Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Snow Play


It snowed for two solid days, dumping nearly 2 feet of snow at our house. Here in Albuquerque, we talk for weeks about it snowing for two solid hours, and an inch of white stuff delays school and government. The past record for snowfall in a day was 9 inches; the airport got 11 yesterday, and then it snowed another 24 hours. So we are all astounded and we all believe in climate change.

When the snow finally tapered off this evening, my son, noting that the pile of snow under the eves looked a bit like a dragon, went out to help nature out. I went out to play Sculptor's helper, and the product, a 20 foot snow sculpture.

What I thought about as I obediently packed snow and made snow spikes with my pruning saw was that there's something about snow that brings out the playful in people. Yesterday, I got out my Cross country skies and skied over to the park and got more smiles and comments than in the rest of my 18 years in this neighborhood.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Second Life Picture!


I finally made it to the UU Church of Second Life! There I am, sitting in the first row, meditating on the chalice. It's a very restful place and I am very proud of myself! The people there were friendly, too!

Virtual Weddings

The Unitarian Church of Second Life (membership in the UUA applied for) has gotten its first request to do a wedding and it's fearless leader, Bizarre Barry, has put out a call to the 80 some person membership to see if anyone is a Lay Minister. (apparently it didn't occur to him that one of his members might be a "real" minister.) He wants someone to do the wedding, the better to raise money with which to buy the Church a private island. Two Second Life UU's who know that I'm a member of the Unitarian Church of Second Life emailed me to urge me to volunteer.

But I'm trying really hard to have a Second Life that is NOT identical to my "real" life, so it was very easy to say No.

I probably would have done so anyway. As one who actually takes weddings and marriage seriously, I'd need to know a little more about what a "virtual" marriage is and what it means to the "real" people involved. Is this harmless playacting with elaborate paper dolls or is this something more? If it is something more, then what is the responsibility of the minister and the UU Church to encourage loving, responsible behavior and honest relationships? Is there any downside in "real" life to a virtual marriage? ("I promise to love, honor, and cherish you for no more than 5 hours a week"?)

One of my correspondents asked, "If the Second Life" Church affiliates for real with the UUA, what then is the meaning of the marriages solemnized by its "clergy"?

Good Questions! I hope some Second Lifers are thinking about them. As for me, once I figure out how to manage my Second Life, I'm going into business as a dog walker. But I have to figure out how to manage my first life, first.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Christianity

My "official" blog has comments today on one Unitarian Universalist's theology of Christmas. It's here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Blizzard of '78

There was no conversation in all of Albuquerque yesterday except about the coming snow, the snow, and then the astounding snow. With all that talk about snow, I suppose it should be no surprise that one conversation went like this. me: "I have not seen this much snow for 26 years, since I lived in Boston." "You lived in Boston in the 70's? Do you remember the blizzard of '78?"

It happens every time I talk about snow. Several million people lived thorough that blizzard, and I've talked to an awful lot of them over the years. The Blizzard of '77 was a huge storm on top of a big storm the week before. It shut down the city of Boston for three days and only public transportation was permitted for another week. We city dwellers walked through shoulder-high tunnels of sidewalks for the next three months, and the city public works department spent the rest of the winter scooping piles of snow into dump trucks and dumping them in the river. It was an amazing tribute to the New Englander's creed that business will go on no matter what the weather. This southerner was very glad to escape New England, to live in places where winter storms drive everyone to hearth and home (and, these days, to telecommuting) to enjoy the day and wait out the thaw.

P.S. We're at 10 inches at my house, and not only is it still snowing, there's another storm coming! Too Cool

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Snow Play

It's the last day of school, and no sooner had school let out than the heavens opened in snow. There's about 6 inches on the ground at the moment, with more forecast; we've lived here for 18 years and think that this is the most snow we've seen. And, miracle of miracles, it's wet snow! (Most of the snow that falls on Albuquerque is so dry it doesn't melt, it evaporates. It doesn't pack, it squeeks. No good for snow balls.)

My 16 year old son had brought buddies home with him to play Dungeons and Dragons, but at some magical point, they dragged on all the household mittens (they'd gone to school in sweatshirts; that 's how fast this weather changed) and went outside to throw snowballs. It was the snowball fight of a lifetime for the boy, who could never get his parents to struggle with the dry snow as long as he wanted them to. To have 5 eager snowballers was heaven on earth. Watching them made my snow day.

Monday, December 18, 2006

UUA on CNN

Last Sunday, CNN ran this clip about All Souls Church in Washington DC. You can watch it yourself by clicking the link. Very exciting publicity for us!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The UU Church of Second Life

I'm not playing computer games for Advent (at least, not too much), but I have received such fascinating news from the UU Church of Second life, that I must at least blog about computer games.

Second Life is one of several exceedingly popular MMO-RPG's. (Massive, Multiplayer, Online Role Playing games. Remember that.) where players create a character with a persona and engage with other online players in a variety of virtual activities. I signed up a month or so back, and the only thing I managed to do besides dress my character was find the Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life and sign up. There was a vast silence from them until today. Apparently, I signed up to get messages by email from the group and that feature was broken and is now fixed. (I once was lost, and now I'm found...)

Anyway, it appears that they meet (on line) pretty regularly on Thursday nights and their (virtual) membership has shot up to 80 in the past few months. So....get this...

They want to affilliate with the UUA. They've got the numbers. They are thinking about forking over US$ for UUA dues (most transactions in Second Life are accomplished with SL$). They are considering the possibility of officers and bylaws to make themselves "Kosher" in the eyes of the UUA so that they can apply to be a real (virtual) church.

Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall in the offices of the UUA (nice people, but it's a seriously stuffy place) when they get this proposal. I can hardly wrap my mind around it, myself.

We Albuquerquians think we're starting a pretty way-out experiment in reaching UU's in small communities with our iMinistry program; here's a truly far out experiment in reaching the next generation. No doubt the lawyers will say that the UUA Bylaws don't permit virtual members. but I do hope that someone can be found at the UUA to deal gently and knowledgeably with the Second Lifers and their UU Church.

I wish them well and am looking forward to finding them after Christmas.

Friday, December 15, 2006

New Uses for Blogs in Church

We use the blogs on the website to make it easy for volunteers to easily post the audio and video recordings of sermons, and so our publications person can post the written sermons. Much easier than going in to change the website.

One of the days the website developer said wistfully that she wished we ministers would blog more was I day after I'd spent all day on a memorial service for a beloved member, so I posted the Eulogy. Bingo. A Good Move. While I've always given a copy of the Eulogy to the family, and occationally responded to requests for copies, posting it to the website makes it available to anyone without my intervention. A couple of months later, we had a memorial service for a young adult who had spent 25 years making friends all over the world, and we got hits on our blogs from all over the world as her friends heard the news. Her family members and friends who had spoken at the service asked for their tributes to be posted, which I did. The family Christmas Card will carry the sad news farther, but it will also have the address of "Emily's Service" on the web. When I heard about that, I added my comments in the rest of the service. Memorial Services are something that UU's do really well. I believe. Discovering how useful this feature could be, I created a new blog just for the posting of Eulogies. It's here, If you vist, you'll get to read about this splendid young woman, a product of our church school and faith, as well as her wonderful family.

Occationally people send me written responses to services, sermons, or life, and they are often quite good. I got one the other day and asked the author for permission to post it, which she gave with delight. I can imagine that this feature could become quite popular, in which case, we'd probably add a "members" blog.

Our Library/Bookshop has its own blog, the better to pitch books to the congregation. The iMinistry/Branch Ministry team has a blog, which we imagine will be of interest to persons in churches which are thinking about attempting this new strategy for growth.

That's just a start...

My New Blog on the Church Website

We've been working on a new website for the church for months and months, and it finally went on line a few weeks back. This website has blogs attached to it, and even before we went on line, I've been thinking about blogging as a church activity.

I have to admit that my first reaction to hearing that I was going to have a blog on the website was not positive. While I've never made a secret of my "day job" , and I've never imagined that I could post just anything to my blog, writing for the blog has been removed from my work, and refreshingly so. I discovered early on that only about half of its readers even live in Albuquerque, and at least some of those folks don't belong to the church.

So I have a church website blog (you can find it here, and while we're linking, the church website is here) Our volunteer website developer is very eager that I post to it, and it took me a while to sort out what to use it for, how to differentiate from this blog, and so on. I'm still figuring that out, but in the meantime have discovered some interesting uses for a blog on a church website.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gold, Frankencense, and Mirth

A woman at church yesterday said that when she was a kid, she thought that the three Kings brought the baby Gold, Frankincense, and Mirth. I've been smiling ever since.

Those three universal beings (in the folk tradition from which manger scenes are made, they are an elderly European, a middle aged Oriental, and a young African) on their strange journey to bow down before a baby and bring gifts, were supposed to have brought three items of financial worth, gold, a precious incense used in religious ritual and worship, and a precious spice used in, of all things, embalming. Some make something of the latter; a gift for a person whose life was destined to be short.

I'd rather universalize these gifts, making them symbolic of what we need for a good life; a modicum of financial resources, the spiritual resources symbolized by Frankincense, and the emotional and relational resources symbolized by mirth.

Food and fire, hope and spirit, love and community. May your Holiday season be blessed with Gold, Frankincense, and Mirth.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons

When my husband and I contemplated having a child in our home, we naturally contemplated having a little copy of ourselves. Studious, quiet, intuitive, caring, introverted. Therefore, we did not ever imagine a weekly dungeons and dragon game in our dining room, with its raucous mix of personalities, gluttony, dice, and fantasy. But because nobody is a copy of anybody, our studious, quiet, intuitive, caring, introverted son is also a dedicated Game Master. His game has been going on for five years now with more or less the same crew, and shows every likelihood of going on until three of its four permanent players go off to college in (gulp!) two and a half years. His first game lead to a second; A couple of times a month, he and his girlfriend play with a group of adults from church, and what a gift that has been! Their affectionate guidance has mentored his adolescence in ways that parents just can't do.

D&D taught our introverted child to make phone calls, to organize activities, to be a leader, to deal with different personalities. The young people in his group have squabbled like the siblings that none of them have, but the game (almost always, especially in the last couple of years) goes on. We no longer hover in expectation of tears or tyranny; they've all matured nicely, and their game has smoothed out accordingly. I credit D&D with a lot of growth for my kid...it's been worth every spilled coke and every plate of cookies.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

St. Nicholas was Not a Unitarian



As a matter of fact, he was so much NOT a Unitarian that he punched our guy Bishop Arius in the nose during the council of Nicea. Oops.

Nice guy other than that; into helping the poor and all.

During my ministerial internship I lived with a family who celebrated St. Nicholas Day as the start of the Christmas festivities. I was given a pound bag of pecans with which to make Christmas cookies, and was charmed by the tradition. The next year I set up housekeeping for myself and began the tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas Day. I didn't know about his altercation with Bishop Arius, who championed Unitarian theology in the early church. A Husband and then a child later, we got into a Major Family Tradition. December 6th was the day for decorating the house, the kind of nice family dinner that we don't get on Christmas Eve, and it always happened that late in the evening, someone would hear the clop of St. Nicholas' horse and we'd pour out of the house. He always managed to get out of our subdivision sight unseen, but he did always leave a few presents to help us decorate and wait for Christmas.

My disappointment in discovering my holiday hero's indiscretion is keen, and my 16 year old is only affectionately tolerant of the holiday these days. His school's art show (mandatory for students in art classes) and a chess meet claimed his attention, and ours, so we were not home when the white horse clopped through and left his heretic fans a few presents to help us wait for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy Holydays

A conversation erupted in my exercise class this morning, about "Happy Holidays," a controversy I heard about but didn't actually encounter last year. And frankly, I'm not absolutely sure that any of the others in the class were speaking from personal experience, either. The moment passed before I could get my two cents in, which is that the notion that wishing someone "Happy Holidays" is somehow denigrating of Christians and Christmas is flat out ignorant.

There are a multitude of Holy Days (that's what a holiday is...or was...a holy day) in December's Christian Calendar. Advent, St. Nicholas Day, the feast day of Guadalupe, Christmas Eve, the Feast of Stephen, the 12 days of Christmas (arguably secular), and Epiphany.

For this reason I intend to wish every Christian I meet this month "Happy Holidays".

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Giving Up Games for Advent

The season of Advent begins today, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the Christian calendar, this is a season of preparation for the major holiday, and while popular culture celebrates it mostly with one-a-day treats for kids, grownup Christians sometimes honor this season in the same way that Lent is honored; by giving something up for the duration.

A very counter-cultural move, this is. No doubt about that. But I've found it useful in my life, and this year, it's computer games. It will be a great pleasure to return to my favorites on December 26; I'm looking forward to it already.

Why do I do this? There's the practical matter that during this busy time I can't afford the time I've been spending on games, and there's the spiritual matter that I want to focus on nature's beauty and family''s love in this season. But the major usefulness of this discipline is that it breaks habituations.

Habituations, the polite name for all the light-duty addictions that march through our lives, can be a problem. Although heroin or Alcohol or out of control sex can actually kill us, most of our hibituations merely lock us into be behaviors and bodily states which need some freedom.

A good cup of coffee in the morning is a wonderful treat, and relaxing with a few computer games is the same. But if I have trained my mind and body to ONLY wake up with a shot of caffeine, and ONLY relax with some mind-numbing computer games, I've lost a certain flexibility and freedom in my approach to life, and that's NOT such a good thing.

I aim to stay on my toes in the game of life, and that means not getting too set in my ways. Whether it's coffee or computer games, it's good to take a break and develop new strategies with regularity.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More on Crazy Chess

Crazy chess has been my game addiction of choice for a couple of weeks now. The basic point of it is to capture the army of relentlessly advancing pawns before your castle burns down. It's possible to get further in this game than in most such games by dint of intelligence rather than simply by click speed, so I, whose coordination computer runs slow, like this game.

It's the relentless part that fascinates me. Capture the last pawn and you've got to get in position for the next pawn. Capture a power up that temporarily slows or stops the onslaught, and you'd better clean up the board and keep capturing the coins which appear. Make a fantastic four-in-a-row pawn capture and you've got to just keep going.

Life is like this. Get your kid potty trained and you go right on to please and thank you, reading, driving, human relations. Get the new church building built and there's no pause before some new crisis has your attention. Figure out how to use DOS and they change to Windows and then to networks (which is where my castle burned to the ground and put me out of the game.)

The trick, I've found, to Crazy Chess, is to actually rest between levels. My natural inclination, when I've won a level, is to rush into the next challenge, but this is a mistake, because once you click the go on button, your launched to "relentless" again.

It's why I take some quiet time every morning. It's my pause before I click, "go on", and hit the relentless decks. It's also why I'm going to take a break from computer games. More on that, tomorrow.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons' Oversoul

My son left his D&D magazine open for me to an article on the Oversoul, the name of one of the many deities in the D&D world. The article contained the distinctive D&D art, and references to many things I only vaguely understand. ("Humans comprise the largest group of Oversoul followers, by a huge margin, but...Githzeari make up the second largest racial group among worshipers, followed by half giants, elan," etc.) However the purely theological parts of the article were remarkable, fleshing out, so to speak, a Process Theology deity, complete with creation story and comments about worship. The Oversoul has both developed with and guided creation and evolution, a process which is not completed. With each expression of the fragment of itself which is an infidels life, it learns.

The Oversoul looks like serenity. It's symbol is a set of concentric circles. Students of the Oversoul learn first the art of Meditation, then learn to seek the truth beyond the obvious and to question everything, especially himself (sic). Oversoul temples tend toward elegant simplicity, vary often incorporating natural surroundings. Birth and Death are marked by ritual, as they are believed to be the times when individual souls leave and return to the oversoul. The ritual at death involves the telling of the stories of the deceased, especially the sharing of stories by persons who knew the deceased in different parts of life.

It all sounds so eerily like the beliefs of many Unitarian Universalists that I wonder if the author (one Matthew J. Hanson) is one of us.

And it reminds me that I really do believe that our entire RE problem of what to do with our boys aged 12-19 in Sunday school could be solved by using the D&D world to teach philosophy, religion, our values, moral decision making. If someone did this, I think we could have very popular RE programs that kept kids engaged literally for hours and would teach them far more than they are learning now.

Someone?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Virtual Reality

My son tells me that I'd enjoy Second Life, a virtual reality game, a lot more if I had a fancier computer. A member of my congregation tells me that I'd enjoy it more if I was willing to collect and spend the small allowance that any user can have just for the giving up of one's credit card numbers. There's also the possibility of spending one's REAL money in second life, a proposition to which I'm opposed.

I 'd pretty much signed off of second life, much as I loved my animated paper doll who looked just like I fancy I look. But the, wonder of wonders, the UU Church of Second Life met for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I was fully engaged in my first life that day and didn't know about the meeting until after it happened.

How's this for a post-modern blurring of the reality/fantasy distinction? Last Summer, in another one of these multi-player world games, but one where fighting gangs are more the normal activity (sex and shopping seem to be the normal activity of Second Life), one of the key players died. In real life. Her Virtual Reality friends were bereaved in reality, however, and decided to have an "in game" memorial service. (Some day, my minister friends, you might be asked to officiate at such a thing...will you be ready?) Since this popular player had friends in several gangs, a neutral territory was selected for the gathering and all players had to leave their weapons at the entrance. Then they were proceeding to have a real virtual memorial service, with the various (virtual) characters extolling the (actual) deceased's character when...you guessed it, one gang attacked and slaughtered the assembled (weaponless) crowd.

This (actually) happened last Summer, and some players have devoted their (virtual) energy ever since to exterminating the offending gang for continuing to play a game when an important piece of real life was going on. (This story courtesy of my son, who always knows what will pique my interest.)

Someday I'll get up early and try Second Life on his computer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crazy Chess

One of the best free flash games I've found is Crazy Chess, which you can have for your very own by clicking here .

Enrique has posted a sermon (here, in English) on the spirituality of computer games, and he got me to thinking about how the trick of winning lots of computer games is to figure out what is important at any moment.

In Crazy Chess, for instance, you've got to capture all the relentlessly progressing pawns (using the Knight's L-move) before they get to the bottom of the board and burn down your castle. That's enough of a trick, but in the end, you just can't move fast enough if you just capture pawns. You have to also be focusing on capturing various "power up" pieces which will slow down or freeze the pawns, blow them up, repair your castle, and give you an extra life.

In my first few days of addiction to this game, I focused on the pawns and on getting good at moving that pesky knight around. Eventually, I realized that this was a loosing proposition; I'd have to also work on capturing power ups before they disappeared. This is easy early in the game; later, when the pawns just keep coming, it is surprisingly hard to change one's focus to slowing the onslaught rather than capturing pawns.

In my calm weeks of ministry, I enjoy some quiet time each day, I do a little reading unrelated to the immediate demands of preaching, I have friends, craft projects and -yes- computer games which are a relaxing part of my day, and I therefore pride myself on taking care of myself. But then comes the onslaught; the sermon that takes twice as long to write as I had hoped it would, the memorial service, the computer crash, the staff crisis; then it is surprisingly hard to shift my focus from the immediate tasks and do something that would slow down the onslaught, repair the hurt places, or clear the deck.

That's what, in particular, my daily quiet time does for me, and I've learned over the years not to bow to the false economy of pawn-fighting and skip it. It powers me up.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Suduku

This game started as a pencil and paper game, but it's wonderful for computers because the challenging levels of the game require a good deal of erasing. I've been playing GameHouse's version, here. It's the nicest interface; unfortunately the highest level is no longer particularly difficult for me, so I guess I'll have to go hunting again.

I suppose that everyone knows that Suduku requires that you put numbers on a grid such that each row, column, and square have the digits 1-9 in them with no repeats. With a variety of kinds of deductive logic, you can complete almost every grid without guessing.

As long as you don't make a single mistake. Suduku is one strike and you're out. Put the wrong number in a box and continue the puzzle and you'll never figure it out. Nor is it usually possible to figure out where that mistake was without starting over. Suduku teaches a person to be careful. The pencil and paper game teaches a person to be neat with tiny little trial numbers. My son taught me to use one of the nifty new mechanical pencils now on the market; they stay very sharp and come with the most amazing erasers. My, how times do change.

Being a Universalist, I object to "one strike and you're out." The thing that has most puzzled me over the years about Christian orthodoxy is how Christians can talk about God, the loving father in one sentence and "If you don't believe (not to mention, if you commit any number of sins) you're doomed to everlasting punishment." Everlasting! Everlasting is longer than any loving parent I know would punish their child.

But I do like Suduku, which is, after all, just a game.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Second Life

After reading that there's a UU Church in "Second Life" a virtual reality video game which has hundreds of thousands of users who create objects and social relationships in a more or less unfettered way, I decided to give it a try.

I'm clearly not smart enough to play this game, and judging by the folks who appear in the welcome and orientation areas, neither are most other people. However I did manage to make myself an avitar(personal character who moves around and interacts with other virtual users) I could live with and I found the UU church of Second Life. I joined it immediately; it has fifty members. But then I couldn't find any of them, or any indication of what this virtual church does or where it meets.

After trying my hand at creating an object to sell and failing miserably, I returned to the UU church. Still no one there and no indiciation of what this virtual church does or where it meets.

It's totally clear that they need a minister to help them get organized.

Then some little angel whispered in my ear that I hardly needed a second life just like my first one. Right! Got it!

But in this confusing and complex game, I keep drifting back to the only thing I really understand, which is how to do church. It is such a comfort to know that in this strange society where mostly people won't talk to you because they've not yet figured out how, there's a UU church.

The coolest thing about Second Life so far is that it is remarkably easy to make an avitar who looks like you want her to look. The second coolest things is the set of rules of civil behavior in this virtual world. Live and Let Live, keep your hands to yourself, don't harass those who are enjoying their (virtual) lives. Very UU.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Arcade Lines Theology

Continuing my theological reflections on the computer games I 'm addicted to, there's Arcade Lines, which you can preview here

Puzzle games like this one relentlessly load up the board with colored balls, and you have to move them into lines, after which they disappear. The nice thing about these games is that you play at your own pace, so you can play them while, say, while on hold waiting for tech support.

Learning to succeed at these games is a matter of learning to see patterns. Although it is easy at first to see where one can move balls to get four in a row, as the board fills up, it gets much harder.

You have to play this game with a certain flexibility of mind, being ready to change one's strategy as new balls appear. The "right" line of balls to complete on this turn keeps changing.

The spiritual quest is like this. Since that Mystery we call God never "appears", all findings of God are a matter of noticing the patterns of Grace that appear suddenly in one's life and following up on them. No strategy has ever worked for long for me. I found Zen style meditation to be very fruitful for about three years, fought with it another year, and finally gave up after another year. I'm a more flexible player of Arcade Lines than I am a spiritual seeker.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Alchemy

You can play this game for yourself, for free, here.

The basic deal is that you are presented with colored symbols which have to be placed on a board such that each one is touched only by others which are the same shape or color. It's a cinch at first, and it gets harder. The higher the level, the more symbols, colors, and the fewer erasers and wild cards you get.

Which is so like real life.

1. We're all given the same board, but some seem, from the beginning, to have a much harder time of it. (Skill is important in life, luck is crucial in life, but in many important ways, the game is easier for some than others. This is why compassion for self and others is a part of every spiritual outlook.)

2. "Winning" this game is a matter of thinking ahead and being careful. If you put symbols anywhere they happen to fit, you'll be stuck in the end. (It's hard work to be careful, to think ahead, and to see what needs to be seen. Slow down, reflect, watch the whole board.)

3. Unlike most puzzle games, you don't get to look ahead to see what's coming. You have to play blind. (We're blind to the future in our lives and must simply do the best we can.)

4. One key to managing the end game is to use the erase and wild cards to forgive yourself the plays that either were poor to begin with or turned out to be poor later on. (grace abides. Appreciate and give thanks.)

5. In the end, you have to wait to get the one symbol you need. While you are waiting, you have to manage what comes.

6. The symbols you can get off the board are as important as the ones you have on the board, but if you erase too much, you won't be able to play. (Simplicity is good. Poverty is problematic.)

This is too much fun. I can see that I'm going to soon be addicted to both computer games and reflections on computer games.

Work to do and miles to go....

Theology of Computer Games

I confess. I'm a bit of a computer game addict. No, actualy...

My Name is Christine and I'm addicted to computer games.

I use them to relax after difficult meetings or just hard days. I use them to forget my troubles when I'm troubled, to justify my agressions, and to indulge in the false sense that if I am clever enough I can control my world.

I play computer games when I should be going to the gym, cleaning the iguana cage, working in my yard, or even conversing with my family. ouch!

I hurry to my defense. If I watch a dozen hours of TV in a year, it's unusual. Shopping as a pastime has no appeal to me. My son and I trade games back and forth and talk about them.

I'm a hard core case. I'm such a hard core case that I'm going to shamelessly justify my addiction by reflecting on the theology of a variety of computer games which I enjoy. So there.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Religious Resources

A reader has asked what books of poetry or other readings I would recommend to her as she renews her spiritual life. It's a hard question, as I don't know her, and all of this is so very individual. But I so applaud the impulse! It really is good to have texts at hand to mull over, memorize, and work with so that they can work in us.

I'm the sort of reader who has favorite poems more than favorite books of poetry, although I notice that my personal collection has a lot of Mary Oliver, Hafiz, and Wendell Berry. At one point in my life, I had a dozen poems by Edna St. Vincent Milley memorized; they were a lifeline through my late adolescence. I only remember that because as I walked yesterday, dissolved in sadness over the death of a 25 year old from my congregation, the words leaped on to my lips, "I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground." It's the first line of a poem by Millay, which I memorized, I think, when Robert Kennedy was murdered. I've rarely thought of it since, and there it was, ready for me when I needed it. Amazing. (you can find it and other poems by Millay, here)

Now as to sharing my favorite poems, I feel squeamish about copywrite, just enough that I don't want to copy my texts into this blog, but not so squeamish that I won't point my readers to people less squeamish than I who have. So here are 7 of my cherished poems which I found on line:


Phillip Booth's "First Lessons", which you can find here
Carl Sandburg's "Elephants" which you can find here
The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield, here
e.e.Cumming's i thank you god, here
Alistar Reid's Curiosity, here
martha Courtot's Crossing a Creek, here
and a poem about change and transition by Wendell Berry, here

It seems extremely odd to me, but many of these poems are found on UU sermon websites. Are we all thinking alike, we UU ministers? Probably. But is Google noticing my searches and tailoring it's results to me, or does everyone who searches for poetry keep getting UU ministers' sermons?

Enough for now! Prose tomorrow

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yesterday and Tomorrow

The American people, born in opposition to absolute power used foolishly, repudiated absolute power used foolishly, in yesterday's election. We're back to a balance of power between the various branches of government, within governing chambers and even within the executive branch, as Republicans make more moderate demands on their president. Our nation has learned in the most embarrassing ways lately that absolute power has a corrupting effect and a detrimental effect on intelligent government. I'm glad that era is over.

Once the majority in the House was established, the world quit paying attention to little New Mexico, which has a hotly contested (less than 1,000 vote margin) race which now, they way, won't be decided for days. But I'm content either way. Our current Rebublican, Heather Wilson, is one of the better Republicans around; honest, helpful, and an independent thinker, something she stressed in her campaign. If she stays in Congress it will be ok.

And I was heartened that the voters of South Dakota, in the privacy of the voting booth, showed that they do understand something of the horror of unwanted pregnancy and moderated their leaders' absolute ban on abortion.

As for those who fought hard against bans on same gender marriage and lost, I salute your work as a foundation laid for the end game of a battle for LGBT rights which is being won in the smoky corners of people's hearts and minds. It takes a long time for the smoke to clear, but clear it finally does.

In my opinion, our nation and our world got a reprieve from unmitigated poor governance. We have an opportunity now to re-direct the nation's energy towards preventing the end of civil life on the planet. The hard work has just begun.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Loving Kindness

Last Sunday, we did a Loving Kindness meditation from the Buddhist tradition, first spoken and then sung. Several folks have asked about this; especially, if there is a recorded version of the sung meditation.

We did the Meditation from then new blue hymnal, and I don't know that that's been recorded anywhere, but Robert Gass's wonderful chant choir has recorded the Loving Kindness meditation with a different tune on this CD:


While you're exploring, there are several other wonderful CD's several of which are hour long chants from various religious traditions. It's wonderful music to exercise, meditate, or work to.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mary Oliver's Prayers

"I don't know exactly what a prayer is," Mary Oliver wrote, in her poem, "A Summer's Day." It's the one about the grasshopper that ends, "And what do you plan to do with your/one wild and precious life?" UU's like that poem; we like her reminder to appreciate nature, her affimation of our choices, and, frankly, lots of UU's like the fact that Mary didn't, at that time, know exactly what a prayer is. We like to think that our appreciative attentiveness to nature is a kind of prayer...which, of course, it is.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention...

Mary Oliver has moved on in her spiritual journey. Her latest book, 'Thirst', written after the death of her life partner, is a set of poems about grief and grieving, and about finding God. She says this in one poem:

Pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak.

If prayer is communication with mystery, then there's a level on which not a one of us "knows" what a prayer is; it's all hints and guesses and an experience so interior that we can't bring it out of ourselves without changing it profoundly. But some folks make more guesses and take more hints than others, and it is clear that Mary Oliver has had a new kind of experience in prayer. I hope she will someday write more directly about it, in the meantime, we've these new, much more specifically theological poems to read.

We UU's have great difficulty with the transition from wordy appreciation into silent listening for a divine voice, still and small or any other way. It's not that UU's don't pray, it's that the default theology around here precludes "another voice" and the folks who are comfortable with that default too often tend to be derisive. And it takes almost no derisiveness to end most UU's willingness to risk attempting to bring their interior spirituality into words. And so the default remains.

We like Mary Oliver, I've heard her claimed as one of us, which she might have once been, but she's clearly now been drawn into a liturgical Christian denomination. May she be blessed in her journey. My thanksgiving this evening for her exquisite and continuing poetics of prayer.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Atheism's Toll

Working this weekend on a sewing project and listening to downloaded radio shows from NPR, particularly Krista Tippet's Speaking of Faith. (you can access these shows here)

The mind-body connection discussed in an interview with a paraplegic yoga teacher, an interview with Karen Armstrong, the topic of Gay Marriage discussed by a liberal and a conservative Christian, and this last; an interview with a Chinese author who survived the cultural revolution and what she calls "The Religion of Mao", on Chinese culture and religion (which has been basically atheist for millennia) in general. It's been a rich morning.

From foot binding to the forced labor camps of the 1970's, this atheistic Chinese culture has certainly had it's terrible moments, I thought, and then it occurred to me that of all the people who have shaken their heads sadly over the harm traditional theism has done in the world in my hearing, I've never once heard anyone shake their head over the harm atheism has done in the world.

So I hereby do it. So sad, all the harm atheism has done in the world. Of course, some of my good friends are Atheists, so not all atheists are prone to misguided activity. But one does have to shake one's head over Communism, doesn't one? I wonder if Communism killed more people than the Crusades?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Raton, New Mexico


Driving home from the Minister's meeting in Colorado Springs, we've stopped for lunch in Raton, New Mexico. It's tucked up in a valley at the boarder of New Mexico and Colorado, at the foot of the Raton Pass. Since it snowed on us in Colorado Springs, we felt like we'd better make tracks for the Pass, since it sometimes closes after a winter storm.

No problems at all, but Albuquerque is still more than 3 hours away, so we stopped to breathe in Raton. We found a little cafe with wifi, and Ron was eager to check email. Around us, neighbors who clearly know each other are eating New Mexican food. My Green Chili stew is wonderful; the price of a bowl, $3.50. On the radio, they are reading obituaries. This is a very small town. Googling "Raton," on my wi-fi, I find that 7,282 souls live here. The internet guru of the town has already regailed us with his plans to make the entire town WiFi, including the homes three miles out. "They ask me why they need this," he says, "But they'll say they can't do without it." His sign next door proudly proclaims that video conferencing is available there. This seems to be a very fast internet connection....maybe I can even upload a picture of the place....

We speculate about the possibility of a branch of First Unitarian here in Raton. Statistics suggest that 7 or 8 people in this tiny town might be served by our message. That's way too few people for an independent congregation, but all things are possible with the branch project. If Raton, New Mexico has universal WiFi, can a UU congregation be far behind?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Torture




And yes, I'm against official torture even when there's a bomb about to go off. Because it itsn't likely to work. Becasue you might be wrong that the human being you are torturing knows what you think he knows. And because it's wrong. (But if a frantic policeman lost his head in a frantic search for information to keep a bomb from going off, I'd probably pardon him. So far, it appears that none of the torture in which we've indulged ourselves has come anywhere close to finding a smoking bomb. )

By Their Love

My newspaper reported this evening on the money coming into the Amish community from well-wishers. Some will go to pay for medical expenses and, it seems likely, rehabilitation care. The Amish self-insure their community, and this will be a massive expense. And, my newspaper reported, matter-of-factly, some will be set aside for the widow and children of the killer of five, likely six children from that small community.

Take a deep breath. Imagine someone coming into your church and killing five children. Would any UU anywhere comfort the widow of the killer or set up a fund for her children?

It reminds me of a song I learned during my adolescent dabbling with Evangelical Christianity, "They will know we are Christians by our love." At the time, I didn't get it, really. It was a nice enough group of kids and adults, but their God clearly didn'tseem to love a heretic like me very much and after a while, they kept their distance, too.

Now I get it. This is not about nice, and not about someone else's theology, this is about the discipline of keeping an open heart even for one's enemy, and practicing it in all the little things of life so that when 5 children are murdered in your community, even when you are hurt beyond all imagining, you can still do it.

Conservative Christians are getting a beating this week, and rightly so, and the media I watch doesn't seem to know what to do with these Amish except show their old fashioned clothes and horse drawn buggies. But I can tell that they are Christians by their love.

Teens and Religion

This morning's NY Times has a long article, complete with color picture, about how teens seem to be leaving Evangelical churches in droves...some say for a non-institutional Christian faith, others say, out of Evangelical belief altogether. The hype is that if trends continue, only 4% of the next generation will be "bible believing", which would be a big change from the Boomer 35% and the WWII Generation's 65%.

The statistics are, according to Evangelical experts, misunderstood or cooked up to make the situation seem "Apocolypitc" , which they regret. However, the article cites youth and youth leaders who say that it's just too hard to embrace Christian values against the culture of sex, materialism, and alcohol which is pervasive in our nation. The youth say that they feel pressured and dissed at school by non-Christian youth, although all of the examples actually given were not of conflict with non-Christian youth but of the disinterest of non-Christian youth.

Just a few thoughts about this.

The kids in my church, mostly non-Christians, feel that they are dissed and pressured at
school by the Evangelical Youth. It is certainly possible that both groups are correct but it's instructive to know that both feel the same from each other. It does seem that in a lot of middle and high schools, virtually all of the kids feel dissed and pressured by those who are different from them and this may be, in part, simply the nature of adolescence. (Although one of the things we love about our son's private school is the lengths they go to to minimize that kind of behavior. But they have access to tools public schools don't have. They select kids who will get along well in a diverse environment and they have things like lunch seating plans which require them to mix it up.)

I detected an understandable but in the end dangerous longing in the kids interviewed in this article, not to be simply respected and allowed to practice their Evangelical faith, but to be in a comfy cultural majority where lots of kids would naturally come to their Bible Studies. Although this could be simply a matter of what the writer selected for his article, it is reminiscent of the resistance their parents and grandparents have put up to change in this nation.

Finally, I would point out that teens are especially effected by hypocrisy. It is teens who are most likely to turn against leaders who preach abstinence until marriage but who themselves try to lure teenagers into sexual relationships, who tout cooked statistics, and who notice the many many things that Jesus said about (against!) wealth, materialism, and hypocrisy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weapons of Singular Destruction

So if it is a foreign terrorist who kills people in our nation, we fly into action, willing to spend ourselves into bankruptcy, violate moral and international law, disrupt the lives of thousands of citizen soldiers, and ruin the lives of millions of innocent people by turning their nations into war zones, all so that this will never happen again. While at home, day after day, angry men and boys stalk our schools (not to mention streets, bars, homes, and highways), murdering innocents, and all we can think to do is bemoan their mental instability. We can't muster the political will to make a single move to protect ourselves from these home grown terrorists because we don't have the will to put any but the simplest and most ineffective controls on the right to own a gun....a weapon of singular destruction.

I pray for the Amish Community, and for us all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A judgmental Trip to the Park

Read an article today; there's a clear statistical correlation between the number of hours a mother works outside of the home and the fatness of a kid.

This is a relationship, not a cause and effect, you understand, but just the fact that the study was done this way says a lot about cultural assumptions.

I went out on my afternoon walk. On the way to my neighborhood park, in which few children play alone because parents don't think it's safe, I pass a sight that makes me grit my teeth; a man on a bike is shepherding his two very little children who are driving a battery operated car down the street. "Look ahead!" I hear him say, "Don't look at me!" he says, in a bit of a panic, as these two preschoolers steam into an intersection. "Stop!" he cries. The car slows. It doesn't have a brake, just an "on" petal. If I had a cell phone, I'd have called the cops. The father catches up and, thank God, they're in the relative safety of the park. Now its the other park users who have to be careful.

I tramp on, remembering that the big thrill of my first trip to Disneyland was the pretend freeway, complete with kid sized cars you could...more or less...drive yourself. A little bigger and a lot noisier than these battery-operated things, but not much faster. I was 10 at the time. What are these preschoolers going to do for thrills, I wonder, at age 10, 16, 32. (perhaps, should they survive so long, they'll get their thrills inviting their preschoolers to try to drive like a grownup in a toy car they can't control on a street full of real cars.)

Past the park is a school with a track, and I pound out my frustrations, work up that sweat that's supposed to be so healthy, and head back home, at peace with the world again. Just my luck, the preschoolers have headed out of the park and are back on the public thoroughfare in their toy car. Their father is sticking closer to them this time.

And I'm thinking that it would have been a lot healthier for everyone if that father had been chasing his kids around they'd all gotten some exercise. Maybe he just couldn't have done that. Probably his mother worked.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Video Cafe Debut


Our video cafe, a small group, video assisted, third service began today and was a rousing success in spite of a glitch in the video. (It worked beautifully at last week's rehearsal! This techy stuff is really hard....)

25 people sat in our social hall, enjoyed coffee and rolls as they sang, meditated to a creative audio/video piece, shared joys and sorrows, participated in the offering, and watched the sermon recorded at our first service. (well, they tell me, they listened with averted eyes, because audio and video wasn't together. Better luck next week!) Then, they got to discuss the sermon, which we never do in the sanctuary. That was a big hit!

In spite of the glitch, spirits were very high and our worry now is that our social hall isn't large enough to handle the number of people who would like to experience this informal worship service. The Worship Committee Meeting which followed was exciting, too. Now our experienced worship leaders have a new venue for their creativity and experience, and that's made room for newcomers to the committee to learn to lead worship in the more controlled environment of the "main" worship service.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Paddling and Torture

There was a NYT article this morning about school districts which allow "paddling" of students. Mostly in the South and apparently all Mid and High schools, a last resort to create order in the schools. Paddling means, with a wooden paddle, maybe with holes drilled in it to increase the sting. "It can be abused," said one principal, "but it is very useful." but he gives himself away. He's got a kindergarten euphemism for the practice, "Giving pops." Doesn't that sound cheerful? There are schools where 15% of the kids (probably nearly 30% of the boys, since they get paddled much more than girls) have been "paddled" (another kindergarten euphemism) in a year's time. So let's call it like it is. If it's with a stick, it's a beating. If it leaves bruises, it's a beating. If such a large percentage of students "need" this to manage themselves in school, something is really wrong.

I wonder what beating kids is useful for, and what the unintended consequences are. It may keep order in school, but it's got to drive some kids to drop out. (so, just expel them, for pity's sake!) It may calm the halls temporarily, but it may also fuel rage over the long haul. It's probably used as a desperation tactic which really only covers over the problems. Which then go unsolved. And it can be abused. No doubt has been, will be, is being abused. No matter. Apparently, the practice is not outlawed everywhere and where it's not, it's being revived.

Beating school kids aims to teach kids a lesson about behaving or else the person in power will hurt you. Torture aims to get someone to talk or else the person in power will hurt you. It's having a comeback in our nation, too. It's unintended consequences are also problematic, but the powerful and desperate people who use it apparently don't care about that. Being powerful and having the right to really hurt someone...be it a kid in your school or a prisoner in your jail, is just too exciting. Lord have mercy on us all.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Speaking in UU tongues

"What's GA?" a reader asks.
Oops...I've been speaking in tongues again. What's speaking in tongues? Some say it's a gift of the Spirit, but I say it's displaying one's special relationship with the divine in public and in a way which leaves others out. I find that off-putting. In this case, speaking in UU tongues is thoughtlessly displaying one's special knowledge of the goingings on of a church in ways which leave others out. As in using all our special code words without explanation. GA, MDD, YRUU, and Cluster, come immediately to mind.

GA is General Assembly, our yearly denominational delegate assembly. Thanks for asking. I know how off-putting it is when people around me start spouting terms, acronyms, and in-talk. I feel left out, dumb, and not invited in. Very unpleasant feeling.

And it happens all the time. Understandably, but unpleasantly. The folks who have been putting on a quarterly meal for the homeless in an interfaith effort for five years know what "Project Share" is. But the forget that many people don't have a clue when the announcement says, "Project Share is coming up this month! Please sign up to provide brownies, salad, beans..."

Not only does that "in group" announcement mean that some people who might feel very good about participating in this worthy project don't because they thought it was a church picnic, but they get the message, "You don't really belong. You don't know the lingo. You're not initiated."

It's not a good feeling. Leaving people clueless is not even marginally, much less radically hospitable. (We've been talking about radical hospitality in our denomination lately.) Speaking in UU tongues is something we should all be on the watch for.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Morning Worship at GA

There's rumor going around the UU blog world, that there will not be a worship service on Sunday morning at GA this year, but that that service will be "combined" with the closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon. I hope it is a rumor, but it's all too likely not. The GA folks have changed the GA schedule to make Sunday the last day, you have to have some kind of ceremonial closing, and to have that and a worship service means there's not much of a day left for meeting. It's easy for a GA planner to think that combining two utterly unlike events into one would solve the problem, but it won't.

In spite of the outrage of (ministerial) bloggers, I have to point out that we UU's are wont to cancel worship for any number of logistical inconveniences. We cancel worship to have a congregational meeting, because December 25 is a Sunday morning, because ministers of past centuries became accustomed to not preaching between mid June and early September and are loath to change their ways with changing times. Now, we'll skip worship because there's just not enough time for the denominational business to be done if we include it. It's all a pity, all reason that we don't attract as many people as we think we should to our life together.

It's not that there is something sacred about Sunday morning; I would venture a guess that there's not a soul among us who believes that God cares when we worship together. But there is something highly symbolic about Sunday morning worship; that's when the whole community gathers in its dispersed places. Sunday morning after Sunday morning, a great wave of chalice-lighting and voices raised in song works its way from east to west. Sunday morning worship is our most widely shared spiritual discipline. To ditch it in favor of a closing ceremony says a lot about the values of the people who are arranging GA. In particular, it says what lots of us have suspected; these are people who are more in tune with denominational work and social justice than they are with the work of the local congregation and the spiritual health of UU's. And that's a pity.

It's also out of tune with UU's who show with their feet in every church in the nation that they prefer worship to meetings! So, hold the service from 7 to 8 in the morning and you'll still have a huge crowd, I promise, and the rest of the day to get the work done. It will be better work for the fact that at least many of the delegates will have been reminded of their deep values and will have rested in the arms of the spirit for a few minutes. And such a service will continue to teach us important lessons about new ways to worship in local churches which closing ceremonies/worship service couldn't possibly do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Contemporary Worship

There's a movement gaining strength in my denomination that is pushing for a radical new way of doing worship. This is arising out of our Youth groups and the participatory , circle style worship that they do. There's a call for more voices and ways to get a message across (not just a sermon, but a dialogue, a discussion, a set of readings, a skit, or a combination thereof) And because it's basically a youth movement, there's more than a small tendency to not only push for something new but to be derisive about what is old. ("Corpse Cold Unitarianism" thundered the Transcendentalists, and our youth are almost as derisive about what they term "Sermon Sandwich Worship")

It seems reasonable on the surface that this multi-tasking, multi-media generation would crave or just assume the same variety in worship that they have embraced in their lives, and I'm all for their and our experimenting with this kind of worship to see how it develops. In Albuquerque, for instance, we've adopted the occasional practice of having all who wish come up to light a candle for some aspect of the morning theme as a meditation practice, and this seems to have worked well for us.

But I also note that churches like the Evangelical, multi-site mega-church I visited last Spring featured a 47 minute sermon by one person. I don't myself remember much of it. What I do remember is the lively singing that we engaged in before and after that sermon, and how much that singing "got me out of myself" and let me relax into my own center.

My experience in ministry tells me that every UU generation from boomers on, and including much of the female side of the silent, or pre-boomer generation, has asked for two things of it's worship leaders, a solid interpretation of our lives (as in, "good sermons"), and a sense of the holy in a worship service, a way to "get out of one's self", a place of quiet, an empty center, a deep connection to others present, and a break from the multi-tasking, multi-media world in which we all live, most of us uncomfortably.

Whether that interpretation, and that sense of the presence of the holy, and that space to find it in one's self is produced by lighting candles, a pastoral prayer, a hymn or a praise song, a well chosen set of readings, a skit, or even a sermon...what will be a matter of individual taste and experience. What we UU's have difficulty with is creating that sense of the Holy, and we're most likely to produce it, as if by accident, in our close knit groups, the tender moments of sharing Joys and Concerns, or in the enforced silence and inwardness of various ceremonies.

I'm all for continuing to see how we can use those elements in worship. But I maintain that we will not thrive as a religious movement until we learn to produce a sense of the Holy in readings, skits, prayers, sermons, singing, taking the offering, and greeting each other.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Faith and Aging

This week's Christian Century has an article about Faith and Aging, in which one study is quoted saying that, contrary to popular stereotype, persons tend to become less dogmatic as they age and express less interest in the specific theologies of the faiths of their younger years. They still believe in some kind of higher power, and they still experience having a spiritual life, but they tend to move away from organized religion, especially if they have sufficient social support in family and friends. (The "fortunate old").

They also become Unitarian Universalists.

I've long noted the unusual number of people who join us after retirement, often after a life in another church, or as a firm secularist. I had always assumed that this change was due to paying attention to their spiritual lives with their extra leisure time, and checked this out with a small group of interfaith colleagues, once. They were baffled. It's not common, in their experience, for people to join a Lutheran or Methodist church for the first time as 70 year olds. Their "new" older members are people who have newly moved to the city and were members of a similar church in their former city. But we get new, older members who are new to Unitarian Universalism all the time.

So...here's a new market, and new demographic whom we might serve; those who, as they age become less dogmatic, less interested in articles of faith, but who still have a spiritual life that they can tend, expand, and share, but who no longer feel at home with the creeds and dogmas of their earlier years and therefore, now leave congregations entirely. How many, I wonder, will never find us?

Friday, September 15, 2006

What's a Hero?

I've been in Washington DC for most of this week, participating in a meeting of the Clergy Advisory Group of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and in a ceremony at the National Holocaust Museum honoring Martha and Waitstill Sharp, founders of the Service Committee, for their work saving Jews from the Nazi's before and during WWII.

Now, those were heros.

Here's the article, which first appeared in the Washington Post. (Article Link)

Provdince RI Journal article

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who's For Choice?

I've been following a blogging discussion which has been very disappointing, but kind of telling about the traps liberals and conservatives can fall into. It started when a UU sexuality educator of some fame posted a diatribe in her blog against an OBGYN practice which only deals with Natural Family Planning. (For those not in the know, NFP is a 30 year old scientific update of the old Rhythm method and is the only method approved by the Catholic church. For many women who have regular cycles and who (with are their partner) are willing to enjoy sex only at safe times of the month, it's quite effective...but it's a big commitment.)

It was sad to me to see someone who holds herself out as an expert be so reflexively negative and apparently ignorant about a very popular family planning method, which is used, not only by Catholic women but by 'whole wheat' women who don't care for other methods, and women who can't use other methods. And she really got an earful from many commentors extolling the virtues of their chosen menthod. She got some hate mail too vile to post, she said, which is an unfortunate tactic that conservatives resort to way too much, and quite a few proponents of NFP not only think it's their favorite birth control method, they think it should be the ONLY birth control method.

But it was even sadder to hear so many liberal proponents of the right of conscience in matters of abortion deny the right of conscience of physicians to limit their practice (with notice to patients) to a particular set of options. A shocking number of liberal commenters sounded their fury against the notion that someone would have to shop around for a congenial physician to get birth control prescriptions. Liberals can have such a reflexive attitude of privelege over some matters, and this is one.

Conscience is Sacred. I would no more be a slaveholder than a slave, said Abraham Lincoln, and I myself say, I would no more force a physician to offer medical care that violates her conscience than I would allow her to force me to accept medical care which violates mine.

The Debate is here

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Graceful Aging

Over the years, I've been watching church members, relatives, and neighbors age gracefully...or not. I'm amassing my list of successful strategies. So...as I get old, please remind me...

1. to keep making new friends, especially friends who are younger than I am. Young friends make for a younger mind-set, an up-to-date set of technological skills (but please, may this IM phase pass), and people to come to my Memorial Service. Young friends...real friends...will tell me if my appearance has become eccentric or worse, and will lovingly warn me that I need to curtail my driving. And May I remember that the by the first time somebody works up the courage to bring up this subject, it will be time to stop driving.

2. to get rid of the things I don't need any more...my ladders when I don't climb, my car when I don't drive, my sewing machine (and my stash of fabric!) when I can't see. Remind me please, to do these things as they come along, when I can choose to whom I will give them and spare the ones who will have to help me pack up my home at last.

3. to give up the idea, right now, that I will live independently in my own, too-big house all my life. To be ready to make the change to Assisted housing in time that I'll have the energy to make new friends and enjoy new activities there.

4. to stay in touch with my relatives.

5. and to take care of my body. It's got to last as long as I do.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Joys of Long Ministry


I'm stalling on writing an eulogy for tomorrow's memorial service, for a beloved man in the congregation. The service will include the musical group in which he sang for 45 years and the telling of how he and his wife lived next door to the forest rangers of Capitan, New Mexico, who rescued a baby bear from a forest fire and nursed it back to health to become the posterbear of the "Only YOU can prevent Forest Fires."

An injured orphan bear healed and became an inspiration to children and adults everywhere to take care of the forests we live around. Likewise, Frank's life story is one of facing great difficulty and pain and staging a recovery into happiness and productivity.

On Saturday, I'll be officiating at the marriage of a couple whose first spouses died at about five years ago. I presided at Janet's memorial service, and feel now so privileged to be a part of launching Charlie and Glorya's life together. (well into their 70's, they met on-line, and their love and joy is palpable.) And on Sunday morning, we'll dedicate and welcome the adopted second child of a church family whose profoundly handicapped first child we dedicated a year and a half ago.

It is touching and inspiring to me to see people through the ups and downs of their lives. May I remember, when it is my turn to suffer outrageous fortune, that as long as there is life there is potential for healing, learning, service, and joy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Cost of Democracy

Freedom isn't free, they say; it sometimes takes money, blood, and commitment to a long hard fight.

Only a few radical pacifists would not agree with that in the abstract, and Donald Rumsfeld takes aim at a straw dog when he argues as he did yesterday. Plenty of folks have pointed out that the issue at hand is not whether we should fight for our freedom or not but whether this particular war could reasonably be called a fight for our freedom, so I'm going to point out something else.

Freedom isn't just costly in terms of the need to fight for it, it is costly in terms of the need to protect truth and debate. It is not just soldiers who protect our freedom through courage and bloodshed, politicians, media, and ordinary people protect our freedom by having the courage to speak the truth and to be respectful of differing opinions. Only when the people know the truth and can debate their opinions does a nation have a democracy worth defending.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Blogger's Block


Here's a funny start to a Monday morning! Thanks, Vance!
(ok...it's hard to read. the gist of it is that the restless writer can't find anything to say, and when she walks off, her companion shrugs and says, "bloggers block.")

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Women Clergy; There and Here

Today's NYT has an interesting, sad article about the state of women in Ministry. You can read it here , but the upshot is that in most denominations women's ministry is truncated; women can serve in small churches but not large ones, can teach but not preach, can serve as staff ministers but not as senior ministers, can be spiritual leaders to women, not men, and so on. That's in spite of more than 100 years of ordaining women by most Liberal Protestants. That letter to Timothy which says that women can't preach, and how it trumps Jesus' evident attitude towards women seems to be the cause, but we all know that the cause is much deeper than that, and that Timothy is only an excuse. It's a sad and depressing article.

The writer looked into the history of the ordination of women, so she must have come across the fact that the Universalists and the Unitarians paved that particular way in the 1880's and 90's, and seem to be thriving while having a vastly larger proportion of women in religious leadership, serving as senior ministers to women and to men, and in larger congregations than other liberal denominations. Our pioneering and our success don't figure into that article about Christian clergy, but I just want to say that I feel very lucky to be where I am. (But it does make me wonder what the percentage of women clergy in our larger congregations is. I know I'm not alone, but the review of large pulpits I just completed in my head suggests that I'm one of 10%. I will check on this matter and report.)

Of course, UU women, while we never get beaten with Timothy, get regularly beaten with the deeper issues that depress gender equality, so all is not well. There's a never absent static for women in ministry that just makes things a little harder all the time and hugely harder during storms. And it's all the worse for being invisible and forgotten.

For some reason lately I said in a group that my predecessor in this ministry was a man who, while he worked for the American Unitarian Association in the 1960's, refused to place the few women clergy in pulpits, and a bright and competent (male) student at an extremely progressive UU theological school overheard and expressed his shock that this could have happened in our always progressive denomination. Can it be that UU schools are teaching about systemic oppression without reference to women these days? (judging by my glance over our current intern's coursework, it seems to be all about race, class, sexual expression minorities and the third world now). That bodes ill for the next generation of women in ministry, who had better be prepared to deal with those deeper issues or they'll drop like flies in the bugspray. And those deeper issues don't just effect women and men who work with women, (that would be all of us) they are a bedrock of the human psyche and have everything to do with other kinds of oppression.

It would be sad and depressing, except that it also gives just a little extra boost of meaning to my own ministry, a visible success for women in larger churches, proof that it is possible, even if sometimes too hard.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Elevator testimony

Lizard Eater (here) comments that as proud as we are of our "elevator speeches" (short answers to the question, "what kind of a church is UU?") much more important and much more potentially transforming, is a testimony, which answers the question, "What has belonging to a UU church done for you?" She gives some guidelines for this sort of a speech which boil down to, keep it short and keep it personel and keep it focused. And she suggests that we write our speech down and memorize it.

An interesting Challenge...lets call it the Elevator testimony. Here's my first crack:

I've been a UU all my life, and belonged to five UU churches. They were very different, but all of them offered me the opportunity to grow in spirit while belonging to a religious community that encouraged and facilitated that growth. We believe that an infinite deity has many names, and no name, and honor religious diversity. That means that everyone is exposed to a variety of religious understandings and hears about many different kinds of religious experiences and practices. I've been an atheist, and I found a God I could believe in. I've been an agnostic, but when I had a mystical experience that began a relationship with God, I didn't have to change churches, because that kind of personal and spiritual growth is something we value as UU's. It's a very rich place to be a person of faith.

You try!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Monsoons and graffiti

When we moved to New Mexico 18 years ago, we were told that "June is hot, then come the Monsoons, and it cools off." Coming from South Carolina, where it knows how to rain, we were bemused when "Monsoons" turned out to be mostly humidity punctuated by a few (very welcome) brief thundershowers, for a grand total of about 3 inches of rain in 6 weeks. In the desert, you enjoy every drop, but somehow, "monsoons" seemed over-descriptive.

Well, this year, we've had Monsoons. We're in our 8th week of nearly daily rain, downpoors, and floods. (and most trying of all, humidity levels topping 50%, which renders our evaporative coolers ineffective. We complain a lot about this.) My little rain gauge has logged over 7 inches, and it underreports. The last downpoor backed up the sewers at the church, so today all is in an uproar as carpets are replaced.

That would have been bad enough, but last week, we were hit with a wave of vandalism. Nearly 30 windows on our campus, most plate glass types which cost about $300 a piece to replace, were ruined with etched script. Not Really graffiti, we were told by the police; just kids. And then, on Saturday night, we were hit with a spatter of gunshots, cracking windows and damaging frames. The police assured us that we were probably not the target; if the shots had been aimed at us, they would have done far more damage.

We have insurance, of course, so our out of pocket expenses will probably only $2,000, but that's $2,000 that won't be available to paint walls or do the planting of cactus that the police recommend for the beds in front of our largest windows. It's enough to make one believe in bad Karma, making me wonder what we're not doing that we should be doing, and my Administrator to talk about bad energy, the cure of which, in her opinion, is banishing negative talk. She'd probably frown on my fantasies of catching a few kids red handed and sitting on them until the police came, but such is my anger about their vandalism. In the meantime, the staff is going to have lunch together on the back patio, far from the bad smells and chaos in the office. If, that is, it doesn't rain.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Calming Effect of Religions Tolerance

Time Magazine explains some reasons why (besides support for Israel and war on Iraq) there has been more terrorist activity in Britain than here in America. Why are British young Muslims more violent than American young Muslims?

Well among other things, American Muslims are, overall a smaller and better integrated part of the nation's population than anywhere in Europe, tending to be better educated and better off financially than the majority of Americans. In Great Britain and even more in other European nations, Moslems tend to be poor and live in enclaves. I tend to put a lot of stock in this first explanation, myself. There's nothing like few prospects of a good life to interest people in desperate measures, something that our society should be taking seriously as we move further and faster into this "winner take all' economy.

Another factor in "Muslim America" is that Muslims here tend to come from many nations and are, as someone commented yesterday, of different races, and include our homegrown Black Muslim brand. All that Moslem diversity makes it more likely that isolated groups will assimilate into the mainstream rather than clump with other Moslems.

Another factor Time mentions is that in Europe, religiousness of any kind is viewed with disdain, as a threat to secular values. Moslems there feel pervasively misunderstood and sneered at for what is most precious to them, their faith. Here in America, we have our disagreements about faith, but we're accustomed to a larger public square of tolerance about the issue, and Moslem faithfulness fits in better.

Sometimes Americans, especially those whose own values are secular, assume that their way is the peaceful way and "religion causes so much violence in the world." While there's no doubt that religion is one source of violence, it seems likely that appreciative tolerance of the variety of human religiousness has a calming effect.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Blackmail and Policy

Leaders of Islamic communities in England last week wrote an open letter pointing out that government policy and programs are infuriating young men and are in part, the cause of terrorism. British leaders responded that that was blackmail, and that governments couldn't possibly make decisions in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

So...let's just unpack that interesting statement.

First of all, blackmail happens when someone secretly threatens an illegal or immoral action unless the receiver accedes to a demand. (pay money being the classic demand). Blackmail by definition doesn't happen in public. It by definition is an illicit activity, a kind of bloodless terrorism. And it only happens between two parties. If I say to you that if you don't stop doing X, someone else will take revenge, that's not blackmail, that's a warning. Warnings may be unwelcome communication, but they are not blackmail.

So it was plain old racist of British leaders to respond to leaders of the Muslim community's letter by calling it blackmail; that was implying that those leaders were themselves responsible for the illegal and immoral activity of a few young men. Nor do I think that Christian leaders would have been called Blackmailers under similar circumstances; such nasty words are used only for the despised.

And as to the question of whether a nation should take into account the activity of terrorists in forming and executing its foreign policy... in the "new normal," they should, do, and will. Not necessarily give in, of course, but count the costs, in advance.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

New Normal

Caner patients are told, after the drama and difficulty of treatment is over, "Welcome to the new normal." During new normal, you adjust to your losses and to your heightened sense of mortality, you recover your strength, you cherish whatever gifts were given on the journey through illness. You take up your responsibilities again, and move on into all that is your life.

Some things will be different, many will be the same. You will be different, but also the same. Your future happiness and effectiveness in life depend on finishing grieving the "old normal" and adjusting to the "new normal".

We Americans have now had nearly 5 years to adjust to the post 9/11 "New Normal". By and large, the people of our nation have done pretty well at it. We learned a lot about Islam and about the Moslems amongst us. We started to travel again and put up with inconveniences that would have been intolerable 5 years ago with patience and good humor.

Our government, on the other hand, has not done so well. Like the person whose cancer treatment ended years ago but who works their medical history into every conversation, our leaders continue to insist that we are "at war," and that soldiers and military might can make us safe again.

But it's not a war, it's a new normal. We adjust to our losses, learn what we need to learn, put up with what we need to put up with, and get on with our lives, determined to be neither a whining victim nor a fool in denial. To keep on going to war and provoking war is to be like the impatient cancer patient (and physician) who keeps asking for exploratory surgery, further traumatizing what is hopefully healing, spending precious resources that are needed elsewhere, and doing true harm all around.

Our national, "new normal" includes the fact that there are terrorists and that we must be vigilant against them. It includes the fact that the only way to keep ourselves completely safe from terrorists would involve an intolerable trade off of rights we cherish, just as keeping ourselves safe from (the much more likely) traffic accident would be intolerable. We may not like this new normal, but it is a fact of our lives. The better our basic health, the quicker we adjust and get on with all that is our lives.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Defending Yourself

One of the great tragedies being played out on the international scene these days is the presumption that there exists an absolute right to "defend oneself." If there are terrorists in the world who are out to do damage to Americans, someone proclaims that we have a right to defend ourselves. If an extremist group in Lebanon kills Israeli Soldiers, Israel had a right to defend itself.

We're buying this because, to the person on the street, it feels right. If somebody tries to drag me into their car, I have a right to defend myself, to kick and scream and do them damage...even to kill, if necessary.

Not all ethical systems buy this; Jesus, for instance, was flat out against it. (remember, "turn the other cheek?") Judaism is only a bit more liberal; Jews are enjoined to take only an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and not a bit more. Taking an eye for an eyelash, which is what they are doing at the moment, is considered wrong by Biblical standards. But American law upholds the right of a person to defend themselves, even if they do considerable damage to the one trying to hurt them.

So if a guy is trying to abduct my child, I can hurt or even kill him. That's defending myself(my family actually, but that's ok, too.)

What I can't do is chase him out the back door and then shoot his wife who is waiting in the car on the street. Even is she's almost certainly a part of the plot, I can't do that. Nor can I chase him into my neighbor's house and set fire to the house. I can't even chase him into HIS house and set fire to the house. Why not? because for one thing, a house on fire is a danger to the entire neighborhood. And for another, because that goes way beyond defending myself. It moves into the terribly dangerous realms of revenge and taking the law into my own hands.

Nations are not persons, and the systems of international law which would make it unnecessary for a nation to take the law into its own hands are still in the development stage. Still, the national right to "defend itself" has to be limited for the same reasons the personal right to defend oneself has to be limited. It is not moral even by the most liberal standards of morality to wreak death and destruction on an entire nation of mostly innocent people because one feels, or even actually is threatened by a small subset of those people. To begin to address this problem, Catholic moralists developed a theory of Just War. It's one of the best things they've done for the world.

Even President Bush must know that the right of nations to defend themselves does have limits. That's why he brought out the "weapons of mass destruction card" at the beginning of the Iraq war. For if it really is not moral to burn down the neighbors house because a bad guy took refuge there, it might be ok to do that if the bad guy is about to blow up the entire neighborhood.

But we were duped on that one.

And now it is time to say to those who say, that we, or anybody else has a "right to defend ourselves, " some things like, "What about turning the other cheek?" "Is this a Just War? and "What about an eye for an eye (and no more?"

Or the neighborhood that is our world could go up in flames.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hymns and Songs for Small Groups

We held our second technical rehearsal of our video cafe this morning, for a small group that included a visiting ministerial colleague. Besides thinking that we have a viable service, (thanks, Kate!) she remarked that we had a better sense of picking good hymns for small group worship than most people, even ministerial colleagues, seem to.

Since I've just finished compiling a set of hymns for use in our Video Cafe and Branch locations, where we anticipate no piano, only possible guitar, and modest talent for group singing leadership, I offer it here for those organizing worship for retreats, small congregations, etc. My criteria are: the music has a limited range, a lot of repetition, short phrases, not too many words, simple melody.

From the Gray Book:

Come, Come, Whoever you Are
Circle Round for Freedom
May the Circle be Unbroken
Gathered Here
Spirit of Life (harder than the others but so many of us know it!)
Come Sing a Song With Me
One More Step
Peace is Flowing Like a River
Kum ba yah
Alleluia (11 minute accompaniment CD here:)

From the Turquoise Book: Simple Accompaniments to many of these hymns are available on the UUA website.

Where Do We Come From? 1003
Woyaya 1020
Return Again 1011 (lovely CD of this Here)

There is a Balm in Gilead 1045
Turn the World Around 1074

Only If you have a guitar:

Take up the Song (Etzler and Chambers, in Signature Songbook #3)
When Our Heart is in a Holy Place (Turquoise # 1008)
1031 Filled with Loving Kindness

Many of these songs would be enhanced by a simple shaker or drum accompaniment.

A group that learns this many songs is doing very well!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Choosing Abortion Battles

It's always discouraging when a woman's right to not share her body with an unwanted intruder is whittled away and when rich men play politics with the sacred matter of motherhood. But surely we've all gotten used to this, and we had another round of it last week when the Senate passed a bill making it a crime for anyone to take a pregnant girl across state lines so she could obtain an abortion without notifying her parents.

Nobody thinks this happens very often, so this bill has more symbolic effect than real. But the hand-wringing of the Pro-Choice side makes me almost sadder than the glee of the pro-lifers.

As I understand the law, every state that has parental notification laws has exceptions for rape and incest and a judicial bypass option. So when, god forbid, a child of 13 comes to me to ask for help getting her an out-of-state abortion because she's pregnant by her father and afraid to tell him, I don't want to just get her an abortion, I want to get her in front of a judge and get the abortion (which is required to be granted) and I want that judge to also set the wheels of justice in motion to get the kid out of that unsafe home. Simply taking her across state lines to get an abortion would be another kind of child abuse.

As for the more likely scenario, the sexually active 16 year old who's scared to talk to her parents, she's also old enough to get herself across state lines without physical assistance from me, and scared though she might be, she is, after all going to face their wrath if she stays pregnant, too.

I'm also skeptical of the pro-choice assumption that if teens have to go to their parents they'll be pressured against their best interests or abused. My somewhat limited experience as a Planned Parenthood clergy counselor and a minister is that moms are often more in favor of an abortion than daughters. Young women often have woefully romantic notions about motherhood, but their mothers have good reason to be more realistic. They know the sacrifice and sacredness of motherhood, and they know that their daughters are unprepared for both. As for abuse...Young people have recourse if they are being abused by their parents and the same adults who are available to help them get abortions are available to help them if parents fly out of control over their daughter's pregnancy.

Let this one go.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ministerial "Right of First Refusal"

The original question on the UU Leaders chat was: "Does a minister's Freedom of the Pulpit extend to the right of first refusal over non-member weddings" If you're just joining this blog, scroll down three posts and read them over to catch up.

So. Freedom of the Pulpit has nothing to do with this.
Control of Sacred Space has to do with this question only if there's the possibility that the activity or leader would reflect badly on the church or be seen as sacrilegious.
Minister's covenants of relationship with each other govern some of this but lay folks don't need to worry about them.


The essence of this issue, however is economic. Ministers get paid for doing weddings. Ministers who like the extra income, and the many who need the extra income want all the opportunities to do these weddings they can have. Organists often feel the same way. Because both ministers and organists are often poorly paid, they are often indulged in this little bit of protective behavior. So, lay folks, if your minister is demanding a right of first refusal for non-member weddings, the first thing to wonder is if you are paying this person well enough that they don't have to work weekends and evenings doing weddings. Then you can start negotiating.