Jul. 29th, 2013 | 09:50 pm
I wish I had a bottle of humanitizer
I could pump some into your hands
Eliminate the germs that separate us.
Of course, it is hubris to think
that my hands or ears or mouth
None of us remain untouched for long.
Apathy, numbness, rage, hatred.
Germs that go on the offensive
preventing the salves from seeping
into our woundedness.
Barriers so deep that neither
pain nor joy break through.
Germs that leave us flat as a pancake.
One squirt from that flimsy plastic pump
will help for awhile.
We might laugh or sing or dance for a time,
but what we need are portable gallon bottles
carried by imps and angels
offering humanitizer to everyone and everything.
Humanitizer only works if it is available to all.
So, we pour some on each other’s hands.
Slowly the jokes at one another’s expense fade.
Then the rhetoric of enemies or other.
The one line defenses- gone.
We notice feelings in ourselves.
We see and hear and recognize one another.
Oh, look- it is working!
Next we begin to feel-
uncomfortable, unsure, fearful, alone, anxious.
The breath feels tight, the head light,
the stomach all in knots.
We tremble, we look away.
We even cry a little.
Then, as if by magic, we see one another’s tears and embrace.
We pause, we breathe.
One more dollop of humanitizer.
We watch the sunrise- the silence fades.
That buzzing in the ears is gone.
So is the fogginess in the brain.
We pause, letting the humanitizer soak into our souls.
The weather report says chance for showers- and all is well.
And we stomp puddles into the horizon.
Jul. 24th, 2013 | 10:45 pm
In Tucson, folks are, for the most part, direct. My theory is that in places where there is a wide variety of cultural communities, directness is necessary because not everyone can understand the subtextual language for each independent community. Tucson is very diverse. You have Native Americans who have lived there for generations, people from every nation below the Rio Grande you can imagine, multiple languages, transplants from the rest of the country seeking warmth, students, and more. If you don't say what you mean then you are not likely to be understood. Also, there is a culture of patience when miscommunication happens because everyone has experienced it at some point or another. The same held true in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Cleveland Area. In this world, I personally thrived and I met other transplants from the Midwest and the South who felt the same way.
In less metropolitan or diverse communities, it is not necessary to learn multiple forms of communication or find a common communication style because people generally know the language and how to make their way in it even if it isn't comfortable.
After study and experience, I have an untested hypothesis about some of the differing styles of communication- what is considered healthy communication in some regions of the United States is considered shaming communication in other parts. What is interesting is that it doesn't come up much unless the conversation being had is one that triggers shame in some way.
So, say I come to Kyle and say that I think I misunderstood what he said. "I'm sure you have good intentions, but when you said X I noticed I was feeling angry because what I heard way Y. I don't think I heard you properly. Can you say again what you meant?" Now, in about half of the communities I have lived in, as long as I have some kind of relationship with Kyle, then this would be considered appropriate communication. In about half of the communities I have lived in, this would be perceived as rude. Also, if Kyle did not hear the "I statements" as me taking ownership of my own thoughts and feelings (which is subtextual for communities that do not communicate this way), then he may feel anger, confusion, or shame. What I am learning is that this kind of direct communication is utilized in some cultural communication styles as a form of shaming. It isn't what is being communicated. It is how it is being communicated.
I am still learning how the different styles work, but I am getting clearer in how miscommunication and confusion can happen between regions and particularly how this can play out in politics, religion, and the public square. I'm interested in further thoughts and stories of how differing communication styles have been met with discord or harmony. Still early in thinking about this as I combine what I know about interculturalism, shame, conflict, and anthropology. Glad for any thoughts and direction on the subject.
Jul. 17th, 2013 | 08:38 pm
I failed to get a science paper in on time. The teacher called the five or so of us who failed to turn it in out into the hall for a paddling. I literally hyperventilated. I had reasons to fear violence, but I think that the shame and humiliation that day were even more powerful. The emotional pain in me was greater than any physical pain that could be applied- behold the power of mental and emotional abuse (from my father). No hand had to be laid on me- shame covered it immediately and severely.
Perhaps even worse than that moment was in the area of Reading. I am currently (re)reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In it she notes that when we tie our self-worth to what we produce, then we are in a losing game. Having something we create or do fail will lead to an un-winnable shame game if our self-worth is tied to it. However, even worse than that is when we tie our self-worth to succeeding. If you think you are a good and valued person because of your successes, then failure becomes untenable and terrifying.
So, when I left for surgery, I excelled in Reading. I was given permission to read ahead (along with a few other students) in the fourth grade text and was pretty close to the end of the book when I left. When I returned, I was still learning to use my new sight (I couldn't see in three dimensions for the prior two years). I was already behind because of the time away from school. I couldn't keep up with the work that the other students reading ahead were doing and, to my horror, I was asked to rejoin the rest of the class.
I don't remember a lot from that year with any kind of clarity. I remember going into surgery. I remember the challenger explosion. I remember not completing a science paper on time. However, the strongest and clearest memory from that entire year was the day when I had to walk from my desk where I was doing my own independent and "advanced" work to the back of the classroom to join in discussion on a story I had already completed some time before. I had tied my self-worth to my success in Reading and to my own intellectual ability and I felt like less than dirt at that point. For many years, I wouldn't even try. I would do work and I would do it well, but I was numb to it all. I shut down. I hated myself. Shame won. I lost.
I eventually got over it, but not until well into my 30s. Right up to the time I was 22, I believed with all my soul that I was worthless and stupid. It would take someone I trust beyond measure to say I was one of the smartest people they knew and have a room of other trusted people agree, while at the height of an argument, for me to even believe that I might be capable.
I still have my days. The shame gremlins rear their little heads. I have to remind myself that my self-worth is inherent and not tied to whether the sermon this week was good or I visited enough sick congregants or I analyzed that situation perfectly (as if that were possible). My value is not based on my ability to produce excellence. My value- OUR VALUE- is in our capacity to stay engaged, to love, to dream, to risk, and to hope.
Human beings are inherently valuable and we need to keep reminding our society and our world of that fact. We are complicated and messy creatures who face vulnerability, shame, and fear everyday. Courage lives. Courage lives.
Jul. 13th, 2013 | 06:05 pm
Living in Alabama has been an enlightening experience. What has been most enlightening has been traveling between major cities and Montgomery- particularly a wealthy city like Boston. There is poverty in both places, to be sure, but in one it is localized in the other it is everywhere.
When I first arrived, I was told that Montgomery is proud of being the biggest small town in Alabama. That is changing slowly, but for a capital city with at least 6 colleges and universities, it is small- and very poor. It isn't for a lack of wanting employment, there just isn't the employment to be had. City officials have been traveling to Korea to encourage factories in Montgomery after the success of the Hyundai plant. The universities, Maxwell Air Force Base, the state government, and the Hyundai plant are among the key employers in the city and most of those bring employees from out of the city if not out of the state. Poverty is rampant in Alabama and blatantly clear in Montgomery.
I personally live one block from the Governor's Mansion in one direction and three crack houses in the other. I live in one of the wealthier "old" neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods are, by-and-large, fading. The wealthiest newcomers to the city move to the expanding east side. Beyond that, many business owners and other owning class live on estates in the country or commute in from Birmingham or Wetumpka or Atlanta. The poorest of Montgomery, mostly African Americans though some racial mixity, live on the far west side or south side.
In addition to the neighborhood disparities, the most obvious class and racial divides occur in the schools. It is widely understood that when schools were integrated, wealthy whites skirted this by sending their children to "Christian schools." In the intervening years to present day, these have become integrated Academies. These Academies are ranked among the best private schools in the United States while the public schools are ranked among the worst public schools in the nation.
Robert E. Lee High School is almost exclusively African American with a small number of Latino/Hispanic students and even fewer white students. The high school has a large statue of Jefferson Davis in the front of the building and a massive picture of Rober E. Lee as you enter the building. Apparently, it has occurred to no one that this is a constant reminder of racial strife and history in Montgomery. The poorest students in the city are forced to live with a reminder that there have been repeated and continued attempts to keep power out of their hands.
In addition, it is next to impossible to get out of the city without some measure of financial resources. The only bus that stops through town requires internet access to learn about and book (you can call if you have access to the number). Otherwise, it is on foot or hitchhiking. You frequently see people stuck on the side of the road on any major highway in and out of town as folks whose vehicles are struggling to get by fail to help the people get by. If you are homeless, then you have to walk long distances between shelter and the possibility of employment.
One of the saddest financial realities is that Alabama was not as deeply impacted by the most recent recession. The events of 2008 had little impact because very few people had anything to lose. Folks already live on next to nothing, what is a little more nothing?
It is a city that has not fully reconciled the past with the present, let alone the future. Having a history of violence on multiple fronts, systemic poverty, and access to few resources, it is not surprise to me that looking to factories and hydrolic-fracturing are key plans for survival.
The question that I have been sitting with and asking of the congregation that I serve is this-
"What do we have to say and do as a congregation in Montgomery in the year of 2013?"
The answer for the congregation will likely be different from mine, but mine is that this city needs to be compassionately reflective toward considering how greater equanimity between all residents is possible. We need to look at how resources pooled together might create opportunities for employment and sustainability, not just of individuals, but of the entire city.
This is a city that needs angels of healing, compassion, and wholeness.
Jan. 29th, 2013 | 11:05 am
Yeah, stopped posting there for awhile- life was pretty hectic. Since the last time I posted, I attained preliminary fellowship as a minister and was ordained, I served a year as a Chaplain Resident at IU Health Hospitals in Indianapolis, and accepted a position at Interim Minister in Montgomery, AL. It has been a BUSY year! It has been a blessed year- I feel lucky, for sure.
I hope to start posting more, but for now, I must head off to work. I will post something this week about the sermon on science fiction as sacred text.
Jun. 7th, 2011 | 02:33 am
Anyway, I was doing the math problems and decided to engage with an "elephant in my mind (room)." To my great frustration and shame, I failed my second semester of Trigonometry in high school. A little explanation and context may be needed.
In my junior and senior years of high school, I attended a high school for gifted Hoosiers called The Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. An excellent school that, in many ways, saved my life. By the time I was sixteen, I had experienced more painful, complex, and traumatizing experiences than many adults. This high school gave me the chance to at once get away from an environment filled with people I both loved and from many of whom, I experienced great pain. It was also the first time that I was given a major challenge academically speaking.
Prior to this school, I was often quiet and shy. I was the person who people came to with their troubles. I found escape in after school activities, often completing homework in the classroom (which I found easy to do). At the Academy, I was obnoxious- especially when I first arrived- loud and childish. This was in no small part due to the fact that away from my family I could act like a child and teen without repercussion. It was a wild time and I struggled in the beginning to keep up with school work and to grow up.
During all of this, I found that I was struggling with Trigonometry. I actually needed to study- something that I didn't much of my first year. My intelligence couldn't take the place of doing the quality and quantity of work necessary in this new setting. Also, having studied education and teaching in more detail, I now know that showing a proficiency in the humanities, but not in mathematics is a sign of emotional difficulty and trouble- something I had my fair share of during this time.
So, I failed the class. I had to repeat it my senior year while taking calculus simultaneously in order to complete the necessary requirements for graduation and I did, but not without a sense of humiliation in myself.
I understand what was going on within me then. It makes logical sense given all that had happened. Yet, emotion is not a logical creature. Emotion is a way of coping, understanding, embracing, sharing, engaging, and more. Emotion tells much that logic cannot. My mind has been my refuge for most of my life- the part of me that gave me a chance when nothing else could.
Yet, mucked up with the intellectual is the emotional. This is kind of a "no shit" statement, I suppose. You can't separate out the parts of a person. Like the universe and world that we live in, we are a dynamic energy of interconnection and interdependence- never fully divisible into separate coherent parts.
So, today, I sat doing math problems. I can't remember much of my childhood, but as I completed those problems I could remember where I was when I learned how to multiply exponents or how to solve a geometry proof.
I remembered fourth grade with Mr. Kramer memorizing 12x12 and 9x8 and trying to complete problems in a minute or less. I remembered when he brought out the paddle to spank a group of four of us for not completing a homework assignment and stopped because I was hyperventilating- he not realizing that all I could see was my father in my mind.
I remembered fifth grade when Mrs. Schatz encouraged me to work harder and helped me learn to remember the numbers in my head so I wouldn't need to write down so much. I remember her encouragement as moved from emotionally frightened to competent.
I remembered my 8th grade teacher who prepped us all for the I-Step tests and my total surprise when I ranked in the top 99% on that test.
I remember teaching my classmates in Algebra I when they didn't understand a problem and the ease with which I found logo-rhythms- mostly because I had practiced them in a computer program at Girls Inc. That reminded me of the amazing women there who helped foster my leadership skills and taught me confidence. They gave me a safe haven to develop as a person when I couldn't do so at home.
I remember the logic puzzles and math exercises in Geometry. I remember a teacher who loved to teach and helped each of us engage with the work at hand.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by life and simply not being able to register what the assignments were in Trigonometry. I remember beginning to come out of my shell- to engage in the first steps towards a very long journey of healing and wholeness. I remember trying to grasp the concepts and them slipping from my fingers. As my heart begin to find strength and as I grew into a young adult, I remember the joy I discovered in completing calculus problems balanced with the joy of continuing to develop, even as I stumbled, into the person I was and not the person I thought others wanted me to be.
Psychosomatic mathematics- the memories of my childhood seemed to be wrapped tightly with math. Who knew, huh?
My memories of other classes are far more vague. I remember some things- like my first essay with note cards and notations about giraffes or reading "Demian" by Herman Hesse for the first time. However, nothing sparks memories of a time so far different and yet completely intertwined with my present as mathematics- something that even today I still love doing.
I have friends who majored in mathematics in college who are now ministers. They talk about the spirituality of math. They went far further into the depths of math than I did, but I have no problem understanding that it is an inherently spiritual thing- much like music. Today, I watched a video where the man described pi as miraculous- which it is- and I hope that as people watch his videos they are infected with a spiritual component as well as the intellectual.
Mathematics is spiritual and in my life it seems to have become a form of meditation- of spiritual practice. I think I will keep engaging with it and maybe I will face again the dreaded trigonometry and find peace and connection with such a difficult and painful yet miraculous and liberating time in my life.
Jan. 8th, 2011 | 10:16 pm
My mind has been on violence as a response to politics and belief today. My prayers have gone out to Congressman Giffords, Judge Roll, those who were killed and wounded, Jared Lee Loughner, the families, and the communities effected by today's violence. Once the prayers go out and my spirit and heart relax, a single thought pervades:
we knew this would happen.
We have been experiencing a ramping up of discourse on television, radio, protests, rallies, books, movies, and more. As I watch pundits talk about the relevance of violent discourse thanks to one brave Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik, I keep thinking- it took this for us to notice?
I think for Unitarian Universalists that it can be even more infuriating for we have experienced violence as the result of a man who took the words of pundits, particularly those of O'Reilley and Beck, as the logic to support violence against one of our churches. In July 2008, Jim Adkisson who was emotionally and mentally distraught and broken took the logic of a certain kind of violent language and embodied it by walking into a church in Knoxville. He killed two people and injured others.
The knowledge that this could happen again to any of us lives with Unitarian Universalists. It lives there because we know there are people who will commit this violence against us simply because of our liberal values- simply because of who we are. Language lives in our minds and bodies and spirits for these parts of our being cannot be divided.
So, for my Unitarian Universalist cohorts- I offer my prayers and blessings. An event like this can bring up old wounds. Please be aware of what this brings up in your body and spirit and heart. Be patient and present and remember that you are not alone in this.
For the people of the United States, let us remember that our words matter and have power. They are not there to play a political game in order to acquire votes or prestige or media points. They are a tool that can be used for good or ill and they hold great power. Our intention may not be for violence to come out of our words, but we ARE responsible for the impact of our words regardless our intention.
Grammar, spelling, dialect, and education do not lend more or less credence to what we say. It is the spirit of what is behind what we say and how these words are received. Sure, we cannot be responsible for every response to something we say or do, but we can be aware of the greater impact of what we say and how we say it. This requires some forethought and self-reflection- the least of what we can expect of leaders in our country and world whether they are politicians, pundits, ministers, managers, etc.
We are the embodiment of our ancestors and the generations to come. What legacy do we want to take from and/or leave them with and how do we want them to remember what we said and how they influenced what we did?
May love and grace be with you. May you be aware of the impact of what you say and do. May your words bring about liberation for those who are suffering and oppressed. My your words weave with the words of all to sew a quilt of wholeness with which to blanket the world.
Blessings be upon us all.
Oct. 30th, 2010 | 02:25 am
I suspect many of these words sound familiar. The spirit of this principle can be found in the Declaration on Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps the most active principle because of the use of the word "promote," it calls us to actively promote these values in our world community. So, let's take a second to parse this out.
As mentioned in other posts, historically Unitarians and Universalists believed in an understanding of the Torah and Christian Testament that affirms creating heaven here on earth. As Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy began to weave itself into the fabric of both denominations in the early 1900s, this notion that all things are a part of a living process furthered the notion that we are literally our sibling's keepers. At the core of this is loving commitment to care about and strive for equality for all people- not just ourselves. Perhaps this point comes together in the increasingly polarizing media around the upcoming election. With violence on the rise, terrible attack ads, and judgment of people based on party affiliation it is ever increasingly important within our churches that we are a place for all views. In U.U. churches there are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party folk, and everything else you can imagine. Each of these folks live in community in their congregations and within the UU Association because that is how they believe the world should be- on building many windows. None of us have the truth, but together we know more and learn more than we do apart.
Perhaps the most hotly debated of our three global community commitments- especially in times of war. You will always find Unitarian Universalists at peace marches. You will always find Unitarian Universalists in the military. By and large, Unitarian Universalists fit into either the- "fighting and war are never the answer" group OR the "there are just wars" group. Of course, there are people outside of those two groups- being noncredal, we have folks with every view point you can imagine. The one thing I think everyone agrees on is that war is only very rarely the answer. With that stance, we strive to promote peace in all that we do.
Perhaps it goes back before this, but liberty as understood in our traditions has its roots in the founding of this country. Many of the founders were liberal congregationalists (later called Unitarians) who believed in liberty and helped begin to define it for a nation. Our congregations believe in their own liberty. The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly may vote to support something, but congregations still have the free will to make their own path. The same thing is true for members. The church may decide to support a particular issue, but members are not required to agree. Unitarian Universalists support this same right for the world.
Where there is a Unitarian Universalist church there will be a social action/justice committee of some kind. It could be a congregation is too small for a full committee. Instead they may have a Green Sanctuary Committee, Racial Justice Committee, Welcoming Congregation (LGBTQ) Committee, or some other more specific committee. Unitarians and Universalists were considered heretics off and on from the time of the Council of Nicea (they went from being heretics to doctrine off and on during after this Council). So, there is a general disposition to standing up for our own rights. In more recent years, it is the Universalist belief in universal salvation (if we all go to heaven, then we better learn to get along here on earth), the Transcendentalists (we must constantly work to improve ourselves), and the Puritans (heaven's city shall be made here on earth, so we must be good stewards of the land) that are major foundations to justice work.
Now, as I have relayed these values, I have focused heavily on our "Christian" history. However, Christianity was not created in a bubble and has influences from Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Paganism within it. So, too were these histories laden with influence from various religious traditions. In recent years, as we have more members coming from traditions other than Christianity, Judaism, and Humanism, the reasons for these same values within other religious traditions have been woven in. For example, our Buddhist members have added a lot to how we understand peace in our time. I will talk more about these when I cover the Sources of our faith, but this is a good beginning. If you read all the way to this point- well done. :-)
Oct. 23rd, 2010 | 10:17 am
One of my seminary colleagues talks about intention vs. impact. In having a self-reflective stance towards ourselves, we ask the question- what was our intention and what was the impact. One of the key steps in this process is to say that mistakes do not mean that we are bad people or that there is something wrong with us. To err is to be human. This means that while our intentions may be good, the impact of those actions can be harmful, innocent, and dangerous. Accountability is key. For when we lay claim to our own mistakes we create a model- one person at a time- for a better world.
I have another seminary friend who helped me as I was struggling with facing the guilt/shame of being wrong. He said, "if you aren't making mistakes at least 25% of the time, then you are not learning." That has stuck with me. I am sure I err at least that much, but owning up to it is the hard part. It is a spiritual practice I work on all of the time.
Changing systems of oppression doesn't happen overnight. Part of what keeps me open to helping bring change is the knowledge that it will never happen in my lifetime- so, if we fail to make change it won't be my problem. What I do have to ask is what am I leaving our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Systems are huge and it takes more than my individual effort, but hopefully using critical consciousness, speaking up when something isn't quite adding up, being aware of the power of language to create healing and wholeness and liberation, asking about the null or unseen assumptions we make, and being forever aware that I am a good person who errs and so is the societies and systems that I am a part of mean that maybe- some day- the seventh generation will live in a world that they can be proud of.
We are sacred and filled with grace and our complexity in all of its' fullness makes us a gift to one another.
Oct. 15th, 2010 | 11:11 pm
Unitarian Universalists are congregationalists who believe in the rights and powers of individuals and individual congregations to make decisions. We do not have bishops or outside leaders who direct the ministry or the congregations. This congregational polity, as it is called in theological circles, has long historic roots in both of the Unitarian and Universalist traditions. In fact, many of the founders of democracy in the United States were Unitarian (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere, for example) or from other congregational denominations who valued the right of a community to make decisions based on the membership.
Democratic process varies from church to church. However, one clear form of this democracy is clear in the make of the Unitarian Universalist Association which creates programs and acts upon initiatives based on the voting at General Assembly. General Assembly is an annual gathering of representatives sent by the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These votes direct the national organization in the annual tasks of the religion. That said, no church is required to agree with or even directly involve themselves in those initiatives.
There is a clear theological foundation for this kind of decision making process. Clearly UUs believe that religious community matters. There is a reason to be a part of a church, congregation, fellowship, society, or community. (As a result of this democracy, Unitarian Universalist communities have many different names often reflecting the history of that community and the current membership). We come together because our spiritual development and growth are encouraged, our spiritual lives are nourished, we find hope and grace, and so much more. Once you agree that meeting as a community or joining a religious community matters, then the question is: how should we be organized?
Some religions believe that the divine selects those among the community who should lead and directs them accordingly. The Roman Catholic church follows this model with a Pope and Bishops, etc. In Christian history, Martin Luther said no to this way of understanding church. Martin Luther said that people can have a direct line to the divine and should engage with the Bible and G-d directly.
Unitarian Universalists have a wide array of religious traditions and philosophies present within their religious congregations and societies. This principle begins with "we affirm and promote the right of conscience." Early Unitarian Minister William Ellery Channing described each person as having a divine seed within them. This, in direct opposition to the popular Calvinism of the day that said that all people were "naturally depraved." One of the core values among most Unitarian Universalists is that we all have divinity within us and the responsibility to cultivate and grow it. Our conscience is our own and we have a right to share that conscience within our religious communities and have our voice hear in making decisions about our religious communities.
We hold that our religious communities helps each of us to foster a strong moral compass and a blessed world in this life. The individual members commit to doing this, having their voices heard, and experiencing transformation and grace by working, learning, and hoping together. "We are the ones we have been waiting for." "Heaven's here on earth."