Thursday, August 31, 2006


Two weeks ago I got a new MacBook and sold my still-very-good Emac to a friend, all in the service of getting a new printer to replace the old broken-down Epson. Apple was giving away HP printers if you bought a Mac, so, of course, I succumbed to the lure of more memory, more bells and whistles, and a small, portable footprint on the desk.

But I've always used a mouse to navigate and learning to deal with the track pad had me frustrated and feeling inept. I couldn't remember which movement I could use where and when I had to scoot the cursor manually to scroll, etc. You get the picture. I was more than all thumbs------I was all feet. Shades of that old movie, "My Left Foot", only I was much less accomplished than Daniel Day-Lewis.

I wanted my handy dandy little mouse back, only it had gone off to the shores of Scatchet Head with its new owner. I struggled to get better with the track pad, but by Tuesday it just hadn't happened, so on a trip into Seattle, I stopped off at the Apple store and bought MIGHTY MOUSE! MM is a Bluetooth device, wireless, smoooth as cream and as beautiful. MM (maybe I should name this mouse Marilyn?) has done what I needed her to do------make working and playing on the computer as easy and as much fun as it used to be.

Now if I could just figure out what to do with the three ink cartridges that I bought for the Epson just before it conked out forever! If you could use two color and one black ink cartridge model 740i, let me know and you can have them for a small price (I paid about $25 per and I would sell them for $10 apiece.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

In dark and rain, sorrow and pain...

"Voice still and small,
deep inside all,
I hear you call, singing.
In dark and rain,
sorrow and pain,
still you remain, singing.
Calming my fears,
quenching my tears,
through all the years,

This small hymn by John Corrado came to mind when Sean chose his Blogival topic: what gets you through the hard night? When things are at their worst, the world is against you, you are discouraged and afraid, what is it that sees you through?

(For those who are sticklers for accuracy, yes, I know that this version differs slightly from the one in the hymnal. My understanding is that the language was modified a bit from the original, for publication. I'm not sure why someone felt the need, but I do like the original wording best.)

Several years ago, when I went to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, that august group gave me a 2 and told me I was too intense, that I would put off search committees with my energy and drive, and said that my contingency was to spend a year in spiritual direction.

Well! Needless to say, I was miffed-----a 2? I was, of course, the best candidate the MFC had ever seen, bar none, and I was not a bit intense!!!!!!!!!! Accustomed to getting straight A's in seminary, I was incensed that I was getting a B from the MFC. But I was a good girl, still, and dutifully looked up a spiritual director (completely unnecessary, I was sure!) when I got back home.

It was exactly what I needed. I'm not sure it made the intensity go away, but during that year of spiritual direction, I discovered prayer. And prayer was exactly what I needed to learn.

How did I manage to wade through 50 plus years of Sunday School, church, churchlady biz, and seminary without learning to pray? Oh sure, I knew the requisite "now I lay me" and "Our Father who art in heaven" but somehow I had missed the main feature-----actually having a conversation with God, with the power beyond me, the mystery and spirit of life.

Prayer is my spiritual practice. If I don't pray daily, I feel less together, less strong, less able to shoulder the burdens of ministry. In prayer, I share my sorrows and my pain, my joys and my triumphs, my worries and my sleepless hours. I am able to let go of my anxiety for a time, able to release the tension of being all to everyone, able to say to myself, "it's in God's hands" and let go.

It's a very simple practice. I do it ritually at night, though all day long there are little "thankyous" and "pleases" wafting God-ward from my heart. At night, I light my chalice, I sing an old song (Teach me to pray, Lord), and then just talk to God. I tell God thank you for the good day, no matter how it's gone, because every day is actually a good day. I tell God what's happened that day and what it was like to live this day. I tell God what troubles me, what I feel I've done wrong, and I ask for wisdom to make amends. I tell God how thankful I am for the things that went right.

Then I ask God to be with those I love, naming them in some cases and in others naming a group of beloveds. Sometimes I ask for help learning to love someone I'm angry or irritated with. I ask for wisdom and strength in the situations I'm dealing with, personally and in the congregations I serve. I ask for a chance to be useful, that I might be helpful to someone. And I ask for guidance in my life, that I might be a good minister, a good parent, a good friend, a good relative. I ask for a good night's sleep and good health in the morning.

And then I say, "I love you, God, good night, amen." And blow out the chalice. And in the nighttime hours, I hear that voice still and small. Sometimes in a dream, sometimes when my cat crawls up under my chin to sleep, sometimes in the howl of a coyote outside my window or the hoot of the owl that lives in the woods. Sometimes I don't hear it, I sense it. It's there when I wake up in the night and a worry crosses my mind; "help me let go of my fear, dear God" and a silent calm warms me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Love and Justice

For a parttime minister, I sure feel like I've been working a lot lately! It's because we're getting ready to launch a new church year, but there have been many demands on my time and tonight, after attending an all-day workshop with my Whidbey folks on "building healthy congregations", I'm tired.

Some of that tiredness is frustration. As I listened to our very competent and knowledgeable facilitator and to the questions and concerns of the congregants attending, I experienced a sense of weariness that I can only attribute to the impossibility of doing everything this congregation needs me to do in the amount of time they can afford to pay me for. We need to revamp several committees, look at our mission and vision, re-up a capital campaign, AND start work on our building.

As our speaker talked, I was thinking: what is the mission of this group? What engages them? How would I characterize it in my own words, find a slogan that fits? I like the phrase "offering love and justice to the people of Whidbey Island". Love and Justice seem to me to be the words that best fit my own concept of what an effective UU church offers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Well, well, well

Who'd a thunk it? The situation I was unhappy with on Monday has eased and seems to have responded better than expected to the solution I disagreed with. Did that make sense? They didn't do what I suggested, did their own thing, and things are better. Not too good for the self-esteem, but typical of the way life goes sometimes! Good thing I am learning to let go of outcomes!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Letting go of outcomes

It's been one of those days in ministry. I'm only a parttimer but I put my whole self into it and am disappointed when my efforts don't result in the outcome I hope for. I'm getting better at letting go of outcomes, but it's still a struggle. In this case today, I didn't get the expected result in working with a situation but as I think about it, I'm considering that maybe the best thing did happen. People acted with integrity even if they didn't do things my way. And that's a good thing.

I get frustrated with those whose M.O. seems to be "my way or the highway". And I am quietly impressed when others refuse to play that game.

Yesterday was a great day in church! Colleague and friend the Rev. Amanda Aikman is one heck of a playwright and my Whidbey folks presented a segment of one of her plays, "Ruth's Story", about a UU woman who becomes a Christian from the foundation of UUism, not having inherited it and its pain from her past but seeing it through the eyes of relationship. It was quite provocative in its theme and opened some eyes, I would guess. Somebody asked me if I would baptize a person who came to me asking that I baptize her/him as a symbol of a renewed relationship with God. And I have to say that I would do it, if I felt that the person was sincere and committed to the transformation s/he was seeking.

I liked the approach of the minister in the play; he asked her the same kinds of questions that I would ask a couple who was seeking to get married. And she answered from a place of intense thought and feeling.

I liked it. And I am starting to like the unexpected outcomes of the day.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

and another thing.........

Okay, okay, I'm new to the world of blogging, so I have a few questions and, after yesterday's mild rant, I have another related issue to unload about.

I read several blogs written by UU ministers, all of them erudite and well-written. You know who you are, colleagues, and I salute you!

However, a few of those erudite and provocative blogs do not allow for comments from readers. Why would that be? Who among us would be so hubrissy (it's not a word but it ought to be) as to disallow response? Is there a good reason?

Some of us say outrageous and stimulating things, just begging for a response. Most of us take that response with delight and wade right in, parrying thrusts and delivering mortal blows if necessary, sometimes a little too enthusiastically, but still...

I am trying to visualize why and am brainstorming: do they not have time to respond to comments? are they afraid of critical comments? would they rather not have a discussion about their stimulating ideas but rather just plonk them down out there and walk away?

Comments are my favorite thing about blogging! I love to read them and, as CC has remarked, I get a sense of what people are looking for as they surf the blogs. I can't imagine just sticking up a sermon or an essay and not allowing anyone to comment on it. I'm about to quit reading the ones I can't comment on. I don't want to have to send an email to someone with my thoughts, because the only person who will read that is the recipient. I want to know what others think about the matter, not have my comments fall into a black hole.

One of the blogs I read belongs to a colleague who is known for an extremely thin skin and inability to listen to dissent about his/her points of view. I wish this person would get some therapy about the issue, but at least I understand her/his reluctance to have anyone criticize the point of view in the blog.

So------those of you who do not allow readers to comment on your ideas, please tell us why. If I understood, I would not be so critical. And I'm assuming there's a good reason or you wouldn't do it. This also applies to those bloggers who, when we do comment, do not allow the comments to be published. Why?

Beginner's mind, that's all it is. I don't think it's as big a deal as the emperor having no clothes. As a newbie, I am allowed to ask foolish questions, right? But I would appreciate answers!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What I really want to write about is........

how hard it is not to succumb to the urge to post challenging and probably offensive comments on a blog I sometimes visit because the blogger is someone I love. No, it's not my son who hasn't posted anything since February on his blog (get with the program, kiddo!) or his sweetie who has been having her ups and downs medically. It's nobody who lives nearby or whom I even see very often, but I love this person and respect the position taken, though I don't agree with it.

It's more the scathing remarks and "you idiot" attitude that permeates the blog. This writer is funny and brilliant but I doubt there will ever be much back and forth conversation about the ideas presented because it's so clear that if the reader doesn't agree with the writer, the reader will be ridiculed and dismissed.

That may be what the blogger and his/her readers want. My knowledge of the blogger is that s/he is passionate about his/her subject matter (religion) and all the behaviors that the religion demands and I respect that. What is hard for me is to see how exclusionary and narrow is the point of view presented, particularly considering how very intelligent this person clearly is. It's as if the brain has been hijacked by ideology.

It may be my heretic heart and mind shaping my reaction, but I am unable to see how the behaviors championed in the blog are improving the world. I am not sure how to write this without destroying my relationship with the person and others connected to this person. You'll notice I am not assigning gender here, to protect identity------or maybe to keep you guessing. But believe me, it's unlikely that I am talking about anyone you know!

This person may occasionally read my blog; I don't know. If s/he does, I hope that s/he gets the message that I love and respect him/her but am concerned about a point of view that seems to be fanatical and does not serve the world well nor the God we both love. IMHO.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Question Box Sunday Redux

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in the woods and 35 or so of the faithful gathered in the clearing where the UUs of Whidbey are getting ready to build their own home. Somehow the orders of service didn't arrive with the appointed carrier, so we had to wing it on the songs, which are normally printed out in the O/S so we don't have to bring the hymnals out.
As mentioned in a previous post, today was to be "Question Box Sunday" and folks were to come prepared to write out a question for me to answer. I had received a few questions in advance, but the rest were contributed by attendees this morning.

It was a good selection:
* How can we look at all the terrible things going on in the world and not get depressed because we feel helpless to change them?
* How can we forgive and forget?
* What is small group ministry and can we have it here?
* Why do we call ourselves a congregation and not a church?
* What happens when I die? I can't imagine that it just ends because everything else recycles into some other life form.
* Is there a God?
* Do I have to believe in God?
* How can UU's help to bring peace to the world?
* Are there any circumstances where the end justifies the means?
* What can help us to clearly hear the voice of conscience?
* I think we UUs have a hard time speaking truth to power, which often leads to no action or a consensus that pleases no one. Can we change or is this the best we can do?

Wow! I managed to deal with numbers 1-7. The others will have to wait till I can deal with them in a sermon. I did enjoy turning the tables and, after answering the question, I asked the folks assembled to weigh in with their own thoughts.

It was a good morning! I felt coherent and they seemed to consider me credible. In fact, they want to do it again someday,and I will definitely do so.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Question Box Sermon

I like to do kind of quirky things on my Sundays in the pulpit. Not always, just often enough to stir things up a bit. I usually am pretty conventional, the ole "hymn sandwich" type of liturgy being a comfortable style for me, but every once in awhile, I am tired of doing things the same way and try to do something different: sing an old traditional Baptist hymn, dance around the sanctuary with the kids to "Come and Go With Me", have an Easter Parade with Easter bonnets as the postlude, T-Shirt Theology Sunday, for example.

This Sunday is a case in point. I first encountered a Question Box format years ago when I visited First Unitarian in Portland, Oregon, and watched Marilyn Sewell deftly handle a wide variety of questions. I've done it once before, at my former parish, and had a good experience, so I thought I'd try it here on Whidbey Island.

So far three questions have been turned in (the congregation has had advance notice and were invited to email me their questions) and a couple are doozies. One person wrote "how can we find an emotional and psychological balance on the environmental issue after seeing 'An Inconvenient Truth' and not get depressed that we're not doing enough?" And another person wrote "How do we forgive and forget?" The third question is easier: "Why do we call ourselves a congregation and not a church?"

I find myself mulling over possible responses during long waits in the ferry line. I struggle with all these questions and their answers. I haven't yet seen the Gore movie, but I know it's going to depress and frustrate and infuriate me when I do. I admit to wanting to hide my head in the sand and pretend everything's just fine, but obviously I can't do that. And I'm not so hot at forgiving and forgetting either. I often just wish we could be a church, so I didn't have to write out 'c.o.n.g.r.e.g.a.t.i.o.n." every time.

Gaahhh------what made me think this would be a good idea? But it is making me think hard about what I have to offer to my congregations. I am not great at extemporaneous speaking unless I know my subject matter backwards and forwards; off the cuff sometimes turns into a problem for me. So I have to be careful about getting out on a limb that I subsequently cut off behind me. Once in a parish far far away, those who were evaluating me told me that they wanted me to preach without a manuscript. They didn't know what they were suggesting! Needless to say, I did not follow that particular piece of advice.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to Sunday. I'll let you know how it goes. The service will be on "the land" (our acreage that is being turned into our own church building site), which means in the woods on picnic benches and there is a picnic at my house afterwards. That's actually probably more scary than the questions!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wedding Season

It's wedding season on the Island and yesterday I spent quite a bit of time with a delightful couple and their families, preparing for their wedding today on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had met initially months ago to begin this process and I was struck by their earnest and sincere desire to create a marriage that would nurture both of them and each of them.

I always ask a couple a lot of questions about their relationship, how they met, what they love and admire about the other person, and so on, in addition to the details about the wedding they want-------you know the drill, if you are a clergyperson. I don't make any effort to do deep premarital counseling because I'm simply not trained to do so, but I want to be able to refer them for counseling if I detect difficulties in the relationship. I want to know them as well as possible before the wedding, since many of the couples who come to me are not members of my congregations, and I have a mental list of red flags that help me discern the health of their relationship.

Yesterday, as we sat and had breakfast together, I thought back to a moment in time 30 years ago, when my boyfriend and I decided we would marry and made arrangements with a local judge to do the ceremony. We weren't affiliated with a church at that point and his boss was a judge, so we decided that he would officiate. Leaving all the incipient problems with that decision aside (like why didn't we ask my dad the Baptist minister to officiate?) along with their awkward explanations (like how would I tell my dad I no longer felt Baptist?), I recognize now many of the red flags that would have been revealed had my boyfriend and I been asked these questions.

I don't regret for a moment the 13 years I spent married. I learned life skills I could never have learned alone. I have an incredible and loving son who is getting ready to marry his sweetheart next summer. My former husband and I are friends and, in fact, I officiated at his re-marriage several years ago (boy, can that act cut the ties that bind pretty definitively!). Even after our divorce, I was included in his family openheartedly.

But I wish, oh how I wish, that we had been asked to tell it to the judge: "how did you meet?" "what drew you to the other person?" "what do you love and admire?" "how do you talk about the hard things?" "what will you as a couple contribute to the world?" "what will marriage change between you?" "what will marriage change about you?"

We went into our marriage without a clue, except for the examples of our parents' marriages----long term, 50's style, loving but unequal in overt power. I thought he would be like my dad, affectionate, strong, unselfish. I'm sure he thought I would be like his mom, taking care of his every need. But that kind of marriage was not in the cards for us; neither of us was able to meet the expectations and needs of the other, particularly with the times a-changin' as they were in the 60's and 70's.

And so a crisis tore us apart, we separated and divorced, trying to keep our son afloat during those difficult times, weathering the storms of resentment and loneliness that plagued us both, and gradually learning who we were as individuals and what we needed for ourselves and within a relationship. Our son survived and gradually came into his own as a young man. We each took different paths and mine led me into the ministry.

Today I, a woman who has been single for 26 years, counsel and marry couples embarking on their own life journeys together. I sometimes wonder what wisdom I have that gives me the authority to tell others how to nurture a marriage, how to talk about the hard things, how to keep a relationship healthy. And yet I do have something to offer, if only the wisdom obtained through years of searching, wondering, watching, listening, hearing, seeing what I was unable to do that others succeed in. What I offer, I think, is the voice that asks the questions. I don't pretend to have the answers, only the questions that I wish someone had asked me, 30 years ago.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Speaking the language of the Living Tradition

ChaliceChick offers this invitation to the Blogival: to write about "religion words that move us, religion words that don't."

What a great topic for a broad spectrum of religious seekers to address! I am looking forward to reading others' thoughts.

My own experience, growing up, was as the heavily-committed eldest child of an American Baptist minister. Committed, that is, to self-preservation, staying out of trouble with our small town and my family, and having fun within safe parameters, namely, church activities. I never felt particularly committed to doctrine, never totally bought the idea of virgin birth or resurrection or miracles or Trinity or other supernatural religious concepts, though I never openly admitted this, either. It seemed to me that it didn't matter much whether these things really happened or not. Wasn't the whole point of Christianity the teachings of Jesus? Wasn't that the miracle?

So I faked it a bit, talked a good game, gave the impression of a devout young woman, all because I loved my parents and siblings dearly and they seemed to believe this stuff. I never revealed to them my own questions, because I didn't want to be separated from my family. I could see that they really were devoted to the teachings of Jesus, not just the trappings, and that was the important thing to me.

What this created in my life was an interesting blend of preferences and problems. I avoided language which talked about saving souls or conversion or bloody sacrifice or subservience, ideas which really didn't seem to resonate with the teachings of Jesus.

During a stint as an American Baptist Home MIssionary in Denver, I began to feel strongly that saving souls meant providing after-school activities for kids, a food bank, optometric services, job opportunities, friendship and acceptance. Conversion for me wasn't a blinding experience on the road to Damascus but a gradual understanding of what I believed and was willing to commit to. Bloody sacrifice seemed as senseless as the war in Vietnam, which was itself a bloody sacrifice of young men, some of them my friends. Subservience---resentment by the subservient seemed to be its outcome.

As a Unitarian Universalist, first a layperson now a minister, I often choose metaphors to express my ideas of God. I love Brian Wren's hymn "Bring Many Names" in the grey hymnal (#23), with its loving metaphors: God as mother, father, aging, young, living being. But I don't only use human metaphors for God. For me, God is Cosmos, Nature, Universe, Power Beyond Human Power (PBHP). For me, "Trinity" is too few manifestations of the Divine. (I keep thinking there's a sermon title in there somewhere: "Three is Too Few")

Attending a United Methodist seminary (Iliff, in Denver) gave me a chance to improve my skills at translating, for I had decided by then that a Unitarian Universalist needs to be religiously bilingual, able to speak religious language freely, understanding others whose dialect or language is somewhat different, accepting of differences, not needing to hear only UU-ese. If we are a pluralistic faith, we need to be pluralistic in our understandings and acceptances and capabilities.

I remember when my best childhood friend told me that she used to think God's name was Andy, because of the old hymn we often sang in church ("Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own....") and small children have been known to intone "Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Howard be thy name".

I like that-----my buddy Andy shares his garden with me, the garden of the universe, of Whidbey Island, of cats and eagles and flowers and trees. Though my father who art in heaven is named Merritt, it's okay if someone else's is Howard.