Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Need For Disappointment

The bakery counter called this a cream puff.

Homesick for the Wisconsin State Fair, I had to give it a try.

We cut it in half to share and...
Not a cream puff. Eclair.

But who complains about an eclair?

The treat was gobbled, and perhaps I will make real cream puffs when the weather gets cooler. Maybe even with a little dark chocolate on top.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


The church year more or less follows an academic calendar--we start up big time around Labor Day.

Oh, you mean that holiday just around the corner? Yikes!

Yep. Right now life is all about refining the calendar, lining up curriculum, meeting with volunteers, accumulating supplies, and OH GOODNESS, don't forget to rent the snow cone machine!

A colleague set up a countdown clock to his program's first day... and then we all yelped and decided the clock was a little too much. Ceaseless flow of endless time and all that.

Still, we all have that countdown going somewhere in our heads.
Bring chocolate, or at least ice water.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Personal Privilege, Protection, and Police

When my sisters and I were growing up, Dad would occasionally take us to a Milwaukee Admirals hockey game. One time we were walking along the concourse and Dad pulled us close to him as we came across a group of skinheads. Three white girls (mostly blond!), not so much in need of protection, Dad.  But he meant well.

Yep, I had a very sheltered upbringing. We grew up in a spacious subdivision five miles from the closest town, with no parental alarm if we played in the fields or were gone all day. At least half the moms were at home, and while no one was especially wealthy, we all had enough for basic needs to be met. 

Our most common interactions with the police were hollering, "Hey, Mr. Policeman*!  You got any baseball cards?"--at which point the squad car would pull over and the officer would give us the free cards. I knew to trust police officers and really, pretty much all authority figures.

In college I drove a friend's car to Louisiana, where we were pulled over for a 'dim' tail light. There was a not especially lawful search of every inch of that car, a threatening lecture, and five miles down the road, the car broke down--some sort of loosened connection according to the mechanic.

I was floored when my friend explained that the rainbow flag sticker on his bumper sometimes led to trouble, even from the police. But...what happened to the baseball cards? Certainly, I had read about harassment and unjust treatment, but it had never actually seemed real.

Privilege? I grew up in it. I am still learning to remember that my core securities are not everyone's, and that the world can be a very different place for others.

*Yes, Policeman. As far as we knew, there were no female police officers in our area.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Got A Question?

I'm all about the questions. 

I get asked them at work (When is a good time for this event? What's the deal with Buddhism and suffering?) 

And in everyday life (Who voices God on The Simpsons? Are these brownies fair game?)

And I always have my own lines of inquiry (Why is it a Uniform Monday Holidays Act and not a Uniform Friday Holiday act?) popping up regularly.

What's a question that you've recently asked, or one that's stuck with you for ages?

(I can't necessarily promise answers!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Week of School Finances

Oh, yes, it's the first week of school here.
Tuesday we had to send in $20 per kid for gym uniforms.
Tonight we went shopping for school supplies. Most every class requires its own binder and dividers and then the assortment of random things--we needed two stores and it was not an inexpensive evening.

The lines at Target were slow, and I got into a conversation with a brand new sixth grader. She sat at an unoccupied register, telling me how tired she gets making her way up and down the stairs and across the building. She explained the special activities she's in, and how she gets to emcee a piece of the upcoming Open House evening. 

Engaged in conversation, I was late to notice her mother carefully prioritizing the items in their cart. I heard her tell the cashier, "Never mind, I need the tuna more than the spaghetti sauce." 

Her discard pile likely cost less than the Ben & Jerry's I'd picked up for my special treat. Oof.

I could afford my children's school supplies, odds and ends, and even that pint of ice cream. But this is a tight time of year for many families--public education may be subsidized, but it's not actually free.

Could it be? Compared to the thousands of dollars taxpayers spend on each child's education (around $7000/year here in Houston), school supplies and uniforms are a tiny expense. 

In some districts, any child who qualifies for free or reduced lunch automatically receives vouchers for school supplies and uniforms. In others, Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and a hodgepodge of social agencies help when they can. Many of those programs vary widely from school to school, and even year to year within the same campus. 

If we truly paid for ALL the parts of a child's education, we'd be taking some unilateral steps toward economic justice and making a values statement--all children are important and we have systems in place to make sure that each child has what they need.

In addition, bulk purchasing would likely save millions of dollars AND reduce parental frustration, free up time, and reduce all sorts of carbon footprints.

I could go on, but I'm exhausted from the shopping.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Not Too Shameful Confession

I admit it--I am a sucker for a good commercial. Usually something funny, though I also cry at that darned coffee commercial when Peter! comes home in the early morning...

I'm supposed to be above these things, perhaps, and to see them as unwelcome messages brainwashing me into crass consumerism. Quite often I don't know what the commercial is for. That's some darned subliminal brainwashing

And not especially effective-- I rarely buy the products I see advertised. Or maybe it's just that I'm a homebody with a short memory--I don't want to get up off the couch, and then I don't remember the products the next day?

Mmmmm, french fries...

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Secret is Egg Salad

You spend enough time at church, you learn to host a lunch.

For the past few years, we've done a lunch for Sunday School teachers before the church year begins.  Since it's a 'Back to School' sort of thing, we just serve the sort of things you might pack in a lunchbox. 

Sandwiches - assortment of breads, lettuce, tomato, cold cuts, cheese, egg salad, pb&j (as allergies allow).

Fruit, a treat, fresh veggies, maybe some chips. 

This year beverages were a choice of milks (fat-free or chocolate), apple juice, or milk.

It's relatively inexpensive, not much time to prep, and most anyone can get something they enjoy. 

Clean up is easy, and any leftovers go home with someone who can definitely make use of them.

Everyone wins!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Like many, I have a professional development plan, and mine has a line about books to read in the coming year. 

Being a quantifying sort, I sometimes put in a number of books. And sometimes shelf inches.

Perhaps this year I'll put it in pounds. 

Because the carrying back and forth? It might as well count as weight lifting. At any given time there are a pile of partially-read books on my nightstand, on my desk at work, in my purse and backpack, and another box of to-be-read books in my reading nooks.  

If I read just two pounds a week, I'd have a sixth grader by the end of the year.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shaggy-headed Descendants

When children are little, you get ready for the school year with a certain to-do list. Clothes, shoes, backpack, haircuts, school supplies...

On Monday my sons will start high school. Chances are, they'll be out the door before I'm awake--the cute 'First Day of School' photo hasn't happened in a while now.

Over the summer we hit the thrift stores--they picked out their own clothes, the most boring t-shirts and polos they could find, khaki shorts... a uniform of their own choosing. I was just there as the ride and the keeper of the credit card.

Dad took them for shoes, a no-big-whoop event.

They chose their own courses and pathways--one applied to a tough program as if it were no big deal. Huh.

At the Back to School Bash, they orbited the tables of endless clubs and activities, considering options my fourteen-year old self had never heard of. Their fees this year include a $25 insurance payment for district-issued laptops.

They've decided it is not yet time for haircuts. I know better than to make that a battle, and hey, one less errand.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dental Plan! Dental Plan! (Lisa Needs Braces!) Dental Plan!*

FXX, a network many of us did not know we had on our cable package, is playing every Simpsons episode over a twelve day period. 

It will likely be the default programming on my TV for the rest of the month.

In the early days, I watched The Simpsons every Sunday night. Through the magic of syndication, I've seen some episodes twenty times or more. 

Many a Simpsons quote has crept into our common vocabulary--which is your favorite?

*Season 4, Episode 17, "Last Exit to Springfield"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can You Isolate A Truth?

A recent article in Christian Century talks about Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and his history of sexual misconduct.

Do Yoder’s violations of his own theological claims undermine the content of his theology? Do his sins disqualify him from the major role he has played in modern Christian thought? We certainly understand the seriousness of these questions. It is undoubtedly difficult to know how to receive gifts from sinful people. 
The article goes on at some length, bringing up a double-edged sword--did his abusive behavior exist within Yoder's theology or somehow isolated from it? 

In my day-to-day work, I rarely reference Yoder's work, but I often find myself putting together curricula and their resources.  

One suggests excerpts from a Woody Allen movie. Given the variety of allegations against the writer/director, do I include his insights into family dynamics? Quite honestly, the range of possibilities and ethics and whatnot gives me a headache AND makes me nauseous. And in a week of a thousand decisions, I put a big green question mark in that margin, vowing to come back to it before February.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Knowing Your Limits

My Nissan Leaf, like all electric cars, has a range. In perfect conditions I might get close to a hundred miles on a full charge.

We don't always get perfect conditions, though. If it's hot out (and especially if i have the air conditioning running), I lose miles of possible range. Highway speeds reduce the range, too. I live in a town where people always take the highway...and expect you to go fast.

And then there's the mornings when I realize that the car didn't have enough time or opportunity to recharge during the night before.

I do the best I can, sometimes changing my routes, sweating a little, or if I absolutely have to, cancelling events because I just don't have the miles to do it all and get home.

When I can, I try to give myself a buffer of twenty or thirty miles of range. Just in case.

The start of the church year can test the limits of both my car and my own energies. There are so many good things, all calling for my attention. Relationships to build and strengthen, programs to organize and support, a copier to woo and so many documents to wrangle.

Tomorrow morning I'll sleep in a little, then work on documents here at home. My car will come back to a full charge, and perhaps I will recharge as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Make-ahead Recipe For A Day You're Not Home

The start of the church year means I'm busy busy, with lots of organizational meetings and such. Also summer in Houston means that cooking is a stress on my AC unit...

Time for the crockpot.

Crockpot Ribs and Pintos

1 rack ribs (these were back ribs, but any cut that you can fit in your pot will work. Cook time may vary.)
Cajun seasoning of choice 
Brown sugar
1 onion, sliced rough
1 c. Bloody Mary mix (or tomato juice, or just some watered down marinara or salsa or even BBQ sauce)

Slice the onion and put it in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Add the Bloody Mary mix, or whichever substitution you're using.

Sprinkle the ribs with a light dusting of the Cajun seasoning and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar.  The goal is to lightly season, not to make a thick rub.

Put the cover on the slow cooker, set to low heat, and let it all go for five or six hours. The meat will start to separate from the bone-that's a good thing.  At this point you might want to add some beans to the mix.

Now, I can make a nice mess of beans, and indeed, if I were to work from dried beans, I'd probably do the boil and drain steps above, then add them at the beginning. But yesterday I wanted to go the easy route--I put in a large (28 oz) can of Goya pintos (drained and rinsed) with a cup of water and let it cook beneath the ribs for another two hours.

This could be served immediately, or put in the fridge for dinner another day.

(I left this for the family on a night when I wouldn't be home for dinner. I got an email AND a Facebook mention for the dish.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Over And Over, Again And Again

Why do I watch certain movies every time they are on? 

Tonight's example: Die Hard.

It's a fairly bloody movie, and in real life blood makes me quite queasy.
And while it does pass the Bechdel test, and has one strong female character, it's a very male-centric movie.

It does have a lot of good lines, that whole overcoming odds thing, and who doesn't like a heartwarming Christmas story?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You can make nearly anything with enough pipe cleaners

Home from the beach trip.
So very tired.
But a pipeceleaner chalice makes me pretty darned happy. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Opportunities For Bonding

Night two of the beach trip with the church youth group, and it was time for their worship service on the beach.

For the first time in years, we're not under a burn ban, so the chance for a fire is pretty exciting. One of the families brought a big bag of dry mesquite, another provided a giant metal bowl to contain the fire. Two of us stored up our dryer lint for tinder.

And then we couldn't get the fire to start.

The books of matches were damp in the ocean humidity and the wind was blowing out what little action we could get from the lighter we found.

A rotating group of six or seven or twelve of us were making wind shelters, finding other tinder, and blowing gently on the bits we could get to flame.

At one point we had a hoodie and a towel over our heads, a pizza box wind shelter and our bodies protecting the fire pit. Everyone covered in a fine patina of sand.

Tinder tried included paper bags, pizza box, tortilla chips, coffee filters, hand sanitizer, alcohol pads, and shelf fungus.

It was nearly dark out when we started, and soon we were depending on phones and a single book light to illuminate our efforts.The worship team started thinking about an alternative focal point-you can make a fair amount of magic with glowsticks, right?

And then my partner walked over to the next beach house and asked to borrow their lighter fluid. A little squirt on one of those coffee filters, and soon enough, we had our fire.

The wood was dry indeed, and burned merrily. 

By the time the worship service was over, it was a wonderful mix of coals and flame, perfect for s'mores production.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Living in a Fish Bowl

Beach house decor is all about the fish.

Glad I don't have to sleep under any giant fish.

(Still better, though, than the deer head of my childhood...)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Expect Interruptions in Content

Ministry means many things.

This weekend it means that I'll be sharing a beach house with nineteen high school youth and a few chaperones.  Blogging may well be limited to pictures of sand and gulls on the deck. Or maybe a glowstick chalice? 

If we get too carried away in our fun, writing may be ignored completely. (Or perhaps the wi-fi is substandard.)

All will be well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Must I Practice What I Preach?

Well, heck.

Sunday I preached that we are calling to love the hell out of the world. This week just seems to be kicking us all in the butt with more hell.

Hope seems a limited resources as we weep at the loss of Robin Williams.
Justice seems so very far away with the unbelievable police action in Ferguson, Missouri.

I will admit that a pretty big part of me would like to hide under all of my blankets, curl up in a ball, stick my fingers in my ears, and sing LA LA LA until I fall asleep.

I'm pretty sure I'm not called to do that, but it sure is a seductive image.

What can each of us do to increase hope in the world? Justice?
What can we do together?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Busier I Am...

the more obsessed I get with study questions outside my area of expertise.

*The role of distraction in pain management. 

*Generational changes in parental/household responsibilities, especially those with assumed gender differences

*What the Dukes of Hazzard guys have been up to that they're willing to do Auto Trader.Com commercials

In this day of Google, it is far too easy for me to decide to investigate these questions, and either I get lost in vocabulary and methodology, or whoops, three hours have passed.

Thankfully, I've alredy gotten distracted by Mickey Rourke's hair on The Tonight Show.

Monday, August 11, 2014

There Are Worse Ways To Spend A Day

I've got a bit of a cold, so my day off had little in the way of adventure or transformation.

My tissues stayed close by as I watched movies. (OK, sometimes I dozed while the movies were on, and sometimes I read...)

What I recall:

*Kung Fu Panda 2
*Red Dawn 
*The last scene of This Is The End, because YES.
*Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (just for a bit)
*Keeping the Faith (Such a cast!)
*Baby Boom
*50 First Dates

Thus far my eyes have not actually melted out of my skull.

And I'd figure out some way to connect all these movies to some vast theological idea, but I'm in a weakened state and should probably get some rest.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Called to Love (Sermon, 8/10/14)

Preached at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Houston, TX.
We started with a pitching practice story for all ages, and an adaptation of Malba Tahan's tale of Mussa and Nagib, or Written on Stone, Written in Sand. The meditation used Kay Ryan's poem Waste, from Say Uncle: Poems.

In our meditation, poet Kay Ryan said that her poems start with an aggravation, and like an oyster, she works through it.

Perhaps the same applies to sermons.

In 2009, quarterback Michael Vick, following his jail time for financing and running a dog-fighting ring, was reinstated in the National Football League.  I was OFFENDED.  I thought he should have to suffer at least as much as those dogs he’d had killed and mistreated. I ranted and raved and stomped my feet.

But somehow I listened a little longer—to the players and coaches saying that everyone needs a second chance.

Don’t you just hate it when football makes you question your motives and your theology? As a Unitarian Universalist, I agree that we all need a second chance… and a third one.. and a fourth one. But I also have a strong pull toward justice, and sometimes I want to call the shots myself.

And then I realized that I needed to stop and think about the times when *I* have refused someone a second chance. When I have not lived up to my own ideals, and when I have missed the mark.

For those of you who know your ancient Greek, missing the mark is the literal translation of the word "hamartia"—this is one of the words the Bible uses for what we call sin.

I’m a sinner.  And guess what – you’re a sinner, too.  We all miss the mark, nearly every day. The only way to avoid it is to stop living.  Sin is like gravity and evolution – you can go ahead and say you don’t believe in it, yet it still exists.

But with the concept of sin come the ideas of forgiveness, making amends, and redemption.  Folks, this is fertile ground – stuff we NEED to embrace in order to live a full life.

And YES, this does relate to Unitarian Universalism.  Our Unitarian forefathers believed that we are created in God’s image – not perfect by any means, but not depraved wretches either.

Our Universalist ancestors held that God loves us unconditionally and NO ONE is damned.  No matter how many times you have missed the mark. 

They rejected the understanding of sin as “Offending God” – God is that (literally superhuman) parent who has such patience and such deep love that there is no offense.

My friends, it is HARD to love unconditionally.  We are wired to react strongly to possible harm and to uphold the norms of our culture—these are our knee-jerk reactions.

But as mature members of society, looking to create a better world… well, getting offended and deciding that WE, personally, can damn anyone who doesn’t meet our high ethical standards?  That’s not going to build beloved community, unless it’s one tiny, grumpy, unforgiving tribe.

As Unitarian Universalists, we claim to honor the inherent worth and dignity of ALL people—to treat people kindly and with respect.  And yes, when there’s an earthquake in Haiti, we rush in to help, to fight for justice – the whole nine yards.  Victims are easy.  But what about the so-called bad guys? 

Viscerally, we want these guys to PAY.  Not just money, but an eye for an eye – VERY Old Testament, isn’t it?  Sure, this could be seen as justice by some, but respect?  Dignity?  No.
And where is that possibility for redemption?

Perhaps this will be easier to consider if we start with our friends and family. And yes, of course we’ll use props.

Who out there still has one of the yarn balls I threw out during the story for all ages?  Bob could you stand?  And three or four people on each side of the aisle around him? We’re going to spend a couple of minutes on an experiment.  Bob is going to hold on to the piece of string with one hand, and throw the ball of string to one of y’all.  Then you will hold that piece tight while throwing the ball to another person.  Got it?  Keep going until I tell you to stop.

What do we do when someone we know sins?  Sometimes, a friend does something pretty bad. Even if we aren’t the ones hurt, we can be so angry and bewildered –what do we do?  Do we always practice unconditional love? 

OK, y’all can stop throwing the yarn around.

Now we’ve got this matrix of string here.  This represents our interconnections—perhaps our family structure or a circle of friends. 

A pretty common occurrence when someone messes up is for people around them to put their hands up and say, “Whoa. I can’t be a part of that.” In doing so, they drop that piece of string (Bob – could you drop yours?).  And so did some others.  (Sara, can you drop yours?)  The whole network can get…messy. Quickly. 

The disconnection here? That is a HELL we create. We deliberately stop being in relationship with someone. It diminishes not just that person’s humanity, but our own.

<Thank those who helped with the string and ask the person who held the ball originally to collect the tangled mess.>

So, our sermon title today is Called to Love.

I know that LOVE is one of those giant words of much misunderstanding, but I’ve already brought up sin and hell and damning today, so let’s just continue with the controversy.

We are not talking about Valentine cards and roses and smooches kind of LOVE today, but this idea of connection.  Sometimes it’s how we stay at the table when someone wrongs us, and sometimes it’s in how we recover after we screw up.

A teacher accidentally hurt a child’s feelings. She sat down with him and worked to figure out how they could better communicate.  Afterwards, she reflected, “This is love in action: a constant shifting of what you knew to what you know, a practice of asking for and extending forgiveness, and a commitment to showing up for each other, even when situations get intense. “ (1)

That’s a pretty good definition of love for me.

Some time ago I read an article in the New York Times (2) that claimed we need to treat our spouses (I’ll extend it to our friends) more like we treat our pets. 

That is, do you greet them happily at the door? 
Do you concentrate more on what you love about them than their faults and how much maintenance they require? 
Or do you have unreasonable expectations, continuing to punish them for something that happened days or years ago? 
To relate back to our second story--Do you write a friend’s failings in the sand and carve their graces in stone?

Things can get even more complicated when people around us are in conflict. Where will we stand?

Well, what if love meant that you did not have to choose sides? That you could continue to love someone even when their actions disappoint you or someone else?

Now I am going to put in the big flashing condition here—no one is telling you to put yourself in harm’s way, or to keep yourself in harm’s way.  And you need to make that judgment call.

If it’s something that is not unsafe BUT makes you deeply uncomfortable, you may be at one of those tipping points of life—what would it mean for you to stay in relationship even when it’s hard?

These relationships and strains and conflicts? They don’t just stay at home and in our personal friendships—they also happen at church.

We like to think that people bring their best selves to church and that we would never damn each other in a religious community.  And yet we make assumptions, we hold grudges, and we duck to avoid messy issues.  Heck – this is supposed to be a sanctuary – a place to refill our lamps.  It should be easy and happy -- Please, don’t make us deal with something TOUGH!

In the call to worship this morning, there was a promise—“You do not have to do anything to earn the love contained within these walls.” (3)

And our theological tradition is anything but wimpy – Unitarian Universalist minister Marilyn Sewell reminds us of Dr. Norbert Capek, the minister who gave us the Unitarian tradition of the Flower Ceremony. 

In 1923 he said ‘Let us renew our resolution sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges… In this holy resolution may we be strengthened knowing that we are God’s family; that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us.’  He tried his best to love as God loves, and he was so deeply imbued with this value that he was willing to die for it “ (at the hands of the Nazis). (4)

My favorite quote, from Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams-- “Church is a place where we get to practice what it means to be human.” 

Love is a practice, like pitching or singing or anything else we might undertake. There are a multitude of skills within the larger action—bits that are perfectible, with bad habits that can be improved or discarded.

What do YOU need to keep practicing?  Setting aside judgment in favor of support and forgiveness? Or getting away from despair and fear with some courage and confidence?  Do you, like so many of us, struggle with failure, with feeling not worthy?

And the world does not stop at our church door—how will we take our beliefs into the streets?  What are our personal and communal responsibilities?

Unitarian Universalist minister and theologian Rebecca Parker (5) offers a historical survey of our responsibilities in this world in terms of our religious purposes and eschatology—our ideas of what happens in the end, as in, after we die.

Common in many religions is the idea of the Social Gospel—we are the hands and feet of God. If you’re an atheist, feel free to translate that as “We are the hands and feet for Good.”

Add to this the Universalist idea of all people being saved—yes, hell had been rejected, but there was debate on that whole saving process. Were souls held for a thousand years of purification or did they get to go straight to heaven?

On the fringe was the idea of Radically Realized Eschatology— heaven is here and now, and we need to reveal it.

I know—the news right now is a mess of wars and fear and warehoused children, of Ebola and climate change and constant political bickering. It seems a whole lot closer to hell than to heaven.

The minister Joanna Fontaine Crawford puts our call another
 way—Love the hell out of the world.

My friend Amanda, without planning to, did this ministry on her way across town last month. She shares,

What I *wanted* to do was yell at the guy who was slapping his little girls on the bus & speaking to them so horribly.

But then I took a breath & I asked if he needed help.

He said yes...he let me take the tiny sleeping baby so he could hold onto the other two. I gently suggested he just stop. And breathe.

He did.

We all got off the bus. I asked if he felt like he could stop yelling at & slapping the kids, & he said, "Shit. Yeah. I'm turning into my mom."

It would have been far easier for Amanda to add to that man’s hell. I’m sure all of us can consider ways she could have made his day much harder. But somehow she was able to give him that little bit of breath, to help him find his way.

How might YOU love the hell out of the world?

I have a feeling that each of us might come up with something different. And that’s just fine, because heaven knows, there is plenty of work to be done here.

Already, as a church, we do so many things to love the hell out of the world—feeding the stranger through Meals on Wheels, providing those critical second chances through the Houston Drug Court. As we grow as a church and as people of faith, how else will we choose to build the Beloved Community in the world?

And how will each of us take our love into our families, to our friends, and to all those we encounter in the world?

Some days we will each miss the mark. We are not perfect.

And yes, some days we will not feel up to this challenge.

But we are not damned and our perfection is not expected.  We do the best we can, and we strive to be a community where, as Robert Eller-Isaacs says, “We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.” (6)

Together we build the world we dream about, as we love the hell out of it.

Please rise in body and/or spirit for our closing hymn, #131 in the gray hymnal, Love Will Guide Us.

4:  Marilyn Sewell, “The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person” in With Purpose and Principle: Essays about the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism
6:  #367 Singing the Living Tradition

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Tomorrow morning I'm in the pulpit, and for the first time I'm recycling a sermon.

I don't mean that I'm repeating the same sermon--I've done that before, mostly when I was doing sermon supply. 

No, I'm taking a sermon I wrote four years ago, for a very different congregation, and I'm updating it in some very specific ways. 

When I agreed to an August sermon date, I assumed it would be a pretty quick rewrite.  You know, just make the references more current, and adjust things to match the liturgical style.

But then I considered the personality differences. The congregants' and my own--I'm not the same person I was four years ago. (Thank goodness.)

Not that I sew, but it feels sort of like taking apart an outfit I haven't worn in years, and adjusting it to fit my grown body and new styles.*

After staring at a screen for far too long, I admitted I was stuck, printed the previous version plus my pages of new ideas, and played jigsaw to put it together again.

Cutting out the parts that no longer fit? That hurt. Quite honestly, I excised A LOT. Yes, excising. That's what it felt like. The final product is probably a little short, but it's the summer--no one will mind getting out of the worship service before noon.

It's too soon to say if the recycling is a success, heck, there might still be a 5 AM gutting and rewrite, or an on-chancel ad lib.

But right now I've saved the document and am heading out for the evening. All will be well.

*I'm really hoping this isn't a Pretty in Pink moment, because that dress was HIDEOUS. Chances are I'll post the sermon in the early part of the week. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Allure of Lloyd Dobler

Say Anything (1989) came out while I was in high school. Half of my friends had it on VHS and we would watch it at every sleepover*.

We all would drool and sigh for Lloyd Dobler, possibly the most decent and vulnerable male character any of us had ever encountered. He just...cared so much! He was willing to follow his girlfriend across the ocean in a loving show of support. 

Lloyd was counter-cultural in any number of ways--a seeming lack of ambition, a reluctance to buy in to the capitalist dream. He was a sweet rebel, though. A contrast to Christian Slater characters of the time - the homicidal anti-hero of 1988's Heathers and the radio pirate of 1990's Pump Up the Volume.

At the start of the film, Lloyd is asked how he convinced the gorgeous valedictorian to come to a party. He says he just called and asked. His questioner smiles, "This is great. This gives me hope. Thanks."

Lloyd Dobler gave us hope as well. That we would be loved, supported, and have partners who really wanted to talk with us and share feelings along with the hormones. 

*Also in the rotation?  Top Gun, The Princess Bride, and in one departure from the norm, Fatal Attraction.  Yikes!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Seriously, y'all...

Friedman's Fables begins with four illusions in need of shattering, among them "that seriousness is deeper than playfulness."

Growing up, we quickly get the playfulness shoved out of us. Life is deadly serious, we're told. 

And yes, there is plenty horrible in the world. 

And there is always work to do, but dilligence need not be humorless. 

Heck, with a little whimsy and creativity, our productivity can surge, and we can break through to new understandings.

Some days I take myself far too seriously, and the items on my to-do list seem like a precarious stack of heavy rough stones. I accomplish things with a certain relief, but little joy.

When I enter in a spirit of play, everything feels lighter and so much more
For better or for worse, I do not have this
basket of llama heads in my office.Yet.
possible. I take things a little less personally, and with something of a "try, try, try again" attitude. If I fail, it's an amusing pratfall, where I dust myself off, take a bow, and carry on.

Getting to playful is not entirely natural or even comfortable for me. In my more cynical moments I roll my eyes at the mere idea of an attitude adjustment, considering it an unwelcome detour from nose to the grindstone. 

What does help me make the shift?

  • Goofy playlists
  • Amusing articles and webcomics
  • Joking with my coworkers.
  • Little whimsical objects in my office-my timer is a little blue penguin, my magnets are geometric shapes in bright colors.
  • When I head to a meeting, I have pens in a variety of pretty colors and I get to change the ink color every few lines.
  • A quick walking break, especially to take a picture of something amusing
What helps you to lighten your mood and your load?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hourly Math

Back when unions were fighting for the forty-hour work week, Welsh reformer Robert Owen used the math of "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest"--this was a really big deal!

It was a welcome change from the 10 or 12 or 16 hour days many worked, and created real leisure time for the industrial society.

Very few of us work twelve or sixteen hour days as a matter of course, though for many of us there might be twelve (or even sixteen) hours when we're checking work email or considering some ponderous wrinkle we couldn't quite leave at the office.

Add in the commute and 'recreation' seems a much diminished chunk of time.

And while it certainly would be lovely to spend eight hours a day playing, we might have a hard time considering errands and chores and arguing with our kids (and arguing with our kids about chores) as recreation. 

When was the last time you did something recreational?
And are you getting your eight hours of sleep?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recalculating Your Route

Given as the Story for All Ages at Emerson UU Church, Houston, Aug. 3, 2014

I was on a road trip last week, and the planning process goes so easily these days--instead of flipping through maps and watching the weather report and listening to the radio for interstate construction reports... I can use my phone to pull up all the information and within a few minutes, I set my route.

What a wonderful tool! I made it through Wisconsin and Illinois and Missouri with ease, and told my sons that we'd stop for lunch as soon as we got to the divided highway in Arkansas.

Only we weren't getting to the divided highway. Instead there were these tiny little towns, one after another. I asked my navigator how this could be possible and he was adamant that we were following precisely the route on the phone.

And then I started seeing signs directing me to the road I knew we were supposed to be on.

But no, that's not what the phone indicated. So I kept driving.

As it turned out, we'd been going parallel to the highway, just out of sight. It added about an hour to our journey.

WHY didn't I just pull over and look at the screen, maybe reference the paper map also in my car? Because I trusted the program and because I was stubbornly holding to the path I was on, assuming that somehow or another, it would all work out.

I had no way of knowing that at some point in a hundred twists and turns and construction areas, the GPS decided we had left the planned route--and so it recalculated a new one.

We saw new sights on this journey, with markers for our history of rock and roll, the Civil War, and the Trail of Tears. We got plenty of experience identifying not just fields of corn and soybeans, and corn and soybeans, and soybeans and corn, but also sorghum and rice. 

But really, we just wanted some LUNCH, and to get closer to our stopping point for the day.

This adventure was over in a matter of hours, but sometimes our journeys and detours can last years... and then there's the overall journey of our lives. The route we choose, or that others choose for us? Sometimes it needs to change. And sometimes we just need to pull over and take a good hard look at the map, to figure out where we will go next. 

And we must always keep our eyes and our minds wide open-or as my mother would warn us, if the nice lady on your phone told you to drive straight into a lake, would you?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Slothful...

I spent much of the day today reading The Golem and The Jinni, getting lost in 1899-1900 New York City.

Most of the decisions in the day involved where I should read--bed, couch, and even on an idyllic blanket in the shade.  Because it was only ninety-four degrees this afternoon.

I'm storing up some sweet ahhh moments as I head into the wacky start-up time of the church year. (Perhaps there will be fewer stressed ahhh moments to come?)

And now I'll get back to the hundred pages left to read.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I'm watching Iron Man 3--I won't spoil it for a the six of you who are still planning to see it, but at its core is an investigation of fear.

How can others manipulate us, pulling us from our logic to our base terror?

Do we fear the things that actually hurt us?
How can we overcome fear, or at least keep it from paralyzing us?

And what hope is there for those of us without a fancy metal suit?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Neglected Garden

Oh, I have not been in the garden for a long time--spending my time on other things (and in other states...) -there are actually saplings growing up through my rose bushes. It's really something, and the heavy prune can't happen until winter.

And since I haven't been deadheading the roses, there aren't many blooms. At the same time, however,the flat of a spent bloom seems to make an excellent landing pad for a dragonfly. So I can keep my usual battle cry of "We are creating a healthy ecosystem!"

Perhaps I'll refer to the yard as a dragonfly refuge. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Slowly, slowly

Yum, dried apple rings.

My parents put these up last fall. My father spent hours at the apple slicer, cutting countless spirals of fruit. My mother sat nearby, carefully arranging the slices on sheets for the dehydrator or the oven. There the fruit sat at low-heat for twelve to twenty hours for the proper drying, then the trays were set out to cool off before portioning these treats into jars.

My son and I are having a hard time not racing through the whole jar.

See, a quart jar might hold the equivalent of ten or twelve fresh apples, reduced to tart chewy treats.

It's an abundance of deliciousness. And a lot of fiber.

Pacing ourselves is not necessarily a valued trait in this culture--it is far more common to rush and grab and devour and move on to the next thing.  But we can stand to learn a little restraint.