Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's Not Over 'till the Fat Lady Preaches

This Blog is Over! The Sabbatical is Over! But people keep reading it. Amazing. So, since sabbatical isn't really over until I've managed to write a sermon, and writing this blog entry postpones that task for a few more minutes, I guess...sabbatical isn't over yet.

I was glad to be amongst my people last Sunday, not too unhappy to go to meetings all week, I realized how much I had missed the church staff and how good it was to have a structure of "going to work," and while I managed all my deadlines for orders of service, newsletters, and web page work all week long with no appreciable resistance, I can't seem to get started on this sermon.

There's our new iguana to play with. (yep, IxChel, of beloved memory, has a successor these days, a little fellow we're calling Ninja until he settles down. He needs a good deal of attention and taming, so he's sitting in my study window at the moment, trying to decide if the pigeons outside pose a threat. He doesn't quite "get" glass, yet.) There's a few household tasks. There are several details of the sermon which don't really need to be researched, but, well, anything to put off the actual writing.

But I will start on the sermon, it will be preached on Sunday, and sabbatical really will be over then, so...better subscribe to iMinister

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sabbatical's End

122 days, 86 posts, 2,229 "hits," 9 readers, and it's all over. It's back to work tomorrow. This sabbatical has been a wonderful time to explore the internet. Blogs, MP3 players, Website design, Multi Site churches, Amazon Associates, Trauma ministry, GA, retreat' it's been quite a sabbatical. And on top of that, my "non-job" ministry to ministers took me to two retreats, several group meetings, and gave me a task for GA 's Ministry Days. Family and Friends got a little more of me than they might have otherwise, including the arranging of two huge parties (what was I thinking!....but they were both great) to honor my Dad's 80th birthday and a favorite teacher's retirement. And I was so grateful to have been around to be completely a part of our family's grieving for our dying iguana, and glad to have been able to easily take a day (yesterday!) to drive to Las Cruces and pick up a little iguana who was found in a tree by the dog catcher. He's too skittish to come out for photos yet, but he's a cute little fellow and we have high hopes for him.

So the sabbatical was not exactly lazy days, and in spite of that, it's over. I return to work eager to get going on some of the projects I've been thinking about, to see the people I missed, and to get some structure back into my life again. I am grateful for this time. It so enriches my ministry and my life.

This is the last post of this blog, so if you want to keep up with my doings, click here to go to iMinister.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missing Sabbatical Already

Because, if it weren't sabbatical, I couldn't spend an hour with my son looking at the pictures of this astounding church built all of Legos. Check it out yourself, if you're on sabbatical, here.

75,000 lego bricks, of which more than a thousand are minifigs. There's even a lovely dedication sermon. She says it cost less than her car and took her a year and a half of "tv time." Amazing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Real Job Jitters

The Newsletter came out yesterday, and it's official. I'm preaching on the 9th and the 16th. I have a sudden thought that takes me back to Seminary, "Will I have anything to say?"

I discovered at GA that my feet were out of shape for dress shoes; after 4 months of wearing them only once or twice for an hour or so at a time, that a day of walking around a convention center (not to mention the second day! Ouch!) that they had gone soft and protested the exercise by producing blisters. Am I similarly out of shape at the "passing of life through the fire of thought" that is sermon writing?

I don't remember either consequence of past sabbaticals, and this feels rather alarming. The only cure, I suppose, is to get with it and start writing, but I'm trying to keep these last Sabbatical days somewhat free. I'm tying up loose ends today; returning books to their rightful owners, enjoying friends, cleaning up, and putting finishing touches on my new blog, iMinister. Better bookmark that one...this one is about to go away!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bridging Out of Sabbatical

The youth and young adults of our denomination speak of their transitions, into the Hight School group, out of high school and into the Young Adult group, as Bridging, and they hold bridging ceremonies to mark the passage. Ministers, whose career passages are marked at GA at the Service of the Living Tradition, speak these days of "walking," as in "I'm walking this year! Final Fellowship at last!" This language, and the huge importance put on this ritual is new since my day. I once tried to convince the folks in charge of the SLT that we really were too big for all that walking...not that the SLT is not in a church attended by a hundreds but a convention center attended by thousands, the walking make for very dull worship. But it was made clear to me that whatever changes were made to the SLT, the final result did have to include "walking" because that word has become so iconic.

All that is to say...transitions are really important, and I'm wondering about making the transition back into active ministry after this sabbatical. I need to look into who is doing the service next week; my first week on duty, and see what I can cook up.

In the meantime, I've put sermon titles in for the next Messenger, which required some thinking about sermons, so that makes it official...I'm coming back, and soon.

This blog, therefore, is winding down. In honor of the transition, I'm writing for two blogs at the moment, so go to iMinister to continue the story.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

GA06 Home Again

When I'm spending $350 a day on a conference, I feel the need to go "full tilt," and I arrived at GA on Monday in the late afternoon, set up my Chapel, met friends, stayed out too late, left my hotel at 6:40 Tuesday and Wednesday and didn't get back to my room until after 10PM. But I can't do that day after day any more, so this morning, I took a break, packed slowly, read the newspaper, checked out, stashed my luggage with the bell hop of the fancy hotel I hadn't stayed at and asked the concierge to print check my plane reservation and print my boarding pass, and ambled over to the convention center. (These last moves make me feel extremely worldly and sophisticated.) I slipped into a workshop on Spiritual Direction and then went out to lunch with the UU Spiritual Directors who hung around. This emergent interest group got to know each other a bit better and got some business done. This is the sort of thing that would be so hard to do without GA that we have this expensive conference every year and most of those years, grumbling all the way, I go, at least for a while.

I returned to the Exhibit hall to load up on books, talked to one of the Skinner House editors about a book proposal that I put in a few weeks ago with my Lay Leader In Charge of Covenant Groups. (I don't think I ever mentioned that project on this blog, but the Covenant Book Project and the Covenant Groups for the Spiritual Progressives were a major part of this sabbatical.) I ran across my church president...a minor miracle....and we talked for a few minutes about the Satellite Project which will be on the next Board agenda.

I told her that the second most common question I had gotten from my colleagues these past few days, after "how are you?" was, "Tell me about your satellites?" Ken Brown has published his article and is talking up his research, which included an interview with myself and the two laymen who have spearheaded the iMinistry team in Albuquerque. He seems to have left people with the impression that we are farther along on this project than we are. They all want us to forge ahead because they are interested in following. And after all those questions, I'm eager to get back to work and get started.

The trip home was uneventful, in spite of the fact that the gate folks at the airport seemed to be in a near panic about getting us out before thunderstorms grounded us. We got shoved on to the plane and roared out of the gate, only to stop on the runway. Sigh. But it turned out to be good news. We were re-routed to avoid the storms and took off to the first drops of rain. Our spooked pilot only had the seatbelt sign off for about 30 minutes of the two and a half hour trip, which caused great squirming by my four year old row-mate, but it was actually a pretty smooth ride, and after all that, we were only 20 minutes late.

Home, now. 10 more days of sabbatical.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The loneliness of the Long Distance Minister

So now that I'm at GA, I am glad I'm here. It is good to see people I've known for nearly 30 years now. It is good to have faces to attach to names I've known only on email screens. It is good to talk to people who are interested in the things I'm interested in. Covenant Groups. Trauma Ministry, Multi Site churches, Faith Growth. I didn't sleep well last night but enjoyed every minute of the day. It's so easy to forget how good it is to be among colleagues.

This morning's speaker, Sharon Saltzburg, a Buddhist teacher, talked about a Buddhist understanding of growth in Faith. She drew a distinction between questioning faith, which she views as an absolute essential for thinking beings, (The Buddha himself had very stern words for disciples who just swallowed everything he said without questioning, doubt, and skepticism) and "walk away doubt", where the persons attitude towards something they don't believe is not curiosity but an angry, edgy questioning that doesn't want to hear any new answers. Walk away doubt, she said, is a product of fear and hurt, not religious growth. I've certainly heard enough stories of fear and hurt...and have even felt a little myself. It's a hugely important distinction for UU's, who both have a special ministry to the skeptic and the doubter and those in faith transitions, and who are too often captured and stopped by the "walk away doubters," and their fears and religious PTSD. I've got to read Saltzberg's book....

Monday, June 19, 2006

General Assembly

I have to admit that I find General Assembly difficult. Although at one time this week of meetings, workshops, and worship was one of the highlights of my year, the combination of the growth of GA (from around 500 in the 1970's to multiple thousands now) and my own changes have changed this for me. For a few years I went only every few years, and lately I've been only going to the pre-GA ministers meetings, where there are "only" 500 attendees, more useful workshops, and more people I know. Although even that, as I age in ministry and our ministry gets bigger, is changing. Once, I felt that I knew most of my colleagues. When I moved to Albuquerque (way out in the sticks, UU-wise) and had a baby, I pulled out of all of those committees and work groups at which one meets new people, and the price for that, very necessary move, is isolation. And that makes GA a nightmare of required extroversion for this introvert. GA, even minister's days, is not the time to meet people. The very best one can do is catch up with old friends. So, that is what I will do.

I have a chapel to last year of that little chore. I have several "dates" already to meet with persons and groups. I've got a knitting project to get me through the endless meetings, and the cereal bars and apples to keep me fed without spending megabucks (or any more megabucks...this, in my case, 4 day jaunt is going to cost nearly $1,000 already) or more importantly, without having to eat mega-calorie restaurant food for four days. Once I get there, I'll enjoy my week. Really, I tell myself, Really.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sabbatical's End

I have to lead a couple of services at GA, for which I need to have come chants on CD. I could have taken four CD's to GA with me, and if past experience serves, I would have left at least one of them there. But I've learned so much in this sabbatical that I made my own GA CD! Four chants from CD's one downloaded from the internet! Too Cool. Even more cool...the downloaded CD was too short. It needed to cycle the chant at least four more times to be perfect for my purposes.

My son has been editing videos using free software he found on the internet. I once watched someone edit a sound file. If there's free video software, there must be free audio software. I can do this, too!

And three hours later, so I have done it. I play the CD I made and do I feel MASTERFUL!

And also purchased a license, I'll have you know. We can use this same chant for Pet Sunday in August. (All of Us Belong at, in case you're looking for Animal Sunday music...)

And while the CD was burning, I polished off a Suduku puzzle, a part of my sabbatical which I've not mentioned on this blog.

What has been exercised on this sabbatical is the mathematical, technical side of my brain, no doubt about that. It's something I have a distinct talent for, but rarely use. (I'm the sort of person who, standing around listening to a family talk to a salesman at Home Depot, when they say, "We want 39 panels and they are $29 a piece, so how much will that be?" and the salesman says, "Sorry I don't have my calculator," and I say, "about $1200" and they all look at me, stunned. I can't help it. My brain just works that way. 39 times 29 is about the same as 40 times 30. )

Today is my last "regular" sabbatical day. The weekend cometh, GA follows, and the week after that will be catching up and transitioning. I'll be writing about that transition on this blog, but "sabbatical blogging" is about over. Check out my "regular" blog, iMinister which will take off as this one ends. It already has a test post, a Freudian slip comment, and it's first "real" post, and it's ready for email subscriptions.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Conduct of War

I spent an enjoyable and enlightening few days knitting and listening to Tony Hillerman's reflection on his life Seldom Disappointed a few weeks ago. Like most memoirs, it focused on his early life and in his case, on his formative experiences as a soldier in WWII. He described a lot of hurry up and wait, a lot of inefficient management, a lot of pain, a lot of discomfort, a lot of hard work, and several of the images of the horror of war that still haunt his dreams. What he didn't describe was anything like this, which comes from last week's Newsweek and describes an aspect of military life in Iraq.

'The Marines know how to get psyched up for a big fight. In November 2004, before the Battle of Fallujah, the Third Battalion, First Marines, better known as the "3/1" or "Thundering Third," held a chariot race. Horses had been confiscated from suspected insurgents, and charioteers were urged to go all-out. The men of Kilo Company-honored to be first into the city on the day of the battle-wore togas and cardboard helmets, and hoisted a shield emblazoned with a large K. As speakers blasted a heavy-metal song, "Cum On Feel the Noize," the warriors of Kilo Company carried a homemade mace, and a ball-and-chain studded with M-16 bullets. A company captain intoned a line from a scene in the movie "Gladiator," in which the Romans prepare to slaughter the barbarians: "What you do here echoes in eternity."'

That there were some atrocities and dehumanization of the enemy during WWII I have no doubt. You can't have a war and the pressures of war without them. But this is what the military thinks it has to do to get soldiers to fight in Iraq.

So let's just say this out loud.

This is not war. This is sick. It's not what you have to do to psych people up to do what needs to be done. It is what you have to do to psych people up kill without cause in a war without justification which has no discernible end.

I am so ashamed to be an American today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How To Blog

A couple of people have asked me lately how to get started in blogging. It's really pretty easy.

Go to and follow the directions to get an account etc. (Blogger is affiliated with Google, so don't be afraid to give your real name)

Pick out a template.

Write a trial post and click on "view blog" to see how it looks!

Most templates have an "about me" section. Click on that, and you'll see the "edit" button. You can decide what you want to share about yourself, and there are instructions as to how to upload a photo. Most people don't use photos, rather they use symbols or icons of some kind. Your photo will not only appear on your blog, it will appear when you leave comments on other blogger blogs. If you want a real photo, it has to be small, because only a certain file size is allowed.

Now check out your settings by returning to the page that has the "posting" "settings" etc. tabs. Click on settings.

Add a few lines of description to your title. I suggest you click on "yes" for public...that way all kinds of folks will visit your blog. If you click no, then only people who type in your address can find your blog. Under Formatting can determine how dates and such look and set the time. Leave everything else for now. Under comments, if you want others to comment, change the setting to anyone, and put your email address at the bottom; that way you'll be notified by email whenever anyone comments on your blog.

Most bloggers just start blogging, but if you want to do a couple of more things, you'll personalize your blog. Go back to the screen that shows the posting, setting tabs and click on template. These are the instructions that make your blog look and act like it does. Every change you make can be tested by clicking on "preview" at the bottom. If you don't like what you see, click on clear edits and you're safe.

BLogger templates all have a section in the right column called "links", and you'll either want to eliminate that category or add some links that you the church website, for instance. If you click on the word, "Edit Me", you'll find instructions as to how to do this. If you don't want to add links, you can eliminate the entire section.

As to how to give your blog a subscription service, so people can get it by email, for that you go to, create an account, then click on "Syndicate a new feed for others to receive by email." When it asks for the url, you get it at settings/site feed. Copy the blue URL and paste it in the Feedblitz form.

Now, Feedblitz will tell you to copy about 5 lines of HTML Code and paste it into your template. I suggest you put it in the right hand column, right under your profile.

Go back to your blog template, go to the bottom and start to scroll up. YOu are looking for a line that says, among other things, 'End Profile'
Paste your Feedblitz code on the next line.
Press "preview" to see what you did. If you like it, press save. If you don't, move it around.

The Blogger Help files will talk you through the rest. Have fun!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reptile Pets

My colleague Marilyn Sewell writes about an Oregonian who is is being hassled by the city of Portland because he keeps three alligators for pets. (link) And while I have no reason to quibble with the thought that dangerous animals should not be permitted in residential areas where they might hurt someone (in which category I place pit bulls) I take firm exception to her egregious dissing of reptiles.

Our late iguana IxChel couldn't roll over and, unlike many iguanas, didn't like to go out of the house for walks. But she seemed to know her name, definitely recognized her family, (and had us well trained) came out of her cage and begged for bread crusts at dinner time (by politely scratching my leg,) and appreciated the warmth of a human chest and shoulder on a chilly day. None of those things quite qualify as emotions on her part, but they definitely did elicit feelings on our part. Her back yard burial was the saddest I've been in a long time. There is no doubt that she was connected to us, and we to her, and that is love.

So maybe alligators, like pit bulls, are too dangerous to have in residential neighborhoods. But that doesn't mean that Mr. Brown doesn't love Chomper, Hisser, and Snapper, and that they may not, in their dim reptilian brains, love him too.

Goliath and Guantanamo

What would you do if you were tossed in prison, perhaps after falling in with the wrong crowd, perhaps after actually doing something wrong, perhaps simply by mistake? You'd hope for release for a while, no doubt, but if you came to the conclusion that you were being held by a power that answered to no system of law or justice, that you would probably never be charged with a crime or have a trial, you might try desperate means, such as hunger strikes to bring your plight to the attention of the world. And if that failed to change your situation, you might, in the end, commit suicide.

I can imagine thinking along those lines, and empathize with the three Guantanamo Bay detainees who did just that yesterday. May they rest in peace. May their lives and deaths be not wasted.

President Bush said some words about the importance of humane and culturally sensitive treatment of these detainees, apparently forgetting that the beginning of "humane" is justice and hope. One US official dismissed this loss of life with a "they were just trying to be martyrs," line. The general in charge of the compound called these suicides "an act of asymmetric warfare." If asymmetric warfare means that there's a Goliath and there's a David, well, then I can see the general's point. Not that a man hanging by a sheet in a cell is exactly equivalent to warfare. Not that I like identifying with a Goliath so huge, mean, and out of control that only a little boy with a slingshot and the God of Justice on his side can bring him down. But that is the way it is.

I have three more weeks of sabbatical, and one of those weeks will be at GA, so the end of this time apart is near. Part of me is eager to return to my active ministry. Part of me likes working in her jeans and puttering amongst websites. And part of me dreads returning to a position in which I will be expected to comment on the state of our world, the morality of our nation, and the ethics of the lives we lead.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I love my ears

I started out in life as a classical musician, and we were warned on all sides to take care of our hearing by staying out of rock concerts and wearing ear protection when around machinery. We protected our ears like ballet dancers protect their leg muscles. "Tiny little hairs in your ear are all that lies between you and hearing aids," we were told, "Don't blast them off."

The relatively quieter vocation of ministry reinforced this message, as I was aware of older congregants getting hearing aids and confiding that they were better than not hearing, but only by a hair. I use noise canceling headphones like I use sunscreen...for basic body care.

So I was chagrined to realize that my cute little ipod had damaged my ears. It was an accident. I was trying to walk and increase the pace of the music (something an MP3 player can do without changing the pitch of the music), and somehow, I was turning up the volume bit by bit. Then I walked for at least another half hour without even realizing how loud my music was. My ears have not been quite the same since.

My son tells me that earbud type earphones, which sit in the ear canal, are more likely to damage ears than earphones that stay outside the ear. Makes sense. And he also tells me that better quality, more expensive earphones are less likely to damage hearing because one is less likely to need to turn them up. (So we go out and buy new, better earphones for him, too. The kid knows his mom!)

I have also discovered that the duration of loud sounds is just as important as the loudness, and that the reason audiologists are alarmed about ipods etc. is not just that they are played too loud, but that they are played for hours on end. OK. The ipod is for exercise only.

The moral of the story: You only have so many little hairs in your ears, and no miracle of modern science can replace them adequately. Be Careful!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Church Websites

I've looked at a lot of church websites, lately, collecting ideas for our new website. And after listening to the volunteer who is doing this for us (she's a pro...we're so fortunate!) I am beginning to understand what works and doesn't work about church websites.

We're redoing our website in part because we originally built it for our own internal use, thinking that volunteers would check bylaws, read the newsletter, and that sort of thing. But it has become clear that our "insiders" prefer their usual way of getting information and the people who check our website are visitors, people looking for sermons, and other "outsiders." As one who has prowled websites of churches in various denominations looking for those kinds of things, I can start with my pet peeves.

  1. Do you know how many church websites don't give their city name? Nice website, but I have NO IDEA where you are, First XX church, St. Somebody's, etc.
  2. Links that don't work are the scourge of the web in general. The first questions after "can we make this page," should be, "who will maintain this page?"
  3. Nobody but you knows what UU, MYF, OWL, etc. stands for, and lots of people don't know what words like "ministries" and "stewardship" mean. I spent almost 15 minutes looking through a church website for an RE article I remembered seeing because there were no obvious menu links until I finally realized that this church uses the phrase, "family life", to mean "programs for children." Most people, especially most of the people we UU's tend to appeal to, HATE feeling stupid or not "in the know." Pay somebody not in your church to go through your website and point these things out to you. (and have them go through your order of service and listen to your announcements while they are at it.)

A few of other things I've learned.

  1. Unless your building is a landmark in your town, you don't need lots of pictures of it. Very few people are attracted to buildings. They are attracted to people, especially people like themselves, and the easiest way to communicate to lots of different kinds of people that this is a church for people like them is to pay attention to the diversity in your pictures. But they have to be the right kind of pictures. The person who is re-doing our web page has very specific instructions for the website photographs. They must be pictures of several people doing something together, at least one of whom is looking at the camera. She found such a picture (above) to demonstrate to me how incredibly enticing it is, and since then I have gone through my church website searching cringing at the terrible pictures most churches use, which are either groups of persons doing something but you can't tell what it is or see their faces, which is off-putting, or are posed with everyone staring at the camera (something most people can't pull off), which is also offputting. My website designer says that good website photos are staged. They just don't look staged.
  2. One of the things people are going to do is check the DIRECTIONS on your website from their CELL PHONES. So your website has to automatically resize itself, and the directions should be prominent. And if it's not completely obvious where to park and where to go once one is on the property, you need those directions, too.
  3. Another thing people are going to do is PRINT THE MAP. My website designer has actually designed the "map" page with a street map, a campus map, the service times, phone numbers, and a "we'll be so glad to see you," message. It's designed to be printed out, and it has everything a person would need. Neat, yes?
  4. She has also emphasized that our Ministry to Newcomers begins, not when they walk in the door, but when our site loads on their computer. She wants them to leave the site feeling like they spiritual needs, not just their informational needs, were met. Much of that will be done with a couple of paragraphs from the minister...and this minister is puzzling over that assignment. More on that tomorrow

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Internet Connections

Today my Psalms Blog was visited by a Lutheran contemporary hymn writer, I got an email from a woman from my first congregation whom I've not seen for 22 years, and corresponded with an animal shelter from a town 200 miles from here which has an adoptable iguana. He knew we wanted to adopt because I'd left a note on shelter websites in several cities. My old congregant found me experimenting with Google. I don't know how the Lutheran Hymn writer who is trying to compose contemporary versions of the Psalms found the Psalmic ruminations of a Unitarian Universalist Feminist Ecologist Blogger, even with the magic of the internet, but he did. Who knows, maybe some of my interpretations of the Psalms will inspire a new generation of Lutherans.

The magic of the internet. I first heard of it in 1991...I remember that because I had to leave the presentation of the library board to pick up my baby from day care. (he's 6'3' now!) The librarians were getting all excited about how this new fangled internet would allow people to search the catalogue from home and have books sent from branches across the city to their local branch. I could bend my mind around the networked catalogue (although I thought that their time table was wildly unrealistic) The rest sounded like sheer science fiction. If they had said that by the time the baby was in high school the internet would connect me with new pets, old friends, and fellow Psalm enthusiasts, I would have thought they had been sniffing library paste.

It all happened, and more. I don't think I've been in the downtown library since I got off the library board. I do most of my research on the internet now. I do a good deal of pastoral care by email and a lot of church administrative work. Soon we will embark on forming groups of UU's in scattered communities who will be primarily connected to their Albuquerque church by internet. The church web site has become its primary outreach to new members. Ipodding, wikki'ing, and MySpace are a dizzying reality in the ministerial world. These technologies are not time-savers, they are ministry extenders. The learning curve is steep. It's been good to have a sabbatical to really dig in.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Life with Earphones

Did I mention that I bought an MP3 player last month, to further explore modern life? Not only that, but I succeeded in downloading some music I hadn't listened to in a long time because (blush) I only had it on records. Now I have these albums in my computer. I also have copied in my entire (modest) collection of CD's, and downloaded a bunch of sermons and radio shows. Then I coied all that (all that!) to my MP3 player, which weighs about 6 ounces and is a little bigger than a bic lighter. The whole ensemble is quite a bit easier to manage than a Walkman and I can see that this is a technology that is here to stay. There are a few things my MP3 player will not do, and my son has encouraged me to upgrade and let me know that he'd be glad to soothe my "waste not want not" conscience by putting the old one to good use. (He can use it to transfer his massive graphics files from home to school.) Birthday season is comming up, so we'll see. In the meantime, I've been doing my daily rounds and exercising to the company of good music and fascinating words, and feeling, if I do say so myself, downright hip.

I have been one who has deplored the youth culture of walking around with earphones in and ipods on all the time, but I have made some interesting discoveries as I walk the world with earbuds in my ears.

  1. Walking Albuquerque's busy, noisy, right-on-the-curb sidewalks is much nicer with earphones. I was aware of how much I didn't like walking busy streets like Wyoming and Montgomery...I hadn't realized that it was because of the noise. Listening to my music rather than to the roar of traffic makes the walking experience much nicer.
  2. I can hear people who are talking to me perfectly well even with earphones in and music on. What I can't do is concentrate on what is being said to me. But I'm just an old lady. The younger generation probably can.
  3. It turns out to be true that it is easy to let the volume creep up and do damage to your ears, especially with earbud type earphones. I'm living with tender ears the last couple of days, and am going to buy the earpad type of earphones next time.
  4. Listening to music while doing errands and indoor exercising is a great enhancement of life, and so is walking to music adjusted to the right pace. If I do my whole neighborhood walk to music, I miss the sounds of the city; the birds, the children, the splashing water of backyard pools and fountains.

You may think that all this technoexploration has gone to my head and I'm hopelessly hooked on being hooked to gadets, that I've turned into a computer potato and a blogger head, so let me assure you that, while there is some truth to the computer potato accusation, I have retained my ability to discriminate between what gadgets are really useful and which ones are for show or actively detractive in one's life. Contrarian that I am, I still put the cell phone in the later category, and I don't have one.

Boomer/GenX Ministers

A month or so back, one UU blogger was concerned that GenX ministers were not getting good positions in the search process and there was a bit of a debate about the relative qualities of the two generations, with stereotypes being thrown around which wouldn't have passed P.C. muster over a racial or sexual divide but have just enough validity over a generational divide. But not enough validity for my tastes, especially as it was my generation that was being dissed in the discussion.

I commented, and one of my favorite UU Bloggers responded a few days later, and I only just found it. The whole debate was so long ago that I thought I'd try to resurrect it here. After a comment in which I had called "nonesense" the notion that it takes a young minister to minister to young people, Peacebang, a Gen X minister, said this:

've been thinking a lot about what Christine says, and it's taken me a few days to articulate why I think she makes a valid point but not an entirely persuasive one. The issue, as I see it, is not whether or not Boomers can minister to younger people (or, for that matter, whether or not Gen Xers can minister to elders!). It's more about whether or not a specific generation has the ability to bring a fresh perspective to institutional leadership, not pastoral ministry.
Some of the questions I have for Boomer ministers are,
(1) when can we stop hearkening to the 60's as the great era of social change, when it's so long ago and there's still so much change necessary? (2) When are we going to accept that the things that were spiritually thrilling for your generation are now being questioned as cultural appropriation, ahistorical and often just not my generation's cup of tea? (3)Why are UU women my age still accused of not "understanding" feminism when we reject goddess thealogies as our primary religious orientation, and "selling out to the patriarchy" when we become Theists or Christians who embrace a Father God (and this is more linguistic than conceptual: we just aren't that hot under the collar about inclusive language)? (4)
How can we all do better at realizing that when we talk about economic justice for the poor, there is an entire population of 20-somethings graduating from college with crippling amounts of educational debt unbeknownst to previous generations, astronomical housing costs unknown to us when we were that age, and the prospect of never being able to retire? How should that change our institutional leadership styles and our class assumptions? (5) Are Boomer leaders ready to hear that young adults hunger for religious *experience* rather than Conversations About Religious Experience? And that ritual, religious language and spiritual practices that an older generation(s) still vehemently reject (unless its something exotic and Eastern) are not so anathema to our young adults?

There are many more, and of course I realize that I'm making generational generalizations, but they're based on a lifetime in UUism and a fairly broad geographic experience, as well as attention to latest studies. I say this not to throw down the gauntlet but to encourage conversation.

To this, I replied:

Well, Peacebang, as a mid-boomer, I have to say that I've experienced most of what you have as a gen-x'er. I'm actually too young to have experienced the heady successful days of the 60's and am more aware of the painful and dissipated end to that era. I came to understand some of the issues of cultural appropriation some years ago and cringe at Goddess fundamentalism just as much as to any other kind. (including cultural appropriation fundamentalism which would leave every faith isolated in history and culture.) I've spent most of my career (and it's a long one, as I was a very young whippersnapper in my early ministry) trying to help spiritually skittish UU's come to embrace and speak about their spiritual experiences. And I don't think that I'm alone in many of these things in my boomer colleagues. Isolated out here as I am, I only know a few gen x ministers well, but I'm not really sure that their approaches to these issues are fundamentally different from mine.

I certainly agree with your list in the sense of the issues facing our denomination as a whole, but believe me, these issues pre-date the boomer generation. Frankly, but I think your real "adversary" in these things is not a generation of ministers but the UU Establishment Mindset, which comes in all generations. And revolutionaries (or more accurately in my case, slow and steady change agents) come in all ages, too.

And now, on reflection, I want to add two things. Firstly, that Peacebang's and my similarities from our life-long UU affiliation might outweigh our generational difference and secondly, that if there's a generational change here, perhaps it is from the ethos of the Silent Generation (which grew up during WWII), which the boomers began and the x'ers will continue, and the y's and Millenials will rail against in their middle and old age.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Remembering Our Beloved Dead

The Mosaic on the Memorial Wall
at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque

Today I did something a minister on sabbatical is not supposed to do....I went to my church. I went because after church there was a brief service of memory around our Memorial Wall. This wall (it's also a cinerarium and holds the mingled ashes of our deceased members) is two years old and has on it 27 names of church members and friends. Many have died during the past two years, but some names have been added from long ago. I've been here 18 years, and actually, I knew all but two of the 27.

So each Memorial Day, we pass out sheets with names and a sentence or two each of the persons whose names are on the wall, and these are read, one by one, sometimes by family members, sometimes by friends, sometimes by strangers who are still connected to them through the church. Families of the deceased often attend as well as friends, our older members who must be thinking that their names will be on this wall some day, and the curious or, most touching to me, people who have a sense that if they belong to a church, they belong to its history.

I knew I wanted to go to this short service, but I did not expect to be so moved by it. Of course, in the past, I've been the one conducting it, worrying about it, wondering if the ritual "worked" and if people were too hot in the sun. David was in charge this year. I just got to feel.

In 18 years I've buried about 100 people; that's not a lot as ministerial careers go, but I knew most of them and I felt rather overwhelmed just from hearing about 27 of them today. From still-born babies (3) to young mothers (3), to suicides and those who refused treatment for terminal illnesses (more than a dozen, two of which can still haunt me if I'm in the mood to feel guilty) to the very elderly, one national figure (a Columbia Astronaut) some people who hadn't liked me and a couple who had actively hurt me, and mostly dear and wise older members who I cared about was a journey.

I came home and went through my memorial service files.

I've had a couple of strange Memorial Services; I remember one in particular in which ...woops, I've done four services for young mothers, and this was the third in one summer....anyway the deceased's father-in-law came to the memorial service dressed in shorts and acted generally as if he was at a family reunion, and the deceased's partner spent the entire service and reception tending to their newborn baby. Grief is singular, and people work through it in many ways.

I learned long ago to pay no attention to an out-of-town family's estimate of how many people would come to a service; I learned that for the last time when a family told me, "He was bi-polar, never married, had no job, no friends, totally sad and wasted life, so it will be just us." But the Funeral Home parking lot was full; the entire chapter of the Albuquerque Bi-Polar Society showed up and after listening to the family's depressed eulogies came to the podium one by long-winded one and told that family that their son had been a cherished and valued member of a very valuable group. I felt like the family needed to hear this, and the Bi-Polar folks needed to say it, and let the service go on for two hours. At the end the flumoxed Funeral Home Fellow said, "I've uh...never done a Unitarian service before. Are they uh all this long?"

They're mostly under an hour. And I, having listened to the stories of family and friends to prepare, often listen to family and friends give prepared or extemporaneous eulogies, and think, "I wish I had known him better, I wish I had known her longer." And then (since Memorial services are almost always added to an already full week,) must move on to the next task of my days. It was good to remember.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Great Transformation

My next reading project will be Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation". (see the sidebar)The transformation in question is the birth and development of several of the world's great religions during just a few centuries of human history, and the near contemporaneous lives of some of the greatest religious figures in history in the middle and far East. I listened to Armstrong's "Buddha" on tape last month, and she mentioned this work over and over, so...
here goes. Want to read it with me? We could have a little book group right on this Blog!

Federal Marriage Amendment

Last year, attempts in the congress to ban Gay Marriage failed miserably. Public Opinion Polls show increasing acceptance of same sex realtionship, which is what one might expect in our "live and let live" society. None-the-less, it seems that the Rebublicans think that it is to their benefit to fight this one out in congress again this year. Not only do I think that they are incorrect, I think that they are wrong.

I'm not worried. It's not easy to ammend the Constitution, even when the tide of public opinion is favorable (remember the Equal Rights Ammendment?) The Federal Marriage Ammendment is another diversionary tactic.

One of these days, this nation's conservatives are going to wake up to how they have been used, and that will be a bitter day for them and the rest of us will have very short toungues and blood-stained teeth.

It would be too much to hope that someone could make lemonade from all these lemons and go back to the Founders vision of separation of Church and State on this issue. Right now religion and state are uncomfortably twined in the marriage issue.

But what I really want is for a separation of Church and State on the Marriage issue. I want the religious aspects of who qualifies to be married to be left to the different faiths. (opposite sex? non divorced? virgin? of the same faith? Only after 6 months of counselling? My own qualification is that there has to be a congregation own little theological ideocyncracy). In these days of proliferating ministries and churches, the couple could shop 'till they dropped if they wanted a religious wedding.

As to the state's interest in family formation, for identity, tax, and child protection issues, for the state's interest, you get family change form and register as a couple. That way, it is always a state official and not a minister, who checks identities and signs the thing to make it legal. The 19th century notion that all ordained persons could be trusted to be agents of the state and know who they were marrying is, let's just say, out of date.

Registered Couples could unregister with the same legal protections for children and both partners which are now in place for divorce, but divorce, too, would be considered a religious word and divorce granted, or not, by those religious bodies which wanted to be involved.

Some protections, responsibilities, and benefits would be given to legally registered couples, for instance, the right to make medical decisions for the other person, tax liabilities, etc. Other protections and benefits would be offered, perhaps, only to "married" couples, for instance, some companies might decide to only offer family benefits to "married" persons and not to those who are simply "registered." It's already clear that many large companies are seeing the benefit to themselves of honorong their employee family obligations and are alreay offering benefits to non-married couples. They have the difficulty of dealing with the distinction between committed relationships and casual ones....a state registration procedure would be of assistance to these employers.

Now, we'd still have to fuss with the fundamentalists who don't want Gays to have any official sanction of their relationships but that would be easier without the word "marriage" in the way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

God, Bless America

I've always loved the patriotic hymn, "God Bless America." Written quickly at the outbreak of WWII, it's not a brilliant poem, but it is a simple, heartfelt prayer for God's blessing in a frightening time.

Note, it is a request for blessing, not a statement of fact, something that is lost in the "God Bless America" bumper stickers which should read, "God, bless America" In asking for a blessing the petitioner is making a humble request for something desired, deserved, rather than demanding a boon that is one's by right. Unfortunately, the phrase is often used exactly that way, which is a theological and cultural travesty. But that's not what Irving Berlin meant it to be. He meant it to be a real prayer, addressed to God, not about God's work.

The subject of fright was a straightforwardly dangerous world in 1943, whereas today the subject of our fright is our own runaway national executive, our national disinclination to curb our lifestyle to deal with debt or climate warming, and whiffs of globalizing change. None the less, this prayer for blessing and guidance in this time in which, by the measure of any of the world's faiths, especially Christianity, we are seriously astray, is just as pertinent as it was 60 years ago. It will be my prayer on this Memorial Day weekend.



Bless America, land that I love,

(although I know that we're not living up to our ideals right now and for that I ask pardon, but this request for a blessing is not for our current messy reality, but for the ideal and promise of America.)
Stand beside her, and guide her (for we need all the guidance we can get)
through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies
to the oceans white with foam,
God Bless America, our home
(and the home of what is best in our hearts) sweet home.
May it be So

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Encouraging Ministry

A couple of weeks ago, I further entered the blog world by hooking up with Technorati, a service which provides a number of tools for bloggers, for instance, the "search this blog" function you might have noticed a the bottom of the sidebar, tag names which somehow help blog publicity, and the ability to search the world of blogs. With no real intent, I set things up to tell me whenever anyone in the world of blogs uses the word Unitarian in their blog. Everytime I log on, I get a list of about 20 new blogs with "unitarian" mentioned.

About half of the blogs are from Unitarian Universalists and their institutions, but only half. The other half are the ones that interest me. Most of the remaining are from people commenting that they have taken a wildly popular Beliefnet "What's your religion Quiz" which gives results in percentages (77% Unitarian Universalists, 20% Buddhist, 3% Christian), and therefore really gets our name out. So these bloggers are commenting, not always positiviely, but usually with curiosity, on their "religious results". There are a few others. Yesterday, a young man who is the president of his senior class in a small town in Kentucky, was agonizing over the fair way to handle the traditional graduation prayer now that the class has a Muslem student. An exceedingly thoughtful young man whose Blog will make us all hopeful about the coming generation.

If you check out the blog, you'll see that I left an encouraging comment. I've been doing that on several blogs a day these past few days. Most blogs are written by young people, and it appears to me that they could use some encouraging and guiding words as they go about their religious quest. Would anyone care to join me in this interesting little ministry? If you're internet savvy enough to read this blog and follow the links elsewhere, you can do it, too!

Unitarian Jihad

A year ago, a column appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle which set off an internet storm of publicity for Unitarian Universalism which we old fogies are still struggling to assimilate. Jon Carroll's "Unitarian Jihad" column generated more internet interest in Unitarianism than all the advertising dollars spent in the history of the Association. In the column, Carroll gently spoofs our earnest and not always very savvy effectiveness while lambasting the Fundamentalist values which are undermining the civic values on which we all still base our national identity. He's one angry, hopeful, man.

So get out your hankies and have a listen to a speech he gave to a UU group in the Bay area, in which he reads and comments on his column. Get ready to gird on your sword of moderation and save the world at the end. (Thanks to Philocrates not only for this latest link, but for using last year's internet buzz to quickly place some Google adds and demonstrate that a very small amount of money can produce results on the internet.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Da Vinci's Mary Magdaline

II was asked on Tuesday if I'd be willing to speak to a reporter working on a big special on the Da Vinci Code and said sure...but one never called. I learned a long time ago to have a prepared speech for reporters to give no matter what silly question they asked, so, since I won't be quoted in the Journal, here are my sound bites and answers to the questions I thought I might get:

Did you read the book?

Sure did! Great Fiction. Couldn't put it down. Very entertaining piece of FICTION.

What do you think of his assertion that Jesus and Mary were married?

That Jesus, like virtually every Jewish male of his day, was probably married is not something that shocks Unitarian Universalists (though I think it more likely that he married a local girl at age 17 and that she had died, probably in childbirth, by the time he began his ministry some 15 years later.) That the church as an institution would have had its own philosophical and doctrinal reasons for suppressing this doesn't surprise UU's either. But Brown did just what he accuses the church of doing, which is truncating what we know of Mary Magdalene to fit a worldview. In the church's case, the world view is anti-sex. In Brown's, the world view is "women as vessel of man's seed." What we know of Mary Magdalene is that she was not a prostitute (he got that right) and that she was a RELIGIOUS LEADER in the early church, one of the first apostles. That's why she is an important and interesting figure. Brown truncates what we know from Biblical and extra-biblical sources --Mary Magdalene’s power and vision, and concentrates, not even on her personal relationship with Jesus, but on her womb. She's promoted from prostitute to vessel of Jesus' seed. And that's pretty disappointing.

Why do you think some religious people are boycotting the movie and do you approve of that?

I approve 100% of people spending their money in accordance with their values and urging others to do the same. And I do understand why some people are offended by this movie. Not only does it shock traditional religious sensibilities, it fictionally accuses the church of lack of integrity and murderous corruption.

Are you going to see the movie?

Not until it gets to the dollar theater

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

LiveStrong Day

Lizard Eater writes in her blog that today is LiveStrong Day, a day for those living with Cancer to celebrate their strength. Lizard Eater, whose year old daughter was diagnosed with kidney cancer and has been blogging about her journey with her daughter, suggests that we all blog about our cancer story today.

I don't remember quite when it occurred to me that I wasn't "living with cancer" any more. It was probably about three years out, since I had a kind of cancer that, if it was going to come back would evidence itself within two years. So once the two years was over, I was able to relax. (It took a year or so to practice "relaxing.") And by that time, I had gotten on with new adventures in my life, some difficult, some wonderful, and there seemed to be only a few "cancer knots" left to untie. I remember lamenting that that great gift of survivors, of valuing every day and every relationship had faded and I was "back to normal," which is to say, back to taking it all for granted. I was distressed about that until I decided that the gifts of life-threatening episodes are bound to fade, that one can't ask for the gifts of death until one is actually, really facing it.

With that said, I also have to say that my journey with Cancer, mild as it was in the realm of possible journeys with cancer, changed me in such profound ways that I really have no idea who I would be now if I had not had that trial and all that came with it. It was, in the end, one of those terrible learning experiences which we can try to make the most of, and if we do, they will soften into blessings.

That's how it seems now. But I note that the sermon I wrote on my first Sunday back after my second surgery, that I once had much deeper feelings. In honor of the day, here's the ending of that sermon.

There’s a popular saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s good advice for picnics but too simple by half for real life. It doesn’t often happen that life gives you sour stuff and you are able to make a treat out of it. There’s not enough sugar in Jamaica to make a treat out of war, surgery, rape, the death of a beloved parent or the shooting of children. So forget making lemonade out of life’s lemons. Sometimes you can do that but mostly when you get lemons you just get lemons and so you experience "sour".

"Sour", is, after all a part of all that is our life. Life is not of a perpetual picnic but a perpetual opportunity to make the best of what we're given, lemons and oranges and pomegranates and strawberries together; the good and the bad. It’s a matter of finding grace and growing a soul in the midst of it all, of finding, even within adversity, a way to do something meaningful for oneself and something helpful to others; in short, of learning, waiting, and returning to work on what remains.

--The maker moves
in the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seeds will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal. -Wendell Berry

The creative force that we all believe is within us--in our hearts and in our minds, and I believe is without as well, the creative force some think of as God, or goddess, or Spirit or maker, stirs in unmade things, in crisis times, in darkness, in moments of death and rebirth and long healings and grave possibility. The stirring of this force is what brings the new into our lives, and it is not without pain. The difficult, terrible, things that eventually happen to all of us are not put there to make us change, but if we can learn from them or find new possibility in them, the seeds will sprout in our scars, and even the small and large deaths in our lives will be healing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blogging for Books

A lifetime ago, (8 years!) when I was recovering from surgery, I got a get-well card from my church's group of trendy young adults who included an on-line gift certificate to Thus, I made the first internet purchase of my life. It was definitely the highlight of my recovery period, and the start of a whole new lifestyle.

Although I've enjoyed or endured many retail websites since then, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Amazon, which has added a fascinating array of ways to make shopping for books on line better and better and has seemingly been willing to share it's expertice in many ways.

And now I find that persons with websites such as this one can put links to the Amazon books they recommend on their page and if someone clicks that link and buys that book, (or anything else, for that matter) the website owner (me!) gets a commission. So after writing this morning about my friend Alexander Shaia's book, I thought that some people might want to buy it (I'm just being a good friend here!) and one thing led to another and now I'm an official Amazon Associate. If you want to know more about Alexander's book (which I'm preaching on next Fall, by the way) just click the link! If you buy it, or anything else that day, I get an Amazon gift certificate, (better than real money to a bookaphile like myself) and my friend sells a book!

So, it won't be a lot of money, (go ahead...just prove me wrong!) but the church's website could avail itself of this same offer. We UU's buy a lot of books, and I imagine I'm not the only person who buys books on line. (humm...I wonder if I get a commission if I buy books off of my website? That would amount to a tidy discount!) Anyway, I'm a happy guenea pig for this technology.

So, while I'm on a roll, Becoming Human, the other Amazon link, is a book by friend the rector of St. Michaels and All Angels here in Albuquerque. It's that "Religion OF Jesus, not the religion ABOUT Jesus" that we UU's say we respect and follow.

The Begats

I'm reading a fascinating book by my Santa Fe friend, Alexander Shaia, Beyond the Biography of Jesus: The Journey of Quadratos

Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:

"Shaia believes that the four gospels were chosen of the many available to the early church because their writers address and give significant guidance to the four universal stages of spiritual (and indeed, all human) growth, because the gospel writers were not simply writing a biography, but were instead giving the communities for which they were writing guidance, metaphors, and comfort for their situation. The four stages are, first, the beginnings necessitated by the collapse of crucial aspects of our life and characterized by feelings of loss and fear, (Matthew, written for the Christians after the destruction of the Temple), Second, a time of feeling around in the dark for a new path, a time which could be characterized as stormy and difficult (Mark, written for persecuted Christians of the Roman Empire), Times of illumination, spiritual highs, and new insights which fuel our resolution to continue (John), and Fourth, the time of building a new life (a new church) based on the foregoing. (Luke and Acts) This first of two books goes into fascinating and motivating detail about the first two legs of the journey; an upcoming (August 06) book will deal with the second two. It's all very readable and applicable to all kinds of life journeys."

For instance, Shaia writes that the Book of Matthew was written for Christians (who still thought of themselves as a part of the Jewish community) reeling at the destruction of the Temple which had been the center of Jewish life. This kind of feeling of utter shipwreck of one's ideals and centers of value is a common starting place for a spiritual journey.

Matthew's gospel, as you might remember, begins with the often skipped "begats" section; an interminable genealogy which is mostly incomprehensible to moderns. Because I'm one of those moderns it had slipped my notice (this in spite of a seminary course in New Testament) that this is one oddball genealogy. Instead of recording the first sons of the first sons of the great ancestors of Judaism, as might have been expected, it is instead a record of unexpected turns in history, younger sons who were heirs, ner-do-wells that made good, even (gasp) a few women. For instance, one of the ancestors mentioned "David, the Father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah."

How's that, again? Matthew's audience would know the story vividly. Their hero King David once became besotted by the wife of his general Uriah, and not only had an affair with her while Uriah was away fighting David's war, but David gave orders to put him in a situation in which he would surely be killed. God was Not Pleased. None the less, Solomon was born. And here the whole story shows up in the Genealogy of Jesus.

The message: You are a noble people, descended from noble people who have in the past endured strange twists of fate, sinned and were forgiven, and who generally stumbled around in a most human way but continued to be the chosen people. It would be as if one wrote to an American Audience,

You are a noble people descended from the Puritans of New England and the adventurous immigrants from many nations. You are descended from George Washington who held slaves and Thomas Jefferson who had a slave mistress, but who were the framers of a constitution which extended freedom to all people. You are descendents of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age and of the sturdy Union movement which persevered through great persecution. You have inherited the strengths and weaknesses of the Greatest Generation who fought World War II and who sent Japanese Americans to internment camps...and then let them go.

In other words, it would be a quick telling of history emphasizing the sins and repentances, twists and turns, ambiguities and ambivalences, to the end of motivating people living through a terrible time to persevere.

Ok, so here's the question of the day, to which I hope you American History fans will all help me out.

If you were writing such a quick history, what would it include?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spiritual Direction

Sometimes great ideas come already packaged with dreadful names, and "Spiritual Direction" and "Spiritual Director" are near the top of my list. The great idea under the dreadful names is that our spiritual life is often confusing, our spiritual growth is often so subtle that we don't see it, and our spirituality is not something most of us talk about with just anybody. Therefore it is a good thing to have a special relationship with someone who will act as our sounding board, guide, and cheering section, and perhaps offer an occasional caution if we're about take off on that well paved road to hell.

Most religions have a name for this kind of one-on-one relationship. Guru, teacher, and soul friend are three, but the most common in this Christian world is Spiritual Director. This is a well established role in the Catholic and Anglican worlds. The rest of Protestantism is slowly catching on, and the secular world has just discovered Spiritual Direction with the best seller status of a book called, Father Joe, The man who saved my soul, by Tony Hedra. Tony is an agnostic who has a life-long relationship with an extraordinary spiritual director. It's a true story.

But soul saving isn't really what spiritual directors do, any more than they direct anyone. They are at most guides, and generally listeners, suggesters, and fellow companions on the spiritual journey.

UU's are beginning to be interested in Spiritual Direction and a directory has just been published of UU's who have ministerial or specialized training in spiritual direction. It's not a licensed or certified area of practice, and very few people make their living at it. Fees are usually considerably less than, say, therapy, and sometimes are a matter of gifts rather than fees.

I came into this field through the novels of Susan Howatch, myself, which are even more intense than Father Joe, and are about spiritual direction of the old school (authoritarian and touched with psychic powers) in the Church of England. It took some time to realize that this kind of relationship might do me good (new school style), find such a mentor for myself, and then realize that I was sometimes being called on to be a mentor for others or to guide situations in which groups were mentoring each other. One of these days, I'll probably get some real training. One of my sabbatical treats was to go with a friend to the conference of Spiritual Directors International and hang out for three days with 500 Spiritual Directors. It was remarkably comfortable. The Spiritual Directors who belong to this group are a warm, inclusive, and spiritually adventurous bunch, no strangers to doubt, ambiguity, atheism, or syncretistic spiritual journeys such as UU's tend to take. If one thing that keeps you from finding a Spiritual Director is fear that you will be dreadfully mis-matched with a rigid religionist, than getting a referral through Spiritual DIrectors International might ease the process. Of if you're lucky, one of the 50 UU's offering spiritual direction will be in your locale.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ministers and Ministry

In several places lately, both UU and Interfaith, home and away, I've been noticing that the word "minister" is undergoing change in our society. Specifically, more people are beginning to call themselves ministers without any or much schooling, mentoring, certification, or commissioning by a religious body. You can get ordained to the Universal life church with no qualifications over the internet. There are several "Interfaith Seminaries" which, for a variety of payments and coursework, ranging from a few weekends to a few three week courses, "qualify" a person to be ordained to the "Interfaith Ministry."

When an (excuse me) bona fide, ordained, educated and certified minister like myself grits her teeth over this new trend, or shows in any way that she doesn't consider these persons to be qualified colleagues, the answer is some version of "I have a ministry, just like you do, and that makes me a minister."

So this puts me in mind of a story I heard a while back. There was woman who had a gift for nursing, which she discovered in nursing her father and then a neighbor through their last months of life. She loved the role, and she was good at it. She observed how the various medical professionals she came in contact with worked and learned a great deal. She felt truly called and gifted in nursing. So she applied for a job as a nurse in a hospital. And because she had not been truthful in her application and the hospital had not been careful in their hiring practices and because there is always and everywhere a need for nurses, she got pretty close to getting a job.

But when the whole tale was told, the verdict was harsh. Gift and experience in nursing two dying persons aside, she was not "a nurse," and she could have done terrible harm if she had been hired to be one.

Ministers don't calculate drug dosages, but they, too, can do harm, both to individual souls and to religious institutions, when they use the title and authority of "minister" in spite of not having the requisite training or having gone through good certification processes. We "real" ministers actually learned quite a bit in our three years of seminary, summer of hospital chaplaincy, and 9 months of internship. We learned even more reading the stack of books and preparing ourselves for the certification process which is called, in the UU ministry "Fellowshipping". And some went through all that and were in the end, told that we didn't make the cut.

It's my understanding that it is actually against the law to call yourself a doctor or a nurse or a chiropractor or a lawyer if you are not in fact, qualified and certified to be one. Tenderness over separation of church and state keeps the law from defining what a minister is. But social pressure can be applied to persons who are calling themselves ministers (as opposed to working in ministries) If this trend keeps up, the "real" ministers are going to have to start distinguishing their training with the dreary practice of listing degrees and certifications after their names. And that will be a pity, don't you think?

Christine Robinson, M.div, IFUUA (in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Talking about Trauma

I spent two days at a Critical Incident Stress Management seminar, learning to do brief group debriefings after traumatic events, such as bank robberies, employee suicide, shooting sprees, etc. Part of that training was showing a lot of videos of REALLY traumatic events, like the Oklahoma City bombing, a plane crash, a drowning of three children, and a wild fire that destroyed an entire neighborhood and killed 25 people.

Before this particular technology was developed, people mostly dealt with trauma by just going on with their lives. The result was PTSD, often undiagnosed, physical stress, and "burn out." For instance, we were told that of the 5 Air Traffic Controllers and one dispatcher involved in a plane crash which we listened to in agonizing detail; a crash in which several hundred people died, two never returned to work, two died and one developed cancer within the year. That was 20 years ago; a lot has been learned since then about helping people through trauma.

Talking helps...we all know that, even if we find it hard to do. Learning that the symptoms we're having, like bad dreams, sleep and appetite disruptions, and so on are normal and will diminish, helps too. It turns out that in a group of five or six people, just hearing each other's stories and telling their own (what was your role, what happened, what was hardest for you, what symptoms are you experiencing) gives most people in most situations enough control of their emotions back that they can move on with their lives. No deep therapy necessary, usually. This process can happen years later and be beneficial; they showed us footage of a group of survivors of a 1947 school explosion that killed (in a small town) 400 of their classmates. Until someone staged a 40 year reunion, many had never spoken of their experiences, and they felt that it had helped a lot.

Although I took this training so that I could volunteer to be of assistance in public disasters like 9/11, I realize that there have been several times in the ordinary course of my ministry that it could have been useful. I definitely recommend this training to my colleagues...indeed, to anyone who has an interest.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Short Takes

There's a sadness in the house, now bereft of it's lizard occupant. But life goes on. On Monday, the busses were free, courtesy of the high gas prices, so I took the bus around to my errands. It was a beautiful day, warm and bright, but no so warm and bright that walking across parking lots or standing on street corners seemed life-threatening, which will be the case a month from now. I missed one bus through careless chart-reading, but waited with a young man who had just completed EMT training and regaled me with tales of ambulances and emergency rooms. I felt not only virtuous at the end of the day, I felt better connected to my city.

I could ride the bus to work in my non-sabbatical life. The service is very nearly door-to-door. And there are days when I don't need my car once I get to work. I could plan my work to take the bus to work one day a week, most weeks. I should do that.

Yesterday's sabbatical adventure was to purchase an MP3 player so that I, too, can walk the world with earbuds in my ear listening to my favorite tunes and downloaded sermons and podcasts. Turns out you can load your current cd's into the thing, a process I quickly mastered. Podcasting itself turns out to be more complicated. But I have to admit, I love it already. It makes walking along streets with high speed traffic much more pleasant, for instance.

Today's adventure was new glasses, something I dreaded, not so much because of the eye drops or the expense, but because I knew I needed new frames. The last time I bought new frames I wandered around a superstore completely stymied by the vast number of choices and the conundrum of how to choose from among them. I finally gave up and brought my husband back with anxiety-ridden shopping experience of several hours time. Today's experience was so much nicer. My friendly local eye doctor now has a small shop for dispensing glasses. The optician informed me that the "in look" was for glasses smaller than my current pair, showed me two or three examples and was free with her advice about the pair that looked the best. The whole process took 15 minutes. What a relief!

Tomorrow's adventure (and Friday's): Critical Incident Stress Management Training. This feels like a very busy week; probably just as well.

Life is a Mystery

Our deceased iguana, IxChel, had a sister born from the same clutch of eggs. She was also named for a Mayan goddess with a difficult name; in her case so difficult that she was always called Q. The two sisters hadn't seen each other for 4 years, and had lived most of their first five years in different classrooms, and as far as anyone knows, Q had never eaten a nail. They were middle-aged as captive iguanas go, and well cared for. None the less, we learned today that Q died three days after IxChel, after a short and not apparently severe illness.

You hear of that happening to human spouses, married for 60 years. But iguana siblings who were mostly separated? It's too strange to be a coincidence and yet what else it could be is ...a mystery.

But here's to Q and IxChel, two gifted iguanas, who brightened the lives of special ed students in two classrooms over ten years (and our home and the home of their teacher-owners where they spent weekends and summers). And here's to the two dedicated teachers who made a space for them in their lives and classrooms.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ode to IxChel

Our Green Iguana, named for the Mayan Moon Goddess, beloved member of the family for four years, died today after surgery to remove a nail she ate…probably two years ago during a remodeling project. Why did she eat the nail? Who knows. She never ate anything else she wasn’t supposed to and, indeed, I thought of her as our anorexic iguana because she had eating issues all her life. The only thing she ate with relish was bread, which was bad for her, and monkey chow, which she could only have once a week. It was when she didn’t eat her monkey chow that we knew something was wrong.

The nail came home from surgery with her. If I hadn’t seen the x-ray myself, I would have not believed that such a little animal could even have ingested, much less lived with such an object in her gut. That she lived two years with it…we’re talking a bent, four inch nail, here, and she, although 3 feet long, was only about three inches across…is a miracle. For a day after her surgery, it looked like she might make it, which made her death all the harder.

We brought her home from the vet, even had an impromptu viewing, told all her funny stories…how she used to hide in the top of Kevin’s bunk bed, how she once jumped from the top of a book case, (trying to be a dragon, said Kevin) how she got out a window once, spent the night in a bush, and ran across the street at the speed of light when we shook the bush. We remembered how offended she was at the sight of anything that looked remotely like her, including her reflection in the mirror and some of the many dragons which Kevin has collected and which, it seemed, she took great pleasure in knocking over. When we called her first owner, she reminisced about how IxChel had nearly died from impacted eggs as a youthful iguana. The animal definitely had 9 interesting lives.

IxChel taught our son, allergic to anything with fur, the joys of pet ownership, and even in death is teaching him and us her last lessons about grief. He has loved her and cared for her very responsibly. When I discovered that she might live through Kevin’s college years, (read; that we would probably have to care for her for at least four years after he’d left home) I decided to make friends with her, and I’ve loved her dearly, too. So has William. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to love a critter with a brain the size of a pea and no feelings except anxiety, but you’d be wrong.

We buried her in the back yard with a piece of the monkey chow she was so extraordinarily fond of. William and I both thought of words from our church’s pet blessing service: “We give thanks for our childhood pets, who taught us to love and to cry. We give thanks for our children's pets, who help us to teach them responsibility and relationship, and we give thanks for the pets who brighten our days and comfort our nights.

Thanks, IxChel, for brightening our days. In our hearts, you were our little dragon, and now you fly.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Albuquerque Fix Finds Moi!

Duke City Fix, the "inside line on Albuquerque" reviewed my Blog last week. (read it here, and just kind of ignore how it implies that it's a thrill to see an old foggy doing something hip like blogging....)

This was no doubt the cause of the startling surge in hits on my hit counter last week...159 hits one day, a 50% increase over my next best day. Even more startling; I discovered this when a church youth mentioned it to my son.

This blogging business is quite a kick, I must say.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Just returned from a three day retreat, most of it a silent retreat. The retreat leader reminded us of how it is with a duck, who must go under the water to eat from the bottom of the stream, and then come up for air. The duck who never ducks starves, the duck who never comes up drowns.

A three day retreat is one way to really duck down and feed from the depths of the pond, and this nourishment strengthens one for the work of the world. Daily and weekly practices of "ducking out" and down are also the part of a healthy life, especially the healthy life of a minister.

I did nearly this same retreat during my last sabbatical, and that retreat solidified a contemplative mood which then characterized the next four years. This week's retreat solidified something else, a sense of urgency to be more outwardly focused. It's been coming for a while. All signs pointed to the temporary nature of the stepping stone that was my contemplative started crumbling away nearly the moment I landed on it. Still, it was a stepping stone which held me up for a good long time, and I am deeply appreciative of all that I learned and experienced there, all of which I take with me. Now the time has come to leap to the new stepping stone which has become visible in the running stream of my life. And that reminds me of a poem.

Crossing a creek requires three things:
A certain serenity of mind, bare feet,
And a sure trust
That the snake we know
Slides silently underwater
Just beyond our vision
Will choose to ignore
The flesh
That cuts through its territory,
And we will pass through.

Some people think crossing a creek
Is easy,
But I say this--
All crossings are hard,
Whether creeks, mountains,
Or into other lives.
And we must always believe
In the snakes at our feet
Just out of our vision
And we must practice believing
We will come through.
-by Martha Courtot

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Visiting a Multi-site, Multi Venue

I took a morning off from the Spiritual Directors International conference, in which I couldn't have felt more religiously or socially comfortable, to visit the North Coast Church in Oceanside, where I steeled myself to be a Stranger. But I wanted to see how they did their four campus, four venue, four service time video worship. Their congregation has more than 10 times our membership, but there are things to be learned.

This multi-site, multi venue church rocks in more ways than one.

It's current site is one of those semi-industrial office park sites off an exurban highway about 10 miles inland. Here's what I experienced.

I'd checked over the website for directions. The website pointed me to visitor parking and to the visitor welcome booth I'd find in the plaza. I found that booth, and was greeted by an extremely personable young man, who, upon discovering that I was interested in multi-site for my church offered to show me around the whole campus, asked about my role and church, took my answers in stride in spite of the fact that they lay outside the bounds of his communion, and answered all my questions. I noted an extremely well organized and well appointed children's ministry, which includes a Special Needs class. He presently delivered me to my chosen venue (the video cafe) and pointed out the coffee and rolls.

There were signs and clues everywhere. Necessary in part because this campus didn't look like a church, but also calming for the first timer. I could see the options as to where to go, where I might have taken my children, where the restrooms were, and so on. I discovered that a donation was expected for the drinks (coffee, tea, water bottles, and cokes at this site. Just coffee in the "main sanctuary" and "traditional" sites, and coffee and Mountain Dew in "The Edge", which resembled a rock concert stage. I didn't have to ask anybody anything, which would have been nice if I'd not been in "find out everything I can" work mode.

The worship folder had no order of worship, but it listed dozens of small groups, retreats, classes, and service projects.

So with my coffee and roll, I go sit in a plastic lawn chair set in rows facing a stage full of warming-up musicians. The rows are far enough apart that little plastic coffee tables are also in the rows. The band leader informs us that the tables are there so we can put our coffee down and raise our arms in praise, which he makes us practice. This plain Jane space has been made comfortable for lots of people with a minimum amount of money, but everything is clean and comfortable. The audio and video equipment looks state of the art and performs flawlessly. There's an extremely well constructed set in the main venue, which we'll all appreciate as the background to the preacher. There are no flowers, no windows, no kneelers, no crosses, no swaths of cloth adding color, no art, no vestments. The only thing you’d call beautiful are the people around you. But the audio is perfect.

This church is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Churches of America. I've come the Sunday after Easter. The subject, it is clear from the worship folder, will be the empty tomb. No communion, however. I've been told already that communion is only served in the Traditional venue, but that the majority of the congregation (85%) belong to small groups which celebrate communion together on a monthly basis. I can't help but think that Jesus would approve of that.

So we sing and praise (mostly with arms at our side.) The music is simple and the words are projected on the screen, and does seem to be producing better singing. I've never heard any of these songs before but I catch on and join in. The band leader is an infectious worship leader and he has everyone singing along. The crowd is mostly folks like me. Suburban. Jeans. (I'm overdressed in Chinos and a jacket.) Some younger, some older, most but not all Anglo. More African Americans and fewer Orientals than I've been seeing in Southern California all week, but perhaps that is because the gifted band leader is a young African American. (the rest of the band includes a two “California Blond Beauties”, one of whom was a dwarf, and a middle aged bass player who projected a strange lack of affect.

There were no children in this sugar and caffeine haven. There is a short note to parents in the bulletin. "All of our worship venues are designed for adults. We believe that your child will get the most out of their North Coast experience if they are with their age group. We will notify you by buzzer if your child needs you. If you feel that your child needs to sit with you, please sit at the end of a row so if they become distressed or playful, you can quickly move out to the family area, where you can follow the service on video. Your fellow worshippers will thank you."

Even before I found out that the typical North Coast sermon is 45-55 minutes long, I thought that that was a good idea.

Yep. 47 minutes yesterday. And all on video. After about 20 minutes of singing, there were some very brief announcements given by a fellow watching a clock count down, and from then on it was video. It was an amazing performance. This preacher used his notes about three times during the 47 minutes, and used a variety of techniques to keep our attention. We followed along in our worship folder, where there were some questions and reflection opportunities. In spite of the fact that this was very much NOT my theology, I learned something and had a chance to think about an aspect of my life. Those folders become the discussion outline for the small groups that will meet during the week.

The band reappeared, there were a few more announcements, another song, and the video came back on for the benediction. An offering was taken, and an invitation to greet those around us as we left.

In spite of the foreign theology, I left feeling good. And the fellow behind me and I exchanged a warm greeting. As I passed the greeters booth, I waved to my tour guide, and he walked me to my car talking about the Multi Site conference to be held in Chicago next month and asked for my card so he could give it to their staff person in charge of resourcing other churches. I had a feeling that this young fellow didn't know what a Unitarian was, and it will be interesting to see if I hear from them.

When I return to my car, someone has left a leaflet on it thanking me for visiting and and inviting me to follow the maps to park in the main parking lots next time I come. These folks have thought of everything.


My sabbatical treat to myself was to attend the Spiritual Directors
International convention with a friend and hear my colleague Jeremy Taylor
speak about dreamwork and the spiritual life. Jeremy is being very good,
and the rest of the conference is fabulous. Here are some reflections.

UU's who go to GA often start in the airport saying to each other, "That
one's a UU, that couple is going to GA for sure, there's another one." We
get into hotel vans and confirm with the other UU's that we recognized them
from afar. We think that UU's all look alike.

Oddly, this group of Spiritual Directors looks almost like UU's. The group
lacks the blocks of youth and persons of color who come to GA, although
there is a scattering of younger adults and persons of color. There is
also a scatting of religious headgear not seen at GA; Jewish, nuns, and one Muslim
headscarf in the crowd of 500. Another difference; of the 500, at least 400 are women. Also, there are no t-shirts with slogans on them. But the same well-heeled simple dressing and comfortable bodies with open faces make me feel right at home. The inclusive worship offered would work in any UU church that didn't cater to the religiously allergic. The political climate is
distinctively leftist when the subject comes up, which is surprisingly
often, though only in passing, and with a mood of distress, not fury. This is a group of people who believes in praying for their enemies, not denigrating them.

Going to a "GA" where I only know my roommate and am not constantly
(desperately?) on the lookout for old friends is much more relaxing, I must
say. And going to the meetings of an institution which I have not come to
care about particularly is even more relaxing. The issues of growth,
diversity, credentialing, and the future of this particular discipline are
of interest to me but they don't make me anxious. I can take the occasional
silliness I notice in stride. It seems like a healthy and centered group,
which I can't say is how I feel about UU's at GA. But even if there was an
issue in the crowd, it wouldn't be my pain. It's nice to have the distance.

Also unlike GA, this is not a business meeting with religious window
dressing, this is a spiritual meeting where some business is done. The day
is bracketed not just with worship, but with prayer. The workshop
presenters are not only introduced by someone from the governing board, they
are blessed. Every workshop I've taken has included not only sharing, but
silence and a benediction. It's all inclusive of a variety of religious
paths, respectful of difference, and non-sexist. And I've been blessed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I just saw my cousin get murdered on TV tonight. Even though I knew it was going to happen it was a bit of a shock. He's an actor, and was murdered on CSI-New York. Stabbed with an Oyster knife. Very messy. Even worse than watching him be killed was watching him be so revoltingly nasty to the man who (quite understandably) finally hauled off and murdered him. My cousin is a fundamentally good man. I wonder what he does to wash the nastiness away when he's done with a scene like that. When you throw yourself into acting a scene, how do you keep from absorbing it into your being, for better or (in this case) for worse?

He's spent most of his career acting on stages far from here, so I'd never actually seen him act before. He was the understudy to the Lion King in New York for several years, dying every night, but our visits east never quite matched up with with his performances. But he's a family man now, and lately switched to TV work.

We saw him and his wife and baby at my dad's 80th birthday party, and made him promise to let us know when we could see him on TV. Today was the day. I hooked the antenna up to what has here-to-fore been a DVD player for the occasion, and our little family watched a broadcast TV drama together for the first time ever. We get our entertainment from little plastic discs and news from the radio except for the Olympics and 9/11 magnitude events. It was a good experience. Network TV and advertising is better than I remembered it. Though I doubt that we'll become a TV family (unless cousin Martin makes it big, particularly in a Science Fiction show like Firefly,) it was a nice family evening.