Saturday, February 24, 2007

Life after death

Today I crashed a memorial service. I've officiated at numerous funerals and memorials for persons I did not know, but this is one of the few times I've attended one for someone I had never met. I went with a friend for whom the deceased was a mentor, teacher, colleague and friend. My friend is still grieving the loss of her mother, who died last summer, so I went for support and friendship.

It was the first Unitarian Universalist memorial I had ever experienced. While it was beautiful, poetic, full of music and tribute to this wonderful woman's life, there were no words of resurrection. And I don't mean the resurrection of Jesus. I didn't expect that. What I mean is words of rebirth and hope for those present who obviously were going to miss this person. "Love never ends" was proclaimed several times, but for me it was not enough. What of this woman's spirit; does it not live on in those whose lives she touched, apparently too numerous to count? Isn't it still possible to encounter her warmth, her love, her humor on a daily basis, simply through memory and through the sharing of those memories? All of those persons she nurtured in the art of pastoral care; when they impart that gift to others, is she not immortal? None of this was ever really declared, not with any passion or conviction. Even if we cannot absolutely know that there is a God and be simply humble and awed in the presence of creation, still we can be passionate and convicted in our awe and humility that something has grasped our hearts and minds mightily.

I was left with no question as to who this incredible woman was to this world and that she lived a life well-lived. I was left with many questions concerning this congregation's view of an incarnational universe apart from Jesus. Can we relate to the universe as incarnational without a belief in Jesus as the son of God? I believe so, and it would have lent more power to this service which honored a powerful woman. We celebrated her life; what was missing was the celebration of the life-giving force within and among all life that is always creating, that never dies.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Get talking

Last night at our church's jr. high Pilgrim Fellowship meeting I was introduced to a great book entitled More Would You Rather?: 465 More Provocative Questions to Get Teenagers Talking. Some examples: Would you rather pet a porcupine or lick a cactus? Wear platform shoes or 6" stilettoes? Legalize marijuana or pornography? Get locked out of the house naked or trip and fall at your wedding? Spend a night in a bed full of itching powder or wear a poison-ivy suit for a week? Stuck in a mental institution surrounded by patients or in an elevator with a dozen therapists? Sniff an armpit or lick a foot? A bullet to the chest or a knife in the back? A quick, painful death or a long boring life?

This book not only got the kids talking but also the adults, and all of us laughing hysterically. It's the second in a series that was written for youth group leaders, but it could also be used at any adult gathering as well: dinner parties, work meetings, family reunions, outings with friends, you name it. There are also religious questions, which can also be used or omitted. And you may be inspired to write your own. Would you rather accompany a woman on a shopping spree that will cost you nothing or stay home and pay the bill? Would you rather spend a month as the opposite sex or a week having to wear their clothes on your body, living your life? Would you rather things continue as they are, everywhere, or would you rather risk your way of life so that the world might change?

What will it take to get us talking, really talking, at a level that has the power to move mountains? And what will it take to get us to listen?

Monday, February 12, 2007

I have decided...

NPR has re-established a series entitled "This I Believe": listeners write essays that espouse personal beliefs emerging from their own life experiences. And no sermons or religious statements allowed. I've been reflecting about what I would say if spirituality and faith could not play a part. This is what I've come up with.

I believe in the power of decision to change one's life so that it does not imitate the past but inspires a different vision of the future.

I grew up in an alcoholic family and from there all sorts of dysfunction arose, all kinds of patterns that could be repeated in my generation. I remember being in college, at a house party, thoroughly drunk on wine, and then tossing it up over the railing of the front porch into the snow below. I was disgusted with myself and nauseous with shame. I then decided I would not repeat my father's life, a recovered alcoholic who smoked until the day he died of a heart attack, who left his vocation because it broke his body and his spirit. I still enjoy beer and wine--just one drink at a time. I became a minister like my father but because I wanted to help others and serve God, and it made me happy (as described in the Beatitudes). I decided to not smoke cigarettes. I decided to be healthy but not give up everything between me and my feelings. I decided I wanted to be a whole person, one who is generous, kind, and loving but still swears occasionally, eats too much every now and then, loses her temper once in a while, and has a weakness for the material things in life.

I also decided to do things I had no real model for: I gave birth to both my children naturally and breastfed them until they were @ 18 months old. I decided to stay home with them, though I never really decided to put aside pastoral ministry, which has made for great internal (and external) struggle. I decided I would stay married to my chosen partner, that we would take our marriage vows seriously and work together to learn how to love each other into old age. My husband and I have decided to live simpler lives, to give away a portion of our income so that others may simply live, to quote a bumper sticker.

At one point in my sojourn through Al-Anon, one of the other members gave me the greatest gift. She said, "One of these days you have to decide to say 'Fuck it. Being the child of an alcoholic does not have to define who I am'". Since then I have made that decision again and again as I applied that wisdom to other areas of my past that I have allowed to have power over me.

A friend from seminary once asked me what I thought it meant to be an adult. I answered, "Making decisions and being responsible for their outcomes." By no means does my life resemble that of my parents when they were my age; that was part of why I made certain decisions. I also made those decisions so that I would be responsible for my own happiness, my own misery, no one else.

George Bush may have sounded like an idiot when he said it, but for me it is truth: I am the decider. I need to be conscious of who I am, what motivates me, and that I am ultimately responsible for my life and how my decisions affect others.

Having the power to make decisions is the power to create who we will be, not just in our individual lives but as a human race. We can decide if we are a violent species or a peaceful, resourceful one, if there is scarcity or abundance, if there is to be an end to humanity or if this is just the beginning of our evolution. And like a vow or a covenant, these decisions must be renewed again and again if they are to have the strength to be carried through.

Under all this is the decision to believe that humankind will choose the good, to trust that the will toward the good, the just, and the loving is stronger than the will cowed in fear.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Resist the powers of evil

Last night I attended the ecclesiastical council of the new associate pastor of my church. In UCC polity, the Church and Ministry committee of a local association recommends candidates for an examination before they can be approved for ordination. This examination is called an ecclesiatical council. Members of local churches in the association, pastors, and guests can attend to listen to the candidate present their ordination paper and then ask them just about anything they want and/or make comments about the paper. It is the most daunting task leading up to ordination. Last night's proceedings were no different. The candidate, now ordinand (yes, she passed), told me this morning that 42 hours of labor was easier!

The question that was the most pressing was about evil: what is evil, what does it look like, how do we confront it, had she had any personal experience with evil? In the UCC statement of faith we speak the words "You call us into your proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil...". Part of the prophetic call is identifying evil, pointing it out like a signpost, naming the 800 lb. gorrilla in the middle of the room, that we might turn from that evil but also turn our justice hearts and minds towards ending the root of that evil.

During my own ecclesiastical council I was asked to spin for 4 or 5 minutes about the power of evil. My answer eventually distilled down to evil being fear combined with power that takes advantage of the fearful yet powerless. A colleague of mine said to me last evening that he believes that there are no evil people; people do evil, ugly, unconscionable things but all persons are children of God, created by God. It is fear that separates us from God and from one another. It is fear that creates intolerance, prejudice, hatred, violence, the need for domination and control, and the belief that we are innately a violent species.

O'Murchu in his book Evolutionary Faith gives this chilling observation:

"Ironically, it is at the height of our so-called civilized status that we became a distinctly barbaric species. Why? Largely because we set ourselves up as the ones who could conquer and control creation, and in that process we began to rupture the womb from which all life is begotten. ...At root, our angst is not about our humanness; it is about the deprivation that ensues when we cut ourselves off from the womb of universal life."
pp. 148-49

He contends that humans had the capacity for spirituality long before religion, even language, that we comprehended and cooperated with the surrounding environment in a way that gave meaning and purpose. It was when we sought to subdue the earth and all its inhabitants, when the need to control our fear became our purpose and meaning, that evil entered the world: the creation narratives in Genesis 1-3. However, it is important we remember that we were created for blessing, not fear; for relationship with all life, not estrangement; for continuing the evolutionary story, not for its submission and annihilation.

The whole of creation is the embodiment of Spirit, of life, of creative change. It is God's first and most precious gift of revelation. Embracing this goodness, this power, this love revealed and sharing it with others gives us the strength to resist the seduction of our fears and to work toward wholeness.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The comedy stylings of....

This is a blog dedicated to one of the bravest men I know (the first being my husband because he's married to me). Quentin is a self-proclaimed bum who is making comedy more than just a hobby. A few months ago he made his debut at a local comedy club and now posts jokes of the day (week, moment, whatever) on YouTube. To my way of thinking, there is nothing scarier than standing up in front of a crowd positing your own brand of humor and waiting for a laugh.

He's dry, he's fresh (not terribly clean, like Barack Obama), and all with a merry twinkle in his eyes...yes, he's a cranky Santa Claus soaked in a martini, which his wife Sue probably needs every time he gets up on stage!

Let's give him a big round of applause, the man from Smeltzer Nation, Quentin Smeltzer! (not his real name...obviously a nom de plume)

Friday, February 02, 2007


Well, the little rodent didn't see his shadow. It seems that global warming has affected even the meteorological predictions of hybernating garden thieves. But then I see don't how we in the east can have an early spring when winter has barely made an appearance.

But the Boston police upstaged the groundhog by seeing their own shadow two days before, the episode costing about $750,000. The two culprits who placed the Lite-Brite displays around the Boston area are being charged with staging a hoax that induced panic and one count of disorderly conduct. However, it seems no one is charging the police department as the ones who actually incited panic by closing down highways and bridges because of these 'sinister' contraptions with a 'battery' and 'wires'. These devices used in a Turner ad campaign have been been in place in 9 other major cities for two to three weeks with no other reports of a bomb scare. Instead of looking for their shadow, perhaps the Boston police department needs to start watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Yet the human shadow over the face of the earth is growing. Unfortunately, though, a panic has not begun in reaction to this news. Those who have the power to effect change could be tempted to just throw their hands up in the air, letting us all off the hook. But this could also be what unites us as a planet and a people: joining together to preserve our home. And if you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, you're the groundhog today.