Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Right to Bare Feet

I still haven't gotten around to writing my annual Holiday Letter, which seems a little redundant given the amount of blogging I've done this year. Still, it is a tradition I would hate to interrupt, and perhaps just that small and gentle e-mail with a link to the text of the actual letter itself -- will be sufficient. I sure have enjoyed the cards, letters and e-mails I've received from so many of you. One of my favorites actually contained the suggestion that in light of the recent events of December 14th in Bagdad, we need a new Constitutional Amendment protecting the right to Bare Feet.

And I actually thought Bush showed pretty good composure about all this. He recognizes now that he is the lamest of Ducks, and that he needs to take all this shoe-throwing in stride. And in some ways it's reassuring that he can still be the butt of a joke, and NOT take it too more reason for me NOT to want to turn him over to the World Court following Obama's Inauguration. I don't feel nearly so charitable toward Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Roberto Gonzales. And good luck to Condi in what I imagine will be a four-year cat-fight with Sarah Palin for the heart and soul of what is left of the Republican Party.

And while I'm thinking about it, now that the shoe is on the other foot, let's also hope that the Democrats can keep it together for a change, rather than tearing their party apart bickering over the best seats in the big tent. Already the kerfuffle over Rick Warren offering the Invocation seems silly and ridiculous. I know there's a lot of Gay and Lesbian supporters of Obama who are outraged that such an outspoken proponent of Proposition 8 should be given such a prominent place at the swearing in of the next President. What I don't think they really appreciate though is the very high likelihood that Warren will eventually come around on this issue, just as so many of the rest of us have, once we became more familiar with it ourselves.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Excellence in Ministry

Former pulpit of the 2nd Church in Boston, once used by Henry Ware Jr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Now located at the First Parish in Billerica Massachusetts.

Over at iMinister and PeaceBang, my dear friends Christine and Vickie are hosting a conversation about Excellence in Ministry. It's a topic I have no little interest in myself, and so even though I can't really spare the time, I thought I'd toss in at least two cents worth now.

1. I'm one of those anachronisms who enrolled in seminary (Harvard Divinity) immediately after graduating from college, and who had completed my degree, seen the MFC and been ordained by the congregation where I did my field education (the 1st & 2nd Church in Boston) all before my 25th birthday. Of course, no one in their right mind was going to trust a newly-minted 24-year-old preacher with a pulpit of his own, so I ended up spending ANOTHER two years in graduate school studying creative writing and working as a Residence Hall Director, before being offered a year-long position as an intern assistant minister at my "home" church (University Unitarian Church in Seattle), and eventually receiving a call to a pulpit of my own (Midland, Texas) the week I turned 28.

2. Since that time, I have (for the most part) enjoyed a somewhat eclectic up-and-down career which has included work as an extension minister/new congregation organizer, half-a-dozen part-time consulting ministries, some time away from ministry managing a bookstore (while my now-ex-wife attended Law School), an earned PhD of my own (in American History) along with an interdisciplinary Masters Degree (my third, if you're counting) in American Studies, plus work as a graduate teaching fellow (and on occasion a visiting adjunct professor) in the fields of English/Creative Writing, Philosophy, Religious Studies (I was Marcus Borg's personal teaching assistant) and, of course, History. In addition I spent a semester abroad in Denmark as a visiting doctoral student at Aalborg University's "School for Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Research in Interculturality and Transnationalism" (SPIRIT), and since completing my dissertation in 2001 have served a two-year interim ministry on Nantucket Island, a four-year settled ministry in Carlisle Massachusetts, and am now in my second year of a settled ministry at the First Parish in Portland Maine. So I come to this topic with no shortage of either credentials or experience, as well as a perspective that is no doubt quite different from that of someone about my age (or even a decade or two younger) who is currently working in a secular vocation, but still dreaming about becoming a minister when they grow up.

3. So having said all that, let me enter the conversation. People seem to want to argue that there is more than one path into the ministry, and that these paths need to be honored and respected more than they are. With that I can agree. But then they also seem to want to assert that "all ministries are equal," and I'm not so sure that I can agree with that. All these credentials are not just about some additional letters behind my name; they represent real work, real learning, and real achievement which were specifically focused on improving my competence and qualifications for the ministry itself. It's not that I want to discount the achievements of those who are working in other fields, and in effect bringing their "transferable skills" with them. I would suggest, however, that sometimes these "imports" do more harm than good, in that they tend to displace a long and subtle history of ecclesiastical tradition with the "values of the marketplace" in ways that are often inappropriate and damaging to the health of the institution.

4. There also seems to be a lot of complaining about attitudes of ministerial "privilege," and the sense of entitlement that comes from having successfully leapt through all the "hoops." And with this I agree entirely - I think it is one of the most potentially damaging challenges our profession faces, and the sooner we can cure ourselves of it the better. Ministry is indeed a "privilege" -- it's an honor indivduals bestow upon us one at a time by trusting us enough to let us be "their minister;" it is a kind of authority which can take a lifetime to accumulate, and can be squandered in an instant. So notwithstanding all of the letters behind my own name, I am a profound believer in the principle that "All Ministry is Local," and that the credentials themselves are essentially meaningless, and valuable only to the extent that earning them has in some way helped me to become a better minister in the process.

5. Speaking of hoops (the burning, not the basketball kind) and the jumping through thereof, I certainly have a lot of empathy for those who still have that process in front of them, rather than well behind them (as I do). But let's face it, some sort of advance credentialling or process of "approbation" is essential to ANY profession, and perhaps especially essential to one like ours, which unlike either of the other two "learned" professions (law and medicine) typically brings the practitioner into their full responsibilities right on day one, in an environment where they typically work alone without much opportunity for supervision, external accountability, or daily mentoring by a more experienced, senior colleague. Even our internship process is awkward, since it tends to train ministers in large, multi-staff situations only to prepare them poorly for the kinds of expectations they will experience in the small "family" or "pastoral" sized churches where they are most likely to be called. A good portion of the second chapter of my doctoral dissertation is devoted to the history of the Approbation process in our movement, beginning in Puritan times and continuing into the 19th century. Interestingly enough, we still examine our candidates according to the same basic criteria as the Puritans: Competence, Character, and Commitment to the Faith. I don't think these are bad criteria at all. The big questions are how do we define "Competence" and what do we mean by "Commitment?" Character is always going to be a judgement call. Better the MFC though than leaving it up to self-selection, or even the judgement of local search committees (amateurs for whom it is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience).

6. Another big complaint: the cost of seminary and the amount of debt it often places on newly-minted ministers entering a profession notorious for its low, flat and static levels of compensation. I was lucky, I guess -- between a combination of work, scholarships, and frugal living, I was able to graduate from Harvard (in 1981) with a debt of only $7000. Since I had no college debt at that point either (hurrah for in-state tuition at an excellent public university!), and was able to get through that second MA in Creative Writing with only another $2500 in additional borrowing, I finished my first incarnation as a student with a very reasonable debt load, despite a starting salary in my first settlement of only $30k (TCM. S/H was probably closer to $22k).

In my second incarnation it was a similar story - the teaching fellowships, a few grants (including one from the UU Scholars program), and my work as a part-time consulting minister essentially paid my tuition and kept me debt free, even though my spouse's income as a trial lawyer was perfectly sufficient to support our entire family. So while I feel I understand the concern that midlife career changers might feel about the cost of seminary (and it's corresponding debt load) in comparison to the level of earnings one can anticipate upon completion of the degree, I'm not especially sympathetic either. No one has a "right" to become a UU minister simply because they are "feeling the call," and likewise the decision to pursue a theological education does not necessarily entitle someone to have that education paid for by someone else. I think some combination of competitive, merit-based scholarships together with a systematic process to help ministers who agree to serve small, struggling congregations with denominational assistance in repaying their student loans is still the best strategy.

But this understanding also needs to be linked with a much more intentional method for ministerial development other than mere self-discernment, as well as the more fundamental understanding that NO ONE SHOULD UNDERTAKE ADVANCED THEOLOGICAL STUDY WITHOUT BEING WILLING TO DO SO FOR THE SAKE OF KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT ALONE, AND WITH THE FULL UNDERSTANDING THAT IT MAY NEVER LEAD TO AN ACTUAL "PAYING" JOB IN THE MINISTRY! As for the question of whether or not a seminary education is really essential to being an effective Parish Minister, I would have to say both yes and no. On one hand, there is certainly plenty of "ministry" that can happen in a parish that anyone with a good heart, a sincere commitment, and a certain level of on-the-job training can do perfectly competently. But "doing" ministry and "being" a minister are two very different things. I'm happy to "share" the work of ministry as broadly as possible; in fact, it's an important part of what every minister should do to equip and prepare their people for wider service. But before I'm willing to let someone call themselves my "colleague," and to claim for themselves all of the so-called "rights and privileges" attendant to that status, I want to KNOW that they have gone through a thorough and rigorous program of advanced academic study, and are intellectually prepared to understand and represent the finer points of our theological and ecclesiastical traditions. Perhaps more to the point, I want to know that they were willing to make the same kinds of personal and financial sacrifices that I was willing to make, and that their commitment to the ministry is about something more profound than merely a title and a paycheck.

7. Finally (yes, least for now) there was an interesting point raised by someone about "suspicion" of Excellence in Ministry, and whether or not our congregations are really well prepared to cope with a truly excellent and (by association) ambitious minister. I have several thoughts about this. First, it does often seem to me that many of our congregations (especially small, "stuck" ones) are operating under the informal syllogism that "Knowledge is Power," and "Power Corrupts;" therefore We must Disempower the Knowledgeable in order to Prevent them from Corrupting our Democratic Process. Top-down leadership often doesn't fly in our movement; instead it results in a rapid nose-dive followed by a dramatic crash-and-burn. This is a VERY hard lesson to learn: that churches tend to move "at the speed of church," and that Patience, Persistence, Tenacity and Commitment to a Larger Vision are often far more important to success than mere brilliance and hard work alone. For clergy, the church is not only a livelihood, it is also a lifestyle; we are (or should be) committed to our vocation 24/7/365, and even when we are disciplined about taking a regular day off, we don't stop "being" a minister even for a moment. Yet for most lay people, a 3-5 hour/week commitment to their faith community is extraordinary, while 3-5 hours/month is probably far closer to the norm. Achieving excellence (and with it, "success") has somewhat different rules in this kind of work environment. The ability to work with people, to leverage their efforts rather than wasting their time, to organize the tasks into manageable "bites" and to battle frustration and discouragement with encouraging words and visible a word, to build and coach a team rather than trying to do it all by oneself.... this is the real key to Excellence in Ministry in the 21st century, so far as I can see it. How well does this match up with what other folks are seeing in their situations?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is it a Phoenix or an "Obama?"

I've never met Robin E*****, the so-called self-titled (not to mention self-appointed) "Emerson Avenger," and frankly I hope never to have the pleasure. I know him by reputation, of course, as I suspect so many other bloggers do here in the UU blogosphere, but since I generally find his posts kind of abrasive and unpleasant, mostly I just try to ignore him in the hope that our paths through cyberspace will cross as little as possible.

Yet lately for some reason he has chosen to take a shine to me again, this time even going so far as accusing me of plagiarism because he apparently ALSO saw the image of the Demographic Map of the United States of America plotting the outcome of the last election in shades of Blue and Red based on the percentage of the popular vote, and "normalized" geographically for population density I wrote about in a previous post, and it also reminded him of a Phoenix.

But before we go too far together down THAT road Brother E******, let me offer you a basic tutorial in communications law for working writers.

Plagiarism is essentially defined as "the purloining of literary work." [Gotta LOVE THAT definition! -- it pretty much just says it all...] Simply having a similar idea based on a similar response to a shared source of inspiration is in no way, shape or form ANYTHING resembling actual plagiarism; it is simply a demonstration that not only do great minds think alike, but sometimes even great minds and not-so-great minds can have similar thoughts...the difference being that a Truly Great Mind recognizes that there is simply "something in the air," while the not-so-great mind foolishly (and some might say narcissistically) mistakes the obvious for their own unique and original thought.

But to bring this back to the topic at hand, writers cannot copyright "ideas" -- they may only copyright a unique and original expression of an idea -- in other words, actual and specific language and phrasing which embody and express a unique perspective of a shared (or private) inspiration, which in turn could then be plagiarized by someone else who saw that unique expression, "purloined" (i.e. stole or copied) it, and then attempted to pass it off (obviously without attribution) as their own work. An even more basic point is that in almost ALL cases an actual plagiarist has to have actually SEEN the original work in order to "steal" it. You can't really copy something you've never even read.

As both an academic and a clergyman I tend to take allegations of plagiarism fairly seriously, since in many ways it strikes at the core of everything I believe about integrity and creativity and their importance to the human soul. On the other hand, I also tend to take a fairly broad and "liberal" view of "fair use;" we are, after all, called upon to Proclaim the Good News, not to copyright it. Yet to palm off someone's original work as your own, when tools like the internet make it so easy these days to find and attribute almost anything, is truly shameful. But if you look back at what I've actually written, you'll notice right away that I've done nothing of the sort.

Quickly now - if you look at MY original post, you'll notice that not only do I compare this image to a Phoenix, I also compare it to the Holy Spirit (in the form of a Dove, as in Luke's Gospel), and make several other references to other aspects of our shared cultural mythology, before finally getting around to making the one statement that might indeed be potentially copyrightable, and name this bird a "Barack." Again, not a particularly obscure idea; it could have occurred to anyone. But it just so happened to occur to me -- and it is unique, and it is original, and as far as I'm concerned, folks can copy it as much as they like (although a little honest attribution is always welcome....)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Have You Done in your Life? a meme

What have you done in your life? -- A meme I found on a couple other blogs. (What I've done is in bold, with comments in the parentheses) To play, copy the following list. Bold the things you've done. Post on your own blog...

Started my own blog
Slept under the stars
Played in a band

Visited Hawaii [but I hope to before I die]
Watched a meteor shower
Given more than I can afford to charity (except obviously, I COULD afford it)
Been to Disneyland/world
Climbed a mountain (but it wasn't really MUCH of a mountain - not like Hood or Rainier, for instance)
Held a praying mantis
Sung a solo (during a "cafe night" on Nantucket. "Hey there. You with the stars in your eyes....")
Bungee jumped
Visited Paris
Watched lightning at sea (although I was still on the land)
Taught myself an art from scratch (from SCRATCH?)
Adopted a child
Had food poisoning
Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
Grown my own vegetables (and hope to again, someday)
Seen the Mona Lisa in France
Slept on an overnight train
Had a pillow fight
Taken a sick day when not ill (unless we're counting mental health)
Built a snow fort
Held a lamb
Gone skinny dipping
Run a marathon
Ridden in a gondola in Venice (could have if I'd wanted to)
Seen a total eclipse
Watched a sunrise or sunset
Hit a home run

Been on a cruise (but I'm planning to soon. Possibly as soon as this summer)
Seen Niagara Falls in person (planning to do this soon too, and also visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown)
Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
Seen an Amish community (this may happen soon too)
Taught myself a new language (although not very well. I'm still learning though)
Had enough money to be truly satisfied (satisfaction is such a subjective thing)
Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
Gone rock climbing
Seen Michelangelo's David
Sung karaoke (and now, admitted it)
Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

Visited Africa (again, maybe as part of my cruise)
Walked on a beach by moonlight
Been transported in an ambulance

Had my portrait painted (now THERE'S a great idea. Does a caricature count?)
gone deep sea fishing
Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (again, could have if I'd wanted to. I'd rather look AT it than down from it)
Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (my ex was the diver. I have used a snorkel though)
Kissed in the rain
Played in the mud
Gone to a drive-in theater

Been in a movie
Visited the Great Wall of China
Started a business (unless you think of a ministry as a "business")
Taken a martial arts class
Visited Russia
Served at a soup kitchen
Sold Girl Scout Cookies (But I've sure bought plenty in my day!)
Gone whale watching (I've seen some though)
Gotten flowers for no reason
Donated blood, platelets or plasma

Gone sky diving
Visited a Nazi concentration camp
Bounced a check
(but it wasn't my fault - the check TO ME bounced first)
Flown in a helicopter
Saved a favorite childhood toy
Visited the Lincoln Memorial
Eaten caviar
Pieced a quilt
(let's say, HELPED piece a quilt)
Stood in Times Square
Toured the Everglades
Been fired from a job
Seen the Changing of the Guard in London
Broken a bone (not even a finger. Can you believe it?)
Been on a speeding motorcycle (don't tell my mother
Seen the Grand Canyon in person
Published a book (this is actually in the process of happening now. A long, SLOW process....)
Visited the Vatican
Bought a brand new car (but now I can't drive it...)
Walked in Jerusalem
Had my picture in the newspaper
Read the entire Bible
Visited the White House (just the outside)
Killed and prepared an animal for eating (Hummmm... maybe after I've held the lamb, I can...)
Had chickenpox
Saved someone's life (they probably would have lived anyway)
Sat on a jury (no competent lawyer is ever going to let ME on a jury...)
Met someone famous
Joined a book club
Lost a loved one
Had a baby
Seen the Alamo in person
Swam in the Great Salt Lake
Been involved in a law suit
Owned a cell phone
Been stung by a bee
Ridden an elephant (but I'd like to before I die)

Chalice Chick's additions:

Read all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings
(multiple times)
Visited the Taj Mahal
Performed in a dance recital
Been on horseback while the horse jumped over something
Won an athletic competition
Gotten a straight-A report card
Prayed to Zeus
Watched news coverage, rapt, to see what was going to happen
Gotten lost in a building more than 500 years old
Kissed somebody milliseconds before bells started to ring. (well, maybe not "milliseconds")

Joel Monka’s additions:

Made love in a moving vehicle (again, if boats count)
Created something you know you'll never better (let's say, suspect I will never better)
Held a pet while they died (just this past October 4th)
Walked the Promenade Des Anglaises in Nice. (and it was...Nice)

Patrick Murfin's additions:

Graduated from college
Been in Prison (well, not as a prisoner)
Written the Great American Novel (it is neither great, nor technically a novel...but it is American. "My life's the poem I would have writ, but I could not both live and utter it.")
Ridden the rails (used to daydream about this quite a bit, but I'm way too old for it now. And times have changed....)
Seen that Alaska (despite having grown up in Seattle, the gateway to "the Last Frontier.")
Been booed and/or heckled (in church, no less)
Been elected to public office (unless Vice President of one's High School Student Government counts...)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can You Name This Creature?

It looks almost like a Phoenix, doesn't it? - rising from the ashes of something that has been burnt in its entirity (holocaust?), yet carrying with it both the vow of "never again," and the promise of a new and wiser beginning. Or perhaps it's a dove, or the spirit in the form of a dove, rising into heaven, where it might "stand again" (anastasis?) and inspire others to follow and embody it whever they are led.

[And my sincere apologies to those of you who object on theological grounds to my comparing these two terms (and these two birds); it's not intended as a profound theological statement or profession of doctrine - it is simply a random association of two etymologies with two familiar myths, or a familiar myth and a horrifying truth, or two "truths," or...]

But before we go much further, what it actually just so happens to be (and I think I have this right) is a Demographic Map of the United States of America plotting the outcome of the last election in shades of Blue and Red based on the percentage of the popular vote, and "normalized" geographically for population density.

This is the bird that bears on its back the burden of all of our dreams and hopes and expectations.

This is the Creature which we have created by Word Alone: by breathing OUR Spirit over the face of the Deep, and hoping it will be good.

It is a cultural Rorschach of the Spirit of the Age, a reflection of the Archetype of the Zeitgeist.

I dunno. Whaddya say we call it a "Barack?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

From "An Essay on Man" by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between, in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much;
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall:
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd;
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Do You Ewes Use "UUs?"

I have to admit, as ackward and tongue-twisting as "Unitarian Universalsm" may be, it is infinitely preferable to the acronym "UU." And I don't even want to think about the connotations of "UUism," much less "Unitarian Universalist TM." This whole on-going discussion about whether or not UUism is a form a liberal Christianity, a post-Christian Protestant heresy (open, of course, to inspiration from ALL the world's great religious traditions), or actually an entirely New Religion altogether seems as pointless to me as the seemingly interminable debates about whether or not certain semi-obscure celebrities from a century or two ago ever actually "signed the book." But here's my larger point....

So many of these discussions seem to boil down to anxiety about identity, legitimacy, and a desire for better "branding." And with that anxiety and that desire comes a whole history of baggage around issues of anti-creedalism and freedom of conscience, together with both a perceived need and a profound reluctance to articulate "Things Most Commonly Believed Among Us To-Day." And this reflects yet another tension at the center of our movement: our understanding that "all ministry is local," and that the proper location of the authentic religious/spiritual life is within a covenanted local congregation and community, and the ambition to develop a higher public profile, grow in numbers and influence, and become a more powerful presence on the religious landscape.

So with all that water now under the bridge (at least until the tide turns again), here's something that I've often wondered about, and in particular have been wondering about again lately. Despite the great pride we take in being "a church without a creed," we are the ONLY denomination I can think of off the top of my head that takes its name from two explicitly theological doctrines: Unitarianism = a belief that God is One (i.e. radical monotheism, and more explicitly the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity) and Universalism = a belief that All Souls shall ultimately be reconciled to their Creator (i.e. Universal Salvation: the "no Hell" church). So here's my Question: can one be a good "UU" and still find meaning in the doctrine of the Trinity (never mind Pantheism, or its opposite Atheism), or believe that SOME souls, at least, are going to Hell, and deservedly so?

Just a few random thoughts, after having just finished teaching for the God Only Knows just how many times the "UU Identity" portion of our "New UU Explorers Class."

Friday, November 07, 2008

...and the home of the brave....

Yes. "Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, we are free at last." And I'm not really certain whether we should Praise God, that Supreme, Divine Being Who gives us life and gives life meaning...or simply thank our lucky stars...but this has sure been a very special week all over the world. And despite the incredible amount of chaos that still seems to reign over much of reality, I feel as if we all at last have at least turned a corner.

Now comes the TRULY hard work -- the challenge of coming together, agreeing on our priorities, defining our objectives, goals and desired outcomes, allocating our resources to match those priorities, and doing the work that needs to be done. Just doing the work. Believe me, there is plenty of work to go around for everyone. I hardly know where to begin.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Too Scary for Words

Yes, this is an actual, legitimate, unphotoshopped photograph from last night's debate, showing EXACTLY what it appears to show: the decrepit old (white) Man Who Would Be President sticking his tongue out and (pretending to be?) grabbing at the ass of the handsome and articulate young (black) Man Who SHOULD Be President. And I hope this image surges through the media the same way that the Dukakis tank commander photo or Howard Dean's "Scream" did...but I doubt it will. It's the sort of photo that is easily ignored: no sound, no movement -- just a moment of still photography easily explained away as "a misdirected old man who got confused and was heading off stage in the wrong direction." Which sort of fits the overall theme of the McCain Campaign these days anyway.

I actually thought McCain did pretty well last night: didn't foam at the mouth, kept his temper, put Obama on the defensive with his carefully-crafted (and unrebuttable) innuendo, and basically seized control of both the tempo and the direction of the debate by ignoring the moderator and butting in whenever he felt like it. Played the race/age/experience card for all it was worth: a seasoned, well-tested (white) "Maverick" vs. the "eloquent," smooth-talking and good-looking but relatively unknown (and unfamiliar BLACK) "tax and spend" liberal. But at the end of the day, it was still the same old tired words out of the mouth of a washed-up, over-the-hill politician desperate for his crack at four years of unprecedented executive power.

I was, although, particularly entertained when McCain used a variation of the same line I suggested Al Gore should have used when Bush attempted to link him to the various Clinton scandals back in 2000: "that was the fella who beat your daddy; you have to run against ME." God how I wish Gore had won that election -- or should I say, fought harder to prevent the Bushies from STEALING that election. What a different world we would be living in now....

And it is still my fantasy that as George W. Bush exits the Inaugural Platform next January, it will be into the waiting arms of representatives of the World Court, who will then escort him to his holding cell in the Hague. And of course my great fear is that there will be no Inauguration -- that after the fiasco of THIS election (and God only knows what may happen next) the Bushies will fabricate some desperate excuse for holding on to power, and enforce it by military means.

Do we really want to see tanks in the streets of Washington DC? They say it could never happen here. But you know, recently I've seen a LOT of things folks said could never happen here. And while some have been good, some others have been not so good as well.

I guess a couple of other quick thoughts before I sign off, since I post here so infrequently as it is. I'm really concerned that we need not just an Obama victory, but an Obama landslide for this election to really create the mandate that Obama needs to effect meaningful change: a huge margin in both the electoral and the popular vote, plus solid majorities in both Houses, and strong showings in local elections as well. We need to sweep aside every last remnant of Karl Rove's vision of a "permanent Republican majority," and reinstate the more tolerant and diverse "liberal" family values based on civility, mutual concern, and the larger public good.

But beyond that, we will be laying a tremendous burden of expectation upon the shoulders of a single individual -- more than any one individual can possibly bear, I think. And so we all need to be willing to step up and to sacrifice in order to create the change we need. Sacrifice = to make sacred. It's OK if we all share it. But the plutocratic "croney capitalism" of the past eight years has GOT to end. And steps need to be taken to return that unprecedented concentration of wealth back to ALL the American people, so that it might be used for the common good.

And at the same time, given the Bush administration's unapologetic attempts to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive Branch, and the apparent NEED for that kind of power the next administration will claim it needs in order to undo the mess the Bushies have created, is there ANY politician on the Planet who could possibly be convinced to LET GO of that power once the essential tasks have been accomplished. We need a Cincinnatus, and not a Caesar. George Washington understood that. I think even Michael Dukakis did. But do you really think that Sarah Palin has even a CLUE to what I'm talking about?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Politics of Spectacle and Distraction

Last month I blogged on this site comparing Sarah Paliln's selection as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate to the Harriet Meiers nomination to the Supreme Court, and suggested that within the week the Alaskan Hockey Mom would gracefully withdraw from the ticket, having done her job of confusing an ever-more fickle electorate and distracting attention from the real issues in these critical last few weeks before voters finally go to the polls. LINK to Original Post here (be sure to scroll down through the comments).

Now here comes the Other Shoe. Palin is clearly failin' Big Time -- she's not only out of her league, she's WAY out of her league -- even her own party can see it, it makes me a little sad even to have to witness it; and IF she remains on the ticket, and IF the Republicans should somehow manage to win in November, it is almost a CERTAINTY that Sarah Palin will at some point become the POTUS -- which would make our country more FUBAR than I even dare to imagine.

So maybe it's my turn now to do a little praying. God help us. God help us. God help us. God help us....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Racism Works.

A former parishioner of mine just e-mailed these to me, and I found them so telling I've decided to spread them around as much as I can. Hope all y'all will do the same!

How racism works:

1. What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
2. What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?
3. What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?
4. What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

1. What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
2. What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
3. What if Obama were a member of the "Keating 5"?
4. What if McCain were a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are? This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Mary M. Gaylord
Sosland Family Professor of Romance Languages and
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Undergraduate Adviser for Romance Studies
424 Boylston Hall, Harvard Yard
Cambridge MA 02138
Ph: 617-496-6027; Fax: 617-496-4682
Jane R. Dickie
Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies.
Hope College.
Holland, MI 49423

Friday, September 12, 2008

Onward and Upward Forever

There's been quite a lively discussion lately both here in the blogosphere and also on the various UUA CHAT-lists to which I subscribe about the new Commission on Appraisal's proposed revisions to our current statement of Principles, Purposes and Sources. I don't have much to add (or at least not much that I CARE to add) to the discussion there, but I do think it might be fun to glance back at the "original source material" for what, historically at least, has been both our most popular and most parodied statement of "Things Most Commonly Believed Among Us To-Day."

[For those of you unfamiliar with Five Point Calvinism, it might help to remember the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, and Predestination. In other words, there is not a healthy bone in our bodies, but God for reasons known only to Himself has chosen to redeem a few of us from eternal damnation. But it is ONLY a few, and even if we would rather NOT be saved we're going to heaven anyway. Furthermore, it was all decided for us since before the beginning of time, so stop fretting so much about Faith and Works and the moral consequences of your actions, or whether or not you have Free Will, and get out there and earn a little more money for the greater glory of God, fer crissakes!...]

"The Five Points of Calvinism and the Five Points of the New Theology" from Vexed Questions in Theology by James Freeman Clarke (Boston: 1886)

“And thou shalt make . . . five pillars, and overlay them with gold, . . . and shalt cast five sockets of brass for them." — Exodus xxiv., 37.

THE number five has acquired as great significance in theology as it has in nature. The largest family of plants is that of which the flowers have five petals; and the most popular theology of modern times is that of Calvin with its five points of doctrine, which relate to Absolute Decrees, Atonement by Christ for the Elect only, Original Sin, Effectual Calling, and the Perseverance of Saints.

Such have been the main and essential doctrines of Orthodoxy in the past. These doctrines have revolved around the ideas of sin and salvation. The creeds are as remarkable for what they omit as for what they assert. They scarcely allude to those truths which Jesus makes the chief burden of his teaching, — love to God, love to man, forgiveness of enemies, purity of heart and life, faith, hope, peace, resignation, temperance, and goodness. It is certain that the theology of the future will dwell on something else than the five points of Calvinism, and I have thought it well to consider the counterparts of this ancient system in five points of the coming theology. Let us endeavor to see what they will be.

I. I believe the first point of doctrine in the theology of the future will be the Fatherhood of God.

The essence of this is the love of the father for his children. Fatherly love is a wise love, a firm love, and a pure love, which seeks the best good of the child. Thus this idea of fatherhood includes that of the holiness, the truthfulness, and the justice of God, — in a word, all the divine attributes. The justice of God as a father is not, as in the old theology, an abstract justice, which has no regard to consequences. God's justice is only another form of mercy. It is the wise law which brings good to the universe, and is a blessing to every creature.

Jesus has everywhere emphasized this truth, that God is a father. We find it pervading the Gospels and coloring all his teaching. We find it already in the Sermon on the Mount, which tells us that we are to let our light shine, not to glorify ourselves, but to glorify our Father in heaven; that we are to love our enemies, that we may be like our heavenly Father, who loves his enemies, and makes his sun rise on the evil and the good. Jesus tells us that, when we pray, we are to pray to our Father, not to infinite power or abstract justice or far-off sovereignty. We are to forgive others, because our Father in heaven forgives us. We are not to be anxious, remembering that our heavenly Father feeds the little birds of the air. We are to pray, confident that our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him. Thus, this idea of God pervades the earliest as it filled the latest teachings of Jesus.

This idea of the divine fatherhood goes down so deep into the human heart that it becomes the source of a childlike obedience, trust, submission, patience, hope, and love. It brings consolation to us in our trials, gives us earnestness in prayer, makes it less difficult to repent when we have done wrong. We look up out of our sin and weakness and sorrow, not to an implacable law, not to an abstract king, but to an infinite and inexhaustible tenderness. Thus, this doctrine is the source of the purest piety.

2. The second point of doctrine in the new theology will be, I think, the Brotherhood of Man.

If men are children of the same father, then they are all brethren. If God loves them all, they must all have in them something lovable. If he has brought them here by his providence, they are here for some important end. Therefore, we must call no man common or unclean, look down upon none, despise none, but respect in all that essential goodness which God has put into the soul, and which he means to be at last unfolded into perfection.

As from the idea of the fatherhood of God will come all the pieties, so from that of the brotherhood of man will proceed all the charities. This doctrine is already the source of missions, philanthropies, reforms, and all efforts to seek and save those who are surrounded by evil. It leads men to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to teach the blind, to soothe the madness of delirium, to diffuse knowledge, and carry glad tidings to the poor. And this doctrine, when fully believed, will be the source of purer moralities and nobler charities.

This truth, also, Jesus has taught by his words and his life. He went about doing good, feeding the hungry, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, cleansing the leper, preaching the gospel to the poor. He was the friend of publicans and sinners, of the Roman centurion, the woman of Phoenicia, the woman of Samaria. He was the friend and helper of all who needed him. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he taught that all men are brethren. And his last recorded words were the command to preach the gospel to every creature.

3. The third point of doctrine in the new theology will be, as I think, the Leadership of Jesus.

The simplest definition of a Christian is one who follows Christ. This was his own definition: "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me." "I am the way and the truth and the life." "Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden." When Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, and heard his words, he said that she had chosen the good part, and had done the one thing needful.

A Platonist is one who studies the teachings of Plato, and takes him for his teacher and guide in philosophy. A Swedenborgian is one who studies the teachings of Swedenborg, and takes him for his guide in theology. A Christian is one who takes Jesus as his guide in religion, and who goes directly to his teachings for religious truth.

But hitherto, instead of considering those as Christians who have studied the words of Jesus, and sought to know the truth, the name has usually been given to those who accepted some opinion about him. Not what he himself teaches, but what the Church says he teaches, has been made the test of Christian fellowship. Men have been told to go to Jesus, but on the understanding that they shall learn from him only the same thing which the Church has already learned. Instead of sending us to the teacher himself, we are sent to our fellow-students. We, therefore, in reality take them, and not Jesus, for our leader.

The Athanasian Creed asserts as unquestioned verities certain metaphysical statements in regard to the nature of the Deity and the relations which existed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the creation. These speculations are read four times a year in the Church of England, and the people are told that those who do not believe these superhuman mysteries shall without doubt perish everlastingly. Is it not evident that the Church, in doing this, takes the unknown author of the creed as its leader and teacher instead of taking Christ himself? All human creeds which are made the tests of what Christ taught are in reality put in his place. Compared with his teaching, they are all narrow and unspiritual. They emphasize some purely intellectual statements which chanced to be popular when they were written. The makers of these creeds tell us to call Jesus teacher, but to learn from themselves what he teaches. They show thus that they dare not trust us to go to him; and they show that they have no real faith in him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Of course there is no harm in a creed, when it merely states what a man believes at the present time or what any number of men believe at any particular period. The harm comes from making the creed a perpetual standard of belief, a test of Christian character, and a condition of Christian fellowship. Such creeds, instead of uniting the Church, have divided it into endless sects and parties. Let men take Jesus himself as their leader and teacher, and the Church will be again one. Then Christians will come into communion not only with the mind, but also with the heart of the Master. When the whole Church is like Mary sitting at the foot of Jesus and hearing his words, it will be more full of his spirit. Bigotry and sectarianism, which have cursed Christianity, will disappear, and be replaced by the large generosity and ample charity of Jesus himself. We shall then, according to his striking Oriental image, eat his flesh and drink his blood. Instead of merely accepting propositions about him, we shall assimilate his character and feed on it in the depths of our heart. Then will lie fulfilled his saying: "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me. I know my sheep, and am known of mine."

4. The fourth point of the new theology will be Salvation by Character.

Salvation means the highest peace and joy of which the soul is capable. It means heaven here and heaven hereafter. This salvation has been explained as something outside of us, — some outward gift, some outward condition, place, or circumstance. We speak of going to heaven, as if we could be made happy solely by being put in a happy place. But the true heaven, the only heaven which Jesus knew, is a state of the soul. It is inward goodness. It is Christ found within. It is the love of God in the heart, going out into the life and character. The first words which Jesus spoke indicated this belief. The poor in spirit already possess the kingdom of heaven. The pure in heart already see God. "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." He who has the faith which Jesus possessed has eternal life abiding in him. The water that Jesus gives becomes a spring of water within the soul, "springing up into everlasting life." Do not look for a distant heaven, saying, " Lo! here," or " Lo! there;" " for the kingdom of heaven is now with you." When we come to study the words of Jesus as we study human theologies, we shall find that he identifies goodness with heaven, and makes character the essence of salvation. As long as men believe that heaven is something outward, to be attained by an act of profession or belief, they, will be apt to postpone such preparation as long as possible. But when we apprehend the inflexible law of consequences, and know that as a man soweth so shall he reap; when we see that spiritual tastes and habits are not to be formed in an hour; and that all formal professions, prayers, and sacraments avail nothing, unless the heart is pure, the soul upright, and the life one of integrity, — then a new motive will be added to increase the goodness of the world. Then the formation of character will be the fruit of Christian faith to an extent never before realized.

5. The fifth point of doctrine in the new theology will, as I believe, be the Continuity of Human Development in all worlds, or the Progress of Mankind onward and upward forever.

Progress is the outward heaven, corresponding to the inward heaven of character. The hope of progress is one of the chief motives to action. Men are contented, no matter how poor their lot, so long as they can hope for something better. And men are discontented, no matter how fortunate their condition, when they have nothing more to look forward to. The greatest sufferer who hopes may have nothing, but he possesses all things: the most prosperous man who is deprived of hope may have all things, but he possesses nothing.

The old theology laid no stress on progress here or progress hereafter. The essential thing was conversion: that moment passed, the object of life was attained. A man converted on his death-bed, after a life of sin, was as well prepared for heaven as he who had led a Christian life during long years. And there was no hint given of farther progress after heaven should be reached. Eternity was to be passed in perpetual thanksgiving or in perpetual enjoyment of the joys of paradise. Such, however, was not the teaching of Jesus. The servant, in the parable, who earned two pounds, was made ruler over two cities : he who earned five pounds had the care of five cities. And the Apostle Paul tells us that one of the things which abide is hope. If hope abides, there is always something to look forward to, — some higher attainment, some larger usefulness, some nearer communion with God. And this accords with all we see and know: with the long processes of geologic development by which the earth became fitted to be the home of man ; with the slow ascent of organized beings from humbler to fuller life; with the progress of society from age to age; with the gradual diffusion of knowledge, advancement of civilization, growth of free institutions, and ever higher conceptions of God and of religious truth. The one fact which is written on nature and human life is the fact of progress, and this must be accepted as the purpose of the Creator.

Some such views as these may constitute the theology of the future. This, at least, we see, — that many of the most important elements in the teaching of Jesus have had no place, or a very inferior place, in the teachings of the Church in past times. As the good Robinson foretold, "more light is to break out from the Word of God." The divine word, revealed in creation, embodied in Christ, immanent in the human soul, is a fuller fountain than has been believed. No creed can exhaust its meaning, no metaphysics can measure its possibility. The teaching of Jesus is not something to be outgrown; for it is not a definite system, but an ever unfolding principle. It is a germ of growth, and therefore has no finality in any of its past forms. "Of its fulness," says John, "we have all received, and grace added to grace." The Apostle Paul regarded his own knowledge of Christianity as imperfect and partial. "We know in part," said he, "and we teach in part." Christianity in the past has always had a childlike faith, which was beautiful and true. But its knowledge has also been that of a child. It has spoken as a child, it has understood as a child, it has thought as a child. This was all well while it was a child. The prattle of an infant is sweet, but in a youth or man it is an anachronism. Let us have a childlike faith, but a manly intelligence. "In malice be children, but in understanding be men." Let us endeavor to see God and nature face to face, confident that whoever is honestly seeking the truth, though he may err for a time, can never go wholly wrong.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 +7

Lest We Forget....

"A Mind-Numbing Act of Senseless Violence"

a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Tim W. Jensen
at the Second Congregational Meeting House
on Nantucket Island, Sunday September 16, 2001

If you found this engaging, I continued in this same theme for the remainder of the month of September.

September 23, 2001
September 30, 2001

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"An alert and knowledgeable citizenry..."

This was Ike's (the President, not the hurricane) prescription against the triumph of the Military Industrial Complex, and the domination of our cherished free and democratic institutions by the forces of corporate greed, fear-mongering, and unregulated triumphalist capitalism. And I just wish I'd had the good sense to save the clip of his farewell address from YouTube (where I saw it), so that I could embed it here. Because it was amazing to me: both just how prescient and prophetic Eisenhower's observations have turned out to be, and also how different our society is today from what it was half a century ago.

The Civil Rights Movement. The "Summer of Love." Vietnam/Watergate. Feminism. Stonewall. Earth Day. Pat Robertson, the Moral Majority, and the Rise of the Religious Right. "Voodoo Economics" and the Reagan Revolution. AIDS. The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War. The End of History and the Clash of Civilizations. Global Climate Change. Oh, and lets not forget about the information technology that has driven so much of the acceleration of our culture: computers, cell phones, the Internet. Or our global addiction to fossil fuels, and the politics of oil which have replaced Communism as the number one perceived threat to our national security.

And yet, rather than an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, we seem to have opted for bread and circuses...or at least cheap fast food and "reality" TV. We complain about the price of gasoline (when it's probably HALF of what it ought to be...), and watch with fascinated horror as the longest and most expensive Presidential Election in history enters its last 60 days, and suddenly becomes Reality TV writ large. Where's Jerry Springer when you need him? As the former Democratic mayor of Cincinati, he certainly should understand what's high in the middle and round on both ends. An election that seemed impossible for the Democrats to lose now looks more and more like a Republican shell game, all coming down to a final roll of the dice in the too-close-to-call crap shoot at the end. It's no longer about issues or policy. It's all just about holding on to power for another four years. If you can only confuse the electorate for another eight weeks.

At least Camille Paglia claims to have a handle on it all...

But what of Palin's pro-life stand? Creationism taught in schools? Book banning? Gay conversions? The Iraq war as God's plan? Zionism as a prelude to the apocalypse? We'll see how these big issues shake out. Right now, I don't believe much of what I read or hear about Palin in the media. To automatically assume that she is a religious fanatic who has embraced the most extreme ideas of her local church is exactly the kind of careless reasoning that has been unjustly applied to Barack Obama, whom the right wing is still trying to tar with the fulminating anti-American sermons of his longtime preacher, Jeremiah Wright.

The witch-trial hysteria of the past two incendiary weeks unfortunately reveals a disturbing trend in the Democratic Party, which has worsened over the past decade. Democrats are quick to attack the religiosity of Republicans, but Democratic ideology itself seems to have become a secular substitute religion. Since when did Democrats become so judgmental and intolerant? Conservatives are demonized, with the universe polarized into a Manichaean battle of us versus them, good versus evil. Democrats are clinging to pat group opinions as if they were inflexible moral absolutes. The party is in peril if it cannot observe and listen and adapt to changing social circumstances.
[ 9/10/2008]

Meanwhile, on an almost completely unrelated note, this is what I looked like back in 1976, just before I took advantage of my opportunity to "exercise the franchise" and vote for Jimmy Carter my first-ever Presidential election. I appear exceptionally alert and knowledgeable in this photography, don't you think? The strong, square chin. The long, curly flowing hair. The six-pack abs. Talk about changing times!

Friday, September 05, 2008


I've never really found myself in the position of trying to apply lipstick to a pit bull. A pig, maybe. Or roadkill. But never a pit bull.

We're asking all the wrong questions about Sarah Barracuda. To repeat an insight I quoted from another blogger in an earlier post to this thread, "I'll be honest: if Sarah Palin was a fiercely pro-choice progressive, mother of five kids, who'd risen from mayor of a small town to democratic governor of her sparsely populated state, I'd be kind of in love with her. Wouldn't you? And wouldn't you, although a little hesitant, be excited about her having been selected as Obama's vice-president?"

The question isn't really whether she will be ready on Day One to take over as President. Few people are; in fact, I question whether ANYONE really is. The real question is whether or not she is ready now to be a candidate for the vice-presidency, whatever THAT means. And that really is something for the voters to decide for themselves.

Personally, I find myself somewhat fascinated by the folksy, small town Alaskan frontier provincialism in which being a commercial fisherman and a snow machine champion somehow count for as much as an Ivy League education...and maybe matter more. I love the schtick about being able to field dress a moose, and selling the gubernatorial jet on e-Bay. And she certainly does a credible job of reading someone else's words off a teleprompter; you can see how she earned her Barracuda nickname.

What I DON'T like are all the things that make her so popular with the other side to begin with: the pro-life, abstinence-only views regarding sex education; the attempted library book-banning; her attitude about the environment and global warming; and all the rest. I wouldn't vote for a candidate who held those positions under ordinary circumstances. Why should a little lipstick make any difference now?

And then there's this. I think little Trig will someday forgive his mom her 60-some day absence in his infancy to run for vice-president. And if she actually wins... what a way to grow up!

But how much lipstick will it take to make THIS look good?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cussometer Rating

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

Thanks James for pointing us all to this. Reminds me of the old joke about how the only time the Lord's name was heard in the Unitarian church was when the sexton hit his thumb with a hammer....

Yet Another Thought about Sarah Palin

M LeBlanc raises some interesting points about Sarah Palin over at her blog, Bitch PhD.

I'll be honest: if Sarah Palin was a fiercely pro-choice progressive, mother of five kids, who'd risen from mayor of a small town to democratic governor of her sparsely populated state, I'd be kind of in love with her. Wouldn't you? And wouldn't you, although a little hesitant, be excited about her having been selected as Obama's vice-president?

Yeah. OK. Maybe... I think THIS goes a little over the top though...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Race, Gender, and Social Location

And as I sit here slack-jawed over McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential Running Mate, it occurs to me just how successfully he has distracted MY attention from the Democratic National Convention, and its message of "John McCain: More of the Same." Can't help but wonder whether this is just a tactic to take the spring out of the Democratic bounce, and that sometime next week there will be a graceful, Harriet Miers style withdrawal and Mitt will be back on the ticket after all.

Of course the Democrats are "on the right side of history." But if all we can talk about is the beauty-queen's hairstyle, how does that really help us now that "we are facing a planetary emergency which, if not solved, would exceed anything we've experienced in the history of humankind." [Al Gore]

Sure, "people the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." [Bill Clinton] But what kind of example of democracy do we set when issues and ideas are inevitably crowded out of the headlines by gossip, public spectacle, and personal attack?

And Joe Biden's grandmother may well have taught him that "No one is better than you; everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you." The problem is, a lot of people in this country -- powerful and important people -- don't really believe in all that "equality" crap.

And it's not just about race or gender either.

It's about the difference between someone who is about to lose their home to foreclosure on a sub-prime mortgage, and someone who can't even remember how many houses they own.

Or who has never had to worry about the affordability of their health insurance, because they have ALWAYS been able to afford to see any doctor that they wanted any time that they wanted, and to pay the bill in cash.

Or who doesn't really care about the rising cost of attending college, because their family has gone to the same private college in Connecticut for generations, and will no doubt continue to do so regardless of cost, or grades, or their SAT scores....

Sigh. How did the senior Senator from Massachusetts put it?

"The Work Begins Anew.
The Hope Rises Again.
And the Dream Lives On"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A loose canon?

Over at his blog "The Latest Form of Infidelity," the Reverend Colin Bossen poses the question of whether or not there are certain Unitarian and Universalist "sacred texts" that rise to the level of Scripture, or at least "simply the special status of being important texts."

When I was still in seminary, and even early on into my ministry, this question of whether or not there was (or should be) a UU "canon," and which texts (or by what criteria texts) should be included in it was fairly important to me. But I later came to feel and understand that in many ways the whole issue of canonicity is misdirected -- it's a backhanded attempt to define an orthodoxy by defining a center so explicitly that the boundaries are no longer elastic or permeable.

Rather than canonizing our own, new "Scripture," what we are really looking for is a UU "Talmud" -- a body of texts that we can engage in on-going study and dialog with in ways that also engenders dialog with one another. So to the modest list of texts and authors you have mentioned, I would also want to add Henry Ware Jr's Formation of the Christian Character, as well as his introductory discourse following his own faculty appointment at Harvard on the relationship between Pulpit Eloquence and the Pastoral Care. His sermon on "The Personality of the Deity" (delivered in response to Emerson's Divinity School address) would also be on my short to medium list.

His father Henry Ware Sr's 1774 Compendious and Plain Catechism... written in collaboration with Ware's neighbor and colleague in Hingham, Daniel Shute (who thanks to where his name falls in the alphabet gets top billing, although we all have a pretty good idea of who really did most of the hard work) is also a document well-worthy of our attention...since it is doubtlessly one of the principal reasons Ware was nominated and selected for the Hollis Chair to begin with.

The "Wood 'n Ware" texts, on the other hand, are probably way too involved for general inclusion, but they might well be "mined" and anthologized for appropriate content, especially since they are considered by many scholars to be the best discussion of the issues of predestination and free will since Luther and Erasmus debated the question back in the 16th century.

[if it seems as though I am paying a lot of attention to the Wares, it is NOT simply because I wrote my own doctoral dissertation about them. Rather, it has to do with the historical observation that as key members of the Harvard Divinity School faculty, between the two of them they essentially educated an entire generation of Unitarian clergy in what is often referred to as the "Golden Age of American Unitarianism" -- a cohort which included both Emerson and Parker, as well as James Freeman Clarke, William Henry Channing, Joseph Henry Allen, and scores of others who continued to serve "Our Liberal Movement in Theology" well into the remainder of the century.]

Conrad Wright used to place great stock in Henry Whitney Bellows' "The Suspense of Faith;" if memory serves, I even recall hearing him say that if he had it to do over again, he would have included Bellows as the "Fourth Prophet" in the now-nearly canonical anthology that enshrined Channing, Emerson and Parker as the Holy Trinity of the 19th century Unitarian tradition in the first place.

One of the original criteria for New Testament canonicity was the suitability of the text for reading at public worship. Based on that source of authority, I've been struck by how often the words of Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, and T.S. Eliot (or at least that bit on "the end of all our exploring") are proclaimed from our pulpits and lecterns on Sunday mornings. Forrest Church's passages on "The Cathedral of the World" and "the dual reality of being alive and having to die" both make my short list as well. Inclusion in the Hymnal is a clear and obvious marker of some form of semi-scriptural canonicity, so I suppose that Barbara Pescan and Mark Belletini (along with many of our other colleagues, both living and dead) would qualify on those grounds alone.

Here's another question: when we designate a text as "Scripture," what kind of authority does that give it? I often raise this point when talking about inerrancy and the authority of the Bible. Is something "true" simply because it has been included in the Bible? Or are things included in the Bible because somebody, somewhere thought that they were True? Profound Truth is in some ways the ultimate test of Scriptural Authority...and if it IS True, it's going to still be true (and thus authoritative) regardless of the kind of authority we assign it by designating it as "scriptural." So in that sense, anything we designate as scriptural is really just a tool to help us better discover and understand the scripture "written upon the heart." And that list could grow to be very long indeed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Pig-Headed to Bull-Headed to Mule-Headed...

Today's lead was a simple one: "Despite being trounced in the Oregon primary, Hillary Clinton won't throw in the towel yet." Why? Who cares? It's embarrassing. For EVERYONE. And it really misses the point. This election isn't about who can win, or even who deserves to to be the nominee. It's about turning around eight years of disastrous policy fiascos that have even die-hard, died-in-the-wool multi-generation Republicans shaking their heads in shame and wondering what has become of the Grand Old Party they once new and loved. It's going to take leadership, but it's also going to take teamwork, and the best efforts and contributions of everyone who loves this country and what it stands for to put it right again.

Which is why I'm so mystified by Mrs. Clinton. Does she honestly believe that the ONLY position she is qualified to play in this next administration is QB 1? I've got news you Ma'am, and I"m sorry to have to be the one to share it. But most coaches I know only have one position on their team for a "team player" with THAT kind of attitude. It's warming the splinters at the far end of the bench....

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Perpetual Distraction

I suppose one of the great advantages of being hospitalized for over a month is that it creates the perfect excuse for disengaging from the 24/7 news cycle.  I decided a long time ago that I wasn't going to get too excited about the primary season, but would simply wait until November to vote for whoever the Democrats happened to nominate.  With so many excellent candidates available, and the Republicans stuck recycling retreads, I felt like I could have been happy with just about any of the Democratic choices, although I still feel that the strongest ticket the Democrats might have nominated this year would have been Gore/Edwards.  

But between the historic candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, 2008 seemed destined to produce something very different.  In fact, just before I went into the hospital I found myself hoping for a dream ticket of Obama/Clinton, which would combine the exciting, youthful charismatic vision of the first African American President with the seasoned experience of the former First Lady and Junior Senator from New York.  All it would have taken is for Hillary to recognize that the mood of the nation was moving in a different direction, and to set aside her own personal ambitions for the sake of the country....

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Convention.  And this sideshow over Jeremiah Wright typifies everything that is wrong with our electoral process in general, and with the Democratic party in particular.  

But first just a simple observation.  If agreeing with everything that the preacher has to say is a requirement for remaining a member of a particular church, most of us would be preaching to pretty sparse congregations.  The prophetic voice is not the voice of reason and moderation; it is a voice which speaks out loudly for those who are not able to speak out for themselves, and which attempts to speak THAT truth to power.  Of course the preacher should be outrageous.  Outrage is our stock in trade; if you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention.

Politics, on the other hand, are about the art of the possible, and creating coalitions of compromise that can move the country forward toward the 80% that we can all agree on.  In politics, idealism must always be tempered by realism, and the willingness to settle for the partial good.  But when "electability" begins to trump vision and purpose, and the conversation is all about the horse race rather than the policies, and candidates are pilloried for daring to express a controversial idea out loud....well, it's outrageous in a different way.  A much more dangerous way.

So, cross my fingers and support Barack, or hold my nose and vote for Hillary?  Or pray that the superdelegates come to their senses, and ask Al Gore and John Edwards to pick up the mantle of leadership, and rescue their party from the politics of personal destruction....

Where are those pain pills when I need them?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Resurrection and the Life

My apologies for having to share such private and personal news in such a public and impersonal way, but one of the few drawbacks of being blessed with so many good friends is that the task of trying to contact all of you individually is simply overwhelming. A few weeks ago I went to see my physician after waking up in the middle of the night and noticing that I was coughing up blood. A subsequent chest x-ray and other diagnostic testing revealed a malignant tumor approximately the size of a tennis ball in my right lung. Obviously, I would have much rather learned that I had just won the Powerball Jackpot, but the good news is that even though this cancer is relatively advanced, it can still be treated. And so I'm scheduled to begin my chemotherapy the week after Easter. I've also started a "cancer blog" at which I hope you will all take the time to visit and explore. And please leave your comments and good wishes. I look forward to hearing from you!


Friday, February 22, 2008

Actually, I prefer the Bavarian Creme....

And I drink my Dunkin Donuts coffee black, or with cream only.

I can actually still remember the first time I ordered coffee and a doughnut at the Dunkin Donuts store on Boylston Street, just down the block from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

"Regular?" the clerk asked, and when I said yes (assuming, being from Seattle, regular coffee meant black coffee) and got it back with cream and two sugars....

Just another small moment of culture shock from the summer of 1980....(and for what it's worth, this quiz has me typed with a capital "T")

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.

But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.

You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.

You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

European Dream

One of the waitresses at the local restaurant where I like to eat breakfast is going to Paris next month with her boyfriend, who now has a little cash in his pocket having just given up his dream of becoming a rock musician, and selling his guitars on e-Bay. So I wrote up a little itinerary of Ten Days in (and around) Paris for a Young Couple in Love and now would like to invite others to read and add your comments.

Also, if you keep scrolling down you're also welcome to read the letters I wrote while living abroad for a semester as a visiting Doctoral Fellow at Aalborg University in Denmark in 2000.

A Seldom Appreciated Ancillary Benefit of a Good Seminary Education

On Monday nights the neighborhood sports bar around the corner from my apartment hosts a "trivia night," where patrons can win up to $40 in free food in what amounts to a two hour contest between teams of up to six members to answer more questions correctly than anyone else in the bar, all in an attempt to sell more beer and buffalo wings now that Monday Night Football is over for the season. Last Monday I wandered in just to catch a bite to eat, ran into a couple of friends I'd met watching the World Series last October, and we decided to form a team...and finished just out of the money (mostly I think because we were being so convivial we weren't really concentrating on the "game" part of the quiz).

So we decided that we would meet up again this week with our game faces on, and see whether we could be a little more competitive than we were on our first night out. Unfortunately though, both of my team mates stood me up, which meant that I had to take on the entire bar all by myself....

You can see where this is going, right?

Yes, it's true -- all by his lonesome the good Reverend Doctor gave all comers a sound intellectual thrashing, blowing away the competition with his obscure knowledge of history, geography, science, pop culture, literature, movies, mythology and yes, even Rock and Roll trivia (I mean, did YOU know that Jimi Hendrix served in the 101st Airborne division before making Rock and Roll history at Woodstock?). In fact, they even tell me I set a new record high score, with 108 out of 142 possible points. And the worst part is, I know if my team mates had been there with me, we probably could have scored at least another dozen...and perhaps as many as 20. I'm sure one of THEM would have known the difference between the chemical names for Prozac and Viagra.

Of course, even as I bask in the glow of my triumph, there's a little voice whispering in my ear "Do you really need to eat another $40 worth of beer and wings? Do you really need to eat another $40 worth of beer and wings...."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Danes!

Just finished watching a "60 Minutes" interview with Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard's "Professor of Happiness" who teaches a course for undergraduates on Positive Psychology that apparently fills Saunders Theater every semester. I've been a big admirer of Martin Seligman's theory of "Learned Optimism" (along with the entire closely-related Cognitive Therapy movement at Penn) from almost the day the book was originally published, so it's kind of exciting to see the movement gaining such widespread popularity. And I'm particularly delighted to learn that Danes tend to be the happiest people in the "developed" world. Those clever Danes. Despite having the highest suicide rate in the world (and all without a handgun to be found anywhere in the country), they really do know how to have a good time.

Here are Tal Ben-Shahar's "Six Tips for Happiness" (adapted and expanded from an article by Cindy Sher in the JUF (Jewish United Fund/Metro Chicago) News.)

1. Give yourself permission to be human. Embrace painful emotions for what they are, a natural consequence of being alive, rather than trying to suppress or deny them. When we accept emotions such as fear, sadness, or anxiety as natural expressions of being human, we are more likely to be able to integrate them into the larger context of our lives. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness. The only people who don't feel emotional pain are sociopaths and the dead.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning. The activities we find both pleasurable and meaningful will vary from person to person, from culture to culture, and even within the same individuals at different stages in their lives. But the importance of healthy pleasure and worthwhile activity remain constant no matter who you are or where you live.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a survivable learning opportunity which will contribute directly to our eventual success? This is a much more sophisticated idea than simply "the power of positive thinking." How we CHOOSE to frame our experience, by letting go of responsibility for things that are beyond our control, while accepting control of the things we can change (basically, the Serenity Prayer) determines our ability to place failure in context while owning our success. Universalizing the negative ("I'll NEVER be happy") while minimizing positive things (like the importance of healthy relationships) is probably the most significant "thinking error" people make. So do what your mother always told you to do: shake it off, and go find a sympathetic shoulder to cry on until it's out of your system.

4. Simplify! Simplify! Thoreau had this one right two centuries ago. We Americans in particular are generally too busy trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do it all. It is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. And even if you could have it all, you wouldn't want it all at once.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. This is the corrective to the most frequent misunderstanding of #3. We are so accustomed to thinking about "mind over matter" and the importance of will-power that we often overlook that the mind-body connection works in both directions. What we do (or don't do) with our bodies influences our state of mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health. If you are feeling strong, energetic, and full of life, it is much easier to maintain a positive outlook on the world than it is if you are constantly feeling tired, run-down, and "puny."

6. Express gratitude whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile. Keep a "gratitude journal" and write in it every night, listing at least five things large or small that you are personally thankful for this day. "Appreciation" is not just the ability to admire something for what it is, it is also the GROWTH that takes place over time as we become more accustomed to wanting the things we have, rather than craving things we see on TV but can never truly possess. Managing our expectations and desires so that they conform with reality, and appreciating life for the miracle that it is (in gratitude, pleasure, and with simply joy rather than resentment, disappointment, and bitter frustration) is the basic secret of True Happiness -- the intersection of Pleasure and Meaning. Americans are notoriously ambitious, competetive, aquisitive and it's no wonder that we tend to rank toward the bottom of the happiness scale. We could all learn a lesson from the Danes. Who says high taxes, wind turbines, and socialized, universal health care are bad things?...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vive La Différence!

a Special Valentine's Day Bonus Cross-Post.

The lovely and talented PeaceBang (who writes a blog, "Beauty Tips for Ministers," that people actually read) recently returned home from her annual mid-winter sunbreak (this year in Florida) lovestruck and with a new SweetieBang in tow, and wrote a lovely soliloquy regarding the successful search for true love at mid-life.

The mysteriously anonymous "Dutch Treat" responded with a weirdly worthy (PB's words, not mine) set of observations expressing a somewhat more cynical and "masculine" point of view, which in turn inspired PB to post one more time about the spiritual discipline of kissing frogs and the enduring search for that elusive brass ring of fidelity and commitment, which ended with a set of Stephen Sondheim lyrics that could have only been more inspiring if PB had actually sung them for us personally.

Now, just for giggles, I've cut and pasted the whole dialogue here (mostly since I couldn't quite figure out how to put in only the appropriate links to the original posts). Enjoy! And let it be known, just for the record, when I take PB out to dinner, I ALWAYS pick up the check.


The manic mind of the minister -- Auntie Mame meets Cotton Mather. Blogging about Unitarian Universalism, UU Christian spiritual practice, occasional cultural and political ravings, and the inner life of ministry. PeaceBang is the alter ego of a small town pastor serving a historic New England Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Re-entry Mode And Thoughts On Romantic Timing
January 27, 2008 on 6:43 pm

Hello ‘Bangers,

Here’s hoping that you’re all well and staying warm.

I am in re-entry mode after a lovely Florida vacation, courtesy of some very generous friends who gave me and a colleague pal the use of their condo. I’m not officially back to work until Tuesday which is nice and gives me some time to unpack, do the grocery shopping, and to curse the gods for their obnoxious sense of humor.

It’s just that, you see, Cupid got out one of his biggest, baddest arrows while I was away and hit me and a perfectly innocent other party with it, so now there’s a little jet stream of romance mojo moving north and south between Massachusetts and Southern Florida. A convenient 1,555 miles apart, that’s all. Well, we’ll see. And he doesn’t even own a computer, so there’s no chance of him seeing this, in case you were worried.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ve been through a few romances with me. Well, let’s say that you’ve been through about 100 bad dates alluded to, sporadic musings on the loneliness of the single life, and many reflections on the special challenges of the single minister.

I have tried not to chronicle every twinge of “gee, I might have met someone special” with my readers — because SisterBang and other pals have always been there to indulge those insecure, ad infinitum ramblings with — and also because no one needs to hear about the ups and downs of a clergywoman’s mostly non-existent dating life and romantic rejections . It’s neither appropriate nor interesting.

But let me offer this: I believe that chemistry is real and that it matters. I believe that kindred spirits and soul mates are real. I believe that we spend many years believing in the well-meant but totally cock-eyed interpretation of us handed down by family lore and old relationships, and that as soon as we jettison all that — really flush it down the toilet for good, it is possible for love to come, and to last. It is that latter process — not having a baby, not getting married, not getting our first paycheck — that makes us truly adult, and makes us truly free for true love to find us.

I have no idea if my new friend from Florida will be a true love. I’m not speaking of what is, but what I believe could be — if not now, maybe later. If not for me, God willing, for thee.

It takes a tremendous amount of work and effort to understand, accept and really know ourselves — to consider the input from those who know us (or think they do) along with our own knowledge of self, and to come up with an accurate and fair assessment of our own character and soul, needs, wants and responsibilities. It takes even harder work than that to hold that authentic person in affectionate and compassionate care, to move beyond the fear and woundedness that comes from being disappointed and treated insensitively, to stop dwelling on past failures, and to trust that God truly has made a unique and precious gift in us that deserves to be honored, and whose deepest recesses are known only to the silent soul. These private places of the soul should not be pried open by curious onlookers or cold-hearted Lotharios who pursue profound confidences in the same fashion that the paparazzi pursue the latest lurid photos of Britney Spears.

Many women have been socialized to gather the opinions of their friends and family when it comes to every subject from how to make a particular recipe, to what they should wear on a first date, to whether or not they should marry, to what career they should pursue next. This kind of intimate and constant gab can be deeply bonding and intimate, but it can also breed the exhaustion and mild contempt that comes with over-exposure to someone else’s vulnerability. At times the best thing for a woman is to cut off, or to be taken off this kind of life-support (however cruel that sounds) and to stand in her own truth for awhile. Not just to cultivate wisdom through spiritual practice and attention to her intuition (which she should be doing already), but to actively assess and, if need be, reject the version of herself assembled by her circle of intimates and to shore up her confidence in the true version; the woman she finally, after many years of hard and honest work, knows she is.

How can I ask someone to love me for better or for worse, unless I can love and accept myself through my own better or worse? Cliched to say it, but I owe my true friends the gift of finally getting it through my thick head that even at our “worst,” we all deserve to be treated sensitively and with compassion, and that love at its most basic means sticking-by. The lesson has finally stuck. Thanks, pals. You know who you are. What Jesus has been trying to convince me of for all these years, you have made real. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity to practice that spiritual discipline with a Sig Other?

Let’s just say this: if I do ever find true love I would want it to be just like this: during a time of radical emotional freedom and healing, of feeling particularly clear on who I am, what I need and how I want and expect to love and be loved. So no matter what happens with this particular conflagration, as the old song goes, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”

Oh, and you know that check-list that so many of us carry around in our heads about who we think we should be with? I’m re-assessing my approach to that. My checklist used to have 40 or so items on it. Now it has about 12:

My Ideal Mate

1. Should be kind and considerate.
2. Should know how to love and be loved, and that includes honesty, trust and loyalty.
3. Should have a great sense of humor.
4. Intelligence.
5. Some kind of cultural interests and talents.
6. Charisma.
7. Be attractive to me.
8. Be attracted to me.
9. Have nice manners.
10. Not be an active addict or criminal.
11. Be politically progressive and actively involved in a spiritual practice or community.
12. Makes my heart go thumpety-thump.

Comment by Dutch Treat — February 1, 2008 #

A dozen, down from forty? It’s no wonder some people think men and women come from different planets! Since adolescence my list has grown from one item to two:

1. Has nice tits (any size)
2. Not crazy (negotiable if tits are nice enough)

Seriously though, of course there has to be some sort of mutual attraction or the whole thing’s a non-starter.

Kind, considerate, well-mannered…sure, why not? I mean who wants to be with a cruel, rude and inconsiderate slob? (Oops. Forget I said that. Sorry I asked).

Intelligence and a great sense of humor are highly overrated. I frequently get turned down for dates by women who don’t think they’re smart enough for me. Good thing I can still laugh about it.

Let’s see, spiritually-aware progressive or drug-addicted criminal? I’m going to have to think about that one a little longer.

Making someone’s heart go thumpety-thump is not exactly something anyone can expect to do 24/7, not even movie stars. Some days (hell, these days most days) I’ll settle for a toe-curling climax. Although I have to admit that the next best thing is that sly half-grin and playful twinkle in the eye that reminds me of the last one, and makes me eager for the next.

Charisma? What exactly do you mean by “Charisma?” But I suppose you know it when you see it.

I guess if I were making a longer list (besides the cleavage and sanity thing, and skirting entirely the far more troubling issue of whether or not constant societal objectification eventually makes ALL women crazy), I would have to say that I generally go for smart and funny too — along with kind, considerate, sensitive, well-mannered, politically-progressive and great hair. And yes, she ought to be at least as into me as I’m into her…but not TOO much more — because that gets complicated too.

But mostly I’m just looking for someone who “gets” me — an adventurous soul, curious and generous, thankful, broad-minded, well-travelled and non-judgmental…and definitely not a prude either, although shy and slightly modest (or even a little demure) is probably a better fit than loud and profane.

Not that there’s anything wrong with loud and profane.

But at the end of the day, it really does come down to knowing how to love and be loved. And isn’t this really what we’re all trying to figure out anyway? Honesty. Loyalty. Trust-WORTHINESS. I’m surprised Fidelity didn’t make the list. For a lot of folks, that would have been #1. Not to mention plain and simple old fashioned “commitment.” But that’s what we're all supposed to be afraid of, right?


Being Alive: Reflections on The Search For Commitment
February 2, 2008 on 8:49 pm |

I wrote a few days ago about how Cupid done zinged me and a poor, unfortunate soul right in the soft, fleshy part of the heart while I was down in Florida, and Dutch Treat commented that I left “commitment” off of my list of Ideal Qualities for a mate. He said a lot of other worthy things, too, including suggesting that constant objectification may make all women crazy to one degree or another. Well said, brother, and thanks for the weirdly feminist solidarity there, ’cause I tend to agree with you.

I left “commitment” off my list because it was looming so large in my mind that I plumb forgot it. Of course, trustWORTHINESS and commitment. First. Foremost. Forever. How could I have forgotten to say so? What else is there in the end, and what else has been so painfully and sorely missing from all of my previous relationships? You can be in the big, glorious Love Shack all day long, but until someone says, “You and me, baby. You are the brass ring and I’m grabbing it, I’m coming for you, I’m launching myself over the castle walls of all the years of your bitter disappointments and coming to get you, ’cause you’re the prize,” all that billing and cooing and dopamine high is just a pleasant diversion, a sport, a delicious but ultimately unsatisfying meal. And, at my age, increasingly not worth the effort and the hurt. A girl can only get her hopes up so often before she loses some resilience and opts for quiet, peaceful nights with the cat over a ride on the dopamine rollercoaster.

Folks like me who have been dating for what seems like thousands of years are intensely weary of the “Shopping for a Mate” approach made particularly crass by on-line dating sites (scroll through the faces and descriptions, delete, delete, delete, scroll, scroll, scroll some more) and are intensely familiar with the issue of commitment, or lack thereof. We dress up for the Relationship Audition, doll up, get and give the once-over, hope to finally attract a decent companion who will hang around long enough to (however begrudgingly) come to care for us and to become the guy/gal who has GOT. OUR. BACK. Over many years, we come to understand that we have got our own backs, and that single life is wonderful in many ways. But still, for many of us, the hope lingers. We are fine on our own, but gee, wouldn’t it be great to have a Special Someone? Not just any old someone you’re settling for, but someone worthy of the effort it takes to be in a relationship?

While we search, here’s some of what chicks like me endure on those hundreds of dates:

1. No chemistry and occasionally nearly-fatal boredom. 2. We like him, he doesn’t like us; rejection. 3. Slight attraction, but no time or energy for a relationship. 4. He’s depressed, bitter and angry about divorce, needs a therapist, not a girlfriend. 5. Can’t stop talking about former relationships/guilt about being bad father to children. 6. Addictions, or constant reference to former addictions that obviously define his life and sense of self (not necessarily a character flaw, just can’t relate). 7. Major religious differences with obvious lack of respect for our beliefs; arrogant spiritual superiority. 8. Voted for George Bush, and would again. 9. Immediate, unwelcome pressure for sex/no interest in physical intimacy. 10. The scary drama queen- wants to marry you even though you’ve expressed not one iota of interest. 11. Sexy but obnoxious, irritates you even as he attracts you. 12. Funny, cute but totally passive, dating him finally feels like dragging 200 lbs. of potatoes behind us on a little red wagon. 13. Charming, sexy and attentive but just a low-down, cheating lying dawg in the end. 14. Intimidated by successful women/unsupportive of your life (in my case, considers the Church competition for my time, love and attention). 15. Just a loser you would never have wasted your time on if you hadn’t been so lonely (Yes, God loves him but he’s got nothing whatsoever to offer you).

This is how I’ve spent the past 15 years. One item to represent each year. I could go on, of course. The inappropriate crushes. The ones who seem great from a distance (such an impressive resume!) but are really sleazy characters up close. The egotists and the closet cases, the controllers, the ones with no listening skills, the naughty ones you shouldn’t have messed with but couldn’t resist.

You have to kiss a lot of frogs, kids. So let’s hear some good news! Let’s hear about the couples who met and knew, before very long that they had found the brass ring, let’s hear about the ones who clicked and made it stick, the ones who found each other, who spoke “commitment” not as a dirty word but as a delicious caress on the ear. Let’s hear about those of you who dated for as long as I have and at long last met someone whose integrity and goodness your heart could immediately detect even through thick, crusty layers of hurt, disappointment, bitterness and cynicism. Let’s hear about trust, and how your soul can feel that it has come home in someone’s presence, let’s hear it for love in time for Valentine’s Day. Why not? We certainly hear enough bad news about it; let’s sit around the PeaceBang fire and share some of the quiet, unreported tales of happiness between two people.

You do that, and while you do, dig these lyrics by master Broadway genius Stephen Sondheim who wrote this song for the musical “Company,”


Someone to hold you too close
Someone to hurt you too deep
Someone to sit in your chair
And ruin your sleep
And make you aware of being alive
Someone to need you too much
Someone to know you too well
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell
And give you support for being alive-being alive
Make me alive, make me confused
Mock me with praise, let me be used
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive!
Somebody hold me too close
Somebody force me to care
Somebody make me come through
Ill always be there
As frightened as you of being alive,
Being alive, being alive!
Someone you have to let in
Someone whose feelings you spare
Someone who, like it or not
Will want you to share a little, a lot of being alive
Make me alive, make me confused
Mock me with praise, let me be used
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive!
Somebody crowd me with love
Somebody force me to care
Somebody make me come through
Ill always be there
As frightened as you to help us survive,
Being alive, being alive, being alive, being alive