Sabbatical Blog

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

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.

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 independent 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 such 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 inventor of this metaphor, Lyle Schaller) are much more likely to be noticed, 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 independent from the get go (good training for cat-hood) The "help" supplied by the "mother church" was negligible 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 towns east of Albuquerque? The group would begin as a subset of the mother church (embryo stage?), a neighborhood social group, and a covenant group. If this group wanted to proceed further, they would begin to offer Sunday programming, in a public place, led by a trained worship leader and using a video feed from Mother Church for the sermon. 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 would 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, and regularly hearing UU sermons, these groups will be more likely to remain religious communities. 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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Purposes and Principles...O My!

Or, Oh, no!

As Philocrites reports, the UUA Board has asked the Commission on Appraisal to review our current Purposes and Principles (the statements about affirming and promoting the worth and dignity of persons, and the sources of our Living Tradition) to see if they need revising.

The fact that our contentious and divided bunch ever came up with a statement we agreed on in the first place is one of the reasons I believe in God, and I don't think that we're likely to see that particular miracle again. So I'm stumping for the Commission to give the situation a look and decide that the Purpose and Principles are ok the way they are.

But as I commented on Philocrites, I do think that we need some of those short and snappy mission phrases which I see on the church websites I've been reading. For instance, the mission of the Northcoast Church which I'm planning to visit next Sunday in Oceanside, California, is, "Making Disciples in a Healthy Church Environment" Much better, in my opinion, is the mission of the Community Christian Church, "Helping People Find their Way Back to God."

These would probably not be our statements, but I'm sure you can imagine how centering and useful it would be to have such a thing of our own. In my own mind (I'm not sure my church even knows this, but it's powerful for me) the church's mission statement is "fostering spiritual growth in a diverse religious community"

Actually, this being the UUA, I'm advocating that we have five of them. Not only will more people find at least one of them appealing, but having five statements rather than one is walking our talk about diversity and freedom. I commented some more about this on the above Philocrites blog.

So...either for the UUA or for your local church, what would your mission statement be like? Leave a comment! (You can sign in as anonymous to avoid the hassle if you want, although this is a very safe Google-run blog).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Faith

I went to a Good Friday service at my local, friendly Episcopal Church this evening. The priest, just returned from a sabbatical time in Mexico, said that in Mexico Holy Week is a very big deal, with processions in the street and church services every day. It all culminates Friday night when the whole town processes through the streets and crowds into the church. On Easter morning, on the other hand, the streets are deserted and the churches hold small combined services for the daily worshippers. Everyone else has a quiet morning at home with the family.

In America, it's the other way around. Churches are packed on Easter morning with folks dressed in their finest clothes, for the big triumphal day of light and gladness, while on Good Friday only a fraction of Christians are in church.

We, the fraction, had a moment's pleasure of smugness.

I wanted to go to church on Thursday, rather than Friday, because Thursday in the Psychology of Holy Week fits my general mood. Nothing too bad has happened, but there's the sense of coming change, perhaps doom, and yet we enjoy food and friends and the holiday in spite of our foreboding, and move through our assigned parts in faith that things will work out. That's the general mood I'm in lately. But the only Christian Church in town that I really trust was doing footwashing and Eucharist last night, and Eucharist is restricted to "any baptized person", which they mean to be extremely inclusive but doesn't include me. So I went tonight, guessing that there would be no Eucharist, and there wasn't.

The Priest's theory about Mexican Holy Week is that the Mexican people are so often ground down by the difficulties of their lives and they can really identify with Jesus' suffering and with the dignified and faith-filled way he went to his death. "Into Your hands, I commend my spirit,". The priest commended this surrendered attitude to us all, wondering if we could go through our lives, not with "faith in" (being rescued from whatever trouble we're in), but simply with faith.

So I got my sermon for my general mood anyway, and it spoke to my condition, as my Baptist friends used to say. So, Global Warming, Iranian Crisis, Population Bomb, these things will come and we will cope as best we can, in faith and with love, and perhaps even, with purpose and joy.

And for those who will speak words of hope on the day of light and gladness to the well-dressed throngs, Blessings!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Miss Manners on Joys and Concerns

In the Chicago Tribune, Judith Martin (Miss Manners) pontificated on Joys and Concerns. Linguistic analysis suggests that her questioner was a UU, since other churches tend to call this problematic time "prayer requests." As usual she has her own interesting slant in her advice. "Don't give the microphone to habitual abusers," she says, and "The minister should put aside sharing given to (ahem) him if it is frivolous."

Well, the second is a possiblity. The first probably is not. But I do like her general statement that it is rude to mix the serious and the frivolous even in party conversation, much less in church. Now we can at least give our habitual offenders a copy of the column!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Molly Ivins Mentions Us!

Today's Albuquerque Tribune carried a column from Molly Ivins which mentioned her sister's participation in the Green Sanctuary Committee of "the Unitarian church in Albuquerque."

Hey, there's a thrill! I wonder if we'll get any hits on our website because of it?

I've always appreciated Molly's wit and wisdom, and the fact that she was one of the few famous liberals who have kept both their cool and their edge during this dark night of our collective liberal souls. I would have appreciated her even if I didn't know her sister, and that's added to the fun. But most liberals either started suffering from brain draining anxiety after the last election, or they seemed demoralized and wandered around trying to figure out where to plant their feet. (The democratic party at large still seems to be in the later state.) Not Molly!

Today's column remarks that until we know for sure what the climate tipping point is (was), we'd better just do what we can do. She highlights changing to more efficient lighting something she rightly commends our Green Sanctuary Committee for doing. And we've got more hybrid cars, too!) I've got another suggestion. Let's turn off some refrigerators or freezers.

It's not uncommon for busy families to have two refrigerators and a freezer in their homes. Now, that's a LOT of power. Refrigerators, especially old refrigerators, are the biggest power hogs in the house. Do we really need all that food storage? How about simplifying our lives by shopping for and eating and drinking what one refrigerator holds, and then filling it again? If your life and organizational abilities are anything like mine, I can't even properly use before I loose the contents of one freezer, much less two.

Just a thought for those of us who want to do our bit for the earth but have already replaced our lightbulbs, combined our trips, and are not ready for hybreds or bicycles.

In the meantime, Thanks, Molly, and best wishes from your sister's church!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Coercing "Discussion"

I’m the kind of person who likes to buy light bulbs or cookies or whatever the kids are selling door to door. Really. It’s good for kids to earn some cash to support their activities, and activities help kids grow up to be happy, productive citizens. So I buy cookies. But would I buy cookies from a kid who said, “Buy my cookies or you’ll be sorry?” I would not. Even though I probably would be sorry.

I’m the kind of person who likes discussions about values. I think that one of the roles a church plays in society and in the lives of its members is to offer opportunities for people to talk about their values. Values like when, if ever, it is right to go to war, for instance. I’m all for discussions like that. But do I participate in discussions that start, “If you don’t talk about this with me, you’ll be sorry?” I don’t. Even though I probably will be sorry.

That’s why I hope my congregation will vote “NO” on the Study-Action Issue submitted for this year’s GA agenda called “Peacemaking”. Not that I’m against peace or the discussions of peace that the authors of this resolution apparently want. What I am against is the extreme lopsidedness of the discussion starter, which is, (I kid you not) “Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?

The authors admit that this extreme kind of pacificism has never been a part of UU life, and that by and large, UU’s have taken a Just War position, often using Just War precepts to protest particular wars. And their suggestions for study questions range from the astounding, “Should we, the member congregations of the UUA reject violence in any form?” to the ho hum global, “What are the hallmarks of a peaceful culture?” to the interesting but unresolvable by discussion, “To what extent do gun control and gun possession reduce violence?”

What’s painfully clear is that the no doubt good-hearted UU’s who submitted this proposal don’t really know what makes for a good discussion, but they wanted to have one so badly that they threw out the most extreme statement anyone could think of on the general topic to, they would no doubt say, “stimulate discussion.” And if you don’t get your tail in gear to go to their discussion, and they decide that you have to reject violence in all forms then it’s your own fault for not participating. So There.

It is also painfully clear that the process by which these proposals are proposed does not have enough mentoring in it.

That’s where I don’t buy any cookies.

Invite me to a discussion by offering me a chance to reflect on my values and hear yours, I’d like to come. Force me to a discussion by intimating that you’ll change the direction of my denomination to fit your theology or philosophy or social theory if I don’t, I might feel like I have to come, but if I do, I’ll come mad.

Which doesn’t make for good discussions.
We have until April 15th to vote this one down. If we don’t, the GA delegates will have to debate this in a body of 2,000. (Also not a good discussion.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Technology in Church

On Friday, an unsolicited copy of "REV" magazine appeared in my mailbox at oddity, as I rigorously separate my professional and personal address. Maybe this is the result of playing footsie with Evangelical Blogs. At any rate, it appears to be a magazine for "Pastors" (mostly male) was pretty interesting. One article hit me where I was at, an article about technology in churches, complete with seven guidelines. They are mostly aimed at computer issues, but they're good points for us to think about in our video foray, too.
  1. Create a Tech Team, which should not just be the tech's who have a clue about all this, but some folks who can see the big picture of the congregation and help with implementation, training, evaluation of new programs, and such. (even if, like myself, they don't understand much of the lingo flying around meetings and emails)
  2. Pay professionals when you don't have volunteer professionals to advise amateur volunteers. It's worth the money. (we're so lucky to have a pro on our team! Thanks, Chris Paul!)
  3. Budget for training, more than you think you'll need. (hummm....)
  4. Talk with other congregations who are already doing what you are planning to do, and talk to more than one person. The pastor may be far more enthusiastic about a new piece of technology than an administrator or volunteer. (such a good point!)
  5. Only buy what you need. Technology marches on. Budget for upgrades and maintenance. (hummmmm.....)
  6. Back up Data (We started a culture of back up a long time ago in the office. As long as recordings get put on church computors we should be ok. If recordings are going straight to NMIA, we might want to ask them about their backup.)
  7. Make Tech Planning a part of your culture. (hummmmm....)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Multi-Site Multi Venue

This exciting development in church life was pioneered in the 1950's and 60's by All Souls Church in Washington DC, and resulted in the founding of Unitarian Churches throughout the suburbs. (Odd that it has never been tried since, don't you think?) Lately, the evangelicals have taken the lead with this stratgy of providing video feeds or DVD's of an earlier service to groups meeting off campus.

Here are some websites about this phenomena:
An Article from Christianity Today
A blog of a Multi-Site RE Director
Multi Site Website
A Blog Entry from Monday Morning Insights, with comments critical of Multi-site.
Wikopedia Entry on "Multi-Site Church"

Most of these authors are writing about mega churches (main campus services serving several thousand persons per weekend). What I have in mind for New Mexico is slightly different: our modestly large church in Albuquerque serving house groups in outlying small towns too far away for folks to come in to Albuquerque regularly but close enough that they could come in for training, RE, and celebrations. In particular, I have in mind Grants, Edgewood, Belen, and Socorro. We might also take the edge off of our space problems by starting groups in Tijeras, Bernalillo, or the SouthWest part of the city.

We could use the same technology to serve small groups farther away: Portales, Roswell, Gallup, and Las Vegas are all places which we know have UU's, or even groups meeting. These groups could subscribe to a series of sermons and have the opportunity to be better connected to Unitarian Universalism and be able to concentrate on other aspects of worship and church life

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Proud Member of the Religious Left

Here's an exciting little paragraph from the Seattle Times:

Fault Lines Widen Between Evangelicals and the GOP The Seattle TimesThe fractures between some leading evangelicals and the Republican Party occur in a context of reawakening of what some call the Religious Left. Mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, progressive Muslims and Unitarian Universalists came alive politically in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and further mobilized in the 2004 electoral campaign. The best-selling books of Jim Wallis ("God's Politics") and Michael Lerner ("The Left Hand of God") show that religious progressive voices have a sizable, national following.

Michael Learner spoke at my church on Sunday, and I slipped in to hear him. He's a powerful speaker with powerful, workable ideas. I'm reading his book now. As one who has often felt dissed by the political left, not because of my political views but because I view myself as a religious person, his passion on that point especially speaks to me. Last year Jim Wallis excited me; Rabbi Learner excites me even more.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moderates in the UUA

Philocrates, a UU Blogger, has been holding a discussion about a book called "Knocking On Heaven's Door" which is devoted to studying how the "60's" (Really 1955-1975) changed the culture of the religious mainstream. There's considerable time devoted to Unitarian Universalism in this book; a whole chapter on Gay Rights within our denomination, and lots of side comments, some of which are startling. (Oh, to see ourselves as others see us!) I procured the book and read large chunks of it yesterday, and posted some comments on that Blog. The discussion had turned to why it is that our GA resolutions are all so radical, and why the many moderates we know belong to UU churches don't speak up in the discussions. That lead me to reflect on what "Moderate" really is and means and why "Moderates" don't participate much in UU discussion. Here's the link; you can read it there; and while you are there, check out this excellent blog!
"Moderates" on Philocrates

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Blogging 101

There are three ways to read blogs. The first is to go to the website whenever you think of it. The second is to use the Feed service. (Notice "Get a Feed" under "links" on the sidebar?) If you use an aggrigator or just want the link on your home page, that's how to get a link to the current post automatically. If all that is Greek to you, here's an easy way: Get all new posts by email. You sign up for that service at the bottom of the side bar, where it says subscribe me! Enter your email, confirm your address, and every night that there's been a new post on this blog, you'll get it by eamil. It's a free service, unless you want your email every hour, then it's (believe it or not) $1.59 a month.

This appears to me to be a safe and secure service, and a big time saver for regular readers.

Have fun!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bumper Stickers

Someone who regularly parks in my church parking lot (an employee of the child care center, I think) has a bumper sticker that says, "I support the Separation of Church and Hate."

It's almost too cute not to like, but I don't like it.

I assume that it refers to the issue of Gay Rights (as in another bumper sticker, which I did like, "Hate is not a Family Value." ) And while I'm all for Gay Rights, and against Hate Crimes and Hateful behavior, there's an important distinction to be drawn between being hateful and not agreeing. It is possible to be "not with the program" of Gay Rights, as many traditional religious people are not, without hating anyone. This bumper sticker is a "liberal" version of "If you're not for us, you're against us," and "America, Love it or Leave it." It's polarized thinking, and that's not liberal at all.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Red Triangle

Most of us are aware that the Nazis required Jews to wear a yellow Star of David on their sleve, both as they were tightening restrictions on Jews and later in the concentration camps. And many of us know that a pink triangle was the designation for homosexuals sent to the labor and death camps. There were other colors of triangles for other prisoners; purple for Roma (Gypsies) and Red for politicians and troublesome clergy.

Both the Jews and the Gays have taken their Nazi-given badge as a badge of honor, and perhaps we clergy who are inclined to be troublesome to the status quo (that should be all of us) or to the government (that would be many of us) should do the same.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Science and Prayers

Yesterday's news was that a well-designed (from the scientific point of view) study has determined that specific prayers (may he go through surgery and have no complications) of strangers for cardiac bypass patients have no effect on outcome, and if the patients are told they are being prayed for, they actually have a slightly higher liklihood of a worse outcome.

This study does not prove that prayers for one's own loved ones are ineffective, but that's a much harder scientific study to design, since it is impossible to know who is being prayed for. It also contradicts some other studies, which show a net positive effect of prayer on patient outcomes...but which established that a general prayer of holding a person in one's heart and praying for a good outcome, or "Thy will be done" is more effective than a prayer for specific outcomes like no complications. It is curious to me that the researchers in this last study were so directive, given previous studies.

No one in touch with reality will claim that a prayer like "may she come through surgery and have no complications," is particularly "effective". After all, everyone dies eventually and many who do die in spite of the prayers of their loved ones, and their own prayers. Obviously biological processes, not to mention the "will of God" regularly trumps prayers. That doesn't mean praying is useless, only that it is not magic. Surprisingly, many people who are thoroughly in touch with reality pray anyway. Their intuitive wisdom is that prayer helps the patient and their experience is that their prayer helps them to wait and hope.

That's why I'm this morning praying for the baby of a UU blogger. "Little Warior" underwent surgery yesterday for kidney cancer. I hold them both in my heart and pray that whatever is best might come to be.