Thursday, June 28, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
GA has been truly exhausting. I'm a delegate for my home congregation, and I feel charged to bring home information that can help this great congregation become even better. However, I'm only one person - and I can only be in one place at a time. I've done my best, but I don't really know if what I've learned will be received or helpful.
The Service of the Living Tradition was amazing. Some of my colleagues were disappointed with the changes - no walking across the stage to shake hands with the UUA President to be welcomed into preliminary fellowship. In conversation with a long-time minister, I found out that this tradition is fairly recent. This helped me make sense of the change, as did the explanation of the difference between a graduation ceremony and worship at the beginning of the service. Now, I don't know about UU seminaries - but the interesting part of that for me is that my graduation will be part of a worship service, when I get there that is. Something to think about - graduation vs. worship? Is there such a big difference, or not? I don't know, but I understood the desire to make a difference - and the desire to not have the service last forever.
I truly appreciated the sermon by the Revs. Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway. As I commented at Trivium, I found it an interesting sermon to experience and think about. Someone else pointed out to me that it was narrative preaching, I was thinking phenomenological... but I could just be too tired to be recalling the correct words. Anyway - it made me think about how these ministers were preaching not just for the laity in the audience/congregation, but also for a group of ministers. What could be better than acknowledging the daily duties of ministry - and the fears and insecurities that come along with trying to do it right all the time?
Admitting one's fears of preaching this particular sermon, which is so focused on as a highlight of the year for all UUs seemed appropriate, and a good reminder for all of us called to this that there will always be something that seems a little too hard, a little too scary, but as with much of ministry we just go ahead and do it. And it's o.k. Not every sermon is going to be overflowing with pearls of wisdom - or, as my favorite preaching professor once admitted, "I read some of my old sermons and I think - that one was really a dog." It spoke to me.
Otherwise this week - I've participated in the plenaries to the best of my ability. I've wandered through the exhibit hall repeatedly, trying to stay within my budget. I've attended workshops on worship and meeting the MFC and marriage equality, among others. And I had dinner with a group of fellow bloggers which was a treat, even if actual mingling was limited by the space.
Tomorrow morning, spirit of life (and United Airlines) willing, I leave to return home to my family and my CPE internship. Back to "real" life.
Traveling mercies for your journeys...
Monday, June 18, 2007
It's lovely here,and I'm sure I'll learn a lot and have a moderately good time.
But today is significant in my life for a very different reason. See the guy in the tree? On June 18, 1977, in front of friends and family we made some promises to each other with a campus minister (Presbyterian) presiding. That makes today our 30th wedding anniversary.
We were young. Neither of us really had any idea what this life together would bring, but the blessings and the challenges (and there have been both!) have all been worth it. Knowing what I know now - I'd marry him all over again. I am truly blessed with a partner who knows the meaning of "speak the truth in love," which was one of our vows to each other all those years ago.
Wish he were here...
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Especially if you're a bunny in our yard, apparently.
There's this baby rabbit - who nearly hopped into the dh's lap the other night before it realized there were PEOPLE sitting on the porch!
Today, he decided our planter of petunias were on the all-you-can-eat buffet, and decided to have a little snack...
What did our attack cat do?
Absolutely nothing except watch...
(We call open doors and windows "cat TV" in our house.)
Friday, June 15, 2007
As my cats wilt in the heat, I'm looking for something to smile at. In an email from my dear friend, The Wordsmith, is the following. Either it's totally hilarious or it's really been a looooong week...
How does the small arrow pointer on your computer monitor work when we move the mouse?mouse mystery solved
Haven't you ever wondered how it works?
NOW, through the miracle of high technology, we can see how it is done. With the aid of a screen magnifying lens, the mechanism becomes apparent.
Click on the link below and you will find out. The image may take a minute or two to download and when it appears, slowly move your mouse over the light gray circle and you will see how the magic works.
Follow this link and find out the truth: (has audio)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
– Small Town, by John Mellencamp
I’m hearing this song in my head as I still try to process what happened last weekend in the small town where I grew up.
Six people died. Three young women, two infant boys, one man. One toddler is in a hospital with a gunshot wound in her chest. One man escaped, to call 911. As I watched the news I tried to see if I recognized any of the police officers – back in the day I knew a couple young men jsut a few years older than me who joined the force after high school. Then they flashed photos of the victims. One of them has the same last name as - and is the exact image of - a man I attended high school with. I’m sure they’re related.
And now I hear Mellencamp in my head – another small town kid who grew up and went away to the big city. But, where he romanticizes the small town and yearns to return – I didn’t. For me, growing up in a small town was o.k. – my parents had decent factory jobs and while we certainly weren’t well off, I had good food and decent clothing and received a decent public education that adequately prepared me for college, which was affordable with loans and grants. But my daydream, as I lay in my adolescent bedroom listening to radio stations from Chicago, was to leave this place. I left more than 30 years ago to attend college in the big city. I’ve lived in cities and suburbs over the past decades and traveled in Europe. Though I live in a medium sized town now, it’s really a suburb of a big city.
And I've reconnected, tentatively, with my small town roots. The hospital where I’m doing CPE serves several small communities, including the one where the unthinkable happened. People are unable to quite take in what’s happened here. This is supposed to be a refuge, safe, insulated from the big city violence viewed on the TV news. I’m struggling to make sense of it myself. Two young mothers, dead, along with another woman and two babies. There is no way to explain this kind of horror.
Keep the people of this town in your thoughts and prayers (if you pray), please...
“No I cannot forget where it is that I come from…”For one news story: link
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower
Lauren Olamina is an empath and a preacher’s kid in a near-future Los Angeles where society has broken down to the point where people who have anything at all are cloistered in walled enclaves. Lauren’s family, and their neighbors, are barely middle-class now, and fearful of the outside world. Then the enclave is destroyed in a night of violence. Preaching a new faith, Lauren heads north gathering other outcasts on the way and spreading hope for a future. There is a sequel, Parable of the Talents, but the main story is in this book.
Mercedes Lackey: Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor
Alberich is a military officer in the Karsite army – dedicated to the Sun God in this theocracy. But, Alberich has a secret: his sixth sense of limited precognition could lead to his “cleansing” in the sacred fires of the God. His only hope comes when he is chosen by one of the Valdemaran Companions – white horse-like beasts who communicate telephathically with the humans they choose. These two books are good stories, but also present good themes as Alberich struggles to reconcile his own sense of honor and duty to his own people with his new allegiance to the nation which accepts him. Lackey frequently endows the cultures she creates with practices and principles I think she wants to see in our world.
James Morrow: Blameless in Abaddon
This is a sequel, of sorts, to Morrow’s award-winning Towing Jehovah, in which the body of God is discovered when global warming causes its icy glacier tomb to melt! This is an explicitly philosophical and religious novel, as a man named Martin Candle leads a group in a class-action suit against God. In the World Court, God is called to account for the evil and injustice in this world. (And another good read from Morrow is Only Begotten Daughter!)
Sheri S. Tepper: The Fresco
Tepper has written other books with religious themes, but this one is most interesting. It’s a first contact story in which Benita, an abused housewife, is approached by a group of aliens known as the Pistach to bring their message of peace to the US government. Simultaneously, another group of aliens is making contact with others… and they’re not as benevolent. Benita’s visit to the Pistach home planet brings about great change as the aliens’ theology is challenged by a very simple act.
Connie Willis: Passage
For a time it seemed one couldn’t walk into a bookstore without encountering books about near death experiences (NDEs). In my experience, I’ve talked to many people who believe their loved ones really will “move toward the light” and be met by relatives who predeceased them. In this novel, Willis explores the phenomenon in an interesting way – with a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Overall I think it's important to see this film, even though it has some flaws. The shifting back and forth between the camp director and camp events and the liberal Christian radio host is often awkward. Also a little out of place is the appearance of Rev. Ted Haggard late in the film. Here are some of my other impressions:
There's a point near the beginning where Becky Fischer, who runs the "Jesus Camp" for children in ministry, says (paraphrase) "Children at this age (9-11?) are so great because they're so usable." Usable? I'm pretty sure she meant by the holy spirit, but that's not how it comes across, especially when you view the rest of the film. Usable as pawns in a religious-political war is more like it - and Fischer does state that this is war, and asks the children how many of them are willing to be the kind of Christians who will give up their lives for God. The shocking part of that scene for me was the number of parents who raised their childrens' hands! Oh my word - I noted that none of those parents raised their own hands.
I think that's the scary part for me - that these children are viewed as soldiers in a war and the leaders are perfectly willing to play on children's fears and compassionate natures to gain their willing(?) participation in everything from a fight to the death to standing in front of a state capital with tape over their mouths. This is also the borderline abusive part... I was thoroughly disgusted by the sweet-voiced fellow who came into the camp to enlist the children's "help" in abortion protests.
Then there's weird. I understand that Pentecostals sometimes speak in tongues. I have classmates who grew up in this tradition, and although I don't understand it, I respect their traditions. However, Fischer's (and others') tongues-speaking in this film seemed phony and staged. Instead of seeming to be possessed by the spirit, Fischer would break out into a sentence or two of tongues in the middle of lecturing about something. It's possible I'm just not getting it, so "I could be wrong."* R pointed out, having read The Crucible this year, that at another point in our nation's history these children and adults would have been viewed as devil-possessed for their speaking in tongues and other activities. I thought that was an interesting insight.
Also weird: Fischer's declaration that if Harry Potter lived in Biblical times he'd have been put to death. R & I rolled our eyes at each other over that one - come on, Becky - he's a fictional character! And a homeschooling mom's discussion of science with her son - "science doesn't prove anything..." Excuse me?
I felt sad thinking of the little girl who felt she had to confess the times when she just danced "for the flesh," or for the pure pleasure of dancing, without consciously giving thought to God. At the age of about 9 (at a guess), this child already thought of merely enjoying the movement of her body in dance as wrong? I felt sad watching another little girl shyly attempting to witness to another patron at the bowling alley with her Chick-tract and earnest "God has led me to you" speech. In listening to her talk about her ministry, I got the impression that this child felt a heavy responsibility for saving souls and that her self-esteem would suffer whenever anyone failed to welcome her witness.
These children don't seem to be doing many things I normally associate with childhood - their elders seem to be making them put away childish things at a remarkably young age. Also sad was the total lack of evidence of joy in these adults - gee, if you've found The Truth (as Fischer said she had) and are eager to share it out of happiness, shouldn't you show it? I also wondered where grace and mercy fit in their theology, because I didn't see much evidence of those - or of compassion, either. This is a film I'm going to be thinking about, encouraging my friends to see, and discussing for some time. I'm interested to know what some of my Christian classmates make of it.
* "I could be wrong" is a reference to "Meg's Bible Control Bill" by the Rev. Meg Barnhouse, published in The Best of Radio Free Bubba (2002), a collection of pieces for radio by Barnhouse and others. She proposes this as a way to 'reduce the odds against people thumping on a Bible as they thump on a child." Part of her "Bible Control Bill" requires that anyone wanting to purchase a Bible "have started at least three sentences in the past year with the words "I could be wrong." "
** 6/13/07 Update: Today's mail brought the Fall 2006/Winter 2007 issue of "Religious Humanism," a journal published by the Huumanists. In it is an excellent review/analysis of this movie, by Lynn Hunt. I highly recommend it.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Since Meg and I aren't actively engaged in dialog anymore, I decided it's time to wrap up this series of blog posts. (Click on "dialog" in the list of labels to the right to find the first four posts.) I have to say that engaging in this kind of intentional dialog about theology has been enjoyable and educational. I'm grateful to Meg for her willingness to be open, thoughtful, and unflinching in both her questions to me and her responses to my questions. Though we differ on many points, on this I think we agree: we are called to serve the holy and to encourage everyone to live into their own sacredness. Like the blossoms on the columbine above, Meg and I are separate but connected - by our common humanity, our common Christian roots and our common call to ministry. I wish her well in her present and future ministries!
In my last post, I reported some of our discussion of justice - a topic about which we both have strong feelings and opinions. Previously I related our dialog on retribution and forgiveness and universalism, but didn't quite get to the heart of my objection to traditional Christian theology, which I expressed to Meg in an email this way:
I don’t understand how gathering some to heaven and consigning others to hell is a sign of a just deity. In this context, I especially don’t understand the notion of grace, as explained by some theologians, as some sort of ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ card randomly given to some and withheld from others, such that those who have grace can believe and be saved while those who don’t are incapable of belief and salvation. This goes beyond the scope of my original question a bit – but it applies to the notion of the elect, a Calvinist idea though certainly not exclusive to his thought. I see this expressed as an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd. The "in" folks are in God's favor and destined for Heaven; the "outs" are out of favor and, well, not destined for Heaven.This view of Christianity is what I understood from the few churches I knew prior to discovering Unitarian Universalism. The Lutheran church my brother joined, the independent and Baptist churches I attended as a teen, and the Catholic churches of many of my friends all seemed to present similar theologies - though with different formulae for achieving "in" status. Meg's response included an illustration of her being required to preach on a text from Isaiah about God choosing one nation over another, and her struggle to figure out a way to present this. Here's how she resolved her dilemma:
The best way I could explain that idea was to make a metaphor from marriage. At a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom promise to "forsake all others" and we think that is right and good because it is, in fact, the level to which a husband and wife live out that vow, embody their commitment to one another that others (children, church family, etc.) are drawn into and blessed through their union. Ultimately, then, when God chooses some people, there is a hidden agenda of wooing and drawing others into that love.
Now, I don't know about anyone else, but this sounds a lot like process thinking. One professor used a very similar illustration, of God enticing and wooing humanity into relationship with him [sic], as an example of process theology. One has to give up some of the absolute power usually attributed to a deity in this construct, and I do know a number of liberal Christians who are quite comfortable with that approach. I'm not sure the wedding analogy works for me, though. Meg also wrote that,
"...the church has been hideously at fault in presenting this doctrine by presupposing that they've got the secret "in" and can therefore pick for themselves who to treat as "insiders" and "outsiders." ... No Christian should ever presume to know who is in and who's out."I still have a problem with there being a group of "outsiders." To borrow from an elevator speech I've adopted as my own - I believe that as earthly creatures we all come from and return to the same source. If this is true, there can't be an "in" or "out" group.* And with that, we seem to be at a familiar impasse, but at least I understand how we got there, now. Meg, and a lot of others, read the same scriptures I do. But, we read them differently. I read them to glean truths that overlap with other faiths and traditions, to see where we humans agree should be our highest aspirations. I also read them with more detachment, understanding that the stories presented in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have many parallels in the mythologies of other cultures. Others read them as inspired by God, though often unclear. Some read them as direct pronouncements and claim to know what the unclear parts mean. Of course, this leads to our differences in creeds, beliefs about the divine, and the end goal of humanity - all topics on which Meg and I have worked to explain our views to each other. While my dialog with this specific person ends now, I fully intend to continue engaging in dialog with others over issues of theology and faith. I'm grateful to be at a seminary that encourages such dialog, both in and out of the classroom.
I believe, however, that such dialog also needs to take place within our churches. In my experience, we're not always thoughtful enough, respectful enough, open enough to these questions from each other. Sometimes I - and perhaps we - need reminding that we're all engaged in search, and we need each other to help us on that journey. Where better to find companions than within our own communities?
*(I'm afraid I've forgotten the original source of the elevator speech, I've heard so many over the past couple years!)