glow gives way to a brilliant yellow ball that breaks the horizon; sometimes a startlingly red sky announces a hazy brightening. Each day, nature provides an art display. The hues of changing leaves, the clouds that shift from wispy strokes to puffy wads, the dew that glistens on the ripening pumpkin. Who needs the art museum? Wildlife? We spot coyotes, possums, foxes, deer and wild turkey. My husband brings a tiny green tree frog to show us, and my son brings home a snake that he found on the road.

My hammock, a quarter mile from the house, in a breezy hollow under a huge oak tree, and my Adirondack chair, from which I can survey the activities of swooping birds of prey, are as relaxing as any beach chaise. The wine I stopped and bought at a local winery is dry and satisfying. There is work if I want to work, and rest when I need to rest. I have enough reading to last a decade.

My youngest and I make a scarecrow and decorate the porch for Halloween. My oldest son helps me cook, and I discover that the Hubbard squash we've grown makes great "pumpkin" pies, and the local vegetables make a superb ratatouille. The local Amish market yields the world's best homemade "Long-johns," sumptuous cream-filled confections coated with maple icing. On Saturday, we all three go to Gravel Switch, to see the outhouse races at Penn's Store, an event I have wondered about for the twelve years I have been in Kentucky. It's our most expensive outing of the week; we spend ten dollars on admission and another fifteen on bar-b-que, ribs, and funnel cake. Seth gets his picture taken with Turtle Man, a local hero of sorts who is due to appear on Animal Planet this fall.


The week was not perfect. I was grouchy and irritable some of the time. I couldn't wait to enjoy some solitude, and Seth said, "Mommy!" every three minutes. I wondered when Casey would find employment and worried about bills and college tuition. I felt like I was doing way too much housework and I resented it. My battle cry was, "I did not take a sabbatical to be a maid!" But now it's Monday of Week Two. Casey has a full-time job, Seth's back at school, and Week One is over. It was a time of transition, from being Minister to being Mom. Now, what about "me?" Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Civility, Dignity and Being Right





3rd in a 3 part series on Conflict

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow in the spring

The place where we are right’
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood

Yehuda Amichai, Israeli poet

You may have heard a story on NPR about  how Popular Mechanics has disproven all of the most commonly touted conspiracy theories about 9/11. I read some of the original articles, interested not so much in the particular theories and the quasi-scientific bases, but in the aspects of human nature that would lead one to persist with these claims when all the evidence is against them. I read this:
Healthy skepticism has curdled into paranoia.
Most (of these theories) are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into the public debate. (PM)

I also found it fascinating that the interviewee said that he had never won an argument with a conspiracy theorist. According to him, even though they say they want "proof," when given proof that does not agree with their preordained conclusion, they will just ask for another investigation. What that tells me is that there is no debate, just people who will only listen to what they have already decided is "right."

The two things I would like us to consider today are, “What is the legitimate public debate?”
And what is “the place where we are right?”

I told you in Part One of this series that I love a good argument. I probably  should have considered law as a career, but I have this one flaw.. I am too honest. (Of course there are honest lawyers, but I am way TOO honest, for my own good, sometimes!)

To me, civil discussion, disagreement, even friendly argument is the essence of good conversation. And I am all for healthy skepticism! How could I be a UU otherwise?
But the key word is civil.  As soon as civility and dignity  have left the stage, the show gets ugly. The public debate ends and the mudslinging, name-calling, character assassination, and low blows begin. Then it is no longer a discussion but a tirade or worse, a tantrum.

Civility and dignity.

How do we maintain them without going over into “niceness,” which squelches and silences legitimate differences of opinion?
Hosea Ballou, early Universalist minister who helped articulate that faith said famously, “If we agree in love, then there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of spirit in the bonds of peace.”


1.     We must start by leaving behind the “place where we are right.” Rather than trying to “win,” healthy interchange seeks to find out, to learn, to grow and to encounter “the other.” A good way to start is to ask questions.  Two important questions when doing systems work are, “Why this issue?” and  “Why now?” These questions get at the relationship issues that often underlie the surface or presenting issues.

2.     Focus on self. This is different from focusing on what you want. As Karen Armstrong writes, we must “dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world” and at the same time, we must know who we are and where we begin and end. Self-differentiated persons are far less prone to mob mentality and infectious anxiety which often lead to bad behavior. A self-differentiated person is willing to listen, to learn, and to change.

3.     Time to think. Time is essential in situations of conflict. Do not allow someone else’s urgency to become yours. Margaret Wheatley writes, “Thinking is the place where intelligent action begins.” Time and space are essential. So is the ability to breathe. Otherwise, your “thinking” will just be obsessing, ruminating, or worse. Says Rumi: Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk, and this is the edge of the roof. 

4.     Get outside. We all need to be reminded of the web of life, our deep interconnectedness, and our obligation to preserve the world. In the face of the stars, the vastness of space, the complexity of a spider web, the intricate miracle of a flower lie many answers. We become more humble, more fertile with questions, more intrigued and inspired, and we leave that hard, foreboding ground where we are “right.”
Finally, we must learn to listen well and to treat one another with dignity as well as to have dignity ourselves.


“We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.” (K.Armstrong, Charter for Compassion)


UU minister Ron Robinson writes:
Civility will not become real in our world with rallies, with books, with speeches and sermons. …What is needed now … for the survival of civil society are relationships of persons seeking the deepest freedom in community, where they are reminded again and again that the good life means getting over the preoccupation with self, that life is not about me and my wants but about serving God through serving the least of these who struggle with needs not wants. We must create newer and better communities dedicated to the practice of civility…

AMEN.

Monday, August 29, 2011

POWER, AUTHORITY, SEX & MYSTERY


a sermon given at the UU Church of Lexington

{Part 2 in a 3 Part series on conflict}

Hall of Philosophy at Chautauqua Institution

“We have not yet learned how to be together. I believe we have been kept apart by three primary Western cultural beliefs: individualism, competition, and mechanistic world view.” (Margaret Wheatley, 164)

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend several days at Chautauqua Institution, in western NY state, a place that was begun in the 1800s as a religious summer camp, but has evolved into an American Utopia where, for ten weeks every summer, a peaceful community flourishes replete with a vast menu of well-known speakers, musicians, resident theatre and visual artists, all sharing their extraordinary gifts with an ever-more religiously and culturally diverse assemblage. There, listening, absorbing some of the best of America’s minds and gifts, I contemplated power, authority, and why conflict persists in human life.

We stayed in one of the classic rooming houses, a rather mildew-y but affordable warren of rooms, porches, and lots of stairs that offered a dank “community kitchen” where you could fix a simple meal. My niece asked me on the first day, Why are there so many rules?  Almost every open space on the walls, counters and appliances was plastered with masking tape on which was scrawled the many expectations of community life, from don’t leave scraps in the sink, to please recycle everything to wipe the counters after you finish… The mostly behind-the scenes owner did not welcome us except through notes, and somehow 40-50 guests coexisted for a week very nicely.
“Because people are basically (sinful, her tradition would say) self-centered, and need rules so that they can live in peace.” She shrugged and wandered off.

But I might have said this: A basic principle of responsive leadership is that power and responsibility work together. … That principle guides us in deciding who makes which decisions. If everyone has to make every decision, participation becomes tyranny. Autonomy requires trust, which can only develop over time.

 Statues at Chautauqua

There were no smoking signs, but one gentleman sat outside smoking a fragrant cigar each evening until, evidently, a neighbor complained. A new sign appeared. DO NOT smoke anywhere near the house. Please go down by the lake. I thought about the owner. I am sure some guests thought of her as a tyrant, but I did not. We were essentially free there all week, and if we followed the rules of human decency and respect, barely had to read the signs. I saw her as a benevolent leader who chose to clarify the expectations before conflicts arose. Because there were boundaries we were free to do as we pleased. Had we all stayed there all summer, the signs could have come down. But the guest list changed every week.

Autonomy requires trust, which can only develop over time.

Last week, I spoke of thirteen ways of looking at conflict. You may recall that I said I agree with the maxim: You are never upset for the reason you think.
This applies to conflict in families, communities, organizations, and in the world. I see most conflict not as a struggle over things: land, oil, turf, borders, cigar smoke, recyclables…. But over issues of power and authority. Having no shared understanding of the true nature of power, we humans resort to the one we are most familiar with, which I am going to call the old world Newtonian view of power.

This view  would tell us that power is control and that it is a limited quantity; if someone has more, others must have less. In a quantum view of power, we accept that not only is chaos a necessary step to order, but that power can be shared, and (like love) can grow as human learn new and exciting ways to interact. In quantum (also known and process or systems thinking) leadership, a better word for power-with, which is very different than power-over, is a dynamic, shifting force that responds to needs at the time. Margaret Wheatley writes in Leadership and the New Science,  that we have created trouble for ourselves by confusing control with order. If people are machines, seeking to control us makes sense. I see this everywhere, from child-rearing to educational systems to federal agencies. But if we live with the same forces intrinsic to all other life, then seeking to control through rigid structures is suicide.

 Amphitheater from "loft"

During this week, I also attended the Symphony. I chose to sit in the huge 5,000 seat amphitheater, an open air space that has hosted Bill Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt and hundreds more renowned speakers and “leaders” in the “choir” or "loft" area behind the orchestra.  Not only could I see each musician’s hands and movements, I could see the face, body, and expressions of the conductor(s). I was fascinated by how they used every iota of their energy to urge, compel, bring up, tone down, pace, energize… you name it. This is leadership! I thought. It may look like absolute control during the time of the presentation, but what is happening is that those who have freely chosen to be involved are delegating power for the time being to one has earned it by her study, experience and performance. Even still, there are many other leaders within the group: first violin, bassoon, etc. What is shared is a common vision. But the maestro does not tell the people what to eat for breakfast or how to train their dogs. She is granted authority. She must always re-earn it through her dedication, reliability, and faithfulness to the mission.

Starhawk calls this “responsive leadership” ( Truth or Dare, 270) and Margaret Wheatley calls it “roving leadership.” (24)

That is how it ought to work in voluntary organizations. Churches, to be specific. Authority is never the same as authoritarianism. The first is given; the second is taken. Clergy are granted some authority because of their extensive study, the covenantal bond they have made, and their individual performances over time. This authority is tenuous at best, especially in what we call congregational polity.. but it is essential to the healthy functioning of the church. This delicate dance is poisoned when individuals, who do not understand the nature of power, project their own histories into the relationship, and bring others along. Until that changes, the masking tape will not come down and the grumbling in the basement will not cease.

This lack of trust born of misunderstanding is a cancer on our free tradition.  Part of it comes from wounded individuals, those whom Starhawk calls “King Victim.” To these people, “every disagreement becomes  battle, and every battle seems crucial, a life-or-death situation.” (160) 

There will always be such people in open organizations. But the group, she says, “has a choice. It can collude or challenge us. It can try to be sympathetic to our unhappy childhood, etc.. or it can be honest. If the group accepts our attacks, it is really confirming our powerlessness. As in other relationships, when we let ourselves be battered, we are doing no true kindness to the batterer; we are saying, “You are too damaged, to powerless, to act like an ordinary, decent human being.” (160)

Now, to sex. Sex and religion are inextricable. Why else is Jesus’ death called the “Passion” and why do people cry out “Oh God!” in moments of ecstasy? Mystery permeates sexuality and this mystery is part of a delicate dance in which trust is easily destroyed and power readily abused. Too often the “power” of a religious leader, self-proclaimed or duly ordained, has been abused to the detriment of the fabric of the community. This can damage trust and authority for decades. But just as people who are wounded by sexual abuse as children learn that their current lover is not the perpetrator, organizations can learn that what happened 35 years ago is in no way connected to their current leader. Silence about this must cease if we are to become whole.

“No one wants to die in an unimportant battle for a minor cause.” (Starhawk)

Our vision is a lofty one that requires a sense of purpose and strong, healthy communities if we are to come within a distant chance of meeting it.

The battles are many and time is short. 

These are real battles, not petty squabbles. It is the closest thing to a sin to allow the vision we share and the purpose we proclaim to be undermined by destructive behavior.

MW: If power is the capacity generated by our relationships, then we need to be attending to the quality of those relationships. We would do well to ponder the realization that love is the most potent source of power.

But “love” is a complex term.  Paul Tillich wrote more than 50 years ago: Love is the moving power of life. Love is the drive toward the unity of the separated. Love must destroy that which is against love but cannot destroy him who acts against love.   Hence, for Tillich, we have Divine intervention, forgiveness, Grace, and Justice. I am convinced that our purpose is to increase the amount of this all-uniting, all-encompassing love on the planet, but that to do so will take great courage, wisdom, and leadership.


 Part 3 will be posted later this week.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Conflict











THIRTEEN WAYS






Let’s face it. People do not visit the Coliseum in Rome just because of the architecture, the antiquity, or the echoes of an ancient empire. Most, if not all people who walk through the ruins want to know, “What about the gladiators?” Did they really fight to the death? Is it true that 10,000 animals were killed on one day?

As a species we are fascinated with conflict and we love competition. You don’t need to look farther than UK BB to observe this. But, as individuals, we understand it and deal with it in myriad ways. At least thirteen, but probably hundreds more

Have you ever tried to read – or write – a story without conflict? (1)Good writers know the conflict can be very subtle, hidden deep within the psyche, but it’s there, somewhere. Otherwise all you have is stream of consciousness or the ramblings of a bore. What is human life without story? Hence… conflict is needed.

There are those who thrive on conflict. Some of them are self-titled anarchists (2) Look at the riots in London. After a few days, people didn’t even know what sparked the initial uprisings. But they were fully engaged in the violence against person and property. When asked, some replied: we are doing it to show that we can. My guess, however, would be that conflict makes them feel alive, vital and engaged. There is all too little in their marginal existence to feed the spirit. So, like the audience for Jerry Springer and WWF, they watch or engage in meaningless conflict for its own sake. That gives them what they sadly lack: a sense of purpose, meaning, joy and engagement with the world. To that extent its not anarchy but pathology (3).

I come from the Philadelphia area. Evidently, people there have gotten in on the British trend by taking part in what are being called “violent flash mobs.” I’m not surprised this took hold in Philadelphia, that erstwhile city of brotherly love. I grew up in a culture where a certain amount of conflict was endemic. Not violence, per se, but disagreement, argument, and expressions of strong emotion. It may have cultural roots in the passionate peoples who settled there or the clashes of immigrant communities. But no one loves a good argument like a New Jersey native. Many of us had to modify our tendencies when we moved South, and discovered that conflict is to be avoided at all costs, including dishonesty and a veneer of politeness. (4)What many Southerners don’t understand is that most Yankees don’t hold grudges for long. We argue and then we go on as friends. It’s these parts where the Hatfields and McCoys kept feuds going for generations!

Some would say there is an evolutionary basis (5)to conflict. Survival of the fittest. I have demonstrated before that there is also a bias in evolution for cooperation. It is probably fair to say that both have their purpose. Some would say, however, that technologically advanced humans have little if any need for conflict; indeed pacifists (6)would counsel that it is only through cooperation and understanding, both individual and collective that we shall save the planet. More and more people are coming to see the truth of that.

But even Gandhi said that principles can sometime trump pacifism.

Rodney King said, in our own West Coast version of the British riots, Why can’t we all just get along? (7)Such a simple question. Yet, so hard to comprehend. And, regardless of whether the reasons are cultural, theological, or biological, it has another part… how can we live so that “getting along” is most likely to occur? What do we need to understand, to do, and how can we do it, before it’s too late?

Scott Peck, in his sequel to The Road Less Traveled, called The Different Drum, asserts that true community (8)is not possible without conflict. All communities evolve through what he calls pseudo-community, then a time of chaos, which is likely to include a degree of conflict, through what he calls emptiness to community. Indeed the number of times we ever experience the miraculous result of this process are precious few. In fact, I am fairly sure that no religious congregation can ever reach and sustain community by his definition. But we can use our experiences of true community to guide us safely through times of chaos and anxiety, knowing that equilibrium will return, that in fact community will be deepened unless people flee back into pseudo-community.

In genuine community there are no sides. … the members have learned to give up cliques and factions. Hey have learned how to listen to each other. Sometimes consensus in community is reached with miraculous rapidity. At other times it is arrived at after lengthy struggle. Just because it is a safe place does not mean community is a place without conflict. It is, however, a place where conflict can be resolved without physical or emotional bloodshed and with wisdom as well as grace. Community is a place where people can fight gracefully. (MSP, 71)

Starhawk would disagree with Peck in at least one particular. For the author of Truth or Dare, community (9) can not be reached in groups that are entirely open. Groups, she says, must have boundaries (not barriers) in order to be truly safe spaces. If no process exists for asking someone to leave a group, what generally happens is that the productive, amiable members all drop out, one by one, the group dissolves, and its tasks remain undone. (150)

Starhawk is an advocate for what she calls creative conflict. Needed for such, besides clear boundaries and a sense of purpose, access to information, trust, and leadership. I’ll talk more about these next week. For now, the goal of creative conflict is to emerge more united, more whole, and more balanced, not to win or destroy the “other.”

The difference between Starhawk’s community and Peck’s is that she is talking about a sustained community where his groups are almost always time-limited.

“Conflict evokes fear,” Starhawk writes. That brings me to a resource I have returned to for at least 20 years, A Course in Miracles. (10)Let me simply read you a few of its maxims which concern conflict:

• “I am never upset for the reason I think.” (WB )

• “I am upset because I see only the past.”

• “I want to see things differently.”

• “I could see peace instead of this.”

• The secret of salvation is this: You are doing this unto yourself. Whatever seems to be the cause of any suffering you feel, this is still true.

• The world but demonstrates an ancient truth: you will believe that others do to you exactly what you think you did to them.

The Course in Miracles is a course in Inner Peace. This points to the inner conflicts that feed group and international fights. It teaches 100% personal responsibility for one’s feelings and reactions. It is a course in overcoming fear. When conflict engenders fear, one needs to see things differently. This requires, for most people, a spiritual awakening and a huge change of heart. Sadly, few humans are willing to do the work that is necessary.

The CIM asks, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”

My guess is that a majority of us would have to answer “right.”



Too often the response to conflict of any kind is what Buddhism calls aversion. (11) What the Buddha was really talking about was, again, biology. It is the amygdyla that evokes the Freeze-Flight-Fight responses that are most common in human conflicts. .

But it need not be so.

Two relatively new schools of thought provide exciting tools and contexts for understanding and managing conflict. First is family systems. (12)Employed regularly now in congregations, Murray Bowen’s family systems work has engendered a school of organizational development that goes beyond Peck’s “fighting gracefully.”

In Family Systems we learn that tension aka anxiety arises between two or more individuals as a result of being alive and in contact. Managing, rather than resolving, conflict is key to congregational life. To the extent that members can manage their anxiety (fear), stay in place (fight gracefully), and recognize differences, conflict can be productive and need not be distressing.

One might even say that feeling anxious is not only chronic but an inevitable condition of being alive. (scale of differentiation 1-100%)



Yes, there are methods and techniques to both prevent and minimize destructive conflict. They should be tried as a matter of

course. However, to the extent they fail to address the underlying anxiety within the

relationship, no real change will occur. Effective conflict management will note that

issues are issues to people who are in relationship. Both the content of our disputes

and how we feel toward one another must be considered. Otherwise, the chairs may

move efficiently around the emotional deck while the ship continues on its unhappy

course. It’s akin to saying that the problem of children playing with matches can be

resolved by not having matches around; sooner or later, the kids will discover butane

lighters and burn the house down.



Appreciative Inquiry (13) is both like and unlike Family Systems. “AI” which was originally conceived and formulated for organizational development in the business world, does away with the Newtonian view that still dominates Family Systems. It relies upon chaos theory and quantum science to assert that order lies naturally beyond what may appear to be conflict. But, much like Family Systems and many other schools of conflict management, AI would counsel thinking, taking a larger view (cim: above the battleground), or looking beyond the “things” to the processes that created them.

This view is closest to my own, although I incorporate many facets of those I shared today and others I did touch upon: But, process theology, as well as appreciative inquiry, counsel trust, faith, joy, and patience.

(MW, )

This shift in orientation requires learning to live in a process world. Life demands that I participate with things as they unfold, expect to be surprised, to honor the mystery of it, and to see what emerges. As we learn to live in this process world, we are rewarded with changes in our behavior. I believe we become gentler people. We become more curious about differences, more respectful of one another, more open to life’s surprises. It’s not that we become more hopeful OR pessimistic, but we do become more patient and accepting. I like to believe we change in this way because we are willing to move into the dance. Although it looked frantic from the outside, …. Life is a good partner. Its demands are not unreasonable. A great capacity for change lies in every one of us.” (155)


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

HAITI: Reflections

This homily was given by Marie Conger on July 17th 2011.




Bonjour.  Mwen content way-oo--- Mwen relay Marie.  Mwen visite Haiti en juin et Fuk retourner encore.  Mwen rencontrais ampil haitiens:  Kek bon et keke mal.  Mwen voyait ampil choses kek bon et kek mal.  Mwen content entrer ici.
Hello,  it’s nice to see you--my name is Marie.    I visited Haiti in June and I need to go back again.  I met a lot of Haitians both good and bad.  I saw a lot of things both good and bad.  It’s good to be here.

  *As a member of the Haitian Network of the Bluegrass---I was invited to be part of a small group to visit Haiti in June.   Our sgroup of 5 planned to work together to distribute clothes, shoes and school supplies.  Each of us also had our own personal “mission” and agreed to help each other to realize them.
*Molly and Steve (the HNB Leader and spouse) had a personal project of caring for an orphanage in Port au Prince.  They spent the last year sending money every month to build and maintain this facility.  They also have a connection to a sweet boy, Jean-Paul, who they brought to this orphanage last year—(his mother was killed in the quake).  They would like to adopt him but have met with obstacles so far.   --They were anxious to see how the orphanage –and Jean-Paul --was developing.
Molly also continues to aid her uncle and his family in Port de Paix.  Pastor Dervil leads a small church on a mountainside outside of Port de Paix.  Uncle Dervil is committed to his congregation and is the only member of Molly’s parent’s families to remain in Haiti.  Molly and Steve have helped them in many ways over the last 2 years.  Port de Paix is where we were to do most of our work.
*Clydia travelled to Haiti a year ago.  Her mission since then has been to collect shoes and clothes and raise money for Kreyol Bibles.  She also wanted to do VBS for the kids.  Clydia is a very fundamental, passionate Christian with a heart of gold.
*Dale is a factory employee and pastor of a Georgetown church who felt called to spread Gods word through Bible study and church services.  Dale had never travelled out of the country.
*As many of you already know, my own personal mission included making educational connections, satisfying my Geek-fancophile curiosity about Haitian culture and distributing solar lights.


I’d like to share a highlight video that Bobby Jones edited for me.  …………………………………….




Processing my experience has been very difficult.  Was it “successful”?  Yes.  We accomplished what we as a group, and as individuals, set out to accomplish.  It was merely a drop in the bucket, and a leaky bucket at that--- but even that should be enough, right?  Not really.  My opening statement about meeting both good and bad Haitians and seeing good and bad things, was an intro into what I want to share with you.  The contrasts, and opposites, that I witnessed were striking and seem to be what keeps my recounting of the experience conflicted ---and incoherent.  I believe what I observed was representative of the best, and worst, of humanity.

*The trip began in Port au Prince where we flew in and out with 100s of other well-intentioned people (from the US and elsewhere).  When we arrived, Molly had already been in country for a week and was heartbroken.  She had found that the  caretaker of the  Port au Prince orphanage and school, Pastor Achetul, was a dishonest “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  The children got little benefit from Molly and Steve’s monthly money---but the pastor's church was rebuilding nicely.  The school had nothing more than it did last year ----in fact there is no "school" as we would define it; this "school" consists simply of an area of dirt floor with some ragged tarps overhead to provide some small protection from a relentless tropical sun. This "school"-just an area really- sat next to that same church that was rebuilding nicely.   Little Jean-Paul had ringworm like the other children and like the other children was barely clothed and was malnourished.  Molly had realized before we arrived that she was going to have to take Jean-Paul away and cut all ties with this pastor.  We took Jean-Paul with us, the next day, when we headed to Port de Paix.

*Everywhere we went we found that, even this long after the earthquake, the streets are in most places still choked with rubble on top of rubble-much of the debris from the quake has not been removed, but rather just pushed out of the way to allow traffic to get through as best it can. Often it is like negotiating an obstacle course.  These streets are filled with both the naked and the extremely clean and well dressed.  Our hotel was a beautiful little hide-away in the middle of absolute chaos.

*Port de Paix is a city 90 miles north of PaP.  It was hurt very little by the earthquake although they did feel an influx of people fleeing PaP after the quake.   PdP is essentially a 3rd (or even 4th world) city----Extremely primitive and far behind the rest of the modern world but in other ways, they are modern---using Cell Phones and Facebook to communicate.  The absence of a reliable energy source and the brutal elements keep them so far behind that it is hard to imagine they can ever catch up.



*Molly’s Uncle Duval is the antithesis of the PaP pastor.  He is a gentle, honest, god-loving, man.  His wife and children were happy to see us and introduced us to his congregation on the mountainside.  Our distribution of clothes, shoes and school supplies was met with smiles and gratitude.
I met with our school connection where, almost immediately, I came under a verbal attack from the director, demanding money.  It seems the only help wanted is cash—and they see a white American teacher as a source.  After a lot of back and forth, the director allowed the teacher to answer my questions about HIS needs as a teacher re: resources and development.
*Supplies were not appreciated at this school where they insisted that they would take them and distribute to the students at a later time (Uncle let us know they would more than likely end up in the black market).  We insisted ---either we gave them directly to the children or we took them elsewhere.  ---Very unpleasant experience for me but the group said the children were very happy with the supplies.
Conversely a church/school that we dropped in on unexpectedly greeted us with singing, asked us to speak and gratefully encouraged us to put something in EVERY child’s hands.

As a UU, I witnessed the BEST and WORST in religion.
*The faith of many Haitian People is what gives them hope and purpose to survive.  Being in that tiny church on the mountainside was a heart-warming  experience and I could feel that their love of god sustains them.  Seeing the joy on their faces as they received Clydia’s Kreyol Bibles was incredible.  They believe.
*In Uncle/Pastor Duval’s church,  Dale led his Men’s Bible study and I helped Clydia with Vacation Bible School.  The people, and their practices, were so earnest and true---Their reaction to us was so sweet and lovely.  
*At our hotel, I was honored to be allowed to slip into a Haitian late-night church service being held in the dining area.  There was  hymn-singing and praying and then dinner was served at midnight!  Up until that point the service was much like an american gospel service might be ---with dancing and singing; a pastor and his deacons leading it.  After dinner it started up again and we were asked to join the circle (up to that point, we were on the fringe just observing).  Again, I felt honored as we were outsiders and I the only  “Blanche”, or “White”  in the room.  But then things took a turn…if you don’t know it, catholicism is considered the state religion but years ago it was mixed with the old Haitian voudun/voudou practices.

The pastor started speaking in tongues (his deacon translating in Kreyol), the dancing stepped up a notch or two as did the volume.  Then two girls supposedly possessed of evil spirits were brought in the circle.  They fell on the floor, were anointed with oil, touched by many hands, held down.  They screamed, fought their handlers and tried to run away.  One of the girls seemed to be free of her demons but the other was not.  That was when I left as I was overwhelmed by an uneasy feeling.  I looked at Dale who appeared to be feeling the same and we agreed to leave.
I knew that corruption has plagued Haiti forever, but didn’t know how that might be within the church.  I couldn’t believe the outright deceit displayed by Pastor Achetul in Port au Prince who slipped when he told Molly when she asked about the daily lives of the orphans “Lets wait til the Americans get here and we’ll set things up to look like the children are studying…”
Finally, as a UU, you can imagine how travelling with 2 American Baptist Pastors would be like.  I used it to my advantage by using it to practice patience, tolerance and biting—I mean holding my tongue.

*The cityscapes and countryside revealed just as many contrasts….in my eyes, the city of PaP is beyond repair.  Port de Paix is a city that seems to be moving forward – in 3rd world terms—but with no infrastructure, no systems, no real law and order---it is trashy, smelly, noisy, chaotic and ugly.  BUT…roads are being widened and improved as new hotels are being built, with their own generators as well as solar panels and wind turbines.  But electricity is SO valuable (and gas so expensive) that at our hotel,  guests only have it from 8p-6a.
*You might have noticed on the video beautiful countryside and a stunning beach.  Some UN workers (who I thought were the good guys but many Haitians see as the bad guys) told us that Nouveau Kiskeya (New Haiti) was a must-see and after the long bumpy drive and getting stuck twice in mud and sand,  I believe they were right.  It was truly beautiful…everything that Pap and PdP were not:  lush, clean, sweet smelling, pristine---the water was clear and the beach was clean.  There were manicured gardens and beautiful buildings of tile and concrete.  This is a planned community for retired Haitians living abroad and tourists being built on 11,000 acres with 15 miles of beach front---building their own airstrip and port for cruise ships.  A NEW Haiti---and like other planned resort areas in the carribean, an economic boon for the country.  It all seemed wonderful until I asked about the plans for the workers and those plans didn’t seem as clear or well thought out.  Much less space and development is slated for that community ---so as I fast-forwarded…I saw yet another contrast:  an overpopulated, undeveloped slum on the outskirts of New Kiskeya.
*So what can I learn from this experience in contrasts?  And what might you take from this reflection?  I really should not have been surprised by the dualities --- It is by seeing, experiencing and appreciating ugliness that we can see and appreciate beauty.  A positive is only positive in the face of a negative.   Opposites and dualities create the fabric of the world and we see our lives, and the lives of those around us, in that fabric.  It is our experience of these opposites and these dualities which color and move the threads of our lives.
There are always opposites at play in our life and what can we do to achieve peace of mind during this war of opposites and dualities? Peace of mind doesn’t come only as we experience the so called good side of the opposites or dualities. It weathers the storms of life.   When what we do not want to happen begins to occur... the magic opposing it begins to work as well.
There is always another sunrise to counter act the sunset. The light will always follow the darkness and the day the night.  There is always another hope when all hope has failed us.  I’m going to remember this the next time I come to the end of my rope and can see no way out.
I found an appropriate quote by one of our favorite UU Ministers:
“We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action”.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or take away this:  My efforts were a drop in the bucket (but in the words of KY songwriter, Mitch Barrett “What becomes a mighty ocean started as a drop”.)  Thanks to those of you who made contributions of money and supplies to the HNB.  Many people benefitted.  And thanks to all of you who gave money for my purchase of the solar lights.  I knew they were special---I’m only now realizing how so.
I’m very pleased to report to you that Molly and I had an epiphany that perhaps these bulbs could not only provide light to the families  we worked with but that they might represent a way out of Haiti’s misery---Molly has approached her employer, Sylvania and it’s parent company Seimans about the bulbs and the possibility of building a Haitian community around their production and distribution.  Guess what, they love it!!  I would love to share more of that story with anyone interested!

Drop in the Bucket.  (Mitch Barrett)
It’s a crazy world we live in, Bad news all around
Brothers and sisters, if we’re gonna make a difference
We’re gonna have to stand our ground.
Be a drop in the bucket
And a bucket in the pond
And the pond fills the river
And the river rushes on
And the river swells the river
‘Til the power can’t be stopped
What becomes a mighty ocean
Started as a drop


Comments about the Solar Light Bulbs  from Pastor Duval:
Amazing..at church,   before, they would take offering for money to buy gas…in generator for evening service—it was never enough—they ended up finishing the service in darkness.
Now they don’t have to buy gas to run generator for light
People would come and bring cell phones to charge off the generator—using gas.  Now that’s not an option!
Caused a problem because those who didn’t pay for the gas would use electricity
People are coming to the church and praising god and giving thanks for the missionaries who brought the lights and praying for a return visit.  They are so happy that they don’t have to buy gas for their lanterns at home.

Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa.
Speaking French doesn't mean you are smart.
Famn se kajou. plis li vye, plis li bon.
Woman is like mahogany, the older the better.
Men anpil chay pa lou.
Many hands make the load lighter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Liberal Dads: "Progressive AND Paternal"




















Jonny and Colin

A shared homily given at the UU Church of Lexington 6/19/11:

FROM Eric Huffer, dad to Will (19) and husband to Susan:

I grew up in what might be considered a “traditional” household. My father was the so-called breadwinner, and my mother was the stay-at-home domestic provider. My mother didn’t even drive(her choice). My dad was the manager of a shoe store, and usually left the house about the time the kids were getting up, and came home shortly before it was time for us to get ready for bed. As a result, most of the parental interaction my siblings and I had was with my mother. Dad was the source of special treats or punishment, while my mom was the day to day get things done person. If we had done something wrong during the day, my mom would utilize a version of the famous “wait ‘til your father gets home!” She would claim to be too mad to effectively punish us for fear of losing her temper, and that it was best to wait until my dad could be there to mete out fair punishment. But this was also the man that would take one of us with him every couple of Sundays down to get Spaldings donuts. So, for us kids, he filled this almost god-like role. Coming down from his realm to administer punishment or dole out favors.
So, after growing up in a family that adhered pretty closely to the traditional gender roles if the 50’s and 60’s, you might expect me to tend to fall into those roles as well. That has not been the case. In our household, stereotypical gender roles and characteristics don’t really play out. We look at our relationship as a partnership, where we play off of one another’s strengths and characteristics. I do most of the cooking, mostly because I love it and it feeds my soul, and Susan handles the finances, because she is so much more organized than I am. And unlike the family that I grew up in, I am not the primary “breadwinner”. From the beginning of our marriage, Susan has always made more than me. While we shared in disciplining Will, Susan was definitely better at it, and was the ultimate authority. I’m a cryer, I tear up at sappy commercials or even when speaking about something important to me. Susan is more stoic, rarely crying, and shows her emotions more subtly.
So Will has been raised in a house where men cook, share household responsibilities equally, and cry; and where women are authority figures, and are strong; and where parents are partners.
While this situation is not as uncommon as it might have been when I was a child, it was still not the norm among Will’s friends. He has told me that most of them thought we were weird, and even hippies. When Will was 9, he started telling us he wanted to go to church. I think he was feeling left out when all his friends at school talked about going to church each weekend, and probably feeling a bit of peer pressure. We were a bit perplexed because we were having a hard time imagining what church we could possibly feel comfortable in. We finally decided that, based on what we had heard around, that the UU church would probably least offend us, and we could meet this need that seemed very important to our child. When we did come, we found a community that fit us perfectly. Here was a place full of people like us. A place that promoted and reinforced many of the same values that we tried to live by and were trying to impart to our son.
Many of you know our son, Will, you have seen him grow up here. We feel like he has turned out to be a pretty cool young man, and many of you have complimented us on how we have raised him. I want to state right now that it was all of us that have raised him to become the young man that he is. You have all been such a major part in helping Will develop, just as we are all helping to do the same with the children in our congregation now. Here at UUCL, he has been in a community that celebrated strong women and caring nurturing men; that practiced acceptance of others, and promoted fairness and justice in the world. He has been shaped by this just as much as he has been by what we did at home. For that I want to thank you all.
So, while we are celebrating Father’s Day today, I would like to suggest that all of us here are fathers, and mothers, to the children of our congregation; and we should celebrate thusly.

From Adam Gase, Dad to Lili, Morrigan & Maia and husband to Penny:


How does being a liberal/progressive religious person affect your parenting? How has fathering affected your "spiritual" life?

I started watching baseball with my dad as a way of connecting with him. That failed, but I did learn a lot about baseball. In baseball, it is very important to develop balance, not only athletic balance while throwing a pitch or swinging a bat, but balance in the skills your team has. You can't win every game with a homerun. You must be good in multiple facets.

The same is true in parenting. I balance two very different parenting styles: Red Forman and Bill Cosby. These are representative of the more conservative "strict father" and more progressive "nurturing parent" models. This has actually pushed me to be more progressive, rather than the other way around. As a scientist, I have to remain open-minded about things I do not yet understand or have enough information about. As a parent, I also have to remain open-minded about my approach. Being progressive pushes you to be more balanced, and being more balanced pushes you to be more progressive.

Before I became a parent, it was easy to think, "That's someone else's problem" about a variety of things. Having to care for your children forces you to expand that viewpoint beyond your own head, to encompass others outside of your experience. I think this realization, that other people felt the same about their children as I did about mine, that we aren't that different in our love, but perhaps different in expression, that forced me to be more progressive. We all paint pictures, we just use different colors.

There is a tendency, especially in my largely conservative family, to associate boys with being tough and girls with Barbie dolls and being delicate. I understand the history of this view, but I reject it. First of all, if my girls were delicate, they wouldn't survive ME. I play rough. We have taken martial arts lessons together, we fence and play football in the backyard, we hike, we bike, and we have traveled across the country and back, though not in the Family Truckster. Living with a mother who is not mentally healthy has forced some toughness on my girls. They are not limited to the delicate stereotype. Lili especially has picked up on this mentally, developing a wicked sense of sarcasm. She played baseball when we lived in Pennsylvania in 2008. She threw better than at least five of the boys on her team. She once said to one of her teammates who didn't throw the ball well, "Nice throw, Cody - for a girl." She proved to those boys that she could take it and dish it out. Instantly she had 12 friends. Toughness isn't a non-liberal characteristic. Just ask Rosa Parks.

A certain amount of intelligence is required to dish out good sarcasm, and a certain amount of character is built in learning how to receive sarcasm. These skills are useful when it comes to dealing with peer pressure as a teenager. I have no worries about Lili handling her peers. She's leadership material. She spots opportunities for humor and uses it to teach her friends how to be, not the other way around.

Humor is crucial in parenting. It is crucial in life. Humans are the only animals that laugh. Humor is the only thing that comes from the divine unfiltered. It makes every experiencer feel the same - heavenly. In that moment of vulnerability, it's easier to slip in some wisdom. This is how I operate, and both Lili and Morrigna are picking up that baton. Ghandi said that nonviolence is the weapon of the strong. He forgot to mention humor, probably because he was busy chuckling at this thought.

My spirituality is very connected with being a parent, with embracing the 4 billion year-old heredity of life on this pale blue dot. Joining the drum beat of life, fulfilling a biological destiny. As Robert Heinlein said, "the purpose of a zygote is to make more zygotes." Zygotes are a part of us. The purpose of us, humans, is to welcome more humans aboard to live out their destiny of choice between dark and light. My spirituality has been affected by being a parent in that now I see my role in raising children capable of making this wise decision in the scope of our 15 billion year cosmic history. We can learn to appreciate and love the universe that came to make us, or we can squander our precious resources in meaningless self-destruction.

From Jonny Lifshitz, dad to Dylan, Colin & Owen, and husband to Carrie:


I am Jonny Lifshitz – Dad to three boys, who take after me a little too closely for my wife’s liking. My wife Carrie will tell you that she has 4 boys – few will correct her!
Eight years ago, Carrie had an eldest and only son in daycare, whereas I had a younger brother in daycare. The teachers referred to me as ‘big brother.‘ We would roll and play and build and bump and interact in a deep and meaningful way, even if it was for only 10 or 15 minutes – both at drop-off and pick-up. We came to appreciate that minutes of QUALITY TIME are far more valuable than months of time together. We play hard and then we sleep. [Carrie has enough scrapbooking pages to validate this point.]
Through this quality time, I have formulated a few truisms about childhood and parenting (a.k.a. Mike Brady advice). From here on, I will present a few vignettes to illustrate some of these truisms.
Learn to listen: Listen to children, it’s like listening to yourself
Undoubtedly, parenthood is the best self-reflective mirror. Childhood development is a series of trials and errors, in which children mimic those around them. Each child tries on a personality for a while, if they like the responses and feedback from friends, parents, teachers, they will keep those personality traits. [This is the reason for continuing all those irritating behaviors.]
Given the amount of time around their parents, it’s no wonder that they tend to copy our mannerisms, speech, cynicism, and humor. Just ask any child how to drive a car; the responses are both entertaining and enlightening.
Now, when you observe and listen to your children [much in the same way you would listen to the wind, water, earth and fire], it is really you who you hear.
Owen, 2½: At the dinner table, “let’s do joys and concerns.”
Colin, 5½: Thank you Dad for being the best dad in the whole world.
And then there is Dylan, 8½, who is a bit more to the point:
“Dad, I am doing exactly what you did and saying the same thing you said. Why is it ok for you to do it and not me? It’s just not fair.”
Take out your earbuds, turn off your iPod and listen to yourself.
Gain another’s perspective: Experience the world from their level
It is essential to understand a child’s point of view, from their point of view – it’s different world from 3’. Every once in a while, you have to get on the ground to see what they see, hear what they hear, smell and taste what they taste. You have to be them for a while. In a sense, walk in their shoes. This will allow you to view the world in a whole new way. It will allow you to experience it from their unjaded perspective.
From this level, I could now understand why they were unable to see across the room, find a lost toy on the couch, or avoid a water puddle. From this level, I could now understand why they stop at every crack in the sidewalk, pickup lost coins and find weeds so appealing!
As my perspective changed, it was equally important to change the boys’ perspective. I clearly recall Dylan’s joy when we bought him a stool. Now, he could wash his hands, he could watch dinner being prepared, he could grab things on his own. With a stool in hand, he could change his perspective and be a part of every experience.
Kneel down or stand on a stool. The world is a remarkable place.
Life is a coordinated series of mistakes: People are fallible, but we must learn from our mistakes
The boys love their stories, typically the same ones over and over. More recently, they have become intrigued by the stories my parents tell of me or themselves. Knowing that people [even dad] are fallible, provides our boys with the perspective that things do not always go as planned. More importantly, I believe that these stories allow them to appreciate the experience (maybe even expertise) that their parents have gained as a result of these failures – sometimes minor, sometimes as a lack of foresight and sometimes epic. [Ever tried frying an egg without cracking the shell? It’ll save time, right?]
Through similar stories, the boys have come to know Carrie’s parents, both of whom have passed away. These stories allow experience [some people call them morals] to be taught, learned and transferred between generation – without the messy cleanup. We celebrate their lives – as we did yesterday – by sending helium-filled balloons their way [typically Red Robin helium-filled balloons].
I am sure that I could support the idea of coordinated mistakes with a quote or song lyric, but I won’t. If I am wrong, I hope that I learn from it.
Valuing differences help us grow: Expect the unexpected; relish in their joy
Whether it is a new experience or a different take on an old one, children have the most amazing way of putting the awe in awesome. I won’t be the first or the last to point out the mixed logic in awe-some and awe-ful. For example,
ice cream – awesome
Ice cream in a margarita glass – awe-ful

Bendy straw – awesome
Construction piping straw – awe-ful

Forks – awesome
Toothpicks – awe-ful
When we take the time to appreciate their perspective – that unjaded perspective, wowed by the little things in life – the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In our day-to-day obligations and chores, finding this awe is not necessarily difficult, but often overlooked. Children bring out that awe. As a quick example, my boys are always amazed by different promotional pens I pick up at conferences.
“Dad, did you see how this one works? It has TWO colors.”
Awe is having everything be a bright shiny object, worthy of a reflective thought.


For me (and I will speak for Carrie as well), our boys are our spiritual life. They are pure joy (and pain) and life itself. We know this with absolute certainty, because “those things that boys do” can instantaneously halt that joy.
Dylan – broke his leg in two places getting off a swing at 18 mo
Colin – fell forward on a stick scraping his upper palate on this 3rd birthday
Owen – three weeks ago, fell off a chair, knocking out 1 tooth and loosening 3 more.
In the end, however, love brings it all back together. It is near impossible to explain to the triage nurse in the emergency room that your son needs urgent care when they are asleep in your arms. That same love has allowed all three to recover, or be on the road to recovery, and our family bond.
And then there is sleep… ahhh peace.
As a neuroscientist, I have learned about sleep from countless angles. And let me tell you, the true purpose of sleep has nothing to do with rejuvenation, cellular repair, memory consolidation. It is purely to reset that precious relationship between parent and child.
Children can wear on the patience of even the most stoic people. For those tough days as a parent, as well as those blissful days as a parent, there is nothing like seeing a sleeping child to bring peace to one’s life and the world.
And with that… goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere. Go in peace; Live with joy.