Monday, December 27, 2010

Finding Abundance

The spiritual theme for January at my congregation is abundance and I will be leading a multi-generational worship service on this topic this coming Sunday.  So I have been thinking a lot about abundance and scarcity and how that plays out in my life.

I keep coming back to how do we find abundance in what we already have in our lives.  This is no easy task particularly as we are bombarded by advertisements and media whose very premise is scarcity, whose very premise is that what we have now, is not enough.

It is hard when money or time or energy feels scarce, and most of us experience that kind of scarcity.  At times it is difficult to believe that it is enough just the way it is.  It is a nearly universal premise of religion that the abundance we seek is within us and that if we can’t find what we are searching for within, then we will certainly never find it without.  Easy to say and quote when things are going along well, not so easy when one is struggling to have time to spend with family, run the errands and still keep up with work.  Easy to say when there is enough money to pay the bills or maybe there is even something left at the end of the month.

I know that too often I prey victim to that there is never enough money, or time or energy -  that all I see around me are undone tasks, and that life is just a whole series of problems.  Not much abundance there!

So what are we to do it?  How are we to appreciate what we have?  To believe that who we are and what we have to offer are enough?  That actually there is more than enough, that our true selves are exactly what is needed.

Well I think it begins with even brief moments of insight, remembering those times when we experienced abundance.  For example, when I was on silent retreat in May, it was so amazing to just spend my days reading, walking, praying.  I did not miss talking.  I did not miss television or e-mail.  It was enough to just enjoy the sunshine, the books I was reading.  Sometimes, when things are just too stressful, I will remember those days at Richmond Hills, remember when it was enough to just stop and unplug.  I also then promise myself to go again, to take the time away.

So for my New Year's resolution, I am going to resolve to look for the abundance already present.  I want to live into what I have is enough. I resolve not to do some great new project or start some new self-improvement program.  I resolve to see what I already have, what I already am and believe that it is enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meaning of Christmas for Unitarian Universalists

Of course I have to begin with the caveat that I cannot speak for all Unitarian Universalists. One of the primary values of our free faith tradition is the freedom and responsibility to each search for truth and meaning on our own. We come together in community to do so with other seekers, to test our ideas and know that we are not alone.   Not all Unitarian Universalists celebrate Christmas or some may celebrate Christmas in addition to Hanukkah and Winter Solstice. 

For this piece however I want to focus on how Unitarian Universalists understand the story of the birth of Jesus.  The moral teachings of Jesus are one of the six sources that Unitarian Universalists draw upon for the search for truth and meaning.  Unitarians early on stressed the importance of Jesus’ moral teachings and his life as an example of how each of us should live.  Universalists stressed the universal love of God through Jesus – his life as an example of God’s deep love for humanity.

For Unitarian Universalists, Jesus’ humanity and his life serves as an example of the goodness of humanity and the potential each of us possess to make this world a more just, loving and peaceful place for everyone.  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who addition to a being a great speaker and writer was a Unitarian minister.  He said this about Jesus in his famed Divinity School Address:  “Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world.”

So for Unitarian Universalists, Jesus serves as example of the divine indwelling in all of humanity – that each person is made in the image and likeness of God.  Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978), Unitarian Universalist minister and religious educator tells us that each night that a child is born is a holy night, for each child a manifestation of the holy in the world.  She wrote “Each night a child is born is a holy night: A time for singing, A time for wondering, A time for worshiping, Each night a child is born is a holy night.”  So on Christmas as we honor the birth of one child, Jesus, we honor all the children born, each person born.  Christmas reminds us that each of us has the capacity “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

This Christmas, may we honor the miracle of each child born!

Blessed Be!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning to Value Professional Religious Educators

Kari Kopnick wrote two excellent blog posts on the Care and Feeding of Your Professional Religious Educator (part 1 and part 2).  I am grateful to Kari for her humor, wise words and for speaking up for all of us who do the hard and often unappreciated work of professional religious education.  Unfortunately I think Unitarian Universalism in particular has resisted treating religious educators with the respect, pay and professionalism they deserve. We have gotten better but we still have a long way to go before we are truly valuing those people who answer the call to serve as professional religious educators.

I say Unitarian Universalism in particular because one thing most professional religious educators have in common, whether we are ministers, lay people, credentialed, un-credentialed, full time, part time, lifespan or not, all of us in some way are responsible for faith development programs for our children and youth.  Since most Unitarian Universalists are people who have come into our faith as adults, there is ambivalence about what is to be done with the children.  We are unclear about whether or not we (as a faith) want to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  I think one way this ambivalence plays itself out is the ways we treat religious educators - or those that would be charged with the task of creating programs that would hopefully give children, youth and families the tools to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  I have seen that as a movement, with leadership from LREDA and the UUA, we have become clearer that our task is to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  The clearer we articulate that and do not apologize for it, then we will go a long way to recognize and value the role of the professional religious educator.

The other reason that professional religious educators are not given all the professional respect, pay and benefits that are appropriate to their positions is rooted in problems not limited to Unitarian Universalism or religion.  First we are in the business of education, a historically undervalued and underpaid vocation.  Secondly, just like most secular educators, we are mostly women and women are still underpaid and undervalued.

I feel like my work, my ministry is some of the most important work we do in religious community.  Our programs are charged with helping with the faith development of our youngest and most vulnerable members (yes I know we don't count our children as members but that topic is for another post).  We are not just babysitters, we are not charged with just keeping the children busy while the adults do the important work.  And yes, I believe that I am charged, that is a part of my vocation, to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism with our children and youth so that they will want to be Unitarian Universalists as adults.

So thank you Kari and all my colleagues who share this work with me.  I am grateful for your work and that I get to serve in such high company.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Resisting the Descent into Winter

I have found myself at war with the season.  The fall colors here in Virginia were absolutely amazing this year and yet I found myself feeling melancholy about it.  Now that the color is gone and the temperatures are dropping to the 30's and lower at night I am downright resistant.  Winter is always a hard season for me. I don't like being cold and I just love the long, warm days and nights of summer.

Winter is also a time of slowing down, hibernation, looking within.  Yet as a culture we seem to get busier and busier.  We pack the days and nights.  Why is it that we resist so strongly the call to slow down, to hibernate?

I know that in part there is something that is calling me to slow down, to look within and yet I am resiting.  As a spiritual practice I use Tarot Cards this year is my hermit year. A year to journey within, to explore my inner self and seek solitude.  Yet I have been busier than ever, immersing myself in my outer life.

Parker Palmer in his book A Hidden Wholeness, describes winter as a time "to name whatever feels dead in us, to wonder whether it might in fact be dormant--and to ask how we can help it, and ourselves, 'winter through.'" (Palmer, 82)  

I/we run so far from the inner life, running from what I/we might find within.  Yet the soul it does not stop calling and I/we know that.  I know that i can choose to stop and listen or at some point the soul will just make me stop.  Can I learn to stop resisting, to stop fighting? Can I learn to face my fears of looking within> 

Could one day I learn to love the winter?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Circles of Trust and UU Small Group Ministry

So I have recently finished reading Parker J. Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.  A great deal of the book is committed to describing Circles of Trust which Palmer has both led and been a part of for many years.  The Circles of Trust have much in common with the Unitarian Universalist small group ministry and yet I am also struck by some of the differences.  The first thing that struck me is Palmer's assertion that circles of trust can consist of as few as 2 people and as many as 25.  In small group ministry 6-12 is considered optimal and in my congregation's experience you need at least 8 people to really make the group viable.  Another striking difference between the two is that people are allowed to pass in the circle of trust - whereas there is an expectation that everyone will share each time, with 5 minutes (in our situation often timed) to speak without interruption or comment.  The primary commitment in a circle of trust is "to protect and border and salute each other's solitude." If we insist that people share each time are truly making a place that the shy soul can come out of hiding - a key feature of circles of trust?

What I wonder is what can we learn from Palmer's circles of trust that might inform our practice of small group ministry?  While both covenant groups (small group ministry) and circles of trust facilitators are trained that the job of the group is not to "fix" anyone or anyone's problems but rather to give a place to be heard, I wonder if really give our leaders the tools to do this?   What also does it mean that we insist that people share each time since part of the point of the group is to deepen ties within the larger  community? Again do we have something to learn from Palmer here about truly making participation voluntary - voluntary down to not everyone has to speak each time?

Maybe it is just that I have a deep longing for this sort of spiritual community, a place to be heard and to get out of my own head and yet also to listen deeply to my inner self.  Maybe I just long to form a circle of trust that would give me a place outside of my congregation to explore my own self and to become more deeply myself.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Living Gratefully

So yesterday I led worship at the College of William and Mary and I titled the service "Living Gratefully."  I have been thinking about what it might mean to live gratefully, not in a pollyanna, prosperity gospel way, but in a way that takes seriously the deep paradoxes of life.  What does it mean to live in gratitude even in the midst of suffering?  Can we be authentically grateful even in the midst of grief and loss?

One story that always comes to mind when I think about this in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi camp for hiding Jews in their home.  One of the stories in the book is that Corrie's sister reads a Scripture passage that says to be thankful for all things and so they give thanks for the fleas in the barracks.  Corrie is a bit skeptical, to say the least, as I think most of us would be.  Yet it was because of the fleas that the guards would not venture into the barracks which allowed them to hide the Bible they possessed, to talk together and share their meager rations.  This seems to me, to be an authentic way of living in gratitude while not downplaying the reality of suffering.  It also strikes me that Living Gratefully is a discipline..that we must practice living in gratitude.  It also may not be as easy a discipline as it might seem at first, for to be authentically gratefully, would mean to be grateful even those when we are angry, sad, frustrated, afraid. It means being grateful for the fleas even when we are skeptical! Gratitude might spill forth when things are going well but I think only a practice of gratitude allows us to be grateful in the midst of suffering.

I was also thinking about how the word grateful is very close to grace-filled.  Unitarian Universalists don't often talk about grace and I think we need to do so.  I just finished reading William Schulz for my theology study group.  Schulz defines grace as:  "grace in fact refers to whatever blessings of Creation come to us unbidden, unheralded, and unearned. In this sense, the gracious—whether manifest in the rising of the sun, the sparkle of a fish, the chuckle of a child, or the deliverance of death—is the gateway to gratitude and the wellspring of faith."(What Moves Us, Workshop 9). Grace cannot earned and it cannot be demanded yet it is freely available to all of us.This is a core message of Unitarian Universalism!

Might it be that in accepting and welcoming grace, those gifts of Creation that come into our lives often unexpectedly and always unearned that we can then Live Gratefully?

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Salvation by Org Chart?

So for awhile now I have been concerned about the emphasis on the move to policy based governance in Unitarian Universalist congregations, districts and the UUA itself.  It seemed to be billed as the solution to all that troubled us...if we could just free our boards from the day to day work then all our problems will be solved.  This is an exaggeration of course and that is not to say that the way Board's work in most congregations (and by extension to the rest of our association) couldn't use some creative re-imagining!

Yet policy based goverance fever has taken hold and spread like wildfire around the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Again not all of it is a bad thing..often our boards were weighed down with decisions best left to others and ministers, staff and congregational committees often felt the need to get board approval to do anything rather than just going ahead and doing it.

Yet I think we need to step back a minute and ask questions about a system developed not for congregations but comes out of a corporate model that was then translated into the non-profit world. It was developed by John and Miriam Carver, it is also known as the Carver model.  It is a management theory. It comes out of a corporate model that is focused on increasing profit and then translated some of the practices for non-profits.  Yet congregations are not just another kind of non-profit; and our primary mission is not profit.  Our mission is to transform individual lives and the world.  We are places that foster spiritual growth, justice and to be a home for the liberally religious.  How does this mission fit with a corporate model of management?

I was prompted by another blog post  on appreciative inquiry to finally write down my own thoughts, encouraged that others are also thinking critically about what it means for a faith community to turn to management theories for a solution to their problems. 

The title of the blog was inspired by a story about James Luther Adams, in arguments with Unitarian humanist, Edwin Wilson who said that "James Luther Adams believes in salvation by bibliography" to which Adams retorted "There is no such thing as the immaculate conception of an idea." (source of this JLA story)  So taking my cue from Adams and Wilson, are we as Unitarian Universalists believing in Salvation by Org. Chart?

Maybe we should heed the challenge of JLA and consider the sources!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

When Sabbath is Hard

Well it looks like I managed to miss the entire month of October blogging.  It has been a crazy fall with too little time for rest and re-creation.  Hopefully I can now begin again.

I am having a bit of a rough Sabbath day today.  Not because I follow this strict set of rules and find myself rebelling against them.  Rather sometimes when I stop and have some time to think and to feel, it isn't all sweetness and light.  In fact today it has just felt rather.....yucky. 

I think much of my own, and by extension our culture's, avoidance of Sabbath, comes because I and we know we might have to face ourselves.  I might have to feel what I have been avoiding feeling.  I know, however, that the feelings don't go away just because I refuse to acknowlege them.  In fact in my experience, they just get bigger and more intense.

So what to do with a hard Sabbath?  I am working on feeling what i am feeling, yet not letting spin out of control.  I need to not make decisions out of this place.  I am remembering that this too shall pass.

I am remembering that I am not alone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teaching Our Children

So recently a friend of my daughter's from Berkeley asked to "friend" me on Facebook, wouldn't be such a big deal except that the girls are eleven and Facebook policies are clear that you must be thirteen to be on Facebook.  I see that her mom is on Facebook.  I ignored the request. 

It raised for me the question though of what it means when we knowingly allow our children to break the rules, to lie about one's birthday to get on Facebook.  This is not the first time that one of our daughter's friends is on Facebook with the full blessing of the parent.

I don't consider myself a very upright parent but I am already in the dog-house with my daughter because I won't let her lie about her age to get on Facebook. What does it say to our children when we tell them it is ok to lie about their age to get on Facebook?  Maybe not such a big deal but what happens when they start lying about other things..things we would not give our blessing to? What happens when they start lying to us?  How then do we tell them that it is wrong to get a fake id so they can buy alcohol or cigarettes?  After all those age policies are arbitrary as well.

I am not a big fan of the slippery slope theory and I don't want to raise a child with unquestioning obedience to authority. Yet this trend among some of my daughter's peers is deeply troubling to me.  I want some sort of balance between unquestioned respect for rules and authority and blatant disregard for rules and authority.  Also does my respect for Facebook policies around age extend to me turning the children in to Facebook?

As it is much of the time navigating ethical and parenting decisions is not easy or straight-forward, even when you know where you stand.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Becoming Oneself

Here is my Call to Worship and Sermon from Sunday Sept. 5 at Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists.

Call To Worship
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
    (excerpt from “Ask Me!” by William Stafford)

Sometime when the river is ice ask me whether what I have done is my life asks William Stafford in his poem “Ask Me!”  How many of us wrestle with the questions of who am I?  What does it all mean?  Is this all there is? 

These are profound spiritual questions—for no one can tell you the answers. Oh plenty will try—they will promise you riches, happiness, no worries –just read this book, take this seminar.  Many promise to have the secrets of life all figured out and if you just buy their product you can be happy too.  It is not just self-help gurus that promise to give each of us the secret answer to our lives, religions have promised it as well.  Just follow this god, follow these ten simple rules, follow me, or join this community.  Even our family members and friends will tell us who we are.  Yet we know deep down, that no one can give us the answers.

Yet we are not on our own either.  It does help to hear others journey’s, insights that have been gleaned along the way.  It helps to share our own journey with others and know deeply that we are not alone in our questioning and our quest.  How can we learn to truly be a help and not a hurt on the journey?  How can we discern the voices to find the truth?

So we come together this morning to ask the questions, to sing, to pray, to listen. 

Come let us worship together.

Sermon - Becoming Oneself

So I have been doing a great deal of thinking and reflecting on who I am, what I am doing, have done, what I hope to do and doing lots and lots of reading.  This question of who am I and what am I called to do is one that I have long wrestled with and while on my silent retreat this spring, I read Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of VocationParker J. Palmer has been quite present in my life this year – from his book The Active Life to The Courage to Teach to Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes to the questions I am asking.  I love discovering  a “new” author and delving deeply into his/her work. 

The question of who am I is closely tied to the question what is it I am called to do.  Like Parker Palmer I have had the moments of disquiet, a knowing that there is a life longing to be lived in me. 

We live in a world that does not want us to ask these deep questions or wants to provide easy answers to them.  Some of them take parts of wisdom, strip all the hard parts away and leave us with a feel good notion that we can get through life without pain or without suffering. This world sells that happiness comes from financial security and through being able to buy the objects that will make us happy and whole.  Expectations and obligations abound – from families, television, movies, all around us.  We are given a vision of the good life – one without suffering or pain or hard times.  It is a world of dualisms – dividing life up into good and bad, success and failure – yet life is more complex than that and reality is that life is more paradox than either or.  If you just do these things it promises – then you will be whole.  Yet what happens when one follows all the rules, does what is expected and then things still fall apart as they inevitably do?  What does one do then? 

What happens when we learn that there is not a one-size fits all answer to the question “Who Am I?”  What happens in those moments in the middle of the night or when it is quiet and something deep within calls out and demands more?  What happens when we realize that the expectations that those we love have for us are not our own? 

These questions are not for ourselves alone – for sometimes this disquiet, this piercing comes because we see or hear or learn about others suffering, about injustice and one answer is just to say it has always been that way and it always will be.  Another is to ask, how am I called to respond?  How does this suffering, injustice of another change me?  Do we allow it to change us?  For call is not just about the self, it is about what one is called to be in the world, to serve the world.

For if we can seek the answers to who am I and what am I called to do, then we can better serve the world us, for we will do so grounded, grounded in self-knowledge, grounded in our authentic selves.

What are the barriers to our becoming our authentic selves, to answering the question who am I.  The barriers are mostly our fears – ridicule, failure, loss, getting it wrong.  Yet these fears can also be our guides.  What if we face them?  What if we risk failure, loss, getting it wrong?  What might we learn about ourselves and others? 

The path to becoming one’s authentic self is not an easy one and it may be easier in some way to just forget the whole thing.  Even the poets show us that the path of asking these questions will very well lead us into some dark and lonely places.  Parker Palmer reflecting on Annie Dillard tells us that the path to our authentic selves is down, down deep inside ourselves and on the way we will have to learn to embrace the monsters that we find there.  Parker gives us this example:  “if I allow my life to be deformed by the fallen angel called ‘fear of failure,’ then I will never be fully alive.  I will withhold from myself actions that might fail, or ignore evidence of failure when it happens.  But if I could ride that fear all the way down, I might break out of my self-imposed isolation and become connected with many other lives, because failure and fear of it are universal.    I would learn next that failure is a natural fact, a way of discerning what to try next.  I would be empowered to take more risks, which means to embrace more life, and in the process I would be become more connected with others.  The monster called the fear of failure (or ridicule, or criticism, or foolishness, or any of the other fears that are so easy to regard as mortal enemies) would become a demanding but empowering guide to relatedness.” (Palmer, The Active Life, 31-32)

I know a great deal about this fear of failure, for I know that all too often I have allowed that fear to make the choices for me.  After I graduated from college, I had no idea what to do next. All I had known is school and this whole world of work and living on one’s own felt overwhelming and terrifying.  I moved home and took temp jobs. I was searching for my call and vocation.  I did career assessment, I volunteered, I did informational interviews.  My parents certainly had certain expectations of me as a graduate of Georgetown University.  Through the years following that initial terror of being out of school, I tried on a variety of careers.  Yet there was also this sense of restlessness, boredom would set in and I would look for a new job.  I faltered between risk and fear of failure. 

It has only been in the last five years or so that I can truly say that I have embraced and owned this path.  It is only recently that I know what it is I am called to do, to embrace my call and not run from it. What has made the difference? 

Well for one I have stopped running from the call and embraced it.  I finally stopped running away from what I know to be true. I know deep inside that ministry is the work I am called to do in the world.  Yet I know that the quest does not end here and in fact it is only the beginning.  In what forms and shapes will this ministry take?  And to do ministry well, means that I must embrace my true self, not a facade, not a mask.  Otherwise I risk becoming one of those charlatans who promise easy answers to deep complex realities. 

To embrace this call meant I had to let go of the expectations others, including those of my family.   

To embrace my fear of failure right now means risking going deeper, to sharing more of myself and asking for help.  I learned this lesson recently as I traveled to Charlotte for my career and psychological assessment. I had already put this appointment off for a year because I could not figure out the logistics of getting to Charlotte.  Finally I broke down and wrote to colleagues in Charlotte asking for help with a place to stay and transportation.  It was hard to ask for help.  It was hard to admit that I just could not afford to rent a car and stay in the hotel near the center.  A religious educator colleague put my request out to her congregation and within a couple of days I had a place to stay and transportation each day.  In addition, I had the gift of people reflecting back to me that this call to ministry is not just something in me—others see it too and want to help accompany me on my journey. If I had continued to allow fear to keep me from asking for help—I would probably have not been able to keep the appointment and complete this important step in the ministerial formation process.  I would have also missed this mirroring back to me about my call to ministry and I would have denied this colleague and the members of her congregation of the opportunity to assist me.  How much would have been lost!

What must one do to become oneself?  One must embrace oneself fully—including all the parts that we would rather deny or reject.    Palmer quotes Florida Scott Maxwell who puts it this way “When you truly possess all you have been and are fierce with reality.” (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 70)  Of course this much easier said than done; to fully own all the events of your life means owning the moments you would rather forget, owning the mistakes and the failures.  And in order to own them, one must remember them, admit to them and then learn to own them as a part of the journey.

The journey to becoming oneself is a long one—there are no short-cuts.  While it is journey we must take on our own, none of us does it alone.   That is part of the paradox we must embrace.  We will need companions on the way.  The journey is our own individual path and yet none of us does it alone. 

Do we have a choice about taking the journey?  I think we reject the journey at our own and the world’s peril.  For failure to take the journey means that we deny our true selves.  I think all around us we can see the failure to embrace the inner journey, the journey to our true selves.  Everyday people chose to anesthetize themselves with all sorts of distractions that keeps the inner life at bay – and with often tragic consequences.  These efforts also fail – for the inner life will keep beckoning, keep calling.  Our calling comes from within, who we are, what we are called to do, comes from deep within.  To deny the call is to deny the world the gifts that we are meant to bring, the gifts only we can bring – what a loss.  When we live other lives, put on other people’s faces, then what is lost is ourselves. 

I close with these words from Parker Palmer:  “As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act.  The world still waits for the truth that will set us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God.  Cultiviating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.” (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 36)
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Prayer for School Children

I just had to share this amzing prayer from Rev. Meg Riley, minister Church of the Larger Fellowship.  Too often our schools seek to make children "normal" rather than letting them be themselves.  We are homeschooling our daughter this year in part because we do not want her to experience bullying because her family is different.  We are excited about the journey and yet very sad that we don't believe our child would be safe at middle school.  My prayer is that one day all our children, in fact all people, will be valued for their uniqueness.

A prayer for school children who are different

For those who are different, or who feel different—
Who learn differently, think differently, feel differently,
Who look different, whose faith is different, whose family is different,
Whose way to connect is different, whose way to dress is different,
Whose faith is different, whose place to live is different,
Whose sexuality is different, whose gender is different,
Whose culture is different, whose language is different,
Whose favorite foods are different, who loves different smells,
Whose body looks different, or works differently
Whose values and beliefs are different--

Do you see that different is just a word?
May you be freed from its poison.

Different: Just an idea laced with fear,
Don’t let it scare you.
A word expressing lack of imagination by those who use it to judge,
Don’t let it limit your own.
They can’t see that difference is the very essence of life,
The opposite of different isn’t normal; it is death.
Don’t let their sharp thorns kill your true self.

As the school doors open again,
May you walk in safety,
With all of your unique loveliness intact,
Knowing you are loved by people who haven’t even met you yet.
People you see and don’t see,
Your closest friends and family, and people who will never meet you,
All hold you in our hearts.
We need every bit of you as we walk our own different paths.

As the summer days end,
May you find the long days’ bright light
Shining in your mind as you learn.
As you go out on this crazy river, this life
Where you will navigate choppy waters, take new turns,
May you know in your bones you are never alone.
As you search for a place of ease and comfort,
May you know in your cells that it lives within you.

And that people who love you are everywhere smiling.


Monday, August 30, 2010

True Faith Requires Doubt

I am continuing to read James Hollis Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life and in speaking of the spiritual life he talks about the importance of doubt.  With doubt each of us can begin to truly explore our own spiritual path, yet that doubt creates anxiety and our egos will seek to avoid anxiety at almost any cost.  If we can embrace ourselves, be at home with ourselves, Hollis tell us, then we know that we are never really alone.  He writes, "When we are alone, we are still with someone; we are with ourselves.  those who mange to find respect for themselves, who learn to dialogue with themselves, who find that their dreams and other such phenomena are communicating with them from some deeper place within them are not really alone." (Hollis, 221)

I have been reflecting on this in light of Unitarian Universalism.  One might say that a hallmark of Unitarian Universalism is doubt.  We question everything, priding ourselves on our lack of doctrine and creed.  We are faith community of seekers; our first source is the direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder.  Yet there is a rigidity, an absolutism in Unitarian Universalism that seems inconsistent with an embrace of doubt.  While rejecting the authority of any kind of scripture, tradition or religious authority, we can be rigid in our attitudes toward worship.  We often posses an attitude of superiority and be rather closed-minded when it comes to more embodied expressions of spirituality - preferring to stay in the region of the rational or the mind. 

Others have admonished us for our emphasis on reason to the exclusion of all else - James Luther Adams reminded us that we are not simply rational creatures.  Paul Rasor reminded us of this again in his Berry Street lecture in 2009 that our exclusive use of reason can be stumbling block or barrier to our aspirations to be a truly multicultural, multiracial faith community. 

Do we truly embrace doubt?  I am not sure we do. Hollis writes, "To bear the anxiety of doubt is to be led to openness; openness leads to revelation; revelation leads to discovery; discovery leads to enlargement." (Hollis, 220) We may reject traditional religion but I don't think we always truly embrace doubt. For to embrace doubt is to embrace an attitude of openness and curiosity - to discover the new.  We would be open to trying new things .. to truly seeking truth wherever it may be found.  At our best we do this.  We aspire to do this. 

It is why I continue to be a Unitarian Universalist.  I value being a part of a faith community that aspires to be open to on-going revelation; to seeking truth wherever found.  My hope is that we will learn to more deeply embrace doubt. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quotes that have me thinking

I have been doing a fair amount of reading so today I will share some quotes that have me thinking.

So I just fell in love with this wonderful quote in Parker J. Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach.  This is the second Florida Scott-Maxwell quote in one of his books that I have just fallen in love with.  I am thinking I may have to see what she has written.

Here is the quote and it is about learning to hold paradox:

"Some uncomprehended law holds us at a point of contradiction where we have no choice, where do not like that which we love, here good and bad are inseparable partners impossible to tell apart, and where we--heart-broken and ecstatic--can only resolve the conflict by blindly taking it into our hearts.  This used to be called being in the hands of God.  Has anyone any better words to describe it?" (Palmer, The Courage to Teach, 90)

Here is the other quote from her that I love:

"You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly posses all you have been and are fierce with reality." (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak)

I am now on a quest to become "fierce with reality."

and finally a quote shared with me by a friend about vocation:

"Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about---quite apart from what I would like it to be about---or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.... Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear." Herbert Alphonso, SJ

 This quote appeared the same day I was meeting with the counselor for my career and psychological assessment as part of the ministerial fellowship process.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect!

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Hiatus

So despite my best intentions I ended up taking half of July and most of August off from my blog!

Well here is to renewed intentions to blog regularly.  I have been reading - Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach; James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow Up;  Gil Rendle's Multigenerational Community: Meeting the Leadership Challenge

I have been thinking a lot this summer about the fact that the ways we create and maintain faith community are increasingly unsustainable and that they really don't work for our families.  In my congregation I notice how irregularly families attend, how they can no longer be the primary and only source for staffing our faith development programs, we are not doing all that we can do to help our parents be the primary religious educators of their children.  As a professional religious educator I both want to change and transform our faith communities and realize that I also participate in propping up an unsustainable system.

How do we both create new things and keep things going at the same time?  It is not like we can just stop what we are doing and re-build it from the ground-up (well I suppose you can but in liberal religious community that is usually a sure way to make sure that the change will not be long-lasting and you will need a new job!).  Life in faith community means building support, getting feedback, making change and acknowledging the fear of change.  It doesn't have to be slow but it does have to be intentional!

As I step into the chaos that the start of the church year begins, I am beginning by asking my families how they are.  What could we do better?  From there I hope to move us toward changes that will better meet the needs of our families - adults, children and youth.  I am also remembering to breathe, to ask for help and trust the Spirit!

May it be so!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Great End in Religious Instruction

I am Star Island this week where I am the theme speaker for Lifespan Religious Education week. My daughter and I are having a wonderful experience!

I structured my talks around my adapted version of William Ellery Channing's The Great End in Religious Instruction. Here is my adaptation. More from this week when I am off the Island.

The great end in religious instruction is to stir up the minds of all of us - our children, youth, young adults, adults and elders.

To journey together as we look inquiringly and steadily with our own eyes and strive to see what others see.

It is to inspire a fervent love of truth.

To touch inward springs.

To prepare all of us for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to our decision.

To quicken and strengthen the power of thought.

To awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.

In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish the spiritual life.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Taking Responsiblity for Ourselves

What does it mean to take responsibility?  In the media we hear a lot about people not taking personal responsibility or corporations who fail to take responsibility.  Certainly, many people and corporations often fail to take appropriate responsibility.  I struggle with this too, however, as I think we have lost an essential paradox and that we equate "taking responsibility" with "being blamed."  For example, during this economic crisis there has been a lot of "blaming" people for getting into mortgages that they couldn't afford or living above their means and then a message that we shouldn't "bail" people out but they should "take personal responsibility."  This however does not capture the complexity of the situation.  For most people, their economic problems are not solely in their hands - it is a mix of some poor decisions, pressure from outside forces and a whole society whose economic system is set up to have people consume more and more for the benefit of a very few.

Yet this blog is not a blog about our economy and my point here is that when I hear "personal responsibility" or you are responsible for your whole life then I get a bit nervous.  For I am absolutely opposed to the theology of the The Secret which claims that we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us and that if we just surround ourselves with the right energy and thoughts we can manifest our desires (avoiding suffering).  The flip side being of course is that you are also responsible for all the bad things that happen to you including things like genocide or abuse.  Again life is not that simple - we live in an interconnected universe - a world in which there are a number of people living their lives whose actions and decisions that impact ours.

So last night I was once again reading James Hollis Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life.  Here is what he says about taking responsibility for ourselves. "Growing up means that we take spiritual responsibility for ourselves.  No other can define our values, become our authority or protect us from necessary choices.  Until we take this responsibility ourselves, we are asking others to be a shelter for our homeless soul." (123) I want to add to this some James Luther Adams "We are fatefully caught in history, both as individuals and members of a group, and we are also able to be creative in history." (The Essential James Luther Adams, 65)

So go back to the idea of re-learning paradox  we need to both learn to take responsibility for our lives while understanding that we are not in control of all that will happen to us.  We can, do and must make choices in our lives, while understanding that it will not always work out the way we hoped, or even for the best; and that while we are busy making choices, others are too and their choices will impact us.  So can we learn to take responsibility without taking all the blame?

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Maybe I should add Celtic spirituality to the list of things this blog is about for I am particularly drawn to the Celtic spiritual path.  I have long considered myself pagan but also found myself uncomfortable with the broad scope of traditions and cultures that neo-paganism draws from..sometimes without stating the source or cultural roots.  What concerned me was the notion of inappropriate cultural appropriation.  I wanted a spiritual path that felt authentic to me, to who I am in the world, a white, educated, queer woman with Irish, Portuguese, a bit of German and a bit of Welsh roots who is a 3rd generation American from my paternal great-grandfather (he immigrated from the Azores, Portugal) and many more generations from the rest of my family.  So I found myself wanting to combine my desire to understand my Irish roots more deeply with a pagan path...hence the Celtic Spiritual path.

One of the books that I have read and I am now re-reading is Frank MacEowen's book The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers.  I was re-reading his chapter on longing last night and he talks about a longing for homeland that many people of Celtic ancestry experience. He writes, "Many of these people who report a deep longing for the homeland, a longing for the ways of our ancestors, have never been to Ireland, Scotland, Wales or other parts of the Celtic world. Yet something very ancient, very deep and almost mournful exists for many modern Celtic descendants whose families have been separated from their ancestral lands by several generations." (54)  I would put myself in this category.  I do not know much about my Irish roots, my family didn't really stress our Irish heritage (I don't think corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day counts!)  I really hope to learn more about Irish ancestry and roots and to visit Ireland.  Also this path, this Celtic spiritual path speaks to me for it allows me to hold the best of my Catholic background and my Unitarian Universalism.

What really struck me about this section on longing is wondering if what I have been labeling regret is really soul's longing.  It is longing not just for a spiritual path that makes sense to me intellectually but one that is truly embodied.  It is a longing to be more fully embodied, less in my head.  I am good at living in my head, not so good in being touch with and living within my body.  It is about ritual, music, the senses..not just hearing and listening.  It is longing to let go of the ego's strict control and to lose myself in the experience of the moment; to let go of being self-conscious and wondering what others will think. Yet after a lifetime of learning to be in control, how do I learn to let-go?  Yet how do I not, since my soul's longing is for surrender and letting go of control.

MacEowen says this about Celtic spirituality and longing:  "Our focus becomes caring for the spirit: spirit of the clan, spirit of the hearth, spirit of the earth, spirit of the open heart, spirit of the purpose of our work, spirit of service and healing.  Ultimately it takes great courage to face the spirit of longing.  Longing is a powerful force, similair to hunger and need for warmth and shelter;..."(58)  This is what draws me to this path, beckons me and will not let me go.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Re-Learning to Hold Paradox

So I am actually reading multiple books at the same time and they are coming together in some interesting synchronicities.  I am reading James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, I am continuing to read Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, I am also reading The Multi-Generational Congregation: Meeting the Leadership Challenge by Gil Rendle and for fun I am reading Blessed is the Busybody by Emilie Richards.

Palmer and Hollis, in particular, are really speaking to this place in my life.  Palmer talks about how we come into this world holding paradox; that children naturally hold paradox.  Our society and, in particular, our education systems require us to take things apart.  It is not that discrimination is not important and he gives the example of knowing the difference between hot and cold.  Yet we have become so schooled in the art of discrimination that we have forgotten how to hold paradox.  I think this is most clearly seen in our political life where nuance and paradox have no place and no voice.

Parker uses the image of a battery to talk about paradox.  He writes "We split paradoxes so reflexively that we do not understand the price we pay for our habit.  The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together, and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing." (67)

Here is where Parker meets Hollis: "The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or-thought--but that simplicity is merely the dullness of death.  When we think things together, we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves." (69)

So in my own life how do I re-learn to hold paradox?  How do I learn to embrace of all my life, with all its contradictions to not make a judgement that it was all good or all bad, success or failure, but it is all those things? 

I was drawn into Unitarian Universalism because there is a paradox embrace of the paradox of universality and particularity..yet do we teach people how to put these paradoxes together?  Do we teach our adults, our children and our youth to re-learn how to hold paradox?  Do we teach ourselves and our members HOW to truly be a place of different beliefs and one faith?  For if Palmer is right that our whole society is driven toward pulling paradox apart, about teaching discrimination than it is not enough for us to say we are a place of different beliefs and one faith..we must learn to be a place of different beliefs and one faith.  I think we may have a ways to go as long as we continue to divide humanists and theists, Christians from Pagans, children from adults, young adults from adults, lifelong UU's from newer members, head from hearts and bodies. 

Palmer writes, "Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole." (69)

May it be so.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Becoming Fully Alive

So I have been reading James Hollis' book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of life: How to Finally Really Grow Up and it has been both helpful and frightening.  It certainly explains many of the feelings I have been working with regret; this feeling that somewhere along the way I made a wrong turn or that I have done it all wrong.  That is not true of course.  Yet what is it that keeps nagging at me?  What is it that is demanding my attention?  How can I truly own my life...all of it..even the parts I would rather forget?

Hollis talks about the story of Job and the gifts that suffering can bring, not in an idea of suffering as redemptive.  More the idea that we will suffer in this life, we will have loss and the question is what will we do with it.  He writes: "Once again, out of the experience of suffering, an invitation is found.  As our brother Job learned, our presumptive contracts are delusory efforts by the ego to be in control.  We learn that life is much riskier, more powerful, more mysterious than we had ever thought possible.  While we are rendered more uncomfortable by this discovery, it is a humbling that deepens spiritual possibility.  The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable, more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully troubling than we could have ever imagined being able to tolerate when we were young." (85)

I love this...I love this idea that life is more magical, more varied, more infinite and it is also terrifying.  I can nearly hear my ego screaming out "NOoooooooo....don't go there" and yet I must.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Becoming Fully Oneself

"You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly posses all you have been and are fierce with reality." Florida Scott Maxwell

While I was on retreat I read Parker J. Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voices of Vocation.  What a powerful book!  I just loved it and read the whole thing in two days.  I love this idea of being able to claim your while life and in doing so becoming fierce with reality.

What might it mean to live fierce with reality?  I am not sure yet but I know that I want to find out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Faith at the Heart

March 12-14 I attended  a Renaissance Module training on Teacher Development.  The core text is Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach (isn't funny how once you "discover" an author, he or she keeps cropping up around you?).

It has me wanting to re-think the whole way we "do" religious education or what we call in my congregation faith development.  Right now I work with teaching teams of six-seven members and I love that I have teaching teams that teach the whole year.  The problem is that with everyone only teaching about once, maybe twice, a month there is no consistency for our children.  We know the importance of having one key person in nursery that really knows the children and knows the parents.  We know the importance of this in youth ministry as we often hire a youth minister to provide that consistent presence.  Yet we leave all the kids in the middle with a new teacher almost every week and since many of the kids only coming once or twice a month, it is like starting over every week.

In the module we talked about a small group ministry model for teaching.  Small groups of 4 or so meeting together to talk not about schedules or who is teaching next but about their lives, their hopes, their fears.  What might it look like to have teaching teams of 4 people that were a small group ministry who not every week but maybe every month, met just to talk about their own lives, how it is with their own souls?  Could this make teaching a true ministry?  How might this transform the lives of our children, our families, our teachers and finally our congregation?  I know there are many practical obstacles to overcome and yet the dream remains!

Fear of the other; fear of change

Clearly I do not have the rhythem of this blog thing yet.  I keep thinking about writing but it tends to go down on the priority list.  Maybe since this is a public space..I feel it is particularly important that what I write be clear and not compromise my multiple roles and identities - for I am writing about Unitarian Universalism, faith development - here is where my personal life and my professional life meet.  For one cannot do this work and completely bracket one's personal life.  I do this work because it is my passion.  It is my passion ,so it is what I get drawn too even when I am "not on the clock." 

I have been reading Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach.  Palmer talks about how fear governs so much of what goes on in education.  Palmer writes, "We fear the authentic encounter because it means we will have to open ourselves to be changed".  Most of us avoid change at all cost.  I know that I do.  Even though I know that it is only through changing that I can grow and actually become more myself.  Yet I know I don't want to be wrong.  I want to have all the answers.  Isn't that what being a good student is all about - giving the right answer?

I see this fear of being changed and how the other might change us hard at work in our congregations.  As we talk about becoming more intentionally multi-cultural, multi-generational, immediately fear gets to work.  "What if worship isn't comfortable for ME anymore?"  "What if I am challenged?"  I find it difficult at times to be patient with this while also understanding it. 

If we are going to change Unitarian Unviveralism to be relevant, to be alive and to live into our potential - then we are going to have to confront our fear of change head on!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Embracing Monsters

I have been continuing to read Parker Palmer's book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring.  In the book, Palmer argues that at the heart of the contemplative life is the embrace of those things scare us...the monsters that are our fears. These fears include our fears of failure, ridicule, looking foolish are the guides that lead us to depth and from that depth into relationship and community. 

I have to say that I feel the truth of these words, just as I also feel all the resistance to truly embracing this truth. Allowing fear of failure to rule my life means that I run or pull away when it starts to get hard.  I have been struggling with my fear and my desire.  I desire to go deeper, to sink down roots, to find out what it might mean to not be on my way to somewhere but really just the here and now.  Yet I fear being "found out."  Maybe I am not as good as others think I am.  What if I am wrong? What if I don't have all the answers?

While I was in graduate school, time was measured in semesters and I knew that I was only there for a short get my masters degree.  Living in student housing, having my spouse in school at the same time, everything felt very temporary.  How do you put down roots...risk going deep when you know that life is going to change very soon? 

Yet now I am no longer in school.  I am working at a job that I love in my field.  Yes there is more preparation to come if I want to finish the path to Unitarian Universalist ministerial fellowship and ordination. I am planning to enter the Religious Educators Credentialing program.   Of course there is always more to know and to learn.  Yet what might it mean to put down roots?  What might it mean to embrace and ride the monster that is my fear of failure?  What might it mean to risk being wrong?  What it might it mean to dive deep? 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Active-Contemplative Paradox

One of my challenges is finding the time for spiritual practice and reflection. I am hoping that this blog can become of the one places that I make time for reflection, for reading and lifting out of the day-to-day.  So in that spirit, I just picked up the book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring by Parker Palmer.

As I started reading the book, I realize that I share Palmer's struggle to balance the contemplative life with an active life. This appeals to me as I don't have time to meditate for an hour a day or much time at all it seems to devote to a spiritual practice. What is it I need to remain grounded? to take care of myself? To not get so caught up in the day to day of the work that I forget why I do it?

He wrote the book after he left the intentional monastic community that was for people who are working, both men and women that did not require celibacy. He discovered that he was not a monk.

He groups the active life into work, creativity and caring. He says his aim it to show the contemplative-active paradox. I know for myself I have real moments of depth and connection and aliveness in my work. There is no place I would rather be than at my congregation on Sunday morning. There is aliveness to listening and talking to the college students as they trust me with their stories. It is a feeling that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. Yet I also know that the work can also take over...erasing boundaries. I can lose sight of having a personal life...of making time for my family of making time for myself.

So I look forward to reading more of the book and reflecting on how I can live in the active-contemplative paradox!

Monday, February 15, 2010

First Comes Love, Then Comes Justice: Re-Imagining Love and Marriage

Well I have not met my goal of posting weekly, but here is my sermon from Sunday. The text I used is an excerpt from Our Passion for Justice by Carter Heyward.

I have to say as I begin this sermon that this is not an easy sermon to bring to you. Not because I don’t have plenty to say on the topic – I have more than enough to say. It is because I stand before you as a queer person, in a same-sex relationship for the last 16 years, who is legally married although that marriage is not recognized in the state of Virginia or by the federal government. It is almost too personal, too close to home. Yet I hope this sermon is not a typical support of same-sex marriage, making the case that queer people and queer couples are just like everyone else and therefore deserving of their civil rights. It is my hope that I will raise some questions I don’t see being addressed in our current discourse on marriage or our popular culture’s notions of marriage.

I use the word queer for myself and to talk about the wide and diverse world of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. It is not a word that is universally accepted and used. I use it because it allows me to have my identity not limited to one particular box, one particular identity. I use it as a member of this wide and diverse community, knowing that there is not universal agreement as to its usage.

Love and marriage are of course on our minds – how could they not be for today is Valentine’s Day. Screaming from television, radio, stores, and restaurants – everywhere we are hearing about love – hearts, chocolates, red, and pink are everywhere. Then we also have the anti-Valentine’s celebration – mostly marking break-ups and betrayals, the loss of love, the absence of love, the horror of being single and alone on this particular holiday when the world seems to be made up of happy couples. Yet what is wrong with this picture? I am not just talking about the over-commercialization and another opportunity to entice people acquire more stuff – there is a good sermon there but that is not today’s sermon. I am talking about what is wrong with this message that we are all embarking on Noah’s Ark two by two. One may ask what is so horrible and awful about being single? Most of us rationally thinking about it would say that there is nothing horrible or awful about being single. Yet our culture’s obsession with coupleness often sends the message that it is better to be in a relationship – any relationship – than to be single. Experience may teach some of us the falseness of that belief – for experience can teach that it is better to be alone than in a bad relationship. Not to mention of course, how that belief that any relationship, even a bad one, is preferable to being single, contributes to people remaining in abusive and dysfunctional relationships. It continues to give the false impression that choosing to be single is to choose to be alone.

Our current cultural mores teach that the hardest part about love and marriage is finding that one perfect person. Once of course the person is found, the perfect wedding day will commence and they ride off into the sunset perfectly happy and content. It is all about the courtship, the beginning of new love. Nothing about what happens after the cake is eaten, the last notes of music from the band have faded away, friends and families have gone home and the couple is left to figure out how to spend the rest of their days in wedded bliss.

Those of us who have been in a long-term relationship know that the real work, the hardest part is how to remain in one’s relationship after the initial bloom of romance fades. As one blogger recently put it, there is no Hallmark card that says “I love you so much that I will endure you” and yet much of long-term committed relationships is learning to endure the other. Learning to hang in there when it might be easier to walk way; learning to stay even when my personal needs for intimacy, connection and support are not being met – that is the work of long-term committed relationships, because even in the happiest, the most healthy of relationships there will be times when one or both will not be getting all or even some of their needs for intimacy, connection and support met. Marriage requires commitment and some hard work. Yet this commitment and hard work has its own joy and reward – one not often seen in the movies, television, or books. Leo Tolstoy in one of his novellas, has his character describe this joy and reward this way “That day ended the romance of our marriage; the old feeling became a precious irrecoverable remembrance; but a new feeling of love for my children and the father of my children laid the foundation for a new life and a quite different happiness; and that life and happiness have lasted to the present time.” Commitment and endurance have their own joy and happiness that is often quieter and less visible than the exhilaration and giddiness of new love.

Our common messages about marriage and this extends into our work for marriage equality is that marriage and romantic love are the best and primary ways to meet our need for connection and intimacy, secondly, that it is up to individuals to find their one true love and figure out how to make it work and finally that community, including faith community are only tangential to the success of those relationships working. Love and marriage are individual rights and choices and the community has little or no role there. If a marriage succeeds or fails it is the sole fault or responsibility of the couple. I want to challenge these assumptions and say that our work for marriage equality, could if we gave it a chance, provide an opportunity for us to re-imagine love and marriage. As Carter Heyward says in our reading, love is not just a sentimental feeling, that love makes justice, makes righteousness. This notion is sorely lacking in our current cultural messages about marriage. I also want to say it is missing from our faith communities – including our liberal Unitarian Universalist faith communities.

Our work for marriage equality is predicated on the notion that same-sex couples are just like heterosexual couples – that gay and lesbian couples just want the same things we all want – to be happily married – so let us open up civil marriage – and please note how clear we are that we are talking about civil marriage – to same sex couples – not to everyone but to same-sex couples. Now on the one hand there is nothing wrong with this. It makes good politics, it makes good bumper stickers like “Civil marriage is a Civil Right”. But I also find it flawed and problematic.

For one thing it does nothing to challenge the inherent heterosexism in our culture or its obsession with coupleness as the primary and best means for meeting our relationship needs. Is it really? Is marriage truly the best way to meet to our needs for intimacy, sharing, support? We put a lot of pressure on our romantic relationships and I think that is why so many of them end. They just can’t support all the pressure we put on them – they are supposed to meet our needs for a best friend, someone to hang out with, someone to help pay the bills, live with, run a household with, raise children with, lover, partner, companion. Whew..I am tired just thinking about it.

What if we removed some of this pressure from our romantic relationships? What if we encouraged and modeled networks of relationships? That people had not just spouses but friends and communities. What if our faith communities became places that met some of these needs and supported life-partners as they worked to be partners and lovers who are building lives, homes and families? Our faith communities could become antidotes to isolation, antidotes to having to do it all on one’s own.

Heterosexism, is the ism in our society that demands that we all conform to heterosexual norms - opposite sex marriage, appropriate gender roles for men and women and valuing the nuclear family over all other family structures. It is often hidden and unseen – much like racism and sexism. It is not the fault of any one individual – it is a system. It is a system that permeates into the personal aspects of our lives on a nearly daily basis. How many forms do you fill out that ask if you are married or single? Every time I encounter a form that asks me if I am married or single I have to stop and think about my answer. Who is asking? Am I “allowed” to say that I am married? When am I allowed to claim that identity? When can’t I? Simply granting me a civil marriage license has not ended the regular reminder that my relationship, my family is less than the idealized heterosexual nuclear family.

Yet our current debate over marriage equality does very little to disrupt notions of heterosexism Our current marriage equality movement only asks that same sex couples be allowed to participate more fully in the heteronormative culture by granting civil marriage rights to same sex couples. Now don’t get me wrong these rights are important and numerous. Over 1100 federal benefits and rights and another 300 or so state rights and benefits are tied to heterosexual marriage. 1400! That is not some small amount. Yet no where in our discussion do we ask the question why are there over 1100 federal benefits and 300 state benefits tied to opposite sex marriage. Why do we extend these rights to married couples – why not everyone including single people?

The marriage equality movement argues that lesbian and gay couples are just like and just want what everyone wants – heteronormative marriage. Really? Is that really all queer people and queer couples want? If the scope of our vision is only to have marriage equality, then our vision is too small. It is not truly just. For a system that grants 1400 rights to people because they are married means that those rights and benefits are not available to those who are not married – queer or straight. It continues to privilege one form of family over all other forms.

I also am deeply trouble that our marriage equality debate has been limited to civil marriage. Again this is a political strategy – the polls tell us it will play well with that average Jane or Joe out there who is ambivalent about this notion of extending heterosexual marriage to same-sex couples. Don’t bring religion into it! And we as a faith community, as a religion have been bought into this hook, line and sinker. I expect more. For my religious community, my liberal religious community – all of you and other Unitarian Universalists around the country have said – you are welcome here – you are seen here. Yet the best we can fight for is civil marriage? Let me tell you, I was married for twelve years before I had any civil marriage. My marriage is not more “real” now because I have a civil marriage license than before. We have been blessed with religious communities that have blessed and supported our relationship throughout our years together. If we are going to fight for marriage equality – than we must claim our place as people of faith who bless and sanctify the relationships of same-sex couples and families. We must claim our religious voice!

And this comes back to how we as liberal religious people have bought into society’s notions of what marriage is and should be. Oh we will host, bless and officiate at wedding ceremonies for same-sex and opposite sex couples. We pride ourselves on our long history of doing so – and yes that is something to be proud of. But rarely do we teach people in our faith community what a healthy relationship is or looks like, how to sustain in the long run and what role faith may have in their relationship. Carter Heyward tells us that we are not automatic lovers of anything – ourselves, others, God. We must chose to love and to chose and to chose wisely means there are things to learn about love. Don’t we as a religious community have an obligation to teach about love?

How do we learn to love? Most of us learn through the models around us – our parents, grandparents, other family members, maybe family friends. We learn to love by being loved. We also learn to love through the images we see in the movies, television, music and books. Yet if all we have is our narrow circle for models – and that circle has become even more narrow – we may not learn the hard work of commitment. We live in a time of intense separation of the generations. Many of our children are growing up far away from extended families, our community and social networks are weak. Our faith communities are one of the last centers of multigenerational community – one of the last places where elders, middle age, young adults, youth and children mingle. Yet we must make intentional choice to be multigenerational – to resist mimicking the generational segregation so prevalent in society. So that younger couples can learn from older ones; so that our children and youth can see single people, couples and all sorts of families coming together to worship, to play, to learn and explore.

Carter Heyward tells us that to love is to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. It is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family.” What if a question for all couples is how will your love, your life together help heal a broken world? What if we put justice into the mix? How would that reframe our notions of love and marriage – if marriage was as much about justice as it is about love? Now I am not proposing that we add more thing to the list our marriages are meant to carry – but how does it reframe marriage if justice is brought into the mix?

Well for one thing we cannot make justice on our own – justice making is community work. We all need to know that we are not in it alone – couples and families need to know they are not it in alone. Queer people and couples in particular, need to know that they are not alone – for in too many cases – families, friends and religious community vanishes when one utters the words “I am queer; I am gay; I am lesbian; I am bisexual; I am transgender.” One of the gifts of the queer community is how it has created its own structures, organizations and families to support those who have lost so much by coming out. What does the queer community have to teach about what makes a family? What do the same sex couples in our community have to teach us about how to create new models for intimacy?

As people of faith I call upon us to ask to the question what is marriage for? Who is it for? What if marriage was not the only way of creating a family? Again what about single people? What about those who have no interest in marrying? What about those who live together in long-term relationships but never marry – is their relationship less then? What might they have to teach us? What does it mean for us as a religious community to bless and affirm marriage? Does our obligation end once the couple is off to the reception and have left our doors? Is there something more? What about those who want to form a family with more than two adults and some children? What about blended families who chose to live together? What about multiple generations in one household? Or families that chose to live together communally? What do these households have to teach us about commitment, marriage and family? What about couples who do not have children? Does justice demand that some of these federal and state benefits be extended to families beyond the nuclear family?

To make love is to make justice Carter Heyward tells us. To make justice is to participate in the healing of a broken world. Our congregation and other Unitarian Univeralists have said that we are “Standing on the Side of Love.” To stand on the side of love is to stand for justice and heal a broken world. The Standing on the Side of Love campaign is not just about securing civil marriage for same sex couples but rather to stand for justice for all sorts of families who face injustice. It is to stand for immigrant families facing deportation and separation. To stand on the side of love means our vision has to be bigger. We have to re-imagine love and marriage for our own time. We need to expand our notion of who or what is a family.

To stand on the side of love is to stand with queer people – people who do not fit into our normative notions of gender – who defy the gender binary. It is to stand with queer youth who make up a disproportionate amount of the homeless youth population. It is to stand with homeless families in our community who cannot on their own secure a safe and warm home for themselves and enough food to eat. It is to demand an end to favoring heteronormative marriage over all other types of relationships. It is time for love that goes beyond chocolate and hearts – but rather opens each of us to the suffering of the world and to do what we can to heal it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Introduction

So my New Years Resolution for 2010 was to start blogging - and here we are! It took a long time to come up with an name for my blog and thanks to my wife, it now has a name!

I am hoping that this will be a place to share my thoughts and enter into dialogue around the things that I am most passionate about - faith, religion, building multigenerational communities, Unitarian Universalism, and ethics.

I want this to be a place to reflect on the things that I am reading - books, articles, other blogs and to be truthful to find a way to hold myself accountable to do the reading I really want to do. I also want a place to reflect on what I am doing, so that I am not so caught up in the doing that I forget why I started doing it to begin with.

So here I go diving into the big world of blogging!