Saturday, June 30, 2007


Drove down to Seattle yesterday afternoon to meet PeaceBang and take her to dinner at one of my favorite Seattle restaurants overlooking the Ballard Locks. Unfortunately, it’s been 22 years since I last lived in Seattle, and that restaurant no longer exists (or, more accurately, it is now open only for catered “events”) instead we ate at another of my favorite Seattle restaurants overlooking Fisherman’s Terminal, and then went shopping at Archie McPhee’s for new household gods and a Jolly Roger to fly at the masthead of the eight foot El Toro I learned to sail on when I was a kid on Camano Island, and which my eldest nephew has just refurbished, repainted, and will hopefully claim as his own.

Leaving me free to buy a NEW boat, of course....

Not that a native Seattlite of Scandinavian descent really needs an excuse to acquire another boat. I once read somewhere that there are more boats per capita in Seattle than anywhere else in the world...or maybe it was just the United States...but that was a long time ago, and who knows if it was really true anyway. Although it is true that there are only three seasons in Seattle: the Rainy Season (which is also sometimes known as Ski Season), the Boating Season, and Indian Summer. Or perhaps Basketball, Baseball, and Football seasons, if your tastes run more to watching rather than doing (which is relatively rare in Seattle). The Sonics, the Mariners (formerly known as the Pilots, and before that the Rainiers in the old Pacific Coast League), and of course the Washington Huskies...who must now share a season (although thankfully no longer a stadium) with the Seattle Seahawks.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Arrived here in Seattle on Monday (which would have been my mother’s 73rd birthday), and met up with my aunt and my Seattle brother and his family at Safeco Field to watch the Mariners demolish the Red Sox 9-4. This was the first baseball game my aunt had been to since July 27, 1969, when as a 12-year-old I persuaded her to take me to Sick’s Seattle Stadium to see the Pilots play the Red Sox in what turned out to be a 20 inning marathon which the Sox finally won 5-3. I’d asked my aunt to take me to a double-header, but she said that was too much baseball for her and witnessing one of the longest games in Major League history was apparently both divine retribution and a near-lifetime supply of our national pastime for her. But devotion to her sister took her out to the ballpark one more time, and this time at least there was a more favorable outcome, that is for Seattle fans.

Spent Monday night at my aunt’s home on Capital Hill, and then Tuesday caught the ferry to Vashon Island to visit a friend of mine from the PhD program at the University of Oregon, and to meet her husband and daughter. That night the Mariners beat the Red Sox 8-7 in a back-and-forth slugfest in which the local team drew last blood...or so I read, since I didn’t hear or see any of it. But I did enjoy a fantastic meal, a fantastic view, and a fantastic conversation with a Medieval Historian turned full-time mom and her soon-to-be-retired husband. Can’t really say that I’m jealous of their idyllic island lifestyle, since it couldn’t happen to a nicer family. But I sure do envy them a bit...

Spent Wednesday morning exploring Vashon a little more, then caught the ferry back to West Seattle and listened on the radio as the Mariners got out the brooms and swept the BosSox in a 2-1 extra inning victory, with Ichiro scoring the winning run on a misplayed ball by Manny at the left field wall. So the spirit of my mother was clearly in full force, and the Red Sox slunk back home to Fenway with their tails between their legs. Of course, if anyone (other than Jason Varitek) actually WORE their Red Sox out where people could see them, maybe there would have been a different outcome.

In any event, arrived at the cabin on Camano Island late Wednesday afternoon, and have enjoyed a couple of days here just doing laundry, walking on the beach, and allowing Parker to run free off her leash. My Seattle brother and his family will arrive later today; New York brother and his family are scheduled to arrive late Sunday night. We’ll all spend the Fourth of July here together as we have for so many summers when our mother was still living; her Memorial Service will be at 2 pm Friday July 6th at the Stanwood Senior Center. If you’re in the neighborhood and knew my mom, please drop by. We’d love to see you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stumptown Sojourn part two

OK, now that I’ve described all the things I DIDN’T do at General Assembly, let me tell you some of the things I DID.

• I did manage to refrain from buying anything at the UUA bookstore, and to stay away from Powells. Ordinarily book shopping is a highlight of my GA experience, but as someone who will be returning to Massachusetts in a few weeks with the challenge of packing up everything that I own and moving it to Maine, more books are the LAST thing I need right now.

• I did spend an afternoon staffing the UU Historical Society booth in the Exhibition Hall, and also attended both UUHS workshops: one by Cindy Tucker about her new book on the Eliot women (which, I’m embarrassed to say, came at kind of an awkward time in the afternoon, and put me right to sleep), and the other by Barbara Coeyman about “Creating Congregational Histories” which was full of good ideas about preserving, interpreting, understanding and honoring our history, and actually helped wake me up. I’m relatively new to the UUHS board, and now that I’m moving down east I’m not sure how effectively I’m going to be able to perform my new duties as treasurer of this venerable organization. But I believe in its mission, and would kinda like to see UUHS become as revitalized as the UU Christian Fellowship became while I was serving on that Board.

• I also attended a handful of other very stimulating workshops: one on UU blogging featuring a panel of my favorite bloggers, one by Peter Henrickson about Church Personnel Management, an extremely thought provoking session by Linda Laskowski of the UU church in Berkeley CA about using Deming-style Process improvement techniques to understand and improve our Newcomers Hospitality and Membership Growth practices, and finally a workshop led by UUA Stewardship Director Wayne Clark about his new book, Beyond Fundraising. These last two workshops in particular generated over a dozen pages of insights, observations and reflections in my diary, and are certainly worthy of entire postings in their own right. But not today.

• I attended the First Unitarian Church of Portland Oregon’s “Breatkthough Congregation” workshop, and also their Sunday morning church service, where I heard Marilyn Sewell preach about climate change. The breakthrough congregation presentation was interesting to me because I was, of course, an arm’s length witness to that entire course of events, so I was very impressed by how accurately and succinctly Associate Minister Tom Disrud (who started his career as a journalist) was able to summarize how an unlikely combination of circumstances came together in a timely manner to create a significant growth window for that congregation, and then the struggles they had afterwards to adjust to those new dynamics, and create the thriving congregation I worshipped with Sunday.

Also enjoyed running into a few of MY old parishioners from Hillsboro who are now attending First Church, and touring the new Buchan Building which has just been completed and is awaiting a few finishing touches over the summer. Melissa Buchan had been the head of the Lay Pastoral Care team the year I worked as the summer minister at First Church, and truly both a fine person and a lovely soul. The new building is a terrific tribute to both her influence and her generous involvement with that congregation in both life and death.

I also had dinner with my former wife to celebrate what would have been our 22nd wedding anniversary, and I even let her pay. After all, she’s the trial lawyer with the (I assume, since it’s been awhile since we’ve filed a joint tax return) six-figure income and the beautiful Craftsman Bungalow just one block from our daughter’s home in Southeast Portland. And to tell the truth, I couldn’t be more proud of her success. She’s certainly worked plenty hard to achieve it.

I do regret not being able to meet up with many of my other Portland friends who were not in church on Sunday or attending the General Assembly. I’m especially disappointed that I wasn’t able to see my former Oregon State University professor Marcus Borg (who lives in Portland, and was leading a seminar at Trinity Episcopal Church with John Dominic Crosson later that same week), or the former president of the start-up Wy’East congregation near Reed College, where we started a campus ministry program that has now helped turn out four UU ministers...including one of the adult advisors! But let’s just face facts. I can’t do everything. And what I did do at GA this year was actually just enough.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stumptown Sojourn

Don't ask me what I thought of the Opening Banner Parade. Didn't see it. Can't tell you about the Service of the Living Tradition, or the Open Space Technology, or even the Blogger's dinner either... didn't go. GA for me has been about hanging out with family, meeting up with old friends, and helping out with the Historical Society booth in the Exhibtion Hall. I lived for 14 years here in Portland OR, and served (or consulted with) eight different congregations...not including the supply preaching gigs. Did my internship and CPE here in the PNWD too. My first day here I couldn't walk ten feet without running into someone I knew. Sure makes socializing easy for an introvert.

Of course, now that even the hard-core extroverts are starting to hunker down, things are a lot calmer. And I've met my daughter's best friend from High School's toddler and seen their new home, eaten dinner at what my daughter's boyfriend's best friend tells me is the best BBQ place in Portland, and had a long conversation about the future of the Trailblazers (and who they are going to choose with their first round pick in the NBA draft) with a very knowledgable young man I met on the #4 bus heading downtown. Meeting some new UUs too -- including one of my new parishioners from Portland Maine. So no matter how old and familiar GA may seem, there always seem to be a few surprises too.

Early in my career, I used to attend General Assembly every year. I was married at the GA in Atlanta in 1985, received Final Fellowship at the Service of the Living Tradition at the GA in Palm Springs in 1988, and in 1990 drove home here to Portland from the GA in Milwaukee with two teenaged kids and only a Texaco gas card for provisions, after my wife lost her wallet in the airport and cancelled all of our joint credit cards. A legendary road trip which we still talk about today.

Nowadays I don't attend nearly so often. Before this GA, the last one I attended was in Boston four years ago. Was also in Quebec City the year before that, and even attended ministry days in Cleveland the year before that as well, simply to receive my interim ministry training. Split town before the start of the regular Assembly though. And before that? Well, it must have been Spokane. What year did we assemble in Spokane?....

It's nice to be back here in the Pacific Northwest -- the weather has been gorgeous, and I'm amazed by how much the city has changed in just the six years since I last lived here. And I even attended a few useful workshops...which maybe (if I'm inspired) I'll blog about later. But now it's time to get out of the house and back to the Convention Center. GA '07 in PDX is starting to wind down. And I want to be there to enjoy every last minute.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Body Image

"Everything I like is either illegal, immoral, or fattening" -- W C Fields

And you don't have to look too long at me to know which way my appetites run. But today I'm wondering about the implicit corollaries: does this mean that skinny people are either criminals, perverts, or just incredibly dull? According to the BMI (Body Mass Index) calculator, I either need to lose 65 lbs or grow a foot taller in order to be considered "normal" -- and even though I'd be perfectly willing to compromise by splitting the difference, I'm afraid I'm pretty much stuck being the height I am (or perhaps even a little shorter) for the rest of my natural life.

The thing is, I don't really see myself as heavy...that is, not unless I inadvertantly catch a glimpse of myself from the side while walking past a picture window. As a kid growing up, and all throughout my twenties, I was not just thin...I was scrawny -- a walking, talking scarecrow of a man whose legs were much longer than his waist was around. No doubt smoking two packs of cigarettes and drinking a dozen cups of coffee a day was a big part of maintaining my boyish figure, but eventually I cleaned up my act, got married, and started eating regular, home-cooked well as attending lots of church potlucks and coffee hours, wedding receptions, lunch and breakfast meetings, or simply eating food passed to me through the window of my car while driving from one appointment to another. Like a lot of Americans, my lifestyle was good for about 5 pounds a year...which over the years added up to quite a bit around the middle. I came by my weight honestly, in the service of the Lord.

I think the thing that bothers me most is the stereotype that "fat" people are in some way lazy, undisciplined, and psychologically incapable of controling their own appetites. I hate what these stereotypes do to the self-esteem of young women in particular, and the relentless manner in which our society simultaneously entices us to stuff our mouths with all sorts of sickeningly sweet processed food products as though we were feed-lot cattle being fattened for the slaughter, while at the same time bombarding us with images of toned, tanned, well-developed models and the message that we are somehow morally flawed if we fail to measure up to those same standards of appearance. And, of course, there are plenty of products we can buy to help us in THAT task as well.

Of course, as a religious leader, I'm also concerned about the smug sense of sanctimonious spiritual superiority and contempt slender people sometimes exhibit toward the more rotund. Culturally, slim seems to mean disciplined, restrained, self-controlled, while heftier souls are seen as self-indulgent, slothful gluttons. But honestly now, who would you rather YOUR children play with...the happy, smiling (and enlightened) bald guy, or that long-haired emaciated fellow executed between two theives? It's just a simple question. I'm not trying to inspire a crusade or anything.

Anyway, the truth of the matter is that what you eat and the kind of lifestyle you live are much more important to your health and well-being than how much you actually weigh. According to what I've been reading (Mark Hyman, Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss), "starvation" diets and other rapid weight loss schemes tend to be a lot more dangerous than too much weight itself. When you trick your body into thinking that it’s starving, your metabolism actually slows way down, in order to try to keep you alive for as long as possible through hard times. Likewise, as you do lose weight, you tend lose both fat and muscle, while at the same time your body starts to crave all of those horrible high-calorie, high-fat foods it thinks it needs to get you going again in a hurry. So when you do finally give in to your appetite (and you WILL eventually give’s like trying not to breathe), the tendency is to binge, and to gain back rapidly whatever weight you've lost. But the weight comes back almost entirely in the form of fat cells, which burn far fewer calories to sustain themselves than the muscle cells that you've lost, leaving you in even worse shape than before....


1. Get regular exercise -- every day. Both strength training to build muscle, and interval training (which involves high exertion followed by periods of rest), in order to increase your metabolic "baseline."

2. Reduce the stress in your life. Practice regular meditation. Learn Tai Chi. Get eight hours of sleep at night, and develop a more reasonable daily schedule.

3. Drink plenty of water. And while you're at it, take a daily multivitamin. Experiment if you like with other nutritional supplements, like vitamin C or Omega 3 fish oils. Make certain your body has all the essential nutrients it needs to metabolize your food efficiently.

4. Eat early and often. Graze, don’t Gorge. Always start the day with a healthy breakfast (fruit, yogurt, granola or oatmeal, a boiled egg). Then try to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, stopping a few hours before bedtime. But there is a caveat. You can’t just “graze” on whatever high-calorie, processed snack food happens to be within reach. You also need to focus on consuming wholesome, healthy foods:

• lots of colorful fruits and vegetables.
• lots of fiber: whole grains and plants.
• natural Omega 3 fatty acids: wild salmon and free-range eggs.
• lean, quality protein: beans, nuts, fish, organic free-range meat.
• foods with a low glycemic index and slow glycemic loads.
• anti-inflammatory foods (in moderation, of course): chocolate, almonds, red wine.
• detoxifying foods: antioxidants like broccoli and green tea.

And above all, read the labels of processed foods... go for ZERO Transfats! ZERO High Fructose Corn Syrup! And just say no to all that Cake and Candy, the Cookies and Chips. Learn to take pleasure in what you eat, rather than seeing it as either a source of self-indulgence or a source of guilt. And now a few more bullet points to endeth the lesson:

• Vary your workouts: swim, cycle, golf, play basketball!
• Try to walk whenever and wherever you can. And always take the stairs.
• Eat Intentionally: Buy Locally and Organic.
• Eat Spiritually: Semi-vegetarian and low on the food chain.
• Eat Slowly. Savor the food. Savor the experience.
• Stay away from fast food restaurants. NEVER eat in your car.
• And while you're at it, get rid of your TV.
• Buy new clothes you love and which fit you well.
• Read cookbooks without guilt. Learn to love good, healthy, wholesome, homemade food.

In any event, I'm sure inspired by all of this, and I hope that you are too. But I'm certainly not going to crucify myself if I don't see dramatic results right away. I really wrote this all for myself, and am sharing it simply because...well, because I can. And because I hope that maybe someone else will be helped by what I'm learning....

* this post was written in honor and memory of my mother, Betty Jo Jensen, June 25, 1934 - June 3, 2007, who lost 70 lbs in the last year and a half of her life (after being diagnosed with diabetes), only to be killed in a matter of weeks by a very aggressive metastatic breast cancer.