One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy Humility

Let's be real: the democracy we hope for in our American dreams is nowhere in sight. If you are thinking I am about to praise the values of liberals and deride the deterioration of liberalism in America, then you might be pretty disappointed. Yes, I am a Unitarian Universalist minister who serves a progressive faith. But these days, I am more likely to see myself as part of the problem, the propaganda, the person in need of preaching and occupying.
If prompted several months ago to explain democracy, I would have given an answer akin to "government by the people, for the people, of the people." In truth, I would have meant a government where I would be represented and get what I want — emphasis on what I want.
Technically, we live in a republic, not a democracy à la Athens. Our leaders are supposed to represent us in the public square for the public good. Over the last two decades, I have seen this representation increasingly be about entrenched ideologies and hyperbolic illustrations. And as I said, I see myself as part of that problem. I've spouted off in Facebook updates, tweets and even sermons. I've at times become a hyperbolic illustration.
But Occupy Wall Street has called me back to a simple truth. It has the power, if it can escape oversimplification, to remind us of a straightforward responsibility. We are all the people. We are, at least in part, responsible for the political situation we find ourselves in.
Sure, I am not one of the 1 percent, but in the global sense I am definitely privileged. Even in our country, I am fairly privileged. Aside from the economic disparity in our country, the Occupy movement is doing something far more powerful than just lambasting the 1 percent. I believe it is calling us back to the spiritual practice of democracy.
Yes, I said "spiritual." We live in a country that cherishes democracy. We go to war for it. We sing about it. We even depose dictators for eradicating it. Why, then, do only about 56 percent of us vote, even in a presidential election? I do vote, but honestly, I treat it like a chore, delaying it to the end of the day just to get my sticker to prove I've done my democratic check-up. I think we've lost the value of voting because people often don't trust each other anymore. Why trust the popular vote when you are at war with half the populace? Democracy is being neglected.
Democracy is the spiritual practice of living in human diversity while honoring human dignity. Put simply, democracy does not mean we get our way. It doesn't even mean we elect politicians who represent only our views. It doesn't mean we support the practice of bargaining down and watering down legislation until it says nothing so as to offend no one and do nothing. Democracy is the hard, desperately exhausting and nearly impossible process of surrendering oneself to the greater good and in so doing placing trust in the people, by the people, of the people, for the people. A democracy requires humility, listening and an invitation to the creative spirit that calls us to a greater truth when we gather not as enemies, but as co-creators.
So long as the Occupy movement can continue to insist that the 99 percent begin to represent themselves and engage in the hard work of democracy, we will be moving toward surer footing. The danger is in only critiquing the politicians, the wealthy and the powerful. The work begins with each of us. After all, 99 percent is a pretty big voting block.
True democracy — a governing of the people — is about the creative forces between, within and among us. Democracies cannot be about compromise that brings us to the lowest common denominator — that is de-evolution. True democracy evolves the human spirit through cooperation and creation. We trust what will come from our common good. We trust each other. We don't represent people. We are the people.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hook, Line, & Sink

So here's the hook.  You can read viewer counts on blogs.  And with twitter you have "followers."  Even Facebook has an application to see how many people are viewing your profile.  Eek!  Do they love me????

It appears high school has hit the social media.  And by that I mean, the unfortunate competition to make sure you have enough "likes,"  that is people who like you or your status updates.  Have we really come to the point that we are measuring the number of times someone is interested in us to demonstrate worth?  Apparently even Newt Gingrich tried to use his 1.3 million followers on twitter, which is well above any other GOP candidate, in order to demonstrate his viability as a candidate (see politico article).  But then we found out there's a way to buy followers.

So social media gurus, I implore you to continue to use the networks for your message and for connections, but not popularity which is hardly ever measured by how many--or how few-- people will enjoy watching or reading you.  Think America's Funniest Home Video.  I am pretty sure we didn't watch videos of parents surprised by their children or poor souls falling off porches because they were popular or particularly likable but because.... well it was entertaining.

And for the rest of us blogging and slugging through Facebook as regular users, maybe social media connections are not exactly the connections they imply.  A "like" or "poke" on Facebook can be oh so misleading.  The phone, or better yet antiquated in person meeting, might still be the best way to battle the occasional loneliness in this world.  I hate to sound like a Luddite, but little in technology replaces the in person contact.  Social media hopefully is just a vehicle for getting to that contact.

Got to go...   I am wondering what my view count on my blog is now....

just kidding...

or am I?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

To-Do Ta Da!

Think you finished your to-do list?  Smiling with pride and then you hear *ding* a new text or email appears.  Looking over the clean house and wake to find new dust in a corner?

You're not alone.

There's always more to do.  I can promise that you would never sleep if you tried to complete everything on your to-do lists or potential to-do lists.  Seriously, think about it.  The crack in the wall that needs patching, the phone call to return, the bill to pay.  Okay, don't stop breathing!  And keep reading...

The good news is that there's always more to do.

Confused?

I recently went to a conference where a preacher said: ministry is impossible.  Start there.  I'd like to amend it.  Life is impossible.  Start there.

There are always bits and pieces left undone.  So perhaps rather than collapsing in front of the TV at the end of the day exhausted that so much is left to do, maybe we can find a way to take in all that is done.  We can bless what we've chosen to do--knowing so much more is left undone.  We are just rambling to get through, but choosing the people and things we believe have meaning.  Even the grocery store, when it provides food for the family you love, might have some sacred mingled between the pretzels and Pringles.

If you are trying to finish it all, I recommend saying the following: there is ALWAYS more to do.  That's the good news because you needn't be a victim to the list, the inbox or the agenda.

Perhaps are to-do lists could become holy--those things we chose among all the many we could do--hopefully because they take us along the path to the people we are called to serve and love.

Blessed be-- even the laundry and conference calls.  Blessed be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yes, Deer

Back to blogging and back to church!

And back to daily walks with my dogs.  Today, I was walking through the woods with my two dogs and a friend's two dogs that I am watching.  Everyone was running around like mad, but mostly staying to the trail.  I was going over to-do lists and checking messages on my i-phone.  I am not sure Thoreau would approve.

Then, the dogs came to attention.  Silence fell upon the forest and for a moment even the cicadas seemed satisfy to rest.  The dogs turned their head with a smooth movement to look at a single fawn dashing through the woods.  She whooshed by me.  Then she was gone.  Noise returned, the buzz of bugs, the bark of dogs and the bristle of the grasses in wind.  Just like that nature interjected her own noise with beauty and a bit of harmony.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a movie on a plane trip.  "Thank You, More Please" follows the lives of several twenty somethings struggling to make it in New York.  It's a decent movie, but what caught my attention was the practice of one of the central characters who when granted a moment of grace or beauty simply replies with the mantra "thank you, more please."

So, I tried it out.  The deer bounded and in the brief moment between absolute peace and the return of noise, I simply said "thank you, more please." It's not a "ooh goody, give me more" mantra but more akin to "thank you universe, I welcome what's next."

Maybe you have a gratitude mantra of your own that opens your heart in the presence of a gift.  Try it out.  You might just put down the to-do list and i-phone.  Thoreau would be proud.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lost and Found


“You lost me!” it cries out from the junk bag.
Lost things are seldom kind in their return.  The relief of reunion momentary when weighed against the hours spent searching for it- the lost thing.  I think of cushions overturned, bags shaken and seats thoroughly examined.  Frustration beaded upon my brow as I looked for that i-phone cable.
 I reached gingerly into the bag of junk confounded by sudden discovery, this reunion with the lost thing.  My beloved, an i-phone cord, connecting me to all that is my life, in the midst of a disparate band of objects, was there crying out to me.  After two weeks of desperation turned into mourning and then resignation until at last I walked into the light of the Apple store with its eager helpful teenage associates and found a replacement.
“Don’t buy a new one.  Pray to St. Anthony,” my devout Catholic grandmother would offer.  But I don’t believe in Saint Anthony anymore.  So many lost things.
Saint Anthony,
Saint Anthony,
Please come around.
My i-phone cable has been lost and must be found!
Silence. 
Until today, after a new one waits unopened in the car,  my beloved has returned.  The unexpected sight of the slender snake of a white wire raising its USB connection as a rattler heralding danger.
“You lost me,” it hisses mocking my newly purchased cable.
Lost things.  So many lost things: the places, the little rings and charms, the names, the bittersweet memories of my grandmother’s voice.  I wonder how many things we lose in a lifetime.  We are transformed by loss, shaped by the absence of a beloved, and surprised when lost things return.
And don't they always return?  Maybe not in a bag of junk, but in memory.  Unexpected startling memories that beg us to make room for reunion.  We stand in the middle of a crowded room struck by the profile of a woman who could easily be our grandmother.  They call out to us, not with menace, but if we listen more closely with an offer to be opened and shaped by the bittersweet reunion-- whatever its chosen time, place, or vehicle.
So many lost things in a lifetime.  So many moments of reunion if we could only welcome them, reach into the bag, invite them back into our lives like the words of an old prayerful rhyme still distantly familiar.
Saint Anthony,
Saint Anthony,
Please come around.
Much has been lost and must be found.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Dilemma: Paper or Plastic

So, it's Earth Day and I was oh so proud as I went to the store driving along in my Prius.  What is that they say about being boastful?

I walk into the grocery store ready to make purchases for my red cabbage kosher salad for the Seder.  I am the model of holy living.  Just look world, my basket practically begging to be noticed with organic local produce.  Look at the good choices I made on this Earth Day!  I glance outside to see my Prius and in the cup holder my reusable coffee mug.  I am a moral exemplar as I place the three carrots in my basket without the little plastic bag you can put produce in.  You know the ones with static cling?

I get into the checkout line and there are people behind me and some in front.  I am standing there not really paying attention.  Until I look over and see him.  He's wearing his earth shoes, has the keys to his Prius and in his hand...oh no! Reusable bags!

I forgot my reusable bags.  And then the panic sets in.  It's Earth Day and everyone is going to see me without my reusable bags.  Should I drive the 20 minutes home and the 20 minutes back?  Too much fossil fuel, even in the Prius.  Maybe I could carry it all.  I look at the four heads of red cabbage and imagine them rolling across the damp parking lot and explaining to my congregation why there is gravel in their once delicious kosher organic salad.

And then I'm next.  "Paper or plastic?" she asks innocently enough.  Paper kills trees but how long does plastic take to biodegrade?  Hmmm.  I could reuse plastic.

"Plastic," I say and wait nervously patient until all is added, paid for and bagged.  Then I run to the car in shame, praying no one sees.

It isn't until I am in the car that I realize the absurdity.  I look around.  Cars-everywhere.  People with plastic bottles.  In the far distant landscape I see more highways and beyond I know there is a world that is aching with inadequate solutions to energy crises and fair distribution of the resources we do have on this planet.  There is no perfect, no cause for boasting.   I am afraid I forgot being "green" should be far more than a decision to look good.

You see, I lost touch with why I make all those exhausting decisions every day.  Is it really going to solve the climate crisis if I drive a hybrid?  Probably not. Save the oceans if I cease using plastic bags?  Doubtful.  Modify climate change is I compost?  Unlikely.

So why do it, if not for popularity?

Once long ago, I made those choices out of the love for this earth and the soul desire for it be here far after I am gone.

Perhaps these choices are not about changing the world, but about changing me.  Remembering that we aren't "green" because it's now popular but because we make the spiritual commitment to living a less comfortable life in recognition that our previous ways of living are no longer sustainable.

And I happen to believe making that spiritual commitment in my own life, might change the way I  empower my leaders or talk to the neighbors.  And maybe that might mean a world where  leaders developing policy do not have to stand in the guilt-ridden grocery line but perhaps a place with a few more choices to protect this beautiful earth than paper or plastic.

Maybe the spiritual commitment will kindle consciousness and creativity.  We could use those in the face of this aching earth.

So, just in case, I'll keep using reusable bags but not because it's cool.

Happy Earth Day everyone! May you get in touch today--and everyday-- with your love for this earth and creative power to save it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Rights of Women: Pain in the Public Square

Reproductive rights in the United States are once again under attack.  At least, that's the language used by some seeking to revoke reproductive rights.  Siege, battle, and operation.  It's a supposed holy war except all I've heard are lies, manipulations and hate speech.

Murderer.  Killer.  Lost.  Liberal.  Those are the words I was called last Saturday.  At least they gave me one compliment (liberal).

I bore witness this past Saturday to reproductive rights, after hearing from friends and colleagues of the tactics employed by anti-abortion groups in Charlotte, NC.  I've been to clinics before as a defender and peace partner.  I've heard a lot, seen a lot, and so I was expecting the usual. Before I posted a blog entry about the state of reproductive rights, I wanted to hear for myself what was happening.

What surprised me was how viciously some of the male protestors went after women who were going into the clinic.  They would shout, "You're a murderer."  Sometimes, I would hear "You don't deserve mercy.  God's wrath is going to come--just wait."

The protestors would call these women out by what they were wearing or doing.  They would shout words of violence across the 300 feet between the protestors and front door of the clinic.  I find it hard to reconcile their behavior with the compassionate, merciful, loving religion I know to be Christianity. I find it impossible to understand their conflicting messages of respecting life and then offering words of hate to women and men who-last time I checked-constitute life.

A holy war that incites violence against women and families is hardly holy.  Sure, there aren't weapons drawn or trenches dug, but make no mistake that the words shouted by these protestors to the women entering these clinics for a range of services-- many of which have nothing to do with an abortion-- constitute acts of verbal violence.

Oh and p.s. dear protestors many of the women and men entering the clinics are not even receiving abortion services.  You just called a woman a murderer for getting STD testing or a routine exam.  And you don't have to take my liberal word for it.  For further information on how services and monies are allocated see NPR interview here.

But I digress.  The more critical piece is this: the language of violence is being used against women across the country as a political tactic.  Here is the truth: no protestor or pro-choice advocate could possibly know without asking why a woman may be entering the clinic.  And no woman, regardless of her choice or service received, deserves a verbal assault for seeking care of her body.  It may be legal to stand on the sidewalk and scream murderer, but it's far from moral.

I've been trying to find where in the Bible it says you should invade a person's body, pass judgement, verbally assault them and claim it all in the name of a God who I heard was mostly primarily a God of love.  I just haven't found the passage.  What I did find is the following from Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly
 with your God.


We could use a modicum of humility, an ounce of justice and whole sea of mercy these days.  We all deserve mercy of all kinds in this broken and beautiful world.  We all deserve a little more humility than to pretend to know the judgement of a God.  And as for justice, what is more just I ask than preserving the life of a woman and entrusting her to make decisions about the body she has been given?  


Do we need mercy these days?  For protecting our bodies, for making our women and families safe, for upholding the basic rights to privacy and health?  No.  For verbal assaults that pollute the air with hate and inflict pain?  Yes, more than a whole sea could hold.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unitarian Universalist Lent Complex

Hello dear occasional readers and avid followers (I know avid may be a bit presumptuous),

I'm back after a short hiatus, due in some measure to the bustle of the holidays, followed by conferences and just good fun at my congregation!

Years ago, I attended Roman Catholic school from Pre-K through high school.  Each year, Lent was a pretty big deal in the life of our school.  You had to say what you were going to give up and how you were using this time in preparation for Easter.  In short form for those who didn't grow up Christian, Lent is the time of spiritual preparation before Easter.  It's 40 days long, though Christians calculate the 40 days each a little bit differently.

Growing up, I had a slightly less spiritual understanding of those 40 days, which for me were often measured in terms of when fish sticks would be served in the cafeteria and what days we would have a religious service instead of our first few classes in the morning.  While for a good portion of my life, Lent was framed in these terms, it also included a built-in time to reflect, reconsider and recommit that I often took for granted.  And though, I am no longer Catholic, I must say I miss this time of intentional preparation, reflection and quieting.  So, that got me to thinking...

I think I need a Unitarian Universalist Lenten practice.  Well, maybe not in those terms but I can't help but wonder if there isn't deeper truth in a human craving to go deeper, shrug off what we no longer need, and embrace a certain openness in our lives.  Easter or not, it would seem Lent has a lot of uses.

There is something incredibly important about entering into a time of reflection just as the earth is breaking loose from winter and readying for the green and bloom of spring.  My congregation is preparing for its vernal equinox service this Sunday.  I feel in my own bones a need to clear out, say goodbye to the accumulated emotional and literal physical stuff from winter in order to welcome in new growth.  Release and renewal seem so desperately needed.

So here is what I am hoping my UU Lent will look like:

-Prayer/meditation each day in the morning and evening
-Instead of TV, time for reading and writing letters to loved ones

I hope maybe you'll join me in this Lenten practice, shaping it to your theology and spirit.  Let's see what spring has in store...