Sunday, September 18, 2005

Unexpected Joy

During church today, right in the middle of the sharing of Joys and Concerns, a great egret was standing on a piling not 20 yards away.The kids were still in this week because it was our ingathering/water communion service.

I tried as subtly as possible to point out this amazing bird to the kids. Before I could mention it to anyone else, it flew away. I thought my kids had missed it too, but a minute later my three year old starting telling me about seeing "the bird that catches the fish in its mouth and you can see the fish hanging there." He'd seen that picture in a book before.

Blessed be, and may our hearts fill with gladness for unexpected joy and beauty that may fly into our lives when we least expect it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Starr King School for the Ministry and other UU Seminaries

I try to avoid blogging about the school, just as a matter of boundaries. But since it has come up in the comments, I feel somewhat obliged. Also I seem to get a google hit for unitarian seminary very often.

Contrary to the notion of one commenter, the school is not facing demise. And I may gripe about it but lets face it I'm in my third year. I had a great time in undergrad at UC San Diego, but you wouldn't even want to see everything I had to say about the place by my third year there.

Another reason I do not blog about the Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry is because I love it and I think it would make for boring reading. I would wholeheartedly recommend the school to any prospective students, particular if they prefer self directed study and their path includes UU ministry (if your true passion is to get a PhD right after your MDiv, by all means try to get into Harvard. It would look good).

I'm in no position to say anythihng about any other seminary. I imagine most of us only go to one. I like mine because it is a good fit for me and I love the faculty. They have done a great job of both challenging me and supporting me in my formation.

As a long distance commuter, my classmates have been key in giving me a strong sense of community and belonging. I've wondered sometimes how the Meadville-Lombard modified residency program would compare to my experience. In general I would suggest that anyone contemplating an MDiv should not do what I am doing and should be a more local and involved student. At this point I see the light at the end of the tunnel and have no regrets, however. I will however be sad to see the students who came in with me go if I take extra time to finish.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Token protestant

I am in a great pastoral counseling class right now taught at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. It is funny because I end up being the token protestant student, with a rabbinical student being the only other student who is not a Catholic. When people go out of their way to modify language from the texts to be ecumenical and more inclusive of protestants I don't quite have the heart to break it to them how much further they might have to go in a UU context. My Jewish classmate will occasionally preface a sentence with "As the only non-Christian..." and I don't quite feel like explaining.

I have expressed some reticence in the past here about appropriating Christian traditions that do not feel properly mine, even if I do believe that Unitarian Universalism is squarely in the protestant tradition.

We were discussing the concept of pastor in the term pastoral care and whether it was separable from notions of Christianity. Apparently they do use the term at some synagogues and I did share that I have still seen Pastoral Care Committees in UU fellowships where one would only say God or Jesus if a hymnal was dropped on one's foot.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

quite contrary

There is a tendency I want to discuss which for lack of a better name I would call "asshole contrarianism." I have written in this space about the issues that arrise when freedom is treated as if it were the only virtue in the world. I am torn between the notion that this kind of contrariness stems from reason being turned into an end rather than a means or more from the lack of reason.

In UU communties, the devils advocate, naysayer or "asshole contrarian" is stereotypically seen as a cranky humanist, but sadly it is a syndrome that affects UUs of all theological (and atheological) stripes.

Most of my UU blogger colleagues feel a certain derision towards people who might be described as "true believers." I am at a stage in my life where I have been idealistic and optimistic. But I am also at a stage in my life where I am done being jaded and cynical, with everything kept at a protective, ironic distance.

I remember when I was younger I sometimes had friends who quit listening to certain bands once they became popular (REM and U2 were both common in my generation) as attempt to demonstrate their uber-hipness.

Sometimes I feel like people, in an attempt to protect themselves from vulnerability, the pain of caring or the numberous risks of intimacy feel the urgent need to deflate anything that other people are starting to believe in.

Recently I have seen this on the UU Theology listserv as people attack conceptions of gnosticism, presumably just because it is popular among some segment of UUs. Politically I have seen it in attempts to knock Cindy Sheehan down a notch after she became popular.

On some level, I think the tendency towards group think often generates a tendency towards oppositional group think. I will admit that I am a fan and admirer of both UUA president Bill Sinkford and Starr King School for the Ministry president Rebecca Parker (who preached an amazing sermon for SKSM chapel yesterday). It is a necessary corrective to have some degree of skepticism towards leaders like this. But I think there is no need to knock them down a notch just because they influence people or to knock people who are influenced by them.

Too many people it seems, especially among a wide swath of UUs, want to feel wholly self-invented.(I especially see this as a marriage of Manifesto humanist supersessionism and Reaganite bourgeois rugged individualism) For me, I am happy to recognize my influences.

My political thinking is influenced by the anarchism of Peter Kropotikin, Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, as well as the marxism of Rosa Luxembourg, Bertell Ollman and Harry Braverman. The socialist ideas of Michael Harrington are also a key inluence.

Theologically I am influenced especially by Jacques Ellul (a Barthian conservative Christian anarchist) and Paul Tillich (a theological liberal who courted with socialism). If the whole Bible were the Gospels and Romans 8, I would be a great Christian too. Mahayana Buddhism also shapes my thought, especially sutra passages about Avalokitsvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion.

Intellectually, I am influenced especially by the Frankfurt School and some of the more reasonable and socially engaged postmodernists.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lucky to see that

Early in the morning the other day,on the drive into town we saw a mother quail and about 8 chicks running across the road. I yelled out, "Look at the baby birds," to show the kids.

My daughter said, "Daddy, are we lucky to be able to see that?"

Yes we are.

The sublime comes unexpectedly, and if you are not paying attention, you can miss it.