Friday, June 30, 2006

The Hammer of the UUs

I think when blogging makes you vomit, it may be time to set a few boundaries.

Let me bring any interested readers back to where it all began. A few days ago, WHILE ON VACATION, I posted about why I would like to see the word "God" returned to the Principles or Sources. The comments that specific posting generated are here:

Within those comments, I said that I think of myself as a "soldier in the army of the Lord," which is a quote from a LYLE LOVETT SONG. Not exactly a statement of serious personal theology, folks.

My use of the word "Lord" generated the expected UU critique that it's medieval and oppressive, etc. I said that I was "hip" to those critiques, but that I liked the word anyway. I said, "Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of immediately informing me why my choice of this word is medieval and ignorant, someone asked me WHY I like it?" And someone took the bait and asked. So I wrote a little more about why I like "LORD," -- again, while on vacation at a friend's house -- not expecting that within a day I would be cast in the role of Defender of the LORD on the UU blogosphere.

Any number of bloggers wrote righteous, condemnatory posts about why LORD is WRONG, and why we should have moved past it by now. At least five UUs have written me heartfelt off-line letters about how much they hate righteous, condemnatory posts and comments that insult their intelligence and assume they don't know that the word LORD has patriarchal, oppressive connotations.

Good LORD. Lyle Lovett owes me a DRINK.

I have tried to reply to a reasonable number of the over 100 comments my last postings have generated. In trying to keep up with the multiple postings about me and my ideas, I have found that at best,my writings are encouraging people to think about their own beliefs. At worst, my writings are providing some UUs an opportunity to affirm their own beliefs over/against beliefs they think I have. It is becoming exhausting and not at all fun to have to respond to these erroneous assumptions. Cripes, even a light-hearted comment about what I ATE AT DINNER leaves one reader feeling entitled to leave a condemnatory little comment about why I should come to the path of Vegetarianism.

Darling people, I'm a blogger. I'm not the resident theologian of the Unitarian Universalist Association. If all this energy around my latest posts is evidence of anything, it's evidence that we're all really hungry to have serious theological discussion. I just don't think it's possible to do it well on the blogosphere. My postings are typed out fast, with no study or research or assumption that they will live beyond a few hours. I assume other bloggers operate the same way.

One writer asked me whether or not my reflections were creating a "stumbling block" for other UUs.
A stumbling block in what way? To them understanding my theology? Why do they need to understand my theology? A stumbling block to them developing their own theology? Did I become the Pope of UUism and no one told me? If so, I want a tiara!

This morning, I read a post that literally made me vomit: something that was intended to be a clever game and which was written well and with a great sense of fun by a blogger whose work I totally love and respect. In the comments of that post, which made a multiple choice quiz out of my personal theological struggles, yet another well-meaning commenter with a huge brain affectionately chastised me for failing to mention the GREEK etymology of the word LORD in my first discussion.

That's when I went and threw up my banana smoothie. And in all my years of ministry, I have yet to vomit over anything.
I don't think it's a matter of not having a sense of humor. I think my sense of humor is quite evident and in good shape.
I appreciate that my friend removed the post. Like any of you, my religious path is slick with blood, sweat and tears. I don't mind being challenged, but there's no possible response to mockery (which I know was not intended, but my gut had a different reaction).

So, for my own sanity, let me make two requests:

>If you comment on PB, I may not be able to respond to you, and I'm sorry. I can't always keep up.

> If you use one of my posts as a jumping off place for your own reflections on a given subject, I respectfully ask that you try to stick to your own ruminations and not summarize what you think I'm saying, or what kind of religious beliefs you think I have as a way to clarify your own thinking. If you'd like to quote me, I'm flattered. If you're going to interpret those quotes, I can't stop you, but having read any number of wildly off-base assumptions about myself since I started blogging, I have to say that you're probably not interpreting correctly, and why are you even trying?

Please go talk among yourselves.
I am closing comments for the time being and going to make out with my cat, who doesn't care if I sing old gospel songs that praise the LORD just so long as I give her kibble.

"What PeaceBang Thinks"

I've been following the strands of my posting on LORD all over the blogosphere and chuckling a little bit whenever I see people write about "PeaceBang's brand of Christianity."

Folks, honestly, a few paragraphs on the word "LORD" are not a thorough explication of my theology. I've never written a theology, nor do I intend to. Therefore, I'd like to respectfully inform the readers of this blog that none of you knows what "PeaceBang's brand of Christianity" is. PEACEBANG doesn't know yet what her brand of Christianity is. She is a blogger, not a theologian, so she feels like she's got time to figure it out.

This isn't to say that I'm not thrilled that so many of you have jumped off my original post and written your own credos -- I am. And I'm thrilled that you read my post in the first place. I just want to GENTLY and LOVINGLY say that if you're using my reflections as a mirror to see yourself in, I want to tell you that I'm looking into the same mirror. PeaceBang expresses but a mere fraction of what the writer behind PeaceBang struggles herself to understand and discern about her own beliefs.

I've read a few blogs tonight that paraphrased me so unrecognizably that I felt like I was in a game of Operator. I'm not offended; just bemused, and I want to be responsible in reporting the phenomenon.

I admire those of you who take the time and energy to post really thorough theological statements. As PeaceBang, I am content to generate bits and pieces of provocative prose, and to appreciate the conversation it generates.

In the meantime, read this wonderful post by Fausto. It's a perfect example of what I mean in the "Wow, I Thought I Knew Where He Was Coming From But I Guess I Was Making Assumptions!" Department:

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Comments, We Get Comments!!

My Darling Powder Pigeons!

Let me say how wonderful it's been to see the dozens upon dozens of comments on everything from LORD to fashion bloopers to tapas to the letter I got off-line from a recent seminary graduate who used the f-word several times in her emphatic response to my posting on God language. Whoo, girl! I hear you! Now cool down or you'll never get through July!
I appreciate my colleague from the South who wrote to inform me that I have been misspelling "YA'LL!" It's Y'ALL!" I think!
(Did I get that right, finally?)

Someone asked me what my favorite tapas was. Chalice Chick was my dinner date -- she let me be the boy and order for both of us (Oh, stop. I KNOW it's a vile gender stereotype; it just happens to be one that I particularly like) and she'll have to add her 2 cents' worth here. I loved the gooey manchego cheese and beef thing. I also loved the oysters. I loved the mojitos and the CUBAN FRIES and ... everything. It was a fabulous, fabulous meal.

One more word about the LORD, you big huge bunch of brainiacs.
I forgot to tell you that one of my favorite expressions is "Lord have mercy." It used to be kind of a hipster ironic thing I said, but it grew on me. I say it a lot now and I really mean it.

I was very touched by what Jamie wrote here:
in response to my saying that I hurt "almost all the time" in UU settings.

I want to say that I don't hurt in my own church. Hardly ever. I think it's actually fascinating that no matter how often I say that, people jump to that conclusion. I am left to conclude that my readers would rather keep assuming that I'm frustrated within my parish than to hear what I'm really saying out of my experience with UUs in seven states and dozens of congregations, eight General Assemblies and countless district gatherings. Someone said he thought it sounded like my congregation was "mostly supportive." Not mostly, honey, 100%. I know I brag on my church too much, but there's good reason.

I hurt because of the way we hear each other's stories in the wider movement. I hurt because we've been encouraged, nay, trained, to hear someone's deep truth and respond with our critical analysis of that truth rather than just with "thank you."
I hurt not so much for me as for all of us: for the missed opportunities for ministry, for the intimacies that don't occur, for the companionable silences we often don't make space for, for the gracious receiving of someone else's spiritual experience. Perhaps Small Group Ministries are fostering a better sense of hospitality among us. I hope so. But all too often, when one of us says, "I have found that I deeply believe in God" or "I have reached a transcendent state of peace," UUs hearing them are likely to jump in with something like, "Oh. Well, here's why I don't believe in God" or "Here's why your choice of language feels abusive to me" or "What's transcendence and how can you be sure you've achieved it?" or "I don't think human nature really lends itself to peace, but hey, best of luck with that."

Where did we pick up these lousy habits??

Let's take a look at sermon "talk-backs," long popular among us:

A preacher deeply and prayerfully considers a topic, researches it, crafts it carefully so that it will minister to his people, and he gives it from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. What took him two weeks to think about, days to live with in his mind and twelve to fifteen hours to research and compose is heard in 20 minutes. Instead of receiving the sermon as a gift of the ministry, folks are led to believe they're hearing a lecture to which they have every right to respond. Therefore, they listen to the sermon not in the spirit of reception and appreciation, but in a critical manner, taking notes on their programs and pouncing on weak points so they can highlight their deficiencies in the "talk-back" (what a hostile term in the first place!). Their off-the-cuff, immediate reactions to what was said (or their reactions to what they thought was said) are considered worthy enought to include within the worship service. Voila: the lifting up of unconsidered, immediate opinion as liturgically appropriate, i.e., deserving of congregational consideration within the sacred space of worship.

In the Puritan era, "talk-backs" followed a sermon that was based exclusively on the Scriptures. Therefore, talk-backs provided the people an opportunity to disagree or to gently challenge the minister on his or her interpretation of the Word. The difference between the Puritan and the contemporary talk-back is that, in the 17th century, while the pastor was meditating on the meaning of a biblical text within the context of his time and place, so were his church members meditating on the same text at the same time and place. In other words, reactions and opinions were grounded in common spiritual practices, learning and reflection.

I use this illustration to highlight how what was once a practice of mutual discernment degenerated to a free-form carnival of opinions, in an era where everyone is free to ground themselves in whatever religious truths they feel drawn to, and where everyone feels equally free to critique one another's truths from the comfort of their own perspective. I don't think there's much health or care in this approach.

Yes, I do have some ideas for how this might be improved ;-)
I am a big fan of Bible study, book groups that focus on religious works that feature a variety of perspectives, and thematic, inter-generational religious education themes that an entire congregation can undertake over a year's time together.
I believe that whoever touted Bible study as a great way to "survive" in the Bible belt, i.e., to gather spiritual ammunition of a sort against our ideological foes, is only partly right. I advocate studying the Bible because it's epic and crazy and gorgeous and the cornerstone of tons of Western art and literature, and because it belongs to us as UUs, dagnabit.

Let me ask you all this:

I grew up UU, as you know, and as a young adult I became very interested in spiritual disciplines and practices that would actually transform my inner life in some significant way. My first successful attempt at spiritual discipline occurred for me in college, when I set about changing my heart and mind in order to win liberation from the demon Jealousy. It took me two years of arduous spiritual work, but I conquered that demon through a combination of psychological study, Christian prayer and Wiccan ritual. Out of the desperation of my miserable soul, I created this hodgepodge of spiritual aid. Were there Unitarian Universalist spiritual practices I should have known about?

What I'm wondering is, since I now undertake most of my spiritual discipline within a Christian context (with much support from Tibetan Buddhism and other sources), I would like to know what you consider UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST spiritual practice.

In other words, what are your specifically UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST spiritual practices that aren't learned or borrowed directly from "other" traditions? Assuming that UUism isn't just a happy smorgasboard of Everything (and I don't think that it is), what spiritual practices and disciplines would you say are distinctly ours? Which UU practices and disciplines do you use?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lord, Lord, Lord

Some of ya'll asked me why I go around cheerfully using LORD language.

I wish I had a wonderful hand-out given me some years ago by my dear friend Scott Wells, which I believe was called "What Should We Do With the LORD?" It was a cool etymological breakdown of the term and I always thought it would make for good sermon fodder. I believe it's tucked away at home in my "Sermon Fodder" folder number 167B, which is filed carefully on the floor of my office with folders 1-166. Drat.

For now, from the 20th floor of a condo building in beautiful Chicago, let me just say that I use the LORD because it's bombastic and majestic, powerful and evocative. I love how in certain Bibles the word is always capitalized, so I always use caps, too. The word is a rough translation of the unspeakable name of HaShem (The Name), which we write in the Hebrew letters YHVH and say as "Yaweh" or sometimes "Jehovah." We should always remember that for Jews, the Name was never spoken except by the high priest on the High Holy Days.

For those of us who adore Micah's question, "What doth the LORD require of thee" and try to live by its answer ("do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God") or who hold to their heart Jesus' teaching to love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength, "LORD" becomes a word we like to hear roll around in our mouths, rumble like thunder in our mortal bellies, and sound like drums in our heads.

"LORD" is an invocation. I use it as a UU because it is for me the most powerful, Charles Heston-ish name for the holy that the Western world has produced, and I'll be god-damned if I let the Pat Robertsons of the world use it as a whipping rod against those you and I are called to love and to speak up for, least of all ourselves.

My tradition -- the Unitarian and the Universalist ones, that is - boldy claim that the LORD is a mighty advocate for the poor, a shepherd who wants to make of the warring human nations one people, and a lover who calls us to intimate and even erotic relationship with this world. The LORD makes demands and will not be mocked.

I don't have a personal God in the way that all this LORD stuff would suggest, but I certainly do believe in some impersonal force of moral imperative, by whatever name. I have said many times and in many places that my own sense of what God might be wavers and changes and gets lost on many days. I turn, on those days and on every other day, to Jesus' understanding of the nature of God, and when I can't figure it out, I go by my teacher. Since he uses LORD language, it works for me too.

Of course there was a time when the mere term "God" or "Lord" gave me the hives, almost literally.

Hot, Hot, Hot!

We got all kinds of HOT in the recent post about including "God" (word and concept), with 29 comments posted.
I think you might like to read them, and travel over to some of the links folks recommended to hear more people expound on the subject.
Miss Kitty, for instance, has some nice reflections on her own blog about 40 years as a UU. I know that CK writes amazing stuff over at her blog (click the link on her name), and she also helpfully referred us over to an older posting at Free and Responsible Search.

I've closed the comments on that posting and invite bloggers who are fired up and discussing the God Conversation (not debate! not debate!) at their own sites to link here.

In conclusion, I would like to add that while I have heard probably thousands of testimonials from UUs who were invited to share why they left their former religion, and to speak with great passion about how they feel saved by UUism, I have always known that it would be a very bad idea to speak, in those same gatherings, about the saving power of Christ Jesus in my life as a UU.

I'm grateful for the UU Christian Fellowship today, thinking that if it wasn't for them and their spiritual support and friendship, their humor and patience and kindness, I would probably be totally unchurched today, having given up on the UUs and having had no other home to go to.

Also, as a clarification, I want to add that while I am careful to invoke the holy in myriad ways in my own parish ministry (in preaching and pastoral care), it is not from anxiety or "not being allowed" to use Christian language. My own congregation is comprised of mature UUs who are genuinely theologically pluralistic. Very few of them are nervously rejecting of traditional language and ideas -- they just aren't ministered to by them, and so I employ a wide variety of images, metaphors and messages in an effort to nurture their spirits. This is mostly a joyful challenge and only occasionally a terrible burden. Readers of this blog should not assume that my comments about UUism are a commentary on my own congregation, which is my favorite church in the world, and a people who have made me a better Christian and a better human being.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I Just Felt I Had To Say This

For those of you following the comment thread between me and CK, I would just like to inform you that she is so much cuter and younger in person than in her photo that it's really wrong to let you go on believing that she's a very seriously intimidating middle-aged woman scratching her chin.

In real life she is a totally cute, fresh-faced, wide blue-eyed young pup, who isn't intimidating at all until you realize how freakily brainy she is. She also has an extremely cute girlfriend and we here in the Boston area would like to put in a vote that they move here.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Including "God"

CK asked me in the last comment section why I hoped for a return of "God" to our Sources.

Good question.

When we assiduously avoid the word "God" in our Principles, our Sources, pulpits and in our religious education offerings (except to include God as A Concept That Some People Believe In But We Don't, Not Really), we invite both seekers and adherents of Unitarian Universalism to make the following assumptions:

1. This is a fellowship of atheists. (It's not)

2. If my spirituality involves praying to God and praising God in a traditional manner bequeathed me by my Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Unitarian Universalist background, I am not really going to be welcome here. I will not be supported in my spiritual growth unless that growth travels along a trajectory of "getting over" my faith in a personal God.

3. UUs proudly wear "Famous UUs" t-shirts and claim every Unitarian and Universalist forebear they can drag out of the cemeteries, but staunchly refuse to proclaim the name of the One those same ancestors invoked and relied on when doing all their admirable, redeeming work. Therefore, UUs must be hypocrites or just in really serious denial.

4. These people claim to respect "the best" of a Judeo-Christian heritage, yet steadfastly ignore the great gift of the Jews, which is monotheism. According to the Unitarian Universalists the great gift of Judaism is intellectualism and bagels.

5. Unitarian Universalists must all be so wounded by an abusive Theistic past (or by the grossly offensive theistic strains in American and global culture) that they all agree on the necessity of expunging "God" from their lives and replacing it with vague, poetic metaphors that will offend no one.

6. Unitarian Universalists are so theologically uneducated that they actually believe that all Theistic concepts are firmly grounded in a medieval mentality.

7. Unitarian Universalists, obviously having such a damaging view of God that they cannot invoke God in any of their worship or associational materials, must have completely abandoned their Universalist heritage, which claims the unconquerable, everlasting love of God.

Overheard at GA

Philocrites, regarding his nice big glass of fresh o.j. at brunch:

"Eight oranges gave their lives for this."

After being asked if he wanted a second glass:

"I guess not. I feel a little guilty getting into the second harvest."

The Seven UU Principles

Mr. Crankypants has re-worked the Seven Principles. I think they're great, if too verbose:

What about the Sources, Mr. Crankypants? Are we at the point yet where we can refer to "that transcending source of mystery and wonder affirmed in every culture, bla bla bla" as GOD??

Probably not.

Mirasol, St. Louis

Don't think, by the way, that I won't be posting photos from our wonderful blogger's dinner of Friday night.

I will do so as soon as I get home.

For now, I will just say that Mirasol in St. Louis is a fantastic tapas restaurant.

Final bill: $732.45

Who Are Unitarian Universalists??

I am sending out some serious love to Melanie Fatham of St. Louis. Here's why:

Isn't this a great article? We sound like a real religious faith tradition or something!!

I almost don't know what to do with myself! I had a Great Snark coming on and now I have nowhere to put it!

It Could Just Be Me

St. Louis 2006 was my favorite GA ever.

We've changed. It could just be me, but the spirit of the Unitarian Universalist family is changing.
We're acting more like family to one another.
There's less bitchy factionalism.
It could just be me, gratified and relieved that at every event I attended, people spoke from the heart and in religious terms. They are trying out the Language of Reverence and I think they like it.

I remember at the Boston GA four years ago when the Language of Reverence debate made the first page of the Boston Globe with a big slapdown quote from Yours Truly in it, and -- again, this could just be me -- but I felt like I got a good number of hostile glares when people read my nametag. What I said in the Globe was that I was tired of drowning in euphemism. I believe I said something about "liberal fundamentalism" in the same article, but I could be wrong.

What I said 1,000 times to folks at this GA was that I think we're finally realizing that it's simply impossible to radically re-define religion in such a way that goes against the general working definition accepted by the rest of the planet.
The day when we can sit at the table of interreligious dialogue and huffily state that concepts like "God" and "church" and "faith" are OFFENSIVE to us are over. Praise the Lord, and I mean that. Of course there will be those who persist in this jejeune inanity, but I think they've lost the power to control the minds and hearts of the UU faithful who would like to have healthy spiritual communities and a legitimate voice in the public square.

Atheists, Humanist, Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, Garden-Variety Mystics -- all of us are coming together and saying, "You know, it's not about me. It's about the greater quest that fills all our hearts and guides us toward the Kingdom."
This year, I felt that a devoted Humanist hearing me say that would say, "Well, I wouldn't say 'Kingdom,' but yes, that's exactly right."

Here's what it is: for the first time in my life, I loved being with my people. As I shuddered at the parade of frumpiness, I was still filled with love and joy. And really, I'm not on any new medication. It's real.

It might have helped that I got to present a workshop on something I care deeply about and that it was full and people were lovely with their questions, and it might be that all of our UU Christian Fellowship Events were well-attended and people were lovely with their comments and questions, and it might be that I've gotten to the point where I have roughly 300 wonderful UU friends I really adore that I got to sit up with every night in the hotel bar and laugh with until my eyeballs hurt, and it might be that the food was really good and that I brought the right shoes and that I met a really cute guy or that the weather was nice or that our blogger's dinner was totally fantastic in every way or that I went to the zoo and saw the cutest sea lions show and very precious monkeys in the primate house, but I really think it was us.

Whatever it is, I'm grateful for it, and until I have evidence to the contrary, I'm going to go on believing that we have reached a New Day in our movement.

Overheard at GA

"We're fine talking about sex, but we don't like to talk about our souls."

-- Woman to Man on Bench Outside Workshop Roooms

Friday, June 23, 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I don't know if this will be a rat-infested roach motel or what, but I finally found an affordable hotel room for Revival in November:

I share bathrooms all the time when I travel in Europe so it's fine with me. I'm just glad to have someplace to lay my weary head that weekend.

And for less than $300 for two nights in NYC, a roach or two isn't so bad.

GA Blogger Dinner Is Now Closed For Reservations

Final confirmed list for the GA Bloggers Dinner:

Chalice Chick and Linguist Friend
Ron Robinson (3)
Hafidha Sofia
CK and Liz
Dame O
Jess and John
Bret (2)
Chutney (2)
The UU Enforcer

For a grand total of 21, one more than we're officially reserved for. I will call Mirasol to give them the final total tomorrow.

Remember: It's at 6:00! Come early to meet in the bar if you want to get in a drink (mojitos! mojitos!) and some mingling before plenary, which I assume most of us plan to attend late or not at all.

The Pageant is across the street if their concert that night interests you:

Springsteen's Got Soul

Have you heard the Bruce Springsteen "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" recording with songs like "O Mary Don't You Weep" and "Jacob's Ladder" and "Erie Canal?"

It just plain rocks.

I got it today and my great sorrow is that I can't seem to save the tracks into i-Tunes. Any suggestions? It's one of those fancy double-track CD's.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Thank Gods It's Friday Before GA!

Don't forget to visit!

Meanwhile, I'll be at the spa.

spa day!

Kiss, kiss,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah falls on a Sunday this year (October 8). I get an image of Jews dancing joyously around with the sacred scrolls.

Have any of you UUs ever used Simchat Torah as the central message of a sermon or service on Law or tradition?
There seems to be wonderful potential there.

GA Dinner Final Notice

First, let me say thanks to Linguist Friend for some great comments in the past few days.
Sorry I haven't had time to respond.
CK, you said you posted something on Arb Marks, but I don't seem to find it among your wonderful entries. Am I on the wrong blog? Which one is your UU-themed blog?

Here is the list for the GA dinner on Friday night at Mirasol in St. Louis, at 6:00 on Friday, June 23rd. The staff at Mirasol has not required a deposit from me, but asks that we ALL GET THERE NO LATER THAN 6:15. Since the last workshops end at 5:15, you should all be able to hustle your buns to 6144 Delmar Avenue (across from The Pageant) in plenty of time.

If you don't come on time, the restaurant people are going to yell at me and make me cry, and then I'm going to have an anxiety attack. So by the time you stroll in at 6:45 I'll have big puffy eyes and be breathing into a paper bag.
Get it? Got it? Good.

So here you are, confirmed:

Philocrites (1)
Chalice Chick and Linguist Friend (2)
Hafidha Sofia And Her Traveling Self (1)
CK (1)
Clyde G (maybe)
Dame Olympia (1)
Ogre (1)
Jess and John (Obijuan) (2)
Bret, the Errant Frog (2)
Bubble &I (1)
Rev. Thom (1)
Ron Robinson (number, Ron?)

That's 20 at the most (if Ron brings all five of his Robinsons). We might have room for a few more. Ron, my friend, I need your final numbers ASAP.

A final note: Since PeaceBang would love very much to buy you all drinks and tapas but really doesn't intend to, please bring loads of cash and don't be all like, "I have to put $20 on my credit card." Nothing will stomp PeaceBang's margarita buzz than to be left to smooth things out with a very disgruntled wait staff and a very disgruntled self, smoothing out wrinkled Hamiltons and murmuring "Damn those bloggers for leaving me with the bill."

It Feels Good

Please don't yell at me for being stupid enough to upgrade from a little Honda Civic to a Honda CR-V with gas prices like this and also with the global warming and all.

It was just my dream car and I after a year of checking various dealerships online I finally found one I could afford with excellent mileage. My old car was getting all old and creaky and needing lots of work and so I just went out and bought this for myself today:
Except mine is green like my old one. I am quite fond of green cars.
(Cripes, the car in the photo looks yards longer and bigger than the one in my driveway right now! Mine is older and smaller)

I'm not kidding about my old car. My muffler literally FELL OFF when I was on my way to the dealership. It fell off, people. I drove the last thirty miles blowing down the highway like a road hog. I probably lost some of my hearing.

Man, there is NOTHING like buying yourself a car with your own damn money.
Or rather, paying some cash down and financing a car with your own damn credit and money.

Ten years ago I had a stinky lying cheating and did I mention lying? dirty rotten bastid of a boyfriend who bought himself a red CR-V. I loved it and he said, "When we get married I'll buy you your own."

So of course I, like a fool, thought that was possible. And for years afterward when I saw a CR-V I would say to myself, "I'll never have one."

So I would like to say to that lying stinkin' no good lying cheating old boyfriend, "I GOT ONE FOR MYSELF, THANK YOU VERY MUCH."

P.S. Love and kisses to the guys at Herb Chambers Honda Dealership for not being horrible, over-bearing smarmy car salesmen and for just being charming and honest and not trying to tell me I don't know my old car's blue book value and all that sort of thing like they always did to me at other car dealerships. I know it helped that I was very cute when I walked in and started calling all of you "Herb," but you were terrific anyway. I actually enjoyed buying this car, and under usual circumstances I would rather gouge out my eyes with a sharp stick than go into a car dealership. Plus I know my old car was pretty broken with a muffler hanging off it and all, so you were cool to give me a really awesome buyback price for it. Thanks, Herb.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chutney Calls The Question

I know this is all getting a bit incestuous, but I thought this was a neat post because it offers some interesting ideas for doing faith development together as UUs. His suggestions may not be your cup of sencha twig tea, but take a look:

P.S. My cat looks so cute sleeping on my warm modem. Are you sure that's not good for her (or the modem)??

My Cup Runneth Over

I was ordained nine years ago today.

At the time, the ink on my Harvard M.Div. was still wet, and I was a nervous, nervous lady.

What in the world would a life in ministry be like?
I had no job.
I had no idea what was coming.

Little did I know that, nine years later, I would be in one of the happiest eras of my life.

I would serve two congregations in the mid-Atlantic region and love them, even while experiencing trial by fire. And fire. And fire.

I would find my heart's home back in Massachusetts.

I would have a beloved gang of colleague-friends, and my family would be healthy and happy and solvent, thank you Jay-zus! I would be given two absolutely adorable nephews I had no idea were even a possibility. I would reside in a beautiful home, always spoken of as "your house" by my generous parishioners.

I would have the prettiest cat in America as my parsonage companion.

I would have the privilege of being trusted and loved and welcomed by a church I respect and admire. I would not grow to love the congregation, but would arrive already loving them --by virtue of the shining spirit of their Search Committee.

I would learn to look forward to board meetings and congregational meeting.
I would look proudly on as one lay leader after another came to understand more fully and deeply the power of covenant to guide and undergird their selfless efforts.

I would be supported in all that I do by the most beautiful and competent staff anyone could ever dream up. If you ordered them from central casting, any director would send them back and say, "Too perfect. Too cute. Let's give them at least some rough edges, for God's sake."

I would find a place as a teacher and speaker in the wider UU movement.

For all that fate and God may have in store for me, I will draw on the goodness and blessing of these days for as long as I live.

As I heard in a call-and-response the other day:

"God is good."

"All the time!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Clarification and Musings on Moral Authority

Before I head out to the gym, I want to jot a few words about what my readers may perceive as my recent cheerleading for the UCC because of my positive experience at one of their gatherings last weekend.

Congregation to congregation, I have no doubt that the UCC and the UUs are as full of love and joy and dysfunction and pettiness as any other religious people who gather in communities to do God's work together (or the work of love and justice, for non-theists).

My point about the UCC gathering wasn't to say "hey, they're better than us," it was to say, "How much more could we get out of our denominational gatherings if we came together in real unity instead of suspicion and hyper-individualism?"

As every reader of this blog knows, I adore my congregation. Truly, madly and deeply. I believe, because I have evidence of at least one, that there are many, many other amazing UU congregations out there. I hope that for every nasty little in-group social club parading as a congregation there are at least one or two terrific ones. I hope this for every religious movement, none of which is immune to its own besetting sins.

My raging around, sackcloth and ashes routine isn't about what's going on in YOUR congregation, which you love and support, and I'm so happy you do. It's about our collective, denominational torpor. What I am saying is that, as congregations can become hamstrung by a small group of folks who want to keep their church or fellowship paralyzed by their own negative, stifling agenda, so does this happen on an associational level. I believe we have simply gotten into the habit of allowing this, and that when we gather to do the work of proclaiming our good news, we have learned to actually expect that that work cannot and will not be done without a good deal of insult and bloodshed.
I believe we have mistaken being paralyzed with being "inclusive."

Meanwhile, we do these wonderful things as an assembly like affirming a woman's unconditional right to total reproductive freedom, supporting marriage equality (and those who disagree with it still stick around instead of splitting off another denomination), working for justice as best we can considering our small numbers, and so on and so on. Yet when we try to say, "We are one, and here's what makes us One," there's a total meltdown into hyper-individualistic anxiety.

Instead of saying, "C'mon, work through it. We all need to trust that there is a place for us at this table," we stop and roil around in the anxiety until we're all so tired we just want to go home. In the name of Inclusivity, many of us wind up feeling totally alienated. It is the saddest kind of irony.

Inclusivity does not mean changing the definition of who you are to accommodate every single person with an opinion and enough extroverted courage to approach the microphone.

To me, the first point of breakdown -- and an absolutely astonishing one because it's so unintentionally comic -- is when someone says, for instance, "How shall we share the good news of this religion?" and a thousand people scream, "This is not a religion! Religion is BAD and I want no part of it! And what is this 'good news' thing!!? I left that behind at Bible camp!"

How many of our congregations are currently embroiled in this kind of conflict at this very moment? Wounded people come in wanting religious life but refuse to call it such, want to change the name of the church, want to spend their energies counting the "Gods" in the sermon or carefully combing the worship calendar to assure that every holy day from every world religion is observed (and there's hell to pay if one isn't!). The congregation's leaders spend a tremendous amount of their time and energy responding to the anxious and angry demands of this person or people. What would happen if we agreed together that UUism is a hospital for the religiously wounded, and if we agreed that one of the first spiritual tasks of our new members would be to enter into a ministry of healing from those wounds? What if we did this first instead of trying to frantically accommodate that person and then putting them in a position of leadership? What is our center? What is it we will not be willing to give away to every anxious, demanding newcomer or old-timer? What are the boundaries and the sacred trust handed down from generation to generation of lay leaders in your congregation? Therein you will find much of your strength.

All the while, even religion-phobic UUs want to sit at the table with other religious groups, have the privilege of tax-exempt status, and claim the moral authority that comes from being a religious people. This just doesn't have integrity, and we cannot come of age as a movement until we take responsibility for that.

Every religious person I've ever met wants to know this about UUs:
if we're a non-theistic religious organization, whence do we derive our moral authority to make all the public statements we make and to do all the public ministry we do?
Don't we understand that the rest of the religious world claims (for better or for worse, and often for worse!) that their authority comes from God? If we are not going to make the same claim, we are under sacred obligation to declare whence we derive our moral authority in such terms as other people of faith can understand them.

This seems spot on to me, and has been an area of weakness and avoidance among us for too long.

We are a faith tradition.. We are in intimate fellowship and interdependent relationship not just with whales and endangered species and Gaia and those we love, but with other faith traditions, no matter how some UUs may wish to place us completely beyond the Pale of the religious life in America and abroad. When I decry our Terminal Uniqueness, it is this failure to recognize our place in religious life that I am referring to, and the lack of honesty and integrity it represents.

We must, we simply must, move beyond the answer, "Our moral authority comes from our own individual conscience. That's really who are we are: we're a collection of interesting individuals who think it's really groovy to do their spiritual seeking in free and supportive community." Really? Then what are the checks and balances to our own individual conscience? Why do we then gather in covenanted congregations under one name? Is there no other authority higher than the individual, and what the individual wants? What are our methods of discernment, or are we willing to have any?

In short, strong UU congregations are a good and blessed thing, and I know there are many. But I believe that they become strong almost in spite of our crippling associational anxiety and unwillingness to enter into serious theological reflection about the claims we make in the broader society.

Monday, June 12, 2006

When It Happens, If It Happens

There comes a time in every life when we think, "How will I take care of myself?"

Eventually, that question turns to, "Who will take care of others who cannot take care of themselves? How can I help to do that?"

When this transition happens, we've achieved some kind of moral accountability with the world. You could say, in old-fashioned language, we have got religion.

In Unitarian Universalism, we often hear, "How will I get my needs met? If this- or-such happens, will I still be welcome?"

When we finally reach the day when we can all say together, "How can I help my congregation be a place that can better minister to those who might need us?" then I believe we will have lived into the vocation of our religion.

On my darkest days, I fear this exchange between a future mother and child:

"Mommy, who were the Unitarian Universalists?"

"They were a kind of discussion group and political organization for liberals who used to belong to a real religion and rejected it, but couldn't give up the habit of going to church on Sundays."

"Are there any left?"

"Oh, just a few here and there. Hardly any."


Just for Cuteness' Sake

Some of us happen to think that heaven will be a place full of golden retriever puppies.

This cat, who strongly resembles my own, is not one of those people.

If you watch to the very end you get to see one of the puppies hop way up in the air, which is hysterical. Also, make sure to keep the sound on. You don't want to miss the cat's pissy meowing as she tries to keep the babies from accessing the Puppy Chow that's apparently in the room just past the roadblock she's constructed with her striped self.

I hope this makes you half as happy as it makes me.

Second Day Of Sun!

And I've got the garden mostly in!
Zinnias, lots of little ground cover flowers, basil, tomatoes (one special plant from Fausto), parsley, cilantro, lavender, rosemary, mint, daisies, marigolds, a big pot of geranium on the doorstep, and lots of sage.

O Life That Maketh All Things New! We sang that yesterday and I thought to myself, "Gee, this is a beautiful hymn. We should sing this more often." And then I remembered that I won't be leading worship again until the Sunday after Labor Day!

Lots of exclamation points for a very tired minister who's had eighteen days of heavy rain since mid-May.

Having Opinions

Jess is an optimist about sharing opinions, and writes:

"Perhaps in reflecting a bit more deeply, the UU blogging community can come up with a Carnival that will not just be about cheerleading, but about expressing individual opinions that as a whole draw us closer together and open our doors wider for more people to come in. There is room for my opinion, yours, and the neighbor down the street or across the globe. It is our freedom to express these opinions and learn from one another, to my mind, that makes Unitarian Universalist community so rich and rewarding."

I agree that the blogging community is all about expressing individual opinions and feeding one another into conversation. That's great, and obviously that's what I do here at PeaceBang.

However, my objection to the eternal Sharing Of Opinions comes when we suggest doing so as programming that is actually supposed to achieve something (like growth, as Jess suggests).

I have been watching for some years now, and I really don't think that the Sharing Of Opinions About Who We Are attracts anybody to us. In fact, I think that many people who find us are mighty turned off by our continual fascination with convening conferences and gatherings that focus on Who We Are.

I compare our flounderings with the recent UCC gathering I attended where the workshops were all focused on the arts of ministry in worship.
Picture this: the whole conference gathers together for an opening worship that reminds everyone what they are (Christians), whose they are (Christ's), and what they're about (building up the kingdom of God here on earth). Boom. No discussion really needed. They're United Church of Christ folks, so they know that they're liberal religious and therefore they read Scripture critically, they are skeptical of authority, they believe revelation is ongoing, they generally agree that Jesus's life mattered more than the way he died, there are plenty among them who would scoff at the notion of literal resurrection and all of them reject the notion of the virgin birth, they are mostly feminists or know they should be, they are welcoming of sexual minorities, they are striving for diversity in all aspects of their religious movement. Many of them are eclectic in their spirituality, openly sharing their interest in Buddhist meditation, feminist spirituality and goddess reverence, indigenous spiritual practices like shamanism, Judaic studies, interest in Islamic notions of God and community, and many other spiritual systems and practices.

Meanwhile, Unitarian Universalists share every one of those basic commitments and yet continue to insist that they are an entirely new thing under the sun, religiously speaking. Meanwhile, for all their supposed diversity, they are also almost all white, almost all attend worship on Sunday mornings in what closely resembles a traditional Protestant worship service, they are almost all in relationship with a congregation led by ordained ministers, and they generally read the same books, listen to the same radio stations and hold the same political opinions as the UCC gang.
They claim to be different because they're really diverse religiously or theologically, yet a minute number of them practice anything other than Vague Religious Seeking in the form of reading books, attending discussions, and Having Opinions. They have been encouraged to think of this as "being UU" by their ministers and leaders. It is not their fault. Very few of them have been given the tools or the teachings to enter deeply into any specific spiritual practices -- something for which many of them hunger and remain frustrated -- and very few of them have anything but a passing acquaintance with any world religion other than Christianity, which they often vehemently reject.

No one has had the vision or the nerve to offer them a living tradition that can be clearly defined in affirmatives, and have filled them on a steady diet of revolving opinions, and so only the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed stay on. The rest go away with their ribs poking through their spiritual skins, just about starved.

I am coming to deeply believe that Unitarian Universalism is only a viable religious path for the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed spiritual seekers. I am coming to deeply believe that even those feisty souls are being starved, but that they heroically continue to subsist on the incredibly thin gruel we have all agreed to ingest simply because it can be tolerated by every stomach. I am coming to deeply believe that this spiritual starvation is an offense against the God of my understanding, who isn't nearly as offended by being denied by Unitarian Universalists as S/He is by a covenanted people mistaking Opinions for vocation.

UU Carnival

A good and sincere UU blogger with the best of all possible intentions has started a UU Carnival of Blogs, or something along those lines, which I think is intended to pick up where Coffee Hour left off:

I think the group conversation is a fine idea for those who have the time and energy to put into writing on the subject and/or compiling a digest of entries worth posting in the Carnival and writing about. It's a kind of on-line small group ministry with potentially hundreds of observers sitting in the same room, as it were.

The first topic, though, has me singing "Ole Man River" to myself:
"I gets weary
and sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin'
but scared of dyin' ..."

The topic is (drum roll, please), "What is Our Purpose? Or specifically,
what is your purpose in belonging to a UU congregation?"

Can I please, with eyes at half-mast because I am so tired of hearing this question asked, just answer this question for myself and get it over with?

Our purpose as a religious movement is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the God or Sacred Purpose of our understanding.

My purpose in being part of a UU congregation is to have the opportunity within a covenanted religious community to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

I'm guessing that if we weren't allergic to Biblical language, every single Unitarian Universalist could agree with me, making fairly simple adjustments to the theological orientation as needed . The first sentiment, in case you couldn't identify it, is from the Old Testament prophet Micah. The second is from the New Testament prophet Jesus.

With all due respect, can we PLEASE think about what we're doing before launching yet another discussion that encourages our sense of terminal uniqueness? Is Unitarian Universalist unity and strenght best served by convening forums for the expression of personal, individual opinion?

My questions for GA are:
How can we build stronger congregations through the power of our associational covenant?
How can you, personally, foster a loving and forebearing spirit of fellowship at GA?
What are some current resources for UU theological reflection that might yield some rich conversations among us?

The Tony Awards

My general reaction to the Tony Awards was "Wha? ...huh? Oh, sorry, I was sleeping."

La Chanze winning Best Actress In A Musical over the monumentally irritating Patti LuPone and the generically adorable Sutton Foster.

My ranting to my mom on the phone as aforementioned Patti LuPone mumbled and mugged and sloppily slid her way (oh, excuse me, vocally interpreted her way) through scenes from Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece, "Sweeney Todd."

Chita Rivera. Just because she's Chita and it's always wonderful to see her.

Mom and I trying to figure out if Joanna Gleason has had work done. (We conclude that yes, she's had a brow lift).

Botox sightings on Julie Andrews and Barbara Cook, both of whom once possessed expressive brows but who are now frozenly lovely old divas.

The British author of "History Boys" receiving his Tony and thanking his partner of fifteen years and wishing him "Happy Anniversary, Bob." The fact that no one blinks twice at gay love at the Tonys is reason enough to tune in, methinks.

Deciding with Mom that the big number from the smash hit, "The Drowsy Chaperone" was cute, gimmicky and busy, not much more.

The shocking moment when "JERSEY BOYS" WON BEST MUSICAL!!

Give my regards to Broadway.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"In Character"

God knows I love actors, I love books, and I appreciate good photography, but this is just plain pretentious:

Civilized Nation?

So I'm at the health club just now and I'm listening to some nice, limp liberal podcast from NPR and recoiling in disgust as the image of someone's dead, bloated, beaten face is broadcast again and again and again and again on the news. And I'm not just talking about Fox News, 'cause I would expect that from them.

I just assume it's Al-Zarqawi's face they've got up there in his last close-up, but there's no identifying banner so I'm not sure.

I understand this is war and everything. We got a bad guy. A real bad guy. But you know, I keep assuming -- silly me -- that I live in a civilized nation and I'm just a little sickened by the way the television keeps flashing this man's dead face in extreme close-up.
I get it. He's dead.
But is showing his corpse every three seconds supposed to be some magical formula for making me feel all patriotic and happy about all that great democracy-building we're doing in Iraq?

Because it's not.
Instead, it's just making me feel like our media assumes the public is a bunch of blood-thirsty pigs who wants nothing more than to feast our eyes on the sight of our vanquished enemy.

Blogger Ate My Baby!

Darling PeaceBangers,
As many of you know, Blogger has been woogy of late, and I wrote a long, impassioned post the other day about the unfortunate "Us Vs. Them-ism" issue in the UUA, but it was snatched out of the land of the living and consigned to blogger hell. Or limbo.
Maybe I will find or recreate it again someday, but meanwhile, I mourn.

I don't dare write anything substantive today for fear that the same fate awaits all my posts while Blogger is still obviously in vulnerable condition, so let me amuse you with some chit-chat:

It's still raining.
I had a dream last night that I was growing gossamer tufts of hair from my face. When I looked in the mirror and saw them -- rather like delicate little fish fins (and with this weather, IS IT ANY WONDER I'D BE GROWING FINS!?), I said to someone, "Oh my GOD, is this what perimenopause is doing to me?"

I think "perimenopause" is one of those "diseases" the medical establishment makes up in order to convince absolutely ordinary people whose bodies are doing absolutely ordinary things to pathologize the normal process of aging so they can sell more drugs.

I attended the UCC Massachusetts Conference gathering this weekend at Mount Holyoke College and slept in a dorm room, which is always fun.
I dubbed my bed the Cot Of Punishment, but I still think dorms are fun.
The UCC experience was lovely. I felt entirely at home, welcomed, appreciated (I was there with my music group, and we sang for two worship services and a concert last night, all of which were attended by hundreds of liberal Christians -- talk about amazing grace!) and very much among brothers and sisters. The worship service last night ministered to me in a deep and abiding way, and the newly-elected Conference Minister said something so nice to me that I will remember and hold it to my heart for a very long time. He didn't need to do that, either.

Can I tell you how cool it was to sing "Amazing Grace" in shape-note style (my group) and then to be on the stage while a Latino group jammed it in Spanish, and then a jazz group (mostly Black musicians) rocked the house with their version? Total joy, total Spirit.

That's all I'll write now. I do have BANJO lessons later, and a sermon to finish.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


So I talk to this guy from on the phone last night. I'm curious as to his apparent interest in chatting, as he says on his profile that he "definitely" wants kids, and even specifies the number (3). I have told him that he's a cutie and all, but I'm not planning on making babies with anyone. Also, he's 32 and I figure I'm too old for him.

Still, he's interesting, he wanted to be a priest until he was 25, he does comedy and writes screenplays, he seems like an intelligent guy. We probably have enough material for an interesting conversation.

So he calls. He is intelligent, he's a good conversationalist, he's really interested in talking religion, he's a serious Catholic but says liberal things about women and gays in the priesthood, he asks good questions about UUism, he's not nervous, he seems like a person it might be fun to meet for coffee. I don't like how often he refers jokingly to the Catholic Church as "the one true faith," but I figure maybe we can date once or twice before that attitude drives me crazy.

"By the way," he says. "I don't know what I put in my profile, but I could care less about having kids." I tell him, "Well, it's in your profile that you definitely want children." He then says, and I quote, "You've got to say that if you want to get laid." I play along, joking about the sensitive father vibe that women are looking for and he spills it all out, because he thinks he's found a kindred spirit in lying to women in me: "Oh yea, you act all interested while the women are around, pay a lot of attention to the kid," etc. We chuckle.

Now, I know he's joking. I know he's a sarcastic dude, and a comedian. I know he really isn't a vile bastid. But here's the thing: he's a serious Catholic. He's falsely advertising on that he really wants kids. He's out there trolling hard for chicks, by his own admittance. He identifies himself as Catholic on his profile, so could be assumed to be attracting Catholic women who want a Catholic husband and children.

Yet he claims that in truth, he doesn't want kids. Which says to me that this former priest wanna-be intends to get into relationships with attractive women just to, in his words, "get laid." As a serious Catholic, might I assume that his attitudes toward contraception and abortion are in keeping with his Church's official position? Or is he, rather than a "serious Catholic," a seriously hypocritical Catholic who uses contraception with all those babes ("girls" in his language) he's reeling in on in defiance of his Church's teachings? In which case, why all the obvious fervency about the One True Faith underneath all the joking around about it?

Oh, by the way, he holds the utmost disdain for "lightweight" and "Chinese menu" approaches to religion like the UUs often have (and I concur with him on this, except I'm not the one saying this and then contradicting my church's official doctrine on, like four important issues within my first conversation with a total stranger).

I can see lying about your height on, or about your weight or how much money you make. But to lie about one of the most important aspects of a committed relationship in order to get booty is just gross. I'm sure that Father Paul wouldn't think so, but I think it's just as unethical in some ways to lie on a singles dating site about wanting children as it is to lie about your marital status. In both cases, you're identifying as someone who's available for a relationship whose basic components you have no intention of fulfilling.

Of course it may be that he really does want three kids and he was just lying to me because he thought I might potentially be a tasty morsel. None of the options are good.

Meanwhile, there's a funny guy who writes me a mash note and who apparently wants to keep the red-headed population thriving. I respond by saying "aren't you sweet" but (1) I don't intend to contribute to the population and (2) my red hair is, how shall we put it, not entirely authentic. He says, "Well, maybe we can just meet and smooch!" and tells me he's going back out on to find a mother for his children. His religion? Nothing. His honesty? Totally appealing.

I'm particularly grateful today to be a member of a religious faith that contends that religiosity is no guarantor of ethical decency. Religiosity, I could do without. Religion, I'm still interested in.

Best comment I heard lately about our O.W.L.* program? "Man, it totally ruined me for meaningless sex!"

(O.W.L. = Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive sexuality curriculum taught in our churches)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

PeaceBang Reviews "Pride & Prejudice"

smoldering heights
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Everyone was slobbering over this film when it came out, so I figured I should watch it, especially since "Sense & Sensibility" is one of my all-time favorite movies and I generally swoon over costume dramas.

I found "Pride & Prejudice" strangely unmoving, though, and I can't for the life of me figure out why Keira Knightly -- whose main job in this performance is to spout clever Jane Austen dialogue and be Headstrong and Windswept (or would that be "Headstrong & Windswept?), would get an Oscar nom for her work. She's really beautiful and obviously intelligent and I like her, but her nomination just shows how generally lousy women's movie roles are nowadays.
I mean, they nominate Meryl Streep just for showing up.

I've never read the novel (Hunt, don't kill me!), but there's something wrong here. How is it that Mr. Darcy (played by a handsome, overly-brooding Matthew Macfadyen) falls in love with Elizabeth? I didn't see it coming. I find this very disappointing: while I'm prepared to accept that the prettiest, blonde Bennet sister Jane would snare a cute lunk of a millionaire just because she's so exquisitely rose-complected, I find it exasperating that the second Bennet sister seems to snag a rich dude for similarly shallow reasons. The only difference to my eyes is that Jane's a blonde rose-petal and Lizzie's a spunky, smoldering brunette. You can tell she's being especially smoldering in certain scenes because the make-up people give her smoky rock-and-roll eyes with some of that black eyeliner so popular with early 19th century British lasses.

I loved Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet, a kind of British Tevye, who has a wonderful scene with Knightly where he figures out she's really in love and weeps with relief. It's a beautiful papa and daughter scene, very sweet.

Judi Dench plays her usual Judi Dench Imperious Dame role (nothing to sniff at there) and Blenda Blethyn plays her usual twittering mama role (and Brenda, I for one am tired of it).

Jena Malone pulls out a great Brit accent and hilarious comic timing as the bad news man-trap sister, Lydia. Good on ya, Jena! This makes up for that scathing review I had to give you for your work on Broadway in "Doubt!"

All I can say is, if all it takes is a few exchanges of sarcastic repartee and meaningful glances with a man to get him to somberly declare "You have bewitched me, body and soul," I should have men offering their hand in marriage to me at least a few times a year. I don't get it. Maybe I should look into that smoky eyeliner and stride heroically across windswept moors more often. The only problem is, we don't really have moors around here. We don't even have wuthering heights. We have some heights, but they're not wuthering.

Memorize This

I just spoke to a UU minister pal whose father died early this morning.

She seems to be doing okay, although very tired.

As she was talking about his last hours and the family's vigil at the hospital she told me that there was an Episcopal chaplain who was sweet and trying very hard to be helpful to this big Catholic family.
However, when her mother asked the chaplain to pray the 23rd Psalm she didn't know it.

Pastoral failure can come in so many forms.
Sometimes it comes when we're unintentionally insensitive, or even intentionally so. Sometimes pastoral failure occurs because we're just too burned out or angry or confused or otherwise occupied to be the loving presence we ought to be.
And sometimes it occurs because we have failed to acquaint ourselves with ancient words of comfort that have consoled generation unto generation.

I should think that every chaplain -- no matter what their persuasion -- should know the 23rd Psalm. For the sake of this argument, it doesn't really matter that the 23rd Psalm gained ascendancy in the schmaltzy Victoria era. The point is, it's one of the Greatest Hits in the Western world, and every single one of us doing ministry in a religiously pluralistic context the Western world should know it. Even if you occasionally say "Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death" by mistake instead of "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," you should know it. By heart.

The Lord's Prayer is another one to commit to memory. Unless you're a rabbi or an imam, in which case you can certainly sit that one out.
But everyone who can say it without offending their own god's commandments or violating the integrity of their religious calling should have that one in their chaplain's goody bag, too. Why? Because when people are suffering and can be consoled by these prayers, it's not your business to inform them that your personal theology is in opposition to words like "Lord" and to concepts like locating God in a distant "heaven." Save the exegesis for some other time. Shut up and pray.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Music That Defines Us

After hearing a wonderful pianist play Chopin's Nocturne Op. Posthumous in C# minor on Friday night, I decided that I want it played at my funeral, so I got out my Funeral Arrangements file and revised it. I also couldn't find a recording of the piece anywhere in my collection so I went out tonight and bought a big double-CD set of Chopin by Daniel Barenboim. At least four of the pieces had what looked to be the right title, and I love Chopin anyway, so I figured I had a winner.

I got home and flipped from one likely candidate to another, finding to my great huge disappointment that none of the pieces were the right one. Does someone have this in their music collection? Please don't make me go back to Barnes & Noble or spend more fruitless minutes on i-Tunes!

I don't think it's overly morbid, by the way, to keep updating my funeral arrangements. My father died very suddenly when he was young, and it was a horrid thing to try to decide what music (and everything else!) he would have wanted at his memorial service. My uncles left the decisions about music up to me and I think I did well even though I was living in a half-drowned fog of shock at the bottom of the ocean at the time and could barely communicate with earthlings (except on stage, where I morphed into someone else and did just fine). The last song played was "Clair de Lune" by Debussy and it couldn't have been a more perfect musical depiction of my dad's stormy existence.

What I really want, actually, is to play "And She Was" by the Talking Heads as they carry my casket out of the church. Seriously. But that's not terribly realistic, so I think a gospel choir singing "I'll Fly Away" will work really well. Or just one guitarist twanging away.

Other songs might include "My Life Flows On In Endless Song" and "How I Got Over" and "Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire." But I won't be there, so it might be corny nursing home recordings of"Abide With Me" and "Nearer My God, To Thee." That would be fine, too.

How about you? What would you want ringing in your ears as you get called home?

If you're wondering what brought this on, it's probably being called to two two funerals within one week. Also it's cold and rainy and I am wearing a fleece pullover in JUNE. Gets a gal ruminating on last things, I'll tell ya.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Cigarette Buyback Program

This posting over at Errant Frogs whipped me into a little bit of a froth:

Since we're on the subject of teens and substance use and/or abuse, I have to remember to bring $200 worth of $10 bills with me to GA. A few years ago I did a Cigarette Buyback program with some kids in the hotel lobby of ... was it Long Beach? No. I think it was Nashville. I was just horrified by the fact that all these adult UUs were walking by smiling at the kids in that nervous, vacuous way privileged people smile at homeless people -- "Hi, homeless person, please don't kill me!" -- and saying absolutely not a word while the kids smoked their heads off.

Meanwhile, these are the same people who will simper on and on about youth empowerment and how grite our kids are, bla bla bla ad nauseum. Sure our youth are great when you can mooch a nostalgia buzz off them, but how about actually, you know, LOVING them? Like loving them enough to say "No way are you going to forego food and sleep and good hygiene for a week at GA and sit around hotel lobbies in stinky puppy piles giving UUs a bad rep and smoking your lungs black outside on the street. Also, you are going to wear shoes so you don't get some kind of intestinal worms and have to miss your entire sophomore year of high school. Now come with me because I'm buying you lunch and a pair of flip-flops."

Here's how the Cigarette Buyback Program works, by the way: you approach the kids, hang out with them for a bit, and say, "Tell you what. You give me your cigarettes and I'll give you ten bucks. The only catch is that you have to promise me you'll spend the money on lunch and not on more cigarettes. And you have to promise me you'll try really hard not to buy more of them while you're at GA. You can mooch them if you have to, but see how you do."
This usually works fine, and if you get the kids talking you might find out that they're not really even addicted to smoking yet. I'm thinking of developing some stickers or something for the C.B.B.P. so that people who are trying not to smoke could be identified. Any ideas? Maybe a Sharpie pen to mark their nametags?

Our youth don't need a bunch of fawning adults working out their own arrested development issues on them, they need adults to love them, to hang out with them not as a peer but as an adult friend they can lean on and rely on and trust as an ally and as an adult. Am I including enough italics here?

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that this consumate adult spent the last fifteen minutes of coffee hour today playing catch the stuffed turtle with a five year old boy and three little girls under the age of 7. I also confess that I got them worked up into a band of screaming banshees, for which I profusely apologized to the few lingerers in the parish hall.

At least they weren't lying on the floor smoking, though. If I ever catch any of them smoking I will make them EAT that stuffed turtle.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

BANJO Update

I would just like to report that as of tonight, I can play the first two lines of "You Are My Sunshine" on the tenor BANJO, both picking AND strumming.

I get a lot of notes wrong and I'm very slow and I cuss a lot, but I get one or two really lovely chords and I am very excited!

I had a very bad lesson today and almost cried but then my teacher said I shouldn't be frustrated because he's not at all frustrated with me.

It's really good spiritual exercise to keep trying to accomplish something you're really dumb at. It's very humbling.

Thanks for your support. Also, to think that I got a bunch of UUs talking about Pentecost! Whoo!

South Church Unitarian

Just because I'm that inconsistent, check out Rev. Dan Hankin's website for his new house church in Mississippi:

Now, this is just plain fascinating and very cool.

I may send them a check. He'll be like, "What? Isn't this from that hellhound who hassled me about claiming to be an ordained minister in the AUC? Now she's sending me money for my church?"

Comments, please?

Jess' Parenting Rant

Jess, mother of two, tells it!

As I said to her, "Write the book! Go on 'Oprah!' Go on 'Dr. Phil!' Turn the tide! I'll do your make-up for all your television appearances!"

Pentecost Tomorrow!

What does Pentecost mean to you?

(Notice that I didn't say, "what does Pentecost mean to you as a Unitarian Universalist?" Know why? Because I'm really, really tired of hearing every theological and religious question posed that way, as though our denominational and congregational affiliation makes us a different species than every other human.)

P.S. Since when does Blogger require a word verification for posting entries?

"Mame" At The Kennedy Center

This may be the finest theatre review I have ever read:

Why? Because it acknowledges the religious dimension in musical theatre and bothers to analyze a performance beyond the usual fawning over an accomplished and immensely likeable star.

Jerry Herman's two musicals "Mame" and "Hello, Dolly!" are two of the most important cultural influences of my life. Mame Dennis and Dolly Levi were my first goddess archetypes, and I felt freed by them to live into the fullness of my own big personality. Believe me, when you're a little kid with as big and intense a personality as I have, you need role models who make your crazy intensity look fabulous! One of my stupid fantasies is to play Mame with my own obviously talented nephew Nicholas playing my nephew Patrick Dennis. I'll have to wait another 8 years or so, but that's fine, as it will give me time to lose weight and get my voice in shape. Any producers out there?! ;-)

I have long wanted to write a book about the female archetypes of the Broadway stage, focusing on Mame, Dolly, Mama Rose, Julie and Magnolia from "Show Boat," some of Sondheim's ladies (hard, because Sondheim inevitably infects his women characters with his own disgust and hatred for his own mother), and others from Rogers and Hammerstein (particularly Mrs. Anna from "The King And I" and Nellie Forbush from "South Pacific.").

Thanks to darling Fran for sending me the review.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"Six Feet Under"

I came home from a church cultural event tonight and decided to watch some t.v., and was thrilled to see that "Six Feet Under" was playing on HBO-- and it just happened to be the episode following the one I had seen the other night.

I stopped watching "SFU" in its third season (after Lisa's body was discovered) because it upset me too much. I would watch and get drawn in and become so wrapped up in the characters that I would practically be in the grips of an anxiety attack by the time it was over. I figured I would eventually see the last seasons on DVD -- maybe over the summer when I could go take a nice walk in the sun after getting hit in the gut by the mallet of Alan Ball's brilliant vision.

I should have known better than to watch tonight: Nate died. I had a feeling he would. He had a second AVM and went into a brief coma, and after he finally broke up with Brenda, I just knew he would flatline. And he did. I feel just sick about it.

One of Nate's last comments to Brenda (played by the ever-marvelous Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths) about why he was ending their tumultuous relationship was, "I used to think it was passion and now I know it's just drama." I wanted to cheer for him for finally achieving this understanding. Way to go, Nate! At least you got that one bit of wisdom under your belt before you took that final voyage.

The writers of "Six Feet Under" are so great that you can't just be happy for Nate to have found peaceful love with Maggie; there's the moral issue of his betrayal and abandonment of his pregnant wife to factor in. Just when you're wondering, gee, am I happy for him or do I hate him -- boom, he dies. And his mother isn't even around for it.

That's what makes this show so devasting. It's life real life, only more exquisite. The actors are just incredible. Why did they not earn Emmys? All of them? I mean, I'm a HUGE "Sex And The City" fan, but it's hard for me to believe that "Six" wasn't at least as honored by the industry as was "Sex."

I don't watch a lot of television and haven't since I was a kid, but "Six Feet Under" is certainly the best television drama I've ever seen. And I loved "Northern Exposure" an awful lot.

Sorry for the spoiler. You should see it anyway.

Update on the Unitarians United ...

This just in:

The Rev. Dan Hankins writes to tell me that he's offended that I question his ministerial credentials, as he has been ordained by the Assemblies of God and is now an Episcopal priest. He is apparently starting an "AUC" church -- American Unitarian Conference-- and therefore claims to accurately identify himself as an ordained minister "in the American Unitarian Conference."

I write back to tell him that I'm sorry for my assumptions but I never questioned his ministerial credentials, and I think he's being disingenuous. Calling his organization "Unitarians United for Abortion Alternatives" obviously leads visitors to his website to assume that he's a Unitarian Universalist. I tell him that I am in full sympathy with the AUC's critique of UU culture, but that's not the point. The point is that there is such a thing as specificity of tradition and of fellowship within those traditions, and we should be responsible for identifying ourselves in non-misleading ways.

I apologize for implying that the Rev. Dan Hankins a liar. I retract that. He has not lied, but has been sloppy in his wording and, I believe, disingenuous in his protestations. I still wonder at the "accident" that leads visitors to the web site to "join the UUA" [sic] and not the "UUAA." Hmmm.

Remember, folks, that I went to this web site out of interest in an organization that is religiously based and wants to explore alternatives to abortion. I'm not jumping on this man because of what he's doing. I'm beating this drum because of what it represents for us. I see knowledge of our polity slipping many places and it bothers me. Again and again I meet UUs who are unaware (1) that only a congregation can ordain one of our ministers (2) that our ministers are accountable to their colleagues and our member congregations through the fellowshiping process. This isn't to say that the fellowshiping process is perfect, but it's what we have, and I will always vociferously protest when someone skips not only the first step but the second step, and publicly identifies as one of our ministers.

I believe in the fellowship process. I believe in the relationship between colleagues. I believe in that mutual accountability, so that if one of us screws up or causes harm, there is at least the chance that the person harmed can take their complaints somewhere and feel heard. I understand that we often fail to take steps against seriously dysfunctional UU ministers. I know. But if someone feels harmed by me (like one bride who was furious that I told her I wasn't available to do her wedding after she jerked me around and behaved abominably in the early planning process), they should be able to call the UUA Department of Ministry and say, "Hey, this minister of yours should be punished!" Ministers floating around out there with no clear affiliation make even that small satisfaction impossible. I don't like it, I tell you. I don't like it that if someone said to me, "Gee, one of your colleagues told me that if I had an abortion, I was very likely to suffer terrible psychological consequences from it," I wouldn't be able to get in touch with this minister and say, "Hey colleague, can we talk about this?" If that colleague is serving one of our congregations, I know how to get in touch with them. But if the minister is neither in fellowship nor serving one of our congregations, there is no possibility of getting in touch.
Remember, I'm a Puritan at heart. I believe in the chastening rod.

I think we underestimate the power of our collegial relationships. I know that for me, they are tremendously important: a source of support, of wisdom, of discernment and of correction. I want to be held accountable to my colleagues. They should be busting me sometimes; I expect and need it.

If the American Unitarian Conference is going to start congregations, they will have the freedom to call ministers from any tradition they like. I'm not even sure where they are in the process of dealing with the specifics around forming their own association of congregations. I hope they do. I think it would be terrific. However, as they know and as you know, they will never be in the business of ordaining ministers as an organization.

I'm sorry if I seem like a ridiculous Pharisee here. It's not just that I'm a polity freak. It's that I have deeply held religious beliefs undergirding my respect for the way our tradition works.

Rev. Hankins IS a minister, a fact I always assumed might be true. I think he should be clear with visitors to his site about what kind of minister he is. Again, as I said in the comments section, people doing ministry in such a morally charged context as abortion --and counseling people at an intensely vulnerable time -- should be very clear about who they are and whence they derive their moral authority.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
In my attempts not to eat buckets of popcorn or other crunchy, salty snacks at night I'm trying to vary my fruits and veggies options.

Today I bought a feijoa. It smelled good.

My mouth doesn't know what to make of it.

Ever had one?

Very very weird taste for me.

PeaceBang in Chicago

I'll be in Chicago for four days following GA.

Anyone want to visit a jazz club or have dinner? Go to a Cubs game or stroll through the Lincoln Park Zoo? Go shoe shopping on the Magnificent Mile?

Happy Hypocrites

I love what Bill writes about hypocrisy. And I love his quote of Matthew Arnold's, something like "Hypocrisy is virtue's way of paying honor to vice." Wait, let me check that and get back to you. I might have got that wrong.

[The correct quote is, "hypocrisy is vice's way of paying homage to virtue." -- PB]

Here I am, the cranky UU gadfly, working on a sermon about why it's so hard to say "thanks" and "I love you" within the church context. The reason? Because we're all so painfully aware of how much MORE work there is to be done, we hardly dare celebrate enough what we ARE doing well and with great love.
Can you believe that your very own PeaceBang is one of those ministers who doesn't think we celebrate ourselves enough?

I'm either a huge hypocrite, or just really inconsistent.

The moral of the story is, keep talking about it, and keep loving our faith. And don't take PB too seriously.

Tolerance and Compassion, Part II

Okay, I need to write more about the previous post.

I really shouldn't be doing this, as I have a sermon to work on and a funeral service, but I'm chewing on it in my mind so I may as well subject all of you to my ruminations!

Jamie Goodwin accuses me of "UU bashing" in the comments of my previous post. That's okay with me. I'm used to the age-old question, "Why is PeaceBang such a PeaceB*#%h?"

The short answer is that I love and yearn for the possibility of vibrant Unitarian Universalism too much to watch this movement fade into self-parody and further irrelevance without a fight.

What, exactly, am I referring to in my comment to Jamie when I claim to have observed a whole lot of really offensive stuff coming out of the mouths of UUs whene'er I travel abroad from my home congregation (not to say that my own congregation is perfect, no matter how often I imply otherwise!).

A good question. I am referring to the friendly smugness, the insider lingo, the "we love you because you're one of us" coziness, the absolute certainty many UUs have that we are truly a New Thing under the sun, religiously speaking, and their oft-voiced conviction if only people were as enlightened as we are, they would find their way to us in droves.

I am referring to the casual nasty joking about Christians that is a constant everywhere I go, the unbelievable ignorance about our Unitarian and Universalist tradition (ask the average UU what Universalism is, for example, and hear the convoluted response), and the insistent drone of "we're the thinkers - we're the skeptics - we're the intellects and they're not" humming in the background of every coffee hour I've ever attended wherever I've guest preached, lectured or visited.

I've labelled this offensiveness "Terminal Uniqueness" before (borrowing the term from 12-Step Program lingo), and I think it is our biggest obstacle to practicing the love, tolerance and hospitality we are called to practice. I think it is overwhelmingly the besetting sin that keeps us tiny and unappealing as a movement to thousands of seekers who visit once or twice and are never seen again.

(Of course many of those seekers never come back because (1) they're too busy to make time for serious congregational involvement (2) that particular UU congregation was either too Theistic or too Atheistic for their preference or (3) They can't get a basic grasp on what UUism is supposed to be. But I am convinced that they mostly disappear because of the wide gap between this tradition's appeal on the page and its reality in our congregations).

I was just reading through the GA program and marking up the workshops I want to go to, when I stopped to linger over a workshop offered by Keith Kron of the UUA GLBT Office and someone else. I don't have the program here, so I'm sharing from memory. The program was called something fairly generic and positive about growing Unitarian Universalism. In its description it referred to "radical welcoming." It looks like a good program.

At the beginning of the workshop description there was a visionary phrase about what kinds of people we should expect could potentially be drawn to a UU religious life. There was mention of a "transgendered person, 6'4" in heels... and an interfaith family." I thought, there it is. And I was sad. When we think of radical welcome among us nowadays, it is almost always in terms of someone who isn't "mainstream" -- someone whose sexuality or racial identity or physical ability is fairly described as "different" or "minority." I just think that's too limiting.

Why do we assume that the people who are most likely to resonate with our values and our congregational lives must be in some way oppressed, de-valued or misunderstood by the mainstream culture? This isn't to critique Keith's workshop -- I understand the limitations imposed by the GA program, which only allows 50 words of so of description -- it's to point out a larger direction we seem to be moving in.

I want to ask, "How about the white Republican suburbanite who has three straight-arrow kids, lots of money, and a growing sense of unease about the consumeristic trajectory of her life, who seeks a place to connect with people, to pray with others, and to contemplate peace and God's higher purpose for her life?"
What if she came to one of our churches and spoke those exact words of self-description to someone at coffee hour? What kind of "radical welcome" might be extended to her? Or would the code words "Republican" "God" and "pray" lead someone to coldy explain to her that "This is a different kind of church?"

It's happened in at least one of UU congregation. I heard about it at a dinner party of old high school pals.

What about the 17-year old honor student and cheerleader whose parents are non-observant Jews and who has a serious interest in Buddhist meditation, but who thinks that abstinence-only sex ed is a good idea for kids, and who has fairly conservative personal boundaries. How will she get along in one of our youth groups? Is there a place for her? Will she be welcome as she is?

She came to us once. She was not welcomed in one of our congregations. I heard about it last summer from one of her parents.

How about the 46 year old father of two who works in the restaurant industry and comes to church good and ticked off about the rise in the minimum wage, because he'll now have to pay his servers twice as much per hour as he did last summer, and he therefore might lose his business? What kind of diverse views is he likely to hear about economic justice from the pulpit and during coffee hour? How welcome will he be, with his questions, his anger, and his fears? How about if he comes on Justice Sunday, with its unequivocal support of the living wage? Does anyone care about ministering to him?

The answer, in at least one of our congregations, is "no." I read about it in an e-mail by way of a congregant of mine.

What about the woman with two teenaged sons whose husband comes out to her, and together they negotiate an understanding around their sexual fidelity, but she wants the minister to pray with her for discernment? The woman and her husband have been attending a more conservative Christian church in the area that believes her husband can be "cured" of his homosexuality through prayer and love. The other church is praying for them, is embracing them in their struggle, and says that he is welcome to be a member of that church no matter what he decides about his sexual identity. Meanwhile, the woman feels that no one in the UU church would respect her or her husband, feeling that he should just come out and be done with it. For all the so-called tolerance at the UU church, she finds that she actually feels more accepted and cared for at the other church, and that her search for God's will in her life is taken much more seriously. She resigns her membership.

I was the pastor who received that resignation. I still grieve and ask myself questions over it.

A college age student who is in a deep depression attends one of our summer lay-led services and sits in the back row, weeping softly throughout the service. The service is not so much a worship service as a "talk." There is no word of healing, no time for meditation, no prayers for the people, no hand of fellowship or greeting. She is in so much pain that she nevertheless stays for coffee hour, hoping to make some kind of connection with somebody. No one approaches her. No one makes eye contact with her. There are only thirty or so people there. Finally, although she feels utterly humiliated, she approaches a woman who looks friendly. She introduces herself and explains that she attends the local university. The woman looks worried, as though the young woman's chronic tears may be contagious. "I'm so sorry that we don't have a young adult group for you," she says. And the young woman walks back to campus sobbing intermittently all the way.

It happened in at least one of our congregations. It happened to me. Twenty years ago, almost, and I haven't forgotten (although I have certainly forgiven).

We talk about "marketing." We talk about "casting a wide net." We talk about "radical hospitality." Until we start confronting the prejudices, intolerance and inhospitable behaviors in our congregations, marketing and casting a wide net will avail us nothing. We cannot practice radical hospitality until we learn to practice basic hospitality.