Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It is What It Is and It Ain't What It Ain't

This expression comes from Donna's cousin Alice Gormus who frequently posts it to her Facebook page. I always chuckle when I see it.  Yet the other day I realized how much profound truth it contains.  Things are what they are and no amount of wishing or dreaming will make it different. That doesn't mean we can't act or that we should be passive recipients of whatever happens to us. It is however about seeing things as they are and dealing with them as they are rather than hoping they were different or denying what is in front of us.

It really hit me this week as I have been battling an intense war within myself that are all about the "could have" "should have" etc.  Yes I do struggle with procrastination or as I like to say it "I need the fire of the deadline."  It is how I work and no amount of shaming and no amount of "if you had just started this earlier" has changed it (shocking I know).  It finally hit me that saying to someone who is faced with a situation that maybe you fully believe they should have worked on sooner the single worst thing you can say is "Well if you had just started sooner" or "Why didn't you do that earlier?" I say that is the worst thing one can say because there is nothing that can be done with that.  Do you have a time machine or time turner like in Harry Potter?  I can't go back in time and change it, all I can do is move forward from now.  

Yet I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the words "Well why didn't you do that sooner or start that sooner or if you had just started sooner..."  It is not helpful - trust me if it was then I would be the poster child for those words.  All it feels like is that someone is taking salt and rubbing it into already sore spots.  Maybe I should have, maybe I could have but I will tell you what I know right now, I can't change that now.  I also can't tell you how much time I waste doing battle with the "I should have, could have," voices in my head.  It also has a corollary "well if you had only...." and the "well why didn't you ...." and the "you should have..." - none of them helpful.  I waste a ton of time second and third guessing my decisions and actions.  This can lead to an endless downward cycle that does lead to paralysis and sometimes passivity in response to a situation that requires decision making and action.  It is certainly not motivating or inspiring.  It is adding shame and discouragement in a moment that may already be stressful.

There may be a time to reflect back and think about  what could have been done differently but the time for that is not in the midst of the situation.  In the midst of the situation what is needed is what is going on right now and the helpful questions and statements are "What do you need" and "Can I help."  We live in the present - we can neither change the past and we can't predict for certain the future.  All we have is now.

So thank you Alice for the reminder that it is what it is and it ain't what it ain't.  Now to keep putting one foot in front of the other making the best decisions I can staying in the present moment.

So speaking of that I am in the midst of moving to Richmond, VA.  The blog may quiet down for a little bit as we are working on finding and settling into a place to live and I am looking for a job. All thoughts and prayers welcome!


Monday, June 29, 2015

A Time to Say Goodbye

I preached this sermon on Sunday June 28, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story: Jonah 1-4
Reading: Sonnet 2 from "The Autumn Sonnets" by May Sarton

A Time to Say Goodbye

Now the story of Jonah may seem like a strange choice for a sermon on saying goodbye and yet it is perfect one to talk about change.  It was out of a conversation with Robert Jacobs that I realized it was the perfect story for me to share with you on this my last Sunday.  In just a couple of days, I say goodbye to the Outer Banks and hello to a new life in Richmond and you will say hello to David in just a couple of weeks.  This is a time of change and it begins as our quote from T.S. Eliot says ‘as things end’.

I was like Jonah at first when it came to coming to the Outer Banks.  I was uncertain.  When Mary Ellen called looking for a guest preacher I knew you were looking for a half time person. I was still looking for a full time job and didn’t want to put myself forward for a half-time position knowing I really wanted a full time job outside of a congregation.  Yet like Jonah, things happened a little out of my control and perfect plan.  A full time job just wasn’t materializing, another part-time job teaching did materialize and then it seemed to make sense to consider this half-time position while I figured out what to do next.  So I told Mary Ellen that things had changed and I would like to explore the position.  We agreed to a contract for six months.  I even continued to look for a job during that six months,  yet once again, it wasn’t yet time.  So I signed on for a full year and the rest as they say is history.

How often in our lives are we like Jonah.  We have a plan, a vision for our lives and then something comes up and we turn it away certain that it is not the way. We often go running off in another direction.  Then often it takes a storm or some other crisis or disaster to wake us up and to realize that we have to go to Nineveh, that place that is unexpected and often temporary or transitional, is often challenging, usually transformative and becomes that place where we end up learning and loving more than ever expected.

Jonah goes to Ninevah and has tremendous success. The people listened, they didn’t throw him in a pit, they didn’t ignore him, he wasn’t killed - all things that are typically the fate of prophets. They actually listened and did something.  Now Jonah’s response to this is be angry and sulk.   Now I have to say unlike Jonah I have not spent this year angry and pouting.  There were moments when I longed for the simplicity of one job instead of three but overall I lived into being here, being present to my life as it was and not how I had planned it to be.

Yet I understand Jonah’s response to his success. Often even when we are successful we find ourselves angry and pouting.  Maybe it was successful but not in the way we imagined.  Maybe we can only see what could have been better and not what went well (I know I have been guilty of that one on more than one occasion).  Often we have a hard time celebrating our success, our joy in work well done.  Often we only remember what was hard, what didn’t work or the moments of challenge and pain.  Yet life is not all joy and sunshine and neither is it all sadness and gloom.  Most of the time it is both - like the sun shining through the rain, like the rainbow after the storm.

We had an example on Friday, of this kind of holding of complexity. We watched from our various devices as the news proclaimed that marriage equality was now law throughout the United States and our Facebook feeds suddenly gave alive with rainbow colors. The outpouring of joy was incredible. Then just a few hours later, things changed and we witnessed the deep sadness of our President eulogizing Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was shot and killed along with 8 others in his church by a racist with a gun. I think the President modeled for us how to mourn but also how to re-member both Rev. Pinckney and the work of justice that we are all called to do … not just to talk about but to do. Some of that ‘doing’ has been about taking down the confederate flag, it is not all that needs doing but it is a beginning … for we are reminded that in every ending there is a beginning. So, on Friday, we were shown how to celebrate amidst tears, how to mourn while surrounded by messages of ‘love wins’ … all the while remembering that work is still to be done for true equality to come to fruition … it did not stop with the Civil Rights Movement and it will not stop with Marriage Equality … with every ending whether celebratory or horrendous we must reflect and begin again.

So this morning I want to reflect with you on this year knowing that this time held both deep joy as well as sorrow and struggle, let me tell you what this year and half has meant to me.  I have been blessed in ways I could have never imagined.  This community welcomed me in, welcomed my family in.  You made it possible for us to live here during our nomadic period by opening your homes.  A moving allowance allowed us to get settled into a place for the year. Tom Wilson from All Saints connected us with the person who rented us our home for the last year. Others of you helped us move our things into our place, last year in the heat of summer (and by the way if anyone wants to help move it out, we will gratefully accept).  Others helped with my finding additional employment and I tried jobs I had not done before.  I have been stretched and transformed and in such good ways.

I have loved the work - worship, pastoral care, working with the search committee and the board - most of all loving all of you. You have shared yourselves with me - the pain, the joy, your questions. Some I have seen in the hospital, one I sat with as she was dying.  I cannot put into words how holy a moment it was to sit with Florence as she lay dying.  I have had the privilege of serving as your minister and for that I will have a lifetime of gratitude.  It is likely that you will be the only congregation I serve as minister.  So some of this goodbye today is to you but it is also about closing a particular chapter of my life and my work.

This year has given me a clarity about my life that I needed. I heard someone say that often people move to the Outer Banks to put their lives back together.  While I am still working on all the pieces, I can see how this time helped me to see my life in new ways and has opened new possibilities.  The greatest gift of this year and half has been all of you.  Getting to know you, shared meals, shared games, shared worship, conversation.  You are a warm and welcoming community and a tremendous gift to the Outer Banks and the larger world of Unitarian Universalism.

So now we have to learn to say good-bye. You have had practice with this as you said goodbye to Pat. Throughout our lives we have to learn to say goodbye.  Sometimes it is “Goodbye for now” and sometimes it is truly “goodbye.”  I remember as I got older and we would visit my grandparents at some point I became aware I needed to soak in my time with them, that when I said goodbye there was always the question of whether I would see them again.  Our culture does not do a very good job with goodbyes. We resist them.  We deny them.  For to say goodbye is to realize that we live while we are dying.  We are never assured another hello, another sunrise.  I love in the Jewish prayer book that each morning you offer thanks for the opportunity to see another rising of the sun and you ask to see it rest in the west and that when darkness falls you ask for another dawning of light.  Each day is a gift and a blessing and we are only assured the moment we are in right now.

So it is important that we learn to say goodbye.  That we learn to say thank you for this time together. We offer hope that we will see each other again.  Sometimes we have to say goodbye and close the door forever. Memorial  services give us an opportunity to say goodbye, to remember the joy in the midst of sorrow and grief, and remind us to tell people what they mean to us while we have the chance.

Goodbyes are necessary and sometimes we must say goodbye to a person or chapter in our lives or a job or a dream or even a success.  With that often comes the paradox of joy and sorrow.  We mourn the loss and rejoice in a new found freedom.

Today we will say goodbye.  I want you to hear and know how much I have loved you; how much I have loved this work.  I am so privileged to have had this time with you with all its challenges, its struggles.  It has truly been a time of joy and sorrow. It is not easy to say goodbye, there is joy, there is sorrow, there is excitement for what is next and sorrow about leaving you.  Yet as May Sarton tells us if we can let go as the trees let go of their leaves, love will endure.  Our work has borne good fruit and now is the time of letting go.  We will walk into a time of uncertainty, knowing it is necessary and good. This goodbye is the consummation of our work. You asked for a minister to lead you through this time, to help you be ready to welcome a new minister and you are ready.  I wish you all the best as you welcome David.  You did the work and you are ready to open your hearts to David. Now we say goodbye, grateful for this time ... today, we celebrate amidst tears … tomorrow, we begin again ... and we know that in letting go, love endures.

Blessed Be!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Silence = Death Revisited - A Throwback Thursday Post

Over and over again the violence continues and the on-going message that Black Lives Matter less than white lives.  The denial of white people that the killings in an Emmanuel AME Church were racially motivated, that the killer was immersed in a culture that taught him that white people are threatened by black people, that black people are taking over, that he must protect white women's purity continues.  We became obsessed about a white woman passing for years as African American effectively drowning our awareness of how a white male police officer assaulted a 15 year African American teenager in a bikini for doing what many teenagers do - talking back or not showing the kind of respect he expected.

Over and over again we as white people will turn ourselves inside out to deny that systemic racism is real and rampant. The Wall Street Journal has declared that systemic racism simply doesn't exisit anymore.  I know that the people of color in our country would say that is news to them. Every day people of color live with the constant threat of violence.  

Our silence, our refusal to accept that systematic racism is real and is literally killing black people.  When will we face our privilege, acknowledge our role and do our part to make what the Wall Street Journal has already declared to be true that systemic racism no longer exists?  It is not true yet but we can do our part to make sure it does become a relic of a painful past.

So for this Throwback Thursday post, I share this piece on Silence = Death.

Silence = Death

I have been struggling to find words to write about the death of Michael Brown, the failure of the Grand Jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson and once again the majority of white people feeling like justice has been served. We can add to the list the failure to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.  We can add the deaths of Trayvon Martin, the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice who was shot 2 seconds after the officer emerged from his car, and the countless others. Every 28 hours an African American is shot by the police, vigilantes or security persons, some are armed, some are thought to be armed and many are unarmed.  In these cases the person in authority is acting in the role of jury and judge with no defense to be mounted. In these cases the person in authority is believed and the victim is to blame.

Finally on World AIDS day, Dec. 1, the words finally came. Silence = Death was the slogan used by ActUp and others to demand attention to the AIDS epidemic that was killing gay men. I have seen signs now around the internet with White Silence = White Consent.  Yes it is true, we as whites have been silent - liberal, conservative, independent, we have all been silent.  We have been silent because we don't know what to say or we just believe that if there has been an investigation or a trial or something official then there must be something we don't know, we can't know and so we must trust our authority figures and move on. Sad yes, tragic yes, but we can't do anything about it.  They should have done better, known better, did what they were told, not been in that place, it was just bad timing, he feared for his life.

Our silence or our words that somehow the person shot could have/should have done something different are quite literally killing people.  I cannot look at a young African American boy and not think when will you stop being cute and adorable and be seen instead as a threat, as a thug, as an object of fear. How soon will your parent(s) have to sit you down and tell you that the police can often not be trusted, how you have to be careful. Living in a middle class neighborhood won't protect you - look at Trayvon Martin.  Education, money, fame and status will not fully protect you from the assumption that you are a criminal, a thug seeking to harm white people.  My heart aches for those parents that will have to teach their children that no the police will not always help and may very well hurt.  My heart aches for those parents who send their children out the door with the prayer that nothing bad will happen.

I have heard it from my own family the words of white privilege.  The Civil Rights movement was 50 years ago - we are not that way anymore.  We have to wait for the investigation to be completed then we will know the truth.  We can't know what happened because we are not cops or security or trained in the use of a gun.  The most common phrase - there must be something we don't know because the police would not just have killed him.

The truth of the matter is that any time a white person says "I felt afraid, I thought he would hurt me" it is nearly automatic that we believe the white person regardless of the facts and then anything that happens from there is the fault of the black person. Darren Wilson can claim that he looked at him with rage that he had never seen before and we as white people believe him.  Probably Darren Wilson is telling the truth of his perception.  I have no doubt that Darren Wilson was afraid and that Daniel Pantello was afraid, that George Zimmerman was afraid. We never ask the question, was the fear justified in such a way that taking of a life was justified.  Once a white person says "I was afraid" that is the end of it.

I am a white, queer woman of faith with an advanced degree. My white skin gives me privilege, privilege that I do not have to examine.  Our society will let me walk right through never questioning the white world I live in. That is privilege - I don't have to think about race. I have to think about other things like being a woman in a world dominated by male privilege, being queer in a world dominated by heteronormative privilege but I do not have to think about race.  I can choose to be silent.  Yet I will not be.

I will not be because it is not about the details of each of these deaths it is about the fact that it is ok with us that black lives still matter less. Latino lives matter less. Asian lives matter less.  We cannot look at these deaths without also looking at the countless deaths of black men since the first ones were forcibly brought to these shores 400 years ago.  How many were lost in the abduction of Africans? How many lost in the sea voyage? How they were enslaved, beaten and killed?  How many had their children ripped from their arms and sold to others?  How many were lynched?  How many died and how many white people were held accountable for those deaths?  This is not new, this is very very old and we don't want to acknowledge that. We as white people want to pat ourselves on the back for what a good job we have done.

We can't say somehow that the killing stopped and then started back up again. The killing has never stopped. It has gone underground. It is draped in different stories now.  Now we say well it was justified, he had no other choice, if he just hadn't been walking there, stole cigarettes, sold cigarettes, if he had not had a toy gun, if he had done as the officer said - just obey and then nothing bad will happen. That is simply not true. It is simply not true.

In this season where we celebrate the Prince of Peace, the miracle of a lamp burning 8 days instead of 1, of the return of the light, we as white people need to stop and listen, then we need to speak. We need to say "no more" "I believe you" "Black Lives Matter" and "Each of us is holy, each of us is a manifestation of the divine" and we must mean it. We must listen, until our hearts are broken open to the reality that our silence, our complicity is killing people.

My prayer in this season of darkness and light, is that we as white people will allow our hearts to be broken open. Yes it will hurt and it will not be comfortable. We will not like it.  We must let the Spirit of life and truth, the Holy Spirit if you will, transform us, break us open, and then we must speak. We must speak up and not wallow in guilt.  We speak to add our voices, to join our voices in a chorus demanding change, demanding peace, demanding an end to the killings.  In this season where Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace we must join our voices to others calling for peace for people of color.  In this season of the miracle of the light and the overthrowing of oppressors, may we add our light, our energy to work for a world where all lives truly do matter.  As we await the return of the light and the rebirth of the earth, may we see a rebirth of humanity - replacing fear with love.

That is my prayer for this season!

Monday, June 22, 2015

We Are Called Unto Life

I have been praying with the Reform Jewish Prayer Book Mishkan T'filah and the opening lines of
the weekday evening prayer begin with "We are called unto life, destiny uncertain" (p. 2, The Journal Edition). While praying this prayer it finally clicked, it finally hit me, I am called unto LIFE not called unto work or a job. While I have wrestled over and over again with the understanding of vocation and what work I am called to do all the while knowing that vocation was bigger than just a job. Yet it was not until I was praying with this prayer and this line that it finally clicked, somehow I just finally got it.

I also have to say that this year has stretched and transformed me in ways that will take a long time to work through and fully understand. This year I have found myself working at jobs I never imagined. I worked as a cashier at Food Lion and understood just how much of my life I spend worrying about what other people think and learning to understand first hand the lies we are told about those who work service jobs. I had just an inkling of what a makerspace is and does and this year I have had the opportunity to assist in getting one off the ground. I will have the opportunity to continue to do some work for OBXDIY while in Richmond and continue to work with Eric Holsinger who has believed in me and seen things in me I did not see in myself. All of this made me realize what life I really want, not what career I want but what life I want.

I want a career that will use my amazing skills and experience in creating and managing programs. I love public speaking and getting out in a community to reach people whether that is at OBX Pride as the Minister of a UU congregation, Master Gardner event talking to vendors about how OBXDIY Makerspace could assist them or talking to people as I ring up and bag their groceries. Preaching twice a month has been amazing and I love getting in front of people and talking, presenting or teaching. I taught a social media class for small business and it was so much fun and people got help with their social media work.  I love social media and its power to connect people.  I also love writing and this blog is a testament to that. I love being involved in learning in multiple forms and I understand all kinds of teaching environments whether universities or congregations or organizations that offer specific learning opportunities inside or outside its walls. These skills could be used in any number of settings, in any number of for-profit and non-profit organizations. I finally realized that it was my skills I want to use and not so much a particular position or environment.

I realize that I want more from life then just what I do to earn a paycheck. We are moving to Richmond, VA because it is the place we want to live out the rest of our lives. We love Richmond. It has rich history, wonderful art, a great science museum, amazing food, a growing tech and entrepreneurial community (there is a makerspace there!). It is also the capital of Virginia with a few progressive political organizations that we can participate in. There is a retreat center that I love called Richmond Hill. Our family has decided that a vibrant southern city is where we want to be. Mollie loves the city especially Carytown and Donna has connections and a long history with Richmond. It has a strong and growing economy and it is an affordable city to live in. Richmond is a diverse city including religious diversity and I look forward to exploring it. It was also voted happiest city. What's not to love?!

After finding a job and housing the next thing I want to do is start a Georgetown alumni club in Richmond. As of right now there is no GU alumni club there and after hemming and hawing about not wanting to start one on my own during my years in Williamsburg I am ready to take on the challenge of getting the ball rolling. I welcome the challenge and I look forward to connecting to fellow Hoyas and building a strong network and community of GU alum.

The next thing I want to do is join a book club.  All these years in religious leadership in small towns I never felt like I could just do something as simple as join a book group.  I love to read and I want to be pushed to read more. I want to connect with others and discuss books.

Finally I want to be at least a part time entrepreneur, turning Scattered Revelations into a business that includes spiritual coaching, consulting, teaching, preaching, and life event officiating.  I want to keep my foot in this world on my terms without requiring it to be my whole means of support.

Most of all I want a full and complete life.  Work that I enjoy and that allows me to support my family.  I want my family to live into financial stability and security. I want my daughter to explore her passions and my wife to get the health care she needs so she can get well enough to pursue her own dreams.  I want a life filled with a diversity of friends and community.

What I have learned is that I want a life, a full life, a complete life.  I want it filled with people and community.  I feel like over time I made myself smaller, shrank my world down and now I want to burst forth and explore the world.  I think this year of struggle and tears helped me to see what the holy has been trying to say all along.  One of my favorite quotes about vocation is from Herbert Alphonso, SJ and he writes ""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."  It is about my whole life, not my job, but my life.

I finally get it and I am excited about the next chapter. Yes there is lots of uncertainty and we are making this move with faith and prayer.  I still need  two essential things - a job and a place to live. Yet I have faith because we have come this far, we will not give up.  While I had a job when I first came here, it was only half time and we did not initially have a place to live and yet somehow we managed to finally find a place of our own, we pieced our financial life together with the help of friends and strangers alike and we made it. We made it through this time.  I have come out the other side stronger and more resilient. This time has made possible what comes next.

So we are all called unto life, destiny uncertain - 

how will you answer?

We Are Called unto life, destiny uncertain.
Yet we offer thanks for what we know,
for health and healing, for labor and repose,
for renewal of beauty in earth and sky,
for that blend of human-holy, which inspires compassion,
and for hope: eternal, promising light.

For life, for health, for hope,
for beautiful, bountiful blessing,
all praise to the Source of Being.

Baruch atah, Adonai,
M'kor nefesh kol chai.
          (Ar'Vit L'Chol - Weekday evening, Mishkan T'filah: The Journal Edition, A Reform Siddur, CCAR, p. 2)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Coming Out and Being Out - A Pride Throwback Thursday Post

For this Throwback Thursday post I am sharing this 2013 post on the coming out of Jason Collins and my own coming out journey.  June is pride month.  A month of parades and witness to the diversity and beauty of the LGBTQ community.  It didn't start out as parades, it started with the Stonewall Riots.  Gay and lesbian people refusing to be harassed and arrested for being who we are and daring to come together.  Much has changed since Stonewall and yet much also remains the same.  In most states you can still be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity.  Suicide among LGBTQ  youth is still an epidemic.  Caitlyn Jenner's coming out and sharing her transgender journey has filled the headlines and hatred is still alive and well. The Republican party continues to run on a platform opposed to marriage equality and in support of so-called religious freedom laws that enshrine discrimination against LGBT people. Yet there is also much to celebrate.  Caitlyn Jenner came out and had a national interview bringing attention to one person's experience of being transgender giving hope to others who have no such voice.  Marriage equality is the law of the land in the majority of states and with hope it will be ruled legal in all 50 states later this month.  Pride celebrations are found in all areas from small towns to large cities.  May the arc of justice continue to bend and may we continue to live into a dream where the words "liberty and justice for all" truly mean all.  Happy Pride!

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 privilege 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Other People Think

I have wrestled all of my life with the question of what other people will think or do think of me. Even as a child I worried what others would think of me - of looking foolish.  I know that I missed out on many things because I was overly worried about what others would think.

I have heard and know all the numerous quotes that remind me that most people are too worried about themselves and are not concerned about you.  Lately my concern about what other people think has been in relation to my work and my current life transition.  The what will people think or I fill in the blank about what they think it is a voice that says "you have not tried hard enough" "you are a failure" "you are lazy" and my top favorite "this is all your fault."  Unfortunately this spiral of what will people think, answering what they think with the most negative answers possible then continues down to a hopeless spiral of self-loathing and the belief that it will never be different.  This familiar to anyone else?  Given what I have read particularly from Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection, I am not alone in this familiar pattern that all begins with the deadly question "what will people think."

As those who follow my blog know these past two years have been challenging (one might say I have been in the advanced course of resiliency training!).  I became acutely aware of the "what will other people think" while working at Food Lion.  Suddenly the comments about working at service jobs is for high school students and not meant to be a living wage, that if you are working a service job such as being a cashier it must mean you are lazy, uneducated, have not tried hard enough hit right in the chest.  In particular as a Unitarian Universalist minister I felt the "OMG what will the members of my congregation think - I saw them often as they frequently came through my line at the Food Lion" to "what will my colleagues think" and I could feel the I am so sorry you have to do this from my family and some others.  Unitarian Universalist ministers are not supposed to be working as cashiers at grocery stores or Walmart - maybe a book store but really we are supposed to be living the middle to upper middle class lifestyle and that does not include service industry jobs.  We have an image to uphold.  I am sure someone somewhere could come up with some way I broke some sort of unspoken unwritten boundary.

Not to mention how it felt if I said I graduated from Georgetown.  Alumni from Georgetown are heads of companies, non-profits and states (shout out to the King of Spain!) - they are not cashiers at Food Lion.  I could feel in my body that dreaded tightening in my stomach, that what must they be thinking -  a Georgetown grad (and not a recent one) working at Food Lion.

Now what I will tell you is that I enjoyed working at Food Lion and what I enjoyed about it is that I realized I need to be around people. I like talking to them.  I like hearing their stories as I rang up their groceries.  It was not so much the work itself - it was the people and realizing how much of a people person I really am.  So many of my colleagues and friends are strong Introverts and I definitely have that side of me and on the other hand I do get energy being with people.  I need both - time alone to rest and re-charge and time with people talking, sharing, hearing their stories. Ironically one thing I learned working at Food Lion is that I am becoming more extroverted as I get older rather than more introverted.  I think because I have been working hard at overcoming shame, getting over what other people think, figuring out who I truly am that I am allowing myself to enjoy being with people. I am letting myself more often be who I truly am instead of an image I believe I need to put forward.

What other people think is not a helpful question because 1) we can never truly know unless we ask them 2) why should we care what others think about us and 3) the answer most often comes from shame and that will not lead us to our authentic selves but to other people's version of us.  The question of what others think of us is about fitting in, not about belonging.  We need belonging and yet most of us have become masters at fitting in.  Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection - which is fabulous and is a must read in my opinion - talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging.  "Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are." (Brown, p. 25)

I no longer just want to fit in, or fit into some image of who I think I should be or what others think I should be. I want to belong and I want to live wholeheartedly as Brené Brown describes.  So as I move forward into this next big change in my life I want to let go of any shame I feel about working at Food Lion because there is nothing to be ashamed of - I worked hard, I did a good job and they were sad to see me go.  I learned a number of things about myself - I learned I like working with people, I learned that I am really good at it and I am letting go of this notion that I would rather be alone than with others. I also learned that I can and will do what I have to support my family financially even if that is outside my comfort zone or doesn't fit into someone else's image of what a UU or a minister or a Georgetown grad is supposed to do.  I also really want to let go of asking the question what will other people think and twisting and turning myself into knots to make that happen.

This will not make everyone happy because people have come to expect me to be a certain way, to be a certain thing.  Yet I know what I want, I know the kind of life I want to be living and that may mean that some people's hopes for what I will choose will not be fulfilled.  It will also mean leaving some identities behind as they no longer feed me, they are no longer authentic to who I am today. That doesn't mean they were not important or authentic or true at one time, it just means now I am called somewhere different.  I can honor that past without remaining chained to it.  I am called to own my own story, my own self and to know deeply within myself that I am worthy of love and belonging. Brené Brown says it this way "If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging." (Brown, p. 23).  In order to believe in my own worth means there is no place for worrying and conforming to what other people think.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fear of Rejection and Faith - Revisited

For this Throwback Thursday post I am going back to this piece on Fear of Rejection and Faith.  It is a good reminder on doing things even though I am afraid.  There is a great deal going on with working two jobs which are both ending at the end of the month, looking for a new job and preparing to move. There is reason to be afraid and reason to have faith. I am looking forward to this next chapter, so while I keep doing the work needed to open this next chapter I also continue to have faith that somehow we will land on our feet.

Fear of Rejection and Faith

I recently found this wonderful video shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It is from Jia Jiang and it is atalk he gave on how he learned to embrace rejection.  I recommend that you watch the video - for his story is amazing and it really speaks to the powerful hold that the fear of rejection has over many of our lives.

Of course Jiang is not the only one to make this important point.  In his address at the service of celebration at William and Mary, Varun Soni made a similar point about that those who are most successful also have a very high failure rate.

My favorite idea in Jiang's video is that rejection is simply someone's personal opinion and opinions are one thing human beings have in abundance.  So all of this has me thinking about how rejection and our fear of it, relates to faith.  See I am in the midst of a job search and overcoming my fear of reaching out, talking to people, asking for their help is so hard because I am so afraid of bothering them and maybe even more deeply that they will say no and that the no is really a rejection of me. Job searching is a lot about rejection - sometimes the overt kind - thank you for applying we had many qualified applicants blah blah blah and that indirect kind, the you never hear anything at all.

So what do faith and the fear of rejection have to do with each other?  Well if faith is the belief in something that we cannot prove or touch or feel or see.  If faith is connected to things like love, hope, compassion, beauty and truth.  Then faith teaches us to persevere, to risk, to take the step not when the fear is gone but to do it even though we are afraid.  True courage requires faith; it is not about not being afraid, Jiang didn't say he stopped fearing rejection, he stopped letting the fear of it stop him from doing things.  In his case he faced his fear by asking people for outrageous things he was sure they would say no to (often they said yes!). Again true courage is not because we are not afraid, it is doing in spite of the fear, if we are not afraid than no courage is required.

Fear itself is not the problem, the problem is when we let the fear run our lives.  It is allowing the fear of a thing to keep us from reaching out, like in my case asking to talk to people about my search and what I am looking for.   It is the fear that you are bothering someone if you ask for their help - so we don't ask.

Having faith is also not the assurance that things will all work out because they may not.  Faith does not guarantee us a failure proof life.  Having faith, taking risks means that we are more likely to succeed at something if we keep trying then if we let the fear hold us back but as Dean Soni pointed out the most successful also fail the most often.

It is interesting that in much of fiction a character will try to get rid of fear - to be fearless.  Yet in every case these attempts to become fearless fail because fear can be a useful tool - it can help us protect ourselves and others.  One episode of the TV show Charmed, Piper writes a fearless spell.  Being fearless she takes on a demon by herself, taunting him without regard to the consequences to herself or her unborn child, now she had her sisters and her husband and even her deceased mother to help her out and teach her the lesson that being fearless is not the goal.  In the series Divergent by Veronica Roth, one of the groups is Dauntless and one of the characters is constantly trying to become fearless - yet the character must learn is that it is not about not being afraid, it is about being afraid and doing what you believe is right any way.  Our heroine does not lose her fear, she works with it and seeks to embrace it in balance with her other gifts.  Another great example is Harry Potter.  Harry is afraid a lot of the time yet what makes him a hero is that he does not let the fear master him.  The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare also has a character seeking to be fearless or who is often seen as fearless.  Again and again, this notion of fearless is knocked down as not the goal of courage but rather a detriment to it. Often these characters long for fearlessness because they fear loss of control and their need for others.  The fears are connected - loss of control, rejection, failure - at the end of the day they are all similar - useful tools, horrible masters and they keep us separated from one another.  Parker Palmer continually reminds us to embrace our fears, to ride the monsters all the way down because there we will find our deep connections to one another and our compassion for one another (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation).

Once I saw this video I realized that I was procrastinating about reaching out and asking to talk and network to some people.  I still have more to do.  Yet somehow realizing that rejection is just one person's opinion put my fear of it in perspective.  So now to have faith to keep moving forward, and to keep trying even though I will fail, people will say no and yet I only need to get one full-time job and only one place to say yes. It is also helpful to remember that those who are looking for the right candidate to join them can also be fearing rejection, afraid of the 'no' as well. Being a religious leader has taught me that when we lean into faith and pay attention to where are souls are called and connected then we will find that 'yes' beyond the fear.

What keeps you going?  How do you make fear a useful tool rather than a paralyzing master?  In what do you have faith and what sustains it?  What are your worst fears?  Are those fears useful tools or horrible masters? What would it mean to embrace your fear and make it a tool?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Flower Communion

I preached this sermon on Sunday May 24, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.


Story:  The Story of Norbert Capek and the Flower Festival (source unknown)
Some churches have towers with bells that ring out the hours. Some churches have organs whose mighty sound spills out into the streets. Some have handsome doors of carved wood, or colorful stained glass windows. But in 1923, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, there was a plain church that had none of these things. The church had just four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. The church had a door, a few windows, and some wooden chairs.

But the church had something else. It had people. They came every Sunday and they were the most important part of the church, because without people, a church is just a building. The minister of this church was Norbert Čapek (sounds like CHAH-peck). He had been the minister for just two years. Every Sunday, the congregation listened to Reverend Čapek’s sermon. They sat quietly in their wooden chairs. Afterward, they talked to one another a little bit, and then they went home. That was all—no music, no candles, no food. Not even coffee or doughnuts.

Reverend Čapek wanted more. He wrote some songs, and the people sang them, but mostly the church went on as before. Then spring arrived, and Norbert Čapek went out for a stroll. The rains had come and gone, birds were singing, and flowers bloomed everywhere the Reverend looked. In the middle of all that beauty, he got a new idea.

That Sunday, Reverend Čapek asked all the people of the church to bring a flower the next week, a budding branch, even a twig. Each person should bring one, he said.
“What kind?” they asked.
“You choose,” he said.
“What color?” they asked.
“Each of you choose what you like.”

The next Sunday was the first day of summer, and people came to church with flowers of all kinds. There were yellow daisies and purple roses. There were white lilies and blue asters, dark blue pansies and long branches with pale green leaves. Pink and purple, orange and gold—all these colors and more. The flowers spilled over, filling all the vases they could find.

Years later, many members of the church could still remember what Reverend Čapek said that Sunday.

“We are like these flowers,” he said. “Different colors, different ages, different sizes. We are different in so many ways. But each of us is beautiful and important, in our own way. Like these flowers.”

Reverend Čapek asked them each to take a flower home, choosing a different flower from the one they brought. And they did.

Reverend Čapek called this event the “Flower Festival.” 

Reading: Flower Communion by Rev. Elizabeth M. Strong

Enter into the communion of flowers.

Enter with joyful hearts.

Enter with reverent thoughts.

It has taken long months beneath
cold ground for these flowers
to prepare their blooming.

It has taken each of us long times
of growth through sorrow and joy
to prepare for our living now.

The blooming season is short,
The flowers stay only a brief time.
We are travelers upon the earth:
travelers through all to brief life times.

Therefore let our moments be bountiful.
Let us rejoice in our unique colors, aromas, and sounds.
Let us celebrate together in love;
that as we travel away, we take with us
the memory of golden hours together
among the flowers.

Sermon: Flower Communion

Flower Communion is one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist Services.  I love that we all bring a wide range of flowers. Some come from our own gardens, some from other people’s gardens, some from stores and I have even been in congregations where congregants bring them from the grounds of the congregation itself forgetting until they get there that they were asked to bring a flower.  And every congregation I have served always made sure there would be more than enough flowers for those who are new, those who forgot and those who did not know it was Flower Communion Sunday.
Norbert Capek wanted a ritual that his congregation, many who had left and been hurt by Roman Catholicism, could relate to.  He actually called it a Flower Festival in order to be sensitive to the feelings of his congregants.  The first flower festival took place in June 1923.

It was Norbert Capek’s wife, Maja who brought the Flower Festival Ritual to the United States.
Norbert and Maja, a Czech born American, met in New York where Norbert was studying for his PhD. After he finished his studies and discovering Unitarianism, Maja and Norbert founded the Unitarian church in Prague. Maja became a minister herself, ordained in 1926.  Maja toured the United States in 1940 and introduced the Flower Festival to the members of the Cambridge, MA Unitarian church.  Unfortunately the outbreak of World War II prevented Maja from returning to Prague. After the war ended, she learned that Norbert, who was vehemently opposed to the Nazi regime, was caught listening to foreign broadcasts and accused of high treason and died in a Nazi death camp.

The Flower Festival honors the diversity found in our faith communities.  Each of us comes here, each unique, each with a different view, looking for different things, exploring different paths and here we find community. Here we find other seekers to share the journey. We listen, learn and laugh with each other.  We gather together affirming that while we may each be seeking our own truth, it helps to have others to learn and share with.  As Unitarian Universalists we affirm that we are interconnected – that we need one another.

Another reason I love this ritual is because it is one that we created and continue to revise, transform and adapt.  In a community bound by covenant, without a shared single book of prayer or services, the rituals of lighting a chalice, water communion and flower communion have become ways we affirm our connections to each other and the wider world of Unitarian Universalism.  Flower Communion or the Flower Festival came to us from Europe.  Water Communion came out of a gathering of American Women UU Clergy.  The symbol of the chalice was the symbol of the Unitarian Service Committee.  Upon consolidation in 1961 the second ring was added to symbolize the joining of the two.  Lighting a chalice during worship and at meetings was a way congregations made the symbol their own.

Our free faith invites this creativity and innovation.  We are free to adapt rituals to meet our needs – such as adapting the ritual of baptism into a Child Welcome and Dedication. We are also free to create new rituals such as Flower Communion and Water Communion to meet our needs to celebrate our coming together, our connections to each other, the ebb and flow of our lives and our community’s lives.  Flower Communion reminds us of the beauty of diversity.  It is a tangible reminder that our planet is bursting with a wide range of flowers, plants, fish, birds, and animals. If there is one thing we could say about creation is that it rejoices in abundance and diversity. It reminds us that each human being is unique and distinct and valuable.  In a world set on creating hierarchies, us vs them, the Flower Communion reminds that we are all human – each deserving of dignity and worth. That each of our lives and our stories has value. We are each beautiful as each flower is beautiful. Each flower has intricate details like many petals and reminds us that each individual is unique with multiple layers of identity. The flowers remind us that the beauty of the rose is in no way diminished by the beauty of the daisy; that beauty is found in bright colors, in the pastels, the white and the green.

It also reminds us that at the heart of our faith communities are not our buildings or our things but rather at the heart of this community is its people.  Norbert Capek’s church building was plain with no pictures or other ornamentation.  Yet each Sunday it was filled with the beauty of the people and that Sunday the beauty of the flowers they brought with them.  It reminds me of a game my mother used to play with me when I was a child.  She would put her hands together like this (demonstrate) and say “here is the church, and here is the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people.”  She taught me an important lesson that the church was the people; that without the people the church was just an empty building. Flower Communion reminds us that it is each of us that brings this place to life, fills it with beauty and vitality.  Flower Communion reminds us of the beauty of each one of us.

In our reading today, Elizabeth Strong reminds us that it is a long journey to the blooming time and that it lasts only a short time.  This line strikes me particularly this year, this Flower Communion. Last year was the first time I led a Flower Communion while having participated in many through the years and this year will be my last with you.  It brings home that my time with you is coming to an end.  I am grateful today that we have this chance to celebrate this festival of beauty and flowers together.

So let us accept Elizabeth Strong’s invitation to “let our moments be bountiful; to rejoice in our unique colors, aromas, and sounds. Let us celebrate together in love; that as we travel away, we take with us the memory of golden hours together among the flowers.”

Blessed Be!

May it Be So!