One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

When Baby and Kitten Photos Matter Most

I am in a "First Time Mommy" group online with thousands of moms from across the country.  Mostly we post questions about potty training, formula use or not, breastfeeding tips and first words of our children.  A lot of times it is a place for a parent to vent or reach out for help.  Turns out parenting is tough for everyone who tries to raise a person!  The mommy group is a pretty diverse group of people.  Many of us have strong opinions on a host of parenting issues.  Occasionally the group breaks out of our ground rules and we begin to debate each other.  This is remarkably rare given that the group has over 34,000 members.  Yup, 34,000 members!

Sometimes a mom will post a photo of her LO (little one) and invite other moms to do the same.  One mom might say, "my lo just loves our dog Samson! <insert photo>  Any of your los feel the same?" Then the cutest photos will follow of infants and toddlers with the whole kingdom of animals.  It does the heart good.

Most of the times the group is what you would expect from a First Time Mommy group with a mixture of excitement and anxiety threaded throughout the posts.  But sometimes it's not at all what you would expect.

Today, a mom posted a photo of her daughter explaining that she loves her daughter.  Her lo is the light of her and her husband's life.  And her daughter has Down Syndrome.  Any other special needs babies out there she asked?

And the photos flowed in.  Some with adult family members with special holding the first time mom's child and some photos of children with special needs.  This was remarkable, but the responses were even better.  Each affirming the beauty of the child and the gift of the photo being shared.  Imagine receiving a diagnosis for your child even 15 years ago and what it would have meant to have literally thousands of people within an hour responding, affirming your child's beauty and holding you?

Y'all if 34,000 + women who have never met in public can figure out how to utilize Facebook to create a community of affirmation, celebration and support for one of the most challenging things- parenting- then surely there is some hope here.

If you need me, I will be rediscovering my faith in humanity while clicking like on cute photos of babies.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Will Not Choose

I am biased.  It is true that I come with an agenda.  It is this:

I wish we could get to a country where #blacklivesmatter and #thinblueline were not seen as incompatible...a country where police officers and community could not be used as separate terms ..... a country where black lives matter was read as black lives matter too...

How the black lives matter movement came to be understood by some as "black lives matter therefore white lives don't matter as much," is not at all surprising.   In fact, it kind of proves the premise.  If black lives did truly matter-systematically and culturally- I kind of doubt that the all lives matter would have sprung up.  Can you imagine placing a "breast cancer research" bumper sticker on your car only to find it vandalized to read "all cancer research?"  Or how about "soccer mom" being replaced by "all sports  mom?"  Of course not.  Then why do we read the black lives matter as proclaiming that other lives don't matter?  Could it be that black lives matter is still, sadly, a counter-cultural claim in 2015?

If you've heard the news about the supposed connection to BLM and a call for killing officers please check this story first...story on King Noble  The immoral call for violence came from a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement who left the movement because it wasn't radical enough.

I wonder if when a moral statement affirming life (black lives matter) becomes controversial,  isn't it a sign of the radical spiritual, systemic work needed?

Systemic work is needed, not a shame campaign.  Police officers are not the problem.  The criminal justice system is the problem.  And we, every one of us, is complicit in that system (every one- all races, all ages, all professions, ALL).

I support, honor and respect our police officers.  I value their service, knowing it is not a job I could do.  I believe the moral compass of CMPD Chief Kerr Putney is the real deal.  Being a police officer today in the USA is hard.  Hard.

I support, honour and respect the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.  I believe that black lives are undervalued in our culture.  I believe that black lives matter simply means that black lives matter.  Not less than or more than, not instead of, or in contrast to.... being black in the USA today is hard.  Hard.

I believe the public systems we have created and perpetuated need reform.  I do not believe in white shame, or any shame.  Systems are not people.  Good people work in these systems.  Imperfect people work in these systems.  The systems dehumanize all of us.  We live in a country where we speak of police officers and community as if they were separate things.  We live in a world where we seek to excuse the death of an unarmed black man for petty crimes as if anyone of us would create a community where fleeing should equal death.  We live in a world where we say you must choose between officer and black men as if they are separate souls.

I will not choose.  I will work without shame for the change.  I will see the dehumanization of the system and hold to the humanity of my community.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How To Annoy Me...

It can be dangerous to share with a large number of people something that irritates you.  I never had siblings, but even in my house I knew caution around sharing pet peeves.  Yet, I trust you blogosphere.  Here goes…
“Have faith.”
I do not have enough hands to count the number of times that I have heard this short phrase.  In hospital rooms, family gatherings, at the grocery store or even at the nail salon you can hear someone share “just have faith.”
As a chaplain, I would often hear it said from the lips of someone who was very anxious about being present to another person in pain. In a way, albeit unintentional, “have faith” is a way to distance from the pain of another human being.  By offering advice or trying to fix the situation, you move farther from the despair or the suffering. Again, it’s usually not at all intentional.
And, if I am honest, at different times in my life I surely have offered versions of “have faith.” Is it not those things that irritate us most which are a reflection of some part of ourselves?
It is difficult to sit with someone in the spaces of despair when the world falls apart.  Far from a question of atheism or theism, the spaces where one loses faith aren’t really about the crumpling of belief.  I think more often the spaces when faith is lost or destroyed are about the radical change of the elemental bonds between one being and another.  It is about the shifting of something beyond belief.   It is the shifting of the world, as you knew it.
This is real.
You do not have to believe in a god to go through a shift in your faith.    
It can be a personal event, or even a series of local, national events that begin to call within you this bubbling doubt.
In our faith, we believe the doubts are holy spaces too.  In our trust of the world, in our faith, we try to open ourselves to the experience of doubt.  We hold doubt to be a process that enables creative, cataclysmic and transformative energies to emerge.  If you never doubt, then do you have anything but a theoretical faith?
What would be faith beyond belief?  Consider a lived faith that articulates the connective bonds of our lives, and is constantly in change, doubt, transformation through the connective bonds with all life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bloom or Swarm?

I recently learned that a group of jellyfish may be called a bloom or swarm.  I believe the difference has to do with the ability to actively stay together.  Swarms actively stay together while blooms appear because of the seasons.  A bloom may be caused by weather or life cycles of the particular species of jellyfish.  I am not a biologist, but a lover of Wikipedia so do take that description lightly.

It does seem to me, as a lover of language, that the difference between bloom or swarm is not a small one.  Whenever I see jellyfish at an aquariumm, particularly if they have flourescent lights on them, I am likely to agree with the term bloom.  There is some mystifying, peaceful, and exquisite about a jellyfish in motion under the lights.  If, however, my discovery should be on the shores of a beach lined with the bodies of jellyfish while I try to roll a stroller down the sands, then I am ready to declare a scary swarm has occurred.

Which is what happened to me the day after Easter.

It was a beautiful day in Crescent Beach, Florida.  The sun had risen and cast a soft light across the expanse of beach.  Our 8 month old twins were fed, dressed, and strapped into umbrella strollers.  We began our walk down the beach. 

Bam! A jellyfish right in front of me. 

"Yikes" I muttered as I hopped over it and then shared with Ann Marie to be careful. 

It was then that I looked up and saw that it wasn't a stray jellyfish lying on the beach but nearly a hundred scattered down a several mile path.

I thought about the story of the child who finds starfish scattered across the sands one morning and begins throwing them back into the ocean.  An adult approaches to inform the child that they won't be able to save them all.  "There are miles and miles of starfish and you can't make a difference," the adult says.  The child replies as he throws one back in, "it just made a difference to that one."

I chuckled at first imagining trying to save the jellyfish, this swarm dying on the beach.  Who would save a jellyfish?

That night I could not sleep. Why save a starfish but never a jellyfish?  Is life's value only in relationship to me? 

The next day, a new swarm had appeared on the beaches.  So, I pulled a plastic shovel and pail from the stroller and eased one of the jellyfish back into the sea.  Don't think it made it, but maybe it did.  The sun had risen a few hours earlier and the jellyfish had been stranded for at least that long.  I couldn't possibly save all the jellyfish, and it was likely I couldn't save a single one. 

But it still made a difference.

A bloom or a swarm?  A riot or a revolution? 

It makes a difference.

May we speak wisely and with the abundance of truth beyond our own.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Giving Up is a Privilege

Yesterday was 45th Earth Day.

On the one hand, the fact that we are still celebrating Earth Day is an incredible testament to the vision of John McConnell, the creator of Earth Day. 

On the other hand...

45 years y'all!  45 years!!!  Forty-five!  4-5!  Four decades and five years! 1969! 

We can now say that for 45 years we have had at least one day a year when, in theory, people were organizing to protect the earth. Yes, I know people have done this long before 1969.  But what if we just looked at the last 45 years?

The results are varied in terms of success.  Yes, we have had some serious focus on recycling, reducing and reusing.  And, we are still 2° Celsius close to some major wreckage.

I've been aware for some time of the immensity of tackling climate change.  And so when I consider it, I feel as if I swing between advising recycling and putting my head against the air conditioner.  The solutions are systemic, which invariably include adaptive responses rather than technical ones.  And my life is pretty reliant upon technical solutions.  Find problem.  Identify shape.  Match piece to puzzle.  Done.  Next?

Change my lifestyle and basic assumptions?  Say what?!

There is a form of learned helplessness in the face of climate change.  World ending, species extinct, massive change, cataclysmic weather patterns.  Blah. blah. blah.  The spirit and soul are numbed before the statistics and reality.

But then I realized, the simple fact that I can not think about climate change is privilege.  My learned helplessness is a privilege.  My apathy is a privilege. This made me uncomfortable.  I considered perusing Facebook or answering emails, but the truth is persistent.  My apathy was directly related to my life that was filled with privileges.

For mothers in places where there isn't sufficient water and civil wars have erupted, they must think about climate change.  For elders who mine the trash dumps for food with the air thick with contaminants, they must live with climate change.  For the families displaced by mudslides and hurricanes, climate change is not an optional topic.

The late Dorothy Parker would often instruct students in the Catholic social worker movement, "no one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.  There is too much work to do."

I think there is another dimension to this right to hopelessness.  Put simply, if we don't believe we can change our behaviors and undo the damage, well then we certainly won't.  If we don't believe there is a better future for our children, well then there most certainly will not be one.

This is not a belief we must be convinced of, but a decision to envision a better world.  The decision to live out of hope and for hope.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Hot Cup

Unlike other spiritual practices, you don’t have to work to be vulnerable.   You can cultivate gratitude or compassion.  You can develop your understanding of forgiveness or humility.  Vulnerability, however, just is.  We are vulnerable.  Every second of our lives we might be physically injured, emotionally hurt, lose who we are or die. 
It just is.
 “We were not meant to survive,” wrote the poet Audre Lorde.  Vulnerability doesn’t easily lend itself to T-shirt or bumper sticker like “be happy.”  We seek happiness and peace.  Who wakes up and says, “I think I’ll have an English muffin, toasted with peanut butter and a nice hot cup of death awareness!”  Well maybe the great spiritual teachers like Jesus or Buddha did, but I’ve got emails to answer and tweets to send.  I mean really? Death awareness?  That is so 1st century.
I’ve been wondering lately about my own death avoidance. 
It might be the serious car accident I had in October or the birth of my children.  It could be an early mid-life crisis.  I try to over-achieve.
It’s not a keep-me-up-late-at-night kind of crisis.  It is the kind of thoughts that linger.  I am more aware lately of how our time on planet earth is precious.  What has come from this awareness is the beginning of sensing what is most important in my life.  I told my congregation that my BS bowl had broken in the car accident.  Many of the things that I used to worry about or hold onto just couldn’t be held anymore.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.  Not in a neurotic way.  Perhaps one can only begin to think about death in a neurotic way.  Well, not in a Marlin the clownfish way.  Finding Nemo spoiler alert!  Marlin is the father of Nemo who after a terrible accident involving the death of his wife and children (all but one, Nemo) becomes obsessed about protecting Nemo, his only surviving child.  He is definitely aware of vulnerability but in a neurotic, control-freak way. 
I am not trying to put floaties on my life.
Before the accident, when I heard someone talk about becoming more aware, I roll my eyes.  “I am really working on just being present to life right now.”  Such statements would conjure all sorts of images: self-indulgent walks by ponds followed by sipping on expensive tea.  It turns out, as shocking as it was to me, I was absolutely wrong.
Being more aware is hard work.  It is not a day at the spa.  And depending upon what you are becoming more aware of, it may lead to less awareness in other areas of life.  Facebook birthday posts have gone by and I’ve lost several hobbies in this being more aware journey.  And the more aware I become to my vulnerability, the more I am awakening to the world.  Justice ministry is not pro-forma any more, but the only authentic response to the cray-cray world that is killing my brothers and sisters.
So I am concluding, perhaps prematurely, that if becoming aware leads you to sip tea by the pond, well then you might not be on the awakening experience that I am seeking and hoping others will join me in.  I am talking about the, “I am going to die.  Not just someday, but maybe this day. And so, what then?”
Or rather, what now?

Friday, January 16, 2015

"There are no shortcuts" the Crete Carrier truck bumper preaches

"There are no shortcuts" the Crete Carrier truck bumper preaches.
From a long day of the dogged advocates of despair,
Headlines read, "Oklahoma executes first inmmate since botched lethal injection."
The once faithful-
Now faithless

I wonder about that pain in my neck.
Knowing deeply as it cracks,
This pain is the pain of no shortcuts.
This pain is felt only after sunset
Deep in the shoulder 
 no fixing
no pills
no place to rest the head.

Hallowed by the quiet breaths drawn until daylight
No feathers
No dancing
No clouds of reprise
Memory burns away despair
Happy Birthday dear Martin
joy comes
across the clear winter morning.
Rest in peace Dr. King.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Moving from Duality to Paradox: Pourquoi je ne suis pas Charlie

The Je Suis Charlie movement is both encouraging and alarming.

Mobilizing millions of people in the name of unity and freedom seem to be a sign of hope.  Yet, I am also present to the powerful history of xenophobia in France and a longstanding argument that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are racist.

George Clooney's moving testimony during the Golden Globes as he accepted the lifetime achievement award is a perfect demonstration of the alarming American propensity to dualism in this country. Clooney closed with these words:

And just one last thing I would say is just to reiterate what we have all been talking about today was an extraordinary day. There were millions of people that marched not just in Paris but around the world. And they were Christians and Jews and Muslims. They were leaders of countries all over the world and they didn’t march in protest. They marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. Je suis Charlie. Thank you.

I agree with Clooney that fear is a dangerous device.  However, the motto "Je suis Charlie," and the resounding applause that Clooney received in response to these words demonstrate the problem itself.  As the American appetite for paradox dwindles, it would seem our hunger for unity at any cost has increased.  We are a people I believe as vulnerable to fear as we are to the illusion of sacred cows that would bring us together.  And the history from September 11th is that both- fear and what I will call unity ideology- are equally dangerous.  It is this unity ideology that encourages us to accept false dualities and create false enemies.

We now live in a world where reasonable people can no longer deny the inevitability of pluralism.  Particularly in America today, as well as in France with immigration trends, the narratives that led to the revolutions of our founding are desperately in need of adapting.  The truth is that the understanding of freedom, democracy and entitled rights are not the same today as they were in the 18th century.  Yet, we continue to draw upon these sacred cows in order to create movements of unity, often at the cost of pluralism.

I highly doubt that freedom of the press as demonstrated by some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is what the early founders of the U.S.A. had in mind.  If nothing else, they considered freedom in the context of the abuse and oppression of state religion.  Many of the paradigms today including the understandings of humanism, spiritual but not religious and pluralism did not exist in the manifestation in which we see them today.  For that matter the only published works on Islam in the 18th century western mind used the term Moslem.  So, to assert an immutable conception of freedom, democracy, and entitled rights is counter to the 21st century claims of liberal religion and pluralism.  We do not have the same belief in freedom as Washington.  We, Americans, do not have have the same understanding of freedom as Parisians. As they say details matter, the devil is in the details.

The unity ideology brings us further from pragmatic approaches to pluralism.  Paradox instead takes us to a space where seemingly opposing ideas could bring us to greater truth.  The front page of Charlie Hebdo after the tragic killings showed the prophet Mohammed crying with the words "All is forgiven" above his head.  What does it mean? The prophet is crying but the paper critiqued Islam.  All is forgiven, but nothing can yet be forgiven.  In this most recent cartoon, the artist Renald Luzier takes the world deeper than the headlines and cries of "Je suis Charlie" have done.  Frankly, having seen many Charlie Hebdo cartoons before the murders (I adored French lit and culture in college), this cartoon speaks the deeper work I felt was absent in their dualistic portrayals of Islam. 

So no, je ne suis pas Charlie, mais je travaille à être humain.

Beware of the duality.  Humanity is more often present in the paradox.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Frustrated and Faithful

I am not afraid.  Well, not yet.

But it can be a little scary for those of us under about 45 years old in the ministry.  I am 31.

The basic trends look something like this (in case you haven't heard the frequent conversation of ministers these days)... the millennials have decreased ability and interest in supporting institutional religion, wealth in the United States has become increasingly allocated to a small percentage of the country, and the boomers are aging.  All of this is coupled with the fact that most Unitarian Universalist communities are nearly racially and culturally homogenous (yes there are exceptions).  And the demographics of the United States are increasingly diverse and most specifically multicultural.  Add to this that the nones or those with no religious affiliation are the fastest growing religious group in the United States.  Good news?  Maybe.  While they compose 20% of the U.S. population, only 10% of those report that they are looking for a religious community.  And as radical as we may be, the vast majority of our communities look, smell and feel pretty religious.  Because, uh...well we are.

So, it would appear religious community especially as we knew it in the 20th century does not have a bright future into the latter part of the 21st century.

I have the strange position of being both an older millennial (those born from 1981-1989) and a minister.  It makes for awkward conversations with peers at parties, but that's another blog post entirely.   "Oh wow.  Well, that's cool." they say when I share that I am a minister, but I hear "Why would you ever do that?"  I understand the fatigue with institutionalism present among the millennials.  I get being baffled at the invitation to serve on a committee when I want to help change the world.  I get being disillusioned at hearing sermons about spiritual practice when I am aching to experience the sacred.  I get feeling objectified by the needs of the institution before a real relationship.  Here join! Pledge! Volunteer! We need young people! Not that we want to get to know them, build relationship, or support them during the economic crisis our generation faces today...

And I understand the need of the institution to maintain the institution.  I understand the value of institutions - history, care of families, intentional community, potential for prophetic voice, a place for the people to fulfill God's call, etc.  I could really go on.  I love these brick and mortar buildings.  My heart aches at their histories, triumphs, and failures.  I am inspired by the dreams of my ancestors who built the religious spaces.

I am strangely an institutionalist and a millennial.  Frustrated and faithful.

And as a minister looking out across the landscape attempting to see the horizon for some very personal reasons-namely my ability to feed my family- I wonder what would happen if these institutions disappeared?  I may not have to wonder long.  Will I be able to retire as the minister of a congregation? Rev. Tom Schade has written a great piece on part of this phenomenon that I encourage you to read.  It's found here    Part of Tom's question is really helpful to me.  I do wonder if my needs for employment by an institution get in the way of liberal religion most effectively serving the world's needs.  I ask this often. I think it's a healthy discernment to engage in the 21st century.  It's led me to pursue multi-site ministry, missional ministry and to support liberal religion beyond institutional bodies.

And yet, I can help but wonder, what will happen someday if we no longer have ministers of communities?  I envision part of my role is to speak truth to power.  I attend government meetings, protests, and community gatherings to give voice to those without a voice or those who cannot easily be represented.  Most of my generation is working two or more jobs to survive.  When they don't show up to the places where decisions are made, I would argue, it is often not because of apathy but because of economy.  And so I see community organizers not being able to pay rent and ministers not being able to pay for childcare, I worry as these economic trends deepen who will lead our revolutions?  What will happen when no one is paying the prophet?

When you look out across revolutions many of them were led by individuals who came from the middle class and had patrons (including institutions).  If we are going to enter into a post-institutional world devoid of congregations and ministers, who will lead the change and create the spaces for consciousness raising?

I remain yours,

Frustrated and faithful