Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Lenten Morality Tale, Played On Piano

This strikes me as a particularly Lenten scandal:


It's not about money, it's not about sex.

It's about the deep human desire for beauty and transcendence through art.
It's about the mystery of creative talent and the sin of trying to steal someone else's when you feel you haven't got enough of your own.
It's about how love mixed with ego can lead us to violate our own integrity.
It's about denial.

I can already see the movie version starring Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Brief Oscar Dreams

Remember when Adrien Brody won the Oscar for Best Actor a few years ago for "The Piano?" And when he got to the stage he grabbed presenter Halle Berry and swept her into this amazingly inappropriate back-breaking, long kiss?

When Jennifer Hudson won last night for Best Supporting Actress, I thought it would have been great if she had done the same thing to presenter George Clooney. That would have been the best moment ever in Oscar History.

I think it was the most boring Oscars ever.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Don't Doubt The Dance

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lenten Hiatus

Hola, amigos,

Given all the attention that Beauty Tips For Ministers is getting these days, I will be taking a little break from this blog.

If anything totally inspiring comes to mind, I'll be sure to share it.

I'm off to church for a midday service to get smeared on the forehead and reminded that I'm mortal but that I get to spend my eternity with God.
It's one of my favorite holy days.



Sunday, February 18, 2007

Coming Out As PeaceBang

I suppose once you've made the cover of the Sunday paper as a blogger, your anonymity is pretty much totally over:


Now, I know that the vast majority of you who read this blog know who I am.
That's fine and that has always been fine.
Since I began this blog well over two years ago, I have always been happy to tell any curious person who I am.

So why do I continue to write anonymously?

Three reasons:

1. PeaceBang is a kind of alter ego for me; a creative outlet as a writer. Certainly at Beauty Tips for Ministers, I write in a "voice" that is a far exaggerated, much more irreverent and silly one than my own. The purpose there is to keep the writing entertaining and over-the-top as a way in to what could be a deadly dull and earnest conversation.

2. Keeping my identifying information off of this blog makes very clear to my readers that I am blogging as myself, not as a part of my parish ministry. PeaceBang offers far more partisan and trenchant commentary on pop culture, politics and society than I tend to bring to my parish ministry work, and certainly to my preaching ministry in the parish. Blogging anonymously assures that no one mistakes PeaceBang's opinions with her specific church.

3. When I started blogging, I looked around to see how other clergy did it. Most of them blogged under nom-de-plumes, and most without offering identifying information, so I followed that model.

Have a beautiful day, PeaceBangers.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

This Is the Day The Lord Hath Made

You must realize that I have a personal affection for Psalm 118 that comes from the fact that my church choir sang its lyrics at my candidating Sunday and again at my Installation.

This is the day the LORD hath made
Let us rejoice and be glad!!

So I was perhaps more deflated than usual to read of one Unitarian Universalist minister's translation of the psalm as,

This is the day we are given,
let us rejoice...

My problem is linguistic and theological. There is such vibrancy in the Biblical psalm! To switch from the majesty of "This is the day the LORD hath made" to the passive voice of "this is the day we are given" just kills the poetry for me. As a friend and I were discussing yesterday, the pale language of "we are given" puts me in mind of a weary drive-through attendant at McDonald's: "Hey lady, here's your quarter pounder with cheese, and your fries. And here's a day."

There's a good conversation about this small detail of the Rev. Galen Guengerich's article in the latest UU World --proposing gratitude as the theological center of Unitarian Universalism --here at Philocrites:

I'm looking forward to reading the entire article. Despite my small quibble with the issue of the psalm, it's always good to have a theological conversation. Does gratitude feel like the theological center of Unitarian Universalism to you? Would you like to see us work on that? Is gratitude at the center of your personal spiritual life or practice? Would you like it to be?

The conversation at Philocrites left me thinking about other things that I think just don't work in a non-theistic translation. One is a healing service, which I'd like to do at my church for Lent. The only healing services I've ever been part of were centered around the idea that God loves us and that Jesus offers healing to all who ask for it. I am wondering how Unitarian Universalists do healing services in a non-theistic way. Do you have any stories of such services, and would you be willing to share liturgies?

The Rev. Parisa Parsa On UUism and Ministry

As someone who freezes in terror whenever a microphone or camera is pointed at her, I am beside myself with admiration over this interview on a local cable channel featuring Unitarian Universalist minister, the Rev. Parisa Parsa:


She speaks comfortably and with great poise and intelligence about ministry and about Unitarian Universalism.

Seminarians, watch and learn. Heck, experienced ministers, we can all get something from this!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Dog Blogging

dords snow
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

And in the interest of inter-species harmony and fairness, I must add a Friday Dog Blog to the mix.

This is my nephew, Gordon, who lives with SisterBang in Connecticut.

This photo makes me cry. It's the tenderest thing I ever saw. Our beloved old gentleman with his white face against the white snow.

Dogs are the most special beings.

Friday Cat Blogging

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
This isn't my cat, but it's a very adorable cat. PeaceBangers, meet Annie. She was apparently on her way outside but never made it, choosing to crash by the warm stove instead.

She's no dummy! Have you SEEN it out there? All kinds of ice! She has to have The Warm Paws!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UU Carnival: More Entries And More Thoughts

Folks, there have been some more bloggers weighing in on the James Luther Adam quote that was the focus of this month's Carnival.

Here, Earthbound Spirit muses about the accusation of atheism being thrown at all kinds of reformers and infidels through the ages:

The original conversation is here:


If anyone else has been writing on this topic and would like to be included, let me know.

For myself, I'm having a hard time finding Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion -- it's not at the Andover-Newton library and my local library has a hold list a mile long -- and I find that I really don't want to spend $28 of my professional expenses on it. I've promised to address it in my Feb. 25 sermon, though, so I need to get my hands on a copy.

Someone in my congregation sent me a great article by John Shelby Spong called "Human Definitions of God Need Revision." One of my favorite quotes from Spong's article says, "I believe that atheism as a challenge to organized religion has a worthy vocation to fulfill. The real atheists are saying that the God they have encountered inside the life of the church is too small and too compromised to be God for their lives. If the church is dedicated to such an unbelievable, magical and miracle-working deity that it cannot admit to any genuine probing of the divine, then the atheist speaks a powerful truth."

This quote makes me think that in the Unitarian Universalist context, where we clearly have the "genuine probing of the divine" part down, we need to get a lot better at finding a theos we can affirm. When people walk through the doors of our churches, they are so often relieved at being freed from the Big Daddy Wonderworker in the Sky concept of divinity that they rest in that relief forever after, and build a faith based on the rejection of the faith claims made by other religious traditions.

We UUs have become so enamored of the motto that we are "non-creedal, non-dogmatic and non-doctrinal" that we have failed to realize that we need doctrine if we are to effectively communicate a soul-fulfilling, prophetic and affirming faith to seekers. There is nothing wrong with doctrine: the Universalists crafted powerful doctrine and converted many Christians to their theological understanding. They were not great institutionalists, but they made a tremendous impact on the faith lives of Americans and the theology preached in the mainline Protestant church.

I believe that we have milked all that we can out of pure atheism and have been enthralled by its presumed exoticism as a theological position for too long. Is atheism radical any more? Not if you're a Unitarian Universalist. We've had publicly atheistic ministers for longer than we've had female ministers!

Yes, it seems radical that so many of UUs are atheists. But only if you keep comparing us to conservative churches, which I don't. I would like to stop treating atheists as some exotic species among us -- some "problem" that needs special care and kid gloves. Atheists come to church for the same reason any believing person come to any house of worship: to be nurtured in love, compassion and prophetic challenge, to be part of a community, to express reverence, and to grow as a human being. If any atheist in a UU community doesn't want to grow, doesn't want to authentically worship, and doesn't want to cultivate reverence, he or she is no different than the similarly dysfunctional theist or self-proclaimed mystic or Buddhist who also refuses to do those things.

I've had the dubious honor of watching Christians choke the life out of the worship life of their church by arguing about language and harrassing the poor choir master over choices of anthems. I've known theistic Jews who picked apart their rabbi's sermon with an acid pen and spared no insult in their parsing of his or her unacceptable theology. I've seen Goddess-worshiping pagans start hate campaigns against church leaders and ministers whose worship style did not fulfill their spiritual vision or meet their personal needs. Anyone in the religion biz has heard these stories, yet it seems to me that when the perpetrators of this kind of dysfunction are atheists, there is a special kind of scandal associated with them, as in "Those nasty atheists -- who shouldn't even be here, 'cause you can never make an ATHEIST happy in the church! -- started this terrible problem!!"

Let's consider this: no one who behaves in a consistently vile and unchecked manner in a religious community should "even be here." Also: it may be interesting to consider that Unitarian Universalist history conclusively proves that many atheists apparently have been made happy in their churches, as they have stayed there for many good years and been grieved in them at their death.

There are atheists in all kinds of religious communities all over the world, where they have decided to abide both with the integrity of their convictions and with the God affirmed there. In the end, are the finer points of our various theological beliefs or spiritual practices what anyone remembers or cherishes about us in our religious communities? No. It is our service to others and to the institution, our generosity of spirit and kindness, our gifts and our talents, our sharing of self and our wisdom, that are remembered.
Faith is a beautiful thing. We have all known someone whose faith in God animated them and made them a shining presence among us. But we have probably also known someone whose absolute certainty in the non-existence of God animated and inspired them. We haven't expected spiritually vibrant atheists among us, so we haven't looked for them.

The atheist in the church is not the Other. The atheist in the church or synagogue or mosque is part of a community of questioning, questing human beings. The only truly Other in any religious community is the Thou whose ineffable presence draws us together as faithful seekers in the first place.

[Hot diggity, kids, I think I just wrote my sermon!!!]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Napping Might Be Good For Women's Hearts, Too, But We're Not Sure

Here's an article from the Boston Globe suggesting that napping in the afternoon may be beneficial to heart health:


But speaking of heart health (!), what really infuriates me is that once again, we don't know if the results apply to women because so few women were included in the study.

Heart disease kills far, far more women every year than breast and skin cancer combined, and yet the medical research done on coronary health continues to focus almost exclusively on men. This isn't to downplay the seriousness of breast cancer and the prevalence of other cancers as killers of women (or to downplay any other cause of mortality), but the fact is that the women reading this blog are far more likely to die of plain old heart disease than of anything else.

What's it going to take to get included in these studies?????

It shocks me that this is still going on.

In Faith, Hope and Love -- Totally

You know how you send out e-mails to people with several points about pastoral news and/or committee work? And then someone sends you back your e-mail with their own replies in bold or in another color font?

I just got one this morning and where I signed, "In faith, hope and love," he had added in blue font, "Totally," as his own sign-off.

It's going to keep me grinning all day.

Good old "totally." Remember how it was every third word we used back in the 80's? I'm totally bringing back "totally."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Just Another Ugly Fat Chick Joke

Wesley Morris writes this about Eddie Murphy's latest fat-woman-bashing flick, "Norbit:"

It's funny, it's effective. Right on, Wesley. Thanks from over here.

I did see Mo'nique's fat-girl-finds-romance film "Phat Girlz" and found it to be embarrassingly bad but also guiltily refreshing. Mo'nique's take on the tale is that African men just love heavy women and will passionately pursue them no matter how reticent or downright mean and rejecting the big girls are. Which is just replacing one stupid stereotype with another. *sigh*

Queen Latifah is large and in-charge in "Last Holiday," which was fun fluff.

Other than that, I look in vain for stories starring fat women having real lives.

And now... back to preachin' prep.

UU Carnival: Prophetic Atheists

Since I'm planning to preach soon on the integrity of atheism, I was tickled to see that the UU Carnival topic this month was prophetic atheism, based on some remarks made by our great theologian, James Luther Adams:

We'd love it if you submitted your take on the subject.

Here, Ms. Kitty takes us through the permutations of her own rejection of the "old white guy in the sky-God" and her embrace of a more panentheistic, immanance-based faith:


And Matt over at Spirituality and Sunflowers, a "fundamentalist atheist" in his teen years, is making his mom happy by thinking he might be an agnostic after all:

[This just in...]
Jess kicks up a good fuss about not letting religious conservatives define our terms for us:

Let's hear from some more of you. When Unitarian Universalists are derided and scorned for having atheists in our pews, how do you articulate your support for the theological diversity that joins us as one people in the search for truth and meaning?

My own personal experience with mature atheists is that they are often the most theologically thoughtful people within the community, having carefully considered many angles of traditional religious traditions and having refused "shopworn creeds" (if I'm remembering my Emerson correctly).

We who worship in UU communities know that to be atheistic is not necessarily to be un-reverent or unfaithful. But does it insult the integrity of the atheistic position to agree with James Luther Adams that atheism "is the working of God in history, and judgement upon the pious"? If we are to fairly consider the value of having "out" atheists in the religious community, should we not do so according to a different framework?

It seems to me that applauding the contribution of atheists as "the working of God in history" is more than a bit of a backhanded compliment, and possibly patronizing. How might you say it?

Thanks for CK for the invitation to host this month's carnival.

PeaceBang Finally Sees "King Kong"

I'm supposed to be working on a sermon on communal grief and the cost of repressing it, but I can't stop thinking about Peter Jackson's "King Kong" starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. It was on HBO last night and although I had intended to go to bed early, I wound up watching the whole thing until 11pm.

Some of you may recall that I originally inquired about the meaning of "KK" here:

After having actually seen it, I can only say that I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's a graduate student out there working on a thesis called something like, "King Kong: Images of Otherness in Contemporary Cinema," or "King Kong: A Study of Symbiotic Relationships
In Racial and Gendered Experiences of Oppression" or "King Kong: The Futility of Maleness in the Creative Imagination of Peter Jackson." The internet is absolutely loaded with articles on the racism inherent in the picture.

Was it racist? Oh my Gods, yes. I can imagine Peter Jackson, in all earnestness, saying, "We've got to make the natives of Skull Island really aboriginal and scary, but we can't make them African. I know! Let's make them South Sea Islanders. That won't seem so racist. They'll just seem to be... I don't know... Horrible Mud-Covered People of Indeterminate Racial Heritage."

Oh, Peter. These characters are unbelievably offensive throwbacks to what one commentator called "the ooga booga school of thespian arts."

Here's what I thought: the Skull Island natives are apparently in the habit of feeding female sacrifices to the great 24-foot gorilla, Kong. Did these aboriginal lasses go willingly to their deaths to appease the beast? Did they too struggle to survive, but unsuccessfully? Because the way the film plays, it takes a scrawny white American chick (Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow) in a silk camisole and pink skirt to have the spunk and strength to stab Kong in the paw with part of the sharp bone necklace she's been forced to wear, and to escape from him. Oh, those enterprising white Americans! Can't keep 'em down!

The same scrawny white chick later enchants her simian captor by dancing and juggling for him and by teaching him sign language for "beautiful." They have a lovely relationship. I mean that; it's very touching. But clearly they don't make skinny white chicks the way they used to, because I noticed that at the end of the film, when Ann is running around on top of the Empire State Building in the midst of winter in nothing but a white satin negligee-type gown, she manages to totally avoid hypothermia. Or even shivering. Way up high like that. It's fantastic.

Why wasn't this film protested by anti-racism organizations? You know why? Because it's a really, really stupid movie and they had better things to do.

In fact, although this movie is offensively racist, it cheerfully and rather grandly mocks everyone's intelligence. "King Kong" was unintentionally hilarious in that way that action/adventure films are always hilarious, which is that ordinary human beings can get shot at, flung sideways through the jungle at a velocity that would break every bone in the average body, hurled off cliffs, and attacked by hostile insects the size of Marlon Brando in his later years, and still walk away unscathed. This always delights me. In fact, "King Kong" was the best movie I've ever seen for this sort of silliness.

The best part was the Attack of the Dinosaurs sequence, which went on forever and ever in this manner:

"Oh my gosh! We have just stumbled on a grove of very enormous dinosaurs! They seem to be nervous and agitated! Let's get closer to them!"
"Ack! I'm being chased by a very scary Brontosaurus! Or maybe it's a T-Rex! But I am outrunning him, because I am an important character in this movie and it's very important that I not die yet!"
"Whoaf! WATCH out! I thought that Brontosaurus was bad, but here comes a Brontomegalasaurus and it's trying to chomp my butt! Run! Run!... WUH-OH, now there's a Brontorexolaubadassasauraus on the scene!! My life sure is in danger now!!"

You get the idea.

All of the characters are really stereotypical and dumb, so you don't care about any of them. Adrien Brody has the distinction of playing the most pointless romantic interest of all time, running around trying to save Ann as she's mooning about with her gorilla boyfriend and clearly doesn't give a fig for him. I mean, any woman who would clamber around on the top of the Empire State Building in the freezing cold while war planes are zooming all over the place and shooting in her general vicinity in order to scream "NO! NO!" is just not regular girlfriend material. You can eat all the bananas you want, feller, but you'll never capture her heart like the big hairy guy. I'm sorry, but I don't blame her, either. Any date who can hold me in the palm of his hand while we slide gigglingly all over the ice on a Central Park lake is going to be a tough act to follow.

Anyway, Andy Serkis (who "played" Gollum so marvelously in Jackson's "Lord of the Ring" pictures) does a fantastic job playing Kong, and the special effects are gorgeous.

And really, for all its monumental silliness, there is something about this film that stays with you. At least it's staying with me. There is something ineffably sad and haunting about it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith

You hadn't HEARD, right? Because you don't follow celebrity gossip like PeaceBang does, and you were watching the SERIOUS news all day, where they didn't mention it.
(sarcastic cough)

I have to admit that when I heard the news I definitely had an emotional reaction. Which is strange, but just a testament to how effective the whole Rupert Murdoch We Own Your Brain phenomenon is on my apparently impressionable little mind.
Anna Nicole wasn't someone I thought that I was remotely interested in even as a curiosity. I watched a few minutes of her MTV show a few times and stayed glued to the tv in open-mouthed horror until I willed myself to reach for the remote kind of like you reach for a crucifix when Dracula comes around. I have to say, Anna Nicole's special combination of relentless self-promotion and excruciating drug-addled haplessness was mesmerizing. And of course she had those ridiculous, parodic bazooms and the peroxide blonde Hollwood Aphrodite archetypal thing going. Poor kid.

Yesterday at the gym I tried hard to concentrate on my podcast of "Speaking Of Faith" while distracting images of naughty astronauts flashe on the row of televisions parked in front of the treadmills and I thought, "O Lord, please let me get through this week without having to find out what that's all about." I still don't know. I'm not missing anything serious, am I?

And now, every channel will be the All Anna Nicole, All The Time. Which means we're going on an NPR news diet this week at La Casa de PeaceBang.

No disrespect to the dead, of course.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ten Years Ago...

On February 8, 1997, I went before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee with fear and trembling for the interview that would determine whether or not I would welcomed into the ministerial fellowship by my colleagues.

I had been through a terrible breakup with a thoroughly odious human being that winter and was walking around all wounded and weepy until about mid-January when my mother said to me, and I quote, "If you LET that disgusting man distract you from doing your best with the MFC, I will KILL YOU." So I took my friend Cynthia Kane's famous flash cards down to Florida for a little vay-kay with La Mama (how many of you out there studied for the MFC with Cynthia's flash cards? Heavens, I think there were dozens of us, bless her organized little heart), and got my heart, mind and soul ready to see and be seen by the Committee. I had no fierce of my own, so I borrowed some from my mom and went off to my morning appointment that fateful day fortified by her belief in me, and the presence of my pal Mark Fleming.

Here's how I felt about it: if the Committee didn't see a minister, I was ready to hear that. I was open to the possibility that I was deluding myself about my vocation. Why not?
Didn't Jones Very think he was the Messiah? Didn't Bronson Alcott think he was a coherent writer? They were both good dudes, just not very self-aware (and, okay...Jones Very was certifiably nuts). I figured there was no shame in being way off base about my readiness to serve in our ministry.
I hoped to God that I wouldn't get a 5 (on a scale of 1-5), but I was certainly prepared to get a 3 and to be sent back to do more work.

Aspirants to the Unitarian Universalist ministry, it is not a failure to get a 2 or a 3. When you get ordained, you're very likely in it for life, so what's the hurry? Believe me, once you've had your first few shocking revelations of your own clay feetsies, you won't think it's such a big deal to be ordered around a bit by the folks who just want you to be your best, most prepared self out there. But that's me. I know all you radical Free Church folks out there are rolling your eyes at me, and I maturely abide with your criticism. Here's a Bronx cheer: Plllllll.

One of the members of my MFC had known me as a teeny child in the church of my youth, and he was very stern with me during the interview. He can cut a very imposing figure, and if I hadn't had plenty of life experience with intimidating Jewish papa types, my guts may have all turned to liquid just looking at him. He was fairly glowering. Just when I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown about it, though, it occurred to me that he was coming on strong because he didn't want to seem to favor me in any way. And I was able to unclench a bit.

Boy, what an ordeal. I preached a homily on -- you won't believe this, but it's true -- what I would do as a minister in the air on a plane that was destined to crash, and all the passengers knew it. Do NOT ask me how I developed this genius idea. All I can tell you is that it actually was a good homily, it had a perfectly reasonable genesis, and this was 1997, so it wasn't nearly as bizarre and macabre a subject as it seems now.

I survived the interrogation, I paced outside with Mark and the student chaplain, and I got called in to get my "1." I was truly shocked. It was an incredibly scary and wonderful day.

If you didn't like this post, I'm just warning you: I'll probably write one a lot like it in July, when we hit the 10th anniversary of my ordination.

It just so happens, by the way, that February 8th is also the anniversary of my relationship with someone I've now known for 21 years. It was a romance, then it was a death struggle, then it was a ... well, whatever it is when you make your peace with the fact that you'll never make your peace. Hey DCM, remember how we said we were raising each other? I think we turned out okay.

The Over-Medication of American Children

Just skimming the headlines I could barely finish reading this on the death of 4 year old Rebecca Riley, who lived very near to me:

How do you diagnose a TWO AND A HALF YEAR OLD as having attention deficit disorder?? Or bi-polar disorder? Isn't being squirrelly and difficult the job description for a two year old? Isn't that we call them the Terrible Twos? This kid never had a chance.

God rest her soul, poor thing, born to terminally stupid parents and into a very dangerous medical culture. What good would imprisonment do for these two? Keep them from procreating? Their hearts are broken. They were criminally ignorant, not murderous. Leave them be.

Well, if it generates serious discussion about the ethics of prescribing prescription psychiatric drugs to tots, her death will not have been in vain.

"Call Me Issa": Part II

As you will recall from this post,
and this one,
I purchased a sweet little silver ring in France several years ago that just happened to have the same spiral symbol on it that showed up as the motif in Jane Siberry's Philadelphia concert I attended days after my return from France. I thought it was really very cool synchronicity, as I remember thinking when I bought the ring, "This isn't really me: it's too Celtic, but it's cute." When I saw that Jane had chosen that very symbol as the motif for her show, it was clear to me that I should just give her the ring. Obviously the symbol must have special resonance for her.

But it didn't. Or not enough. She rejected my ring with disdainful air and humiliated me. Then she showed up in the news a few days ago as having divested of all her worldly goods and changed her name to "Issa," Arabic for Jesus.

A friend of mine forwarded my last blog entry to Issa herself, who had this to say:

"someone forwarded your blog about me.oh dear. i am horrified to think that you felt so disrespectfully treated. I didn't feel the way you described. if anything, i feel awkward and slightly embarassed saying that to people when they are offering a gift from the heart that is more than a trinket.it would feel worse, though, if i accepted it and then left it for the maid. my deepest apologies. to offer something important to you to someone you appreciate is something i really honour and try to communicate so. i'm sorry that my response has gotten in the way of enjoying the music. i'm just the messenger.issa"

PeaceBang here.

On one hand, it was nice of Jane/Issa to respond at all. She has the good grace to say that she feels "horrified" by my offense. To that I say, Issa, if my commenters are to be trusted, you've got a rep for being snotty and disdainful of your fans. As you divest of worldly goods in search of a purer life, you might want to work on that.

Second, of whom, or of what, are you "the messenger?" Are we not all messengers? I would not have cared if you left that ring for the maid. Perhaps that was just why I was meant to purchase it. If the magic of synchronicity didn't work for you, perhaps you might have simply passed along that ring to the next person for whom it may have had some meaning. Your ego should not be the final decision-making factor in how someone's energy gets out into the world if they feel so inclined to begin with you. Why stop a gift in the giving? Especially one so obviously unencumbersome (I wasn't inviting you to use my beach house in St. Kitts -- not that I have one -- or offering anything else that might have obligations or strings attached) and directly connected to something as soulful as an ancient symbol for the Triple Goddess. If you don't want such a thing, for heavens sake, pass it on.

Those of us who choose lives that require us to be conduits of energy and love need to get out of our own way a lot of the time. Issa, I hope you are able to get out of your own way more successfully in the future. If you think your fans small gifts troublesome to your great spiritual quest, that may be the biggest baggage you have yet to divest yourself of.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Does Iran Have To Be Next?

Remember a year or so ago, when it seemed incomprehensible that we would consider war with Iran? And now, some neo-cons are making noise like it's a fait accompli?

A friend sent me this:


Monday, February 05, 2007


I would like to report to all of you that I have officially upgraded my status on the BANJO from
"Simply Atrocious With No Hope" to "Still Really Bad But There's Hope."

Now I'm going to practice!

Applause And the Ministry

Reading the Christian Century today, I found myself caught and held by the words of Fred Craddock. Here is the item from their Centurymarks column:


When asked to reflect on why pastors like Ted Haggard fall morally, preaching guru Fred Craddock said that it stems from the fact that many pastors never learn to deal with favorable attention. 'Never at home or in seminary did anyone teach me how to handle applause,' Craddock said. 'You don't think about it when you're coming along because you never imagine yourself getting applause for anything. Then when it happens, you say, Hey, I can get used to this. Pretty soon, you've got to have it. So your surround yourself with people who silently applaud you for one reason or another. And then your life is gone.'


When I was preparing for the ministry, I often sternly asked myself whether or not this was a real vocation or another dramatic role I was taking on as a way to distract myself from other life issues. I was not offended, therefore, when a member of the MFC (Ministerial Fellowship Committee) asked me the same question during my interview/interrogation for fellowship.

I have been in the theatre since I was in elementary school, performing in dozens and dozens of productions and playing a long list of wonderful characters. I have long been aware that performance experience has been a great boon to public ministry, as I have a disciplined use of voice and body that stands me in good stead as a speaker and presider. I can ad lib when necessary. I am comfortable with the choreographed formality of ritual. I know how to breathe when attacked by nerves, and I'm not embarrassed to sing hymns full voice.

But reading Craddock's comments today, I see that my experience as a performer also served me well in another regard: I learned young that applause is just applause -- an ephemeral expression of appreciation that arises out of the exchange of energy and cathartic emotional experience. For the amateur performer, it is the only payment for weeks of serious effort and commitment. Yes, it is exciting and even glamorous. But it is not the foundation of a lasting relationship, and it is most certainly not an antidote to the essential loneliness of the human condition.

Many times I have come home to an empty house or apartment after having entertained hundreds of people on the stage that evening, only to think that by that hour, most every memory of my performance would be utterly gone from those who stood in an enthusiastic ovation at 10:30 p.m. I always savor the intimate moment of the curtain call because I know that within minutes, the theatre will be empty and dead of energy and that I will go home wrung out. Just as in church, they may love you when you're there, but you're going home alone. There is no bitterness in this fact; it is just a fact.
I have to seriously question the basic maturity of any pastor who isn't honestly acquainted with the wide, beautiful and desolate prairie between people's acclaim for a job well done and the true condition of his or her own soul before God. What is our prayer life for but a reflective walk across that prairie, guided by grace alone? If we're not walking that prairie on a regular basis, what in the world do we have to say to our people in the first place that's worth a fig?

Applause doesn't come to a minister or an actor because one is so great. It comes because one is brave and stupid enough to use their talents on behalf of the gods of comedy and tragedy, to enter into the spirit possession that is theatre and ministry, and to conform one's body, mind, soul and spirit to the dictates of their calling. To me, cries of "Brava" often translate as "Thank you for being willing to do this, so that I don't have to!" To which I say, "Thank you for running a company/driving a truck/raising a family/serving in the military/selling insurance/working in a hospital/teaching children so that I don't have to!" Cripes, ministry is among the rare professions that get recognition at all in our culture!

I am stymied by Fred Craddock's disingenuous claim that ministers are never prepared to receive favorable attention. Nonsense! From the moment we announce our intention to pursue the ordained ministry, we receive all kinds of attention, and most of it positive. Oh my, we must be so spiritual. We must be special. We're so exotic. We are warmly congratulated for our first terrible outings in the pulpit. We are paid honoraria and the appreciation of families for muddled eulogies, rambling, incoherent wedding homilies, and botched pastoral counseling sessions. No matter how poor our writing, we get front page of our church newsletters every week. People ask us to pray for them, assuming that our heart is in the right place, that the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts are acceptable in the divine sight. How can Fred Craddock say that we're not prepared for adulation? Any seminarian who is even slightly paying attention will notice that he or she is fairly barraged with unearned praise from the moment we enroll in our M.Div.program. No matter how much we flail about with extended attacks of self-doubt and extravagant insecurites while preparing for ministry, we must know -- musn't we? -- that religious communities mostly want to provoked to deeply admire and esteem their pastor.

So, Fred Craddock, you may be right-- maybe ministers too easily become sad addicts of adulation and attention -- but not because we haven't been led to expect it. Because we've failed to tell the truth about how much applause we get that we don't deserve, and because we're too enamored of martyrdom models of ministry to honestly confront that fact.

I think it's too simplistic to say that Ted Haggard fell from grace because he surrounded himself with starry-eyed fans. Do we actually think he would have made different choices if he had had regular criticism from friends and parishioners? What form of criticism, exactly? And is this to say that it is somehow a congregation or a religious community's responsibility to maintain a pastor's integrity by the magically right combination of praise and critique? How, if that pastor can't or won't hear it?

Applause is a wonderful thing. Everyone craves recognition, praise and thanks. In the ministry, however, we should remember that applause is not so much evidence of our greatness as it is evidence of a good peoples' desire to have a praiseworthy pastor. The only response to applause is to try to live into it, and in doing so, a good dose of fear and trembling is always in order.

we love you

The Wired Word

Does anyone have experience with this Bible study curriculum?

A Methodist pastor friend is using it and likes it a lot.


I would welcome your thoughts and comments.

Notes On A Scandal

Notes On A Scandal
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
Miguelito and I went to see "Notes On A Scandal" last night and found it howling good fun.

It was far more "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane" meets "Fatal Attraction" than I expected, but the performances by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are a delight, and the score by Philip Glass keeps your adrenaline rushing.

This is very high pedigree camp, featuring a 4 star catfight at the climax of the film, and Judi Dench as a deliciously deluded villainess.

I'll be rooting for her and Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep at the Oscars this year.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Call Me Issa."

As long-time readers of this blog may remember, I was mightily miffed when, several years back, I attended a Jane Siberry concert and noticed that the visual motif of her concert tour was the exact same symbol I was wearing on a ring on my finger. I had just purchased the ring in France, and when I spoke to Jane after the concert, I made her a gift of the ring. She said to me, in a very disdainful tone, that she couldn't accept it, as she was trying to "have less things in my life."

The encounter would have gone a lot better if Jane hadn't behaved as though I wasn't proferring a piece of a very ripe Limburger cheese and requesting that she tuck it into her pocket to remember me by.

I got rid of the ring -- its magic was ruined for me -- and moved all of my Jane Siberry CDs to the Siberia of my music collection. It wasn't just her obnoxious tone at the concert, it was my sense that her music was becoming inexcusably pretentious and dull. I still adore "When I Was a Boy" and "Maria," and some of the earlier songs (how can you not love "Everything Reminds Me Of My Dog"?), but my Big Thing for Jane was pretty much over.

So now I read that Jane was really serious about divesting herself of all worldy goods, and for that I commend her for consistency. The part where she renames herself "Issa," however (Arabic for Jesus), worries me a bit. Hey Jane, come home. All is forgiven. Except that hairdo.


He Thought His Ham Was Dry

I know it's sexist of me to say this, and I shouldn't even notice it, but I happen to get a huge kick out of the fact that when we have a big church dinner or luncheon, it's more often than not a team of men in the kitchen.

They even wear aprons. And when it's not men in the Lead Cook position, they're always in there helping. Often in those aprons.
It kills me.

So last night we had this very lovely dinner attended by about 65 people and the man who did most of the cooking was bemoaning the fact that his ham was dry.

It wasn't dry at all. It was moist and delicious, and the entire meal was wonderful. But he thought his ham was dry. When we praised the meal he said, "It could have been better. I thought my ham was dry."

And my God, if he didn't look just like my Baba.

File this under "Church Cuteness."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Here We Go Again

Pirate Cat
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
Just when I thought Ermengarde was doing so well, I noticed a few days ago that she seemed to be squinting her right eye a bit. The squinting was pretty bad today, and the eye is a bit teary.

So I come home tonight from a lovely church event and she's like a little pirate cat, "aaargh, matey!" Looks like the white is pink on that side. I got her playing with the Terrible Horrible White Cotton Snake That Is Really an Oil Lamp Wick, and that seemed to open her eye up a bit, but I swear! She's trying to bankrupt me. This means another trip to the vet, where she probably picked up the problem in the first place.

I think she would look cute in a little eye patch. I keep telling her, one more vet bill and she's going in the North River in a gunnesack full of paving stones.

Noooooo! I would never make my little pirate walk the plank!!

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...

This year's UU Blog Awards were very dramatic and exciting! Thanks UU Updater, for getting the party started!

View the results here: http://uupdates.net/uublogawards/winners/2007

I'm VERY sorry that I didn't nominate anyone, and I'm glad others didn't slack off the way I did.
Thanks to whoever nominated me. I don't really know what the categories all mean (what "class" am I "best" of?), but this was fun, and I admit to compulsively checking the totals a million times a day over the past days. I couldn't tell my friends and family to help out on this one, because very few of them read any blogs at all. So it was you and me, gang! The big difference between this year and last year was that I actually asked for your votes, and you were nice enough to comply.

Here's how it all turned out for PB:

Best Writing Or Theological Commentary, Single Entry ("Squirming On Sunday Mornings")
Best Religious Writing Or Theological Commentary, Best Of Class
Best Anecdote or Narrative, Best of Class
(for PeaceBang's Beauty Tips For Ministers)
Best New Blog (PeaceBang's Beauty Tips For Ministers)
Best UU Themed Blog (barely squeaking by Philocrites, my own favorite)
2nd and 3rd Place in Best Minister's Blog (Deb beat PB in the final hour, but between my two blogs, I got 47% of the total vote! So I'm doing a victory lap on this one, too!)
Best Writing (for Beauty Tips For Ministers)

All of this competition makes me think about the community of bloggers we have all created, and how much I cherish and rely on your own voices out there. I don't read all the UU blogs (how could any of us?) and I confess that I haven't even kept up with all the nominated blogs. But for now, I'd like to mention a few of the many bloggers whose labors of love inspire me and keep me devoted to this conversation:

> The first blogs I read most days are Philocrites and Boy In the Bands. Scott and Chris are my mentors in blogging and have been at it longer and better than anyone. Philocrites is the go-to guy on all the big issues in liberal religion, and I have come to utterly rely on his news flashes and interpretation of important stories. BITB knows everything there is to know about the technical aspects of blogging and is therefore way over my head when he writes on techno-issues, but I love his posts on theology, history, public transportation, life in Washington, DC, and church life. His archives on Universalism are invaluable.
> The Chalice Blog makes me laugh and makes me think. She's a wonderful writer and I love the unexpectedness of her topics.
> I love The Journey and Never Say Never To Your Traveling Self for reminding me that the life of faith is a life of struggle. I think these two are some of the most sincere and emotionally affecting writers in our community.
> A People So Bold always issues a challenge and I love that I can hear Clyde's voice in my head, careful and deep, when I read it.
> The Lively Tradition gets my vote for Best New Blog. We're glad to have you back, LT.
> Unity and Yet Another Unitarian Universalist are my favorite minister's blogs about ministry. I vow to read more of yours, as I know I'm missing some great ones. Kitty, Thom, Deb, Sean... your names come immediately to mind, although I know I'm missing many others.
>Cutest Couple Who Both Have Great Blogs: Jess of Jess's Journal and Obijuan of Returning.
> I'm Listening! And I'm Rooting For You!: Jehovah's Fitness and Mom To The Left.
> Best News From Across the Pond: Reignite.
> Blog That Induces The Heartiest and Guiltiest Snorting: UU Enforcer
> Doug at Free and Responsible Search writes provocative, much-appreciated posts that I really look forward to reading.
> Chutney of Making Chutney and I wrassle a lot, and when I'm not fuming at him I love what he does. I dare say we have a bit of an evil twin thing going on.
>Blog That Most Often Makes Me Say, "You GO, Girl!": The Happy Feminist doesn't post very often, but when she does, she gets my fist pumping in the air. BOOhyeah.
> The Socinian is another who doesn't post very often, but he sure does give us terrific theological commentary when he's got the time. Even if I don't follow the Old English stuff.
> Jeff Wilson's perspective is always welcome in my comments. He provides a tremendous amount of helpful information in concise, on-point form.
> Humbles Me With Smartness Factor, And Way Over My Head (Or "She Blinded Me With Science"): Arbitrary Marks.
Favorite Seminarian Blogs: Left Coast Unitarian and Perigrinato, both of whom should post more often.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: blogging has been a great boon for my manic tendencies, and has spared my friends and family a lot of compulsive e-mailing and calling as I go about my day in ministry. Blogging helps me expel all the extraneous thoughts that battle with things I should be focusing on, and sharpens my professional writing. It has been a great, positive outlet for the pathologically opinionated (c'est moi!) and the easily distracted. It has staved off the loneliness of my house many times when I come in from the bustle of being with my community, and it has spared the cat a lot of one-sided conversations.

So, friends... the cat thanks you, PeaceBang thanks you, and I thank you for reading and for being part of this pioneering experiment in communication, evangelism and virtual community.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Molly Ivins, A True Great

I just learned that Molly Ivins died at 62.

This obit will make you laugh out loud. What a great writer. She will be sorely missed by this reader:


My favorite tidbit:

“There are two kinds of humor,” she told People magazine. One was the kind “that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity,” she said. “The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule. That’s what I do.”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cat Update: Doing Fine

Sweet Girl
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

It looks like this little sweetie is going to be okay. Her lungs are still cloudy but much, much better.
She's going to stay on prednisone for the forseeable future.

Thank you so much for being lovely and supportive during the entire crisis. The doctors made such dire predictions early on that I think I was needlessly traumatized.

I could look at that face all day.

But hey, there's always this robotic cat if anything goes wrong with Ermengarde:


One More Day To Vote

winged victory
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
OOh, so close!

As I said the other day,
"I'm up for Best Religious Writing, Best Anecdote or Narrative, Best UU Themed Blog, Best Minister's Blog and something else."

You can vote here:

Thanks for your support. You're warming ye cockles of my heart.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Oh Lordy.

Yesterday I heard on the news that there were "suspicious devices" found all over Boston. I got nervous. I forgot about it. Today, I learned all about it:


Seems that a clever viral campaign for the Cartoon Network was to blame.

We were terrorized by modified Lite Brites. Welcome to the new millennium.