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


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'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.