Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts"

I saw most of this Spike Lee documentary the other night on HBO. If you get a chance, I hope you'll see it.
The way I felt watching it reminded me of the way I feel when Lena Horne sings "Stormy Weather" in her "Lena Horne: A Lady And Her Music" Broadway recording. Something about the beauty in righteous rage that makes you cry and feel hopeful all at once. I can't really explain it, but please see it if you can.

Here's an interview with Lee:

'Tis the Season For Terminal Uniqueness

It's one of those seasons (Easter is the other one) when Unitarian Universalists are most prone to practice extreme Terminal Uniqueness in their worship and conversations:

"People say that Jesus was the Son of God, but UUs believe that..."

"Advent is a time when Christians wait for the coming of the Christ child. But for Unitarian Universalists..."

"Jewish people celebrate the festival of lights, Hanukah, this month. UU's don't believe in miracles, but..."

This Advent season, I'm making it a point to try to avoid this kind of phrase, believing as I do that if Unitarian Universalism is to survive the coming century, it will do so not by making its exclusive brand more appealing to the masses ("The Uncommon Denomination!") but by moving beyond its stifling isolationism into a more ecumenical position in our culture. No matter how far we have moved from our Christian origins, our theological heritage is in liberal and heretical Christianity. We are still unmistakably culturally Christian in our forms of worship, our congregational structure, and our theological identity (how can you tell? If we weren't, we wouldn't be fighting so hard against it).

Whether or not we can move into a more inter-faith position in our culture is not only up to us but up to the faithful of other world religions, who may know of our desire to be regarded as their spiritual kin, but may or may not appreciate our dabbling in their prayers and practices.

Unitarian Universalist questions about the existence of God, the relative "divineness" of Jesus, the divine spark in humankind (is it in everyone? Is it in Hitler and the BTK and Saddam Hussein?), the afterlife, the integrity of the Church, the worth of the Bible, the efficacy of prayer, and how to square scientific knowledge of the material world with mystical intuitions of the spiritual realm, are shared by practically every non-fundamentalist religious person in our midst. Yet we persist -- especially this time of year -- in acting as though these questions are unique to us, examining commonplace theological questions with a gee-whiz naivete, as though we were the first to think of them.

Is this really the best way to minister to our faithful? Yes, it may appeal to those who are walking through the door for the first time ("Wow! I've never heard this suggested out loud in a church before!"), but it does not give much spiritual sustenance to those who are beyond the negations of their old traditions and seeking a faith based in affirmation.

Unitarian Universalists are not the only religious people who doubt very much that a virgin got pregnant by the Holy Spirit approximately nine months ago, that angels visited shepherds the night he was born, and that a star shone in the East that beckoned Wise Men to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are not the only ones who mostly don't believe that God literally filled the lamp of the Maccabees with oil to last the eight days it took to reconsecrate the Temple. Our religious heritage has so much more to offer than dismantling Bible stories, kicking at christology and debunking miraculous tales.

This holiday season, I hope we will seek not so much to take our place outside the religious world as gadflies and myth-busters but as weavers of an especially strong and beautiful vision within the religious world.

"Don't be cynical, Algy. It's perfectly easy to be cynical."
-- from "The Importance of Being Earnest," Oscar Wilde

Sunday, November 26, 2006

THIS'll Preach

Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. And there I was thinking that our own Richard Gilbert originated the phrase, "Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing!"

Google is a wondrous thing.

Was Isaac Watts a Proto-Unitarian Type?

Hey, brainiac history types, help me out here.

I read that Isaac Watts' father was a non-conforming minister in England, and that Isaac served an Independent congregation in the mid-17th century.

So what are we saying here? I know I can look this up and that I should, but I'm planning services right now and don't have the time. However, I want to preach on "Joy To the World" and to remember with my congregation the year that we accidentally included this verse in the Christmas Eve program:

"No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found!"

My church secretary and I were dying when we found the error and dying when we caught each other's eyes at the service that night.
Not only is it, um, unusual theology for us, that phrase "He comes to make his blessings flow" confuses people musically at first, so the whole thing is rather a train wreck.

Isaac_Watts "I wrote many hymns, and I had pretty wigs."

"Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith"

The cat was acting very strangely this morning, slinking around with a worried expression on her face and acting like the place was full of land mines. I would have put more consideration into her strange behavior but I was preoccupied by the fact that there was no hot water, and I was running late for church. So after accusing her of being quite the eccentric girl I kissed her goodbye and thought no more about it.

When the sexton and I discovered about 18" of water in the basement later this afternoon, the cat's behavior was suddenly comprehensible. Now I have to wonder what she thought of me when I had sniffed the musty air like a total dolt, murmuring "Gee, what's that damp smell?" I'm sure I'll find the little kitty-cat sized evacuation rowboat around here someday.

Anyway, that's how I came to read Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith this afternoon: I couldn't very well study for exams or write my newsletter column or make phone calls while the plummer was here and intermittently chatting with me, could I?

I really love Barbara Brown Taylor's writing, but here's the thing: she has always irked me as she thrilled me. Know why? Because she always seemed so damned holy I wanted to pinch her. No matter how much I loved the ministry, she loved it more, and in more exquisitely articulate terms. No matter how much I loved God, Barbara Brown Taylor had a much sexier, more intimate thing going with God. No matter how many insights I gained from the Bible, I could never be nearly as insightful about it as Barbara Brown Taylor was. No matter how deep my encounters with parishioners, she always had much more death-defying, tears-inducing stories to relate.

Remember in "The Brady Bunch" when Jan has that little middle child fit and says, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!!" Remember that?
I began to have that middle child tantrum in my mind every time I read something of Barbara Brown Taylor's:
"Barbara, Barbara, Barbara!"

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, the story of Taylor's total burn-out from the parish ministry was therefore somewhat of a strange relief, and I don't mean that in an unkind way. I mean that I somehow knew it was coming. As holy as she seemed to be, and as gorgeous her prose, Barbara Brown Taylor never seemed to have any real fun with her work, and that spelled doom to me.

This is a beautifully written book, but as dressed up as it is with deep insights and memorable phrases, it's still just a book about extreme clergy burn-out. It seems to me that she almost could have left this topic well enough alone. I sense a contrived quality to her writing here that is totally absent in her other books and articles, suggesting to me that this was not the book Taylor so much wanted and needed to write, but felt she owed her readers by way of explanation.

You didn't owe us that, Barbara.

I am no longer jealous of Barbara Brown Taylor. It is clear to me that her perfection as a writer had a clear parallel in her perfectionism as a parish priest, and no one can bear the burden of such perfectionism and stay juicy and vital enough to do the work. Parish ministers, read this book and let it be a cautionary tale against taking yourself and your work too seriously, trying to be holy rather than whole, and allowing your collar to strangle you.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Scenes 2006 Casa De PeaceBang

Cafe Style Seating Table, Thanksgiving Keeping The Home Fires Burning How To Make The Perfect Turkey
Pie Open House

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The First Happy Meal

I forgot to tell you...!

A member of my congregation came up to me at coffee hour on Sunday and said that she had had one of those very weird flu-induced dreams, the kind where you're sort of feverish and definitely flying out in Weirdoland. I said, Oh goodie, because I'm a champion weird dreamer myself and I knew she'd have something hysterical. I remember taking Nyquil in college and getting so tripped out I would actually sleepwalk.

So Joanne (who happily gave me permission to post this) said that she had a very vivid dream where she was viewing the Last Supper from a kind of cinematic vantage point, and just as she was realizing and appreciating what she was looking at, the perspective "pulled away" and she could see that the meal was taking place at a McDonald's!!

And then she heard an announcer's voice say, "THE FIRST HAPPY MEAL."

We both cracked up over that, of course. My god, the ultimate product placement! I said, "Was Jesus eating a quarter-pounder with cheese?" She thought not. I'll have to ask her if we can do a Fries Communion at Easter.
I think we're going to get a lot of mileage out of this one!

Too funny. Dreams are such strange things.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
I have started to set the tables, and am finalizing the menu. All shopping is done. My friends arrive on Wednesday and Thursday. Some pies are being baked tomorrow, and the trifle assembled. Some pies arrive with friends on Thursday evening.

The wine is chilling, the guest rooms ready.

I wish you all a beautiful holiday with people you love, a lush harvest table set before you, a grateful heart, and a solemn remembrance how it all began. Love. Peace. Bang.

(Personal: Hey honey, will you remember to bring the carving knife? xoxo Your TGF)

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Thoughts On Blogging, Written Under The Influence of Benadryl

Chalice Chick wrote in a comment that she wishes that the tone over at Beauty Tips could be more sedate, while the tone over here at PeaceBang be more outright sassy.

CC, that was very sweet, and your observations are always valuable to me, since I love your own "voice" over at Chalice Chick.

As I indicated in one of my recent posts, I'm fascinated by the blogging phenomenon as a whole. I'm fascinated by the interplay of "real life" with blogging personae, and by the community that gets formed, sustained, evaluated and re-evaluated on our blogs and in the comments.

I was quite naive when I began blogging, thinking that perhaps 15-20 people were reading my reflections. Back then, I thought of PeaceBang as a kind of journal that a few folks might have some interest in eavesdropping on, as it were. I dove into on-line controversies with total passion, ranting away as I would at a dinner table conversation where all parties, whatever their differences, are on the same basic playing field and really, no harm done however hot the disagreements.

My full and fulfilling life at church and my relationship with my family and friends has always been the Big Story, with my social life and theatre and music involvements and pathetic attempts to date and happy travel adventures and civic involvements secondary. My blogging and on-line stuff was a very tiny part of that second tier of what we broadly call Life. I let it rip with abandon, adopting a very sassy on-line persona, never realizing that many people would actually come to think that they know me because of reading my words as PeaceBang.

I soon realized that in some strange way, I was developing a real relationship with strangers in the blogosphere who, to be fair, did know me on some level, albeit a limited and somewhat contrived one.

I came to realize that although all of us in the blogging community had LOTS else going on in our lives, and although all of us had far more to us than our blog entries could ever begin to reveal, this was becoming a community for me (of course, it *had already been* a community for many). I navigated my way through it with increasing respect for its complexity, for the ways it might actually contribute to our individual and denominational deepening, and for the fact that I was getting a lot more than 15-20 readers a day. Both Scott Wells and Chris Walton pretty much had to bonk me over the head to make me realize that a LOT more than 15 or 20 of my friends were tuning into PeaceBang. I denied that fact for a long time.

By the time I started Beauty Tips, I realized that to be true to the relationship that you and I were forming, I would have to reign in the enormity of the PeaceBang persona over here in order to reflect more of the truth of who I am, which is actually not Cotton Mather or Auntie Mame, but just me. I wanted to share my spiritual practices and inner thoughts about the arts of ministry here, and to not rant so much, because ranting is tiring when you feel that everything you write should be at that level of drama and provocation.

The voice I use over at Beauty Tips is ENORMOUS, OVER-THE-TOP and basically nuts. It's the theatre me, the cackling hysterically at a party with my friends me, the extravagant "DARLING" me, the Auntie Mame and talent agent and diva me I never got to be because I chose ministry. I let this part of me have total freedom over at Beauty Tips, because it's a perfect subject area within which to let that big, campy theatrical persona flourish. I have *so much fun* doing it, I really do care about the subject matter, and I'm thrilled that others are having fun with it.

When I got the call from the Boston Globe reporter, I knew it was time to really get clear on the purposes of these blogs, and to get them ready for "prime time," just in case. I know these latest reflections may have read as self-indulgent to some of you, but when I think about my blogs, this is where I do it; at the keyboard, with you.

I thank you for your loyalty and appreciation.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Update on Plans For This Blog

Mis estimados
and dear readers,

I will be (trying to!) narrow the focus of this blog in the coming weeks and months due to a pending Boston Globe interview on BeautyTipsForMinisters and anticipation of corraling some of that blog into a book.

The focus of PeaceBang will henceforth try to be these things that I most treasure being able to write about, for our mutual enjoyment, challenge and benefit:

1. Theological reflection and UU Christian spiritual practice
2. Reflections on the inner life of a parish minister
3. Denominational issues for Unitarian Universalists

This means that I will (try not to!) post very much on cultural matters, movie and theater reviews, my life as a single gal, family matters, random blatherings,
and detritus.

I reserve the right to CAT BLOG on Fridays, and to post the occasional hilarious link.

It has been my tendency to blog very frequently. While I have found frequent blogging to help me focus my own thoughts, blow off steam, have someone to "talk to" at lonesome times, and discharge verbal mania, such frequency of posting does not lead to the highest quality writing. I realize that a blog is ephemera, but I am also interested in being a decent writer and communicator.

Therefore, I am in the process now of going through the archives and deleting lots of posts I don't like, cleaning up language that ain't fittin' for a permanent archive of a blog that has received far more attention than I could have ever imagined (and Mom doesn't like me to cuss), and thinking about the whole fascinating phenomenon of blogging as a whole.
It really has been fascinating. We have a connection, you and I, and I greatly respect and appreciate that.

I will continue to blog anonymously not because I care that you know who I am, but to make clear that my thoughts are my own and that I speak in all cases for myself and as myself, not for my congregation. As always, those who would like to speak with me more personally beyond the realm of PeaceBang are welcome to e-mail me at lunadiva at msn. com and are welcome to find out who I am by doing so. Some of you have become readers of my sermons and articles because my writings as PeaceBang intrigued you. I am honored by that, and by your interest in me as a person outside of the blogosphere. Many of you have become friends and friendly correspondents. That makes me really happy, and I treasure the future possibilities.

I will continue to respect the privacy of my congregation by discussing our ministry together in only fairly generic terms and never revealing their full names. Their occasional "appearance" on this blog has one purpose and one purpose only: to give church-goers or potential church-goers a sense of the beauty of congregational life. For all the challenges of the life lived in religious community, I am a believer in church membership and involvement. This blog intends to foster interest in and support for the Church.

I will not blog about anyone I'm dating, unless it is to share stories about the positive aspects of relationships. Cads and heels have a two year grace period before which I will complain about their behavior in print, but never mentioning names or identifying information.

As always, I will not blog about my family without their permission.

While my contributions to this blog will be (I hope) more streamlined and focused, and my voice a bit more subdued (ha! But seriously, I'm gonna try!) my blogging persona over at Beauty Tips for Minsters will remain over-the-top, sassy, brassy, and flagrant!! Because you just cannot shut that girl up! Amen and amen!

Thanks again for reading, for caring, for writing, and for being part of the blogging community.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Considering A Bowing Out Of One Blog

My dear readers,

A reporter from the Boston Globe has just contacted me asking for a story about my Beauty Tips For Ministers blog. It has been suggested to me that there could be a good book out of my work over there.

It may be that I shut down PeaceBang as a general blog so as to focus on Beauty Tips For Ministers.

As of the end of December, I will have been blogging for two years. It's been a great outlet, a wonderful conversation, and a delightful on-line community.

However, as it seems that the Beauty Tips phenomenon may become something more time-consuming, I will want to be a wise steward of my energies.

Nothing for certain yet, just sharing my preliminary thoughts with you.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Splendid Table

I'm so excited that Lynn Rossetto-Kasper's show, "The Splendid Table" is now available in its entirety as a podcast. Until this past show, all we heard on the podcasts was the call-in portion of the show.

Foodies everywhere, delight! It's a great show!

So what are ya'll making for Thanksgiving?

I'm doing my traditional turkey, a new cornbread stuffing, a green bean dish, mashed potatoes, cole slaw (like Mom makes it - SO good on turkey sandwiches later in the weekend), sourdough rolls, and cranberry relish/sauce (a congregant makes it for me every year and it's the yummiest!). I think I could do one more vegetable but I am as of yet uninspired. A lot of the magazines are featuring roasted veggies (blah) and things like creamed onions, which I can't stand. Why would anyone want to eat creamed pearl onions or whole baked shallots? Also, please don't recommend brussel sprouts. I've given them many chances and I just don't like that they taste like dirt.

Dessert will be the usual pumpkin and pecan pies plus something chocolatey and boozy in the form of a trifle. If you have a dark chocolate boozey trifle recipe I'd love to hear about it. I usually make a kind of boozey custardy trifle with ladyfingers and raspberry jam, but this year I feel chocolatey.

My big question is, if I have to break up my dinner guests into two tables,
(1) am I required to get a long enough table cloth to hide the legs of the fold-out card table and (2) do I put out place cards or let people select where they sit?

I hate not having everyone at one big table but my dining room table seats six, maximum.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sacred Story, Or Sacred Soap Opera?

Last night as I was reading the Book of Acts, I came up on the beginning of Chapter 19, where Paul runs into some disciples in Ephesus and says, "hey, did you get the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they're like, "Um, no. We've never heard of the Holy Spirit. What's that all about? We were baptized by John."
So Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus and they get the Holy Spirit and go around prophecying and speaking in tongues.

This just cracked me up: "We've never heard of the Holy Spirit." I just see them kicking at the dirt with their toes while Paul stands there thinking, "God, I need a cup of coffee."
It's just one of the great comedy moments in Acts, the other (for me) being when Paul preaches on for so long that Eutychus falls asleep and falls out the window to his death. ohmygod, Eutychus just fell out the window! he's totally lying in a little heap down there on the ground! holy camel patties! someone do something!
You can just imagine this. Of course Paul runs down and resurrects him, and all is well (except that no one asked Eutychus if maybe he wouldn't prefer to stay dead rather than listen to Paul keep preaching. Maybe they sent him home for a nap. One can only hope so).

There's another great episode where some charlatans are trying to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and they get the tar beaten out of them and are thrown out of town bloody and nekkid. And there's that whole scandal with Demetrius, the maker of the Artemis figurines, and a big mob scene there.

We say that the Christian story is a sacred story, but to me it's more like a sacred soap opera, and therein lies it's profound appeal. Whether our lives are dull and uninspiring or full of drama, who isn't drawn to a massive cosmic soap opera?

What is Unitarian Universalism's sacred story? A long line of reasonable people thinking smart thoughts?

Yawn. I just fell out the window.
And yet that's what we so often present in our Sunday Schools and from our pulpits.

Don't you think there's a reason we all love to rehash the bloody controversies of our past, and even to perpetuate them through our own passions today? Don't you think there's a reason that we savor the stories of the nutjobs among us, telling them again and again over dinner? Don't you think there's a reason we perpetually regale ourselves with the tales of how crazy we all got during this or that conflict, and for our fond and constant remembrance of that pistol in Theodore Parker's desk?

Unitarian Universalists love to emphasize freedom, reason and conscience, and to suggest that our "sacred story" derives from tales of heroes and heroines intellectually embracing those principles. They say that, and then they fail to mention, or to make thrillingly real in the telling of the story, all the blood and guts that came with embracing those principles. That's a serious mistake, for you will notice that when UUs get together, what binds them in affection and energy is the dramatic stuff, the unbelievably insane stuff, the war stories, the power struggles, the scandals, the times when emotion exploded out and overcame Reason, and everyone actually felt caught up in the spirit.

No one wants to be part of a sacred story that bores you so much you fall asleep and fall out the window. We need something that more honestly reflects the high drama of who we are and what we endure together.

Monday, November 13, 2006

You May Now Laugh At My Pain

I just totally twisted my ankle playing air guitar in the kitchen to Aerosmith's
"I Don't Want To Miss A Thing."

I don't blame you a bit for cracking up. I only perversely wish it had been caught on camera.

Seen In NYC

pet stroller
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
I saw this for sale on the upper west side and burst into laughter.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

GODSPELL Still Casts a Spell

I saw a production of "Godspell" on Friday night that was just lovely. It started out kind of cringe-worthy for some classic "Waiting For Guffman" reasons that I won't go into here, but within ten minutes the cast had me in the palm of their hands and I was totally drawn into the sacred story they were telling. The director did a wonderful job keeping show vibrant but not manic, and the cast was so sincere and so totally in character that any flaws in singing or dancing skill were more than forgiven. After all, were the disciples not occasionally klutzy? Of course they were. And these people were simply adorable, every one of them.

What really struck me this time was how often Jesus threatens his followers with Hell. The book for "Godspell" is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, and I thought to myself, cripes, no wonder I hardly ever read Matthew!
I'm more of a Luke girl, myself.

So many of the parables ended with something like, "And I tell you, he who lives like the rich young man will feel the fires of Hell!" I'm looking around the audience and thinking, "Wow, what do all these nice suburban people think of this? What do the kids think? Or are they too busy giggling about the fact that Jesus and Judas are real-life partners and have written each other lovey-dovey shout-outs in their respective program bios?"

The two teenagers in front of me were certainly distracted by this fact. Every time Judas and Jesus had the slightest interaction on stage, there was this flurry of thigh-punching between them. At intermission I leaned forward and said to them, "Did it ever occur to you that the real Jesus and Judas might have been lovers?" You should have seen them go completely stiff with shock as I chuckled and slid out of my seat to go to the lobby.

Anyway, the man who sang "All Good Gifts" was so beautiful about it, just standing on top of a box and putting his whole heart and soul into it, it was worth the very long drive just to see that (and to hear the drummer totally slamdunk the moment before "I really want to thank you, Lord!"). I would have driven TWICE as far to hear that rendition of that beloved song. The director had all the disciples seated in a circle around the soloist and at the end of the song they all reached out to take hands as though around a dining room table, and bowed their heads in prayer. Heartbreakingly simple and lovely. I thought, that's Christian life, right there. Friends, hands, circle, table.

I also got very choked up when Judas baptized all the disciples by throwing glitter on them like fairy dust. And during "On The Willows," which takes its lyrics from Psalm 137 about the Babylonian exile, fugettaboutit. I was sobbing as one of the disciples got up and quietly narrated that Judas was now waiting for a time to betray Jesus. Man, that is effective theatre. God bless Stephen Schwartz for that score, which has been part of my life's soundtrack since I was a tiny child.

Okay, back to work. And then to bed. Tomorrow, work. Work.Work. Focus.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Keep MeOn Track

I've just got to write a paper before Monday afternoon, and then there's a newsletter column and a whiz-bang Thanksgiving Harvest Communion liturgy I'd like to create before Tuesday. Rehearsal tomorrow night and I've just GOT to get to the gym.

All of which means that neither you nor the banjo is going to be seeing much of me until Tuesday evening. If you do hear from me, turn me around and send me sternly back to work.

Birthday Boys, One 41, One 36

Some very dear boys have birthdays today.

They're both UU bloggers and they're both capable of making me laugh so hard that my eyeball pops out. Which, aside from their smartness and talent and good looks, is the best thing about them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Beta Blogging?

Dearest internet-savvy, html-oriented people,

Have any of you blogging on Blogger switched over to their new Beta blogging? Was it easy? Do you like it?

Speak slowly, because all of this stuff is waaaay over my head.

Friday Cat (And Goat) Blogging

Because it's Friday, you get the Face and the Paws!

face 11.06

And this:

Notice the stunt cat rolling action, and laugh even harder.

[Video clip courtesy of Planet Dan]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

MA Legislature Blows Off Ballot Initiative

I've been in a foul mood all day, holding my breath.

Now I'm in a much better mood, and breathing:

I don't usually link to Faux News, but it's the first link that came up.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.

An Occasion for Not Gloating

While I have truly savored the high fives and excited conversations at church about the recent elections, I dread the coming of Sunday in the UUA when I anticipate how much gloating and triumphalism there may be expressed among our numbers.

I hope it's not so. I hope that Unitarian Universalists will refrain -- during worship and during fellowship -- from assuming that all their church members are similarly elated about the mid-term elections. I hope that they will refrain from their favorite sport of demonizing and insulting George W. Bush and modeling a political loyalty that is graceless and arrogant. When we speak with vengeful glee about anyone, no matter how easy to vehemently dislike, we show our members, friends and visitors that we're not so much people of moral discernment as we are people of aggressive partisanship.

I'm preaching to myself here, too, folks.

An election that creates so much opportunity for change in the land is cause for celebrating the democratic process, soberly reflecting on issues of accountability and responsibility, and praying for the strength to carry on with the task of "making the earth fair, with all her people one." It is, I think, a time to give thanks to God for the gifts of intellect, freedom of conscience and the universal fellowship of all human beings within the larger interdependent web.

(Oh gads, listen to me with my "interdependent web!")

When Bush took the office of president at the last elections, there was much wailing in UU land and among other religious liberals. We mourned, we rent our garments, we donned sackcloth and writhed around in ashes. That was understandable. But too many of our communities stayed depressed and beleagured, forgetting that to live out a joyful vocation in the world is not contingent on your guy being in office, but is contingent on FAITH: specifically a faith that love is still the operative creative force in the universe, that despite the political scene, we are blessed to be able to live out of that sublime source, and that no matter who's in office, we are free to incarnate that creative force in all our dealings.

How many times during the past 12 years, and especially the grim past three, have I recalled to myself those wonderful words from "Carry On:"

Rejoice, rejoice,
we have no choice.

Be faithful, be gracious. Remember, as the Democrats stand poised to take back both the House AND the Senate, that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and therefore our vigilance and moral discernment is still, and ever, required.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

South Dakota

And then there's what happened in South Dakota:

I have to believe that Unitarian Universalists in that state were instrumental in forcing this issue to the ballot. This is one of those instances where every vote really did matter, and where individual efforts were unmistakably important. God bless these South Dakotans for taking on a position that is so easy to morally condemn, and for being willing to face their virulent, irrational opponents and risk the violence and attack that so often comes with taking a pro-choice stance in an anti-choice community. No one supports abortion, per se. No one wants to have to come out and fight for the right to such a sad and ugly procedure. But they had to do it on behalf of dignity, privacy and ultimately life, and that takes courage. There is very little real victory in such a political victory, but they had to do it.

The article reports that the total votes for overturning the ban were 143,502 and the total votes voting "yay" for no abortion under any circumstances were at 117,885.
How many one-on-one conversations, testimonials and earnest exchanges happened around this issue to get people out to vote against this draconian, invasive and misogynist law? And in the meantime, while it stood, how many women and men lived in fear, faced a terrible predicament because of government interference, crossed state lines to procure an abortion, and felt owned and controlled by their local legislature?

To repeat the old cliche, if you're against abortion, don't have one. And "just say no" to sex with anti-choice men.

Christmas Came Early

Ah, what a morning.
By god, it's better than prom, the first day of vacation, opening night, Christmas Eve, the 4th of July and winning the lottery rolled into one.

We got Deval Patrick in the state house. THANKya, Jesus.

And in my own personal favorite, Rick Santorum, that (many expletives deleted), is OUT.

Can't write today, too busy watching CNN and reading lefty blogs.

More later.
Kiss, kiss.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Friends And Money

Money is coming out of the closet.

Last week, I watched Nicole Holfcener's very fine 2006 film, "Friends With Money," starring a quartet of wonderfully gifted actresses playing friends with vastly differing fortunes. More than holding her own with Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener, Jennifer Aniston is particularly poignant as the hapless Olivia, a pot addict and housekeeper who can't stop lusting after the married man who broke up with her and who keeps herself in face cream by begging samples off of hostile cosmetic counter clerks. Olivia is a character who is likely to make you feel very, very together. Watch her face when her new sex buddy, played in a charismatically loathsome manner by Scott Caan, informs her that since "he helped" clean the house, she should give him a cut of her pay.

Frances McDormand plays a perimenopausal designer who is so tired of people-pleasing that she stops washing her hair and starts mouthing off whenever and wherever she gets the slightest bit irritated, which is all the time. She's a memorable, terrific character, and you'll love Simon McBurney as her extremely gay, very touching and devoted husband.

After having seen the film, I read this article in New York magazine by David Amsden, also about how friends negotiate the terrain of money, or not:

It's about a group of friends who also have widely discrepant financial realities, and is worth a read. It made me consider how money plays into my friendships, and how big a factor solvency or insolvency has been in my dating life.

My family and I have decided not to exchange presents this holiday season, and while I know I'll miss having that big box to open on Christmas morning while I'm alone and drinking a bottle of bubbly -- exhausted after doing two Christmas Eve worship services -- I will most definitely not miss the hysteria of shopping, shopping, shopping, packing, packing, packing and spending, spending, spending.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

REVIVAL And Healing Prayer

I just tumbled in the door from the Big Apple, where I spent the past few days with the UU Christian Fellowship REVIVAL conference.

I helped plan the 1999 conference in New Orleans, so it's always exciting to see all the new faces at each subsequent REVIVAL -- some coming from as far away as Nevada, California and even England. We don't seem to get much repeat business from conference to conference, though, so I am interested to see how the UUCF (or maybe a new organization) will work to nurture a continuing sense of Christian fellowship, discipleship and spiritual practice among attendees. However revelatory it may be to be part of a weekend gathering of UUs who who pray unapologetically in the name of Jesus and who worship God, we must find more ways to encourage one another to spiritual growth and commitment. Small UUCF groups is one way to do that. Bi-annual retreats that focus on spiritual practice, worship and prayer may be another way.

It was nice to see Sue Spencer, who recently left the UU ministry to join a community of Episcopalian nuns, for an hour across the aisle at worship this morning. Bless you, Sue! You look happy!

Two highlights from REVIVAL for me were Chris Walton's Taize service on Friday morning and the healing service led by Peter Boullata on Saturday evening. The first service I loved for its emphasis on music, and for the way that the liturgy moved, WITHOUT EXPLANATION, from one element to the next. Of course this takes careful preparation, and we were lucky to have Chris in charge of this service. Sometimes the liturgical elements that seem simplest require the most careful preparation.

Taize is such a wonderful antidote for that overly-talky UU way of worship, where we explain everything we're doing before we do it ("Now we're going to light the chalice." "Now, we're going to have a reading." "Children, please come up to hear a story about Adam and Eve/Buddha and the Elephant/Batman and Robin"), making casual, chatty editorial comments throughout.
I'm guilty of this on occasion myself, although I do sincerely try to create a worship experience that isn't so expository that it (1) kills the mystery and the movement of the Spirit and (2) insults the intelligence of people who have the Order of Service right in their hands.
I sometimes want to wear a button that says, "SILENCE IN WORSHIP IS OKAY!" And many times as I lead a service, I have to tell myself to resist the chatty, editorial comments, which are really a product of nerves, awkwardness with transitions I should have thought out well in advance, and discomfort with sacred ceremony. Sarcasm is the worst. When I make a sarcastic crack during worship, I'm miserable for days. Sarcasm has no place in worship. Warm, loving humor, yes. Hearty laughter, yes. Snark, never. NEV-AH!!

The healing service was particularly meaningful for me because back in 1999, I attended the healing service at the first REVIVAL and received my first laying on of hands. I remember when we planned that service over a conference call, and we were all like, "Whoa, this is going to be so RADICAL!" We knew that many UUs, hearing of it, would freak right on out along the lines of "What are they DOING!? Are they going to smack people on the head and have catchers who fall the people as they faint? What's next? SPEAKING IN TONGUES?"
But of course you can't really have a Christian spiritual life if you don't deal with the fact that Jesus was a healer and that he preached a healing God. So we had ourselves a healing service, and it was monumental for me, and I suspect not just for me.

The Rev. Thomas Mikelson was the preacher that evening, and through one of the most heartfelt, extemporaneous sermons I've ever heard, he wrapped us in a warm intensity and sense of communal safety that opened up many of us and encouraged us to approach the altar for healing prayer. I had never done, or imagined doing, such a thing before. Like, please. But I went up to one of the prayer teams that night and when I was gently asked, "Is there something in particular you'd like us to pray about?" I choked out, "I'm so lonely, and I'm in so much pain."

It was my second year in the parish ministry and I was desperately lonely, and I was suffering terribly through a very difficult and conflicted parish position. The thing is, I had no idea until that moment that I was that damaged and that deeply hurt. I had been working too hard to notice. Being prayed for -- to participate in the irrational act of asking God to be present in my life as a healing spirit-- was so nuts and so crazy full of love and faith, that it sliced through my intellectual defenses and opened me up to the possibility that the theological concept of God's grace just might be a reality, even for me. I sobbed while two or three people prayed over me, and I'm sure my nose ran all over them, bless their hearts.

I walked away from that service feeling new-born, exposed but not vulnerable,and more grateful than I can ever acknowledge. I decided not to worry so much about what I believed or did not believe about God. What converted me to a dedicated Christian path was the sure evidence that this faith could lead people to behave in such a compassionate way as to make themselves vehicles for the Holy Spirit, whatever that meant. It no longer mattered what it meant. I had experienced it, for my minister's heart was whole where it had been broken. I wanted to put myself under the authority of the same spiritual teacher who was inspiring those UUs at that conference. I was once and for all over my UU suspicion of all authority.

Later that weekend, I was baptized. I had planned to do it in advance, and it was a simple and lovely thing. The only lousy thing about being baptized is that I have to consider myself in the same spiritual family as all the Christians who, in my opinion, so thoroughly violate the whole meaning of the Christ event. Of course, they feel the same way about me, so there you have it. One of God's big Ha ha's.
"Ha ha, you kids, you have to work it out."

It was very meaningful, therefore, to stand last night with the Rev. Kelly Murphy Mason on the steps of the 4th Universalist Church chancel and to be the one praying over others. It was a privilege, it was an honor.

Jim Mulholland, one of the speakers at the conference, writes,

"I am reminded of the story of a little boy who was afraid of the dark. He was afraid of the monsters he thought lived under his bed and in his closet. His parents would pray with him every evening and ask God to protect him, but he would always end up in their bed.
One night his father said, 'You don't have to be afraid. God will be here in your room with you.'
The little boy answered, 'I was hoping for someone with skin.'"

(If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, p. 145)

My friends in faith -- whether Christian or not -- are "God with skin" for me, and Jesus chief among them. God is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unnameable magnificent intensity. How can I know God? I never can. How can I speak to God in a way that makes sense? No way makes sense, so I talk to God in the human way, as that's the only way I know. How can I experience God? As love, as has been made most abundantly manifest to me in my family, in my community of theatre friends and UUs, in my congregation, and in the UU Christian fellowship.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Just a quick post from my cousin's apartment in the Big Apple the eve before the NY Marathon.

We've had a wonderful weekend of worship, keynote speakers and prayer.

There's a full moon over Central Park and the Upper West Side has, I'm afraid, offered too many opportunities for shopping!!

Peace. Bang.

I'll be home tomorrow.