Sunday, March 23, 2008

Post Traumatic Thanksgiving

I took my son to the airport the other day; he started the Spring Break College Hunting Trip a few days before I could get away. He's an experienced traveler, and took off from the curbside, bag in tow. I was awash in memories of his first solo trip, 10 years ago, this very Spring Break. He was going to stay with his grandparents while I had surgery which we hoped would...and did...cure my cancer. He was a half a year too young to fly alone; his frequent flying grandfather had charmed some airline executive into giving permission for this cross-country, emergency trip.

This was before the days of personal movies, and my son was not yet reading for pleasure. I worried about what he would do for four hours, all by himself, strapped into his seat. A teenaged friend had loaned him a gameboy and I had supplied him with changes of batteries that I wasn't sure he could manage. I walked him all the way to the gate and handed him over to the flight attendant, who, seeing my tears, hustled him down the jetway and out of sight before I could remind him about the batteries.

My parents called later that evening to say that they had collected him on their end with ease, and handed the phone over. "Did you have enough batteries for the gameboy?" I asked. "Oh, I didn't play that." "Really? What did you do?" "I talked to the man sitting next to me. We talked about Star Wars".

I breathed a little prayer of thanksgiving to a traveler who, probably wanting to take a nap or get some work done, had instead taken pity on a little boy who needed somebody to talk to on his first, long journey. I'm grateful to this day. He returned home 10 days later, an experienced traveler, with his grandmother in tow; she took care of us all for a while before things lapsed back, slowly, into the new normal that falls around us all after the difficulties of our lives have made us ever more aware of our gratitude for families and friends, for healing and joy, and even for strangers.

Tomorrow I join my college-hunter in Baltimore and we take off on one of those "If it's Thursday, it must be New York" sorts of trips, and I'll begin it in gratitude.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


This is the Louisville Unitarian Church. It's right downtown, next to the public library. They had a fire in the early 1990's, and have come back from the ashes in a creative, vital way. The Steeple that was replaced only by a steel structure gives a hint. The building manager postponed his Sunday dinner long enough to show a couple of tourists around. Throughout the building they took what was left to them (the stone structure) and re-built for their needs...a lovely back garden, a more intimate sanctuary, a gathering space. It was a very inspiring sight on Palm Sunday, a reminder that resurrections come in many forms.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thomas Merton Anniversary, II

I've been in Louisville at the Large Church Conference, and snapped this picture of the Thomas Merton Memorial. Thomas Merton was one of the figures of my young adulthood, and I was thrilled to realize that the moment of his Enlightenment Experience was only a few blocks from our Hotel, and, furthermore, was commemorated by a plaque! It is not often that religious experience is so honored in our society. To complete my amazement, I was told that today is the 50th anniversary of his experience. Someone had read the story in the Louisville newspaper.

I got the picture posted via the miracle of mobile blogging and before I could add text, Rev. Cynthia Cane posted this comment, which I've moved up to the body of the text because her enthusiasm is so contageous!

I believe this (picture) is in downtown Louisville , which we Kentuckians call the 'ville. Thomas Merton wrote an astounding account of a personal about standing on the corner of 4th & Walnut:

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people,” he later wrote, “that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race. ... There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Wow! To-morrow is the 50th anniversary of this moment! And I can go to Louisville. Thanks!!!

Thanks, Cynthia!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Staying Hip

I turned in my paper calendar for a connected organizer in about 1992. The device was an electronic rolodex. Great little 6 oz machine, but I turned it in a year later for a Palm Pilot. A couple of years ago, I added an MP3 player...wonderful for travel and exercise, and last Summer, I started carrying a cell phone. And I started getting camera envy and realizing how many cool pictures I'd take for this blog if only I carried a camera. I'm not an early adopter, but I am an adopter.

I was also getting tired of lugging a Radio Shack Store around in my purse.

Last week, I bought a Blackberry and lightened my load. (I also lightened my bank account.)

This is an addictive little device which is elegantly designed and has the poorest documentation of any piece of technology I've ever purchased. The English is all impeccable, but there's hardly any of it...the equivalent of a "Getting Started" users guide. Even the downloaded, 300 page users manual doesn't tell us such vital things as which of the 4 ways you can "turn off" your phone is what the airlines mean when they tell you to turn off your phone. If you want to play your music or your games or work on stored documents, you have to have the phone off. Does anybody out there know how to do that?

So, my readers, you can look forward to more pictures and mobile blogging!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mobile blogging

This post comes from my phone. I'm in Omaha, soon to preach the instalation sermon for my old friend Kate.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

What IS Contemporary Worship?

Our growth in Albuquerque is requiring us to think about adding a third sanctuary service to our current line-up of two sanctuary services and three video services. Gulp! One option is to add a "Contemporary" service. A commenter below asks what that is. There are two answers.

1. In a traditional Protestant church, a "Contemporary" worship service is one which uses a band rather than an organ to accompany singing and provide music, which is of the soft rock, or Christian Contemporary/praise chorus style. Generally this service is paired with a traditional service where the organ and German hymn-tunes reign. This style is not very attractive to UU's, who like more variety in their music and already tend to a blended style of worship. (and who prefer to attract the unchurched with the message, not the music anyway.)

2. In UU Circles, a "Contemporary" worship service (insofar as this concept is developed) refers to a service which is presumably Young Adult friendly. The story goes that ex-YRUU'ers prefer circle worship to the square kind their elders do, which they refer to as the "sermon sandwich" and even on the UUA website refer to with very un-UU-like disparagement. In such a worship service, the "message" would be broken down into several parts, delivered by several voices and media; voice, drama, video, music, song, all in one thematic whole. This type of worship is not new. It was called "Creative Worship" 30 years ago and was the mainstay of Worship Committees for a long time. It's hard work, and requires a number of people, not just the preacher, to have developed the ability to share the depth of their thinking. But it is absolutely wonderful when it is pulled off.

3. To the old Creative Worship mix of possibilities, Contemporary Worship has added the element of ritual. The best-developed ritual that I know of is allowing everyone in the congregation to get up and light a candle (silently) based on a theme in the service. If the theme is Mothers and Mothering, the congregation is invited to light a candle for their mother or someone who has mothered them, for instance.

In our situation, a "contemporary" service has to use the sermon as developed for the more traditional services. There's only so much time in a preacher's day, and we are not considering deploying a second minister to write a different sermon. But, borrowing from the Christians, it appears to me that one interesting possibility for a third service which might better be called "Music-lead". In such a service a musician is the worship leader. Taking the themes from the sermon, this person would plan and lead a "music-heavy" liturgy. It would begin welcoming and building the energy of the congregation with several lively songs, hymns, and readings, rather than our usual formal opening, move into a meditation which incorporated an element of ritual or meditation instruction. The Worship leader would make announcements, offer a prayer, and, the worship leader. The preacher would simply be a part of the congregation, enjoying the scene for the first 30 minutes. Then comes the sermon...delivered by a semi-rested preacher. I like this idea. We're experimenting with it this Spring, so stay tunned.