Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Birthday Reflection

My birthday was Thursday and it is once again a point of transition for my family and me.  Last year I was up in Washington DC attending my Georgetown Reunion and then attending an E*Formation Conference at Virginia Theological Seminary.  It was a wonderful trip in which I saw friends, visited museums, reconnected with Georgetown and then learned a great deal about how to use social media in my work.  It was also a time of moving and settling into work.  Right before we left, we moved out of temporary housing and into the home we have rented the last year.  I had just signed the contract with the congregation to stay for the year. 

One year later and it has been quite the journey.  It has not always been easy and there have been challenges that I did not know I could survive. Yet here I am.  I have been blessed to serve a wonderful group of people.  I have been privileged to preach, be present at the bedside of one who was dying, visiting others while they were sick, officiated a few memorial services and connected with the community of the Outer Banks.  I have also done work I could not have imagined myself doing. I worked part-time as a cashier at Food Lion.  I had not worked a retail job since my sophomore year of college and did not have any experience as a cashier in a grocery store.  I found that I was good at it and I liked it. I learned that while I do love time by myself, I need time with people. I need to be with them, talking with them, working with them.  I was praised for the excellent way I worked with customers. I could never have imagined that I would be doing this work let alone enjoying it.  I also have been working with a makerspace.  I love working for the makerspace. The mix of start-up, tech and making are wonderful. Right now I am working on my first ever Indiegogo campaign.  A discovery I have made is that I want technology to be part of my work if not at the heart of it. 

So at this time this year another crossroads, another transition.  My contract with the congregation comes to an end in June and the house we are renting is going to be sold. June will bring a move and new work. I am currently looking for a new job. I have decided I will no longer be working in a congregation or for a particular faith community.  I am looking for a position that will use my skills - program development and management; public speaking; facilitating; social media management and writing in either a non-profit or for profit organization.  I am ready for a new career using the skills I love using the most. We are planning a move to Richmond, VA and I am very much looking forward to being in a city.  I am looking forward to a new job, a new place to live and settle into for the long term and then allow other interests to emerge. I want to start an alumni chapter for Georgetown in Richmond.  I want to join a book group.  I am going to be seeking out a spiritual community and I am not sure where that will be yet but one I will be exploring is Judaism.

Why Richmond? We love Virginia and my spouse is from there.  It is a good size city with a wonderful art museum the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a great science museum, It is a diverse city including religious diversity.  It has a growing economy including technology.  It is also a very affordable place to live. It is only two hours from DC and an hour from Williamsburg where we have close friends including our daughter's best friend.  It feels to us like a place where we can settle down and put down deep roots.  It also doesn't hurt that it was voted happiest city.  We have been temporary for far too long.

One thing I do need right now is connections and networking for a new job.  I have some job leads but really it is through personal connections that jobs are most likely to be found.  Here is a link to my resume. Maybe you know a great company that could use someone like me to teach or talk to people about their product or teach people to use it.  Maybe you know of a great position in interfaith dialogue, service learning, diversity or admissions at a college or university that could use someone with my skills. Maybe you just have a friend in Richmond that might be able to help with some temporary work or housing.  One thing I have learned over the past year and half is that none of us does this alone.  My job at Food Lion came to be because a friend went there and advocated for me. The makerspace job came because a person saw my potential and brought me on-board.  I am quite sure that my next position will come because I connect with the right person.

It has been an incredibly transformative year.  I have learned a great deal about myself and what I am capable of doing. I also have many people to be grateful to for getting us through this year.  My family would not have made it if not for the financial, emotional and social support of friends. Literally they kept us going. 

I look forward to a day when I can pay that forward for someone else!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why I Will Be Staying Home on June 1

So an infamous hate group has decided to descend on First Flight High School on June 1.  You can read two local press articles about it here and here. Upon this news breaking my Facebook and email both lit up with emails about how to respond. I asked via Facebook my colleagues about their advice and recommendations. There were two responses one was to ignore them completely, do not show up, do not counter demonstrate unless it is a separate location at a different time and the other was to form a human shield so that faculty and staff would not be able to see them.  Both made it clear to not engage with them directly in any way.

After much internal and external debate, I have personally decided that I will stay home on June 1 because at the end of the day what this group and others like it want is for us to feed their publicity. The more people that talk about them, write about them, show up and counter demonstrate the better it is for them.  They get what they are seeking a louder platform for their hateful and bigoted message all done in the name of God.

Part of me really wants to be out there. Part of me wants to shout at the top of my lungs how wrong they are, how each of us is a beloved child of the holy - sacred, unique, beloved. To shout that each and every single one of us including each one of them is loved and saved by the source of all.  I want to form that human shield so that no First Flight student or staff member will see any of their hateful signs.  Yet at the end of the day that gives them a victory as well.  The press will cover it and they won't just cover those coming out in support of diversity and inclusion but they will cover and show pictures of their signs.

I loved the article from the Outer Banks Voice and their refusal, as I am, to name this group.  This article was actually a tipping point in my own decision making process.  I also loved that the journalist pulled in a Harry Potter reference.  I want to refine it a bit though. Voldemort thrived in silence and in the dark.  He kept himself and his plan secret. He and his Death Eaters hid behind secret symbols and masques. People were so afraid that they would not even utter his name, which itself was an alias.  Dumbledore, Harry and his friends used his name so that it would cease to have power.  In this case, however, to name this group, which does not operate in secret and does not wear masques, is to give them power. To name them is to legitimize them, to say that in some way they have something of worth to say.  So I choose not to name them, I choose not to legitimize them. My biggest hope would be that all the press would stay home and not say one word about what may or may not happen on June 1.

At the end of the day I pray for a world where groups like this have no fertile soil to grow in.  I pray that their message falls on deaf ears.  I pray for a world where all people are valued and celebrated. I pray that we learn to be open minded, open hearted people that appreciate and treasure the beauty and diversity that is humankind.

Please note:  As with all the material on my blog, these are my thoughts and opinions.  I am not speaking on behalf of any other group or person and the thoughts and opinions expressed here should be understood as my own.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Unitarian Mother - Julia Ward Howe

I preached this sermon on Sunday May 10, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Outer Banks.

Text:  Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe

A Unitarian Mother - Julia Ward Howe

Happy Mother’s Day!  I know that today can be a complicated day for many and I want to begin by acknowledging that.  Today I want to focus the original theme of Mother’s Day which was a call for peace and justice and life and faith of Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward Howe was born in New York to a prominent and wealthy family.  Her mother died when she was young and her father provided her with tutors and attendance at excellent schools for women and in addition her brother’s travel provided her an excellent library.  Julia converted to Unitarianism from her Calvinist upbringing saying “I studied my way out of all the mental agonies which Calvinism can engender and became a Unitarian." She was exposed to the sermons of William Ellery Channing, heard a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller.  Her oldest son was baptized by Theodore Parker.    After the death of her brother, his wife and their new born child, Julia married Samuel Howe, founder of Perkins School for the Blind.  Julia was often unhappy in her marriage and she herself longed for something more than being a wife and mother.  While her father had been a strict Calvinist he had provided his daughter an excellent education and a thriving social life. Julia published deeply personal poetry anonymously though her husband disapproved. They separated for a while but eventually reconciled as Julia was unwilling to lose a place in any of her children’s lives.  Julia birthed seven children, losing one son in infancy.  Both before and after her husband’s death, Julia became an outspoken reformer, preacher and writer.
Julia, exposed to the horror of slavery, became an ardent abolitionist although she was not an advocate for equality of people of color.  It was her opposition to slavery that inspired her writing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic which became a popular song of the Union Army.  She was active in women’s rights, participating in numerous women’s clubs, was a leader of the Iowa Sisterhood and an active suffragist.
Julia was horrified by the carnage and death wrought by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian war and it was that which inspired her appeal to women later to become her Mother’s Day Proclamation. She attempted to gather women for a women’s congress but was unsuccessful. She did organize a Woman’s Peace Day Observance in Boston for a number of years but her attempts to get national recognition were unsuccessful.

All of the early efforts at Mother’s Day were about justice and peace – not a sentimental appreciation of mothers.  Anna Jarvis who successfully petitioned and began Mothers Day in the end distanced herself from it as she saw it becoming a commercial rather than a holiday celebrating the day to day ways women cared for and sacrificed for their families.  Anna’s focus was on the influence of her mother on her life and the ways she saw mothers caring for and sacrificing for their children.  While Anna did intend it as a sentimental family holiday it was also an honoring of the ways women contribute to the greater good through their work and sacrifice. 

It would seem then that the vision of Mother’s Day was to call attention to justice and peace in our world. These early women were women who broke stereotypes and went beyond the roles of wife and mother – in fact Anna Jarvis was neither.  Anna was a college graduate and the first woman literary and advertising editor for Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company.  Julia was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  These women were early feminists seeking justice and recognition for women and their contributions.
Today of course Mother’s Day for most is a commercial holiday – a day to remember to call your mom, remember your mom, take mom to brunch, send flowers or cupcakes or candy.  It seems in our larger context little of the original focus of this as a feminist, justice seeking, peace seeking holiday is present. Without this early context, Mother’s Day can become a painful reminder of a mother from whom one is estranged, for the loss of children and mothers, and it seems that those women who nurture and care for others without adopting or birthing children are left out of the day.  However the tradition is not lost, there are women marching in Washington today to call for an end to police brutality and violence. Many of the women marching have lost sons due to police violence.  They are marching to call attention to the epidemic of police violence and the killing  of men and women of color.  They are marching to remind us that Black Lives Matter.

Faith was central to both Anna and Julia.  Julia’s embrace of Unitarianism and her involvement with the Transcendentalists like Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker inspired her activism.  She brought together women in ministry – both Unitarian and Universalist.  Like many of us, Julia came to her faith when the faith of her childhood no longer worked for her.  She read and studied and found a place within Unitarianism.  Anna was a Methodist and it was while teaching Sunday School that she was inspired to find a way to honor mothers saying “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

So what do the words and example of Julia Ward Howe offer to us as Unitarian Universalists today? Julia’s call to peace, her call for an end of the carnage of war – “Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” – today we add our wives and our daughters.  Her call for women not to have decisions made for them is no less needed today as women are denied or judged for making choices about their bodies, whether or not to have children, who they will love and how they will mother.   More than ever it might seem that women’s choices are up for debate and judgement by “irrelevant agencies.”  More than ever Julia’s call for a united, global movement to end violence and work for peace is essential and necessary.

With our small planet brought even closer together by a global economy, global wars and blood shed, Julia’s call for an international commitment to peace and justice is even more urgent.  Today we know that girl children are vanishing, are married off as young as 10, are victims of sexual assault and violence.  Just yesterday Amnesty International has a petition drive for a 10 year old girl, raped by her step-father who has been denied a safe legal abortion to end her pregnancy.  This past year the Nobel Peace Prize went to Kailish Satyarhi and Malala Yostavi for their work on behalf of children and particularly women’s education.  Malala became a global icon when the Taliban shot her because she refused to stop going to school and demanded that other girls be allowed an education as well. Now she travels the globe bringing her message of education for girls to all who will listen. We remember the girls in Nigeria who over a year ago were kidnapped from their schools and have yet to be found and returned home.  Anna and Julia were privileged to receive the education they did in the 19th century.  The urgency of women’s education is no less today.  The threat of women’s autonomy, education and exercising power over their own lives continues to be a threat to patriarchy and to maintaining the status quo. We know that educating and economically empowering women lifts up not just those women but their community and the next generation.

So on this Mother’s Day yes let us call our mothers, remember our mothers and even wrestle with the challenges and pain motherhood and our mothers can bring.   Let’s enjoy the brunch and the flowers. Let us also remember Anna Jarvis and her understanding that this was a day to honor the love, hard work and sacrifices women make for their families. Let us also answer Julia Ward Howe’s call for peace, for justice, for an end to the carnage and violence of war.  Let us make this holiday not just a sentimental Hallmark commercial holiday but a call for justice and peace for this generation and all who will follow.

May it be so!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Finding Abundance Within

I preached this sermon on Sunday May 3, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula.

Story: "Hosea Ballou and the Woman with a Mop"  This was done as a dialogue with Joanne Dingus, Director of Religious Education, UUFP

Margaret: Our story this morning comes from one of the earliest Universalist ministers. Hosea Ballou was a great writer and thinker who spread the message of Universal salvation throughout New England in the early 19th Century.

Margaret: Ballou, having gone to an inland town on a speaking engagement, was put at the house of a lady who apparently believed that human beings are saved only if they are good.  When Ballou arrived at her house on a Saturday afternoon, he found his hostess in the kitchen, mop in hand.

Joanne: “This is Mr. Ballou, I suppose?”

Margaret: “Yes, madam, my name is Ballou.”

Joanne: “Well, Mr. Ballou, they say you hold that all will be saved.  Do you really believe that doctrine?”

Margaret: “Yes, madam, I really believe it.”

Joanne:  “Why, sir!  Do you really believe that all people are to be saved just such creatures as they are?”

Margaret: Seeing that she did not understand the nature of salvation, Ballou asked: “What is that you have in your hand, dear woman?”

Joanne:  “Why,” she replied, laughing, “it is my mop.”

Margaret: “Your mop?  Well, what are you going to do with it?”

Joanne: “I am going to mop up my floor.  I always do it on Saturday afternoon.”

Margaret: “Well, sister, I understand you.  Are you going to mop it up just as it is?”

Joanne:  “Mop it up just as it is?”

Margaret: “Yes; you wish to know if I hold that all people will be saved just as they are.  Do you intend to mop up the floor just as it is?”

Joanne: "Why,” she replied, “I mop it up to clean it.”

Margaret:  “True,” said Ballou.  “You do not require it to be made clean before you will consent to mop it up.  God saves people to purify them; that’s what salvation is designed for.  God does not require people to be pure in order that God may save them.

Finding Abundance Within

I want to begin today by thanking you for welcoming me back here to preach.  It is always a pleasure to be with you all and to see so many familiar faces.

We live in a society that thrives on scarcity, the very opposite of abundance.  The very premise of our advertising and media is to make sure that we are never content with what we have for then there would be no need to buy anything.   Many religions also thrive on scarcity - preaching a message that one must believe only a certain way, or obey certain rules in order to be deemed worthy of the love of the holy, of salvation.

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.  Wisdom teaches 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 things are not.

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. When I look at the news and there is another story of a young person of color dead at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.  When I look at another country devastated by earthquake.  Another politician arrested or charged.  When the US Senate votes to say that climate change is NOT caused by humans despite an abundance of scientific evidence to the contrary.   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.

Ballou preaches that God will save all people just as they are.  A radical notion in the Calvinist/Puritan society in which Ballou lived, that preached that only a very few would be saved.  A radical notion still in a world in which evangelical ministers stand on street corners shouting about how bad and terrible we are and that if we don’t come to believe as they believe then God will not love us, God will not save us.  A radical notion in light of advertisers that say only if we have this item, this trip, buy this program can we be enough, have enough.

The Universalist message is a radical one, the holy, the Divine, the sacred is not just for a few special people but for everyone.  The message that God’s love is abundant – that there is more than enough for everyone  - everyone without exception.  An amazing notion that we are enough just as we are, what a gift, what an amazing gift.  A gift so big that we almost can’t grasp it – the fact that there is enough love in this world, that the holy loves so abundantly and so without exception, that there is enough for everyone!!!  There is even enough for me.  The holy does not require that we embark on long arduous self-improvement projects, spend endless hours in prayer and meditation, in self-discipline and in cleaning ourselves up.  All that is required is that we be ourselves, our authentic selves. That who we are and our unique gifts are all that is required and that we honor the uniqueness and authenticity of one another.

The message of Universalism reminds of the story of the Mirror of Erised from the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. In the story, Harry discovers a mirror and when he looks within it he sees his mom and dad and family members he has never known smiling and waving back him.  This mirror allows the person who gazes in it to see their deepest desire.  The inscription above the mirror reads I show not your face but your heart’s desire.  Harry upon discovering the mirror continues to be drawn to it...returning night after night to see the family he longs for. He even brings his best friend Ron to show him his family but Ron does not see Harry's family - he sees himself with accomplishments like Head Boy above and beyond that of his siblings. The mirror showed Harry, Ron and anyone sitting in front of it their deepest desire - an "if only." The danger of the mirror is that people had gone mad sitting in front of it thinking it was real, could it be real, if they just reached out a little further they could touch it and then maybe, just maybe it would be true.  Harry only learns the truth about the mirror when Dumbledore startles him in the room one night.  The desire to be a part of a happy family where he felt loved and had a sense of belonging was an understandable desire. Yet the mirror showed him his parents, who are dead, and a reality that Harry can never have. Dumbledore reminds Harry that no magic can bring back the dead. Dumbledore explains to Harry that the content person would see only themselves in the mirror; the lesson of the mirror is that when we are content within ourselves, then the mirror reflects that back to us.  The problem with not finding abundance within is that we find ourselves longing for a reality that we can’t have, a reality that isn't possible.  The Universalists tell us that we are good enough as we are - we don't have to wait for an "if only" to be loved and cherished by the Holy.

We can think of many examples in our own lives.  Maybe we believe that we would have enough if we just won the lottery and money was no longer a concern.  Maybe it is a lost opportunity from the past – if we had just taken that road instead of the one we did.  Maybe a person we lost touch with would have changed our lives.  It is not that the desire is bad, but when the desires fills us with a sense of scarcity – a sense that our lives are incomplete, that we are incomplete, that we lose touch with that sense of abundance.  When we have lost touch with our own sense of authenticity and abundance, we often lose sight of it in others as well.

How are we to live in abundance?  How can we more often tap into that abundance that exists within us?  As I say this I also don't just mean how do "I" do it or how do "you"do it - for that plays into our culture that sees abundance and salvation as something belonging to each of as individuals - I also mean how do "we" do it. How do we as  faith community thrive in abundance? How do we see our justice work as the work of lifting up, finding and restoring a sense of abundance?

Well earlier I said that the Divine does not require hours of meditation and prayer, arduous spiritual practices and that is true – the message of the Universalists is that we are loved just as we are and that God’s love is abundant - given freely to all without exception.  And spiritual practices that are continually arduous are probably not very conducive to cultivating one’s soul.  Not that spiritual practice shouldn’t be challenging – if it weren’t challenging it wouldn’t be a practice but like with any practice, it is more likely to be a productive one if we actually WANT to do it..even when we don’t.  For even with things we love – playing an instrument, writing, meditating, cooking..all require practice and we won’t always want to.  Meditation, prayer, time alone, worship in community, service, all of those are practices that can lead to us learning and living into that sense of abundance. They are all ways of reaching deep within ourselves, of connecting to our true, authentic selves, to the Divine within each of us.  The more we tap into that true self, the more we live out of that true self ...The more we can see our own reflection smiling back at us in mirror.

Our justice work is about abudnace too.  As we listen to the stories out of Baltimore this week, South Carolina before that, New York before that, Ferguson and on and on. We hear the calls for justice, we see the violence, we see parents mourning, police officers defending their actions and communities stricken with poverty.  Our media shows us the despair, anger and outrage of communities long neglected, long living under harsh, austere, poverty conditions.  Yet in only seeing the violence and the anger, we have missed the 10,000 marching peacefully demanding change. We miss the community organizers, clergy and others who live and work in those communities to make them better.  Those do not make the front page, those stories are often quiet and not dramatic.

Those who do the work of organizing, living and serving in these communities that have so long been neglected often see the abundance presence in these communities and to lift it up. Our justice work at its best sees the abundance as well as the need in another. If all we see is another’s need, and not the abundance and we only seek to fill the need, then we may close ourselves off to what gifts that person has to give.  What needs that person may be able to fill.  When all we see are the problems, challenges, needs in others, just like when that is all we see in ourselves – than the world becomes a place of scarcity – a place filled with problems to be solved.

The Universalists did not just focus on salvation after death but were very active in social justice issues.  They saw the love of God for each of them as a call to make the world a better place for everyone. Universalists such as Clarence Skinner were active in economic justice, labor issues, women's suffrage.  They saw God's abundant love for all of humanity as a call to love and to make life better for all of humanity.  The universalists lifted up God's abundance as a call for abundance for all of us! A message needed in so many places in our nation and our world.  These communities can be written off as helpless, hopeless and beyond our capacity to repair.  Yet when we see the gifts - the resilience, the courage, the hope that IS present than we can begin to see these communities as places of possiblity, of abundance waiting to be uncovered.  An example of this is the teenager and baby recently found in the wreckage in Nepal. Found alive, abundance covered by debris and despair. When we see ourselves filled with abundance, it becomes easier to see the abundance in places even where on the surface there does not appear to be much.

Living in Abundance means holding on to those moments in our lives when we have experienced it – like in our meditation today.  Living in abundance means living and serving in relationship with others and sharing a message of our colllective abundance even while all the evidence is to the contrary.  For too many scarcity is a tool to hold on to things and beliefs and withhold them from others.  The media, our world, adverstisers, politicians will prey on our sense of scarcity, count on it to keep us in fear and to keep us separated. Living in abundance is remembering that our deepest needs and desires can never be filled by external things. It is remembering that the content person looks into the Mirror of Erised sees oneself as they are and knows that it is enough. Abundance means not requiring the floor to be clean before we will consent to mop it - we mop it knowing the abundance exists under the dirt and debris.  Abundance knows that there is enough not just for me, not just for my family, my community, my nation but there is enough for all of us if only we are willing to see and uncover it.