Monday, July 24, 2006

Speech by Executive Director of Amnesty International

I commend to you Bill Schultz's marvelous Berry Street Essay from General Assembly this year. I just read it for the first time. I was at the zoo when he delivered it in St. Louis.
Because I knew that what he had to say would make me sick, make me angry, make me woozy and nauseous with over-identification, and would too sorely tempt me to stand up and scream, "TELL IT, Bill!"

Having just finished it, and indeed feeling woozy, nauseated and totally vindicated by Schultz's condemnation of the Theology Lite being perpetuated by so many UUs today, let me recommend it to you. But let me also warn you: if you don't like what I've been saying about UUs and sin, you're not going to like this, either:

Now You Can Hear Sweet The Sound!

Check this out:

A few weeks ago, the Rev. Tim Holder ("Poppa T"), founder of the Hip HopE Mass in the South Bronx, was supposed to be the guest on Keepin' The Faith, a religious talk show through the University of Illinois.

However, because Tim had a pastoral crisis arise, he was unable to be the guest on the show, and host Steve Shoemaker replaced him with a feature about Sweet the Sound, the group I sing with. He plays several cuts from our CD on the show. I don't think we sound very good on "Bright Morning Star" (it sounds stagnant and too heavy on the alto to my ears), but I guarantee that you will totally dig the second song, "Laying Down." It was written by our director, Matt Meyer Boulton.

In the "It's a Small World" department: Tim Holder is a dear friend of mine from Divinity School.
Don't even ask how we wound up substituting for Tim. Turns out that was due to yet another strange connection. Sometimes it seems like the liberal religious community in America is so tiny.

PeaceBang And Ministerial Jesters

We've caused quite a stir over at Beauty Tips for Ministers,
Check it out, y'all!

As it turns out, Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude is Rev. Jack of the Midwest Discordian Ministry, and was ordained (he says "registered" on his own website) through the Universal Life Church. The argument in the comments section runs along the expected lines of "What nonsense, he's not a real minister if he's ordained over the internet," to "But if you knew Rev. Jack you would realize he's the real deal," etc.

What do I think about all of this?

I am a congregationalist in body, mind, heart and soul. To me, a divinity degree does not make a minister, although I heartily believe that seminary training is essential to clerical formation.
I acknowledge, however, that theological education can be had elsewhere.
I believe that God calls us to the ministry, our own nature and temperament outfit us for it with varying degrees of effectiveness, and that our congregations ordain us to it. If communities accept Rev. Jack as a minister, if they ask him to preach to and to counsel to them, to marry them when they love and to bury them when they're dead, he's legitimate to them, and my opinion matters very little.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that I will probably never consider someone ordained through the Universal Life Church a colleague in the true and full sense, while I may sincerely support their ministry. In that way I am an institutionalist. I also fully support the importance of collegial vetting through the MFC, for the Unitarian Universalists reading this.

There is something else, though, and it has to do with the sort of Holy Fool element in all of this.

I am not a fan of the Holy Fool approach to ministry, which embraces the wacky ways of the Holy Spirit over-against the orderliness of tradition, however unintentionally silly and nonsensical tradition may be.

Ministers who create a kind of holy fool persona for themselves mostly strike me as a jejeune lot -- dramatically and publicly ambivalent about the grave responsibilities of the office of minister. As a committed irreverent reverend myself, I can see the allure of the jester role. However, it's too easy to stay on the sidelines as a self-appointed mocker of tradition and etiquette; to make big clown eyes when you feel like it and say, "Gosh, I'm just a joker here. Don't take ME too seriously."
Yuck. My eyebrow cocks in suspicion just writing about it.

( Clarification: This is NOT to presume or insinuate that Rev. Jack sees himself as a Trickster/Joker figure in any other ministerial matter than that of his ordination. Although he's obviously a non-conformist, he doesn't seem to be presenting himself as a Holy Fool. But reading his website reminded me that I wanted to write about this phenomenon some time ago. I just wanted to make that clear)

Perhaps this is a gender issue. Women in religious leadership can hardly afford to wear the motley cap when we've struggled for thousands of years against sexism to earn our authority in the first place. That may be why I hold my jesting male colleagues in something close to contempt, although my heart wants to be far more generous. I want to say, "How dare you monkey around with this cutesy persona when human lives and souls are at stake?"

"But Jesus was the Lord of the Dance!" people say. "He was the ultimate Fool!"

Sure. But let's remember the full lyrics of "The Lord Of The Dance,"

I danced on the Sunday when I cured the lame,
The Holy people thought it was a shame,
They whipped and stripped and hung me high
And left me there on the cross to die.

Dance, then wherever you may be,
I am the lord of the Dance said he,
And I'll lead you all,
wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the dance said he.

I danced on the Friday, when the sky turned black,
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body, and they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leaped up high
I am the light that will never, never die,
I'll live in you, if you live in me,
I am the lord of the dance said he.

Being the Lord of the Dance -- wild, eternal, unkillable, insistently joyous and unquenchably charismatic -- is far different from the role assumed by too many self-appointed Holy Fools of today, some of whom I have personally experienced as pathologically passive aggressive ("Hey, ya can't take a joke, can you?"), egregiously irresponsible ("I'm the Joker, I'm the Holy Fool, you do the work. You answer to the people's expectations.") and basically just full of baloney.

I believe we have some authentic Holy Fools and Sacred Rebels among us, and that the twinkly and reportedly beloved Rev. Jack Ditch might be one of them.
I don't know. He lives in me as Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude. And wherever he may be today, I'm grateful to him for giving me the chance to spout off about Jesters I Have Known And Not Loved.

Dance on, everyone. I'm dancing off to Quebec tomorrow early afternoon and will not have access to a computer for nearly a week.
Comment away, but don't be disappointed if I can't keep up.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Another Word for Disciple

I've been skimming Tom Schade's blog "The Lively Tradition" tonight with one bleary eye with the promise to read every stinkin' word soon.

Just one thought. I believe that the purpose of a worship service is to make a community of disciples out of a disparate gathering of seekers.

What's a good UU-friendly word for those who don't resonate with"disciples?"

One word, now.

Life In An SUV

As you may recall, I got a 2002 Honday CRV a month or so ago.

I'm paying a little bit more for gas, but since I've gone into a bigger vehicle I've noticed a few things:

1. People don't tailgate me as treacherously as they used to. In fact, they hardly tailgate at all, and that was a constant terror in my Honda Civic.

2. I can see much better for night driving.

3. I am a much calmer, and therefore probably safer, driver. For example, I don't white-knuckle the steering wheel when driving next to jersey barriers or when a big truck roars up alongside me.

4. Long drives don't leave me feeling all crunched up and sore.

5. I can cart big things around with the greatest of ease.

As much as I hated to do it, the bigger car was absolutely the right choice for me. Which is exactly the thinking that contributes to global warning and our demise as a species. Don't think I don't know it. I know, I know.

ISO Bead-Making Friend

Sometimes I get so many e-mails that I go on a little bit of a deleting frenzy and delete important things by accident. Like that e-mail from a few weeks ago from the sweet and lovely reader of this blog who offered to make me a set of prayer beads, who mailed me her photo and was just a doll.

O Sweet Prayer Bead Maker, please forgive me and write to me again! When I get back from my friends' cabin Canada I will answer you immediately!!

Know Thy Greeters

PeaceBang goes to church, part deux.

I drove into the city today to drop off L'il Flava for her rehearsal at the Paulist Center and had an hour to decide where to attend services myself. After having coffee and a bagel, I stood for awhile in front of the Park Street Church, which identifies as conservative Congregationalist.
I decided I wouldn't go there, having seen that the sermon topic was something about the Church Fathers. YAWN.
But not only that, I realized that I felt a little fragile this morning, and that I wanted to be sure to go somewhere where the Christian message being offered would not offend my soul. Sometimes I like to worship with conservative churches because I feel I need to know what they're saying and what kind of spirit they're raising. Today was not one of those days. I didn't feel like a confident minister and student of religion.
I felt like a slightly tired, spiritually hungry seeker who just wanted church.
My decision not to go to Park Street reminded me how much of a risk it really is to walk through the doors of any church for the first time. I was doubly glad that almost every Sunday in my own congregation, I greet our guests from the pulpit by expressing just that sentiment, and thanking them for taking that risk.

Next, I walked across the street to the big Tremont Street Baptist Church and asked a man outside if it was an American Baptist congregation. He said that it was. I went inside and saw that I was the only white person around. A woman at a desk in the foyer asked me, "May I help you?" I figured, it's 10:45 on a Sunday morning, what do you think I came here for? Her question caused about thirty heads to swivel my way, so I lost my nerve and walked out after bidding the woman a good day and kind of waving a pathetic little wave at everyone who was staring at me.

Another learning: I realized that I didn't have the energy or courage to be the only white woman in the place this morning, that I didn't like being asked "may I help you?" in a church, and that I didn't like being stared at. Funny, because there's a bit sign outside the church that says "First Integrated Congregation in America." I will certainly take some of those lessons back to my own church. What's it like to be one of the only brown faces in my own congregation? Do we ever stare like that? Do people ever show up at the door come Sabbath day to be asked, "May I help you?" All worthy questions.

Finally, I walked over to one of our historic Boston churches, which is not just a worshiping community but a tourist site. It was the stroke of 11:00 and there was a sign in front of the church that said, "No Tourists: Worship Service In Progress." A large man, ostensibly the Church Bouncer, stepped in front of me and blocked the entrance. Perhaps assuming I couldn't read the sign, he growled, "Are you here for church?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am," I said. I was dressed in a skirt and sweater; not your usual tourist get-up. The man was a bit non-plussed. "Oh, okay," he said and stepped aside.

"Listen," I said to him. "That's not really the nicest way to greet people for worship, blocking their entrance and interrogating them like that."

"Well, you try keeping 5,000 tourists out of here on Sunday mornings," he snarled at me.

"I understand that." I said. "But it would have been so much nicer if you had said good morning to me and asked me if I would be joining the congregation for worship."

The man practically spit at me. "Oh, okay. I'll work on that."
"You really should work on it, for real," I said as I walked in to worship with the community, ticked off in the extreme. NICE way to start the worship service. Very pleasant.

I had a lovely little chit-chat with several concerned members of that congregation after the service, and I'm sure Mr. Bouncer won't be occupying such a prominent place in the doorway come next Sunday morning. Turns out he's on the church staff and that he's not well known for his hospitality and people skills. There was a fair amount of hand-wringing about his treatment of me, and I'm sure the good stewards of that church will see to it it doesn't happen again. Which is to say, if something like that happens to you as a worshiper in any of our churches, please do let us know. We care, and we want to make it right.

This reminds me of a horrible story I heard from two women who came to my church for the first time last spring. They said that they visited one of our very historic UU congregations nearby and that when they introduced themselves as a couple, the greeter said, "People like you usually find that they prefer to attend church in the city."

Ministers and lay leaders, I recommend that we have a serious start-up every year with our membership committee, greeters and ushers. So much hurt and offense has been caused to sincere seekers from those first encounters. Even perfectly confident, sassy ministers have been hurt by them.

So Many Churches, So Little Time

I'm trying to figure out where to go to church this morning and am fascinated by the fact that none of the websites say anything specific about Sunday services, just general descriptions of what goes on.
Is it too consumeristic to want to know, as a potential visitor, who's preaching and what they're preaching about? Even the big, famous churches in the city don't include this in their websites, which are often huge, confusing affairs with thousands of links.

Good Sabbath, everyone.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

PeaceBang Reviews "Casanova"

I saw another "meh" movie last night.

I haven't seen a film that really shook me to the core for ages, or even one that truly entertained me. It's getting so that I'm tempted just to pull out old favorites, or even to re-view films that wounded or shocked or thrilled me so deeply I never thought I could see them again ("Breaking the Waves," "Dead Man Walking," "Monster," "Enemies, A Love Story," "Goodfellas," "Closer," and "Titus," come to mind) just for the experience of being blown away again by film.

"Casanova" stars a yummy Heath Ledger in the title role, a dull and dowdy Sienna Miller as his love interest Francesca Bruni (the famously gaminesque and tarty Miss Miller gained, like five or six pounds for the part, let her eyebrows grow in thick and sported a BROWN WIG over her platinum bob because Francesca's not supposed to be a great beauty. God, the sacrifice), the ever-sumptuous Lena Olin as Francesca's mother, Oliver Platt in the rich fat buffoon part, and Jeremy Irons in a red fright wig as the Grand Inquisitor.

Maybe one reason I couldn't love the film is that I just don't think you can make comedy out of the Inquisition. I've studied it too deeply, and comedic scenes featuring torture never work for me. I turn ice cold.

The director, Lasse Hallstrom (Olin's husband, for celebrity gossip hounds), obviously adored featuring the splendid city of Venice in this film, and from the DVD extras we learned the entire cast just loved every minute of filming there, despite the obvious challenges of trying to set up dollies on gondolas and such things. I said to L'il Flava, "I think they had more fun making this film than I had watching it."

In the end, the story wasn't about much, the farcical conventions were thoroughly unclever, and since neither the screenplay nor the direction provided anything special, there was nowhere for the performances to go.

A pleasant enough diversion, and it certainly doesn't hurt to look at Heath Ledger for two hours.

"Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality"

I finished reading Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt a few days ago, having marked it up with many emphatic comments on almost every page.

It was a marvelous book for putting what I see as the current UU crisis of religious identity into perspective, only in that it made me realize that what I see as our downward slide into sloppy, sentimental one-world-religion universalism has older and more specific origins than I had exactly understood. I felt that Schmidt writes with sympathetic appreciation for the earliest proponents of one world religion, but even he couldn't sell me on it. Not even close. One of my margin comments on Thomas Wentworth Higginson reads "WHITE (LIBERAL) SUPREMACY!"
You know me, always so gentle in my assessments.

The book bills itself as a survey of American spirituality "from Emerson to Oprah," but it really breezes over the contemporary scene in favor of biographical sketches of the bright lights of 19th century Transcendentalism and universalism. I thought it was a terrific -- even fantastic -- book for my UU ministerial purposes, but if I had purchased it thinking I would get many insights into spirituality today, I may have been sorely disappointed.

Most upsetting among Schmidt's many contributions to my understanding was that he thoroughly validated my suspicion that many Unitarians and other liberal religionists actually replaced Jesus as their personal savior with men like Emerson and Whitman. I shook my head with the irony of it. Schmidt left unanswered my perennial question: If Unitarian Universalists today claim that their non-theistic worship is meant to instruct the soul as to "things of worth," how do they know what is truly worthy? By consulting Emerson and Whitman?
God knows I love me some Ralph Waldo, but I get just as tired as can be when we treat his essays as though they were revealed scripture.

I wound up loving Henry Ware Jr. more than ever after reading this book, and am happy as a clam that I have stacks of obscure articles by him sitting on my reading desk this very moment.

I have a lot more to say about this book but since Philocrites hosted a huge discussion on it awhile ago, I think I'll go become a barnacle on the side of that boat.

That's it for the oceanic references for now. BTW, has anyone seen M. Night Shamalongadingdong's new flick about the sea nymph (excuse me, NAIF) yet? I'd like to go see it but am afraid it will be painfully pretentious. Also, I can't stand Paul Giamatti. But I love mermaids and myths, so if you saw it and liked it, do tell.

Things Making Me Laugh Today

As you may know, SisterBang has a dog named Gordon, also affectionately known as "Dordy," "G. Gordon Liddy" and "Dr. Smoothenstein."

When asked what breed he is, SisterBang always responds that he is a Gordon Retriever. He looks, actually, somewhat like a Viszla (sp?). He is a very smooth, handsome orange mutt guy with a greying muzzle. My sister is NEVER seen without him by her side. They sleep in the bed together, head on the same pillow.

I love Gordon excessively, even when he falls out of bed in the night as he did last weekend, sounding for all the world like a cannonball coming through the window. SisterBang slept soundly through the whole thing while I sat up in bed with my hair on end.

Anyway, you know how you have voices for your animal family members? We have a voice for Gordon that sounds somewhat like Goliath in the old "Davey and Goliath" claymation television show that you used to watch on Sundays when you were a kid (and you know you still think of it every time you hear the opening strains of "Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott.") It's the voice we use for all the dogs in our family. Before it was Gordon's voice it was Pippin's voice.

This is all a very long backstory to what's making me laugh, which is this:
last weekend, I was talking with Gordon and he said to me (via his ventriloquist, of course) in the most gentle doggy way, "Don't get up in my grill."

I am laughing to tears just thinking about it all day today. Can you just picture that?? I must need more sleep.

The other thing that's making me laugh is the word "pillock." Which I think is British slang for "irritating doofus."
Do you get a mental image of Tony Blair when you say it? Me, too.

I hope there are many things making you laugh today. I have BANJO at 4:30, and I'm sure my lame, plunky rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" will bring some laughter into my teacher's life.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Manual Of Worship for UUs

I got a lovely little book at General Assembly called A Manual Of Worship: Insights From Over 50 Years As A Unitarian Universalist Minister by Frank Schulman. Terry Sweetser edited it and William Sinkford wrote the foreward.

Neither Boy In the Bands nor I can find it anywhere on line. I bought my copy at the Skinner House booth, I think, but noticed that they were also selling copies out at the Fund For the Living Tradition tables, or whatever they do out at those tables where they give out ribbons and apples? (Anyone? Anyone?)

Let's not keep this light under a bushel! Let's get a copy into the hands of every seminarian and every minister! Especially since the dear departed Frank Schulman says so many things with which I wholeheartedly and passionately agree!

Connected people, this is your mission should you choose to accept it: where can we order copies of this book?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Calling Former Jesuits

PeaceBang is on the love rampage again -- but this time not for herself (although that continues), but for her dear friend.

This friend is very cute and very brilliant, and she's calling all angels to hook her up with, in her own words, "a nice, straight former Jesuit."

When I hear her say that, I first say to myself, "Your mouth to God's ears!" But then I just can't help but envision a lot of angels standing together around the Clipboard of Life saying, "Oh god, she wants a STRAIGHT former Jesuit?" and wringing their hands.

So you heard it here. We have an order out for one terrific, straight, attractive former Jesuit. He's also supposed to be a "colorful" person. And by that we mean no "culturally clueless white boys," and that's a direct quote, yo.

Union Chapel In the Grove

MotherBang and I attended the most beautiful church service this past Sunday at Union Chapel in the Grove, built in 1875 on the site of a former Methodist Camp Meeting ground.

God bless the Methodists for building these chapels so that summer worshipers might have somewhere to go to church while vacationing in popular destinations like the Hamptons and Maine.

I loved their liturgy, which began with this proclamation of the Christian faith:

Minister: Let us proclaim our Christian faith.

People: We believe in one God, the creator of the universe, who gives us breath, offers us the ways of life or death, and seeks to shied us from willful error and evil. He is also our judge.

[I just love that! I love that God "offers" us the ways of life or death, indicating that we have free will to follow or not... and I LOVE that tacked on ending -- almost casual, "he is also our judge." No big, threatening deal, just an acknowledgement of the higher Moral Cause. Right ON!]

We believe in Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and living Lord, sent by God to share our human lot, overcoming sin and death. He is our example.

[We believe in J.C. the man of Nazareth! How lovely is that? Note the liberal christology there. Also, I love that Jesus is our crucified and LIVING Lord -- which helps avoid the squick factor for those who, when they hear the words "crucified and risen," get a mental image of the Zombie Jesus. And I LOVE the phrase, "He is our example." Again, tacked onto the end in the most comfortable, respectful way. He is our example. Period. Damn well told]

We believe in the Holy Spirit of God who eagerly enters all receptive hearts [I love that!!How Universalist!], inspiring us to love and serve others, to resist evil and to proclaim God's good news throughout the world. He is our power.

[Aside from naming the Holy Spirit as "he," I totally dig that treatment of the Ghost.]

Mom and I got teary-eyed over the beautiful hymns like "Be Still, My Soul" and "God of Grace and God of Glory" -- and exchanged several dewy-eyed looks of astonishment at the talent of the string quartet -- all teenagers from the nearby Perlman Music Camp who graced us with an exquisite rendition of Quartet #2 in D major by Borodin for the Anthem. When I say these kids were good, I don't mean they were good for kids. I mean they were amazingly good, period. You just can't imagine the joy of sitting in church next to my cherished Mama on a beautiful summer day in this gem of a chapel hearing this soaring music. My soul was made whole. I don't think I could have worked up an anxiety attack that hour if you paid me.

Pastor Bill Grimbol, guest preaching for the day as a visitor from his own Presbyterian congregation, gave us one of those meandering, unscripted, lovely sermons filled with stories from his own life, earnest musings, passionate exhortations, and plenty of love. He dealt out his own life passed through the fire of thought, and I greatly appreciated that. He is my mother's pastor, and I wanted to hear him. She's right: if I lived in the area I would be glad to have him as my minister. Thanks, Pastor Bill.

What a beautiful church-going experience it was. Remember the name Linnea Brophy, a young violinst who is going places.

I hope they'll let me preach there sometime. What a pleasure that would be.

Going To Get Officially Hugged

Now I'm all nervous that I'll forget and wear something that Amma thinks is too tight, too short, or that I'll wear a sleeveless shirt by accident:

Somehow I don't think this is what should be on your mind when going to meet the Hugging Saint.

I Heart Malan

Are you watching "Project Runway?"

Can you STAND that they ousted Malan last night?

I can't.

This is how deep my thoughts run these days.

To reality shows and barbecuing. Join me in the Land of Shallow!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Barbecue Challenged

Just curious: is it really true that you can add briquettes and other good-smelling, smoke-creating agents to the bottom of a gas grill?

I have a very girlie gas grill that I back away from, squealing in terror, whenever the flames shoot too high. I am a Grill Whimp.

BrotherBang, who stands manfully before 4' high flames without flinching, claims that I can put, oh I don't know, chipotle-flavored cedar chips in there under my steak or whatever. I am very surprised to hear this.

Aside from the fact that some loyal readers of this blog strenuously object to my consuming of steaks and other friendly members of the animal kingdom, what are you favorite grilling and barbecuing tricks?

I know this isn't deep. It's JULY. It's A HUNDRIT DEGREES. That's the POINT. Go get some watermelon and let me know what you think.

Chlorine Brain

It's very very hot in the Hamptons, but you would never know it at here at La Casa de MotherBang. We go from the shady backyard and pool to the air-conditioned house. We eat. We blab. We read. We eat some more. We take naps. BrotherBang updates us on the status of what's happening in Lebanon, which is scary and deeply upsetting. We have differences of opinion, but no fights. Hallelujah.

It is very good. Sister and BrotherBang were here, and Sister-In-Law and the two babies. MotherBang and I cracked up today when she suggested they call me "Rantie PeaceBang" instead of Auntie PeaceBang.

I did read _The Alchemist_ by Paulo Coehlo and I thought it was so terrible I was tempted to throw it into the pool. I truly WANTED to rant and rave about it for a long time but really, I was too relaxed to manage much more than fairly mild exclamations of disgust and dismay.

_The Alchemist_ is Joseph Campbell by way of Oprah by way of Charo. That is the LAST TIME PeaceBang will ever trust the general bookbuying public to choose her Deep Spiritual Tomes for her.

MotherBang's computer is old and has a dial-up connection, so that's all I can say now. I can't even figure out how to italicize THE ALCHEMIST.

One more thing: we attended a beautiful church service at a Methodist Camp Church. More on that later.

Stay cool. Don't kill anyone. Even when you're stuck in traffic around Boston.


Personal to SisterBang: I got you the second Ditty-Bops album! Psych!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday Cat Blogging (Because I'll Be Gone On Friday)

Flea Motel
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
Someone who doesn't even ever go outside and who hasn't caught a mouse in two years has managed to get fleas anyway.

We think maybe the housesitter, who has a horse and spends a lot of time in the barn, might have contributed them.

We are all doing well after a visit to the vet, thank you.

And we'll thank you not to mention it to an elegant little Someone in Particular, who is a little mortified, but who as at least come out of hiding for snuggling and love for the first time in days.

The Lively Tradition and PeaceBang on Hiatus

While I'm away for the next however-many days, I hope you'll all head on over to my darling Tom Schade's new blog, The Lively Tradition, and read every post:

Glad to have you back in the blogosphere, baby.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Being Surprised

You might want to check out a fine article by Cynthia Gorney on the total abortion ban in South Dakota in 6/26 issue of The New Yorker.

What I liked best about it was that it highlighted the complexity of people's thinking on the issue of abortion, and made the citizens of South Dakota seem like a thoughtful people, not like the misogynist anti-choice haters I had so easily wanted to collectively brand them.

The article highlights the effort to put the state's ban on abortion up for a vote in November, reporting in poignant detail some South Dakotan's reactions to the petitioners. A hip young woman declines to sign with a firm "no." An elderly lady "with rheumy eyes and salon-smoothed white curls" grabs the clipboard in her zeal to get her name on the petition.

The Republican mayor of Rapid City, SD, the anti-choice son of the best-known (illegal) abortion doctor in the northern Plain states, says this about abortion,

"Let me say this, so it's real clear -- I loved my dad. But the right-to-life people -- I've listened to what they say, and they're not wrong about a lot of that stuff. If you're going to be fair, you can't just say, 'They're zealots, they don't understand.' This really mushy definition of when it's a fetus and when it's a baby? ...when you have photographic, gestational data that shows what a fetus looks like, you start noticing that it's not a zygote. At some point, it's a human being."

Standard enough stuff, sure, with the added poignancy of the son grappling with his father's work as a provider of abortions.

But then, look what this pro-life Republican says later,

"This country is in deep shit. The United States is in trouble financially, and in many other ways, and people want these problems solved, and when you start coming into their bedrooms because people like Bill Napoli want to make a name for themselves -- coming into their bedrooms, even if someone has been raped -- you really strip our ability to deal with these massive issues."

Surprised? Me, too. It's refreshing to be surprised these days. Being manipulated, as we constantly are, to see each other in terms of black and white (or more specifically, blue and red) it's almost giddying to be reminded that the folks across the picket line are as complex as we are. As thoughtful. As upset. As convinced. More untamed by creed and ideology than you think, and often unfairly and inaccurately labelled.

Another happily surprising moment in Gorney's article comes when interviews a drugstore owner from Sioux Falls who says, "I'm Catholic, so I'm pro-life. I'm a Republican, too. But I think my personal beliefs would not necessarily make good law."

This is where I murmur to myself, "Take that, Miss Blue State Liberal Demonizer of South Dakotans!"

Of course I'm biased. As an adamantly pro-choice American, I will naturally take heart when so-called "pro-choice" individuals are nuanced enough in their thinking to support reproductive freedom for women.

The evidence that some pro-life South Dakotans are dismayed by their anti-choice legislature, as good news as it was, wasn't so much the thrill in reading this article.* The thrill was to be reminded of the surprise of human beings.

I love -- well, I mostly love --- the surprise of people. The surprising unknowability of people provides perhaps my deepest sources of fascination and awe in the pastoral ministry, often even when the surprise is unpleasant.

The staid stockbroker with the porn addiction, the globe-trotting, absinthe-drinking soccer mom, the timid man who leaves his wife and runs off with a woman he met on the internet, the scandalous adulterous affair between the physically disfigured man and his gorgeous female companion, the pathologically shy man whose closest companion is his dog, the well-adjusted, intellectual mother of two who becomes totally unhinged at the death of a mentor. The gentle elder who explodes during a relatively unimportant meeting about, say, music. The pillar of the congregation who falls off the wagon and goes on a bender. The shy teenager who has never driven on the highway before, who takes the family car and runs away to Nashville, sleeping in hospital parking lots along the way. The reliable, jovial minister who checks into MacLean Psychiatric Hospital. The beloved church member who turns out to have been a fugitive from the law and prison escapee. The congregational president who has been torturing and murdering his neighbors.

Shocking. Wild. Scary. We are all of these things; we are largely unknowable to others. When religious liberals worship Community and put it in the place of God, I want to say, "Be careful, friends. Be careful what you are worshiping, for its individual components are far more terrifying and capricious than any dreadful God you might be trying to avoid."

We may not love the surprise of people, but we must be able to live with it, and not romanticize it.

As Jim Morrison wrote, "People are strange when you're a stranger." Hey Jim, people are strange even when you're not a stranger.

Bears thinking about.

*There is, unfortunately, a big, huge depressing bummer at the end of the article for pro-choice advocates. Remember back when the whole South Dakota story hit, and the tribal president of the Oglala Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, promised to keep the reservation clinic open for abortions? It was a wonderful, brave gesture -- one that I remember applauding in church.

As it turns out, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted to suspend Fire Thunder as president and banned abortion anywhere on the reservation. Indian Country Today reported that one of the council members said to the crowd the night of the meeting when the decision was made, "If you were born out of rape or incest, thank you for being here."

[The petition drive was successful, and the voters of South Dakota will decide whether or not to repeal the law in November. Please visit South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families at for more information. - P.B. ]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

God Loves You, You Know It

Terrible logo, I know.

A lot of you contributed thoughts about how you know God loves you.

There was a wide array of heartfelt remarks, and I appreciate every one of them. The majority of you had either one dramatic ah-ha moment when you felt absolutely certain of God's love, or you have experienced that certainty over years of smaller epiphanies.

One of you was taught by your Universalist church that God IS love, and has determined through logical reasoning that this is indeed true, having tested and rejected other conceptions of God as cosmic judge, or punishing parent.

A few of you don't believe in a personal God, but one of you stated with comfortable simplicity that you know the forces of God are working in the universe as surely as you know that the force of gravity is working in the universe.

One of you believes in a loving God on many days, and on other days adopt a more existential position of biological determinism that doesn't feel very inspiring, but may just be the reality of human existence ( to which I say, hey, there could be worse things than being biologically programmed to respond to stimuli like love!).

Two of you responded at length on your own blogs. Yay! Follow the links, people, and enjoy.

Someone suggested something I have long embraced on my most dubious days, which is that if I love God's creation (and I certainly try to), I must include myself in that love. This resonated very strongly with me.

Another reader shared some deep doubts about some of the essential claims made by liberal religion, saying, "I am a part of a liberal religion because it's the way I think things should be, but that doesn't mean I believe it. " I found this comment intriguing and honest, and had the sense that many of us would like to hear more about these ideas if Jason was willing to write more about them. Even as I constantly beat the drum of "we have to know what we AFFIRM as religious liberals!" I think it's also important for us to be able to discuss, among ourselves, the doubts and struggles we have with our own faith claims. Jason may have begun an important conversation there. He says, "I live my life with integrity and hope that's good enough." I think we can all agree that to live with integrity is one of the highest aims of liberal religion.

One respondent is disturbed that modern people persist in believing in "a being that has no humanly measurable attributes" (by which I think he means God), but advises us to believe that we are loved because to do so may very well be good for our character formation. I found this last twist surprising and rather endearing.

Anyone else want to weigh in?

More Music Memories

As you know, I went on a bit of a nostalgia buying binge on i-Tunes last night and had a lot of fun listening to my downloads today at the gym. I accidentally downloaded some yoga chick's rendition of "My Sweet Lord" instead of the original George Harrison version, but other than that little blooper I'm very happy with my purchases. I predict that Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life" and L.T.D.'s "Back In Love Again" will be my newest inspiration to manage an extra set of crunches. I got caught boogeying to Stevie in the locker room. I got caught bad.

I hadn't heard the Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" for a long time, and when I bought it last night I couldn't imagine why I had. But when I heard it today, I suddenly remembered that when I was a child, I always thought that song was about Jesus. I don't know how I got that idea, but I have a clear recollection of hearing the song on the radio and getting a mental picture of Jesus carrying a man in his arms. A big man. A hurt or hungry man. I think I was very little at the time and this image was deeply comforting to me.

Where did this image come from? Maybe it just came unbidden to the imagination of Little PeaceBang, or maybe it was inspired by other groovy Jesus songs from that approximate era, like "Jesus Is Just Alright" and "Spirit In The Sky" -- both of which (whether they came at the same time or later) gave me a similar mental image of a groovy, hippie Jesus I liked very much. It all seemed one with the kind of peace and love stuff like "Good Morning, Starshine" and "Day By Day."

I was reminded today that "He Ain't Heavy" is a helluva song. It's musically beautiful. It tells a story. It has a message. It evokes an era. It's been a delight to dig some of those old songs back up and to let them wash over me, bringing back smells and feelings and sights from my childhood and filling me with a simple bodily longing for the sights, smells and sounds of my own family, my clan, and for my own past.

We used to go to my Uncle Dick's house many weekends in the summer, a beautiful mansion on a private beach in Connecticut and could comfortably fit me and my 12 cousins and my dad and his three big brothers and all their wives. The house was glamorous and had zebra pillows and fur throw rugs and the men smoked cigars inside and there was always rich food, like chicken liver and snazzy crackers, and I still remember the smell of the water in the pool, and how it felt to slide down the slide into the pool.

We'd hear songs like, "Get Right Back To Where We Started From" and "Afternoon Delight" and "We're All Alone Now" and "Playground In My Mind" and "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "Feelings" in the car on the way there and back, and my dad would sing with his big, croony voice, totally sincere, totally sentimental. When he didn't know the words he'd go, "VA VA VA" or "MMM HMMM" with just as much feeling, and we kids would silently crack up in the back seat. He LOVED his Barry Manilow. We all did. We all still do. He makes us cry. He made our daddy cry.
If someone farted, no one said a word but the windows would just silently roll down and again, we kids would silently crack up in the back seat.
My little brother would say something about how we must have just passed the Egg Factory -- risking sure death with our fart-phobic parents -- and we'd start silently cackling again, but Mom and Dad's necks would be very still and dignified up there in the front, and the radio played on.

I remember one time we were listening to "Get Right Back To Where We Started From," and when the song said,
"and if you get hurt
by the little things I say
I can put that smile back on your face"
either my dad or mom reached for the other, and they squeezed hands. From the backseat point of view of a little girl whose parents had a pretty terrible marriage, that was a very nice moment, and a very nice memory.

Big Dig Rant

It's a good thing that I was already sweating and in full cardio mode at the health club when I saw on television that a huge chunk of the Mass Turnpike central artery tunnel fell and killed 38- year old Millena Delvalle last night.

Should not every Boston-area citizen be enraged by this? This corrupt 14 billion dollar project was botched, mismanaged, and f'd up from the start. For over ten years downtown Boston has looked like Beirut after a bombing and we have tolerated it. We have tolerated the treacherous, arbitrarily marked* detours to major highways, we have tolerated pot holes the size of Detroit, we have tolerated illegible signage leading nowhere, we have tolerated leaking and now collapsing tunnels. We have tolerated a Boston that is more like a third-world country for drivers than are many developing nations' capitals.

Gov. Mitt Romney is promising some serious consequences -- like Transportation Authority Chief Matt Amorello's head -- but it's too little too late. This is and has been a fiasco -- now with truly tragic consequences -- and although it may have the benefit of getting more of us to take public transportation (I certainly don't drive in the city if I don't have to), it is not acceptable for drivers in this major American city to have to worry about 12-tons of tunnel smashing down on them while they drive to the airport.

A few months ago I was driving through that very tunnel, going homeward. Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, the exit to 93 South was closed and I was forced to drive to the airport (hey, it was either the airport or get off at the next exit in like NEW HAMPSHIRE), circle around, pay a toll in order to exit, and find my way through the city -- following tiny, mostly confusing and misleading signs all the way -- to an open ramp to 93 South.
You must understand that 93 South is not a little side road, or simply the most convenient route home for me. It is the ONLY southbound route from the Turnpike. That the authorities CLOSED IT OFF without posting signs miles in advance is simply unbelievable. But this is business as usual in Boston: motorists are forced into treacherous, last minute changes without forewarning or notice. The same goes for public transportation: routes are closed, buses replace subway trains with no warning, entire lines shut down for no reason, and so on.

I have lived or driven extensively in NYC, Washington, DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and San Francisco. Boston is by far the worst, most dangerous and filthy, inhospitable, treacherous driving environment of all. Boston drivers, to add insult to injury, are the most hostile, lawless, obnoxious motorists I have ever encountered.

We can only hope that Ms. Delvalle's death will finally motivate the powers-that-be to fix this mess, and fast. I wish her and her family God's peace.

(* shout-out to CK!)

Latest i-Pod Purchases

Thanks to MotherBang's gift cards, I just added the following drugs to my stash:

"Cherish" - The Association (only because SisterBang and I like to sing it when we get scary e-mails)
"Never My Love" (same reason, and we are trying to learn the harmony for the "ba ba ba buh" part)
"God Only Knows" - Beach Boys
"Beginnings" - Chicago
"Make Me Smile"
"For Once in My Life" - Stevie Wonder
"All In Love Is Fair"
"You Can Leave Your Hat On" - Joe Cocker
"Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" - The Hollies
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"Happy Together" - The Turtles
"My Sweet Lord" - George Harrison
"(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again" - L.T.D.
"Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" - The Police
"Play That Funky Music" - Wild Cherry
"Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" - "The Wiz"
Home (Finale)
Everybody Rejoice
"Thing of Beauty" - Hothouse Flowers
"Stand Beside Me"
"This Is It (Your Soul)"
"I Can See Clearly Now" - Jimmy Clifton
"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" - "Dreamgirls"
"Even Now" - Barry Manilow
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" - George Michael and Elton John

Big disappointments on i-Tunes:

No Bee Gees single of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" or "Nights on Broadway! Who the hell are The Gee Bees, those lame imposters!

Why can't I buy a single of Dion singing "Abraham, John and Martin?" Why I gotta buy the whole album?

Monday, July 10, 2006

BANJO Update

The three songs I can play (badly) on the BANJO are:

"This Land Is Your Land" (both by plucking and by chords)
"You Are My Sunshine"
"When the Saints Go Marching In"

Please return now to your deep theological ruminations about the nature of God's love for us. Thank you.

How Do You Know God Loves You?

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I don't know if we can do this on a blog, but I would like to try. Hey, we can always say it didn't go well.

If there is a God, and we affirm that the nature of that God is Love, how do you know God loves you?

This is a personal question, not so much a theological one. You can all comment as Anonymous if it feels too revealing to share your personal experiences of feeling the presence of a loving God. Let me challenge you to respond from personal experience and feeling, and try if you can to avoid lengthy quotes from philosophers or precis of others' arguments. Just for fun.

Some questions.
Do we know that God loves us because we love one another so much, and are we necessarily extrapolating from that?
Are we muddling along in the night, feeling that it's *possible* that God loves us because we are able to feel and experience love ourselves, and it feels so miraculous?

If we don't believe in God, do we locate the source of love somewhere in particular in the human being, or beyond? Again, I hope you will muse from your own intuition even as you may share part of a philosophical explanation or school of thought.

For liberal Christians, what does it mean to you personally that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son for us? For me, as a Humanist Christian, it means that God gives us human brothers and sisters who are willing to teach us the ways of Love even at the cost of their own lives. God grants them the strength to live out their calling so that we may know that life can be just as precious brief and deep as it is long and full in years. It is perhaps the lowest part of my christology, and it changes frequently so don't quote me on that.

These questions come from a pastor at rest, who truly wonders who she is when she is not filling her days with the worries and plans of ministry. One of the reasons I am so assiduously protecting my vacation this year is because I am trying to grapple with the question of whether God loves me when I am not at work for others. On an intellectual level, I have faith that this is so. If someone put that question to me, i.e., "Does God love me even when I am not in active service to others," I would certainly answer in the enthusiastic affirmative and feel pain that they should even wonder such a thing.

To believe in, and perhaps even experience, God's love for me even when I am non-productive, is my spiritual practice this summer. It is my spiritual practice every summer, and this year I would like to come away with something more than several weeks of confusion and low-grade depression. I feel no shame in sharing this with you. I have to believe it is a common dysfunction among many caregivers. For all you cute, protective and pastoral types out there, don't worry about me. I'm FINE. I go through this every year. It's not as big an existential crisis as it sounds, just a constant growing edge and a genuine question.

Take a good look at that cub's face. I could look at that all day. Is that not a perfect creation? Is that not a being to cherish? Do you think Creation delights in us in that way when the first breath is breathed into us?

How do you know God loves you? Or, if that feels too personal, how do you know in your heart that God loves us? If an obviously suffering person sat next to you in church and put that question to you, how would you answer him or her, without referring him or her to a book, a counselor, a pastor, or the suicide hotline? How would you answer this question, from your heart?

Me, I'm just going to look at that lion cub for a few more hours.

Chastening Rod

Kids, I feel I have to apply the chastening rod a little bit here.
Don't worry, I get spanked, too.

In my last post about reading Ephesians, I said that I love the letter, that I embrace it as a beautiful statement about community life, and that I find it exceedingly disappointing to get to the part where Paul goes from soaring spiritual idealism to revealing himself as a member of a sexist, domination-based society. With a thud.

Look what some of my commenters assume:
(1) That I'm reading Paul as though he's God.
(2) That I may not be aware of questions about Pauline authorship.
(3) That I need to be tutored in liberal exegesis, and that I may not be aware of our theological conviction that "revelation is not sealed."
(4) That I may not be aware of the practice of using inclusive language and editing the epistles for use in church, and need to be encouraged to do so because I may not have already thought of that.

I wonder how often we do this to each other: treat one person's reflection as an opportunity to enlighten them with all the information we ourselves have, assuming that that's what they really need from us.

Could this be, in microcosm, part of what we are doing wrong in our churches? Insulting people's intelligence and making overbearing, unsolicited recommendations for their edification because we assume we know more than they do? Mistaking someone's musings on Scripture, for example, for an invitation to barrage them with our knowledge on the subject, rather than simply responding with our own reflections?

Isn't it interesting that I shared my deep love for the Letter to the Ephesians, saying that it has great spiritual power and resonance for me, and that every single respondent chose to follow up on my criticism of its last chapters? You mean none of you have any thoughts about how Ephesians touches your own hearts or inspires you in your quest to live in beloved community? Or is it just that our default setting as UUs is to jump into every conversation from an intellectual and critical place, and so that's where we inevitably wind up? The brainiest big mouths* totally dominate, while the ones quietly chewing on the deeper question never even dare speak up?

How often have I myself killed a rich conversation in exactly this manner? Probably many times, especially with those who come musing about their reactions to some religiously-themed item from pop culture, such as The DaVinci Code. Instead of just listening to their thoughts about the possibility of a married Jesus, I jump immediately to correct their credulous ignorance, greeting their enthusiasm with Important Information and establishing myself, not as a sister seeker, but as an Authority On the Subject.

I think our congregations are overly full of Authorities On The Subject. And I think sister and brother seekers stay the hell away. Did they come for fellowship and mutual exploration, or did they come to be hazed by the Honor Society?

I'm a minister. You all know that. Our ministers are actually required to have a theological education before being ordained. All of you should know that.
I have studied the gospels and the epistles with world-class scholars. I have studied the Greek, I know the liberal exegeses, I know the Mayflower Compact, and I know the questions of Pauline authorship. Had several of you thought about it for more than a second, you might have realized that and perhaps shifted your thinking thusly: Gee, PeaceBang is grieving the bummer ending of what she believes is a deeply inspiring, gorgeous spiritual teaching from the ancient world. I wonder if I have anything to say about that? How have I been disappointed myself by the limitations of some spiritual leader or great religious teaching?

I'm thinking, cripes, if this small community of religious liberals responds to someone they know has a theological education with this kind of teacherly superiority, how are they (we) treating people they know don't have a theological education? And what can we learn from this?

Herein endeth the lesson.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation..."

good shepherd

* PeaceBang = If not among the brainiest, certainly one of the biggest mouths.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ephesians Is SO GOOD, until you get to that part...

I read Paul's Letter to the Ephesians last night and I thought, "Wow, this is just the most beautiful statement about religious community ever" and just went on marveling about its beauty and deep understanding and amazing insights and lovely theology and then I got to the part about women obeying husbands and slaves obeying masters and I had to go take some Advil.

It just sucks that we have this gorgeous, gorgeous shining thing that resonates across the thousands of years, and then Paul has to go and totally be a limited man of his own time and place.

I hate when that happens.

Sunday Musings

I had a nice Boston day today.

Got up and drove into the city with L'il Flava and attended church at the venerable King's Chapel while she went off to have brunch at Bob the Chef's with some of her pals. I love the high church liturgy at KC, singing the psalms, hearing an OT and a NT lesson, singing the hymns with the old lyrics.
I love the confession, I love the many prayers, I love the rhythm of it and the language. I finally get it. It is becoming easy to follow along, and I begin to understand the power of repetition, which I have never had before in my worshiping life. The grass is always greener. I've always had creative, different worship services all my life. Hence, I crave the beautiful simplicity of the Book of Prayer. It stirs the soul in a different way and for me, it doesn't make me think less, but makes me think more. With each repetition, I hear the accustomed words in a new way. A phrase that previously went unnoticed sings in a new way the fourth time I hear or read it.

A few of us went out for brunch afterwards -- we tried to go to The Kinsale, an Irish pub with outdoor seating, across from Government Center, but they were showing the World Cup on a huge Jumbotron and the whole area was overrun with boisterous sports fans.
I can't even imagine what the North End is like tonight (the North End is our Little Italy). Congratulations, Italia! Don't fall off your Vespas in a drunken stupor!

After brunch I hopped on the "T" to Copley Square in an attempt to get some work done at the Boston Public Library, but it was closed. So I schlepped my books and papers over to the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center and hunkered down there for awhile. Of course I managed to pick up a few products at C.O. Bigelow and Sephora (mustn't disappoint my Beauty Tips readers!) and then went back to find L'il Flava at the Paulist Center.

I stopped in for a few minutes of the Mass but felt pretty uncomfortable so I sneaked out as everyone queued up for Eucharist.

Why did I feel uncomfortable? The liturgy was downright progressive (especially the Eucharistic words, which I loved), the music contemporary, the community seemed friendly and caring (although one man who passed me the peace failed to make eye contact, which just made me feel terribly rejected and invisible -- just evidence of how vulnerable we can feel as church visitors), but I didn't feel right. It's sad. I want to be in fellowship with all the Christian world by virtue of my baptism, but I've heard for so many years that Catholics don't want to be in fellowship with me, I came to the Mass protected and defensive, critical and guarded. When they took an offering for African and Native American missions I didn't contribute anything. I thought about how I support birth control and reproductive rights and women and gay priests and gay marriage and full criminal accountability for ordained sexual offenders and I couldn't be fully there.

Unitarian Universalists need to confront the fact that we're not, in fact, "down" with every religious tradition around. We're not and we're not called to be. We're called to be respectful and humane, compassionate agents of dignity and justice for all peoples, even if we're not in full accordance with their beliefs. Hard work, that. It's easy to keep "other religions" at arm's length or to exoticize them and to say, "We're cool with everybody's beliefs," but of course we're not. We have our own ideologies, and we have a theology as well. Even if we can't articulate it very well most of the time, we have a theology!

I think the trick is to respect the fact that God/The Mystery draws people to various faith traditions in a diverse way, and none of us fully understands why that is so. To be a religious liberal, though, is to affirm that this diversity is a good thing despite its great and terrible challenges, and to refrain from dismissing whole populations of people because THEY believe things we do not, or because they keep the faith for reasons we may not understand or resonate with.

Part of the sadness I felt visiting that Catholic Mass comes from knowing how much of a struggle and how much personal work so many of those worshiping individuals and families have had to do in coming to terms with their own faith tradition's strengths and weaknesses. It comes from wanting to be fully and un-suspiciously supportive of those brothers and sisters and wishing I could worship wholeheartedly alongside them, yet knowing I am not really welcome to because of their Church's official positions that contradict Jesus' radical welcome of all children of God. My sadness comes from feeling solidarity of a kind with those worshipers while simultaneously feeling very, very touchy toward their Mother Church. Some of that must be my Jewish heritage. It may never go away. Perhaps it is enough, today, to feel an authentic affection for that Catholic parish gathered in worship even as my chilly distaste for the powerbrokers in Rome (and in the Boston archdiocese) kept me from being fully trusting of them.

So I muddle on.

Anyway, it was mostly a terrific summer day and L'il Flava and I ended up back at The Kinsale snacking and having sodas and getting mad at our waiter and waiting it out to the bitter end of the Red Sox - White Sox game, which we LOST in the NINETEENTH INNING.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Who Is This Pastor?

I didn't even know about this guy, and apparently he's a huge phenomenon:

What do you think?

Sounds downright edgy and cool and interesting to me. But of course you will probably be able to persuade me pretty quickly that he's too evangelical, that he's not grounded in a community of accountability, and that Our People would never take to this kind of contemporary scene. Because, of course, Our People are all about books and words and sitting in small circles at worship where they can sip their coffee throughout.

And we just don't like the idea of reaching 10,000 people at one time, do we. We want to make sure to check out every individual who walks through the door to make sure they're properly One Of Us in belief, communication style and ideology before really letting them in.


Sure, George. Right, George

I Respond to "Searching" and Bill

I am so glad that "Searching" commented in my last post about welcoming the stranger and that he or she pointed out two of our most egregious sins in how we approach visitors. Thanks for posting, Searching, and welcome to PeaceBang.

First of all, it is never truly welcoming to denigrate the former religious life of a seeker. Even if it makes them feel more welcome at the moment of their arrival, it does not do credit to our maturity as a faith tradition to bond with them over what we all rejected. First of all, to do so is based on assumptions that may be incorrect-- such conversations have no real place in coffee hour, either -- they should be worked out in a much deeper, reflective setting such as an Adult Education class. Secondly, to welcome newcomers in the spirit of what they rejected immediately centers all of us in a common unity of religion-bashing rather than in a unity of positive, affirming fellowship.

When Bill Baar says we'll never be a majority religion because we are a religion for people who don't fit in elsewhere, he is reading the crystal ball based on how we behave today, and in this wise, he is absolutely prophetic. However, I don't think he has to be correct. We can together choose to be a religion for people who could ostensibly fit in lots of other places, but who choose to be Unitarian Universalists because they find something rich and deep among our congregational life that is more powerful and life-giving than what they have experienced elsewhere.

Searching also warns us against interrogating self-described Christians with great suspicion and even veiled hostility. YES! We DO this! While we wouldn't think of similarly harassing a humanist or an atheist or a Jew or a Buddhist (I'm not including pagans here, because I think they are also commonly greeted with a raised eyebrow in many of our churches), we think nothing of piercing right into someone's fragile philosophy with insensitive questions or harsh comments intended to let that person know just where we stand. Again, hypocrisy. Again, terribly damaging, and assuring our small numbers and reputation as a club for godless, politically liberal brainiacs.

Why evangelize, asks Bill Baar. Why not, Bill? Evangelizing is simply sharing one's "good news." For those of us who have more to share than just doubt, it is easy to evangelize. I agree with you that ministers have much more work to do in clarifying what IS our Unitarian Universalist good news, and I think it's getting better. But we need UU laypeople to join us in digging deep for what it is we can affirm and in welcoming people without succumbing to the temptation to join them in wounded rejection (in fact, ministering to their wounded rejection should be our first order of business as a welcoming people).

Finally, we must stop assuming that everyone who comes to us is joining us because they didn't fit in anywhere else. A great number of seekers today are totally unchurched and have had no negative experiences with former faith communities. They come unknowing, open, interested in the religious endeavor, and eager to be clearly shown the transformative power of our spiritual community. They are the ones who find us through or by reading, and who come with a textbook understanding of Unitarian Univeralism that includes our Christian heritage, our vaunted liberality and generosity of spirit, our shining exemplars of social justice and liberation work, and our Biblical and Enlightenment values.

They are the quickest to intuit our contemporary hypocrisies and to go away thinking, with good reason, "I had heard that those were the people who are deeply devoted to the notion that God speaks in a variety of ways to people, that these UUs are people who understood that reverence and moral goodness are not reliant on creeds and conformity, they they respect that free individuals join in religious community with a wide divergence of spiritual orientation or none at all, and that they are intelligent and thoughtful and committed to mutual support. But I didn't see that. What I saw was a group of people fighting turf wars about power or money, complaining about minute aspects of the liturgy they personally don't like, insulting Christians with no apparent understanding of the many Christianities that exist in this country, and far more invested in mutually cherishing their prejudices against people of faith than in deepening their common spiritual life. They're much better on paper than they are in person. I think I'll try another church, or the Vedanta Center."

I believe that it is through the strength of our Associational covenant that we can lovingly confront these behaviors among us and change, together. Those congregations that do not operate in the ways I describe -- that are healthy, truly hospitable places -- need to share their spirit and their methods with the congregations that aren't there yet. And so on and so on, until every one of our churches, societies and fellowships is a place of tranformative religious life, unabashed passion, and unapologetically deep faith.

That's why I was so happy to see so many programs on the subject offered at GA. We're on our way. I believe that we're on our way.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Our First Podcast

So, techno-babes out there: a member of my church has been learning about podcasting and is ready to record a little something with me next week, presumably to put on our church web site.

What should I record?
A welcome?
Some sermon excerpts?
Our plan for UU world domination?
Me singing "Last of the Red Hot Mamas?"

I await your advice with bated breath. Or baited breath, because I'm never sure which it is.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Welcoming the Stranger

It has seriously warmed the cockles of my heart to see how many General Assembly programs focused on the art of hospitality, and on helping seekers along the path from visitor to member.

(I'm not sure what "cockles" are, but they are indeed very warm.)

Over the past couple of days I've perused some of the on-line materials in conjunction with these workshops and have been gratified to see that they appear to be grounded in a true ethic of hospitality and in spiritual understanding. Despite the fact that our HQ keeps churning out promotional gimmicks like, "The UnCommon Denomination," it seems that folks on the ground (and some at HQ) are simultaneously concerned not with the gimmickry of hospitality, but with the heart and soul of it.

Last weekend I attended a UCC church and was enthusiastically greeted by some folks and heartily ignored by a few. The people who greeted me were all women d'un certain age (French for "old") and all seemed to be bright-eyed recruitment types. When the pastor, an old friend, put her arm around me and said, "She's a Unitarian minister," one disappointed elderly gal responded, "She can be a Unitarian minister if she wants."
I so wanted to say, "Why thank you," but of course that would have been ungracious.

Another awkward moment came when a woman asked me point blank, "Where do you work?" This wasn't in the context of ministry -- she had never laid her eyes on me and hadn't been standing near when my friend the pastor identified me, but she knew my companion and where he worked, so apparently felt that "Where do YOU work" was an appropriate first phrase to level at me, before even "How nice to meet you" or "What brings you here?"

First impressions do matter. Training our people to ask caring, open-ended questions is important. Training ushers to welcome people, find them a seat, and to help them open the pews (in my church, they can be confusing) are small, crucial details. Reminding the congregation again and again that souls are at stake in the way we encounter our guests is worth doing, as is providing them examples of appropriate questions to ask people, and gently correcting each other when we fall into overbearing recruitment or Rush Week mode.

Remember Rush Week? I endured it as an undergraduate at Northwestern University and loathed every bloody second of it. It was a humiliating round of vapid conversations with sorority girls who sized you up, determined whether or not you were One Of Them (never mind whether or not you felt they were worthy of having you!), and if they liked you, bestowed upon you the dubious honor of being a Pledge.

I believe it's just as distasteful to crow to someone one has just met, "Oh, you're a UU and don't know it!" as it is to throw your arms around a college freshman's neck and say, "I just KNOW we're fated to be Tri-Delt sisters forever!" Based on what? Appearances? Mutual comfort and ego-stroking? Chummy feelings? Race, class, educational background, upbringing, privilege of all kinds?

It is the Holy Spirit/Spirit of Life and none other that brings seekers to our doors or into conversation with us in the supermarket, on the bus or at the dinner party. We must respect that and bring our most open, respectful and reverent selves to these encounters. We are not growing social clubs here. We are being gathered together as a family of faith by a Mystery beyond all of us. In those liminal moments when this is possible, we must rise to the occasion at a much higher level than just easy affinity.

It is true that many people find liberal religious communities after a long, painful search across a spiritual desert of misunderstanding and alienation. It is therefore tempting to greet them with self-congratulatory, smug crowing and assurances that they are safe at last from the Bad Guys. To do this, however, is a degradation of the art of hospitality, not to mention an egregious expression of hypocrisy against our claims to affirm the "worth and dignity of all people" and to be a religion of tolerance and compassion.

I believe that one of our chief improvements as a denomination may come when we learn together to forego the tempation to make clubby, superior claims about ourselves -- claims that heard by an outside ear are downright offensive, exclusionary, and ignorant -- and grow into our vocation to be the mature and authentically open people we claim to be.

How do you welcome the stranger?

How do you evangelize as a religious liberal?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Calvin Again, But This Time The Comments

If he keeps this up, I'm going to just let Fausto write my doctoral dissertation:

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

PeaceBang Going All 17th Century

I'm reading this, which is very good but somewhat over-rated and overwrought,

and this, which is just marvelous:

It was kind of cool that I bought it a month or so ago at the Harvard Divinity School bookstore and as I was walking to my car, Professor Hall passed me in the parking garage and I got to say hello and he pretended to remember me.

Theological Rock Star sighting!


I just downloaded 20 songs by the inimitable, great Sophie Tucker. I am SO HAPPY!

Some of her best novelty songs aren't on there, but hey, when you've got "Some Of These Days" for free, you can't complain.

I LOVE ME some Sophie Tucker.

Why UUs Take The Summers Off

I got a UU newsletter in the mail the other day and groaned aloud when I saw their back page article. It was called "WHY DO WE CLOSE CHURCH IN THE SUMMER?" or something along those lines, and among the snappy-happy little reasons listed were:

1. We've been doing this since the 1800's, when everyone spent their summers down on the Cape!
2. Small churches can't afford air-conditioning!
3. God can trust Unitarians to take the summers off!
4. 'Cause we like it that way!

Before I whipped this puppy into recycling, I wryly translated to myself:

1. Most members of this church are privileged enough to have summer homes, and if you don't have one and are sweltering up here, too bad for you!
(insert Simpson's kid "HA HA" sound effect here)
2. We don't feel like paying for air-conditioning because ... remember, WE'RE ALL PRIVILEGED AND HAVE SUMMER HOMES ON THE CAPE!
3. Church just isn't that important to us, and we don't need one another's ministry for three months out of the year! Also, we're superior to all those other hacks who need to keep praying and worshiping all year 'round. SUCKAS!
4. We don't want to change... or grow!

C'mon, say it. I'm listening. Let's say it all together:
"But PeaceBang, we all worship in different ways. I myself worship in the garden, and I worship by walking on the beach!"

Darlings, so do I. I'm every bit as Transcendentalist and groovy as you are, and believe me, I'm not complaining about my nine weeks off from preaching. I need it badly. But that doesn't mean we should all close the church and stop offering a ministry of hospitality and care to those who need it.
Closing the doors in the summer says loud and clear, "Church just isn't that important to us. It is not an essential part of our lives. In fact, we can do without it for months at a time."

Some of my laypeople and I were curious as to when this "ancient" practice of going on summer hiatus really began. People I casually asked pretty much figured we've done it forever, but a little bit of research revealed otherwise. In fact, it was only within the past three or four decades that the church shut down after Father's Day and kept its doors closed through Labor Day (now we have lay-led services twice a month, and I'm thrilled about it).

Blessed are those who keep church going even in the hottest months, who set out the programs and who pour the lemonade and who fan themselves patiently through the humid hymns and sermons. Blessed are you who welcome the seekers and who set out the folding chairs and who forego the beautiful Sunday morning in the garden or on the boat. And blessed are you, dearly beloved, who release your own ministers from duty in the summer months so they can attend church elsewhere as a worshiper, and to refill their own possibly dry wells of liturgy and poetry, faith, hope and pastoral empathy, and rest, rest, rest.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Boy In The Bands Was A Birthday Boy Yesterday!

Happy BIRTHday to yooooooooooooooooou,
Happy BIRTHday to yoooooooooooou,

Happy Birthday (One Day Late) To My ButterLamb,

Happy Birthday To YOU!

{{{{{{{{{{{{{{William Scott Wells}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

Go ahead and wish our boy a happy 37th. And tell him to be careful getting out of the shower.

L'Il Flava Arrives Soon!

My friend L'il Flava
and I have a theme song that we sing for road trips. I wish I could sing it for you, as it's a really tough kind of 197o's cop show tune, whose lyrics go ~

GANKA GANKA ga gan ga ganka
chicka chicka chicka
(and repeat)

It also comes with nifty hand gestures, especially at the chicka chicka chicka part. You just have to imagine it.

Well, at this very moment, L'il Flava is on her way to Massachusetts from the hot pavements of NYC, where she has been a theological rock star at Union Theological Seminary for the past nine years. She is now DOCTOR L'il Flava, having earned her Ph.D. in May, which qualifies her to kick serious ethical ass all over the planet.

She is a professional ethicist now, and a liberal Catholic, and will thank you all very much to not sit with her at social events and go, "So why don't you just become an Episcopalian if you wanted to be a priest?"

That's the kind of ignorant, insensitive, stupid -- and did I mention insensitive and stupid? -- thing liberals say to her all the time. As if she's somehow not aware that the Catholic Church has a misogynist past and a sexist present, and like she's not clear on why it's totally wrong and unjust to deny her the fulfillment of her vocation. Like she's supposed to explain her years and years of painful, private discernment to some person she just met at a cocktail party.

L'il Flava is really good with the chilly retort that closes off conversation, and she's not afraid to use it. I've seen her. She's always pleasant to begin with, but if someone presses her, like "But let me just say THIS ONE MORE THING THAT I'M SURE YOU HAVEN'T CONSIDERED about why you should leave the Catholic Church," she does the Big Chill.

PeaceBang happens to think that casual suggestions to strangers about what religion you think they should be is a really disgraceful, yet all-too common social blunder made by religious liberals. We're great at diagnosing other people's pathologies (because we've had so much THERAPY and we've read so many BOOKS) and at casually suggesting what religious path folks ought to traipse down, as in "My friends are so cool and open-minded. They belong to the Lutheran Church but they're totally Unitarians. They should come to our church!"

Know what I mean, jellybean? There's a difference between sincere and thoughtful evangelizing or extending hospitality in the form of an invitation to church, and casual, clubby recruitment -- not to mention making the egregious assumption that all hip and groovy people should be religious liberals. Some of them have very good reasons for remaining (or even becoming!) conservatives or even orthodox of one type or another.

Religious liberals froth at the mouth when religious conversatives try to proselytize them, but that never bothers me as much as the way religious liberals fling around religious recommendations and re-assignments like they're picking sides for kickball. At least the conservatives do it because they think my eternal soul's at stake. The liberals seem to do it to get one more cool kid for the team.

So my L'il Flava is on her way up here in a tiny rental car because although she's moving in for a month to six weeks and has tons of stuff, she is too short to drive even a mini-van, so she's going to have to cram all her wordly goods into an economy size car and get it up here. She should be here in about an hour, so I'm going to make some dinner.


Snarky People Are Patriotic, Too!

Happy Fourth of July, Americans.

This should get you feeling properly patriotic! Just don't be drinking coffee when you read it!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

MotherBang Is GIGGING

MotherBang will be appearing HERE on October 8th in a one-woman show of the songs of Johnny Mercer!!!

See you there at 2 pm!! Come over after church!!

What You Learn In The Summer

When you get up in the morning, bathe and drive 30 minutes to church, and then go to IKEA and then come home and pick up around the house a little bit and eat a dish of ice cream outside while you read the paper, that's pretty much a full day.

By the time you are done doing that it is about 6:15 and it's getting to be time for dinner and you want to change out of your church clothes and eat something and maybe read a little bit, and that's it.

And that counts as a whole day, even if you didn't read or study or respond to any crises or talk on the phone (except for half hour to a friend who's going through a terrible divorce) or go to a meeting or think deep thoughts (although you did read a little bit of Bonhoeffer in the bathtub) or do anything particular on behalf of world peace or global warming.

You learn in the summertime that you are still are a beloved child of God, even if you didn't do much but go to church and IKEA and eat some ice cream.

Ain't that-a good news.

Cat Advice

So the cat and I are sitting on the couch together last night watching "Mrs. Henderson Presents," when the neighbor's really stupid cat, Brinks, shows up and starts flirting with Ermengarde through the screen window.

Ermengarde rushes to the window and starts screaming bloody murder, hissing and smacking the screen with her paw. Brinks looks mildly confused, meows loudly and keeps patting at the screen with his big, dumb paw.

I run over and yell at Ermie to stop it! stop it! Because I'm afraid one of them will actually smash through the screen window and kill each other. More specifically, I'm afraid that Ermengarde will get killed because her first human DE-CLAWED her.

So I'm screaming at her and trying to get her away from the window and she is YOWLING so loud it makes my hair stand on end, and I'm screaming at dumb Brinks to GO AWAY GO HOME! And Erm is kicking at me and howling and her tail is the size of a horse's. In fact, she's so puffed up she looks like a raccoon.

So we're SCREAMING at each other and she's kicked a big bloody tear into my hand, and I'm bleeding and finally scream her down onto the floor away from the window. Brinks is long gone and she's still raging and hissing at me and I'm going, "Don't you DARE talk to me like that! Don't you DARE!!" -- using all three of her formal names. Her eyes are enormous saucers and she's totally possessed, and I can see the surprise in her eyes that Human Lady can get this loud, since she's never ever heard me scream like this.

I get her into the middle of the room and she is still growling and hissing at me, only with a bit less gusto. She runs up to me and smacks me with her paw -- twice -- but the second time she does it I give her a swat on the behind as she runs by. "Oh NO you don't, young lady!"

It is a total stand-off, and I am hoarse with screaming at her. I have never in my life yelled like this. I'm hollering, "You are such an IDIOT! I am trying to keep you from getting KILLED! Brinks is DUMB AND HARMLESS! You are RIDICULOUS! NO ONE IS GOING TO HURT YOU OR ME!"

Finally, after she tries to whap me one more time and doesn't make it, and after I clean my wound and put Neosporin on it, we settle down. Her tail slowly de-puffs and I watch the rest of the movie, and every time I talk to her I use a low, "Mommy's Still Mad At You, Missy" voice. She is very nonchalant and doesn't climb into bed with me at midnight like she always does, although she does do a quick drive-by check-in at about 1:00 a.m., but real quiet like she doesn't want me to know she's doing it. She does a tour around my body and sniffs my hair and then goes to spend the rest of the night on the parlor couch.

In the morning she's curled up by my head, as always, and kisses me good morning like nothing happened. Which for her, it probably hasn't. I don't think cats have a very long-term memory, but I could be wrong.

I keep showing her my wound today. "SEE? THAT's what you did! And who gives you kibble and brushes you and scoops your litter and loves you and pays for all your clothes and takes you on nice vacations and saves for your college fund?"

So, Cat People, what do I do, short of keeping the windows shut against the cool breezes of a New England summer evening or asking my neighbors to keep Brinks behind an Invisible Fence (which they'll never do, even though they have buckets and buckets of money and live in a semi-palatial estate with a tennis court and swimming pool)?

How do I get her off the window ledge and out of sight of intruders without turning her against me? Should I have gotten out the spray bottle of water and hit both her and Brinks? That was an initial thought but I was scared to leave them alone.

Brinks, btw, is a boy and Erm is a spayed female. She isn't giving off girl smells or anything.

Please advise.

Someone very beautiful and striped is asleep next to me as I write this and would love to know what you think. She would also like to share that, in her memory of the event, she totally kicked my ass and even managed to out-scream me in the volume contest.

Calvin: Our Crazy Ass Grandpappy

When I said on BeautyTipsforMinisters recently that jeans are NOT appropriate for ministers on Sundays (or to wear when leading worship any other day of the week -- and I stick to that, Jamie Goodwin!!), I wrote "Calvin is fine for church. Calvins are not."

Donald O'Bloggin wrote something very frowny about Calvin NOT "belonging" in Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Donald, dear heart, Calvin practically INVENTED the Reformation. Without the Reformation there wouldn't be either Unitarians or Universalists, hence no Unitarian Universalism.

I'm not a fan of the man who burned out martyr Servetus at the stake, either, but we ought to know more about him than the old pre-destination thing that everyone knows and rejects.

Calvin made some genius contributions to religious life as you and I know it, including to the ministry as you and I know it and have benefitted from it.

He may be a crazy-ass grandaddy in some very serious ways, but he's still our crazy-ass grandaddy. See, when you come from a dissenting tradition, you have to know WHO and WHAT you dissented from to get any juice from it. Trust me, as a kid who spends an awful lot of time with Mr. Calvin -- your understanding of, and appreciation of contemporary Unitarian Universalism can be so much more thrilling when you don't approach it as a tradition that sprang from Dana McLean Greeley's helmet, fully formed and in full armor, in 1961.

And since when is ANY legitimate topic of conversation or historic personage forbidden from our congregations? That's part of what we call the Free Church, and like it or not, Calvin helped make the Free Church possible.

Now all you brainiac historian types can weigh in.

Adonai Eloheinu or Adonai Osmond?

Hafhida's puzzlement about why diversity-conscious UUs would end a prayer with salaam if Muslims don't even end prayers that way reminded me of a time about fifteen years ago, when I was a teacher in a Catholic high school in Minnesota.

I used to go batty in the mornings when the announcements would include some prayer about what "good Catholics" would think or do. I'd say to myself with a barely-surpressed fidget of discomfort, "Good gawd awmighty, that's what good HUMANS would do!" My English department colleague and fellow UU Paul S. and I would hide out in our classrooms during the so-called "chapel" services in the auditorium. They were hardly reverent: the students almost always released a lab mouse or some other source of mayhem just to kill the boredom.

At one point during my tenure I was keeping an eye on the computer lab for any students who might need help writing essays. I roamed the room, stopping whenever I saw a frustrated face and generally offering support. One of my students, Kellie, was working on a paper for Religion class. I read over her shoulder, "Jesus came to save his people from the Jews."

"Kellie," I said. "Did you know that Jesus was Jewish?"
Kellie hurriedly deleted the sentence and said, "Oh, I know, I know... of course I know that."

Yikes. I wanted to ask, "What are they teaching you in Religion, anyway?"

But I was already in trouble in the school. I was in trouble for living in sin with my boyfriend David who also taught there (although the two gay administrators were left alone since they obediently referred to their live-in partners as "my roommate"). I was in trouble for thundering at a student, "Sit down and don't be an ASS" when he jumped up and cheered at the end of the movie "The Diary of Anne Frank" as the Nazi stormtroopers broke into the Franks' attic hiding place. My students loved me, but I was in not a favorite of the administration.

David managed to make an artistic silk purse out of those sows' ears years, a fact that gives me great joy:

When I left the school and attended the good-bye party for myself and a few other teachers, I bowed my head respectfully for the lengthy blessing before the meal and almost couldn't stifle a chuckle when one of the Minnesotan administrators invoked the name "Adonai," but pronounced it "A-DON-ee," with the flattest Midwestern "a" you can possibly imagine. My boyfriend and I exchanged stricken looks and bitten lips (I mean we both bit our own lips; I didn't bite his).

They gave me a nice pen. They were nice Minnesotans. In Minnesota, Nice is the state religion.

That night I asked David, "Did you DIE when Mary Anne said AdAHnee? Since when do they use that word in their prayers, anyway?"
"It was a Jewish thing," he said. "They did it for you. I know because Mary Anne asked me about it beforehand."

I was touched and mortified all at the same time. I still am. It was sweet and well-meant, but it highlighted our difference and presumed a religious orientation based on my name and heritage that was inaccurate. With all good intentions, they butchered the word and invoked the Deity in terms that I have never used in my own devotional or congregational life.

Experiences like this are a small part of why I have never embraced the small-u Universalism of the 20th century that proclaimed the vision of One World Religion. None of the religious teachers I have deeply admired had this vision. Jesus didn't have it. The Dalai Lama doesn't have it. Elie Wiesel doesn't have it.

I know this will seem not to follow a logical through-line to many of you: how did I go from someone's endearing mispronouncement of "Adonai" to a lack of support for the concept of universal religion?

I'm not quite sure, but it has something to do with universalism's smorgasboard approach to language, as we discussed in my earlier post about concluding prayers with Everything But Gesundheit. Because one-world-religion universalists so often like to sprinkle their liturgies with exotic words and phrases from world religious traditions, often without even considering the possibility they are being inappropriate in doing so. I think we're getting better, but we have a long way to go yet.

Unitarian Universalist erroneously believe that if we harbor good will for a particular tradition within our breast, we are welcome to use the language of that tradition. It matters not if we know nothing beyond elementary basics of the religion's doctrines or if we may offend the ancestor spirits of a people by invoking their gods or using their prayers. It's all in fellowship, so it must be fine! If it's fine with us it must be fine!

I don't think it's fine, only in that I believe the trend in definining UUism as "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" (seen especially vibrantly in our religious education programs) is a failure of imagination and a blatant dishonesty, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

We have enough rich linguistic resources in a humanist, poetic, language of reverence and Biblical faith to draw on. I suggest we start there, and tread any other linguistic territories very, very carefully if we dare go there at all. When David explained to me that "Adonai" had been invoked as a kind of shout-out to the one Jew on the faculty (although I was, of course, religiously UU and culturally Jewish), I could just hear my ancestors saying, in the ancient, collective invocation of wry humor and resignation: "Oh darling... OY VEY."

I believe in radical hospitality and deep encounter between peoples of all faiths, and a mutual appreciation of their various traditions. But in my opinion, specificity of tradition is too precious, too divine and too culturally-bound to forego on behalf of (mostly) white Western people's idealistic vision of a universal faith.

This is a personal reflection based on my experiences. It doesn't feel particularly logical or organized to me, but it's honest. Take from it what you like. Discuss, dismiss, etc. on your own blogs or with friends.
A Good Sabbath to you.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Clyde talks about giving a benediction, which reminds me of a conversation I once had with a member of my Worship Associates Team in a former congregation. He described how the minister of a church he once attended gave a benediction so powerful that he actually felt that she was not just giving a "good word," but calling down a blessing upon the gathered congregation.
This much-decorated career military man had tears in his eyes as he wondered at the power of it: "It was as though she wasn't just casually asking for God's blessing, she was invoking it. She was expecting it."

His beautiful memory really got to me, and I have forever since tried to bring down that same sense of blessing in my benedictions, almost always using words that echo some theme of the service, in addition to something like "May the Spirit of Love guide and guard you until we meet again."

And then we sit down for the Postlude, but we have a new Music Director now and THINGS IS GONNA CHANGE!! But that's a whole 'nuther subject.