Sabbatical Blog

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missing Sabbatical Already

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

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Real Job Jitters

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

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

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

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bridging Out of Sabbatical

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 22, 2006

GA06 Home Again

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

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

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

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

Home, now. 10 more days of sabbatical.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The loneliness of the Long Distance Minister

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2006

General Assembly

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sabbatical's End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Conduct of War

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

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

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

So let's just say this out loud.

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

I am so ashamed to be an American today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How To Blog

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

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

Pick out a template.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reptile Pets

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

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

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

Goliath and Guantanamo

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 09, 2006

I love my ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Church Websites

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

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

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

A few of other things I've learned.

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

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Internet Connections

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

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

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