Sabbatical Blog

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

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.