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


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 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.