Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mary Oliver's Thirst

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Can you believe that I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister who loves the poetry of Mary Oliver?
Why, that's about as shocking as being a gay man who loves the music of Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand!!

I know, I know -- it's a cliche, but I discovered Mary Oliver before I even went to seminary courtesy of my dear friend, the poet Sophie Wadsworth. My first Oliver was American Primitive, and it's still one of my favorite favorites.

I was a bit sick at heart, then, when I found myself unmoved by Oliver's last two or three offerings. They seemed to me so derivative that it was as though they were penned not by Mary Oliver but by some cheap imitation of her.

Imagine my great delight and appreciation when I picked up Thirst and found myself brought to that still, deep, breathless place she first brought me in American Primitive.

This is a wonderful collection of 43 poems, many of which deal with the subject of death (Oliver recently lost her partner of over 40 years, Molly Malone Cook) and faith.

Eat it up. Yum, yum. Published by our own Beacon Press, so get your copy directly from them here

By the way, did you know that JOHN WATERS (yes, *that* John Waters) was a close friend of Oliver and Malone Cook?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Festival of Homiletics

OH MAN, I am jubilant!
I registered to attend the Festival of Homiletics in Nashville from May 21-25th and even though I'm teaching later that month, I just HAD to go.

Listen to the names of some of the people I'll be hearing preach and lecture:

Barbara Brown Taylor
Fred Craddock
Jim Wallis
James Forbes
Walter Brueggemann
William Willimon
Anna Carter Florence

Can you STAND it?

The theme is Prophetic Preaching with an emphasis on MUSIC -- traditional, blended, gospel and jazz worship.

I got this in the mail and I did a little wiggly dance of wanting to register so badly and the Chair of my Worship Committee was in the office at the time and saw me getting all wild and she just laughed and said, "Go!" So I'm going.

I must have become a terrible nerd to be so excited to sit around all day and listen to lectures and sermons on homiletics, but the thing is, I love preaching a lot and I want to be good at it, and I only took one little preaching class in seminary and I'm sorry but that's JUST NOT SUFFICIENT.

Honestly, I just looked at the brochure again and now I'll be up all night, wired with anticipation. I need to calm down.

Do You Knit?

I was asked to bless about 150 baby caps knit by four women in my congregation as part of the Caps to the Capital project of Save the Chidren.

How am I going to keep from crying? Did you see that photo of that tiny baby?

Saddam Is Dead

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Prez Bush said that the execution of Saddam was "bringing him to justice."

How does that work, exactly, in Bush's Christian scheme of things?

Would it not be more accurate to say, "Saddam needed to be wacked because he was a super-dangerous sociopath with lots and lots of power. It's not the Christian thing to do, but I'm the leader of the most powerful nation on earth with major economic and military interests in Iraq, and it works for me. How it winds up affecting the Iraq situation, I can't say and frankly, I don't much care."

I suppose that's way too much to hope for. Just like it was too much to hope that the recent confab on Iraq that took place at Bush's Crawford, TX ranch wouldn't be described as "NON-DECISIONAL."

Did Saddam deserve to die? Legally, yes. He got a fair trial, he was sentenced, the sentence was carried out. Is capital punishment ever justified? I'm still struggling with it. Some entire years I say, "NO." Other years, like this one, I don't know why I was ever so passionately against it. When the BTK story broke a few years ago, I swore I could have strangled him myself, and gladly. Actually, in my fantasy scenario he was set upon by enraged people with shovels and then left tied on a leash to a stake in an empty, extremely remote field to bleed to death or to die of hunger or thirst. Not that I got too specific about it or anything. I just feel that the human community has every right to fight against evil incarnate when it is unleashed among them. Jesus and I argue about this a lot.

I'm preaching a series on the Ten Commandments this year. I suppose this story will come up when I hit "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

[This just in on Dec. 31st from the NY Times:

Kind of late to be respecting Iraq as a sovereign nation, eh, Margaret Beckett? -- P.B.]

Friday, December 29, 2006

Blogging For Two Years

two years old
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

PeaceBang turns two years old today or tomorrow.

It all began when I had dinner with my pals, two of whom were expecting their first child any minute. She (my preganant pal) told me that they had a blog for the baby and that I would be able to see photos on the blog.

I wanted to know what a blog was. I was vaguely aware that my friends Chris (Philocrites) and Scott (Boy In the Bands) had blogs, but those both seemed very high-tech and fancy, and I was intrigued by the fact that Rebecca had apparently started one so easily. She said it was easy as pie to get on and start my own. She said I should do it.
So if you love PeaceBang, you can thank Rebecca. If you hate PeaceBang, you can BLAME Rebecca!!

Steve -- another friend along that night -- and I stood in line to get ice cream later that evening. He had stiffed me on a dinner date earlier in the summer, and I was holding a grudge. So as the clerk took our orders, I gestured to him and said, "He's paying."

It was kind of loud in the ice cream store.

He looked at me with a happy smile and said, "PeaceBang!"

I stared back at him, and then at the clerk. "HE'S paying," I said again. She turned to scoop the ice cream. Again Steve looked at me and said with a grin, "PEACEBANG!"

I thought he had lost his marbles, poor boy. "What in the HAY-ELL are you talking about?" I said. "Do you not understand me? HE'S. PAYING. HE. IS. PAYING. What in the world is PeaceBang, anyway?"

"That's what I thought you were saying!" he said. "I thought it was something you say like before you clink glasses! 'PeaceBang!' Like 'cheers!'"

"Oh my God," I said, and we collapsed in giggles. He paid for my ice cream cone and I spent the rest of the night cracking up over his crazy PeaceBang notion.

When I went home and sat in front of the blank Blogspot template and had to choose a name, many options flitted in and out of my mind, but only one produced a total "AH HA" reaction: PeaceBang. It was perfect. It was, as they say, b'rsheit, meant to be.

I always knew that PeaceBang would be both the same and a distinct persona from my "real life" self (whoever that is!), but I had no idea what a joy it would be to put her out over the airwaves, as it were, and to enter into such a rich and intense conversation with all of you as PB. Because PeaceBang has so much to say, she encourages me to attend to the world with more mindfulness, and to articulate things I had heretofore left floating vaguely around my cerebrum.

Why do I blog? What draws me to zip onto Blogspot so often and to share my thoughts with you?

I blog because I am a compulsive writer and talker, and blogging ministers to my verbally manic mind and soul (and spares those I love the excesses of my thought process).

I blog to participate in the community of bloggers who inspire, irritate and challenge each other.

I blog as an excercise in Unitarian Universalist and Christian evangelism, and as a way to share my passion for ministry and for religious life lived in community.

I blog because I live alone and I get lonesome for someone to talk to, and when I do, you're always there.

I blog as a way to connect people who are spinning around on the big blue marble thinking similar or complementary thoughts, so that we may feel a bit less alone or eccentric in our musings.

I blog as a way to create conversation between myself and others, and between me, myself and I. I have come to see the value in cyber community in a very busy world.

I blog because it brings a new dimension to friendships that I cherish, and helps create new ones.

Thanks to Rebecca for being the midwife to this blog, and to all of you for being part of this pioneering experiment in communication and community.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Children and Adults Making Music

There are many things about the holiday services at my church that touch my heart, but one thing in particular really got to me this year: intergenerational musical moments.

During our Children's Holiday Service (where each Sunday School class shares -- in a thematic holiday-oriented way -- what they've been studying), we had an anthem with a small children's choir. Pretty standard stuff, but what wasn't standard was the four adult choir members standing behind the children, singing a soft counterpoint to their melody. They learned the piece together, they rehearsed it together. Therefore, we were spared that whole "LOOK AT THE KIDDIES AREN'T THEY CUTE" situation that so often occurs when children perform music in a worship setting. I thought it was breathtakingly tender and beautiful. Just kids and grownups sharing their music with an appreciative congregation.

At Christmas Eve, we had two very young men (one in college and one right out) provide our prelude and postlude music on piano and saxaphone. These are both children of our church who have done this for both of our services for two years now, and they've also given a concert together at our Center for the Arts. They're terrific. We love them, and they love being there. It didn't occur to me until two nights ago, watching them, that their jazzy take on the Christmas classics adds a bit of contemporary pizzazz to our extremely historic New England traditional Christmas Eve service. I was like, hey, we're kinda cool, man!
And boy, I wish you could have all heard "Ave Maria" played on the alto sax in our quiet, candlelit church as people walked out into the night. You'd think it was kind of sacreligious, but it was like a lullaby right from God for all Her babies.

At the end of our 5 pm service, we had four kindergarten and toddler boys playing the handbells to accompany "Silent Night." I hadn't known that this was planned, and watching their expressions of rapt attention as they played will be forever branded in my memory. The tykes were able to hit every bell perfectly on cue because standing behind each of them was their mother or grandmother, gently tapping them on the shoulder when their time came. Again, adults and children making music. No exploitation of cuteness for the benefit of cooing elders, as makes me so uncomfortable when I've seen it done in churches. Just people who love music making music together. They were conducted by our Music Director's 17 year old son.

I'm not saying that the cuteness factor wasn't extremely high, but the thing is, EVERYONE was cute. The mothers and grandmothers and the teenaged conductor were cute, not just the children. It made you realize that all God's children are just really cute when they're making music together. And that on Christmas Eve, we're all children.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, Friends

christmas morning
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Down Came An Angel

Down Came An Angel
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
This CD features pianist Jacqueline Schwab playing a beautiful variety of Christmas and holiday tunes, including the enigmatic "Cheery Tree Carol," wherein Mary asks Joseph to pick her some cherries, and he replies, "Let the father of your BABY get you some cherries" and she goes, "Whoa, that was so rude -- I totally TOLD you that I am bearing God's own child" and the cherry trees bend down their branches and give her lots of fruit and she goes, "Ha ha, Joseph. In your face."

It's not exactly like that, but pretty close. Of course, this being the piano version you won't hear those lyrics, but I just learned them from Sweet the Sound because we sing it at our Christmas gigs.

Anyway, the double bonus about buying this lovely recording is that Jacqueline is married to Unitarian Universalist minister, so there's a family connection there for UUs.

It's available on at this link:

New Book On Radical Welcome

I just had the pleasure of flipping through the new book by Stephanie Spellers called Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other and the Spirit of Transformation:

radical welcome

Stephanie is an Episcopal priest who has written about flinging open the doors of our hearts and our churches the way God would have us do, and why we don't always manage that in our various denominations (you may now nominate me for Understatement of the Year), and how we can get down and grapple with that. It's very well-written, well-organized and visually pleasing, making for what I anticipate will be an important resource for lay and ordained church leadership.

I haven't read it carefully yet, but from first glance I think I can safely say that this is a book that lays out a loving challenge. This is a book you have to be ready for, or it will gnaw at your conscience. This is a book that could be your next dog-eared favorite, and help you set forth a vision for the next decade of your congregation's leadership.

I remember when Steph was working on this book a few summers ago and I would get a call from her and she'd be in Seattle doing research and I'd get another call from her and I'd think she was home, but she'd be in Minneapolis doing research, and then Washington, DC, and then God-knows-where. This is by way of telling you that this isn't the work of some armchair philosopher waxing rhapsodic about What Could Be, but the vision of a devoted religious leader and serious researcher who moved her body all over this country in order to learn firsthand how radically welcoming churches got that way.

Stephanie, mazel tov on this new baby. I'm right proud of you, rock star. My suggestion for your next big project: Have more fun in 2007!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oh, Those Politcally Correct Snowflake Stamps!

I went to get stamps at the post office yesterday and was happy to see that they had little snowflake-designed ones that match my Christmas letter paper.

snowflake stamps

After I purchased two books and paused to put stamps on my cards, a man turned to the woman next to him and said, "Politically correct Christmas stamps." He said it nicely, if ruefully.

She said, "I kind of like them, because you can use them after Christmas."
"Yea, that's true," he responded.

And I wanted to say, "I don't think it's politcally correct for the United States Postal Service to account for the fact that we live in the most religiously pluralistic nation on earth."

I really, really hate this. I hate how some people say "MERRY CHRISTMAS" in a hostile, forced tone like, "YOU WILL NOT MAKE ME SAY 'HAPPY HOLIDAYS' NO MATTER WHAT," and I hate that things have gotten so bad that some guy actually thinks that snowflakes are politically correct.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Eve Preparations

I'm making final decisions on our big Christmas Eve production. It's really fun, and it's really stressful. You want to make the night magical and beautiful and really, that's going to happen courtesy of our beautiful New England meetinghouse and lit candles and "Silent Night," and anything I do or don't do probably won't count for much.

Still, you want to touch hearts. You want to squeeze the guts just a little bit. This year, we're focusing a lot on "Hey, we're here ALL YEAR! Come back NEXT Sunday, too!"

I remember the years before I was at all interested in, or knowledgeable of, the Bible. I would go to church services now and then and it was all absolutely meaningless to me. No one ever suggested to me that if I wanted to get anything out of this, I would actually have to put some intellectual effort into it. Church was like a magical social club -- if you were a member, you'd just "get it," and your heart would be opened by some great priestly abracadabra, and you could sit there with dewy eyes and feel moved by all this archaic language about begating and prophecying and parable-ing and healing lepers or whatever other crazy biz was going down in that day's reading.

I sat there stone cold thinking unkind thoughts about the other worshipers because I assumed that they got as little out of the Bible as I did, little snot that I was, and I figured they were just putting in pew time so they could stay in the club.
I actually believed that the emotions that came from the experience were due to a sense of belonging to the church, not from hearing the readings or sharing the liturgy. I thought they were emotionally involved by virtue of being members of a social club together, not by virtue of belonging to God together and having an opportunity to celebrate and explore and question and struggle with that reality together.

So I look out over those dozens upon dozens of unfamiliar faces on Christmas Eve and I just want to say, "Listen, this Luke and Isaiah and carol stuff is going to mean just NOTHING to you if you don't immerse yourself more often than once a year in this tradition. Not only will the Bible readings for tonight remain pretty meaningless, you will have no community of support for even questioning whether or not you want it to mean anything to you. You will have no community of support and weekly practice to remind you how much you wanted to have a spiritual component to your life, how much you want to stop being angry or feeling helpless or have some balm for whatever other soul sickness you're suffering from. You cannot get a deep religious life with a drive-by once a year service. Please don't lay that pressure on us, and don't set yourself up that way."

Because of course like most preachers, I do feel the pressure of having such a powerful message on Christmas Eve that they will all come back and become beloved and loving members of our church.

I am doing an Angels theme this year. The secret is, I had a huge CONCEPT about it this summer but I failed to write anything down, so now all I have is this vague memory that there was something quite wonderful and creative I wanted to do with the angels in the birth narratives, and it has all slipped through my Swiss cheese brain.

Happy Day

Happiness is having the guy from Geek Choice retrieve 100% of my lost data!!

And happiness is this new blog, written by a 93-year old Canadian man who will become your very favorite elder blogger in a moment:

I went out and bought a 1 gig harddrive at Office Max today. I am going to name it Fred. Fred and I will hold hands and whisper sweet nothings in each other's ears forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

When The Heck Is Santa Getting Here?

The News of the Year in Religion, 2006

We do a Burning Bowl ceremony every new year at my church, and I preach a sermon called "The News of the Year in Religion."
I used to call it "The Good News of the Year in Religion," but sometimes I forget to collect heartwarming stories of interfaith good will and harmony, and some years are just too full of scandals and failures on a grand scale that beg for some reflection.

This year I am breaking up the sermon into littler homilies and titling them as follows:

"We Are Family, I Got All My Sisters With Me" -- about the election of the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori to the national bishop of the Episcopal Church. I will talk about the tragic rupture of the Anglican communion over the gay issue.

My second bit is called "It's a Small World After All" and focuses on Pope Benedict's Muslim controversy. My point there will be more about the stresses and challenges of communication in a global society and not so much about the content of what he said.

My third homily will be about the Ted Haggard scandal and the crisis of leadership in the Christian Coalition. So far, I don't have a title or exact focus, but I want to talk about the centrality of integrity and wholeness within the Church, the challenge of that, the constant work it requires, etc.

So, readers, what big thrilling story did I miss?Which ones should I retrieve from my bulging folder of clippings? If you were preaching this sermon, what big story in religion would you include, and why?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Guide To Really Bad Christmas Hymns

The UU Enforcer has a hilarious post up lambasting our current hymnal's pathetic mangling of traditional Chritmas carols, and providing ridiculously unsingable ones ("Duermete, Lindo" anyone?).

Check it out at

People, Not Hard Drives

I had a rapturous day yesterday when a wonderful guy came from the Geek Squad and recovered a whole bunch of my old hard drive, including my i-Tunes folder.

Gloom and doom returned this morning when I sat down to do some work and realized that we are still missing the most important set of files of all -- the worship files. Augh! I will call him back for another visit and keep my fingers crossed!!

Thanks for all your sweet and helpful comments. It's been highly stressful and inconvenient.

It was so good to be in church this morning. For some reason, everyone was in high sassy form and coming out with one hilarious crack after the next. One of my congregants is building a house in California on his son's property, and is preparing to move out there. This makes me excessively sad, so I tried not to be jubilant when he said that there was some kind of building delay. I said I was sorry, and he said with a smile but totally deadpan,"It's okay. I'm going to drink to excess."

I know this isn't funny if you have substance abuse issues or you're a very politically correct type, but if you knew this man and knew how perpetually elegant and gracious and sober and appropriate he is, you would have doubled over like I did.

Santa made a visit to coffee hour and gave me a big hug, and my DRE's youngest daughter kept throwing her arms around my waist. Someone brought a beautiful 12-day old baby for us to marvel at, and someone else brought her mom, a friendly soul who looks a lot like my grandmother. A few children sang a beautiful song about Peace, backed up by three gentle and lovely female adult choir members, and a newcomer mother whose son is in Iraq made the acquaintance of another couple of military moms, and they're going to look after her.

So being in church was a balm to my computer-weary soul, and I just didn't care about the bloody harddrive.

Yesterday I got a beautiful letter from artist Janet McKenzie thanking me for saying nice things in a sermon about her painting "Jesus of the People." She sent me a calendar and a note card with more of her art on it, and basically made me cry. I said it before and I'll say it again, Google is a wonderful thing.

Despite all the computer stupidity, I just have to say in my best Jimmy Stewart voice, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Friday, December 15, 2006


I woke up early this morning and started making a mental list of all the work I had lost.

Worst of all is the tremendous amount of work I had done compiling quotes and stories by theme for my Worship files. My chest aches just thinking about it. Hours and hours of organizing, cutting and pasting.

Worship will take a lot longer to prepare now, as I've also lost my Offering stories (I had a rich collection of funny anecdotes and original words on stewardship themes), Opening Words and Chalice Lightings, Benedictions, Prayers.

I've lost funerals and all special services done in the past two years. All Christmas Eves, Easters, holidays and holy days.

What was I thinking in forgetting or failing to back up these most crucial of files? How could I have been so DUMB???? And careless of my own work?

I'll tell you what I was thinking: Every time I popped a CD in the drive to save sermons and worship services, I would think to myself, "Oh, I know I just saved those the last time. They're not much updated, so I won't bother this time."

I failed to save them even after spending three full days in July perfecting these files. My stomach churns just thinking about it. Thank the gods I saved all my academic work and files from teaching my class. I would be lying on the floor in the fetal position right now if I had lost all of that, too.

I think to myself, man, I'm walking around feeling shot in the gut -- what's it like when your church gets destroyed in a fire, or when your home is swept away in a flood, or when your laptop is stolen from the back seat of your car and you have absolutely no hope whatsoever of even having the Geek Squad look at your hard drive and recover data? WORSE.

I'm trying not to add insult to injury by beating myself up for being a whimp.

The Geek Squad is coming in the morning. We'll see if they work any magic.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Hi friends,

My hard drive is under warranty, so Dell's sending out a new one.

No word yet as to whether there will be any kind of resurrection experience of old data from the dead drive. Hey, but Sunday is St. Lazarus' Day -- maybe I should have my PC doc try it THEN?
Is it too late in the week to start a novena cycle?

P.S. Dell tells me that I have a super Burn You Up battery in my computer that is being recalled. If you have a Dell, you might want to look into this. We would be very sad if you spontaneously combusted along with your life's work. Be careful out there!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hard Drive Death

PeaceBang's computer died the death this morning.

The hard drive seems to be gone.

PeaceBang has had a rocky relationship with her Dell Inspiron since the beginning. She is thinking she run back into the arms of Mac.

Mac doesn't have so many viruses and problems, and is generally snazzier and more fun.

This is pretty terrible. Everything is backed up except for the exam and paper due in the morning. And Christmas Eve's liturgy. All my PB files are on CD's, as are 99% of my sermons, doctoral work, and correspondence. My i-Pod is updated as of last night, and photos are all saved and uploaded to Snapfish.

Ach. What can you do?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bits of Scripture

Today in class we did a wonderful thing as part of a Communion Service.

Our professors asked us all to bring a short Scripture passage and to prepare about 45 seconds of explanation as to why it is important to us.

In lieu of a homily, people jumped in as the Spirit moved them and read their selections. It was just great. We had Micah and Jeremiah, and Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans. Matthew, Luke, John, The Book of Esther, the Song of Songs. Genesis. One of the Psalms.

I hadn't realized until then that I have fallen in love with Scripture in the past few years. Hearing all those bits and pieces was like making out with God. My heart fluttered like a besotted fool.

I still feel a little dopey about it, and am going to go to bed early with the Good Book.

There must be a Mae West or Sophie Tucker joke in there somewhere, but I can't think of it!

Anyway, it was a great exercise and you should steal it all the time.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley

My heart is heavy today with the news that Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley has passed from this life.

Her husband Clyde shares the news here,

I always thought that Marjorie was beautiful and smart and faithful and fierce. She intimidated me -- and I'm not easily intimidated -- because she was just such a cool kid. But she was also warm and encouraging, and she spread her good stuff around generously. Hanging around her I learned that her fierceness wasn't against you, it was for a vision she had. When we talk about ministerial presence, I think of her. She had presence, and it was about something deep.

That great voice of hers.
I'm grateful that she left so many eloquent words behind in written form, but we will miss that voice.

I remember when I first found out that she and Clyde were romantically involved. I spotted them walking down the street holding hands at a conference and I immediately became a sixth grader, all "Ooooh, Marjorie and Clyde sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" Even from a distance I could tell that she was beaming and he was looking like a happy man and I thought, "Whoo hoo! A strong, fierce minister sister has got herself a honey! There's hope for me yet!"

My deepest condolences are with him today.

Strong, fierce, lovely and wise minister sister Marjorie, God bless you and keep you.
We give thanks for your life and your loves.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sweet the Sound Concert Next Saturday

Listen up, yo!

SWEET THE SOUND will be blessing your ears with fine bluegrass stylings of many cool Christmas season tunes.

(Is that hip and cool enough to get your attention?)

We will be at OLD SOUTH CHURCH in Copley Square at 2 pm, Dec. 16th.

Our fiddler, bassist, guitarist and pianist are the finest in the land. Along with some popular faves, we sing a few super fabulous original songs by founder/director Matt Meyer Bolton. Seriously, yo. You will want to steal these for your church choir.

"You Will Be Amazed!"

Check it out! See you there.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Non-Excellence in Preaching

I am not happy with my preaching thus far at church this year. This is not self-abasement, just honesty. I am able to evaluate my work and be unthrilled with it without spinning out into self-hatred. I assume my congregants notice, and I am left to conclude that they're forebearing enough to accept the lack of greatness.* This is what it means to settle somewhere. You abide together in covenant and don't expect excellence all the time, just good faith effort and care.

God knows I make an effort and put care into worship preparation. But my thoughts just haven't emerged as clearly and my writing hasn't progressed as coherently as in the past. I have only really loved two sermons I've given yet since September.

What's kind of ridiculous is that because of my doctoral work, I'm studying and thinking and writing more about ministry and religion than ever before. I am deeply into it. Maybe it's all up too close to my face and making me less organized in my thinking and preaching. Maybe the fruits of this labor have yet to emerge in my preacher's life. That's what I'm counting on.

Another factor: we made an adjustment to our Second Sunday liturgy that was supposed to provide an opportunity for a monthly lay homily, whose thoughts I would respond to in my own homily that week. This vision has proven much harder to fulfill than to create. I have found that it is very, very hard to recruit lay preachers, and that this service requires a lot more time and conversation than I had counted on.

There is a lot of change at church this year: a new Music Director, a new Student Minister, a new Director of Youth Programming, and new layleaders in key positions. Everything is going well and happily, but change is change. It takes a lot of psychic energy.

I am in class up to six hours a week, with travel time 45 minutes each way, at a minimum. This will go down to three hours once every two weeks next semester, with no big papers and exams.

I am re-working an old sermon for tomorrow morning. It was fine the way it was. I don't know why I started monkeying with it. Note to preachers: don't bother using old sermons. It's more work to edit and renew them than it would be to start with a blank sheet.

God give me the strength to get through this week. I have a paper due by Thursday, a take-home exam due the same day, and class on Tuesday and on Thursday morning. Also the sniffles.

Most Christmas shopping is done, thankya Jesus. Glad I did so much in August!

* Um, not that I'm great. I mean greatness in the relative PeaceBang scheme of things. But as you preachers out there know... sometimes what we think is terrific is awful for the congregation. Sometimes what we think didn't go well really worked on their hearts. It's a mystery, really. But we all do have our own internal standards, and should.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sin Destoyers "Presents For the Earth"

You may be totally offended. I was.

You may be a bit frightened. I was.

You may seriously consider the totally screwy theology contained therein and become depressed when you realize that there are people who think this way for real. I was.

You may laugh your head off. I didn't. Except for one startled outburst.

You may find the animation rather impressive. I did.

Oh, boy. Oh boy.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Matthew Sanford

I have a sore throat.
I handed in a 25 page paper on Tuesday.
I have mostly planned Christmas Eve for church. But the tree here isn't decorated yet and I'm not sure when it will be.
I cannot stand thinking about the 17th century for another few days, even though I have another paper due any minute now on covenant and the Puritans.

I am whining.

So last evening, with an hour to spare before leading Women's Wisdom at church and feeling that I could neither concentrate on BANJO or subject my brain to one more page about the Puritans, I picked up :

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford.

Once I got past the fairly poorly-written introduction and into the first narrative chapters, I was riveted.

If you are interested in yoga, if you are interested in the mind-body connection, if you are interested in families, if you are drawn to healing stories, if you are a preacher, if you are a person with a body, you may want to read this book.

Here is the Amazon link so you can get a gander at it, but you'll buy it at a local bookseller, I'm sure:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


My oldest nephew was born on the winter solstice. He will be three years old on Dec. 21st. He is a bright light in my life. He was actually born on a Sunday morning, making his appearance into life while we were having a Friendly Beasts Sunday School worship service. A woman in the church knitted him a tiny little elephant sweater in honor of the occasion. I like to get him animal-oriented gifts to remember that happy convergence of a very sweet worship service with a very sweet new baby.

I talked to him on the phone the other day and he said, in his little breathless voice, "Are you comin' 'a my birthay party?"
"No, sweetie," I responded. "But I'm coming to see you RIGHT after Christmas."
"Ohhhh," he said. And my brother, his dad, reported that he was making Little Sad Face. I would have stabbed myself in the eye with a fork, but my sister later reassured me, "He's three years old! Don't worry about it! There's going to be tons of people there! You'll see him a week later!"

I still died a thousand deaths, of course. But life in ministry means that just you can't go gallivanting off five or six hours each way to be at a family birthday party over the weekend before Christmas. I could go, of course. I could squeeze it in since I'm not preaching on the 17th. I could rocket down the Jersey Turnpike and try not to be in a knot of anxiety and tension by the time I skidded home in a high blood pressure rush by Monday. But we're in the countdown to Christmas, and two days of travel is just not possible right now. It's not possible in my own body, which just needs to be focused on church right now. How do you explain this to a three-year old? You don't. Good thing I'm his auntie and not his mommy. I don't know how clergy parents do it. All I can say is this: put family first. Make a habit of it early on.

As the days grow dark by 5 pm, I notice that my free evenings are compulsively quiet. I cannot get much work done. I can cook, I can read, I can think, I can pray, I can go out and attend something that requires no "on" from me. But the usual flurry of writing, planning, calling is a struggle.

So I wake up a couple of hours earlier -- just after sunrise -- and I move everything back so that I don't have to depend on being very productive in the dark evenings when everything within me wants peace and rest and gentleness.
There's been a lot of death hovering around lately, too, which also slows and sobers me.

I say I'm not a morning person, but maybe I'm a winter morning person.

My mantra with everyone this holiday season is Keep Your Expectations Fair And Realistic.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Best and Worst Gifts

Philocrites and commenters have brought about a beautiful memory for me:

A few years ago, in early Advent, I mentioned in a sermon that it just isn't Christmas for me until I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's album, "White Christmas." It has the most beautiful song called "Baby, What You Gonna Be?" and a gorgeous lullaby on it, and my all-time favorite rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" (and speaking of kitsch, I love me some Little Drummer Boy. It's my favorite Christmas carol and if you laugh at me for that, I will have to beat you up).

Anyway, I went on to say in the sermon that all I had in my possession was an old, warped cassette version of "White Christmas," and that since the recording was out of print, part of my Christmas tradition these days was to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing these old favorites sounding as though they were under water. I shared with the congregation my own rendition of a few phrases of a very warbly, distorted "Little Drummer Boy." We all heartily laughed. Fun sermon, nice memory.

That Christmas a very dear congregant gave me a wrapped gift, which I put under my Christmas tree for Christmas morning.

(I unwrap all my gifts on Christmas morning,* alone with my cat, in blessed silence, with a cup of coffee in my hand and a fire in the fireplace, worn out from Christmas Eve and savoring the stillness. If I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of the Whos down in Whoville singing wahoo doray, wahoo doray. The one year I dragged myself onto a train Xmas morning so that I could be with family by that afternoon, was a disaster. As much as I love my peeps, I shan't do that again. Christmas morning is beautiful solitude. Amtrak can wait 'til the next day. I open a bottle of my favorite Shramsberg bubbly, I watch the Muppets Christmas Carol, I eat Chinese, I hang out in my robe. If I go out to visit, I don't go far.)

So this Christmas morning I was unwrapping my gifts and I came across the one from Deanna. When I pulled back the paper, I gasped. It was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "White Christmas" album, which she had tracked down through e-bay (something I had not been able to successfully accomplish).

And that wasn't all. Anticipating that I would not have a working turntable, she had included a fresh new cassette of the recording. No more drowning Little Drummer Boy or warbly angels.

I sat there and hugged that album to me and cried. The cat came running.

We say that it's the thought that counts. It is, of course, but here's the thing: to love someone is to listen carefully to them, to attend to their lives and preferences closely enough that you know, and understand, and accept, what distinguishes them from the rest of the wolf pack you travel in. When it comes time for the exchanging of gifts, just as it can be overwhelmingly lovely to receive something as perfect as I did that Christmas, it can also be an ice pick between the shoulder blades to realize that someone you love hasn't been listening, hasn't been paying attention, and has -- from the looks of their gift -- no idea who you are.

What was your perfect gift?

And/or, in the spirit of confession -- because you need to get this off your back, don't you? -- what was the WORST gift you ever received, and what made it so totally wrong for you??

You can all post as anonymous and your secret will be safe with moi.

* I feel that my ability to wait until Christmas morning proves my moral and emotional superiority to my two siblings, who -- EVERY YEAR -- if they receive Christmas gifts before the actual day, will whine and beg and cajole to open it please, come on, pleeeaze! and totally ruin the surprise and also insult the Baby Jesus. You know who I'm talking about, KMW.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sudden Death

Someone I knew only briefly but was very fond of, died suddenly the other day.

He actually dropped dead, as the old expression goes. I just found out.

I felt he was kind of a kindred spirit and can easily picture his face and voice in my mind as I think of him.
We met this summer and bonded immediately over having been treated extremely shabbily by the same man. He had been the man's lover. I had not been and had never wished to be, but was a fairly constant companion for a year. We and I had a good laugh about that-- how talented I was to manage to get dumped by a man I wasn't even dating! He said, "Honey, at least I know why he left me." Craig helped me to leave a very puzzling and upsetting episode behind me, and for that I am grateful to him. I'm also glad that he had a wild fun time at some big gay bacchanal in New Orleans this year. He was still beaming about it weeks later.

He was really funny, very bright, and loved Patti LuPone like mad. The night he died, he had just seen her in concert. A mutual friend said that maybe his heart couldn't take it.

May he rest in peace. He will be missed. It was far too short a life.

And I am very, very sad.

It's Not Theology, It's Class

Do you ever get those e-mail forwards from friends or family containing some little slice-of-life story so sweet it gives you immediate cavities? And it often has some little sentimental motto tacked on the end, something about God and angels, and as you delete it you're simultaneously wiping away a tear and rolling your eyes?

As a minister, I get them all the time. I read them all, too. I think about them, and wonder whether they minister to people in a simpler and more direct way than all our sophisticated musings and carefully-crafted sermons and intellectual talks.

I have wondered for a long time if it isn't that Unitarian Universalists are really that theologically different than the typical American, but that they prefer a far more sophisticated, intellectual and un-emotional expression of that theology than is preferred by those who get misty-eyed over stories from "Chicken Soup For the Internet User's Soul."

Are we theologically that different, really? Or is much of what we react against theologically really a reaction to lack of sophistication? In other words, is this about theology, or is it about class, culture and education?

Today I got a Gooey Religious Forward that really brought this point home for me.
Here it is, for your reading pleasure. I added paragraphs and one comma.

Breakfast at McDonald's

I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. The teacher was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being had been graced with. Her last project of the term was called "Smile."

The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions. I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say hello anyway, so, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally.

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald's one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did. I did not move an inch... an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved.

As I turned around I smelled a horrible "dirty body" smell, and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was "smiling". His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God's Light as he searched for acceptance. He said, "Good day" as he counted the few coins he had been clutching.

The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, "Coffee is all, Miss" because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. (He just wanted to be warm).

Then I really felt it - the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me, judging my every action. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, "Thank you."

I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, "I did not do this for you; God is here working through me to give you hope." I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, "That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope." We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace of God that we had been given were we able to give.

We are not church goers, but we are believers. That day showed me the pure Light of God's sweet love. I returned to college, on the last evening of class, with this story in hand. I turned in "my project" and the instructor read it. Then she looked up at me and said, "Can I share this?" I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class. She began to read and that is when I knew that we as human beings and being part of God share this need to heal people and to be healed. In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald's, my husband, son, my instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student.

I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE. Much love and compassion is sent to each and every person who may read this and learn how to LOVE PEOPLE AND USE THINGS - NOT LOVE THINGS AND USE PEOPLE. If you think this story has touched you in any way, please send this to everyone you know. There is an Angel sent to watch over you. In order for her to work, you must pass this on to the people you want watched over.

An Angel wrote: Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart. To handle yourself, use your head.To handle others, use your heart. God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.

This is, of course, just a story about treating people with dignity. I have no doubt that many UUs have done exactly this sort of thing: reaching out and providing help to someone who needs it, and speaking words of compassion and care as they do so.

What makes this an eye-roller to most people I know, however, is not the theology (break it down and it's just like yours and mine: Every human being possesses inherent worth and dignity, if God is present in the world, it is through the work of human hands, people are to be cherished more than things, etc.), but the sentimentality of the writing, the inclusion of angels, the effusive praise of God's grace, the misplaced quotation marks, the misuse of the word "literally," and the fact that this woman actually took her child to McDonald's for breakfast. How often do we conflate pure class snottiness with theological superiority and sophistication? How often does it close our ears and keep us from spiritual solidarity with others?

So this seems to be another post on Unitarian Universalist terminal uniqueness, which too often keeps us from seeing that what one person describes as "the pure Light of God's sweet love" is no different than our "inherent worth and dignity," and what one person describes as an angel sent to watch over you is the spark of divinity Mr. Emerson reminded us was divinely installed in each soul.

I am grateful today for all the years of Gooey Religious Forwards sent to me by congregants, friends and family. They have been a kind of Scripture of popular religion that I first regarded as a nuisance, and now receive as a gift and an important challenge to my long history of personal snobbery. Keep 'em coming.

The Ultimate Gooey Religious Foward
(The Ultimate Gooey Religious Forward That I've Learned To Love)