Sabbatical Blog

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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Holocaust Museum

It's a beautiful museum, and an incredibly well done educational experience which draws one in to the times and place and people and the horror of the holocaust. I had avoided this museum for some years, afriad it would be overwhelming, but it was not overwhelming, just sad, and sobering. And it has me thinking about my theory of why people do such evil deeds...deeds not, by any means, confined to a decade of German history. Our own nation has its share of major atrocities with genocidal intent against native americans and more than a few shameful breeches of human rights against persons percieved to be aliens or subhuman, from African Americans to Japaneese to Irish to illegal immigrants. And there are genocides going on today, notibly in the Sudan, and genocides in the past.

What allows otherwise decent human beings to kill, torture, and mutilate, and how do we guard against this? The first is that in order to engage in this behavior, most people have to be convinced that the ones they are killing and mutilating and torturing are not human beings. Therefore the first price of civilization is eternal vigilance against de-humanizing humans. It's not at all a small step between allowing sick illegal aliens in your nation to die from lack of care, turning them away from feeding sites, and shooting them at your boarder to killing them outright. The people who have done the shooting and turning away need, to justify their actions, to harden their hearts and dehumanize their victims. That begins a cycle which, history plainly tells us, can easily get out of hand.

The Catholic Church is right to threaten civil disobedience against laws which would require them to harden their hearts against illegal aliens requesting their aid. Not only is Biblical law unequivocal on this matter "You shall not oppress the alien in your land," but their psychology is right, too.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Immigrant Reform

Here in Washington DC...Probably everywhere else...The big topic is Immigration Reform. In this matter, it is abundantly clear that nobody has a handle on reality.

The people who want to put a fence up have obviously never been to the boarder. We New Mexicans know that nothing short of the Trillion dollars that we just spent in Iraq has a prayer of creating an unbreachable boarder between the US and Mexico. The only way to keep illegals out of the nation (even this would only keep most illegals out, not all of them) is to make it impossible for them to make money here and take away their incentive.

The people who just want to get the illegals out of the nation have not studied or considered work force economics. 12 million people have managed to fit themselves into the American economy in one way or another, and it stands to reason that even if they were all taken up in the Rapture...the only way to get them all out quickly...the American economy would take a massive hit. 12 million people is, for instance, about 15 cities the size of Albuquerque. That many people are not just people, they're needed people.

The people who want to make it felony to employ illegals need to think about the problems of #2 above, and a second massive problem, which is that the only way to make sure that everyone employed is legit (either as a legal resident, citizen, or a guest worker in whatever program is devised), is for everyone...that includes you and me and our kids... to have a worker id card with a bar code and a picture and a variety of invasions of our precious privacy. That project would be cheaper than building a fence by a long shot, but it's not a freebe, either monetarily or politically.

How much do we REALLY want to stop immigration? So far, I note, not enough for anyone to propose a solution that would actually work.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I'm off today for a week of family reunion, occasioned by my father's 80th birthday. We'll be having it at the River Road Unitarian Church, as he was on the building committee of that church in the mid 1960's, and its beauty is one of the proud achievements of his life. Using the wonders of computers, the internet, and all the nifty computer-ready forms available at the office supply store, I created name tags for the 50 guests, each with a graphic and color coded based on what part of my father's life the person came from. He's had a rich life. Besides his wife, children, and their families, all of whom will be present, his elder brother and a part of that family will be there, including a new-born great niece. Also, work friends, other Traffic Engineers, at least one neighbor going back 50 years, some current neighbors, and two friends made in the course of the political work he's done in his county since he retired. That's the way to have a good old age, I involved and keep making friends. It's something I plan to remember.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

UU's and the Rapture

If you didn't hear Garrison Keiller last weekend, spoofing UU's and everybody else with his description of a "rapture" which took the UU's and left a variety of religious and political figures "behind," check out this link to the script, the sound file, and a comment.

Quiet Day

Yesterday I went to the first Clergy Quiet Day at the Norbertine Center, and it was a great blessing. In our opening songs, we were singing about "Fill Me Up, Lord,", and I was thinking, "Empty me Out, Lord!" A poem was shared that spoke to me:

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can squelch a fire.
Can douse the flames
almsot as surely
as a pail of water can. ("Fire" by Judy Brown)

All so true. And while at home there is dinner to start and a load of laundry to put in and fruit trees to prune, in this quiet space there is not much to do except watch the clouds and stare at the tree outside my window. Which is what I did for hours on end, and it was very good.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Feast Day at Laguna Pueblo

My 15 and a half year old son and I went to the Feast Day at Laguna Pueblo today instead of churches and youth group. His girlfriend of 18 months (gulp!) is from the Laguna tribe, and we watched her dance, ate the traditional meal with friends of her family, browsed the booths, and, minus the Pendleton blankets that were keeping others warm, endured the blustery day. Ah, March in New Mexico!

Of all the unexpected ways that Kevin has enriched our lives, certainly this lovely girlfriend has been one of the best. (for all the anxieties it has also brought!). Aside from being a neat young woman and a joy to have around, she has made us, at least in part, a multi-cultural family.

Pueblo Feast Days are part religious ritual, part family reunion, and part small town fair.
I need to ask how the Laguna’s view their dance, but I know that at least some Pueblo Indians believe that they dance for the continuation of the world. So the non-tribe onlookers who are welcome (if they behave themselves) are not just invited, they are essential to the ritual. The dances are line dances, accompanied by drumbeat, and they include tribal members from the eldest to the pre-schoolers, dancing in age order, with the smallest children at the end, always attended by adults who help them keep their shoes tied and their costumes organized. "How did you learn these dances?" we asked Rachel, who never lived at the Pueblo. She doesn't remember. It's something she's always known, something you learn by doing, and something that she thinks she doesn't do very well, for lack of specific training. But I thought she was doing as well as anyone. Most of the dancers don't live at the Pueblo any more. And a few people dancing are not members of the Laguna tribe. (I learned this at lunch). They might be married to Laguna’s, or they might be members of other tribes who have some reason for honoring the Tribe's patron saint (Joseph), by dancing for him. These pagan dances for Catholic Saints is a scene not often seen in the world. In New Mexico's pueblos, the Catholic Church exists in peace with Native American Faith.

At last Fall's Feast Day, it was hot and bright, and Rachel, who inherited her amazing long dark hair and her almond eyes from her tribe and her light skin from an Anglo ancestor, had a sunburn for a week. And while she was one of the lighter skinned dancers of the tribe, she was not, by any means, the only one who showed multi-ethnic ancestry. Among the dancers were persons whose African American, Oriental, Irish, Spanish, and Anglo Ancestors all registered on their features. What a post-modern picture of humanity in this tiny town in New Mexico, I thought. Somebody ought to paint this, I thought, although taking pictures and sketching are two of the misbehaviors which will get you escorted away from the dances. I had to be content with the memory, and it's a good one.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Language of reverence

I've been studying up on podcasting these past few days, since we're about to go into the podcasting business ourselves. I've been listening to my colleagues' sermons which are currently available. Many of the podcasters are our younger ministers; people whose names I've never heard and whose youthful voices suggest a GenX or GenY heritage. It's been a pleasure to hear my young colleagues; it's not something an old lady minister gets to do very often. (If you want to hear a few, go to the directory of UU Podcasters at:

Several sermons have discussed or alluded to the flurry of a few years ago about using a Language of Reverence in UU'ism. I'm a big fan of this movement, as I discovered in the 1990's that my assumptions about the faith and practices of my congregation were in error. Having come 10 years previous to a congregation that had always been Humanist and Atheist, but in which the younger people who comprised the search committee wanted to explore "spirituality", I had endured the slings and arrows that many young ministers endure when they accept such an invitation. In the end, we'd settled into a truce, where I sometimes mentioned God from the pulpit and nobody walked out, and they (most of them) were willing to use "spiritual" words in hymns and affirmations. Then I came down with cancer, and went abruptly on sick leave. I got tons of cards, which was wonderful; cards from members, cards from people in my old church, cards from colleagues and people in the community. I got a new respect for the healing power of cards. But the shocker was this: In a sizable minority of those cards the senders promised to pray for me. And a lot of those pray-ers came from my church. Some of them were people I had assumed were Atheists and Humanists, since they had belonged to the church for decades. oops. (But they'd never mentioned prayer before!) It was a somewhat prolonged but ultimately positive drama in my life, and I returned to ministry changed in a number of ways. One of them was that I wanted to check my assumptions about where people were theologically and "language" wise. I started experimenting with prayer, with longer meditation, with more specifically theological sermons, with suggesting that we give thanks before meals. I began telling them about my prayer. I didn't find any of this easy. As a born UU, I've never spent much time around languages of reverence or groups that routinely use them. I had to go "take lessons" from interfaith colleagues. I felt self conscious, "pious", and awkward. As a career veteran of the "spirituality" wars, I found that I had some PTSD to deal with from old battles...PTSD that was silencing even the most authentic and comfortable spirituality I possessed. It all felt very risky. Generally speaking, however, the response was positive. My church has grown, and I believe that it has more to offer more people than it did 2o years ago because of those risks. Now, when people light candles at sharing, they are likely to ask for the congregation's prayers. The Atheists and Humanists (and Buddhists) are still with us. It's clear that you don't have to believe in prayer or God or be sure of anything to be a part of the congregation. But we do use the language. And it has been a very good thing.

Starting Small Churches to Thrive

One of the axioms of church-size theory (the idea that churches of different sizes are not simply larger and larger versions of the same "animal" but are completely different "critters" with very different characteristics) is that you can't kill a small church. (small being fewer than 50 adults and children present on an average Sunday.) Small churches, like the cats they are often compared to, seem to have nine lives. They also have an independent streak, and usually appear aloof to people who don't know them. But even the largest cat only gets so big; and it is actually quite rare for a cat to change itself into a dog...or even want to.

So, while our "cat" Fellowships usually stay alive for many, many years, very few of them are the thriving, vibrant religious communities that the towns they reside in need them to be, and often they are not the thriving, vibrant religious communities that their own members wish they were.

The many small congregations in our movement, stated in hope and promise, which have never managed to fulfill their potential in spite of all the work and good intentions of their members, has caused the UUA to stop supporting the formation of small groups and put its efforts into a vision of starting large churches which start with 300 of so people, skipping "cat" and "dog" and going straight to "Farm". Instead of independant cats which will never get over 20 pounds, the UUA wants to start a small farm, by procuring enough land, hiring a farmer, and supplying the plow. The first such farm (Pathways Church in the Dallas area) is struggling, but farms are not developed overnight, so we'll see. The second surch farm will have its first season next year. (Philadelphia).

I applaud the vision and courage of the people working on those projects, but none apply to New Mexico, where I am, where there's only one even medium sized city, which already has a large church. So that keeps me wondering how to help groups start in small towns that won't fall into the "cat church" syndromes.

Here's my idea. Instead of plunking a little cat out in SmallTownville, how about we try puppies?

Puppies take a lot of care at first and a good bit of looking after for the first year (7 years) of their life, but at the end of that time, they are not cats. They are dogs. And dog churches (usually called collies by the inventer of this metaphor, Lyle Schaller) are much more likely to be noticied, attractive, and therefore healthy and serving in their communities.

I've been involved in two new church starts in my career; one in a small town in South Carolina (which failed within the year, although I note that there's a church there 20 years later), and a church in suburban Albuquerque, which entered the Extension Program right away and has had a minister and a building for some years, but has failed to thrive in its booming neighborhood. In both cases, the groups were independant from the get go (goood training for cat-hood) The "help" supplied by the "mother church" was negligable in one case and confined to money and a bit of moral support in the other case.

What would the puppy model be like, let's say, in the growing rural developments east of Albuquerque? The group would begin as a subset of the mother church (embrio stage?), a neighborhood social group, and a covenant group, If this group wanted to proceed further, they would begin to offer Sunday programing, in a public place, led by a trained worship leader and using a video feed from Mother Church. These folks would continue to be members of Mother church, and the expenses of rental fees etc. would be absorbed by the church budget. (They would be a part of Mother Church's pledge drive, too, thus bypassing one of the most difficult "cat" problems which is that too many cats like to live on the cheap.) Ministerial services would be available to these folks when problems arose, when their was a death in the congregation, and for other rites of passage. Mother Church's RE director invite their RE teachers to trainings, supply materials, and help them troubleshoot their programs for children. Covenant Group leaders would use the same materials as were used in Mother Church. Freed of having to resort to secular speakers to fill the pulpit, the puppy congregation would be much less likely to As the growing puppy attracted new members to their site, those members would become members of the Mother Church. There might be some cases where the puppy graduated to adult dog status and went off on its own, but by that time it would be a sturdy group, large enough to own land and have its own professional leadership. Let's just say, in the best cases, 7 years. And in many cases, the puppy grows up to be such a small dog that it remains under the protection of Mother Church by choice...perhaps one of the "pack" of UU congregations which run together in a state like New Mexico, all (including Mother church) stronger, more visible, and better serving together than they could ever be apart.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A New Strategy for Extending Unitarian Universalism

How to serve the UU's (there are a few!) in New Mexico's small towns? How to serve the potential UU's (there are even more of those!) in New Mexico's small towns? How to capitalize on the fact that many internet connected cultural creatives are heading with their cell phones and lap tops to smaller towns and rural areas to work away from the big city?

Even all these together only make, say, 25 people in towns like Portales, Roswell, Socorro, or Gallup. And a congregation of 25 is a struggle to maintain. It's just not big enough to provide good worship, children's programs, and spiritual growth.

But what if a large church like First Unitarian could gather its members in those areas around a big screen TV in a home or public meeting place. Those small groups could, under the direction of a trained worship leader, sing simple, unaccompanied songs if there was no piano, tell a story to their children, meditate, share, and take an offering, sing the children off to play or have an RE lesson, and then hear the morning's sermon, from the early service at First Unitarian, downloadedto someone's laptop computer. Week after week, (except for a few services a year which featured live speakers), this would be the format.

Now, these 25 people, instead of focusing on getting speakers week after week, could focus on good worship practices, community, RE, and spiritual growth. These members of First Unitarian/xtown would have ministerial services when deaths occurred or weddings needed to be celebrated, they would have worship leaders who could be helped to develop child dedication materials and other rituals, their youth would be connected to a larger group for, say, a weekend coming of age retreat or summer camp, their covenant group leaders would have an opportunity for training and use of materials from First Church, their bookkeeping would be taken care of, their children's RE teachers supported by our RE department (and their pledges supporting all of this, of course, but no amount of money can buy these services for 25 people, so it would be a very good deal for them.)

This would turn First Unitarian into a Multi Site Church. It would be a new experiment; it's barely even been talked about, much less tired in UU circles. And while it's the "in thing" in Evangelical circles at the moment, they are doing this on a much larger scale that we, here in New Mexico, would.

Your comments?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Global Warming

The news about global warming and arctic melting has begun to be a steady drumbeat of anxiety in the back of my brain. Will civilization have time to muddle through this mess we've created with our addictions to energy and travel and stuff? What should I be doing, saying, suggesting, about this?

There are no easy answers, in part because this is clearly one of those problems where the facts are only evident in retrospect. Scientists can take guesses about what will happen next, but they are only guesses, and it's hard to make tough choices on the basis of guesses. That's where we've been for some years now, it seems to me; we know that what we're doing is damaging the ecosystem, but we don't know how much, or for how long we can get away with it, or who will be hurt. I believe that one thing fueling this sudden, unseemly greed on the part of those who can get away with it is a sense that they'd better do their getting while the getting is good, and that only wealth will bring a person in comfort through the coming crisis.

That's yet to be seen, of course. It may well be that none of us will get through the coming crisis comfortably, but the only ones who will survive with their spirits intact are the ones who have, not wealth, but a rich enough family, community, and inner life that they can quit running around so much and using so much stuff.

It may also be that the projections are sort of right but sort of wrong, like the population projections of the 1960's that had us all starved to death by 1980.

It may also be that the projections are sort of right but sort of wrong, in the other direction, and we'll discover the hard way that the tipping points of global warming are far lower or the effects far more devastating to us than we had imagined they would be. Some people think that has happened with CO2 in the thawing Tundra. That seems to be the origin of this month's anxiety.

It could be that there's going to be a lot of trouble and change but it won't mostly be here. It will be island nations and Africans and the people who have foolishly built their houses on sand at the seacoast who will suffer, and not Americans, or New Mexicans. Then we'll have hard ethical decisions to make as a people, and may very well gain the whole world and loose our souls in the process.

Tonight I'm going to plant my tomato seeds. A tomato plant is not as effective as a tree in harvesting co2 from the air but it's better than bark mulch, and the tomatoes I eat from my plants won't have to be trucked from California or Mexico. I've pumped up my bicycle tires. Perhaps there are a few errands I can do on two wheels instead of four, at least while I'm on sabbatical. And I find myself thinking very hard about whether I really need to go to GA this year. These are small, almost symbolic tweaks of a very energy consumptive lifestyle. I'm under no illusion that they're effective or sufficient, but that's all that is available to me at the moment.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sabbatical Fun

During my first Sabbatical, I studied Spanish, and among the benefits of that study was a sense that I was using a part of my brain that didn't otherwise get much exercise in the ordinary course of my ministry. A minister is necessarily focused on people, big pictures, long range plans, and the meanings of things, not on memorizing vocabulary or grammar. I really enjoyed a sojourn in that "concrete" territory.

Blogging seems to be offering me a similar change of brain-pace. I notice as I scroll through people's blogs, both UU and otherwise, that most people just grab a template and start writing, but I've spent, so far, at least three times as much energy on my template as I have on my writing. I figured out how to make links work, how to change the colors, and how to add toys, like the visit counter at the bottom of the right column, and, today, the word cloud at the top. This has involved me in learning elementary programming and allowed me to be the perfectionist that I am by nature but can't be in the rush of ministry.

I've had so much fun with this blog that I've started another one: A post-modern, feminist, agnostic, universalist adaptation of the book of Psalms. I'm planning to post a new psalm each day. (The writing of these, I hasten to add, was done over several years, several years ago. I had planned to review one each day in my morning quiet time; now I'm going to review and post. I realize that the Psalms are not ordinary fare for most UU's, but you can check them out if you want to!

It's been great fun!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

UU's Visit Famous MegaChurches

My colleagues, Kathleen Rolnez and Wayne Arneson from Cleveland, spent their sabbatical last Fall in search of transformative worship, and their blog of their travels offers some interesting ideas. For instance, at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, the offering is accompanied, not by music, but by a testimony of some sort.
I like this idea. Ever since we instituted the offering of change, and thereby invited everyone at worship to put money in the baskets, the offering has been much noisier and more distracted than before, and therefore, it's been harder to focus on the music. I've sometimes thought of just asking Alan to play a little something during the offering, and save the guest musicians for a time when people will be paying attention to them. This might be a better idea, as it is a lot easier to attend to words than music when distracted by the mechanics of the offering.

Here's another idea: at another church, regular after church tours were conducted by members of the congregation. Great idea! A very non-threatening way to get new folks together and give them some initial orientation, meet each other, and at least one guide!

Here's the link to the blog:

Church Websites

No church shopping allergies drained all my extroverted energy. Although I had planned to go to St. Michaels, where I have several friends and feel very comfortable...I just didn't do it.

Instead, I've been surfing through church websites, and I've noticed a few things I want to remember to suggest for our website.

First of all, much as we love our Cottonwood tree, (and nobody loves it better than the one, me, who watered it all Winter!) it is not a very welcoming picture for the website. We need a picture of people with smiles walking on to our patio.

Secondly, I think we need staff pictures on the front page. I think that people trust people more than they trust words. And the fact that we have a female senior minister is still, to many of our first time guests, an amazing and wonderful thing.

Thirdly, lots of websites have a "What to expect if I'm new" section which covers what we cover about our service, adds how early to come if you are dropping off children, what to wear, that the service only lasts an hour, and what the service is like. Also that one can park in neighboring lots. As someone who is newly aware of how hard it is to take the plunge into a new church, I like this idea.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Multi Site Multi Venue Church

I've been reading church websites today...specifically, websites of churches which are multi-venue (two worship services going on on the same property at the same time using a video feed-usually one is a traditional sanctuary service and one a video cafe) or mult-site churches using a video feed (or tepe). In all these situations, there's a worship leader at each site, leading the liturgy and the singing, but when it comes time for the message, on goes the tv screen and worshippers get either a live or taped version of the morning's readings and sermon.

So...if some people want to sip their starbucks and eat pastries (and toy with their blackberries) while listening to the sermon, they can do that in the video cafe. In one church, there was a venu especially for "life long Christians", where old fashioned hymns were the music of the morning. Iin that church, the "regular" worship had gone to contemporary music only.

If we can get our iministry project going (the audio is well on the way, and video is next) I can see all sorts of possibilities for this technology. Not only could our teens tune into the sermon from the privacy of their comfy den, and the parents of restless children or persons who can't sit for an hour see the service from the side lounges, but we could have our own cyber cafe in the Social Hall during the service the Forum doesn't use. And....we can imagine satellite groups of First UU'ers in Roswell, Portales, Gallup, Socorro, Moriarity, Grants, Clovis, Las Vegas. And we could sell videotapes to Fellowships to use when they can't get programming locally. And... how about a cybercafe on campus somewhere?

I found it all very exciting. There are websites such as, a book coming out next month, and some possible training opportunities. Amazing!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Abortion 3

And what would I do about the problem of unwanted pregnancy?

First of all, I would mandate comprehensive sex education for every 9th grader...a program which gave students the knowledge and skills they need to postpone intercourse for some years and be safe and healthy when they do engage in it. Just like we all have a disaster plan for a terrorist attack we're likely to never need, so 9th graders need to know about all forms of birth control (including the fairly effective type approved by the Catholic Church). Included in that sex education would be symptoms of pregnancy and the importance of confirming a pregnancy quickly when one misses a period. We have every reason to believe that this alone would eliminate half of the unwanted pregnancies and abortions performed in this country.

Secondly I would balance society's interest in protecting human life with society's interest in protecting human freedom in something like the following way: An unwillingly pregnant woman can obtain an abortion up through the 12th week of pregnancy without giving a reason. Abortions would be performed on minors but their parents would be notified. Girls who feared abuse by parents would be offered the safety that all youth who fear abuse are offered. (which is not much, I realize, but there is no reason to give sexually active girls more protection from their parents than non-sexually active girls get.) The parents could not countermand the girl's decision to abort but could attempt to influence her decision. Between the 12th week of pregnancy and the age of viability (a changing target), a woman could only obtain an abortion by showing that the circumstances which caused her to initially accept her pregnancy had changed. (ie, a change in her health or serious fetal defects). After the age of viability, abortions could only be obtained in the most serious of circumstances; the discovery that the fetus is doing inalterable damage to the mother's health or is itself doomed to death or intractable pain. In other words; a woman has the right to decline to carry a fetus, but this right must be exercised within two months of her becoming pregnant, except in unusual and tragic circumstances.

One final note, In my opinion, the right to abortion is the right to decline to support an uninvited intruder in one's body. It is not the right to "do whatever one likes with one's body," which is absurd. This way of formulating the right to abortion has two implications. First of all, the right to abortion is the right to remove the intruder, not the right to kill. At this point in technology, that removal results in death, of course, and this is not to be glossed over. When the time comes that it is possible to save the lives of very young fetuses with fetal transplants to a willing donor, for instance, or to an artificial womb, I believe that the woman having an abortion must opt for those solutions. Secondly, I believe that it is cavalier to the point of immoral to deliberately conceive a new life and then discard it because it does not conform to exacting standards such as desired sex, blood type to give a family member a donation, just to name two current possibilities. I know of no way to make abortions of "disappointing" fetuses illegal without making all abortions illegal. This is where the moral force of churches and society must be exercised.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Abortion, Part 2

Why is it so patently obvious that requiring a father to donate bone marrow to his dying five year old is a violation of his most precious human liberty (this has happened; in a court case about 10 years ago, and the child lost and presumably died) but not obvious that requiring a woman to share her body with a growing fetus for nine months is not a violation of her most precious human liberty? Firstly, because women have been getting pregnant and bearing babies since the beginning, but donor technology is quite new in the human repetoire. We take for granted that women "are supposed" to have babies. We assume that making a tissue or organ donation is "extraordinary". But in actuality, a pregnancy is nothing like giving blood or bone marrow. It's a life-changing event more akin to a kidney or (partial) liver donation.

The other reason that women are "supposed" to go through with unwanted pregnancies while no parent would ever be required to donate a kidney to their child, is that pregnancy is linked in our minds and hearts to sex, and unwanted pregnancy is mostly experienced by people who are not "supposed" to be having sex. So pregnancy is seen as a "bad girl's Just Desserts".

There are several problems with that theory. The first is that married women experience unwanted pregnancies, too. An abortion ban would force the mother of a year old baby to remain pregnant, at the cost of her health and ability to care for her baby. An abortion ban would force the 45 year old mother of teens and caregiver to her elderly parents, to go through a pregnancy and give birth. Such a woman will not feel she has the option to give up the baby for adoption.

The second problem with the theory of pregnancy as just deserts is that it took two to make the baby, but only one is being forced to make a significant sacrifice. The father in question may have to pay child support...though it's not likely he will actually do that. And as previously mentioned, he can not be asked for so much as a drop of his blood to keep the baby healthy.

The third problem is that legislating slavery as the punishment for sexual activity (married or unmarried) is ludicrous. We don't legislate any kind of slavery for any crime (which sex isn't). The only analogy that can be made in our society is the military draft.

When the nation is at risk, we draft young men to serve their nation. They have no choice about this; their lives are commandeered for the common good. The unwillingly drafted man may feel that he is serving a kind of slavery. However, he will be paid for his time and history suggests that if he is honored for his service, he will pick up his life and move on. (History also suggests that some men, if not honored for their service, will have mental health difficulties for the rest of their lives.)

There are some whose passion about avoiding the killing of fetuses is strong enough that they believe that the nation is at risk with the practice of abortion. Perhaps all unwillingly pregnant women should be "drafted" to serve their nation by carrying their pregnancy to term. They would be paid for their time, supported in their endeavor, honored for their sacrifice. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Abortion Again

The Governor of South Dakota said, as he signed a bill outlawing nearly all abortions, that fetuses are the most vulnerable life around and therefore he thinks that his state needs to protect it. He's been given those line by 30 years of rhetoric from Right to Lifers. It makes a very neat sentence, but it's only half of the equation. It's as if he said, "I feel the need to sign this bill because 2+2." If he said, that, we'd all say, "2+2= what? What's the other half of the equation?"

A fetus can not, at this stage of human knowledge, continue to live and grow without using another person's body. That is why it is vulnerable. And the other side of the equation is that when someone's very body is commandeered by another person, we call it slavery. If the Governor of North Dakota had given us the whole equation, he would have said, that because fetuses are vulnerable, he feels the need to legislate slavery.

Here's another class of vulnerable citizens; those who are dying because they need kidney and liver transplants. Like fetuses, they can only continue to live and thrive if they can have the use of someone else's body. To my mind, they are even more vulnerable than fetuses; not only because they are aware of their dying and are all too often leaving responsibilities, joys, and loves, they are more vulnerable because there is no chance that mandatory kidney and liver donations will be legislated in order to save their lives.

If you put both of these stories together, you get this. A woman who is unwillingly pregnant in North Dakota can (if courts go their way) be forced to donate her body to this growing fetus. She will, if she is a responsible person...or perhaps she will be forced by law to do this, too, cease to smoke or drink alcohol, watch her weight gain, loose her figure, go to repeated doctors appointments, endure morning sickness, take insulin if she needs it, go on bedrest if prescribed, deal with backaches, peeing in the middle of the night, high blood pressure, and eventually, labor and delivery, a natural occurrence, but one with no small amount of pain, danger, drama, and damage to her body. She will be required to go through this by law, to save the life of the fetus, and give birth to the baby. And if the baby is born needing so much as a drop of blood, neither she nor the baby's father can be forced by law to give it, even if the baby will die for the lack.

The reason the baby's father (or any other relative, including the mother) will never be forced to donate a part of their body, even an easily accessed and replaced part like blood or bone marrow to that baby is because in this nation, we value human freedom. And we understand that if one is not free to give or not give of one's own body, one is not free.

If abortion is murder, than mandatory motherhood is slavery. Most of us would decline to enslave another, even at the cost of our lives, and this would be a proper ethical decision. We can't use the bodies of others to save our lives, we must count on them to give freely of their most precious possession, their life, their body, their suffering. It makes us vulnerable to have to count on the love and goodness of others. There's nothing about a fetus which gives it more rights than a baby, child or adult.


The Iministry group has just had it's first triumph; a couple of sermon CD's have been converted to sound files and posted on our website! If you go to, and click on sermons, you'll find a little icon for audio files. If you click on the link, you can hear the sermon (and in the case of the Sr. Lawrensa sermon, the abundant laughter of the congregation) through your computer. Step one of their very ambitious plans has been accomplished! Now...if you want to help with this project, give Dan Small a holler!

I don't often listen to recordings of myself preaching, and it was sobering to listen to these two sermons. I need to take the advice I give to nearly everyone who speaks from that pulpit and SLOW DOWN!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Church Shopping Revisited

I did trundle myself off to a contemporary worship service yesterday. Their church band played, the ministers were dressed informally, and there was a lot of applause. It was clear that the announcements, sermon, and Communion service (first Sunday of the quickly we forget!) were all the same as the traditional service.

It's a big, corporate-style church, and what makes it feel welcoming to the pastor, who welcomes everyone at the beginning of the service with such evident joy and caring that it makes up for the fact that there are no name tags, yellow cups, invitations to coffee hour, instructions for how to join...all the stuff we think we have to do week after week to make people feel welcome. Exactly what a person would do who wanted to affiliate with that congregation, I'm not sure, but it's a growing, thriving church, so they are obviously doing a lot right, and I wonder about the power of that kind of heart-felt greeting. It must feel better than the same old announcements read week after week.

I don't like applause any better in someone else's church than I like it in mine. And I noticed that they were having the same difficulty making space for their band that we do. They're about to build a "band loft" to go with their Choir loft and dedicated organ space. We need to do that, too.

And once again, I was reminded of the spirit of adventure/raw courage it takes to go church shopping, and I'm appreciative of every person who has found their way to First Unitarian. Church Shopping is Hard Work!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Church Shopping

One of the great joys of sabbaticals is it's opportunity to visit other congregations and see other clergy work. Ministry is a strange occupation in this matter; most people watch others do jobs similar to theirs all the time. I look forward to this opportunity.

So William and Kevin have gone off to First U, and I'm awaiting 11 am to go to the contemporary service at a neighborhood church where I know the pastor. I've never been to a contemporary style service before, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm also acutely aware of what hard work church shopping is. Will I fit in? Will the pastor I know be there? Will the message (it's the first Sunday of Lent, after all) be too far from my theology to be useful at all? It really would be easier to stay home! *** (pause to check this church's website)
My friend will be there. The message is likely to be challenging. I'm going for the style, the music, the experience. Following up on the Google leads, I discover that this church has user ratings from a variety of websites. My church doesn't, and I think it should. It would hardly be seemly for me to review my own church (hint hint).

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Making Comments

Today, I'm having trouble with this, and it's frustrating. I want there to be a little icon at the end of each post linking to the comment form, and I can't seem to get it. At the moment, if you want to comment, you have to click on "0 comments". There's a comment form at the end of that page.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Critical Incidents

Ever since 9/11, when the heroism of the fire fighters burned my soul, I have thought that I should hone a talent which might be useful to persons in crisis, so that I too, might go where I was needed. I'll never be a fire fighter, I thought, but I am a decent listener, and people who have experienced trauma need listeners. Eventually I came across "Critical Incident Stress Management," a kind of emergency counseling protocol, taught in two day courses and the like, and which is supposed to help prevent Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Taking one of those courses has been on my to-do list for nearly five years now, and I periodically checked the web site to see if the courses they offered (usually in Baltimore) could ever coincide with a trip to see my family or another conference. They never did. I didn't exactly pursue this; for starters, there's a self-protective part of me that would like to continue to hide behind lack of training when disaster strikes and the call for volunteers goes out. But that's just an excuse. My work has several times put me in the place of listening while someone talks out their feelings about a traumatic experience, and I know that I can make do with the training I have. If the call came, I'd go. It would be best to get this specific training. Money and time got in the way.

During a sabbatical, one has time, so I started to think about this goal once again. My prayer has been for a productive sabbatical, however that might happen, and some would say that my prayer was answered. One casual inquiry of a friend produced the news that Presbyterian Hospital was holding just such a course in May for its employees, and there were enough openings that they'd consider having a non-employee join the group.

Some would call this syncronicity; I think of it as going with the flow; Taoist style. I have a friend who would, I think, call it a coincidence. "Coincidences happen," he says, with a twinkle in his eye, "But I find that when I pray, they happen more often." I don't have any way to process that thought; a God who makes it easy for me to take a little course but leaves the rest of the world in such a mess just doesn't compute. Still I have to agree; that's been my experience, too. It has also been my experience that following up on these striking coincidences/answers to prayer is a good thing.

So I sent in my fee; such a modest $30 that I will be forever beholden to use the certification I get for the good of my fellow human beings. I did it quickly so I wouldn't chicken out. And now two days in May are booked for this Sabbatical. Hopefully there will be no national disasters on which to practice what I learn.

What I've Learned about Blogs

I have spent most of the afternoon surfing through the world of Blogging.

Blogs are basically personal websites which are set up to be interactive. They generally consist of posts and comments, with some personal information about the blogger, favorite links, and so on. But the heart of it all is the posts and the comments.

They are hosted by the internet biggies...Blogspot, for instance, which hosts this one is good old google. I think that we can trust them to keep our email addresses secret; they ask for it when you comment to keep the spam down.

So what I now need to make my sabbatical life complete is some comments! You comment by clicking on the little picture of a pencil, registering with Google, and commenting away. If you do that, you'll feel as hip as I do right now!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Multi Site Churches

A couple of members of the iministry team are going to go to a media conference next month, and in the brochure was a workshop for "multi-site churches". I googled that today and got a plethora of sites; turns out that what I thought was my little idea for spreading UU'ism in New Mexico is the darling of Evangelical Mega churches. I suppose that that validates the idea, but I do so like being an original thinker!

There's lots of help available, although no on so far seems to be imagining multi site, lay lead groups. So perhaps there will be something for us to invent after all.

As an interesting sideline, this blogger had such utterly sensible comments about our local church fiasco, Calvery Chapel, that I signed up on his web site. That led to the question of RSS feeds...the newest in thing for getting updates from websites without having to browse your favorites. I'm trying that on my blog...if you click on "get a feed" in the link bar, you could get this blog automatically updated. (if I did everything right, that is...)

What a profound change all this is from the old "look it up in the encyclopedia" days!