Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Pit

I was up too late last night and ate too little today and ended up in a hypoglycemic perfect storm of angst and depression. It's a little frightening how low I can get in a situation like that, even if things are going well.

I've been really down since getting back from GA. I'm increasingly impatient to get back to Starr King and my classmates there, and increasingly ready to divest from my current job that takes up so much of my time. I work full time, and only get to go to classes one day each week. At least it looks like this semester I will be at school on Tuesday's so I can participate in chapel and see more of the SK community.

Any jokes you may have heard aside, it is a great place to be. For some reason this summer I am having a harder time negotiating the strange schizoid life of being a full time seminarian, a full time information technology worker, a full time father, a full time lover and a full time friend. There has been some turmoil in each sphere of my life of late.

As petty as my struggles are in the cosmic scheme of things, I wonder what can I do to deepen my faith to the point that it could help me when I lose sight of it all. I ask this not just for myself but for all. It seems to me that in the congregations I know people tend to revert to their childhood faith or rely on psychotherapy when times are hard. What can we do to make our congregations a better resource and sanctuary for people in need? Is this particularly a weakness of liberal strands of religion? How much harder is this when there is no personal god to call on?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Petty complaint

I know this is a petty complaint, but have you ever tried to explain the relationship between clinical pastoral education, internship, candidacy, graduating from seminary, ordination and fellowship to someone who doesn't work for the UUA or a congregation?

People who ask when I am going to be done and what I have left to do don't really want an explanation of congregational polity, differences between Unitarian and Universalist history, or the history of ministerial consociations. But it is like peeling an onion, and every layer has its own story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Congregational dynamics

From the Washington Post:

Rove has maintained he neither knew Plame's name nor leaked it to anyone. In an interview yesterday, Wilson said his wife goes by Mrs. Wilson so it would be clear who Rove was talking about and noted how Rove attends the same church as the Wilson family. Wilson said Rove was part of a "smear campaign" designed to discredit him and others who undercut Bush's justification for war.

That must be some coffee hour.

Monday, July 11, 2005

From Where I'm Calling

I really haven't been able to blog much since I got back from General Assembly. Not for lack of anything to say, either. Warts and all, General Assembly was a UU community larger than the community I live in. The workshops I attended were all larger than my congregation. I'm not sure I can convey exactly what that feels like. As a seminarian, I'm not exactly unconnected from a sense of a larger UU community. So it is a little embarassing to be as corny about it as I am.

Attending the Service of the Living Tradition, and seeing people I knew onstage, it really hit me how close to graduation I have come. I need to see the WRSCC and start applying for CPE and internships. I'm struggling internally with the transition from scholar of religion to minister in training. I've been asked to officiate at a renewal of vows this fall, and friends ask me to offer prayers when I eat at their table. Sometimes people at church pull me aside to talk about their lives. I worry about accountability as people project the role onto me, and I worry about failing, or hurting people accidentally.

I remember the drive home after my week of orientation at Starr King School for the Ministry two years ago. It was late at night, and traffic was stopped by an accident. A car had crossed the median and rolled over down an embankment, blocking the road and trapping two people in the car. As best I could tell, they both had their seatbelts on and they made it. I remember wondering if I should go to them and try to comfort them while the paramedics were on the way or if that would be letting the whole seminarian thing go to my head. The timing was such that the rescue started before I got close enough to judge the situation, but I still like to tease myself about the thoughts that went through my head. In retrospect, I think I was trying to negoatiate between a natural desire to help (and a sense of calling at that) with a newfound concern for boundaries.

I find myself struggling to fight any tendencies towards arrogance while dealing with the need to be and appear confident. I also struggle with the balance between being open to new thinking while needing to be clear about my own theological beliefs. I find that my beliefs are not really changing, but that I keep learning new language to express aspects of them. I am really indebted to Tillich for helping me have a new understanding of and relationship to christianity. I'm also really grateful to Rebecca Parker for sharing insights about process theology and atonement.

I've been following some of the arguments about anonymous blogging. I have to wonder if my words here might come back to haunt me. Either being too strident in my politics or too vulnerable in talking about my doubts.

There are still houses that cost less than my seminary education. I'm sure I could have done a great job of developing spiritually if I had spent my money on a cabin in the woods. Instead, my cabin on Walden Pond is in my head, and no one can take it away from me. Deep down inside, I know that I have made the right decision.

I believe that we are all connected. And I believe it is my calling to restore the sense of connection, purpose and meaning in our lives, however we articulate it.

More soon...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

States of being

Busy designing a database at work, but thought I would play the state game too:

bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C. /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Obligatory July 4th Frederick Douglass

I suspect any regular reader would see this coming. It is a farily typical leftist thing to do, posting Frederick Douglass's 4th of July oratory. There is a lot in this text that is relevant to the current situation. Talk about honoring principles while still being critical, and an argument about telling the truth versus sounding too radical.

What to the slave is the Fourth of July

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us.

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave's point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;" I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Airport chapel and who needs it

One of the more interesting sights on my way back from GA was the DFW Airport Chapel which is served by 16 clergy from the DFW Interfaith Chaplaincy. The pamphlet says that "a Rabbi or a Hindu are available on call." It was quite a nice spot just off of gate B24.

I was particularly struck by the prayer rugs hanging on the wall. The whole terminal was inundated with very young soldiers off on America's crusade.

I was rather distraught by the youth of the soldiers and the tags on their backpacks with Iraqi city names on them. I walked down the terminal to pass the time because my flight was delayed. I got to see the rather nice and crowded USO. I met a couple young Marine recruits on their way to basic training at the MCRD in San Diego and heard a couple old timers tell them it would be fine and how to stay out of trouble.

The operation of the war is mostly removed from the community where I live. Our office has had one reservist go and return, and I have helped one person's kid brother get out of the service (special thanks to the Military Law Task Force and to a couple UU chaplains who answered questions and assisted that young man). I've also taken a small number of draft/conscientious objector questions (remember: potential UU conscientious objectors should register with the UUA registry for COs. The earlier you register, the better it documents sincerity to your draft board.)

At seminary sometimes, a heavy label gets applied to the students, "future religious leaders." As the sea of young faces in desert camouflage paraded by, I found no prayer to speak to the unspeakable loss and futility.

I was reminded of Wilfred Owens:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

As much as I want to post Dulce et decorum est " My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum estPro patria mori." I will resist.

The Send-off

Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.

Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men's are, dead.

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
Thy were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

Spirit of life, source of all, spark that animates our matter, look after these young souls and those they will encounter. Return us all to the unity of love, whole in body and spirit. Protect us innocents and transgressors all. Full of gratitude for the miracle of living in our bodies and souls, let us pray. Amen and blessed be.

uutopia and the real world

Sometimes I get behind in blogging because I have very little to say. Most of the time, I end up not posting because I have too much to say.

I have a torrent of feelings about my trip to GA and back. I came to General Assembly expecting to be a jaded ironic hipster with lots of jokes about the love of process for its own sake, theological vagueness, and general liberal cluelessness.

But rather like Dan Harper I came back more hopeful about Unitarian Universalism than I ever expected to be. Sometimes the whole enterprise seems to be coming apart at the seams and I wonder what I am doing borrowing money to become a UU minister.

If nothing else, this year's UUA General Assembly showed me that there is a there there.

I felt much the same way as Dan Harper and Philocrites did in this exchange:

After the lecture, I ran across Chris Walton, who's on the staff of UU World magazine. Chris was sitting in the Raddisson lobby, typing away on his cute little 12" Mac Powerbook, and he had just come back from Pagels's lecture. "We are seeing a real change in Unitarian Universalists," he said.

I wasn't sure I agreed with him, but he went on.

"Ten years ago, I could not imagine over 2,000 Unitarian Universalists sitting and listening to a lecture about Jesus the way people did tonight," he said. "No one got up and walked out in a huff."

He's right. there does seem to be a new openness to all things religious amongst Unitarian Universalists -- a distinct movement away from the hardline ideologies that many Unitarian Universalists used to adhere to -- there's a new sense of intellectual openness, a new willingness to listen.

And Chris and I agreed that this openness does have a generational aspect. The generation of younger Unitarian Universalists now coming up is far more open to exploring the Christian tradition, and not immediately rejecting it out of hand.

I'm not convinced that this is a function of younger UUs. I'm 35 (the Church of the Younger Fellowship offered to do a bridging cermony for me :)) and did not see many folks any younger than me. If a change is happening, I think it is happening in a broader demographic. I would like to think that one engine for this change is youth and young adults who have had a broader and deeper worship style that are insisting on staying in the church and adapting it to their needs rather than the other way around. But perhaps, many boomers, aging themselves and burying their parents, are looking for something else, much as their own parent's generation came to Unitarian Universalism during the growth years of the fifties and sixties looking for a different way of being religious as they raised their children.

This is just speculation on my part. I think this is actually better news than just the idea that new young UUs are different. There just aren't that many new young UUs. As cool as the Church of the Younger Fellowship is, I wouldn't anticipate it getting too many members from outside of the UU fold. This is in no way intended as a criticism of CYF or UU youth either. At General Assembly and even at my local District Assembly it became abundantly clear to me that UU Youth are among the coolest folks ever. If I hadn't just been gone for four days and had my my own kids to look after, I would have loved to have been able to help out at WUUKY IV 2005 (Western Unitarian Universalist Karmic Youth) that is happening just down the road a ways from me.