Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Coming Out and Being Out

This week NBA player Jason Collins came out with the words, "I'm black. And I'm gay.".  As expected this has been met with a wide range of reactions from praise to condemnation with apparently "sincerely held religious belief" being an acceptable reason to judge and condemn another person. Yet another response I read in the comments and even to some degree from Jason himself is this notion that coming out shouldn't be a big deal, almost a sense that one shouldn't have to come out.  This goes along with the notion that he doesn't want to be known as a "gay athlete" which on the one hand makes sense - he just wants to be known as a great athlete or a team player, he wants his athletic ability judged by his athletic record not his sexual orientation.  Yet he is a gay athlete and I would like to see him take pride in that fact - that he can be a positive role model and influence on younger people.  That younger people can see that you can be an athlete and be gay - much like the importance of religious people being out - it is an important witness.  It breaks down the stereotype that LGBTQ persons only fit in particular boxes - including the boxes of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.

I want to talk more about this notion though that one shouldn't have to come out - that one's sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is private.  That the mark of a tolerant society is that we don't notice difference and are therefore a society of equals.  Yet our differences are what make each of us unique - if we don't see differences than we create a certain sameness.  What this results in our society is a literal whitewashing of humanity and I use that term very intentionally.  We erase the differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality - everything. It reminds me of the SchoolHouse rock video - Great American Melting Pot.  What happens when we all melt together - a gloppy mess.  It also subsumes everyone into the "ideal" of white, male and heterosexual - rather than valuing and seeing difference as important and valuable.

I do understand personally this impulse toward the "why do people need to come out", "why do we need a pride parade after all straight people don't go around flaunting their sexuality."  I understand because at one time I believed that until I witnessed others coming out and then came out myself.  I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from southern California when I was 12. My dad is a third generation San Franciscan and I had visited my grandparents in San Francisco frequently as a child.  I happened to be visiting San Francisco in 1978 when Harvey Milk  and George Moscone were shot and killed.  I remember watching Diane Feinstein on television.  I also remember driving through the Castro and for the first time in my life seeing two men walking down the street with their arms around each other.

I also remember seeing coverage of Gay Pride on television and thinking to myself - why do they have to have Pride, why do they have to talk about it. After all straight people didn't go around having straight pride. I had grown up with a mix of religious disapproval (growing up Roman Catholic) and with a live and let live attitude.  There was a tolerance that people should be allowed to live their lives as they choose.  As a teenager I knew I was attracted to both boys and girls but also knew from my sexuality education that as a teenager that was normal and I would grow out of it (oops!).  I didn't really understand heterosexism or privilige or how hard it is to be LGBTQ in a world that assumes everyone is straight until proven otherwise!

It was not until college that I learned that the live and let live attitude that I grew up in California was not the norm.  My first experience was talking to my freshman year roommate during the summer before I began at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.  My roommate was from St. Louis and she asked me "Are there really all those gay people out there?"  The question truly took me by surprise.  I didn't realize that living with the backdrop of the gay community in my back yard was something unique.  It was just a part of living in the Bay Area (and realize I lived on the Peninsula - read suburbia and it was the 80's).  I didn't personally know anyone who was gay.  It was something I might see if I went to San Francisco (The City), on television for Pride or coverage of the AIDS crisis.

My second encounter with this disruption that live and let live was not the normal world view was also while at Marquette.  I was enrolled in an education class and tutoring a seventh grade girl in reading.  As part of the class I was to go and observe her in class at her school. As I was waiting in the faculty room at the school I overheard two of the teachers talking.  They were talking about the TV movie that had been on the night before called "An Early Frost" and it was about young gay man dying as a result of AIDS.  One of the women said openly that she would disown her son if he came out to her.  I sat there silent and appalled.  "Really, you would disown your son, your child, who you carried in your body for 9 months, loved, nurtured and raised and you would disown him for being gay?", I thought to myself.  I just could not believe it.

Although I grew up with a kind of acceptance of gay people, I did not actually know anyone who was LGBTQ. It was at Georgetown that I became friends with someone who was openly gay - he happened to be President of the Gay and Lesbian group at Georgetown.  I heard the stories of late night obscene phone calls to his dorm room.  It was during that same time that one of my closest friends began the journey of coming out.  It was hard.  He was worried about his future career. I was witnessing the struggle of my friends.

It was not until after college that I realized that I was not growing out of this stage of attraction to both men and women.  My friend whose coming out process I was honored and privileged to witness commented about how female identified I was - and he was not just talking about my own gender identity but my connection and relationships with women and feminism and the feminine.  It was the late 1980's and the book "Bi Any Other Name" was published and it was a revolution of bisexual identity.  One of my close women friends came out as bi. I began to understand myself as bisexual and I came out to friends but not to family. I did not come out to my family until much later when I was seriously dating the person who would become my spouse.  I knew they would not disown me - a privilege I do not take for granted.  Still, coming out wasn't easy for them and it wasn't easy for me.

While I was raised with live and let live and my attitudes had evolved and changed while in college it was quite another thing to come to terms that it is not just about other people, but about yourself.  I didn't have a big crisis of faith (well I was having a crisis of faith but it was less about being bi and more about the Roman Catholic Church itself).  I knew that God would love me no matter what (again a privilege not to be taken for granted).   I did however have to come to terms with a different vision for my life. I always assumed I would marry a man and have kids (I wanted a lot of them having only one sister) and live in a house with a nice picket fence.  Basically I would live the life my parents lived.  Coming out and falling in love with a woman meant that image had to change.  I am married, we have an amazing daughter and actually our townhouse does have a white fence.  All kidding aside coming out is not easy and it never ends.

I have been very lucky. My family loves me, my wife and our daughter. Even my spouse's parents have come around and accepted me and our daughter as part of the family though there are limits to what we share with them.  My spouse's sister does not have a relationship with any of us by her choice. I am a part of a religious community that accepts me for who I am and allows me to serve openly in religious leadership.  Even though we have married both religiously and legally in California, I don't say that we are just like everyone else.  We are not.  Our family is not the same and thank God for that.  I don't want to be the same. I want to be me - queer me, unapologetically queer me.  I don't want a cure - my being queer is a gift - it is a part of what makes me me.  It is a part of what makes our family what it is. My daughter has two moms - that is who she is - wonderful, amazing, unique.

Coming out is not this one time thing - one does it over and over again.  We need to keep speaking the truth of ourselves and our lives. I don't consider this a bad thing.  To speak the truth of who we are - not just about sexual orientation or gender identity - but speaking our truth, speaking to who we really are is part of the spiritual path. For one way to define the spiritual path is that it is the path to the authentic self.  People are surprised that Jason Collins spoke of his faith as part of his coming out - I am not.  God loves us for who we are, as we truly are and part of who we are is our sexuality.  It is a gift!

I choose to live out and to be an out religious leader. Being a religious leader means in part to take one's religious or spiritual life, which many consider private and live it openly. Being LGBTQ means something similar.  I know that my living openly, publicly, speaking out is necessary. It is necessary because there are others who cannot, others who are struggling, others who may lose their family, who may have to leave school or home or a job especially in the context of where I live now ... Virginia, the state of my spouse's birth.  Coming out is important.  It is an act of justice. It is a religious act.

So thank you Jason Collins for coming out.  Please keep doing it. There are young people who need your example. They need to know that who they are is amazing! They need to know that God loves them. They need to know that LGBTQ people are an amazingly diverse group of people.

So let's not minimize being Queer or Black or Latina/o to the "we are all people" melting pot mess.  Let's celebrate that yes we are all people - all kinds of people - all kinds of amazing people - in many colors, many genders and many sexual orientations.  Let's celebrate it all!  Let our differences be things we talk about and celebrate - not sweeping them under the carpet.  Then I believe we will live into the vision that we are all created equal.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Work, Meaning, Life Finding a Rhythm

A few months ago I came up on this article on LinkedIn about Embracing a Work Life Imbalance in the Harvard Business Review.  The premise of the article is that the more meaningful we find our work the more time we will want to spend at it and that it is selfish to seek a work-life balance.  Comparing meaningful work to falling in love, the more meaningful your work the more time you will want to spend at it just like when you are falling in love there are not enough hours to spend with the person.

I posted the article on Facebook asking about how this applied to ministry.  I did not get much response so I am going to offer some of my reflections, particularly as I sit in the liminal space - listening and seeking for my next job.  Ministry/religious leadership is one of the most meaning-filled jobs I can imagine - for those of us called to it.  At its heart it is about creating spaces and opportunities to help others find and create meaning in their lives.  Whether in worship, a class or one-on-one, the primary role of the religious leader is to help the person or people in the room make meaning.  It is to ask the big questions - why are we here?, what is my purpose? How am I to live? etc.  Most of the religious professionals I know work very hard, long hours, and usually for not for the financial compensation.  In my own experience it is work that is filled with meaning, filled with opportunities to be deeply touched and moved, to be awed by the trust placed in you and the ways, often unknown, that you can touch another person's life.  I am one of those people who have worked long hours, often losing myself in the work because I care so much, take the responsibility that comes with religious leadership so seriously and get so much deep meaning from the work.  So if I take the author's work seriously, then religious leadership exemplifies his point exactly and I should not worry at all about the imbalance of work and life.

Yet I know that deeply meaningful work is not sufficient in and of itself and that the author is not correct that simply having meaningful work is enough.  First I know that the ability to seek and create meaningful work is a privilege and it is becoming a privilege for fewer and fewer people.  Most people work at jobs because they have to - not because it gives them meaning.  Now some of those people find and create meaning in that work but it is not because the work itself is meaningful and others just do the best they can waiting for the day to end.  Some work so they can live - because it puts food on the table and roof over their heads (hopefully!).  Their meaning comes from being able to care for their families. They live for the time away from work and the work is a support to the rest of their lives.

For myself, when I only work, as deeply meaningful as it is, it can lead to exhaustion and to burn out.  Also in a deep irony, not taking time away from work, not finding time away from work for the rest of my life - like my family, caring for myself, taking a walk, reading a novel, actually means I lose the sense of meaning I find in the work.  When I have nothing left to give because I have given it all to the work, then I cannot do the work I am called to do - the work that I love so much.

Also pouring so much into the work, that I don't worry about whether or not it is financially sustainable also drains the meaning and joy found in the work.  When the pay is low, when there are no cost of living increases, benefits that are lacking or too expensive to access - situations that have become all to commonplace and in fact have become the norm, then the job is a source of stress and exhaustion and no amount of meaning can make up for it.  This new reality is not just that of lower income jobs but of middle class jobs - like religious leadership and the reality is that it is stressful (particularly for those of us who grow up with economic privilege - such things are not supposed to happen to us).  When doing work that you love cannot support those that you love, including yourself, then the work is unsustainable.  Money may not be everything, it may not buy happiness, but when there is not enough of it, money becomes THE most important thing - threatening to overshadow one's whole life.

We as religious leaders and communities need to become better advocates for income and benefits - for all those who do the work of religion - not just ministers but those who work to clean and maintain facilities and those who do other programming and the administration.   All too often religious leaders participate in our settling for less than what is just.  We cannot demand that corporations treat people well, when often the staff of congregations have less protection under the law or our congregational budgets do not reflect our stated values.  This is part of the rhythm - what kinds of places of work are we creating in our faith communities?  Are they just? Are they fair?  Do they allow staff time to find a rhythm for their lives?

In contrast to this article, I found this one about what successful people do on their weekends.  This article talks about people unplugging from work.  It talks about spending time with family and friends, turning off their phones, being physically active, and hosting parties. This stands in stark contrast to the previous writer. Here the unplugging, brings refreshment, renewal and the ability to go back to the work ready for its demands. Making time for things other than work, makes people better at their work, better able to find meaning in it and to find more joy in it.

So I wonder if the word we need for this is not so much balance as it is rhythm.  We need a rhythm (thank you Bob Tschannen-Moran for this word) to our lives that meets a variety of needs. We need meaningful work, we need rest, play, time with those we love, we need a sufficient income and benefits. For each of us what this looks like may be different - some of us may need more rest and less play, for others our children may require more time than work, what makes a sufficient income and benefits may be different (for example income and benefits when one is only supporting oneself is different than if you are supporting a family).  Also if work is to be meaningful, then we need time to reflect on what makes it meaningful - on the why of it, not just the doing.

As religious leaders if we are to do the amazing work of helping others make meaning, than we cannot neglect the rest of our lives.  We need our own time away from the work - for play, for rest, for reflection.  We must practice what we are preaching. We need to find a rhythm that works for us - and make it visible - so it becomes part of our ministry.

Because it isn't just about us, our care, our well-being but about the well being of all of us.  If we are practicing what we preach, then we stand in a better place to advocate for those who have less voice - less privilege to enjoy a work-life rhythm.  Because meaningful work, a meaningful life should not be reserved to a privileged few but rather a precious human right enjoyed by all.

May it be so!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Looking for Hope

Like many this week, I have been on a roller coaster of emotions - the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the shameful failure of the Senate to pass universal background checks or an assault weapons ban and then waking up yesterday to the on-going search for the second suspect in the bombing after a night of gunfire and explosions.  I have been telling people that I feel like I am at one of the moments in a dystopian novel where hope is lost and we just don't see how our heroine will survive.  Maybe what we need right now is the hope a Katniss Everdeen or a Tris can give us.

So where do we find hope?  In dystopian novels often the hope comes from the sheer strength of will and perseverance of our heroine - they just keep going, keep trying - even when they are certain they won't come out alive - they keep going.  Yet the other thing about these heroines is that they are not alone - even when they think they are the only one - there is a community, a group that helps out, that is also persevering. A group that may have been working for a long time waiting for just the right moment and usually that group is the one our heroine would least expect.  Who have been those people this week in Boston, in Washington, in our own communities?

To all those in Boston who stopped and helped the injured - the police, firefighters and other first responders - loved all the posts of Mister Rogers reminding us to look for helpers.  There were also ordinary people who stopped to help - I love that their stories are being known and shared.

This week I am so grateful for Facebook - for people letting us know they are alright, for communities like Church of the Larger Fellowship that started streaming their on-line worship service on Monday night for those needing a break from the twenty-four hour news feed.  For friends who posted words of inspiration and hope.

I am grateful to people like Gabbie Giffords whose amazing op-ed piece spoke to my own anger and the promise that this fight is not over.  I am grateful to our President for his words - again speaking to my anger and disappointment and vow that this fight is not over.  I am in awe of the parents of Newtown, who after speaking and sharing their profound grief, stood there at the White House, sending a clear message that they are not done, that this fight is not over.

There have been reminders over and over that the goodness of people outweighs the bad.  That love is stronger than hate. That hope is stronger than fear.

It can be hard to find hope in the midst of a week like this but don't stop looking.  Even if you believe it is lost, look again and never stop looking.

I will leave you with two videos that my daughter posted this week that gave me hope.  One is the trailer for a film, Girls Rising which my daughter actually went to see yesterday.  Another is a TED talk, Shane Koyczan: "To This Day" ... for the bullied and beautiful.

Where have you found hope this week?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thinking About Sex and Consent

I have been following the news stories about sex, rape and consent.  It is good that we are hearing about consent being more than just saying "no" but rather actively (some have even stated enthusiastically) saying "yes".  All of this got me thinking about sex and sexual ethics.  At the end of the day each of us will be faced with making ethical decisions for ourselves about sex, even those who choose not to ever in engage in sexual activity - that is making an ethical choice about one's sexuality (not the only ethical choice - but it is one choice that one can make).

Additionally in the background is the on-going debate about sexuality education in our schools and what should we be teaching.  One side arguing for comprehensive sexuality education - which includes information about contraceptives and condom use to prevent STD's versus abstinence-only education - which presents abstinence until marriage as the only option.

My position is that we need comprehensive sexuality education. As one who has taken the training for all age levels for the Our Whole Lives program - elementary school through adult - this is not surprising.  There is great value in the OWL curriculum and I am grateful that my daughter experienced the Junior High Level class this past fall.  It is full of good exercises on values and making choices.

I have also been reflecting on all of this in light of my ow life experience.  I actually had pretty good sexuality education from both my family and my all-girls Catholic high School.  I was given comprehensive information about anatomy, contraception and STD's along with the strong message that sex was reserved for marriage. The only ethical, moral choice in Roman Catholicism was within a heterosexual marriage.  By the time I got to college I had come to reject the notion that sex was only moral and ethical within heterosexual marriage, yet at first, I did not now what replaced that clear, ethical line in the sand.

It was not until college that I began dating and became faced with having to make ethical choices around the engagement in sexual activity.  I began to realize that this clear ethical line in the sand was not really so clear in practice.  What kinds of sexual activity might be permissible even if intercourse was off limits?  Once I rejected that clear line in the sand, then under what conditions might sex be permissible for me?

I finally decided to have sex with someone that I had been sort of seeing on and off - I don't know that you could call it dating really. We were interested in each other.  I said yes to sex because I could not think of a reason to say no.   I liked this person, this person liked me, we were going to be safe - so what the heck?

Afterwards I realized that deciding to engage in sex should be about more than just "what the heck?"  I realized then that I needed to have clear guidelines for myself about what my sexual ethics were going to be.  I realized that there had to be something between "anything goes as long as it is consensual and safe" and "only within marriage."  It was then that I really thought through what sex and sexuality meant to me, how I understood my own sexual ethics in light of my faith tradition and community.  I needed to have a strong guiding set of principles that I could rely on when I was in situations where I needed to make choices about sex and what kinds of sexual activities I would choose to engage in or not.  What I learned is that consent, my internal consent - the yes I say to me and then give to someone else - should be more than I can't think of a reason to say no.

So beyond the fights about sexuality education in our schools, at some point people are going to be faced with making ethical choices about sex.  When our children are no longer children past the age that our OWL curriculum says they should wait, will they have the tools they need to know when to say 'yes' from a deep sense of  authenticity?  Will the information they received in Junior High be enough to make those choices, often in the moment?  Will they hear a message beyond condoms or safe sex to avoid pregnancy or STDs?

I guess I don't want another young adult to do what I did - choose to say yes because I could not think of a reason to say no. I hope that our young adults view sharing themselves in this most intimate way as a gift and that the best 'yes' is one that is congruent with both their ethics and with their emotions.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Willingness versus Willfulness

As I was on retreat in March I started reading Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment by Nancy Bieber.  One portion of the book that really caught my attention was her discussion of willingness versus willfulness. Willingness according to Bieber is saying yes and opening oneself to the Holy, to the mystery and to possibility   It involves embracing a certain amount of unknowing and being open to possibility.  Willfulness on the other hand is the "yes, but."  It is the relying solely on oneself and one's own will - it is not open to mystery, to unknown, to a trusting that all will be well. (Bieber, pp.21-22) This fits nicely with Parker Palmer's definition of vocation, "Vocation does not come from willfulness.  It comes from listening." (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, p. 4)

I find this distinction between willingness and willfulness very helpful to me as I have been trying to listen for vocation and remain open and willing to what is next.  I realized on retreat that I have spent much of the last few years trying to will things to happen - not in an open, trying new things, see where they go sort of way but more of the if I just keep at this it will work out. I have spent years believing that it all depends on me.  There is not much room for God there - not much room for the holy.  I realized on retreat how much time I had spent resisting God, resisting trusting God, being open to God.

As I reflected further on this - not just as to it applied to me personally - I realized that Unitarian Universalism can strongly contribute to willfulness versus willingness.  It is understandable really - often the language of relying on God or the Holy can come across as we don't have any responsibility or don't have to "do" anything - we just wait for God to take care of it.  It can be misinterpreted to mean that God will just step in and clean up the messes we make (an attitude my father-in-law recently expressed in talking about climate change).

Yet in my own experience when it is only about my will or "yes but," there is a limiting of possibility.  If I am saying "yes but" then I am saying no before I even fully explore the yes. Willingness is about openness and paying attention.  I actually have to be more involved, more connected because if I am not then I may miss something.  If I am not trying something - saying yes to something - then I may miss it all together. On the flip side if I am being willful then I am so busy trying to keep it all going, making it all happen then I may miss the very thing I am looking for.  Minimally I am not looking for new possibility because I am so busy keeping the current situation going.

Our focus on the individual sometimes over the collective contributes to willfulness, a do it all on my own pattern. It is exhausting.  No person can do it all - no parent, no minister, no worker of any kind, no person can do it all on their own.  We can extend this to no congregation can do it all either. We are relational beings and our strength as human beings have been in the ways we have worked together.  We also don't do the spiritual journey alone - we need one another and we need a connection to that which is bigger than ourselves - known by many names - Spirit of Life, God, source of all - the name is not nearly as important as it is to realize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, possibly more popularly known for his work Self Reliance, writes in The Oversoul,  "I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a higher origin for events than the will I call mine."  Willfulness gives us the illusion that we are in charge, that we are in control.

I think Unitarian Universalism as a whole could use a whole lot of willingness - of saying yes - and less willfulness   Less we can do this all on our own and more being open to yes, to possibility.  More connection with one another and less we each have to do it on our own.  Clusters and regionalization could be a part of this.  Can we live into it?  Can we risk saying yes without the but?  Can we learn to trust not just one another, but trust that we are part of something larger than ourselves?

It won't be easy. It isn't easy for me - to trust, to say yes, to remain open.  It isn't easy to acknowledge that I am not in control and that I need God, I need other people. Yet right now, in the midst of this transition, I need God and I need others more than ever.  I know that what is next for me won't come unless I risk, unless I am willing, unless I am open to the unexpected.

Each day may we say yes, embrace willingness.  May we embrace mystery and the Holy.  May we stop trying to hold it all together and trust that we are part of God, part of creation, part of something we can only catch glimpses of.

May it be so.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring is Slowly Coming

It has been a long winter and I am highly impatient for spring - both literally and figuratively.  Many of us are longing for spring and are weary of waiting. Here in Williamsburg it is only 50 today (that is a good winter temp for this part of the world) and not very sunny.  I know those that live in the Northeast are done with snow and ice and cold temperatures.  I have even seen Facebook stories charging the Groundhog with lying and fraud (like this one from VA Tech Police with this caption:  The Virginia Tech Police Department has been investigating formal reports of an early spring in 2013. After obtaining some helpful tips from community members, we were able to locate the reporting party in order to ask some questions. After several hours of intense interview and interrogation, we are pleased to report that we obtained a full confession!!!! :) :

Right now this tree should be blooming like this (I took this picture last March)

Here is what this tree looks like today:

It feels this way in my life too.  I have been in a season of endings and a season of waiting.  I have been trying to figure out what's next.  I have been grieving leaving a job and a place that I loved very much even as I knew I needed to go, knew that it was time.  I have found myself longing for the grieving just to be over with, just be able to move onto the next thing.  I have been wanting to figure out the what's next.  I have some ideas, some thoughts.  Yet I find myself part way out of winter but not yet into spring.  I am at Holy Saturday - a day of waiting, a time of liminality.  To use the language of Ecclesiastes it is a time of mourning, a time of searching and a time of scattering stones.  Yet I want it to be a time of dancing, a time of finding and a time to gather the stones.  It is hard to sit here, hard to wait, to listen.  It is hard to trust and not be anxious and afraid.

Yet there is hope, signs of spring.  Just like the hint of buds on this dogwood tree, the daffodils that appear in  unexpected places around Williamsburg.  The promise is there.  I am called to wait, to trust, to listen. I am moving through, I am trying things, testing the waters, knocking on doors.  It is not just waiting, it is paying attention, it is risking putting myself out there - like with this blog post.

Is spring coming slowly for you or are you in the midst of it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding in Unexpected Places

This past July I attended a week long retreat at Pendle Hill called "The Art of Spiritual Discernment" with Nancy Bieber.  I had long wanted to attend a program at Pendle Hill and this one spoke to me strongly.

It was a wonderful week filled with insights.  I had expected it would be but what I did not expect is how I found there what I had long sought within Unitarian Universalism - a truly diverse group of souls, exploring spiritual questions together, respectful of each other's differences and learning from one another.  I have kept in touch with this group, I have asked for their prayers, and held them in mine.  

I knew of Unitarian Universalism long before I joined or even attended a UU worship service.  While I was working at Catholic Charities in the early 1990's I used to walk into the San Francisco UU building.  They have beautiful tall slabs that speak to the equality of the Scriptures - that all are holy, all contain truth.  This is something I had long believed. 

This is what I had hoped to find in joining Unitarian Universalism - a place where people of different beliefs, different backgrounds could risk sharing deeply together.  Yet it has been rare that I have found those places within in UUism I am sorry to say.  Occasionally in a covenant group or a one on one conversation but not generally as part of the whole culture of a congregation.  Too often I have found our congregations to be places of mere tolerance as long as one is not too vocal in one's beliefs.  Too often places where every religion except Christianity is welcome. Places where a great deal of time is spent watering things down to a lowest common denominator.  Often I as a religious leader censored myself before anyone else could - afraid that the words I might use would be too theistic, too Christian or too whatever.  

Yet at Pendle Hill here was this diverse group of people - Quaker, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, UU (I wasn't the only one) etc. We were diverse in age, diverse in why we had come - yet we were all searching to live our lives more faithfully - to listen to where the Spirit was calling to us. We were invited, actually instructed, to do our own translating - i.e., people were invited to speak using the language and words they were most comfortable with and it was up to each of us to translate it for ourselves.  It was amazing!  Yes people used words that wouldn't be mine and I didn't expect that person to change to meet my needs.  I was invited to take responsibility for my own spiritual understanding - not expect others to change to meet my needs.  It is what I expected to find within Unitarian Universalism but have found there only rarely. I too did not need to censor my words, afraid that they would offend or open up old wounds.

The potential of our UU faith is to offer places for diverse people to explore their faith together.  For that to happen each person needs to take responsibility for their own spiritual journey.  Each needs to do their own translating - and be curious and respectful when engaging with others.  We need to stop once and for all the everything but Christianity attitude that is still all too prevalent.  

It has been my experience that it is in progressive Christian communities that I have found the most respect for diversity.  Both Pendle Hill and Richmond Hill have offered a place for diverse people to gather without watering down their own identity.  They practice true radical hospitality.  They have provided places where I can explore myself, my faith.  I can be challenged in my faith by wrestling with the words of others.

I love the potential of Unitarian Universalism and yet I find myself longing for more actualizing of our potential.  I long for us to be a place of radical hospitality, curiosity and deep respect.  I long for us to speak deeply of who we are which may mean doing some work to figure that out.  I want us to embody revelation as open and on-going through curiosity and openness and a lot less of the "we don't believe...."  

It has been a joy to find what I have been looking for in places like Pendle Hill and Richmond Hill and now I long to find more of it where I had expected to find it ... within my chosen faith.