Saturday, September 30, 2006

Banjo Breakthrough

Before I hunker down to work, I must share a BANJO break-through.

I began lessons in May, and quickly determined that I am NOT a natural talent on the BANJO, although the very idea that I might play it even half-decent is very EXCITING to me because the BANJO is a very happy instrument no matter what.

So today I had my lesson and my teacher played me this very cute song by the group Asleep At the Wheel and we just sat and strummed along as he called out chords and he had to stop and teach me a few new ones, and then we just kept going and I realized that I was actually playing a song with no music in front of me, just by ear.

I was pretty ecstatic and I think my teacher knew it, although I was very cool about it.

Also this morning I made up a new recipe that's really good.

PeaceBang's Cheesey Potato Leek Cabbage Mess

Cook some little potatoes until done. Rinse them with cold water in the colander for slicing later.
Sautee some garlic, leeks and some cabbage in olive oil.
(It's better to do them separately.)
Throw a big hunk of gruyere cheese in the food processor (cut it into several smaller hunks first). Process to crumbles.
Slice up the taters and layer in a buttered casserole dish.
Add a layer of the sauteed cabbage and the leeks (I processed the leeks, too, because they can get stringy if left in chunks). Sprinkle with gruyere cheese.
Add another layer of the cabbage and leeks mix. Sprinkle with more of the gruyere cheese.
Make some fresh breadcrumbs real quick in the food processor, add some parmesan. Use this to top everything.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Take it out, dot with butter, and bake for another 5-10 minutes until bubbly and fragrant.

(You should add whatever amount of salt and pepper to your casserole that you like while cooking, but remember that the gruyere cheese is salty. Fresh ground pepper on the cabbage is heavenly.)

Now if I can get my church service done I will go to bed a very satisfied girl.

I also managed to get to the gym. Miraculous.

PeaceBang Is a Puppy Auntie!


Friday, September 29, 2006

More On GA Planning

Rev. Sean over at Ministrare has some thoughtful things to say about the GA Planning Committee's boneheaded decision* to eliminate our Sunday morning worship service and move it to 4 pm:

Sean's first post on the matter says, "the last thing I would sacrifice would be Sunday morning worship." Amen, Sean.
But in his subsequent post, he says, in effect, "but maybe I need to be less resistant to change."

I'm sorry that Sean back-pedaled here.
I think this is one of those times when wrong is wrong, and it's not about being resistant to change. A religious body should worship together on a Sunday BEFORE doing their work, not after, as a kind of parting shot before taking off.
The way the committee has planned it, worship seems tacked on, like an afterthought or an irritating obligation to be dispensed with when most people will be on the road home already.

I maintain that it's a shame and a disgrace.

It's just another illustration of the way that the GA planners think they're "moving the Association forward into the future" when actually they're just overloading us with information and recommendations, "thou-shalts" and calls to arms and other forms of activism that fail to recognize, honor and respect much of what the local congregation exists to do and to be.

* Note that PeaceBang is a little less circumspect than Rev. Sean in this matter

On the Same Note

I remember in Divinity School, people would walk around asking each other about their prayer practice. They said it in this very breathy, kind of holier-than-thou way. "What are you doing for your prayer practice?" they'd say. "Oh, I'm doing this amazing prayer practice."

It made me very cranky. One day this intimidatingly beautiful, wispy woman with huge eyes and the clearest skin in the world said to me, "Do you have a prayer practice?" and I was just so fed up I said, "NO. I HATE PRAYER."

To this day, if I ever see her, she gives me the gentlest, most understanding smile in the world like the kind you would give to a dangerously insane person after determining that they were safely shackled to the wall.

Spiritual Discipline Is A Form of Stewardship

Yesterday's schedule:

Awoke at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for 7:30 drive to school.
1.5 hours on the road, enjoyed listening to podcasts of The Splendid Table, NPR Food, and best of all, Krista Tippett's "Speaking of Faith" interview with Rachel Naomi Remen. Great company.

Class from 9:00 - 12:00. Intense 20 minute consult with professor afterwards, lunch with enthusiastic new colleague (we'll be small-group partners in the class) who likes to talk as much as I do. Talked animatedly until 2:30. Visited seminary bookstore, went to the library, copied readings for next week.

Got in car, put my seat back, and napped.

Drove back to my approximate neighborhood in rush hour traffic, listened to messages, made some return calls. Picked up some veggies at a nearby farmer's market.

6:30-9:30 visited with church couple who are experiencing serious marital stress. Ate with them. Talked a LOT.
9:30- 12:00 Returned e-mails, did some housework, ranted and raved to myself about something that's upsetting me, rehearsed a few grudges, did not pray before bed.

12:00 Tried to fall asleep in a tizzy of stress and the high of wasteful, draining anger. What I am guessing are leaf mold allergies cause irritating cough. The cat does not want to be around me.

2:30 a.m, very minor anxiety attack awakens me. Fall back asleep immediately.

Morning: wake to find cat pressed to my side in "nurse mode."

My point? When I used to hear the term "spiritual discipline," I immediately generated a mental image of someone who had a serenity gene I did not possess that made it possible for them to meditate or pray for a sustained period. This was just not my nature.
Similarly, it was just not my nature to exercise, because I wasn't a "sporty" type.

What I understand now is that physical exercise and prayer are not a matter of my nature. They are a matter of stewardship of a good gift that I am called to use as wisely and well as possible, both for myself and for others.

When I refuse, or fail, to exercise and to pray, there is no visible consequence to anyone else. But I notice the difference in glaring ways that do, in fact, reverberate into the community. At the end of the day, I have good cause for gratitude, and I always have a decent list of reasons to pray to be forgiven my trespasses. The best days are the ones that I can say, "I did okay. I really did okay today."

"Spiritual" is such a gooey word. It evokes for me whimpy angelic sentimentalism and vague suspicion. "Discipline" I like better, especially for its similarity to the word "disciple." Together, they don't resonate for me. What I am doing in my daily prayer and struggle to change my heart and mind in accordance with the teachings and example of Christ is more verbish than noun-ish. Words like pulling, grasping, reaching, straining, groaning, striving, digging, howling, begging, yearning, leaping, flailing
come to mind. "Spiritual discipline" is such a tepid phrase to express what is really happening and what I am working so hard to attempt.

It makes me admire people with a serious spiritual discipline so much more than I did before.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Your Faith Has Healed You

Nocturnal anxiety attacks are back. They hit, I wake up, I calm myself down with assurances that I am neither insane nor am I dying of a heart attack, I decide to believe my own assurances, I go back to sleep. Upsetting, but not too terrible.

I pray before bed every night, using either the Universalist Prayer Book or the King's Chapel Prayer Book. I read some of the gospels or the psalms. It's weird how much this practice has begun to affect me in all that I do. Meanness and self-hating is so much less. Fear of death much less. Compassion and curiosity, up. Noticing that my body is stressed, way up. I just figured out that I crunch my shoulders up around my neck as I type (and as I do most things, actually).

You wouldn't think that teacher Jesus would have anything to teach me about my tense shoulders, but it's a holistic thing. Jesus is very physical. I get this in a new way now.

Last night I was reading out of Luke and got to the wonderful stories (one embedded in the other) of the Woman With the Flow of Blood and Jairus' Daughter. I read the encounter between the woman and Jesus about half a dozen times (in the NIV, which I just like so much) before I got something: she reaches out for healing, and that's why she is healed. I know this is going to strike Christians as the biggest DUH moment of all time, but I always focused before on the total embarrassment of the woman having to be like, "Um, sorry dude, it was me touching your robe." I always pictured Peter looking at her with totally impatient irritation and Jesus kind of surprised, and then giving her the kind word, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."

Last night, what really became vivid for me was the image of this suffering woman reaching out to the hem of Jesus' robe. He was whisking through the crowd so fast, and she was a nobody, an untouchable. Still, she reached out. She knew who he was, and she wanted healing so badly she got herself into close enough proximity to him to partake of his mojo. Man, I admire that.
That woman became my hero last night; me, who if a healing guru was coming to town would probably be in the back of the room thinking, "How nice that all those suffering people are going up to be healed. Isn't that touching. Well, this has been an interesting little sociological study, but I really should get home and get back to work."
Then I would drive home with my shoulders hunched up around my ears listening to some educational podcast on the stereo, get home and do some writing, go to bed, and wake up with an anxiety attack, go back to sleep, and wake up and get back to work.

But it's so nice that all those people went up for healing. Isn't that touching.
I certainly would never need to do that.

Here's a totally hilarious church production photo of the raising of Jairus' daughter:

You can tell that the guy playing Jesus is so appalled by the eye shadow of the girl playing the daughter that he forgot his next line.

(For some non-Christian spiritual healing resources, this is neat:

What Is God Doing In Your Life?

I have been helping a local woman who is two days away from becoming homeless. She said to me today, "I just feel like God is coming through for me. I just feel like He's blessing me and isn't going to let me go. I just thank Him so much today."

I've gotten to the point where this kind of remark doesn't irk me in the least anymore. It used to. I'd think, "So what happens when the housing assistance grant doesn't come through or the nice minister doesn't pay the phone bill and the food pantry is closed when you get there? Where's your blessing from God then?"

I have changed. Now, when I hear such expressions of gratitude to God, I just chime in with something simple like "God is good."
I have come to believe that God does care about this woman, personally. No matter what the day brings, there is a life force coursing through her veins that is the same as the life force that runs through all of creation, and it fills her with the desire to connect, to survive, to cling tenaciously to whatever beauty and grace can be found, and to give thanks for the small things that go right.

Is what I am calling a "life force" a euphemism for divine love? Can we call it God?
I do.

Why should it offend our intellectual sensibilities -- we who tend to be so radically uncomfortable with such a personal concept of God -- to affirm this woman's faith? What good does it do us, or her, to be snarkily dismissive of her belief system? Do we really think that this woman is going to use her belief in God to oppress others, or as a smokescreen for abuses of power? If not, why do we treat her with the kind of contempt we reserve for the religious hypocrites who do believe that their power comes from a God who personally rewards and anoints them? Because in my experience, we do just that.

Are we not covenanted within a religious movement that affirms the right of conscience and the centrality of freedom in discernment of the spiritual path? We are. But notice that we only make room in our worship, our fellowship and literally ALL our outreach materials for those whose God concepts are sufficiently abstract. Don't believe me? Do an audit. You will see that I am right.

Some Unitarian Universalists do have a very personal sense of the Deity. Some of us are developing one (and I count myself among them). If we feel we truly belong within Unitarian Universalism, you can bet it isn't by virtue of our theology, but by virtue of birth or an M.Div. from Harvard or by some other standard of acceptability (we're liberal enough, we're gay enough, we're beloved eccentrics among our congregations or we just plain keep our mouths shut about how God is present in our lives).

Maybe when UUs can question -- or eradicate -- their own assumption that those who believe in a God who works directly in their lives are weak-minded bliss ninnies, we will move more decisively out of the adolescent period we've been mired in for decades.

I'm a pretty educated gal by ordinary standards. And I can tell you that nothing I've studied in the area of literature, pedagogy, history, psychology, sociology or organizational development has required anything like the depth of concentration and intellectual rigor that my recent, private study of my own belief in God has required of me.

God ain't for dummies.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey, When's Talk Like a Janjaweed Militiaman Day?

Okay, here's where you get to say, "Oh, PeaceBang's lost her sense of humor!"

But I have to ask it:
How come it's so funny to talk like a pirate, and why is America so into pirates, and why do we laugh about "Talk Like a Pirate Day?"

Aside from the fact that we love Johnny Depp as Captain Jack, and he's totally hot, I mean?

Here are some of the things that pirates routinely did: raped women and men, girls and boys (and probably the occasional octupus, for all I know), tortured their captives, starved and enslaved each other, slit throats with impunity, destroyed property, terrorized entire seaside communities and the high seas in general, thieved and looted, murdered, mutinied and did I say "tortured" yet? I probably did, but let me be more explicit: pirates were known to flay men alive, to slash at their bound victims with swords and then pour salt into their wounds, hack off body parts, gouge out eyes -- oh, they were real charmers. Interestingly, one thing pirates did not generally do in real life is require their victims to walk the plank.

So as much as I love the Johnny Deep thing myself, I'm just puzzled by all the general merriment around pirates. They were savage terrorists who specialized in slavery and torture, and it's not like they're so distant from our time chronologically that we can romanticize their bloodthirstiness like we do with, say, the Aztecs. Do you want your great-grandchildren cracking jokes on "Talk Like a Janjaweed Militiaman Day?" Or wearing Nazi costumes on Halloween? Because those guys are colorful, too, and probably have some great costume options. And I bet the Janjaweeds party just as hearty as any pirate as they're pillaging their way through Sudan. I'm just guessing, here.

When I think of pirates, I tend to get a visual image of a filthy, siphylitic sociopath whipping some strung-up captive to bloody shreds. And I just really can't so much get into the "Argh, matey" thing. Even though I love "The Pirates of Penzance" dearly, the actual pirate thing is just about as charming to me as the Spanish Inquisition or Al Qaeda.

I know -- I'm no fun.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Happy New Year

this is a shofar, people
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

PeaceBang would like to wish all her Jewish friends and family Shana Tovah, Happy New Year.

To all the people who have assumed she was Jewish because she has a Jewish last name and a Jew"ish" (nominally Jewish) father, and who had no idea that she was raised Unitarian and has hardly ever stepped foot in a synagogue except for Erik Mallon's bar mitzvah in 1977 and who are totally confused to find out that she is now a Christian...

PeaceBang would like to thank you for the compliment.

Jewish identity is a complicated thing. Plenty of the world, if they wanted to round up all the Jews and do away with us once and for all (god forbid), would certainly include me in that number. I know anti-Semitism firsthand and have not forgotten it. Many Jews, however, would exclude me from claiming the identity for the sake of my shiksa mother and my baptism in 1999. Who can blame them? Especially in the latter case!! (Someone once asked me if I was a Jew for Jesus. I had to honestly reply, "Well... yes, but not one of those Jews for Jesus!")

Am I a Jew? As my friend Rabbi Klein once said, "If you're a Jew, that's between you and G-d."

And so I will leave it in God's hands.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

My Sensitive Toothpaste

I bought some Tom's of Maine Natural Sensitive toothpaste today.
The label says,

I imagine that every time I unscrew the cap, I'll hear this voice going, "How are your teeth feeling today, hon? How's hot and cold going for you? Any pain?"

Young UU Organ Donor And PB's Day

One of our youth approached me today after the service. He said he's taking driver's ed, and they gave out organ donor cards and he wasn't sure about filling his out. He wanted to know if Unitarian Universalism had any teachings or commandments for or against distributing parts of our body after death.

Moments like that are so amazing.

I told him that there is no official UU position on organ donation, that our religion regards the body as a gift, and that we are called to use our gift responsibly and with love. I said that if he was loving enough to share the gift of his body after his death, that would be an amazing thing to do, in my opinion.

I confessed to him that I have so far been unable to fill out a donor card, but that I am working on it.

He said, with his wonderful teenaged insouciance, "Well, I won't be using it...!"

So admirable. What a lovely encounter. Those are the moments you savor.

In other news, I accidentally deleted my sermon late last night while preparing to print it out. What a gorgeous feeling that was.
I hurriedly got the computer back up to MS Word and madly typed out all that I could remember of it, and thanked the gods that I had my dear friend and colleague's 2005 sermon on Ramadan to quote from, so I knew that at least those sections would be truly coherent.

It was all fine. I gave myself 6 hours of sleep, I didn't sweat it too much, I told the congregation to say (in the style of the African-American church), "Help her, Jesus" if I started to get too wound up without reaching any point, and they were right there for me, dear forebearing people. So it was an unplanned leap over a much-dreaded rite of passage: PeaceBang's First Formal Sermon From Notes Only.

I had one of those meetings this evening that you drag yourself out of an afternoon nap to go to -- thinking all the while that you would SO RATHER BE in your armchair reading the NY Times and baking something fragrant and savory and cheese-related for dinner than be there -- and then of course wound up energized and inspired by the other folks who came. Plus I got the hold a beagle puppy for a few minutes and if you don't think that was the best thing ever, you just weren't there to smell it's little puppy breath and to kiss its little smwoft baloney ear.

When I hold a puppy in my arms I swear I have some kind of wild, longing hormonal maternal surge the way so many women who want -- but can't have -- children say they feel when they see or hold babies. It doesn't happen for me with human babies, just canine ones. I felt positively tragic giving my puppy back to its people.

beagle pup
(She was even more newborn than this and snuggled right into my shoulder and I love her forever and ever, amen.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Let's Get Behind Getting Behind!

I know it's not meant to sound insulting when the president of my denomination starts a sentence with, "It's time to start putting our energies behind..."
but on a Saturday night when I'm totally wiped out, it just sounds really out of touch, and even unintentionally uncaring.

It just seems to me that this kind of article is always the front page of our associational web site, and it exhausts me. Always the Cause. Always the "here's what you can do." I read this whole article and I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to do this time, except for get "relentless" in my work for comprehensive sexuality education. There's some kind of training. I don't know. I'm pretty sure we're doing it at my church already, but it sounds like if I don't get more "relentless," I'll be a disappointment to my movement.

If you ask me, just a regular old minister of one of the congregations in our tiny association of congregations, it's "time" for us to care for the people in our local communities, lead as powerful and transformative a worship service as we can manage every Sunday morning, answer all our phone calls, write the editorials our local papers ask us to, show up at as many of the local and church events we're expected to attend as is humanly reasonable, make hospital visits and prison visits, feed the hungry, support our office staff, mentor, support and encourage our lay leaders, pray for our people, love our families, do what we can to foster peace in the individual, the family, the community and the world, and manage to pick up the dry cleaning and put some food on the table.

It would mean so much to me if our web site featured front page news about relationships between our members and between our congregations as often as it featured the rally for some new cause. I suppose it's all about how people understand their job description, but to me, we really only have one cause, and it doesn't change from year to year: to support healthy congregations and to foster fellowship among our numbers so that each is empowered to do his or her best work in the world.

I would hope that some UU's best work would be to fight for comprehensive sexuality education. It just can't be me, today. I already did a pretty serious stint for reproductive choice back about five years ago. I felt pretty relentless about that but you know, priorities shift. I'm getting to be an old broad with limited energy, and my congregation comes first. That and mentoring the next generation of ministers.
I wish I knew that my choices were honored by my movement. But everywhere I go, I notice that ministers are lauded first and foremost for their political activism and for making the front page for social justice work. I'm waiting to see an image on the front page of the UU web site that depicts a pastor sitting at a hospital bed holding someone's hand. I'm hoping for the image of a group of people sitting quietly, nowhere in particular, not in front of any banner or special event, just sharing a vespers service or a potluck meal or coffeehouse, even.

I would like to see another way of living out UUism supported and celebrated in the images on our web site.
I would like to see some of my gentler, utterly un-public colleagues turned into cover boys and girls, and our gentler, totally un-public laymen and women, too.

I know it's in the nature of organizations to constantly rotate their priorities to keep things fresh and visionary, but when the organization is supposed to represent the eternal and the essential, it gets depressing trying to keep up with the perpetual call to arms. The message always seems to me to be, "All that OTHER stuff you're doing? Those are just the BASICS. You need to do this AND that!"

Well you know, but I'm a pretty talented, energetic and committed minister but ten years into this work, I'm pretty clear that those basics are all many of us can manage on a good day. Sometimes rallying the troops can feel to the troops like a flogging.

"He maketh me lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."

Notice that there's some lying around in the grass before we get going on the paths of righteousness. That David knew what he was talking about. If there's no rest, no restoring of the soul, how can there be walking on paths of righteousness?

I wonder: where does the quiet, the introverted, the chronically ill, the imprisoned, the emotionally debilitated, the poor in spirit fit into this eternally cheerleadery, activist-oriented vision of Unitarian Universalist life? Do we really want any of those to dwell among us and make their home with us? Not to mention the long list of others we effectively manage to bar from our doors? A genuine question.

It doesn't surprise me, even though it deeply upsets me, that somebody or somebodies in our leadership would be so disconnected to the Sabbath as to plan to do away with our Sunday morning worship service at General Assembly. I guess it didn't fit in with the perpetual vision of us marching in the streets changing the world.

I'm glad tonight that the God of my understanding believes in giving it a rest. Without my faith, I could be well nigh dead by now trying to keep up with the expectations of this world and my manically do-gooder denomination, bless its heart.

No Sunday Morning Worship At GA

I'm glad the Lively Tradition wrote about this,

so that I don't have to say much about it except that it makes me literally ill. I hope so much it's not true.


Has anyone taken a budget vacation to Guatemala or Costa Rica? Any suggestions or cautions? We two reverend gal pals are considering volcanic settings, including this one:

I am concerned that the altitude might give me panic attacks, because I had a hard time breathing in Mexico City. The pollution there didn't help, of course.

Thanks for any tips.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Three Racist Moments

1. Watching the telly the other night, I found myself compulsively eye-rolling at the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercial where three children -- The Little White child, the Little Asian child, and the Little African-American child -- are standing around when a Wienermobile drives up. Wow! The Wienermobile is SO COOL! It looks like what would happen if you mated Greased Lightning with a giant kielbasa. is so cool that it makes healthy little American children want to snarf down products made of pork snouts and chemicals like they're CANDY!

The window of the wicked cool Wienermobile rolls down as the kiddies are oohing and aahing and who do you think the driver is?
Why, it's White Mommy, of course!
Of COURSE it is! And she's going to feed her white child and his little token racially diverse pals some Oscar Mayer Wieners, because this is America!! Why did I somehow just know that it wasn't going to be Asian or Black mommy behind the wheel of that Wienermobile?

2. On that same night of telly viewing, another delightful commercial featuring Diverse Children.
This time, a schoolbus. Three or four little boys are comparing their homepacked lunches. They are showing off various mommy-made things like sandwiches and home-baked cupcakes wrapped lovingly in wax paper. The little boys are all white, white, and white. A fourth boy, the only little black boy in the bunch, opens HIS paper bag. What did his mommy send him off the school with? Why, a Kraft Snackable Lunch Item* consisting of plastic packaging and chemicals designed to look like "food!" YUM! In this case, as the announcer cheerfully informs us, this delicious lunch is just plain cooler than anything the other kids will have! It is! Because what could be more delicious and satisfying than sitting all by yourself in the cafeteria like the little boy on TV and eating a cracker with a slice of pepperoni (it might be fairer to say "pepperoni") and grated cheeze on the top! And I think there might even be some "tomato" sauce to dip it in! Them's eats!
What could be more hip and cool? Who WANTS a real sandwich or a home-baked cupcake anyway?

Am I reading too much into this? Am I being overly sensitive to the message here? What were the great Madison Avenue minds thinking when they intentionally chose the ONE black child to eat the crap, and alone in the cafeteria, too? Looking kind of sad and brave, like he knows how poisonous this product is?

PeaceBang threw a pillow at the television set over this one and yelled some cuss words. She believes that Snackables might as well be called "Satanables."

3. Listening to some golden oldies while cooking tonight, I hear Elton John's "Island Girl" which feature the lyrics,

She's as black as coal
but she burns like fire
And she'll wrap herself around you
like a well-worn tire.

PeaceBang stands there draining linguini into the collander and wishes some rocking island girl would pen equally offensive lyrics about chubby white gay men, just for equal time. A WELL WORN TIRE?? Isn't that charming. As if any hot island woman would ever wrap herself around Elton John with a ten-foot pole.

* Guess who owns the Oscar Mayer brand, too? Kraft, boys and girls!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

P. Diddy Speaks

SisterBang sent this to me. I think it's hilarious, but I also want to say that the use of the familiar "my man" gives Sean's (P. Diddy) critique a kind of compassionate, we're-still-family warmth that makes his honest smackdown easier to hear than the usual vitriol. Not to over-analyze, but I'm always on the look-out for ways to speak truth to power that employ emotional honesty and personal investment rather than cold, intellectualized demonization.


"It's just embarassing the kind of ignorance in my man," said Diddy, who now refers to the commander-in-chief on a posse-level basis.

"It's like my man has no marbles up there ... My man is just running up there crazy and the things he's doing are crazy ... Ain't nobody feelin' that war."

[The Examiner's] Yeas & Nays asked Diddy if events since 2004 have made him want to update the "Vote or Die!" slogan he made famous during the last presidential campaign.

"Nope, it's still "Vote or Die!,'' said Diddy. "People didn't vote and people died."

[Source Unknown]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Make It Work

tim gunn
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
What I really want for Christmas is a t-shirt with Tim on it that says "MAKE IT WORK."

I would secretly wear it under my robe on Sundays.

"Studio 60" - And PeaceBang Yawned

I just watched the first fifteen minutes of the much-hyped "Studio 60," and it made me go bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech.

I hate this kind of overwrought faux-Paddy Chayevsky kind of stuff.

I stopped watching "West Wing" when it got like this: all glossy and self-important and written as though manic, fast-talking people are, by definition, dramatically interesting. Every character a stereotype. Lots and lots of heavy-handed monologues.

My great joy tonight -- and a real luxury -- was to watch a few of last season's episodes of "Project Runway" and to see what the Santino thing was all about.

I don't think you can compare Santino's cheerful misanthropy with Jeffrey's truly vile, hateful malice. Also, Santino had loads of talent. Jeffrey, miniscule talent and major swelled head. As some wag suggested, that tattoo around his neck should read, "Squeeze here."

Based on the cutest Pet Smart commercial of all time, I am now dreaming about having a little smooth-headed dachsund. I would name him Tim Gunn and we would go for walks during which I would tell him to "make it work."

Tiny Cat Teeth

The cat is now snoring on the desk. She is a fat striped muskrat.

I love her excessively, as you know, and am very concerned that the vet wants to put her under while cleaning her teeth.
SisterBang and I think all this professional cleaning stuff is just money-grubbing nonsense, so let me ask you cat people out there in PeaceBang Land:
how do you clean your cat's choppers? If you do at all, I mean?

She mostly eats kibble. And I know she'd very unwillingly let me brush her teeth, but with WHAT?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sabbath Prayer

There's a wonderful scene in "Fiddler On The Roof" where the whole family is running around trying to prepare for shabbos dinner before sundown. Golde, the mother, is hustling her five daughters and their guest, Motel, around while simultaneously trying to corner her husband to tell him the news from Yente the Matchmaker. It's funny and chaotic, until the shofar sounds its haunting melody and the family lines up at the table as the beautiful song "Sabbath Prayer" begins with these lyrics,

May the Lord protect and defend you
May the Lord preserve you from pain
May you come to be in Y'isroel a shining name.

May you be like Ruth and like Esther
May you be deserving of praise
Strengthen them, O Lord,
and keep them from the stranger's ways...

At this point, in most productions I've seen (and in the one I appeared in in 1983), lights come up to reveal dozens of other families in the village in the same tableau, all the mamas simultaneously striking matches to light the shabbos candles and pray over the together as the entire ensemble sings,

May God bless you,
and grant you long lives
(may the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayers for you)
May God make you good mothers and wives
(May He send you husbands who will care for you)...

And the entire village sings again the refrain, layering the lyrics of blessing over and over, mamas and papas and sons and daughters sharing this simple ritual in what is, to me, one of the most beautiful and magical moments written for the theatre.
(One night during the run of our show, I was getting all choked up as the woman -- an adored and admired older friend -- playing Golde lit the candles. Then I noticed that she was wearing her babushka head covering inside-out, and that you could see a huge piece of masking tape with her real name on it right on the side of her head. Worst case of stage giggles I have ever had.)

So this is the image I have in my mind as we enter into the holy month of Ramadan: Muslim families gathering together at the end of the day to break their fast, to light candles (if they do), and to say ancient blessings over their bread. Or their fig cake:

I had so hoped to find a reading for church this Sunday that would evoke this scene with the kind of beauty and tenderness I remember from that scene in "Fiddler," but I failed to do so. I don't want to overly romanticize a practice that, in reality for most Mulsim families is probably nowhere near as magical -- I imagine in many modern Muslim homes, the television is on in the background, everyone's running around on different schedules, the meal may be some quick bite grabbed at the kitchen counter, and no shared song is sung.

However, for some families breaking their Ramadan fast probably is that magical, is that tender, and is that intentional and full of blessing. And if that's the case anywhere, why not lift it up? Why not celebrate and appreciate it?

Perhaps for Unitarian Universalists and other religious people who believe in fostering goodwill between traditions, we may decide to spend the month of Ramadan acquainting ourselves with Islam and honestly assessing our own assumptions about it. Maybe we too can decide to fast in some important way. Since the Ramadan fast for Muslims is not just a sunrise to sundown abstention from food and drink, but also (I have heard, but I may be wrong) sex and malicious or damaging conversation, perhaps we may decide to join in some aspect of that fast as a means of expressing solidarity with the Islamic community.

And on an entirely different topic, I have decided to start a political movement based on the premise that the United States absolutely cannot declare war on Iran until George Bush learns how to pronounce "nuclear." I think this could have great bi-partisan appeal; what do you think?

Monday, September 18, 2006

PeaceBang Bores You With More About What She's Eating

Alright, ya'll, I'm cooking my VERY FIRST COLLARD GREENS right now.

I hear they're supposed to stink up the kitchen something awful. I'll wait and see.

They, and the onion they're cooking with, are organic.

The bacon is nitrate-free, humanely raised, grain fed and all that jazz.

I am basically using meat more as flavoring than as the main show.

This is very exciting. Not to you, I know. Sorry!

In other news, I had a blessedly uneventful day and realized that I have a lot of rage stored up from something. Can't figure out what, but I'm glad to know it's there. As my old high school students used to say, "PeaceBang's fittin' a snap!"

Could it be that I'm angry at death? Mebbe.

Could it be that I'm experiencing some of that weird aggression Chalice Chick referenced in her post about going temporarily vegan?

I am now making a very big Spanky face from "The Little Rascals."

I'll report back about that in a few days. I know CC got a little bit of a smack around from some vegan commenters, but sometimes a physiological response is just a physiological response. No one wants to have it, but you have it.
The fact is, I get amazing insights when smoking my one cigarette a night.* I don't like that fact, but it's true.

*As I have revealed before, I am a seasonal smoker: I buy one packet of tobacco in the summer (usually August) and roll my own cigarettes. When that pack is done, I don't smoke any more for the rest of the year. This year I didn't open the packet until late August, so I'm probably going to be observing my small tobacco ritual through October.

Ramadan Readings

Some help, if you can offer it.

I am preaching this weekend on the spiritual discipline of fasting, and on the power of spiritual disciplines in general.

I would love to share some readings about Ramadan written by Muslims. Certainly relevant passages from the Qu'ran would also be appreciated, but I can research those myself.

I plan to weave in my recent "conversion" to vegetarianism and the issue of sustainable eating. I hope to God I can keep this from being one of those boring Meanwhile, can I tell you how delicious the braised lentil stew cooking in the oven smells right now? It's full of fresh rosemary from my garden, red onion, garlic, and (full disclosure here) free-range organic chicken broth. And okay, I added the leftover frozen bacon I had in the freezer, because the recipe calls for it and I wanted to use up the meat I had on hand.
Sorry, vegans. I'm definitely consuming 80% less meat than previously. And that's where I may stay.

Pope Ben Apologizes

I appreciate this:

What's amazing about this apology as I read it is that it seems to indicate that Benedict's understanding of his role is more "exemplar of Christian virtues" than "infallible religious dude who wears great threads."

It's a heartening sign.

Again, I got no beef with quoting medieval texts. However, as the Pope knows, whatever he says will be heard with immediate, unquestioning respect by millions of people who may not be able to understand such quotes in context.

He took responsibility for that, and I think that's very hopeful.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Just In: Bloggers Should Not Have Hot Bodies!

Chalice Chick has an Asshat of the Week Award, and I feel compelled to award someone one, too (and you can call me CopyCat of the Week)!

It's this Ann Althouse person, who actually caused a huge bloggy furor over this nonsense. Could this be more stupid?

Thanks to Pandagon for alerting me to this absolutely ridiculous cat-fighting.

Lord, Help Me Find a Spa That's Open On Mondays

So I'm desperately googling area spas and health care centers trying to find someone who could massage me achin' bod tomorrow, and maybe even throw some of those flat, hot stones at my back. Hard. Until I cry.

I am about five minutes and one bad laundry basket lift away from totally throwing out my lower back. It's aching like mad. I haven't worked out in weeks and have mostly had my big butt in a chair writing worship services or been on my feet in heels leading worship and greeting folks. Not very holistic. I feel like hell, frankly, although I am proud of the fact that there aren't dirty dishes in the sink and the cat box is clean. And that I got my newsletter column in on time.
One of the hardest weeks on my personal ministerial record.

Usual tasks, plus two very large funerals. Some other epically painful things occurring in peoples' lives.
Six hours of on-campus class time, plus approximately 225 minutes of commute time. Most weeks will have half that.

I got most of my service for our new Second Sunday liturgy written last night before going to M's surprise birthday party, and returned home at 11:00 pm to finish it up. The computer crashed. I spent an hour trying to get it to boot up, but decided to let the computer rest before I threw it out the window in a rage.
I slept restlessly through a night full of nightmares, then got up at 6 am to salvage what I could of the service.
Thank the gods, the computer booted.

I wrote the rest of the service, made breakfast, and went to church.

If I may brag just mildly, do you know many congregations who wouldn't react with some negativity to the minister changing around the liturgy a lot? We changed it A LOT, for our new Second Sunday thing that focuses on faith development through service. Whole new order of service. Music Director was a champ. Lay preacher, a champ. Everyone was a champ. That's my word of the day: champ.

I didn't get one complaint, but I probably got about 12 smiling thumbs up. Comments ranged from a simple, "Hey, I liked it!" to "That was interesting, I liked it, I think it will find its rhythm really soon" to "I really liked it, I'm going to digest it more and see if I have any specific feedback."

Excuse me, but I call that incredibly cool.

The trick to ministry, I am convinced, is to have the kind of congegation who, when you have no energy of your own, are great people to vampire off of. I actually and truly don't think I could have gotten through the service if they hadn't been who they are.

And now, sleep. Without nightmares, I hope.

[update 3 hours later: I racked out like a champ and feel slightly more alive, but only slightly. I had more nightmares. In this one, I was forced to walk the plank and drop into the water from a big ship as some kind of sacrificial ritual. I was wearing period clothes of a 19th century naval officer or something. It felt like the dream was a more intense piratical follow-up to the dream of the other day wherein I adopted a dog named Jean Lafitte. This will definitely bear some reflection. What would Dr. Jung say?-- PB]

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What Do You Mean By "At Risk?"

Well, of COURSE he says this:

But it depends on what you mean by "at risk," Mr. Bush. At risk for an attack, or at risk of becoming a nation without any moral integrity that condones torture as a legitimate information-gathering technique?

More On Islam

I used to think that comments like this weren't really that inflammatory:

There was a time in the recent past when I would have nodded and said to myself, "Of course the pope is just saying things that are politically incorrect but honest. No one wants to say this, but Muslims do have a concept of jihad and there are parts in the Quran that do recommend conversion by the sword."

Not that I'd ever read the Quran, you understand -- just bits and pieces of it. My status as a citizen of the most powerful nation on Earth made it eminently acceptable for me to pass easy armchair judgment on the entire Islamic world without ever having visited a Muslim community or knowing much of anything about the religion and culture of Islam.
I'm not ashamed of that; I'm just another dumb, arrogant American. No shame in that unless you adamantly stay dumb.

I am beginning to see, however, that my smug Western assessment of Islam -- which came with a kind of pursed-lip liberal gee-whizzery, as in "Gee whiz, I hate to say this about a major world religion, but Islam is kind of extra violent, isn't it?" is just as inexcusably ignorant, racist and dangerous in its own way as the Christian militant who wants to imprison all the "towel-heads."

I have to admit now that a lot of my own reaction to Islam was/is the visceral reaction I get to the visual images and sounds of the Muslim world: thousands of people wearing clothes I can't relate to, jammed in tushy to tushy in a mosque prostrating themselves in prayer, women covering their heads with scarves, wailing ululations that sound nothing like the hymns that are so comforting to my own soul. Visceral anxiety = You People Are Weird. Not an acceptable way to approach fellowship and understanding.

I think the Pope made a big, dumb mistake. I don't think the Pope knows doody about Islam. He has fallen into the same trap most of us have fallen into, but since he's probably the most important religious leader in the world, he ought to be ashamed of himself. He should get out there and fix what he did. And the next time he hires a Unitarian Christian woman of Jewish descent who dabbles in witchcraft as one of his personal advisors, I will be sure to tell him that!

I am beginning to think that the religion of Islam and the hideous infection of Islamic terrorism bear practically no useful relation to one another. I think that looking to the Muslim religion to understand why men were willing to fly planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is an exercise in futility.

I believe now that we should look to other factors, such as deep cultural assumptions and influences, and stop trying to understand Islam through the lens of the question, "Why are all these terrorists Muslims?" Those who seek to understand Islam have the difficult but necessary job, I think, of exorcising the question of terrorism from their initial exploration. To set about understanding Islam from an initial assumption that it breeds terrorists can never give us a fair or responsible conceptual foundation for learning. Religious people should protest this when they see it happening. Pope Ben, I'm looking at you.

Say a group of Martians descend on our planet. They set up a university to try to understand human beings, and they decide to study human nature using Hitler, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, Pol Pot, and John Wayne Gacy as case studies. They put a pile of the world's sacred scriptures in a pile and begin to comb through them, looking for the answer to the question, "How do the many religiouis beliefs of these creatures incite them to such heinous crimes against one another?" Say we give the Martians some yellow highlighters in order to help them find the passages in all the scriptures that support their initial assumption. Think they would find lots and lots of things to highlight? Think that the Holy Bible would be full of yellow? Yea, me too.

Now I've got to go do my day.

muslim women

Friday, September 15, 2006

E-Harmony Ads

When you see those e-harmony ads on television (with the now-ruined wonderful song, "This Will Be An Everlasting Love" playing in the background), do you ever guiltily wonder if most of those guys are totally gay? Because they really, really seem to be gay to me.
E-harmony is pretty Christian, so my theory is that a lot of the dudes who find sweet hometown honeys on that site are closeted gay men who don't think God will love them if they get down with the brotherhood.
Boys, God loves you either way! Believe me!

Anyway, I hope I'm wrong, but that's my nagging suspicion every time one of those commercials comes on. Check it out. See if your gaydar goes off like mine does.

Feng Shui

Do you believe in feng shui?

Here's why I ask.

When I first moved into the parsonage, I had my bed facing east-west. I wasn't accustomed to living on a busy, main road, though, so I felt a sense of anxiety every time a car or truck went by, which was often. I felt like the rushing sound made me want to sit up in bed.

So I moved my bed between two windows with my head to the street, my feet facing away from the street, north-south. I felt like my position somehow broke the energy of the cars rushing by, since I was no longer lying parallel to the street outside.

In January of 2005 I began to have fairly regular anxiety attacks. I found that anxiety almost inevitably kicked in just as I was on the verge of falling asleep, and I would wake up with my heart pounding, fearful of the house around me.
I cut out caffeine, started exercising more regularly, and cut out eating much sugar (and especially at night). My daytime anxiety attacks got much more manageable, but I would still feel very keyed up at night, and still awoke frequently with panic attack symptoms (feeling of smothering, blurred vision, disorientation, sense of unreality, etc.) that I managed with breathing techniques.

When I noticed that even at my most wonderfully happy and relaxed this summer I still slept badly in my own bed, although I slept absolutely soundly anywhere else, I decided to read some feng shui pointers. I discovered that my bedroom is just bad for bed placement, as there are windows or closets or other interferences that make it impossible to place a queen sized bed where the feng shui experts recommend. But I did my best to choose the best spot according to feng shui principles, and moved the bed again (actually, back to where I had it when I first moved in).
I slept well that night and have not had any panic attack symptoms since.

Was it all psychological? Was I wrapped in some kind of bad enchantment that needed to be broken? Or is there something to this feng shui stuff?

Experiences? Comments?


Two of my favorite people are turning 40 today and tomorrow.

One is my oldest friend in the world, and the other is a very new friend.

They are both eminently sane but accept me anyway, adorable, loving, smart, supportive and wickedly talented. Both are loyal and easy to be with. Both have steely organizational inner wizards beneath a bubbly, easy-going exteriors. You don't mess with Virgos; most of my best friends in life are Virgos. My first college roommate -- who just turned 40-- was a Virgo, and I am convinced that I would have flunked out with a nervous breakdown if it hadn't been for her groundedness and goodness. Also, Virgos don't coddle you. They say, "I have your schedule in my hand, and here's what you have to do today. Get it together, girl. I know you can." And when they tell you you can, you can. LOVE 'em.

(I'm a Capricorn -- grounded, ambitious -- but with a SCORPIO MOON, which makes me psycho, if you believe such things, and on many days, I do.)

Virgos rock. Happy, happy birthday Mary, Jasmine, Dan H., Julie B., Hafhida.
And happy 40th to Melissa and Michael. Glad you'll be joining me in this great new decade.

xoxo PB

Thank Boy In The Bands

Can I just earnestly and truly throw Scott Wells a thousand kisses for putting the Universalist prayerbook online?

Consider it done. Folks, acquaint yourselves with these beautiful liturgies.


Just got in from a funeral.
Wrung out.
Sitting reading a catalogue, notice that I am breathing through my open mouth. I only do that when extremely knackered.
Must nap.

Dreamed last night that I bought a little dog in Paris and named him "Jean Lafitte" after the famous pirate. My sister was in the dream. We were running all over Paris.
I love Paris.

I read some NY Times articles and got caught up on the news about the senate struggle against Bush's treatment of detainees. Notice that the Republicans who oppose him are MILITARY VETERANS. Put on my make-up this morning hooting and cussing over the NPR report. Find myself in a mounting fury about this.

Found out that pretzels are 100 calories EACH.
Also discovered that yellow split peas do not take 1.5 hours to cook, no matter what the Naked Chef tells you. They take like 3 hours. And they taste magnificent with lots of sage from the garden cooked in.

Okay. Nap.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Can You Explain This Torture News To Me?

The cat, who has never shown any interest in vegetables before, likes organic celery. She can't stop licking my hands, and she's cracking me up.

Too busy to write for awhile, very sorry. Not even caught up on the news, but correct me if I'm wrong: it sounds to me like there's something going on where Bush is basically saying, "If we feel like torturing people and allowing information obtained under that brutal interrogation as evidence, we just will."

Am I getting this right? Are we just skipping gaily past the Geneva Conventions outright, now? Comments? Wanna talk about it? Or would you rather do that on a real political blog and leave me to my funeral services, newsletter column, sermon and assignments for class?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Children's Books For Today

The little engine
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Lean Cuisine, And I Use The Word Loosely

I've been trying to eat vegetarian and organic lately, but not for so long that my innards are all pristine or anything. I mean, I'm sure I still have some carne asada working its way through my gizzards from a few days ago. But basically, you know, meat just isn't part of my day anymore the way it used to be.

This afternoon, though, I came home in a rush and needed some lunch pronto. I checked the freezer and found some Lean Cuisine noodles and Swedish meatballs entrees (like one is enough!?) which I nuked in the microwave and snarfed down. Within a half an hour I was so deadly sick it was like I had been poisoned. Wow! My body knew it did NOT want that stuff in my digestive system.

So that's the end of that kind of fooling around. Tonight it's yellow split peas and and some kind of pesto thing (my garden is lousy with basil). The thing about cooking vegetarian is that you wind up getting pretty creative.

That's all for now. I'm so busy that my hairdresser came in an hour early to accomodate me since I had to cancel my scheduled appointment for the THIRD TIME this month. She took pity on me and my scraggly locks. What a great gal.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Some questions for you, five years after 9/11:

Have you personally made an effort to learn about the religion of Islam, if you did not know much about it prior to 2001?
If so, what have been the best resources you've found in your effort?
Has your congregation helped you in this effort?

When people you know discuss the religion of Islam, do they seem to know what they're talking about, or do they rely wholly on information they receive from the popular media?

How many people do you know express the belief that the secularization of Muslim community is the best hope for the future?

No judgment, just genuinely wondering.

9/11 Five Years Later

[I published this commentary in the local newspaper. Thought I'd share it with you. -- PB]

In a perfect state of blissful ignorance, I was in my study reading on the morning of
September 11, 2001, when my mother called from her car. Before I could say hello, she began speaking in the tone she uses when something terrible has occurred and she’s maintaining maternal calm and sanity. “I haven’t heard from Chip yet,” she said, “But I think he’s far enough away from it all that I’m sure he’s fine. Let’s not worry until we know more. Please don’t worry about me. I’m not driving into Manhattan, I’m going to stop in Connecticut and stay with your sister.”

I interrupted her. “What are you talking about?” I asked what was going on. Was she okay? And then I heard her take a very deep breath and she said, “Honey, go turn on the television. Stay on the phone with me and go turn on the television.”

And so we watched the mayhem together, or rather I watched while she stayed on the phone with me. My younger brother Chip worked in Manhattan, as did his wife at the time. We would not know for many hours where they were, whether or not they were trapped in the subway, or how harrowing a day they would have slowly walking home among other stunned, soot and ash-covered New Yorkers. I was living in Maryland then, just an hour from Washington, DC, and I froze with horror when I heard about the plane that had smashed into the side of the Pentagon, and the fourth flight that had gone down in a field in nearby Pennsylvania. Were there more planes? Where were they headed? Should I prepare to die? Should we all prepare to die?

Life in ministry had certainly acquainted me with the shadow side of human nature, but nothing in my experience or seminary training had ever prepared me for an encounter with this kind of malevolence. It felt apocalyptic. It felt demonic. I knew, however, that as soon as I could manage it, I would have to reach out to my congregation that didn’t have a building of its own and therefore had no central place to gather, and that most intimidating and overwhelming of all, that I would have to have something to say about the events of this day. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to say anything at all if I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering.

What could I say? What could I possibly say? I wanted nothing more than to hide in my room and lock the door. I pulled down my Bible and opened to the Psalms, that ancient hymn book that contains not only praise, hope and faith but human rage, despair, destruction, fear, vengeance, and fist-shaking at God. I did not know that morning that Muslim fanatics were responsible for the attacks, or that religion in general would take such a central role in the global response to this day. I just knew that I needed to hear the voices of other struggling, faithful human beings who had experienced their own horrific destructions. I needed their company in prayer, and I needed to ground myself with the Psalmist in the reality that although human beings may choose to commit atrocious acts with their God-given existential freedom, the world was still a sacred place where love could, and would, abide and triumph over fear.

By the time I walked out the door for our evening community vigil, I was still shaky and terrified (and would remain so for some time afterward), but I had one clear thought in my head and in my heart: either love is stronger than fear, or it isn’t. Either we believe that love is stronger than fear, or we don’t.

Whatever we did from this day forward, as individuals, as communities, and as a nation would illustrate where we stand on this ultimate question. I knew where I wanted to stand.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

IAMS Tortures Animals

You're not feeding your animal companion IAMS, I hope??

Community Organic Garden

I have this fresh new fantasy of organizing an organic community vegetable and flower garden with my church.

Just wondering if any of you has been involved in such an enterprise at your own congregations, and if so, how is it going?

I've been googling around and see that the idea is taking hold all over the country, and even in some Unitarian Universalist communities.

Thrilling! Bring on the compost!

PeaceBang's Television Dies, R.I.P.

Not that I'm a big TV watcher, but I was looking forward to collapsing on the couch and watching a DVD tonight.

Trouble is, I turned on the TV a few minutes ago and it made a sound like it was being throttled with a garotte, and although I could get sound just fine, no picture at all. It started hissing when I changed channels and sounded for all the world like it might blow up, so I unplugged the thing. Minutes later when I tried again, it started screaming and sounded like it was DEFINITELY going to blow up. Not only have I unplugged it, it would be spending the night in the garage if I could lift it.

I just went to to take first looks at what's out there and I find that I am obviously waaaay back in the 20th century when it comes to tellies. What's in the name of Regis Philbin is plasma TV? What's HDTV, and should I bother caring? What's a flat-screen TV, and why would I want to spend $3000 on one when I can get a perfectly good regular old television for about ten times less than that?

I am an Unfrozen Caveman Television Viewer! Your ways confuse me! Please advise!

Where Will You Retire?

This makes me so happy and so hopeful.

As is the case for most parish ministers, I often feel fairly inundated with aging issues. How to care for aging elders, how to receive care as an aging elder, deciding when it's time to move to assisted living, how to get into the good retirement communities, how to pay for it all. When to revoke driving privileges. When to stop the treatment, or to refuse the final, invasive surgery.
Alzheimer's. Broken hips. Biopsies. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About the Visiting Nurses Association But Were Afraid To Ask. Orthopedics. Catheters. Spending $60,000 to make the house handicapped accessible, only to have the beloved one die soon after.

I would really like to retire someday. I am at the age where I am starting to really look forward to it, and read my Fidelity statements with a lot more interest than I did at age 30. But like many do-gooders of my generation who live in an unbelievably exorbitant housing market, owning property is a distant dream and I actually don't know if I'll be an old lady living in her own home at any point in my life. If I choose to stay around the Boston area and keep working in ministry and education, heck, I'd rather rent and live somewhere halfway decent than have to commute from some "fixer-upper" 1.5 hours away.

I used to think it would be impossible to retire. I figured I could never let go of speaking, pastoring, teaching, writing, studying toward some professional purpose. Lately, however, I'm thinking that it will be mighty fine to put my feet up someday and do nothing more intellectually strenuous than grow basil. And I mean for years at a time. Lord, hear my prayer.

My sister and I talk about communal retirement living pretty regularly. We both feel that, given the high numbers of single, child-free people in our generation, it makes sense to consider our futures together, as communities, without expecting that we can all do well (or even be happiest) going it alone. And given what I've seen of multi-generational living arrangements, I would think that many parents might also consider communal living in their senior years. It's not that children don't welcome parents into their home: they do, and I'm amazed by how often they do, and with what a true sense of welcome and desire to help. But it's HARD fitting into your child's household, even if they have one to offer you. Maybe you'll be glad to be able to hold off on moving in for a few years. Maybe communal living can help you do that. For singles, we have to take care of each other.

I have a fantasy of owning a big Victorian with friends, and making several apartments out of our house. Maybe a communal kitchen. A nice yard. A garden. Walking distance to public transportation. A good church somewhere nearby, and senior services available for good medical care. I think it's insane for Gen X and Y not to start thinking earnestly and often about how we are going to deal with the geriatrification of America. If I was in my 20's, I would definitely consider going into eldercare as a career. I think there's TONS of money to be made in it, and it would be fulfilling. I am going to get my nephews thinking entrepeneurially [did I just make up that word?] about providing services to the elderly. With all those Boomers heading into their 60's, my boys will be of the perfect age to make a fantastic living opening and running boutique retirement homes, don't you think? And with all the money they'll make, they can do something terribly altruistic. That is, if they don't take to Chinese and Persian as languages and go into international relations and peace work.

So anyway, look for PeaceBang's Home For Old Broadway Lovin' Pastors sometime in about 2036. You can come over for Spaghetti & Sondheim Night.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It Feels Good

Really, is there any better feeling than having your Homecoming sermon and almost all of the service DONE by Friday night?

(P'Town fleurs from our patio)

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Naughty children are so hilarious, even if I'm very careful not to crack up in front of them. This yesterday from one of our church babies to her faithful papa,

"Jesus is STUPID."

I think she just took ten years off his life, poor man.

Another PeaceBang Puritan Moment

I like to think of myself as a kind of hip gal.

I am definitely pro-sexuality and ain't nothing prudish about me.

But I happened to run across the Black Eyed Peas video for their new single, "London Bridge" the other day, and I stood there with broom in hand and mouth wide open. The entire song is about, if I may be so bold, oral sex. I mean, it's not even subtle. It is super, duper skanky.

That Fergie person is just ... well. Definitely un-Christian terms come to mind.

So it occurs to me to add it all up and suddenly feel sick to my stomach for young girls today. According to pop culture, they're supposed to be absolutely plastic-gorgeous: skinny, booby and muscular in a way that no previous generation has ever expected (remember the 70's, when a pretty girl could have frizzy hair and big thighs and bushy eyebrows?). They're supposed to be amazingly successful with their own mini-empires, like Beyonce or Lindsay Lohan or Jessica Simpson or that bizarre parasite, Paris Hilton. They're supposed to be aggressively, confidently sexual man eaters like Fergie or Angelina Jolie or Lindsay Lohan (again). This is what they see. They should be fit, super-hard-bodies until they're 50+ years old (Madonna) and they should definitely put child-bearing on hold while they pursue their glamorous, lucrative careers. Age-related fertility issues ? No problem. They can just adopt adorable foreign babies a la Sharon Stone. They'll be able to have it all, and look great while they have it all. In fact, they had BETTER WELL have it all and look amazing and have gobs of money while having it all.

I know I'm being a crusty old Puritan goodwife waving my bony finger from the door and yelling at the pretty girls walking by, but seriously. I'm just sorry that pop culture is so egregiously glamorizing total skankiness and even in this supposedly post-feminist era, promoting insanely unfair expectations for women's lives.

This is to say nothing of the absolutely atrocious treatment of women in the hip hop culture, whose videos and television shows should sicken all of us. Ever seen "The Flava of Love?" It's one of the most amazingly tasteless displays of sexism you will ever lay your eyes on.

I realize that this isn't a terribly organized or coherent social critique. And I know our girls are too smart to let their life choices be guided by, you know, FERGIE or Paris Hilton. It's just that I thought that by now, we might have traveled further away from the Inflatable Doll image of female strength and beauty, not be moving ever closer to it.

Youth Ministry and Eboo Patel

I was totally inspired by this August 31 broadcast of "Speaking of Faith" featuring young activist and visionary Eboo Patel:

You can download the podcast or the mp.3 to listen to on the computer.

Pastors and anyone else who works with youth, this is well worth your hour. Download it to your i-pod and go for a walk. Be prepared to cheer out loud and get strange looks.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Veggie Recipes

I'm just wiped out.

No posting for a bit, gang.

Getting ready for Homecoming Sunday, and the week after that is full of many thousands of theengs.

Cool Diversion

Knock yourself out, just don't let your boss catch you:

Fung Wah Bus Will Get You There In Style, Or At Least Alive (Most of the Time)

How many of you have fond memories of hopping the Fung Wah bus from Chinatown in Boston and holding on for dear life as you booked it to NYC in record time and for practically no money?

Me, too.

We weren't kidding when we called them Death Buses:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's Not So Great To Be At The Top Of The Food Chain

I have a very fond memory from about seven years ago when I was serving a church in suburban Maryland. On Christmas Day, wiped out from the previous day's services, I drove down to D.C. to spend the afternoon with Scott Wells (Boy In the Bands ). We were both tired pastors who were suffering the typical Christmas Day exhaustion, and we sat in easy chairs in his parsonage with a glazed ham between us, working our way through it while drinking glasses of riesling and watching "Damn Yankees."

Good times.
But I'm afraid my days of happily devouring spiral-cut ham may be coming to an end.

Scott, with his many thoughtful posts about buying local and in season, started me thinking a year or so ago about where my food comes from. My emerging interest in cooking and recent transformation into a true foodie has also contributed to my curiosity. Lately, it seems, there's been more and more attention focused on sustainable agrigulture, agribusiness and ethical eating. The most recent issue of "The Nation" has a series of terrific articles by people like Alice Waters and Wendell Berry on the subject.

I bought my first organic chicken yesterday, and found that I couldn't buy any other meat products. This is a very interesting development for this carnivore.

Today I bought a copy of Jane Goodall's book Harvest For Hope: A Guide To Mindful Eating, which is all about sustainability and is written in Goodall's typically gentle, wise and loving manner. I have been a huge admirer of Goodall's for many years, and consider her a hero. As an irrational lover of chimps, I have to give due propers to anyone who has done as much for them as has Goodall. She is totally down with the primates, and therefore she gets my vote. Also, I loved her book Reason For Hope. If you have mean dish about Jane, please don't tell me. Leave me my unblemished adoration.

I don't know where this will all lead, but wouldn't you know, just as I was feeling very righteous about genetically-modified crops I made the acquaintance TONIGHT of a young scientist who works for (cue villain music) Monsanto!
I asked her to explain her work to me, and she got me all confused again by describing what she does in calm, very intelligent way that made her company's efforts seem decidedly un-villainous. I said, "Uh-oh. Now you've blown all my lefty liberal self-righteousness!" and she laughed. She knows, she knows.

Powderblue, don't you go doing a little victory dance yet. I'm not sure that I won't go out and have a big hamburger for lunch tomorrow or something, but let's just say that I'm thinking. I'm thinking a lot. And I'm not happy about that frozen kielbasa in my freezer. I'm not happy about all that corn syrup that my baby nephews are ingesting, and I'm not happy about the fact that the entire food supply seems to be irrevocably tainted in some dire way.

One thing I do know is that I'll be stopping by the local farmer's market tomorrow on the way to the hospital. At least it's something.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Unitarian Universalist Christian, Vol. 60

I am so pleased that the most recent volume of the Unitarian Universalist Christian is concerned with Universalism as its topic.

I am so disappointed that there isn't an article by Scott Wells among the essays.

Perhaps Scott would offer a review of the journal on his own blog?

Steve Irwin, May He Rest

Steve Irwin
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I personally think that "Animal Planet" is the best free and totally legal drug available to cable subscribers today. Whenever I get really down, I can count on a little sojourn to "AP" to lift my spirits. I get to see moist-eyed chimps swing around in the wild, and I get to see hometown boy Jeff Corwin run around with antelopes or catch frogs. "Animal Precinct" is an awesome show guaranteed to elicit cleansing tears, and my friend Steve Irwin could always be counted on to provide an hour of total entertainment flinging himself into the brush and emerging with a huge smile and some gargantuan snake around his neck. You never knew a snake could look sheepish until it had been wrangled by Steve Irwin.

Also, Steve had that great Australian accent that lent everything he said a wonderful "Gee Whiz" air. He was totally charming. Granted, we didn't think it was such a bright idea to hold his newborn baby in one arm while tempting a crocodile with a piece of chicken with the other, but he could be forgiven because it was just Steve being his crazy-ass nature maniac self.

And all's well that end's well in that situation, although his son might need a lot of therapy for that. Kids can be so cruel. They might call him "Croc Snack" someday.

(Here are two good editorials harshly criticizing Irwin's shenanigans and general approach to dominating animals: and

It was probably last winter that I was eating popcorn with chili powder on it and watching Steve Irwin do the cha-cha with a python or something, when I said to my cat, "Ermengarde, mark my words. That man is going to have his ass handed to him by a cobra someday."
She nodded sagely. She is nodding sagely right now, in fact.

And so it goes. Steve was killed by an unfortunate encounter with a stingray on Monday, an animal that scares me so much I can't even see IMAGES of it on the television without needing an Ativan. Of course they keep showing the bloody things swimming around with their scary pre-historic pancake weird flappy selves -- could anything look any more ominous than those freaky critters, I ask you? And I keep getting tears in my eyes thinking about my Steve getting wacked upside the head by the tail of one of those bloody killer sea pancakes, and I'm just so sorry the fun is over for Steve, and for us.

Bless his heart. And rest his soul. Thanks for the memories, Steve Irwin.

What Makes These Church Web Sites So Bad?

I got this link from Chutney and dutifully looked at all the supposedly awful church websites. Sure, they weren't great. They're mostly kind of saccharine or overly-busy, and Pomo's nominee for the Worst of the Worst is definitely not good. But overall, considering that these websites are probably designed and maintained by volunteer laypeople, are they really that bad?

Here's the thing. I'm just a typical internet surfer and church shopper (on the Sundays I'm out of the pulpit, that is). I haven't studied web design. I don't know java script from Flash. When I visit a church website, I'm looking for a few things: information on worship services and programs, a message from the pastor, a sense of welcome, a current calendar of programs, directions, and contact phone numbers. I don't expect the graphics to be contemporary and sophisticated. I won't gag if there's a cheesy hymn playing in the background (although I might giggle).

Again, considering that there's a UU congregation out there that sells thongs on its website, I think these other guys are doing pretty well.

But obviously Pomo and Chutney feel very strongly about this. Can they, or any of you, tell me what I'm missing? What makes these so godawful?

Monday, September 04, 2006

One Century Hence

I accidentally typed the year 3006 on a document a few minutes ago and instantly thought, "Will I be shards of bone by then, or will I be a pretty good-looking skeleton?"

And as much as that made me giggle, it hit me with an incredible sense of foreboding and fear that I simply hoped there would be a green, verdant earth left in 2006. And if that isn't too much to ask, some beautiful New England churches on it, too, please.

The Theatre is a Temple

MotherBang is in the process of preparing for a cabaret show of Johnny Mercer songs. It's going to be a big moment for her. You can all start singing "New York, New York" now:

"If she can make it there,
she'll make it ANYwhere,
it's up to YOU
New York
New Yoooooork!"

Except Mom's not trying to make it anywhere. She just loves to sing and does a lot of it, and she's good at it, too. My parents met while doing a community theatre production of "Guys and Dolls" in Binghamton, NY. Mom was the star, Miss Adelaide, and Dad played Harry the Horse.
With such beginnings, did I have any choice but to become a huge theatre freak? I remember going to see the Broadway revival of "42nd Street" with both my parents. When I started weeping at the overture, my father looked at my mother as if to say, "Is she okay?" Mom squeezed my shoulder and gave my Dad a look that just said, in effect, "This is her church. This is where all her big feelings come out."

I got into trouble with some dinner guests the other night when I said that I don't like to perform at church talent shows. Oh, what a snot! Oh, so elitist! Think you're too good for us, eh?

No, not too good at all. Too experienced. Too devoted to the magic of transformation, the sets, lights, costumes and orchestra, the preparation with other performers, the hush of opening night, the backstage jitters, the sanctity of the curtain, to perform under casual circumstances such as a church talent show.
There's that, and then there's my sense that I've had plenty of opportunities to be a performer and to get all that attention. Let someone else get it for a change. I get enough attention as a minister. Let someone else get shined on for a night!

I have been performing since I was six years old, and I have entertained thousands of people on dozens of stages. I have loved all the women I've been on the stage. I have been Laurie in "Oklahoma," and the Incomparable Rosalie in "Carnival" and Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" and both Marty and Rizzo in "Grease." I have played one of the daughters (Kate) and Ruth in "The Pirates of Penzance" and Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes" and Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn in "The Music Man" and Chloe Haddock in "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" and Hermia in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I was Nancy Twinkle in "Little Mary Sunshine" and Ella Peterson in "Bells Are Ringing." I played Hodel in "Fiddler on the Roof" and Leah in "Two By Two" and Mary Kenny in "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" and Emma Goldman in "Ragtime" and Miss Hannigan in "Annie." The list goes on. I treasure these characters and my incarnation of them. In each production, I brought passion and care and deep attention to the role. I had time to learn how to be the character in relationship to the other characters and the actors playing them, and most of all, in the rehearsal process my fellow actors and I prepared ourselves for something serious and deep to happen between us and the audience. For all the work you do putting together a show, that's the payoff. And it's a huge payoff.

Of all silly things, I remember playing Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes" during a particularly miserable time in my life. I was standing on stage with the actors playing Billy, Hope and Sir Evelyn singing "At Long Last Love" when suddenly the four of us just knocked the dumb song out of the park. I don't know what happened; an extra swell in the orchestra, a weird electrical current between us. Suddenly what had been (for me) a throwaway moment became amazing.
I looked out into the house and saw a man sitting and openly weeping. From that moment on, I no longer doubted my belief that the theatre is a temple, and that the gods of comedy and tragedy do reside there and work on the human soul. You must pay it the utmost respect.

Many of you know that I opened as Ella Peterson in "Bells Are Ringing" the day of my father's funeral. He had had heart problems for years before being taken by a heart attack. So to stand on the stage and sing,

The party's over
It's time to call it a day
No matter how you pretend
you knew it would end this way
It's time to wind up the masquerade
Just make your mind up
the piper must be paid.
The party's over
The candles flicker and dim
You danced and dreamed through the night
It seemed to be right just being with him
Now you must wake up
All dreams must end
Take off your make-up
the party's over.
It's all over, my friend

was pretty transcendent, and not in a good way.
My extended family (all in town for the funeral) took up at least two full rows in the orchestra. It was the most solemn moment I have ever spent on the stage, right in the midst of this lovely, light-hearted little comedy. As I sang in the spotlight (and it wasn't really me singing, but someone much more together and capable than I singing for me), some of the spotlight fell, as it always does, over the audience. Alone of all the audience, my sister was illuminated in the residual glow. I could see her clearly, watching me without realizing that I could see her.
It's not an image I will ever forget. It's not a song I can hear without walking out of the room.

The only story I feel I can tell as a singing/performing minister in a church setting is "Hi, I'm your minister but did you also know that I love the theatre and that I love this song?" I don't think that's a very interesting story. They already know it, and if they don't, the pressure is too high to be really good. When I'm singing within the context of a show, I can trust that the director cast me for a reason and that we've done our work well by opening night. I trust that I am bringing the character to life in an appropriate way. I have the support of a great character, a cast, an orchestra, lights and costumes, etc. In a cabaret setting, it's just me and a microphone. I don't enjoy that at ALL. It's too raw and exposed and unless someone is a huge expert at it (Barbara Cook comes to mind , or someone like my mother who really loves it), I just don't think it's a very compelling art form.

I do occasionally sing for my own congregation -- I include bits of songs in sermons where they might communicate a point that I can't find any better way to communicate. I sang "In Whatever Time We Have"* from "Children of Eden" the morning of my Installation service, which has lyrics that were perfect for a minister and her congregation. I was thrilled to share it with them as a gift. I have sung at the Canvass Dinner, again as a love offering to people I love.

Aside from that, I'm much happier to attend church talent shows or coffeehouses and get to see the hidden talents of people who don't have a regular opportunity to be the stars. When I get good enough on the BANJO, I'll probably torment church folks with that, because it's different.

Back to Mom. She's worried that she might mess up on a lyric. I told her not to worry, because she's already committed the greatest lyric mess-up of all time. Picture this: adorable 65 year old woman with a gorgeous voice singing "The Christmas Song." You know it. She's gracious and classy, she's smiling in her winning and warm way. She starts the song and she goes,

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...
Jack Frost nipping at your nose...
Tiny tots being hung by the fire..."

As I said to her, "Mom, if you manage another lyrical mistake like that one, you couldn't ask for anything better."

P.S. Mom did manage to persuade me to perform one number at her cabaret. I'll be doing "Accentuate the Positive."

In whatever time we have
For as long as we are living
We can face whatever comes
If we face it now as one.
I could make on my own
Let me know that I don't have to
No one really wants to be alone
In whatever we time have.

If at times we are afraid
With so little to believe in
It's alright to be afraid
I will hold you in the dark
All we know for sure is this
Though the world could end tommorow
You and I will be together
In whatever time..

We know life can be a battlefield
we won't run and we won't fear
You'll be my fortress and I will be your shield
There are time I've been afraid
In a world that's so uncertain
Then I feel your hand in mine
And there's courage in my heart.
We could live a hundred years
Or the world could end tommorow
But we know we'll be together, in whatever time...

From this day forward nights don't seem so black
From this day forward we will never look back
In whatever time we have
We will make the most of time
And at least we'll be together in whatever time
We have.

"In Whatever Time We Have" Stephen Schwartz

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Few Minutes Of Pure Beautiful

This is just a purely lovely moment of exquisite music between an adorable young man and his ukelele:

This rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" might just have you weeping.

I had no idea you could get this kind of music out of a uke. More inspiration to put more practice time in with my BANJO.


[This just in! His name is Jake Shimabukuro and he has an album you can buy! -- P.B.]

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Kitchen Table

Carl Scovel once suggested that a really good symbol for the Christian faith is a table. We remember Jesus eating at table with his friends, giving teachings at the table at various times. We remember that that was the last thing he did with the disciples. It is a good symbol.

This summer I sat at table with loved ones. Most of what rejuvenated and made me more whole in July and August was spending time around the table breaking bread (or chips and salsa) with friends and family. So simple, this feeding of body and soul.

The longer I am in ministry, the more I see that everything in life is dealt with around the kitchen table.

Cancer diagnoses. Sudden death. A child run away. Betrayal and infidelity discovered in some sordid manner. Suicide. Car accidents. Criminal convictions. Intervention and rehab. Abuse. Garden variety scandal. Devastating depression.

The pastor shows up at the house and we sit at table.
Someone, usually a kindly family member, sets out a bowl of blueberries, or plates of pie. Someone cries and quietly shreds a napkin as he or she talks. We stay at the table, there are long silences. We stir our tea. We breathe together. Whatever catastrophe has brought us together, the moment is manageable. The kitchen table is the ultimate safe zone. Whatever it is, life will go on. When we're around the table, we know it. Sometimes there is even weak laughter. Or, amazingly enough, even hearty laughter. The kitchen table can make that happen.

I am wearing a small cross around my neck right now. If they made little silver kitchen tables, I swear I'd switch.

(Painting by Julie Cobden)