Friday, February 28, 2014


I have a hard time with horror movies.  My brain can't really distinguish what is made up when it is on the screen, so I am quickly overwhelmed and the fear lasts.

And yet... I love the new (ok, last ten years) batch of zombie movies.

This evening I watched Zombieland, which is basically National Lampoon's Family Vacation.. with zombies. The road trip and the disagreements and the unnecessary anxieties, a death along the way...  

Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet, with zombies.
Shaun of the Dead... it's a buddy flick to be certain.  But I'm not sure which particular film. Ideas?

All three of these movies have some gore, but they are primarily about relationship and about hope.
Maybe that is why they appeal to me, even if I do need to bury my head in more disgusting scenes.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not even clones will always be "like-minded individuals"

What is most characteristically human about us is the tension between the desire to be “free”—self-identifying and self-choosing—and to be “related”—to love and to be loved.  -Paul Tillich

Connection is a deep longing in all of our souls, and yet we don’t want to lose ourselves too much. Many Unitarian Universalists describe their churches as “a place I can be with like-minded people”—it’s an efficient shortcut to be together with others who are pretty much clones of the self. 

Meet firstborn and secondborn, my sons.  As a parent of identical twins, I can tell you that even if the other is truly your genetic clone, coming from the same family, you still will not always get along.  Even in the most healthy families, there are different ideas, different needs, and very rarely is it as peaceful as we would like to imagine.

Congregations are far more complicated family systems, with an amazing matrix of connection—near infinite opportunities for tangled snarls!  When conflict comes, our logical minds react with incredulity- how can we possibly not agree on this?  Isn’t this the place where we all love each other?  Emotionally, we are hurt to the core, our limbic systems activated. Some in the system will do almost anything to relieve the pain and get back to harmony, while others will lash out.

So quickly we fall into the traps of triangulation often with the best of intentions—to fix things better!  To make everyone happy! To make sure that our relationships (including both the physical cohorts and the shared values) are protected!

(I could go on.  Pretty much forever.  But instead, here’s an awesome video on self-differentiation.  I watch it regularly, sort of like checking my smoke detectors or cleaning a lint filter.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Little victories on the heroes' journey

We got the news today that federal justice Orlando Garcia decided that Texas's marriage law (and the voted-in constitutional amendement) is unconstitutional, but that he was granting a stay pending appeal. So, no practical change for Texans... but psychologically a big deal. This means we have a little bit of progress in a state that has long been seen as one of the LAST to accept marriage equality.

There is still much to be done. But we keep moving closer.  We are pretty certain that marriage equality will become law nationally via a Supreme Court decision, but it could be years.  (Just a few years ago, however, we might have said DECADES...)

Hours later we got the news that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the 'ok to hate' bill there-- she was very much pressured by business concerns and still took two days to make a decision.  Still, we can at least say that hate was not multiplied today.

Rev. Mrs. Olympia BrownThat whole 'inherent worth and dignity of all' thing--my goodness, it is not simple or easy.  Justice work is not unlike laundry.  It's neverending, rarely glamorous, often stinky.

I take some comfort in the story of Olympia Brown--best known for being the first woman to be fully-fellowshiped by the Universalist Church.  She worked throughout her life for equal rights, especially women's suffrage.  The 20th Amendment was ratified when she was 85.  It was at that point that she said, "You know, I think I'll work on World Peace."  And she did until shortly before her death six years later.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fascinating rabbit holes

One of the blessings of my work is that I am always learning something new--often really interesting stuff.
But so often I get drawn in more deeply than I should.
Fascinating the rabbit hole might be, but it gets nothing off my to-do list.

So, sorry blog, but my new strategy is to send myself links to write about on my own time.  Like 10:38 PM as I sprawl here across my couch.

Today's rabbit hole--I was searching through Library of Congress online and came across pages and pages of photos from WWII-era childcare arrangements as women joined the war efforts by working outside the home.

Just looking through the pictures, it was obvious that the government was throwing together solutions, and many of the arrangements looked rather like barracks. Playgrounds and classrooms were more than a little cobbled together.

In my comfortable 21st century world, I wonder you families did with this-so many changes and anxieties with war, and now the (stereotypically) caretaker of the nuclear family is called away? How very disorienting for these children! And their mothers, dealing with all the stress of going back to work (if she ever DID work outside the home), quite possibly to a job beyond her imaginings, skill set, and gender expectation.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Things forgotten...

Today I needed a file folder.
In a wacky "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"* scenario, it led to a marathon of decluttering in my office.

Decluttering, as it turns out, is fascinating from an archaeological standpoint. You find so many things you have forgotten-

1. Things you can still use
    I found many more file folders than expected, but also cool magnets, paper clips, and my favorite--these SWEET pencils I received over fifteen years ago but never used.
    That's going to change, this week.

    2. Things you have outgrown    

    Oh my.  When's the last time you used a floppy disk mailer?  And I got this geometer in 1996--I barely used it when I was teaching geometry, and this one is BROKEN.  Why do I still have it?  I found touch-up paint for a car I sold years ago. These things are filling my recycling bin and trash can.
    (The paper from an old dot matrix printer, though--that I am taking to work for the kiddos.)

    3. Things you got aspirationally 

    You can have grand grand ideas for something with wonderful reasons, but if it's not you, well... it may not ever happen.  For me, this is the story of two-thirds of the craft supplies in my house.  I wanted to be That Mom who encouraged her children to be artistic and gave them time to express themselves in various messy ways!  And yet, that's just not me. (To be fair, even when we did bust out the supplies, it was rarely what my kids wanted to do, either...)  I let the family go through this box, and almost all of it is going to the craft cabinets at work.

    4. Things cherished, but put away in long-forgotten corners (sometimes accidentally)

    Imagine my surprise to find ultrasounds of my children between empty binders and folders.  And cutesie foam photo flowers from preschool... there were cards from cherished friends and letters of thanks, a couple stories I had written, and many other things I nearly squealed to see.  Hiding in just another box of materials.  Obviously, these were celebrated, and are getting more suitable homes.

    Sometimes, of course, the 'things' are not physical objects.  They might be beliefs or stories, rituals or programs. From time to time it is good to go through the shelves of our minds, of our histories, and consider what is still serving us, what we can get rid of, and what we need to pick back up and use to a fuller potential. And hey, be open to the surprise.

    *If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a whimsical children's story of cause and effect and sequential mayhem written by Laura Numeroff

    Sunday, February 23, 2014

    Votes Nobody Wins

    Here in Houston, the big religious news today was a vote at First Presbyterian Church--would they stay a member congregation of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA) or leave, joining the far more conservative ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians)?

    Famed steeple topples
    Toppling steeple photo:
    Library of Congress
    The story got a fair amount of press over the past few weeks, not only because it is closely tied to the Presbyterian church's attitudes on gay clergy, but because this is one of the oldest and wealthiest congregations in town.

    The decision to call for the vote was not taken lightly--if you look at this letter you can get some idea of the process.  Lots of work, lots of prayer.

    A majority of the congregation voted to leave, but not a supermajority, so they will stay with the PCUSA.  The report says that a total of 1681 ballots were cast, and that the vote was 36 short, but does not mention what sort of supermajority was required.  

    Sure, I could do a little research and find that out, but instead, let's look at that 1681.  The article says it is a 3100-person congregation.  So roughly 54% of members voted today.

    Or put another way--46% of the congregation did not cast a vote in a pretty major decision.
    Was it that they did not feel strongly one way or another?Are they not opening mail from their church?
    Did they have something else they needed to do today, whether open-heart surgery or a big sale at DSW?
    Or was there too much pain, too much anxiety, to even walk into church today?

    The senior pastor, emeritus, staff, and governing board all advocated strongly for leaving the PCUSA.  Now, they are considering how to come back together in love.  It will start with a healing service Monday at noon.  That process will take far far longer.

    Saturday, February 22, 2014

    Studying sans study couch

    Pollen aside, it was a lovely day here today--sunny and warm, a light breeze.. I decided sermon* research could happen outside.

    • My lawn has a lot of bees. That probably has something to do with the fact that my lawn is comprised mostly of flowering weeds. But the flowers are pretty.  And bees! (This should get me some sort of exemption from Homeowners Association Landscaping Meanies.)
    • The small lizard who's been living between our glass door and screen door is alive and well.  Excellent hiding place, lots of opportunities for basking.
    • There are at least another two lizards per square yard out there.  And they rustle leaves.
    • I'm not going to preach about "castration anxiety," no matter how many pages Mr. Bettelheim devotes to it.
    • Blue jays do not appreciate my call mimicry.
    • We really need to trim the rosebushes back.
    • It takes a long time to read forty pages when NATURE is happening all around you.  But it's a lovely time.

    *Sermon is NEXT Sunday, not tomorrow.  Hopefully I'll be done researching before this time next week.

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    "Make it work, people!"

    I have a job.
    And a house.
    And a dog.

    The dog is generally fine in the house while I am at work. As far as I can tell, she naps all day long.

    But not so much when roofers start their chaos on the house just six feet from ours. Noise AND a clear view? The dog was losing her mind.

    She alternated between barking at anyone she saw and shaking.
    Yes, shaking. So very pitiful.

    She pled with me to do something to make it all better.

    Fine. I took her to the office. On a Friday, which in my line of work is "If it's going to be ready for Sunday, it needs to happen NOW" day.

    It turns out that I need to be at several places in the building to get ready for Sunday.
    And my dear sweet normally calm dog decided to have separation anxiety.

    So I had a companion on my every trip to the copier and the supply closet and the bulletin board. In between she would nap or sniff out every aroma or demand petting.

    Eventually she figured out that she could snuggle up between my office chair and bookcase. A safe place to make sure she could get plenty of beauty sleep AND miss nothing.

    I'd say it was not unlike having a toddler underfoot, but my own toddlers were considerably louder and more destructive.

    We managed to get eight hours of work in and got home just as the roofers were leaving.

    And now she's catching up on the napping couch time she missed.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Of Fallow Fields

    Of Fallow Fields
    A homily for the 2014 Southwest Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) chapter, given February 8, 2014 at the Briarwood Retreat Center, Argyle, Texas

    Capsule Order of Service:
    Hymn teach: Return Again
    Opening Hymn: Turn! Turn! Turn! (Ecclesiastes, with an assist from Pete Seeger)
    Chalice Lighting: from Kathleen McTigue
    Story for All Ages: Retelling of Demi’s The Empty Pot, with other possibilities why a seed might not germinate (referenced within homily)
    Meditation hymn: Return Again (Shlomo Carlebach)
    Offering hymn:Woyaya ((Sol Amarifio , arr. Ysaye Barnwell)
    Benediction from Earth Bound: Meditations For All Seasons by Brian Nelson

    We have lived in my house for nearly twenty years now, and the little enclosed porch out front has never been in good shape.  When we had a landscaper come out to do some re-sodding, we also talked about pulling down the ivy around the porch.

    Well, if you give a mouse a cookie... once the ivy was cut back, we had to get to the root system to really be rid of it. So I started pulling up the half-rotting, half black wood of the deck.  It took my sons and me some four hours just to rip out the top layer.  And I was excited to discover a large half-moon paver directly outside the sliding doors-- we had never imagined there would be something beneath the wood.

    Still, I did not know how, with my limited skills and tools and strength, to deal with the frame of the deck, and the TWELVE posts sunk in concrete.  So I waited for my father to come.

    It was probably another eight hours, over a few days, for us to fight the thick gumbo clay, to finagle the posts and frame out of the ground.  We took one trip to the home-improvement store for a sledgehammer to break up the concrete.  We took another trip to get a special sort of axe to really lay waste to the ivy's root system--can you believe that it had put out some tendrils thicker than my forearm?  We found ancient Diet Coke cans with pull-off tabs, long denuded tennis balls, all sorts of plastic toys, and a pair of slippers that had been no obstacle to the rampaging roots.

    When we had removed as much as we could, I was eager to get to building.  To put in a simple stone patio, find some nice pots and plants... hang the mobile dad had made me.  Maybe think about a water feature, and what two chairs might fit in the little space.  Oh, and a cute table to hold a beverage...

    And my father shook his head.  Nope.  You need to just let it sit awhile.  Let the rain help things settle and even out.  Figure out then where you might need to move dirt, remove dirt... Know what the drainage needs would be.  Figure out if that root system was really and truly dead, before it might come back and take over everything again.

    I probably don’t need to tell you how hard it was not to order the stones, to
    get things back into shape and carry on.  How I worry sometimes that I will forget all about it and not get back to it.

    But I know my father had a point--I need to give the roots time to die back, give the clods of dirt and bits of concrete time to settle.  To let things get back to even before I can add anything atop.

    The picture here is my front patio right now.  It’s ugly.  Not at all welcome. It is hard to imagine where I will set my chairs.  Hard to imagine a suitable home for the copper fountain my artisan father is creating.

    And, you know--sometimes life is that way.  Babies don't grow and get born all at once.  Relationships--well, let's just say I am glad I did not get married at the first sign of puppy love. Skills and cultures, change and grief…  They take time, and sometimes they take some time off. Some time when you just don't think too hard for a while.

    Sometimes this is the way things are in our congregations and programs. 

    It goes without saying that we could, like many of the children in our story, find another way to get a breathtaking flower in that pot.  We are resourceful and loving and we want things to be beautiful and inviting. 

    But that is not our work to do—it is a lousy fix for our congregations, and an even worse one for our own precious souls.

    Here’s the thing—as religious educators, we are not there to ‘FIX’ things.  We are where we are to help our congregations grow their souls. That takes a long longer, and a lot more intention.

    We can help to nourish the soil.  We can suggest better cultivation practices.  Sometimes we will get our hands dirty—some days our nails will ache from being forced back by grit and tiny stones.

    But we do not know every need of every seed.  It might be that they need the fire, the cold, the fungus, to break through, and get them where they need to go.

    We need to step back, even if things are ugly or not quite right, and let it just be.  Obviously, we get rid of the nails and forgotten glass, the surface trash, and we put away our tools so they do not rust in the rain.  What will settle out?  What new possibilities might we find with a long steady rain?

    This concept of taking a fallow time—it is exceedingly counter-cultural for us these days. Life is about the instant solution, and when it can’t be instant, well, you better work work work every moment until it is done.

    This book of prayers <God of a Hundred Names> has at the front a section on WORK.
    <read a couple of marked examples from John Wesley, Leonardo da Vinci, Winifred Holtby>

    As Unitarian Universalists, we fall so quickly into this trap. “Don’t just talk about it—DO it!”  “Deeds, not creeds!” “I want to be with people who immerse in the task…” As Susan Smith puts it, sometimes we are better at the Utilitarian Worth of every person than at the INHERENT worth.

    We feel guilty when we’re not actively working. A day off?  It feels sinful, when really, it is a requirement of most any faith tradition.

    And when is the last time you heard someone say in a meeting, “Let’s take some time to pray on this, and come back to it on another day”? 

    Nature, people, congregations—so little is instant.
    If it seems easy, you’re either really lucky or not paying attention.

    Rarely is it always pretty.
    Often it’s hard.
    And sometimes we just have to sit back, and wait for what will be.

    Author and educator Anne Hillman writes:
    We look with uncertainty
    Beyond the old choices for
    Clear-cut answers
    To a softer, more permeable aliveness
    Which is every moment
    At the brink of death;
    For something new is being born in us
    If we but let it.
    We stand at a new doorway,
    Awaiting that which comes...
    Daring to be human creatures.
    Vulnerable to the beauty of existence
    Learning to love.

    Let me read those last three lines again--
    Daring to be human creatures.
    Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
    Learning to love.