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Stage 1: Breaking the News.

2 Jan

This is the third part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeAfter a lengthy planning process with my Director of Religious Exploration and Music Director, my first step was to send a message to the Board President suggesting we meet after worship on a Sunday in July when I wasn’t set to preach. We had several things we needed to catch up on, and my plan was to tell her as a part of that.

It was very hard to be present to the other business we had to discuss. My hands were shaking. My heart was pounding. I was sick to my stomach. But I managed to muddle through the other agenda items. And then I shared with her: “I also have other news for you. I have taken a new position. My last day at the congregation will be October 23.”

She exhaled and looked at me. I let the news sit out there in the silence for a few moments. Then I said “I know you probably have a lot of questions, and I am happy to answer them. But before I do, please know that this does not come out of any conflict.”

She was sad, but to her credit, not surprised. She had seen the evidence and had begun to put the puzzle together for herself. We talked. We cried. We laughed. I shared with her the documents I had prepared:

We came up with a plan:

  • Monday (the next day) I would meet with the staff who reported to me who didn’t already know
  • The Board President would call an emergency Board Meeting for Tuesday
  • Letters to the congregation would go out on Wednesday
  • Wednesday through Friday I would meet with a few key leaders in the congregation
  • And one week later, Sunday, I would deliver a homily at a service that our Music Director (who knew what was coming) was leading.

Not surprisingly, the reactions spanned the gamut. Some people were shocked. Others were not at all surprised – some were almost fatalistic about it. Some people were angry. Some were just sad. Some were confused.

One thing that was particularly interesting to me is that people didn’t stay where I thought they would: someone might start out not very surprised, and then quickly move to angry. Someone else might start out sad, and then move to confused.

On Tuesday, the Board swiftly moved into problem-solving mode: What was next for the congregation? I was glad that the ministry team and I had come up with one possibility to use as a starting point for the discussion.  Though I was not in on the planning in future meetings, I did walk with the Board in this first meeting by talking about the transition process and what might be next for them.

I was very surprised by one mistaken calculation I had made. I had thought that the newer people in the congregation would be the ones who were most upset: I was the only minister many of them had ever had. I thought that the longer term members, who had been through this before, would be less anxious.  In fact, the reverse was true. Newer members on the Board (and within the larger congregation) who had not been through this process were the most hopeful. Members who had been through this process once, or twice, or even more, were very, very nervous. Would they be able to find a good interim? Would they be able to find a settled minister? After living through a negotiated resignation and a failed search prior to calling me, they did not want to go through that pain and struggle again. One of the stories that I would repeat over and over again in the coming weeks was that we had done excellent ministry together and so they were a more desirable congregation than they had been a decade earlier. I hope that these assurances turn out to be true.

For me, and I am sure for most of the leadership, this was an exhausting week. Calling leaders out of the blue to set up coffee dates with them alerted them that something was up.  They were all so full of love and hope for me. I was surprised that our conversations often triggered old feelings around disappointing my parents. And at the same time, the conversations confirmed what I knew to be true: it was time for me to leave, not just for me but for the congregation. My gifts and their needs no longer matched up.

By the time the next Sunday rolled around, most people were aware of what was happening. In my homily, I talked about the mutuality of the relationship – how we had been an excellent match for seven years, and how much I loved them. While there were tears (I tend to cry in the pulpit pretty frequently) there were not as many as I was afraid there would be.

After having had the sword of Damocles dangling for a while, I thought that this stage of breaking the news would be the most difficult and that things would get easier from there. While I was indeed relieved, in many ways this stage was just the beginning of a lengthy and emotional process.

**I thought being available to do memorial services until such time as the congregation had an interim minister would be okay for me and for the congregation. This was a mistake, as I realized when I was called to lead a service and found it was not in my own best interest to return in that capacity, nor was it in the best interest of the congregation. If I were to do any one thing differently about my leaving process, I would take that FAQ question out entirely.

go to Stage 2: Drama

Stage 0: Discernment.

1 Jan

This is the second part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeAs many colleagues have told me, most ministers leave either a year too early or a year too late. I have no idea where I fall, but I aimed for a year too early.

Just over a year ago, my family hit a crisis that took much of my emotional energy. The congregation I served held me in care and love and gave me the time and space I needed to attend to the crisis.

When something like this had happened before, I had returned to the congregation with renewed commitment and appreciation, ready to serve. But this time it felt different. I realized I wasn’t happy, but I attributed my discontent to being drained from the family crisis – I thought I just needed time to heal. I wanted to want to stay.

After the winter holidays last year, I thought I had internally recommitted to the congregation. I led a worship service where the congregation and I recited the promises we had made to each other during my installation. I shared that I looked forward to 7 more years together and wondered aloud what they might bring.

At the same time, I was finding the day-to-day of ministry no longer as satisfying as it had been. Even though leading worship is one of my favorite privileges of this vocation, it became more and more difficult to write sermons each week. I enrolled in graduate school, hoping it would engage me in new ways. I traveled more than previously because I had said “yes” to many commitments outside the congregation. In hindsight, I realize I was looking for reasons to get away from the congregation – reasons not to preach, not to engage.

There was no major conflict – no single event that precipitated my decision. To this day, I dearly love the people and institution of the congregation I served. But parish ministry was no longer working for me. I looked at what the congregation and I needed to work on in the coming years and found myself lacking enthusiasm. I began to realize that I was ready for a new challenge and the congregation needed a different type of leader to take it into the coming years. It was time for me to move on.

I decided to look around, not really expecting any positions would be open since the timing was wrong. But then I found something that I realized I was excited about, that would combine the degree program I was enthusiastically beginning, the ministry I was doing, and service to our larger faith tradition. I pursued it, went through the application process.

I was terribly excited when I was offered and accepted the position. But I was on summer vacation! How was that going to work?

While I did not feel I could share my process (at that point) with the lay leaders of the congregation, I did share what I was doing with my ministry team (Director of Religious Exploration and Music Director). We had always worked as a team, and I felt they needed to know. It is telling, perhaps, that those who worked closest to me, who I shared my ministry with and relied upon, were not surprised at this news. They had seen the telltale signs even better than I had. And so together, we began to brainstorm what the congregation would need to know/hear as well as what some of the possibilities were for the congregation since I would be leaving off the regular ministry cycle.

I spent my “vacation” working on a plan for who to tell, how, when, and what. For a few weeks, I felt the sword of Damocles hanging not over my head, but over the heads of the beloveds in the congregation I served. I knew this would take most of them by surprise.

When it was time to pull the trigger on my plan, I thought I was ready. And logistically and rationally, perhaps, I was. But I was not emotionally prepared, even with all the reading I had done.

go to Stage 1: Breaking News

Leaving a Congregation.

1 Jan

goodbyeAs the ministerial search season kicks off for Unitarian Universalist ministers, I thought I would share my recent experience of leaving the congregation I served for seven years. Leaving is difficult, and I am proud of how the congregation and I navigated the process together.

A little background. The congregation I served had gone through a negotiated resignation after four years with their previous settled minister. Then had a “failed search” – so three years of interim ministry. Prior to that, their previous two ministers had both had tenures of more than 10 years.

It was with this history in mind that I determined that my final ministry to the congregation would be for me to leave well. I have often heard that ministers tend to leave either a year too late, or a year too soon – I wanted to hit it just right. Towards these ends, I read the required texts: Running Through the Thistles and Mark Morrison Reed’s Berry Street Lecture After Running Through the Thistles the Hard Part Begins. I talked to the Transitions office of the UUA, and to my regional staff.

My story is different than most in that I did not take a position with another congregation. Also, I did not move out of town and my family continues to attend the congregation I used to serve (something that the congregation has a history with so is not quite as strange as it may sound). But while there are aspects to my leaving process that may be unique, there was much I learned from talking to colleagues who had recently left congregations that they served. This blog series is an attempt to formally share my experience. It contains both personal reflections, as well as some logistics on how I did things.

I have found it helpful to utilize the structure provided by Jane Jordan-Meier, in her book The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management, outlined below, with an added “Stage 0” for the discernment process and an epilogue. Each link below will take you to a separate blog containing reflections and resources.

All that said, this is my experience and yours will undoubtedly be different. But sometimes it is nice to have a place to start. I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to take any/all of this material and edit it to suit your needs.

Stage 0: Discernment
A minister leaving a congregation precipitates a crisis for the congregation. But before I even announced that I was leaving, I had to decide that it was time.

Stage 1: Breaking News
This stage details how I shared the news of my departure with the congregation and their initial reaction.

Stage 2: Drama
After breaking the news, the focus quickly moved from the initial shock to wondering how this could have happened.

Stage 3: Blaming
I was determined to avoid finger-pointing (either my own, or from the congregation.) Jordan-Meier suggests it is best to skip this stage if possible, but I think that intentionally managing it was more effective in my case.

Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution
As the congregants and I came to terms with my departure, we were able to move into a new way of being together – one characterized by a lot of joyful tears, hugs, and celebrating what we had achieved together.

Epilogue: Having Left
I thought the leaving process was done on my last Sunday, but I was wrong.

If you are leaving a congregation you have served, I hope you find my experience moderately useful. Leaving a congregation is hard work. It is emotionally draining, whether you are leaving on good terms or not. Take care of yourself, approach the task with intention, and know that you are not alone.

resisting twitter trolls.

29 Nov

I’ve been thinking about Trump, and his tweets, his weak spots, the phrase “when they go low, we go high” and what it means to resist. It is a mixed jumble.

Here is what I know:

a) Trump is a narcissist. And the best way to piss off a narcissist in real life (irl) is to ignore him. By this standard, when we pay attention to tweets, we are feeding him and giving him more power.

b) On twitter (not necessarily irl), ignoring Trump means that the only people he will hear are those who worship and praise him. Which will feed him and give him strength.

c) If someone says he is going to burn a school down, we don’t want to ignore him just because he is a narcissist. We need to watch him, and watch the school, to make sure he doesn’t make good on his threat.) We know Trump is a master manipulator and that he is using his tweets to distract us from other, more important issues. Perhaps it is his business dealings, or his cabinet choices – whatever it is, there is a new one every day.

d) Tweets are a window into Trump’s frame of mind. He can easily be drawn into a tweet-war. This may be his achilles heel.

Based on all of the above, I am wondering if we would be more effective if we followed the 6 Ways to Fight Trolls Instead of Starving Them.  That said, I am not yet ready to sacrifice “We go high” so my plan (and suggestion) is to ignore tactic #1 (mock mercilessly) and focus instead on adopting tactics 2-6:

Troll-Fighting Tactic #2: Cite Real-Life Sources

Troll-Fighting Tactic #3: Retain Some Humility

Troll-Fighting Tactic #4: Give ‘em the Snark

Troll-Fighting Tactic #5: Be Creative

Troll-Fighting Tactic #6: Feed the Trolls Until They Explode

I invite you to do so as well.

What might this look like?

When Trump tweets something ridiculous or offensive, I will try to respond utilizing the above tactics of being creative and snarky. And I will always include a link to something I think that he is trying to distract us from. I will probably respond a whole bunch of times, with different links in each tweet response.  I did this earlier today (minus the creativity) in response to his flag-burning tweet. This is what it ended up looking like:

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-24-pm

 

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-36-pm

 

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-46-pm

 

Even if Trump doesn’t see them, perhaps others will.

Maybe, maybe, if we utilize the above tactics to poke him to the point that he fights back, it might eventually cause Trump to implode to such a degree that even Republican leadership can no longer deny his unsuitability to lead this country.

Maybe.

One can hope.

And in the meantime, we can take comfort in annoying the hell out of him as we go high, creatively and with a side of snark.

Resisting the Complacency of Privilege

22 Nov

I want to talk about privilege and how it can give us a false sense of security. In order to do so, I need to locate myself: I am a person with a high level of privilege. I am a white, cis-gender woman. I grew up in a white-collar family where going to college was the expectation. I was entitled, and my parents paid for it. I was assured that I would be a success. In a family with 2 siblings and 2 cousins there are 2 doctors and a lawyer. All five of us have at least a graduate degree. I was told, and shown, that my gender shouldn’t be an impediment to achievement. I have been married to a man for over 20 years so present as heterosexual. We have two children.

The only debt we have is our mortgage. We paid for seminary out of pocket and so don’t have that debt. Our children go to a private school and I am putting myself through another graduate degree. We are saving for retirement. That all said, we have made plenty of tough decisions: our two cars are both more than 10 years old and our house needs quite a lot of work. But we live in a well-to-do neighborhood, and money is not an issue we worry about daily. And, if worst came to worst, we have the safety nets of parents.

When I walk into a room in a professional situation, I expect people to listen to me. That expectation is expressed in how I carry myself, how I meet people’s eyes, and how I shake their hands. My expectation of respect, and how it is sometimes perceived by others, was made clear to me by a CPE supervisor who asked if I was a “blue-blood” – I honestly had no idea what he was talking about.

So you see, I have loads of privilege. I don’t say this to brag. And, frankly, it feels vulnerable to share all this with you. But you need to know where I am coming from because right now, I want to speak to my peers: other people who find themselves in a similar boat.

keep-calm-and-check-your-privilegeLet me describe this boat. This is the boat of “Well, the country may be entering scary times, but I will be fine.” We are not usually people of color, and maybe everyone in your family is white, like mine. We are mostly heterosexual. We are educated. We have professional jobs in fields that require specialization.

You know who you are.

To you, I confess: I am tempted, every day, to put my head into a hole in the sand and just ride out the next few years. Because, for the most part, I could. It feels like my life is not going to be directly impacted by most of these changes: no one in my family is getting deported, no one my family is being denied their right to vote, no one my family is being profiled by police, no one’s marriage is at risk. And if we end up with a pregnant teenager, we have the means to travel somewhere where abortion is legal.

I know the seduction of privilege. I have to fight it every day. It tells me that I “got” mine and that I should just hunker down to protect it.

So why don’t I?

Because I learned, intellectually and in my heart of hearts, that it is true that no one is free while others are oppressed.

I remember pieces of this shift. One occurred when my spouse and I were attending the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, VA. It was the height of the 90s tech boom. We were in our mid-twenties, no kids, and had bought a house. Property values in our county were on the rise, though, and I complained about it at church one time. “We don’t have kids!” I moaned. “Why should we have to pay property taxes to support schools?”

An older man in the congregation responded with love and patience. It didn’t come with judgement for if it had I never would have listened. He talked about how having good schools benefits an entire community. He listed ways – a list much larger than the scope of this blog posting – that child-free individuals benefit from supporting schools. My mind was changed.

My heart was changed by a woman at church. She was the primary guardian of her grandchildren, and was usually on welfare. I remember the bind she found herself in: the system required her to get a job after a few months of benefits. But that job wouldn’t pay childcare, and her benefits would stop once she was employed. And so she would work a few weeks, then get fired or quit because the (inexpensive) unreliable childcare arrangement wasn’t working out and without someone to watch her grandkids, she couldn’t go to work. If something happened to her car, she had to decide between groceries and repairs – and if she was working but her job wasn’t on the bus line and she couldn’t get there, she would lose the job. In addition to the on-again-off-again job situation, her food stamps wouldn’t pay for necessities like diapers. At one point, she was so desperate for money, she considered selling drugs. I could not sit in my tower of privilege and judge her because I knew she was doing the very, very best she could.

I saw this woman struggle every day to get by. She was my friend, and from her I learned about the cycle of poverty and how impossible it is to get out of it. I learned that the system that so benefited me was slowly killing her. Literally. She had health problems from all the stress – but whenever she sought treatment, she got further into debt because, of course, she had no insurance. Which made her more stressed…

Do you see this cycle?

My heart shifted.

I realized that I was not inherently deserving of the privilege I had. I learned that it was absolutely not fair that my friend had not only been born into poverty, but also could not fight her way out of it.

And like the older member who talked to me about how communities as a whole benefit when they have good schools, I learned from my friend that I, personally, benefit, when people do not have to fight tooth and nail for every scrap we toss them. My friend wanted to work. She wanted to be a productive member of society. She wanted to contribute, to be of use.  And she also wanted her grand-babies to grow up in a safe, loving home, and for them to not go hungry. She was smart, and a hard worker – someone I would hire any day. The workforce was losing out by not having her in it.

connectedSo my mind and my heart have been changed. I understand now that my privilege requires that I be a good ally in the fight for equity and justice. Because I know that men are harmed by sexism, that white people are harmed by racism, and that heterosexual people are harmed by homophobia.

So that story we tell ourselves that we won’t be effected? It is a myth made up to keep people artificially divided, to make it easier to target vulnerable communities. To keep us from using our privilege for good.

So please, oh privileged peers of mine: Resist the desire to hide your head in the sand. Resist the complacency of privilege. They need us in this fight. And we need them.

Resisting.

21 Nov

Thoughts and ideas have been stewing about in my mind for 2 weeks now. This is how I grieve – I get angry and I think a lot. And rant a lot. My family is a bit tired of it, I suspect. Though I am on twitter all the time, and I am posting more publicly on facebook, the reality is that neither of these formats are ideal for concepts that require much depth. And so I am inspired to start a new blog tag: Resisting. You can follow these themed blogs by clicking on the tag over there → (don’t worry, it will get bigger as I post more).

Why a special category for Resisting?

Well, as you may be aware, due to a messed-up system that makes the vote of someone in Wyoming worth 3x that of someone in California, we have elected a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic compulsive liar to our highest office. Someone who has no political experience. Someone who is already trying to parlay his election into a business win for himself. Who is a threat to our freedom of speech. Who is appointing men to his cabinet who are more famous for their hate than for their leadership experience.

Don’t kid yourself – this is not “just like when <insert candidate you didn’t like> was elected.” This is not about partisan politics. Not even close – I don’t know about you but I would gladly take Mitt Romney right now even though I have some major disagreements with him. No, this is much bigger. As a friend of mine told me on the phone, the “Great American Experiment” is collapsing. Democracy itself is at stake. The ideals of one person-one vote, government by the people & for the people, self-determination, freedom and justice are in the crosshairs. Fascism is in sight.

You still don’t believe me? Look at Trump’s reaction to Pence’s Hamilton visit or his reaction to SNL’s recent skit – he doesn’t like freedom of speech when it means he gets criticized. He threatened months ago to remove libel laws so he could sue the press when they print something he doesn’t like.

Or how about this: Though he has not released his tax statements, we know that Trump owes millions to Deutsche Bank. This same bank is being fined for $14 billion by the Department of Justice for mis-selling bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. As President, Trump will appoint the Attorney General, who heads the Department of Justice. Trump will be the AG’s boss, which means he can tell the AG to drop the case against Deutsche Bank, maybe in exchange for, say, Deutsche Bank forgiving all that Trump owes them.

When has there ever been a President with this obvious, enormous conflict of interest? But don’t put money on Trump somehow recusing himself – the “blind trust” he put his business affairs into is anything but blind and is being run by his kids. The same kids he is trying to get security clearances for so that they can be his political advisors, not just run his businesses.

If he feels he stands to gain, nothing will stop him. Trade Agreements, International Treaties, Civil Rights. Human Rights. Do not kid yourself: everything we believe and love about this country is at stake.

Beloveds, we have a lot of work to do. We must resist.

But this is not a weekend project. Or something we do between now and the inauguration. No, this will be a long road. Two years, at least, some say. Or four. I suspect it will be much, much longer. Studies have shown that the effects of Nazi propaganda lasted more than 50 years on those who were exposed to it. This will be a long, long road. And the longer it lasts, the longer the recovery.

So we must have endurance. We must be resilient and find ways for resistance to become our new normal. Something we engage in on a daily basis. We can’t go around panicking all the time, even though I know it comes upon me regularly in waves these days. We must build resistance into our routines and find communities that will sustain us and support us. This is the only way to move forward, to fight our own panic and to struggle against the threat of fascism.

One example I have for you is a friend of mine who spends every Monday lunchtime on the phone with her legislators, state and local. It is a part of her routine.

One of the things I will be doing is trying to blog more regularly. I won’t promise to post an idea for something you can do each day, or a list of organizations you should give time or money to – others have already done that and I highly suggest you look them up if you haven’t already.

What I want to do is let you in on my processing. What am I doing? What am I thinking? What am I struggling with? Because I am doing a whole lot of all of those right now. I hope you are too and I hope you join me.

Vive la résistance!

And in the spirit of freedom of speech, and because someone told me I was too serious the other day, and because I would gladly welcome Canadian overlords right now, I leave you with this.

a new and different spiritual practice.

4 Mar

Tomorrow, I have a memorial service for a dear man who, upon leaving the sanctuary each Sunday, would put his hand on my shoulder and tell me how amazing I am and how he was my biggest fan. On Sunday, I get to teach a course on Witnessing Whiteness, do a sermon on Forgiveness, and then lead a Worship Associates Training workshop. So I have a lot to do right now. But with the news about last night’s Republican debates, the fear I have that our next president will be a hate-filled celebrity probably more interested in winning this popularity contest than in actually being president, and the prevailing disgust/pity/confusion for the portion of the population who finds this man suitable to be president, I thought I would write about something else. Something fun. And maybe even uplifting for some: Romance Novels.

For many years, the vast majority of the books I read were dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels. I loved them. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a kid. The earliest novel I remember purchasing after I read it was Alas, Babylon. I think I was maybe 9. I still have my dog-eared copy. I am drawn to this genre because I have always felt, I think, that human civilization is a fragile, beautiful thing that needs nurturing in order to flourish. Maybe this is also why I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. Dystopian novels show the multitude of ways things can go wrong – they are the ultimate cautionary tale.

Then this autumn hit. And it was a doozy. One of my children was hospitalized and I feared for her future. Some plans that were important to me fell through. I experienced one loss after another, to the point that I felt myself flirting with depression in a way that I haven’t for a decade.

Reading has always been my drug of choice, my escape. But I couldn’t read dystopian novels. I couldn’t read science fiction, either. Young adult lit didn’t appeal. And there was no possibility of me focusing and getting more than a paragraph into something nonfiction or work-related.

So I picked up a book in a genre I had never read before. A genre that, frankly, I had felt I was above: Romance.

And I loved it. So I picked up another. And another, and another. And suddenly, my main escape was once again available to me. I was devouring romance novels.

A few weeks ago, my spiritual director asked about my spiritual practice. I wasn’t coloring, meditating or doing much else, I observed, feeling guilty because I know that this is exactly the time when a spiritual practice is so important. She then asked me how I was taking care of myself. I told her I was making sure I got enough sleep, trying to exercise regularly. And, after hemming and hawing, I told her I was really getting into these romance novels.

As a good spiritual director will do, she asked me to reflect on that with her. What was it about romance novels? And was it all romance novels?

So I reflected. At one level, romance novels offer the promise of a happy ending. This is the main difference between a romance novel and a love story: the romance novel resolves at the end with a happily-ever-after. This is in stark contrast to dystopian novels, where there is no guarantee that the heroes (of any gender) will be able to survive, much less rescue the world. I needed a guaranteed happy ending.

And it definitely wasn’t all sub-genres. In fact, I pretty quickly found one subset of the genre that I return to again and again: romantic thrillers. I am drawn to novels where the world threatened to turn into a dystopia, but where the heroes (of all genders) rescue not just the world, but in the process rescue one another. In the end, love wins. Every time. Guaranteed.

Now, I know love doesn’t usually win on its own in real life. I know that only when many of us put our hands onto the moral arc of the universe will it eventually bend toward justice. But in my grief, I needed to be reminded of how things might look, how love can save us – collectively and individually. And romance novels provided just that.

I was shocked when my spiritual director, after reflecting on this with me, observed that reading romance novels fed my spirit, and that therefore it was my spiritual practice. I was embarrassed for a moment, but quickly realized that was kinda ridiculous. Shouldn’t we celebrate all the non-harmful ways someone copes with grief? The truth is, these books have kept my spirit afloat through a very difficult time.

I am feeling better now, slowing getting back to what feels like my usual self. I picked up a non-romance novel that a friend promises is funny with a happy ending, just for something different. I laugh at how I used to feel myself above romance novels, and at how embarrassed I was when I started reading them. And I don’t see giving them up any time soon (if ever), especially in this political season. We all find hope wherever we can – I happen to find it in real, and fictional, heroes who save each other, and the world, with love.

an ultimate optimism.

19 Aug

As I was walking with a friend, he started talking about how he didn’t understand optimists at all. “How can optimists get out of bed when, day after day, they can see how things are falling apart around us? How can they see their good ideas and hopes fail again and again and not succumb to despair?”

He was surprised when I shared that I am an optimist. “You seem too realistic and pragmatic to be an optimist!” Thanks, I guess.

But I continued: My optimism isn’t focused on the short-term but on the long term. As a whole, I feel like I am improving as a person, that my family is improving as a unit, that my community is becoming more compassionate and that humanity is becoming smarter, stronger, more resilient, more authentic, more loving, more just, and so-on. Slowly, perhaps, but we are on our way to something better.

And, I said, as we are on our way to something better, we will fail – that is a given. But that doesn’t mean that the entire endeavor is a failure. Indeed, often times the best stuff comes out of what, at first, appears to be a failure.

I am inspired by the wisdom tale (either Zen or Taoist, I am not sure which) of the farmer. In this story, a farmer’s horse runs away, which seems like bad luck. Maybe, the farmer says. But then the horse returns and brings back another horse (or two) with it, which seems like good luck. Maybe, the farmer says. But then the wild horse injures the farmer’s son (bad luck, maybe) which causes him to miss the draft (good luck, maybe)…you get the picture.

Theologian James Luther Adams once wrote that “liberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.”  My optimism is grounded in my liberal faith.  It is not dependent on everything working out the way I think it should in the present moment. Instead, it tells me that we cannot know in the short term whether something is good luck or bad luck, but in the long run things will, somehow, eventually, work out for the good.

As Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker wrote in 1853:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

If one’s optimism is dependent on things working out in the short term, despair can (and does) easily set in. However, if one has an attitude of a more ultimate optimism, one need only look at the larger picture for affirmation.

Was it good luck that I developed this ultimate optimism?  Was it bad luck?  Maybe. It’s hard to say. But I’ll take it.

a week to fill one’s spirit.

25 Jul

Where can Unitarian Universalists of all ages go on a nature hike in the morning, do a chocolate tasting in the afternoon, attend worship which contains both an inspiring message and amazing music in the evening, and then go kick up your heels in what feels like a loving night-club environment? And then either mix it up or do it all again the next day? The answer is SUUSI, the Southern UU Summer Institute, held this year on the campus of Virginia Tech.

I have to say, I am sold. This was my first UU summer institute (or summer camp), and I loved it.  In fact, the whole family is sold – and getting an extrovert (me), an introvert (spouse), and 2 kids (14 and 11) to agree on anything is pretty much a miracle.

SUUSI Drop-in Choir at Wednesday Evening Worship

SUUSI Drop-in Choir at Wednesday Evening Worship

Never having been to anything like this before, I was invited to provide worship one time during the week. My family and I took that as an opportunity to check it out and see if all the great things we had heard about SUUSI are true (they are!). So we loaded up the car and hit the road. Actually, one of us hit the road heading east from home, two of us hit the road heading west from a visit with Grandma and Grandpa, and I hit the airport to fly there after a pretty intense and wonderful week as the chaplain at MidWest Leadership School. We really had to work to get there – and it was totally worth it.

In truth, I wasn’t much for the workshops and adventures – my spouse and I signed up for a morning workshop, and it was wonderful. But other than that, I was mostly about rest. Long summer walks, meals that I didn’t have to prepare (or even think about!), and checking in with the kids a few times a day to see how they were doing – the teenager was in the teen dorm and tasted independence in a new way, and the tween was with the “middlers” who had fun, scheduled activities for much of the day. Activities, mind you, that I did not have to plan!

Multigenerational Community Time at SUUSI

Multigenerational Community Time at SUUSI

Early in the week, the evenings saw us playing board and card games with old and new friends, but after a few nights in, we decided to check out the very robust night-life.  My spouse and I went to a concert from a fabulous musician and then kicked off our shoes (literally!) at not one, but TWO different dance halls. I haven’t danced like that since my twenties!

The next night I wept during the Transitions worship service as I watched teens make the leap (literally) into the waiting arms of a young adult ready to welcome them into their new status as a YA, and then more music, and more dancing.

When we arrived on Sunday, people told us that this one week filled their spirits for the year. Frankly, I was skeptical. But not anymore. Now I am a believer. SUUSI’s mission, which they incarnate beautifully, is:

to provide a one week experience evoking the best within us, in concert with Unitarian Universalist principles. SUUSI offers the opportunity to share an intergenerational environment of love, personal freedom, ethics, and joy in an intentional, nonjudgmental community.

The dates for next year’s SUUSI have been announced, and a new location found. It will be even closer to home than VA Tech. But people come from all over, so don’t let the location be a deterrent. I’ve already put it on our family calendar. If this sounds appealing to you, I suggest you do as well.  I hope to see you there!

bragging, just a bit.

27 Jan

The congregation I serve is so cool. Here are some short videos they made about what they did, and how they did things, while I was on sabbatical. It almost makes me wish I had stuck around! I am so glad to be back with them now.

First Unitarian On The Loose
This video is about a group of adventurous people on an amazing journey exploring new ways of doing the same things while I was on sabbatical.

To Speak The Truth In Love
This video describes the way they worshiped together while I was gone.

Sharing Our Time, Talent And Treasure
And this video describes some of the ways they shared their time, talent and treasures.

Aren’t they amazing?

 

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