Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tidbits from Portland

Tidbits from yesterday's GA experience

I had been aware that there was enslavement of Africans all through the Americas, but heard at a workshop that a full 90% of Africans taken from their homes were transported to and enslaved in Central and South America. The workshop leader was helping us understand something about racial issues among Hispanic people. Apparently they don't know this history in South and Central America either, and talk about how "we're all mixed", but in actuality have a strong racial hierarchy that is invisible. (At least to lighter-skinned people. It's a cinch that the darker-skinned people know all about it.)

Another interesting tidbit from the same workshop; There were African people in South American before the Spanish got there.

Another workshop: UU's have been growing at the rate of about .3% a year for the past 25 years. During that time most Mainline Christian denominations have shrunk by 50% and most conservative denominations have grown by 50%.

But...that drop in the mainline has not been in every single church. Some churches have done very well. The tendency is for churches which are either very conservative OR very liberal to have grown. The churches which were trying to please everyone across a huge theological spectrum have failed and declined.

Another experience; Walking by the river, I came across a garden dedicated to the Portlanders of Japanese ancestry who were deported to detention camps during World War II. This park featured the full text of the official apology for this act from 20 years ago...a text which cited racism, war-time hysteria, a failure of the courts and congress to prevent a dreadful human rights abuse.

At least there are not hundreds of thousands of people detained at Guantanamo. But it's so obviously the same failure.

That's probably it for my GA. Interviewing a couple of intern possibilities this am, then it's off to the airport (on the fabulous light rail system, I might add), and home.

Friday, June 22, 2007

GA's Living Tradition

The first minister I knew as a kid was Robert J. Lewis. He was honored at minister's day yesterday for 50 years of service in ministry. The newest couple of ministers I know, my ex-intern and soon-to-be colleague Ron, and John, who will serve Los Alamos, were welcomed into ministry at the Service of the Living Tradition last night. We also honored ministers who had died during the year, those retiring, and those who have finished their probationary period and have full credentials.

That's a lot of honoring for one service; I didn't count, but 100 or so names were read. In years past those 100 would have also walked across the stage (the live ones, anyway) graduation-style, while the officiants struggled to keep a bored crowd from bursting into applause, whistles, etc. at its favorites. The new UUA staff person in charge put an end to that, thank heavens. After a few years she won't have to spend 5 minutes requesting that the congregation act like a congregation; we'll be used to the new dispensation. While she's paring time off the more than 100 minute service she can also work on cutting other parts of the service down to size. It really shouldn't take 5 minutes to tell a touching story to motivate people to give to the offering, for instance, and those 100 names no longer have to be read at funerial pace. If each honoree submitted a picture of themselves in their ministry setting to be flashed on the screen when names were read, the often clumsy camera work would have been unnecessary and we'd have been able to not only honor the absent but we could have enjoyed seeing the breadth of our ministry. It would have been much more engaging to the congregation.

What most touched me? Beth's announcement that, while there would be no shaking hands with dignitaries, graduation-style, Bill Sinkford had already done that before the service, and further, had prayed with the to-be honored ministers. Nice.

It's all a great change and improvement, and done in a culture in which change is usually resisted and the attempt to improve anything is a brave risk. Congrats, Beth Miller!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Secret's Out

The Berry Street Lecturer this year spoke movingly about an aspect of ministry that has to do with keeping certain boundaries. He said that he exercised at a gym far from his New England Town Center (where his steeple is likely the biggest around and everybody knows him as Rev. Ken.) Exercising far away means he doesn't have to talk to anybody, be nice, or attend to anything except his exercising, and should anyone say to him, "Are you THE Rev. Ken?" he can say, "No, I'm the other one."

(This annual lectureship is the oldest continuing lectureship in the US; it was started by William Ellery Channing as a continuing education experience for the ministers of New England. It's now the last event of Minister's Day at GA, and a pretty big deal )

I had urged my lay delegates to crash this event, if they could. I told them that it was because the lecture is so very good, and they had some interesting comments about how the necessities of ministerial role somehow necessitate something on their part. They were not quite able to articulate it, but I was touched by how touched they were by this lecture, which was really, really good. I mostly wanted them to be there to share with me the thrill of what happened at the end, which was, the always dramatic announcement of next year's speaker, who will be, in 08 me, myself.

I was asked to do this some months back, and of course, I said yes. (This is not the sort of thing one says "no", to.) I was asked to keep it a secret, which I did do, and now the secret's out. But all evening, as people said, "They asked YOU to do the Berry Street," I was tempted to say, "No, they asked the other one."

Today this feels like a most intimidating honor and I can't imagine what the committee was thinking. In situations like that, it is good to be surrounded by friends.

GA in Portland

What an amazing plane trip that was! We flew from Phoenix over the Grand Canyon, the Utah red deserts, and then into Oregon, where the snow-covered Cascade Mountains poke up from the trees like the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

I can certainly see where Portland gets its reputation for being a livable city. The streets are tree-lined, small enough to cross, and (this is such a small and yet welcoming thing) a pedestrian does not have to push a special button to make the pedestrian lights work. They just cycle through with the traffic lights, as if pedestrians were expected. This mixed-use neighborhood where our hotel is includes business, residence and hotel properties, including an intreuging world percussion store which was not open at 6 but to which I'll have to return. All the streets are one way; that's hard on motorists, I realize, but it sure simplifies life for pedestrians.

I have a little investment in those one way streets. My father was the Assistant Traffic Engineer in Portland in the early 50's, and he oversaw that transition. We moved when I was 2, so I don't remember living here, but it is good to return.

Events start today, and I've already run into some of my delegation and my two ex-interns. The family reunion begins!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

iMinister at GA

I'm working furiously on two workshops for this year's General Assembly; one on using Video to help grow Unitarian Universalism, with three members of my church, (4:30 Thursday) and one on Blogging with Philocrates, Chalice Chick, and UU Planet. (4:30 Friday). Both have been assigned enormous rooms, so, come one, come all!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Great Silence

This unusual movie about monks whose vow of silence and solitude extends even to eating most meals in their cells came to Albuquerque, and it's been the topic of several conversations. It not only depicts the great silence, it is mostly silent; there's perhaps 15 minutes of talking in the 2 hour plus movie. It's still quite clear what is going on; postulants are accepted, meals prepared, wood chopped, psalms sung, studies, haircuts, even a bit of play. It is not an easy movie to watch, and the silence has little to do with the difficulty, what is difficult is that it is so difficult to imagine ones self living such a life.
One startling scene depicts the monks in their one weekly "communal" meal. They have washed their hands one by one, filed in to the dining hall and taken their seats. They eat in silence while one monk reads aloud from their Rule of Life. "We eat together once a week," the rule goes, "So that we may experience the joys of family life." It doesn't however, look like any family life you or I know.

In a scene that touched my heart and life, the camera shows the prior's office; alone of all the work spaces we've seen, his desk is cluttered with bills and a fund raising appeal. There is even a phone on his desk; this prior has to talk. Isn't that a capsule of religious leadership: the sacrifices are not simply material or even familial; they are spiritual.

It is a beautiful film, full of still life shots of simple things; hallways, fruit in the sun, clouds, faces. "I got it long before 2+ hours," someone said to me. "These people live in a beautiful place."

The director/cameraman (he worked virtually alone, living with the monks in silence himself) is an artist, and artists learn to see beautiful things and express them. The Monks are not in it for the beauty, at least not directly, they are attempting to develop a deep relationship with God.. God, like beauty, is here with us, if we can only learn to see, so the artist's vocation is not so different from the Monk's vocation.

You'll enjoy this silent movie more (ironically) if you know a bit of Latin and some French.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Estate Sales

My neighbor of 18 years died last winter, and this weekend, our neighborhood has been mobbed by an estate sale.

Not normally a "sale" kind of person, still, I had listened to this man's tales about his exotic art and furniture over the 18 years. He had lived in Spain and Mexico for many years and had a lot of art and artifacts. Also, after his wife died about 5 years ago, I helped him clear out her sewing room, and myself inherited most of her stash of beautiful fabrics and other sewing goodies. I wanted to see if there was anything I'd missed.

Anyway, I went over to the sale.

Tomorrow, I'm adding a "No Estate Sale" clause to my will. Let it all go to Good Will, boxed up in one fell swoop by the mentally challenged who need jobs and sold at a good price to the poor who need good prices.

If I have to imagine people pawing through my underwear drawers and old dishes, and chatting out loud their outrageous imaginings about my life, I would simply refuse to die. Talk about lack of dignity! As I wandered through the house, trying to remember the stories I'd been told, not to mention these lovely people who were such good people and such good neighbors, I overheard and oversaw things that broke my heart.

And the best of the artifacts were priced so high they didn't sell. At least, not yet. Today everything is half price, apparently, and perhaps even, "make us an offer". So I suppose I'll go back. He had a couple of wonderful pictures...

I'm painting a worse picture of the scene than it warrants, I know. Jostling crowds always put me in a bad mood. But I realize that most of my reason for going over was to have my own private little memorial service, so I was the odd person out.

I missed his service. Her service was at the Episcopal cathedral and, as a memorial service, it was very unsatisfactory. It was focused on the mass, not on the deceased. That's no way to say goodbye. It is better, however, than an Estate Sale.

Once the fuss is over and before the house sells, I'm going to climb the wall between our back yards and sit a bit on their back patio and say my Adios (to God!) to Victor and Jessie, good neighbors, good people, good world citizens.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


It's a new word, I believe, a linguistically delicious combination of snide, sarcasm and scorn.
Delicious linguistically because the word sounds so like what it means, but gad, what an unholy trio of substitutions for conversation, wit, and respect!

What it does to discussions is end them. Sometimes it also turns them into arguments, sometimes simply hurts people's feelings. Which is what it is supposed to do. Snark is the growl of the angry or hurt dog, a warning directly to the deepest levels of our self-protective systems to back off or else.

Most dogs don't actually deliver, and most snark doesn't either, but the intent is, well, the intent. My policy: if people want to end a discussion so badly that they resort to snark, I comply.

Makes for very bad discussions, poor truth finding, and tentative community. But...such a great word!