Saturday, October 20, 2012



SURFING in IRELAND
A reflection for water communion

So, are we meant to have fun?

And what exactly is fun anyway? I’ll get back to that.

My inspiration for these reflection came from today’s state, Florida, and the realization that over the years we have used the water service to talk about the spirituality, the symbolism, the interconnectedness, the ecology, the politics, and the economy of water, we have never really talked about how much we rely upon water as a source of pleasure. So often, our journeys are to places near water so that we can partake in the joy of floating, riding, surfing, splashing, sunning, or just gazing upon it. Let’s just pause and celebrate that.

My water came from Ireland, the Dingle peninsula to be exact, a place, I dreamed of visiting for almost forty years, since I studied Irish literature in my Freshman year of college, and became enraptured. But all my dreams of Ireland were of green hills and thatched roofs and country folk and sheep grazing, and blessed be, these things can still be found. Surprising for me was the extent to which water is part of every aspect of Ireland. Why wouldn’t it be! The place is surrounded by oceans and seas and permeated by streams, rivers and lochs. The story of Ireland is the story of an island and its water, including its tears. I got my little vial of water from a place that felt like the end of a very long pilgrimage, the ocean near the gravesite of Peig Sayers, a resident of the Great Blasket Island who wrote An Old Woman’s Reflections, my first glimpse of Irish literature. This place was holy ground for me. Seeing the Great Blasket from her mainland grave site, driving the roads of the Dingle peninsula, staying at the home of a storyteller and sitting up by his peat fire late with him was more fun to me than anything I can recall in many, many years. But that’s me, I’m a bit odd.

The Irish people are hard workers. I have a lot more Scottish than Irish in me, just a smidgen of Irish as far as I know, but I love to work and don’t get the culture of “fun.” For me, work is fun. Life is full of fun. 

Now Ireland has also been home to more traditionally “fun” pastimes, like vacations, cruises and recreation. From the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, built in Belfast, and sailing from Cobh to today’s surfing culture (yes, I said surfing in Ireland) people have paid large sums of money and traveled far to satisfy their urge for enjoyment. These people who surf Ireland’s West coast come from all over the world to conquer some of the biggest waves anywhere. They are also some of the most dangerous because of their size, velocity, and the rocky shoals beneath them and outcroppings offshore. The surfers have to be towed into the waves in many cases, and sometimes travel as far as eight miles offshore to get the biggest surf. The surfers of Mullaghmore, County Sligo, who have become world famous, are called “slightly crazy” by a BBC article:
Ollie O'Flaherty recalled an occasion recently when his friend and towing partner, Peter Connolly, had to pull him out of the water after a very tricky situation:
"I've definitely had one or two pretty big scares...last October I got wiped out and was stuck at the bottom of one wave and I got picked up, hit and dragged over the reef three times," said Ollie.
In a sport where broken bones, and even death, can be the heavy price to pay for not catching a wave properly, he insists "the thrill outweighs the consequence for me."


Now that’s fun!
Please do not take this as a criticism of cruises, because I know many of you have taken or will take cruises and I am sure you had an enormously good experience. When Eric and Seth and I got to go to St. John as I was invited to preach there, (by the way that was lovely but about one-one hundredth as much “fun” as going to Ireland, for me) we saw the world’s biggest cruise ship in port. We just looked at each other and said, Yikes!  As introverts and people who don’t party or stay up late and who just like to be alone, it looked like a very terrifying place. For me, almost any boat situation is decidedly not “fun” because I have motion sickness. So, I save a lot of money and worry not going on cruises! But others may say that this was the most fun they have ever had.

That brings me back to “fun.”

The word “fun” used to mean to trick or hoax. No doubt you’ve heard people hear in Kentucky say, “He/she is just funning you.” But “fun” has come to be an important part of our vernacular, a noun rather than a verb. Almost daily we ask, did you have fun? Or report on Facebook: I had a lot of fun at the festival! If we were to look deeply into our beliefs, I think we’d agree that we believe that we should have fun, we deserve to have fun, that fun balances work and toil, and that we should budget time and money for fun. 

Jewish and Christian scriptures actually do not mention “fun” per se, although
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.  - Ecclesiastes 8:15
Jesus:
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'"
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." - Luke 12:16-21
No one is calling for grim stoicism or renunciation!
“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk — t├Ždium [weariness] — in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.”

The quotation is from Karl Barth’s 1957 Church Dogmatics.

Children have lots of fun, and they know how to have it simply and joyfully, until we and the world teach them that they have to buy it, turn it on, that it need batteries, comes packaged, and requires ever- greater thrills.
Maybe, what we really need to emphasize is not fun,  something that is not in itself wrong, but that has been co-opted, exploited, commercialized, and made expensive, extravagant, exclusive, damaging to the environment, dangerous, and in some cases just slightly crazy, but recreation…. Re-creation, which water can do, which is one of the meanings of the traditional communion ritual, to cleanse and make new, and which can be done without expense or harming anyone or anything. It can be done by breathing, by smiling, by slowing down, by telling the truth, by letting go, by forgiving, by washing away the residue of expectations and demands upon ourselves and others that cause us grief. May you be surrounded by the healing waters of hope and renewal today and every day. AMEN

(yes, Che Guevara was in this town en route to Ireland's famous Lahinch surfing beach. Did he have fun?)



Saturday, September 08, 2012

LIBERAL RELIGION in the SOUTH


a homily given on July 22, 2012

A few international stories in honor of the Olympics:

Hungarians will not clink glasses in a toast with beer. Why? Because they were defeated by the Hapsburgs in 1848 (who then toasted their victory) they vowed never to do this for 150 years so even after 1998 and even after everyone forgot which war started the tradition or from whence it came, they will scold you if you toast with beer.

Moral: Myth takes a life of its own and human ritualized behavior can long outlast its antecedents.

A political fracas occurred early yesterday in London:
"The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?" wrote Aidan Burley, a Conservative Party MP who was fired as a ministerial aide in David Cameron's government after revelations he attended a Nazi-themed stag party in France last year.
"Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!" he added minutes later.
 Moral: If Conservatism is still alive and well and in London and Europe, let’s acknowledge how long it is apt to thrive in this, our homeland, the South.

Liberal Religion in the South. Three questions: What is meant by the South? What is meant by Religion? And what does it mean for Unitarian Universalism?
The South:
The Southern United States/”Dixie” is most distinguished by its culture. The boundaries are clear to most (but not all), but the culture is nearly 100% discernible by any outsider. Kentucky is technically a border state, but almost any visitor from New Jersey, California, Germany or Mars would call it Southern because of 1) the accents, 2) the food 3) the music and 4) the religion. That said, it is “less” southern than some other places, for example… Tennessee, where just last week, I saw a sign that said if you fail to tip, a kid gets a mullet. When Anke asked what’s a mullet, the clerk said, you’ll see one soon. I said I don’t know, we’re headed back to Kentucky before nightfall, to which he said, Kentucky’s just as bad. I have not done a scientific study, but I guarantee you the number of Confederate flags goes up exponentially as soon as you pass Bowling Green.
But let’s just concentrate on #4, religion. The South has a special relationship with religion which is recognized by theologians, sociologists, and armchairs philosophers. It is referred to as the Bible belt. Since we are also the most out of shape and overweight maybe we will have to change it to the Bible elastic waist pants, but for now, it’s Bible belt. 

The good people of the South have a highly developed sense of place. I love to listen to the people of Springfield talk and tell stories. It’s like reading Faulkner. Everyone white is related somehow and everyone black is related somehow and there’s some overlap, too. Everyone is known by where they grew up, where the significant events occurred, and they tell and retell the stories. Religion, primarily Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist, is woven through these stories as is work, family, and politics.

The mythical story of the South is the story of the Civil war and in this myth, the noble Southerner was expelled from Eden, and the War (simply called the War) was the fall from Grace which is very much alive. It circumscribes and colors and haunts Southern religion the way the Austrian defeat does Hungarian beer drinking.  People don’t even need to know the beginning of the myth or the true story; they just know you’re a Yankee if you ain’t one of them.

What is Religion?
When we talk about Southern religion, we are primarily talking about “Southern Evangelical Protestantism.” What I’d love to do right now is make a sharp and clear definition for you between all religions that fall loosely or tightly under that aegis and all that are opposed to it, which I am going to call “American Civil Religion.”

In its most distilled form SEP is the response and a reaction of the victimization of the Southerner, his near-feeling of crucifixion after the “War.” Curiously, the very Southerners who most perpetuate this religion in its most virulent and exclusionary versions, and who continue who expound the most hateful doctrines of racism associated with the American South, are the members of the Underclass who would never have benefitted from a Confederate victory. But in culture of nations as in churches, I find the truth does not often interfere with myth.

The religion is 1) a rationalization 2) a relief and 3) a reinforcement for the “beleaguered and defeated southerner.
Rationalization~ As man is to God, so slave is to Master. This analogy explains the participation of Southern “Christian” clergy in system that seems to outsiders to be anathema: slavery and racism. By understanding their goal as that of converting heathen Africans, many Southerners rationalized a hierarchical and abusive form of religion.
Relief ~ Conquest over anxiety and guilt. “Blessed Assurance” is no mere platitude. The collective guilt that hovers at the periphery of every Southerner’s conscience is alleviated to some degree by the core doctrine of evangelical religion: the assurance of forgiveness: “The Christian is merely a Sojourner in the world. Evils have to be endured, and the gospel makes them endurable.”
Reinforcement ~ The culture and rituals of the evangelical tradition: “Hellfire, Bible thumping, serpent-swinging, camp meeting, tongue-talking, tear shedding,” and the ultimate ritual of the altar call and conversion (being “saved”) are forms of exorcism that expiate the guilt of racism, slavery, and its concomitant demons over and over again.
I read a blog by a liberal fellow in Alabama subtitled “the favorite thing for Southerners to bring up, RELIGION, and the least favorite, RACE…” that pretty well nails it.
Quite different than this is what has been named American Civil Religion, of which Unitarianism and Universalism, at least in their original forms, were the preeminent examples. 

Robert Bellah defined American Civil Religion as the religious dimension of a people through which they interpret their historical experience in light of transcendent reality. (Meyer, 68)

An article in Harvard Square Library lays out beautifully the historic development of American Civil Religion: The unifying theme in the new world epic is the open circle of the free way of life. Wholeness which is open for growth is the primary characteristic of the liberal way of life in America.
The core of ACR is the social gospel, forged in the aftermath of Industrialization which both blessed and cursed our society after the Civil war, and articulated most clearly by Niebuhr and Rauschenbusch, but exemplified most in Unitarianism and Universalism.
Key tenets of this Enlightenment understanding of religion are an emphasis on democracy, an allegiance to what has been called the Kingdom of God or the Open Circle, optimism about the nature of humanity, and and emphasis on freedom, reason and tolerance.
Wrote Dean Sperry of Harvard:
Something there is in American life which doesn’t love walls. There is a residual Leveller in all of us. Back of our Equalitarianism there lies the old prophetic ideal of the whole of life lived as a single consistent experience… hence one of the most marked differences between the religion of America and that of the old world : the idea of the Church is not and has never been the center of our religious interest. We are more interested in the Kingdom of God in its totality. (HSL, 2005, p.4)

There is indeed a Southern Civil religion or “Southern Way of Life” that could be described as “less optimistic, less liberal, less tolerant, less democratic, and more homogeneously Protestant.” (Meyer, 69)

Enter into this culture the UU churches and fellowships such as ours who planted themselves in the South. But we did not only enter in the mid 20th century. We were preceded by Horace Holley in 1820s who came from Boston to serve as the liberal President of Transylvania College and was run out of Lexington by the Presbyterian Synod. We were preceded by the Universalists who were here even before Holley, with meeting houses in Paris, KY and Louisville and all around the countryside, giving the lie to the hellfire and damnation of Edwards and the great Revival and preaching and living against Calvinism. 

Like all important discussions, this one is not simple. The myth has two sides. The South has been a scapegoat for Northerners who typify it to avoid facing their own complicity in our country’s long history of racism and exploitation. 

There is actually something liberal religion can learn now from Southern religious tradition. We have excoriated evangelical Christianity for its focus on personal salvation over what we proudly decree to be the social gospel. We have a highly developed notion of human potential but sometimes neglect the fallibility and the forgiveness available to every human heart. To quote Suzanne Meyer:
While human potential in the abstract may be virtually unlimited, individual limitations are very real. Human beings sin and are sinned against. I encounter people every day who are victims of brokenness and alienation. For those who are victims, liberal theology offers both moral outrage and compassion, but to those who are both victim and victimizer, both the sinned against and the sinner, liberal theology has less to offer. The Southern experience on the other hand has something to say to those of us who are both victim and offender.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of a progressive, open, democratic faith with a word of hope, that is not a collection of self-righteous victims but a place where sinners and sinnees both and alike can come to listen to and learn from one another, and to grow a soul.       TBC





Saturday, July 28, 2012

CAN LIBERALS BE PATRIOTS?



7/1/12

            You will probably never see an American flag displayed in a UU church, although you will see one in most other churches. Does that mean UUs aren’t patriotic? 

            As we prepare ourselves for the unfettered and largely unexamined display of patriotism known as “Fourth of July” , it make be good to arm ourselves with some wisdom. 

            Writing in 1932, Reinhold Niebuhr said, in Moral Man and Immoral Society:
“There is an ethical paradox in patriotism which defies all but the most astute … analysis. Patriotism transmutes individual unselfishness into national egoism. Loyalty to the nation…. becomes the vehicle of all the altruistic impulses and expresses itself with such fervor that the critical attitude of the individual toward the nation is completely destroyed…. Thus the unselfishness of individuals makes for the selfishness of nations…. What lies beyond the nation, the community of mankind, is too vague to inspire devotion.” (91)

Let’s unpack this.

First, “the critical attitude of the individual toward the nation” is essential. Why?
The very document we celebrate says so! From Howard Zinn:
The American Declaration of Independence… clearly understood (the) difference between government and citizen. It says that the purpose of government is to secure certain rights for its citizens – life, liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. But governments may not fulfill these purposes and so, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.” (12)

Zinn writes: In the United States today, The Declaration of Independence hangs on classroom walls but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.

What he means by that is that what is often used as a justification for actions that interfere with life, liberty and happiness, i.e. war, the prison industrial complex, all of the machinations of corporate greed, forced deportations of undocumented immigrants, etc, is a call for realism and against idealism. In fact liberals and progressives who do try to live out the true patriotism of protest and questioning the government are called “idealistic” more than anything else.

But, writes Zinn prophetically: Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept, without much questioning, someone else’s version of what that reality is. It is a crucial act of independent thinking to be skeptical of someone else’s description of reality. (11)

Enter liberal religion, specifically Unitarian Universalism. In our American iteration, we were born from the sentiments of those who, like William Ellery Channing, understood that idealism blended with reason was the basis for a new religious impulse: “I have felt.. that a new reverence for (man) was essential to the cause of social reform. There can be no true peace.. any farther than men come to understand their affinity with and relation to God and the infinite purposes for which he gave them life… none of us can conceive the new courtesy and sweetness, the mutual kindness, deference and sympathy, the life and efforts for social melioration which are to spring up as man shall penetrate beneath the body to the spirit and shall learn what the lowest man is.”  For Channing, this was not just talk, as he gave up the most prestigious pulpit in Boston to support the cause of abolitionism.

But Unitarianism, blended now with Universalism, which should enhance its spiritual basis even further, has in many cases thrown the “spirit” part out (the baby with bathwater), allowed realism and “reason” to bully and squeeze out all notions of depth and breadth and spirit and soul and heart, so that, in way too many of our groups and gatherings there is a deadness. We can’t pray. We can’t say certain things. We have to be politically correct. We have lost our sense of humor and our sense of perspective. But perhaps worst of all, we have lost our core, what Niebuhr calls the altruistic impulse or individual unselfishness. Not entirely,but to a frightening degree.

Niebuhr writes in his other theological masterwork, Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: “ ‘Tolerance is the virtue of a people who do not believe anything’” (130).
He was quoting Gilbert Chesterton, but his point is that what he called modern secularism is dangerous because it provides no religious impulse for humility and no defense against fanaticisms. Tolerance for all forms of “religion” without question is what he calls a bourgeois indifference which will lead to nihilism. I fear for Unitarian Universalism, not our historic faith but its manifestation in the culture, on these grounds. The grounds of creeping moral relativism.

Niebuhr wrote in the same book,
The preservation of a democratic society requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice. They must know the power of self-interest in human society without giving it moral justification. They must have this wisdom in order that they may beguile, deflect, harness, and restrain self-interest, individual and collective, for the sake of community. 

This is an astounding quote which lends itself to volumes of interpretation. Suffice it to say that we, the liberals, are in Niebuhr’s view, the Children of “Light.” It is both our indifference and our neglect that endanger the future as much as do the self-will and ill-will of the Children of “Darkness.” 

Zinn mentions one of our own, Henry David Thoreau, who has been a beacon to so many of us, and who was for Zinn an exemplar when he was arrested for civil disobedience. In talking about patriotism, Zinn reminds readers that we must never confuse our obligation to fellow humans, which is real (Channing), with any presumed obligation to a government, which is artificial. 

“If patriotism were defined not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens  (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government when it violated these principles.” ( Zinn, 119)




Monday, June 25, 2012

IMAGINATION & the spirit (and the church)



Here’s a story:

In tenth century Scotland there lived a Princess with her mother & father, the Queen and King. When presented with  a bow and arrow by her father, she becomes herself, a regular “tomboy”, riding her horse, Angus, throughout the countryside. Still her mother has a traditional fate I mind for her: marriage to one of the buffoonish sons of the related clans. When they come calling, much chaos ensues. Merida runs off, breaking with her mother, meets up with a witch, and wishes her mother changed. Her wish is granted, but her mother is changed.. to a bear. Merida must try to help her mother return to human form, and the two must all the while deal with the truly evil bear that lurks in the forest, the elusive witch and will o the wisps which led to her, the three younger brothers who have also eaten the potion and become baby bears… well, it’s a mess!
You can find out what happens by going to theatre or waiting until this charming movie, called BRAVE, comes out on DVD.

It’s a film that does what all the PIXAR movies do: blends humor, enthralling animation,  original musical compositions, and details about human nature that capture the hearts and minds of any human, from 6 to 96. While Seth was gleefully following the journey of the wild crimson-haired lass and waiting for the impish red-headed triplets to reappear, I was immersed in what genius it took to weave into a kids’ movie a whole subplot about family systems: how you can’t separate yourself from family by geographical distance (cutoff) and another Jungian/symbolic plot about motherhood: the Queen Elinor had to accept her “bear” nature and with it many aspects of herself that ultimately left her a more complete and evolved woman.

Creating this sort of magic onscreen takes vast amounts of work. At Pixar, teams of technical, creative, and everything in-between humans meet daily for months, even years, going over every tiny detail of the film, often trashing entire sequences and even starting from scratch with a whole new concept when it becomes clear they have failed. Failure at PIXAR is nothing but motivation to keep going, it would seem. Steve Jobs said of TOY STORY 2, “WE killed ourselves to make it. It was tough; it was too tough. It took some people a year to recover.” Of course, we all know that although Steve Jobs did recover from TOY STORY 2 , he passed away too young after a remarkable life, one most of us couldn’t imagine.

Or could we?

In a recently published book, titled IMAGINE (not the most creative title!), the author deconstructs this aspect of humanity which sometimes seems as elusive as the will o the wisps that Princess Merida chases through the woods.

What is imagination? And, most importantly, how can we harness its power to enhance our spirits and our communities of spirit?

William James described the creative process as a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.”

But for eons, even though humans were obviously having these seemingly miraculous interactions between the brain and their surroundings (which of course is the essence of imagination)…. Creativity was attributed to something supernatural: the muses, the mystery. (Inspire) Even today, most people believe that only a select few are truly creative.

But I would side with Picasso, who once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”


I truly believe that our humanity gives us a sheet of paper with many blanks spaces upon which we write our own story. So many of what we perceive of as constraints or setbacks are actually materials for our imagination and growth if we but understand them.  I know this is true because I have seen it work in unremarkable human beings time and again, humans who have made a master-work of their lives, even if they never become Steve Jobs.

We now know that certain parts of the brain are responsible for this activity, even though we don’t fully comprehend it; and we know a great deal about what brings it on and what inhibits it. The piece that still strikes us as miraculous is the moment of inspiration, the moment when we just “know” what to do, see the path clearly, understand ourselves and others, and have a clearer notion of what lies ahead, perhaps a whole new vision for our lives and our beings.
For example:
·    Every creative journey begins with a problem.
·    Most creative geniuses are familiar with sadness (80% writers~~ depression) As Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Yet it is when happy that creativity flows! So we need both.
·    Creativity is a delightful product of the combination of a relaxed mind and focused attention. Einstein said: Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
·    The act of invention is really an act of recombination. (philosopher David Hume, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, described this talent as the essence of the imagination:   All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted).
·    Constraint kills imagination! “The lesson of letting go is that we constrain our own creativity. We are so worried about playing the wrong note or saying the wrong thing that we end up with nothing at all, the silence of the scared imagination.” 
·    COLLABORATION is key~~ 

It’s not hard to see how we have both succeeded and failed to utilize imagination as we have crafted our lives thus far. A spiritual moment is one when we say, These are the time I did create something positive, focus upon those with joy and gratitude, and endeavor to have more of the same, be they moments or  decades.


So.. what of organizations? I actually think it’s easy to apply the same general principles to liberal/progressive (or, it turns out rather regressive with progressive beliefs) organizations, and these are the only sort I have been deeply involved in. The failure of most organizations to grow, thrive, and succeed as a business like Pixar or an artist like Picasso does is not due to the recession or the ennui of its members!
What we have here, friends, is not so much a failure to communicate as it is a failure of imagination.

Let’s just talk about churches, since that’s what I know best: We do some bits of the imagination/creativity dance very badly. BUT, we also have right at hand so many of the essential elements that it is indeed an exciting moment.

NOT SO GOOD for creativity?
·    Too much brainstorming-type collaboration. MYTH of consensus.
·    NOT ENOUGH RISK! (“chutzpah”)
·    Not enough “outliers” esp. YOUNG
·    Not enough REM time/play
·    Don’t allow for sadness
·    WE often CENSOR imaginative ideas because of the TRADITION
REALLY GOOD ELEMENTS
·    CHAOS! We have it. But we need the discipline to channel it.
·    “third” place, like coffeehouses, bistros, etc. Great potential. PLACE
·    Different ideas. DIVERSE
·    TALENTS: “There is talent everywhere. The only question is whether or not we are taking advantage of it.”


Lehrer ends his book IMAGINE by talking about cities and how, although they ought to have been the most horrible places for creativity and imagination, they have been the best. There are many reasons for this, but among them is what he calls the ballet of the city: many different people, forced to cross paths, many stimulants for ideas and the senses, many interactions per day.

But not every city is teeming with imagination! He actually mentions my former home, Riverside, CA, which is one of the fastest growing (spreading…) but least productive cities, along with Phoenix. Why? What’s needed is not suburban sprawl, anonymity, but diversity, chaos, the jangle and messiness of the urban ballet.
What’s interesting is that this urban dance cannot be choreographed in advance or controlled from above. Instead, the creativity of the metropolis is inseparable from its freedom, from the natural chaos of a densely  populated ZipCode.

I ask: Can we realize this freedom and refrain from taming the chaos just enough to be truly imaginative about our future, as an organization, and as human beings, each on a path filled with potential and pitfalls, to wholeness??





(Quotes from Jonathan Lehrer, Imagine, 2012)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Fathers, Who Art....


Robert Hayden


Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays”


Discernment is key to the religious life.
The roots of the word  dis/cern mean to divide, to separate. To decide, what to keep, what to let go of.
Whatever our beliefs, whatever our faith tradition, we become mature in faith when we practice discernment….we become self-differentiated, no longer at the mercy of every thought, memory, and impression. We discern. We decide.
This is maturity. This is faith.


We live in a  time when the patriarchy has died, or is dying, at least in Western society. Where it isn’t defeated, it’s doing a clownish dance, like the American Bishops who are trying to bring the nuns back in line, (can you say GO SISTERS!) but the power struggle has shifted, away from male/female; to have/have-not, or at least the 99%/the 1% with far less regard to gender. What does that mean for Fathers?

In my lifetime…. Fathers, who were ALWAYS RIGHT, aligned with God/Santa Claus/the President/the Pope and the preachers/ the military/everything powerful and productive, have been  unseated, attacked, demeaned, examined, analyzed, prodded, put in their places, and thoroughly mocked. Once “Father Knows Best,” proud and parental, dads are more like father of the bride, Steve Martin style, buffoon-ish and berated.

What happened?
We grew up.
We got educated.

The UU church and other faith traditions began to question the patriarchy that had ruled for centuries. In our tradition it started with programs like Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, where women and men learned that it was not always this way, that once women had power, prestige, and authority. Women became ordained in most denominations. Women are no longer understood to be the property of their fathers, or their husbands, at least in this culture and in Western, European culture, and we surely trust this evolution will continue.

Question: In rejecting the patriarchy and its control and demeaning of women, which we women internalized, must we reject and even despise our fathers?

I am speaking most directly to women and men of my generation and a bit beyond, women forty and over, whose dads still strove to be the traditional “father,” the last of what has become a dying breed: we didn’t know it, but we were the daughters and sons of men who were confused by a shifting and turbulent future and who were fighting to maintain and preserve what they saw as their duty and their obligation as men in an increasingly chaotic world.


My dad was nothing if not the quintessential twentieth century father.
He was stern, quick to judge, had very high standards, and was never, ever, ever, not once, not even one time ever in my whole entire life! ....was he questioned. 

He had to raise twin five year old girls and a seven year old boy after the sudden death of his wife. His answer was to marry very quickly, someone whom he saw as able to do the task. His work at an executive job in Philadelphia and later stiff drinks and many outdoor hobbies and pursuits filled his time enough that he never examined that choice, or, if he did, never discussed it with us.

My own life has been a long series of choices, many of which I now see were attempts to please my Father. If he was pleased, he never said so. He said two things that I should have let go of long before I did: one was, “You could be Miss America someday!” (we always watched it on our B&W TV). The other was, “Why go to college when you will just get married and have children?” 

I stayed in my own first marriage longer than I should have, just because I didn’t want to admit any failure. But he was still living when I divorced and I did something I will never regret. He was in his eighties then (he was nearly 50 when I was born, having led a long and colorful bachelor /sportsman life) and had suffered some health problems. I went to his home every week and took him out for lunch, then spent the afternoon talking with him. I asked him lots of questions about the grandparents I’d never met, his childhood, his life before we were born, my mother. What I learned could fill … an index card. He usually changed the subject. 

Still, having tried to make this contact, I finally stopped longing to please him. I began to understand that his own mother had been a demanding perfectionist. I didn’t have to carry that forward within myself, or with my own children.

I’ve done a fairly good (but far from perfect, which is just fine) job of incorporating many, many good aspects of my father into my own being. That’s how I honor him today, Father’s Day, and almost every day.
Just a few of those are:
·        He was scrupulously honest, hated lying, deceit, and manipulation.
·        He had no toleration for fools (shotgun)
·        He loved the outdoors: plants, trees, birds
·        He was a great cook, and a passionate eater and food connoisseur
·        He was a great reader, and loved music, although not a musician himself
·        Loved thunderstorms and sitting on a screened porch
·        Fresh cut flowers, hated anything plastic
·        He had a good sense of humor and warm heart
·        He would have loved to travel more.. life’s circumstances prevented that, so I feel he’s with me when I do!
·        He admired and cultivated order, symmetry and simple beauty



I am 100% certain that he loved me. This I choose to keep; the rest I can let go.
He lived to see his granddaughter whom I named after his beloved wife, my mother Marjorie. He held her when she was just a month old and looked at her with such tenderness and said something I have told her many times. I think it showed that even though he had to live through almost ninety years in which fatherhood went from being on the pedestal to being in the dustbin, and even though he must have been facing the end of his own life rather confused about the future of the family and of humanity, not being a person of traditional religious beliefs. He said, not, “She will sure be pretty,” or “I hope she finds a good husband,” or, “She’s my granddaughter,” but:  “She will be a strong woman.” And, she is.



I hope you carry the best of your father or forefathers within you today and every day. 


AMEN