Archive | June 2013

Home from Kentucky

pulpit pic ssl

What a week it has been!  My partner Anne and I learned about the Supreme Court decisions during a layover in the Atlanta airport.  The plane for SLC was about to board and we were listening to the national news on a screen near the gate. I was also on my cell phone following twitter.  My “yes!” when I got the affirming tweet beat the TV announcement by a full minute.

We had been waiting for that decision all week.  OK, maybe we had been waiting our whole lives, but the suspense was really building while I was in Kentucky attending meetings of both the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and the General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The suspense, the hope and the fear, was in the background all week as we gathered with roughly 3500 other Unitarian Universalists to bear witness, worship, learn, reflect, and make decisions. The week was intense, kind of like drinking from a firehouse of inspiration and challenging ideas. The worship service and many of the speakers brought tears into my eyes.  I love this faith of ours, and there is nothing better than when a whole bunch of us gather to try and live out our values.

There is no way I can cover all that happened at GA in one sermon.  I will instead offer a just few highlights.  It is all on the web at uua.org, most in both text and video.

You can also go to twitter #uuaga and read the comments of attendees.  I am new to twitter and this was the first time I really saw its power.  People were tweeting and re-tweeting constantly, commenting on what was going on.  It added an extra dimension to the experience, a back channel that was going on while speakers were at the podium.  A tweet I posted read, “What happens at GA should not stay at GA.  Remember to bring the ideas, the love, the energy back home and share it.”  I got the idea from our worship committee while we were discussing this service.  Quite a few people shared that comment via retweeting.  Twitter was also used it to collect ideas on how GA might be improved in the future.  Go to #newuuaga to read those comments.

How many of you are on twitter?  Would you like to try using it sometime during a service or part of a service?  I’d be interested in experimenting with it to see what it can do for our worship experience.  I know, that probably terrifies some of you.  It just might require a leap of faith.   I really loved how it worked at GA.  (We try it – using #uuogden as the hashtag)

Now for some highlights that you don’t have to go to the internet for:

The keynote speaker at Ministry Days was Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister who wrote the book, “When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough.”  She was passionate and very funny and set the tone for the coming weeks. A few of her lines:

“Having deep thoughts by yourself is boring. What is challenging is having them in community.”

“In community, other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”

“If you find God in nature, do you find God in cancer? You need community to wrestle with that.”

“Best argument for why church matters is somewhere between ‘burn in hell’ and ‘whatever floats your boat’”

“Growing up Episcopalian, talking about sin was like mistaking the fish fork for the salad fork.“

“Need same effort to find your family’s church as spent finding best college for your children.“

“Can you honestly say to someone who missed church that you really missed something?”

“Joining church is not like joining a gym. The church is not about providing services, not about meeting all of your needs.”

Her talk resonated with me as it reminded me of the conversations we have been having about why people come to a church and what they are looking for when they do.

Spiritual depth and a focus on mission are the two places where many of our churches are lacking.

People attend church because they want to feed their spirits, they want people to celebrate with when good things are happening, and they also want a place to grieve and to deal with loss and with fear.

When I realized that the Supreme Court would announce their decisions while I was in transit, it freaked me out a little.  I wanted to hear the news, bad or good, in the company of my religious community.  We need each other to hold both our joys and our sorrows.  I am glad we are celebrating together today.

People also want a church that has a clear mission, one that makes a difference in the world.  So many times during the last week, when I said that I was from this church, people responded by saying they had heard of us and of all the good work we are doing here.  They knew that we started OUTreach, they knew about the occupy camp we had on our lawn, and they knew about our completely intergenerational worship.  We’re making a difference.

We tried to make a difference in Kentucky too, while we were there.  On Thursday afternoon, we walked several blocks to the banks of the Ohio River to hold the largest environmental justice event in the history of that state.  Kentucky, like Utah, is owned by the mining industry and the pollution of the air, land and water is horrible there.  The Sierra Club, Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, and other groups joined us at the rally.  Our own Tim De Christopher spoke, as did Wendell Berry.

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, poet and writer.  Our hymnal includes a quite a number of readings by him.

Two years ago, he spent four days camped outside of the governor’s office to protest mountaintop removal mining.  He also withdrew his personal papers from the University of Kentucky when they renamed their basketball players’ dormitory after the coal industry. He read his poem entitles “Questionnaire”

1. How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much evil are you willing to do? Fill in the following blanks with the names of your favorite evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared to make for culture and civilization? Please list the monuments, shrines, and works of art you would most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, and farms you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill.

Later in the week, inspired by these words, the delegates voted to begin the process of divestment of all Unitarian Universalist investments in the fossil fuel industry. You can look at the website to find out the results of other votes.  The meetings at General Assembly are a fascinating exercise of democracy in action.  It was hard not to start chanting: “This is what democracy looks like” while the debate over various issues and how things would be worded went on in an extremely organized fashion.  We also elected a new moderator, Jim Key, in a very close election. Both candidates were excellent, so I was not surprised that there were only 45 votes separating the two.

Our reading this morning was from Vanessa Southern’s rousing sermon at the Service of the Living Tradition on Saturday night.  She made a case that a new spiritual awakening is coming and that Unitarian Universalism must be ready to embrace a new generation of spiritual seekers who want to engage both with faith and with the world.

She said:

“In this new world, congregations whose mission is just to maintain the congregation, and denominations whose de facto mission is simply to keep the bureaucracy alive, are out. What is in are communities alive to spirit, people gathered who question, doubt, struggle, live with ambiguity, serve directly, are ecologically minded and affirming of the pluralism across all real and supposed differences.

These are the only communities this cohort of adults, growing in size and strength by the year, will join and offer its allegiance to.”

If Unitarian Universalism is to answer this challenge, she says we have to:

“… abolish stinginess. Big missions don’t happen on starvation budgets. We need to stop pretending we are just careful with our money and just get crazy generous.”
Crazy generous! We have a big mission – you can read it on the cover of the order of service, but let me sum it up as – “To bring love and justice into the world.”  The caring, inclusive community, the spiritual and intellectual growth help get us there, but our bottom line mission is to bring love and justice into the world.  It is a big mission and to make it happen we need to be crazy generous – generous with our time, our talents, and with our money.  Most of all, we need to be generous with our love.

(We also, she said,) “have to become great experimenters in our laboratories of religious life. We have to be like 1000 R & D departments, reporting in daily from our congregations and community ministries about where our experiments brought faith more alive and where they have failed. We have to laugh and tell stories of our victories and wipe-out-face-plants and be pioneers of the spirit; entrepreneurs of soul and service. Married to mission, dating everything else. (one of my favorite lines of hers) We must do this to be partners and co-creators of the next great awakening.”

Her sermon was surrounded by a wave of gospel music led by musicians from our large and racially diverse church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The service basically ended with a dance party.  She said,

“A train is coming, my fellow pioneers of this faith. Love and Unity wait to take their rightful place front and center on the human stage. Spirit wants to claim the age. It is a Great Awakening for which we have been preparing for a lifetime. And for this, we are asked to leap just beyond the surface of what we know and trust.”

Ready to leap?  I knew you would be!

I wrote 6 poems while in I was in Kentucky.  I will read 3.  The rest are posted on my blog.

It’s been a waterfall of words so far

Roaring round my brain.

In my ears and out of my mouth

As we all respond in song

The back channel flows

New friends are made

Follow me I’ll follow you

There is a pause to wonder,

“Is my smart phone

Smarter than me?”

That might be true

But maybe not

One truth I know is right

We is more than me

Join us now

Wherever you are

Whoever you might be

It is time to ride the waterfall

And swim in a bigger sea.

I believe because I must believe

That God loves each and all

I believe because I want to believe

That peace will come someday

I believe because I need to believe

That justice will come to be

I believe because my eyes have seen

The rainbow after the storm

I believe because my ears have heard

The people sing the Spirit’s song

I believe because my heart can beat

With the pulse of love and gratitude

I believe because we work as one

In a harmony of diversity

I believe because I am not alone

And finally,

Rock us

Knock our socks off

Shake us up

And send us forth

Teachers, preachers

Keepers

Of the faith.

Amen and Rock on!

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General Assembly -The Cost of Democracy #newuuaga

For years, it has been obvious that the delegates to General Assembly (GA) do not necessarily represent their congregations.  It is expensive to attend so those that go tend to be people who can afford to go.  They  are the people who can afford to take time off work or who are retired.  Ministers go, at least if they have enough professional expenses available.  Ministers should be there and they should also attend ministry days, in my opinion.  An annual dose of collegial connection and inspiration is critical if we we are serious about maintaining excellence in ministry.  But if they can’t afford it, they don’t go.  That tends to include, I suspect, a large percentage of our ministers that serve part-time in our smaller, geographically isolated congregations.  Many of those congregations rarely have anyone attend.  When their minister, if they have one, can’t afford to go, they are not only disenfranchised but also risk disconnection from our larger faith community.

Very few congregations provide funding for any of their lay leadership to attend.  Several years ago, the UUA paid the registration fees for congregational presidents.  That was a very good thing.  I am not sure why it stopped.  During the brainstorming session (Which was recorded on twitter @#newuuaga) I suggested that we find a way for the UUA to subsidize delegates who would actually represent their congregations.  If it the subsidy went only to congregations that are fair share, it would also encourage more congregations to be fair share. As Vanessa Southern said in her sermon at the Service of the Living Tradition, “Big missions don’t happen on starvation budgets.”  If we really care about an inclusive democratic process(and we should), we need to do something.

I had thought that the provision to have off-site delegates would help.  Then I discovered that off-site registration also costs, and not a nominal amount.  Our church board actually designated one of our board members to be a delegate – and then we found out that it would cost $150 for her to register.  I can understand charging something, but $25-30 dollars would be fairer.  We  likely could have squeezed that amount out of our church budget, but the $150 was simply too much.

More on General Assembly later.  My sermon this Sunday is “Home from Kentucky.”

What happens at GA should not stay at GA.

 

 

Ridge Line

It is so fine

To reach a ridge top

To balance on the sharp edge

With a clear view

Of where we have been

 

The mountain is high

The summit lost in the clouds

Where are we going

On this journey

Lasting an eternity?

 

One step

Another

Our feet are sore

From walking

We will get there

Even if we have to crawl

 

We would rather run

Skipping, dancing, singing

Soaring above it all.

We climb because we must

We are answering a call

 

Rest on the ridge line

Rejoice in what we have done

Let the sun warm us

Justice is growing

We must bask in its glow

 

Tomorrow is time enough

To hit the trail again

The road to a wider justice

Is very long indeed

But my hearts is glad to know

There are blessings along the way.

 

Rock On

Rock us

Knock our socks off

Shake us up

And send us forth

Teachers, preachers

Keepers

Of the faith.

 

GA: Glorious and Grueling

It is day 6 for me – one full day to go.  Since Monday, I have been swimming in the ocean of sensation,  stimulation, sensitivities, inspiration that is created when massive numbers of Unitarian Universalists gather to worship, to learn, and to do.  Moments of awe are in great abundance here, but my feet really hurt at this point.

My heart is also hurting.  GA is an emotional experience and I am so glad that we have a right relationship team that provides a healthy container to help us process the ways we can learn better to hold each other in love.  It is not just their job, however.  The responsibility for right relationship belongs to all of us.

Last night the Synergy worship (the Bridging Ceremony celebrating youth that are transitioning to young adults) was held immediately after the Ware lecture ended.  I have been to this event in the past and loved it, but I also knew if I stayed, it would be at least 10PM before I could return to my hotel room, several blocks away.  My feet hurt.  12 hour days just don’t work for me anymore, especially after almost a week of long days.  I felt bad about it, but I left.  I felt bad for myself, having to miss it, and I also felt bad for the youth, fearing that they would feel less loved and less supported, because I did not stay.

And it wasn’t just me.  A bunch of other, mainly older, people also left.  And it was painfully obvious how many left because there was no break between the two events.  Which was a bit of a surprise and not the best planning.  It felt terrible to be walking out during the chalice lighting.  I wish I had waited a bit and left during a song instead so as to be less disruptive.  And just maybe, as someone rather sarcastically tweeted, the older adults could have been “sung out” to their hotel rooms like most of our congregations sing the kids out of worship.  (Just so you know, my church is one of the few that doesn’t do that anymore.  Adults, youth, and children all worship together each and every week.  Classes for different age groups are AFTER the service, not during.  All worship is for everyone, although there is an option of nursery care for the youngest ones.  Interestingly, last year in Phoenix, the youth from our church chose to sit with the rest of our church group rather than with the youth caucus.  I AM not saying there should not be youth or young adult caucus seating at GA, just that youth and young adults have a choice.  The quality of intergenerational relationships can affect that choice. )

I hate the assumption that those who left last night did so because they don’t care about younger people and don’t enjoy diverse styes of worship.  That might be true of some, but I suspect most of those who left were simply exhausted.  My feelings were hurt by that assumption, and that assumption also hurt the feelings of those who stayed.

The arrogance of youth, the cynicism of age – those are assumptions too.  How easily feelings can be hurt without intention.

Would it help to say, I wish I could stay?  Would it help to say, I wish you could stay, but I understand?

Could we learn to sing each other out (and in) with love?

Go now in Peace

I Believe

I believe because I must believe

That God loves each and all

 

I believe because I want to believe

That peace will come someday

 

I believe because I need to believe

That justice will come to be

 

I believe because my eyes have seen

The rainbow after the storm

 

I believe because my ears have heard

The people sing the Spirit’s song

 

I believe because my heart can beat

With the pulse of love and gratitude

 

I believe because we work as one

In a harmony of diversity

 

I believe because I am not alone

 

Waterfall of Words (General Assembly – 2013)

Its been a waterfall of words so far

Roaring round my brain.

In my ears and out of my mouth

As we all respond in song

The back channel flows

New friends are made

Follow me I’ll follow you

There is a pause to wonder,

“Is my smart phone

Smarter than me?”

That might be true

But maybe not

One truth I know is right

We is more than me

Join us now

Wherever you are

Whoever you might be

It is time to ride the waterfall

And swim in a bigger sea.

From My New (temporary) Kentucky Home

I have been in Kentucky since Friday night, visiting family over the weekend and since Monday participating in the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s Chapter Leaders training and then Ministry Days.  General Assembly starts tonight and the laity are filling the streets, hotel lobbies, and standing in long lines to pick up their delegate badges.  It is hot here, and I have been “drinking from a fire house” of soul-satisfying worship, helpful advice, inspiring speakers, and engaged conversation with passionate colleagues.  There is already so much to process, so many ideas I want to bring back to Utah and try, and the week has barely begun.

Thursday evening we will witness for environmental justice and clean energy (along with the local Interfaith Power and Light group, the Sierra Club, and likely other groups as well.)  Tim De Christopher and Wendell Berry are both speaking at the event.  How awesome is that!

More later…

 

For a good summary  of Lillian Daniel’s keynote at Ministry Days: (click here)

Big Bang

 

It must have been loud

That moment of creation

Waking up Adam and Eve

And probably the animals

Dozing on the Ark

 

Mix up your metaphors

And come down from

Your high horse.

Creation can’t happen

In a vacuum.

Wait!

Maybe it did.

 

Walk Proud

You can creep about

With your head down

Shoulders bent

Weighted down by fear

You can avert your eyes

Maybe they won’t see you

If you can’t see them

Duck and cover might work

 

Still the blows come

While words rain down

Fag dyke fat bitch

Whatever they hate about you

You can run sometimes

You can even hide

Lock up your heart

Chain your free spirit down

But still their poison seeps

Into the air you need to breathe

 

Stand up

As tall as you can dare

Gather your friends around

Be yourself and

Look them in the eye

The blows may still come

But the truth will wash

The air around you clean

Whoever you are

You deserve this:

A real life

A chance to dream

There are others

Yearning to follow

Footsteps free from fear.

Walk proud.

Join the conga line.