Monday, August 03, 2009

Next stop, Sox? Or Celtics?

Here's the latest post White House Brew Fest UPDATE from "Skip" Gates, speaking from his summer place on the Vineyard. Funny the little things that bring us together. This whole situation has me reflecting back on my first few encounters with law enforcement officers in my youth, and discovering that little things like the fact that I was an Associated Student Body Officer at my High School didn't really cut it much during a traffic stop, and that in retrospect mentioning it at all simply seemed stupid and naive. Or hearing from my cousin (a sworn officer and retired Sgt. of Detectives in Spokane) that probably the most antagonistic thing you can say to a cop is "I Know MY Rights!" (when the BEST thing to do would be to remember that you have the Right to Remain Silent, and to use it); or hearing from my wife (an administrative law judge and former trial lawyer) about the seven-figure damages award granted by a jury to an African American airport traffic cop who asked a wealthy white physician to move his car, only to have the latter threaten him personally and refuse to comply on account of the differences in their incomes (and one assumes, their race, social class, and relative importance), and then was hit by the fender of the physician's vehicle as the officer reached for his ticket book, and the doctor angrily pulled back into traffic.... Gosh I wish I could remember more of the details of THAT case. Meanwhile, here's all best wishes for smooth sailing from now on for both Officer Crowley and Professor Gates. Now, about Harvard....

Friday, July 31, 2009

Report from the Rose Garden

This just in. Professor Gates enjoyed a Samuel Adams Light, while President Obama opted for a Bud Light. Sergeant Crowley indulged in a Blue Moon Pale Ale, while Vice-President Biden contented himself with a "near-beer," Buckler. I'm not certain that their beverage choices really give us much insight into issues of race, class, and police power/authority in our society. But they do perhaps provide some small insight into the personality of each individual.

Sam's Light is, to my taste, probably the best light beer being commercially brewed in America today. Samuel Adams is a growing regional brewery based in Boston, and produces a wide variety of ales, lagers, and seasonal brews, all of which are of high quality. "Skip" Gate's selection of Sam's Light is the educated choice of a calorie-conscious connaiseur, and is admirable in that regard.

Bud Light, on the other hand, is simply piss. Not even Clydesdale horse-piss (which all needs to be reserved for the regular Budweiser), but rather something that came out of a Dalmation after a long, leisurely lope through middle America. Although to be fair to Anheuser-Busch, they do produce very clever advertising...about half the time. The other half they are just down-right annoying. But Barach's choice of a Bud Light shows him as attempting to show himself as a "man of the people," who really understands what a beer or two (or twelve or twenty...) after work can really mean.

Blue Moon is a very respectable Cambridge microbrewery with a brewpub (as I recall) right in Harvard Square. The Sarge really knows his suds, plus he works out often enough that he doesn't have to worry about a few extra calories. As for the Vice-President's choice, I kinda wish he'd gone for something a little more in the line of a Raspberry Lemonade, rather than following the near-beer route. Although maybe now thanks to his example I'm going to have to try a Buckler's myself, just to see what it's like. This is, after all, BBQ season. And there's nothing like a cold brew on a hot day with a freshly-grilled brat in hand.

All in all, I think this was a very nice gesture on the part of the President. And I'm glad to hear that Skip and Jim are planning to do this again on their own. Who knows, this could turn out to be a regular Thursday afternoon event at Grendel's Den? And we could ALL probably learn something from that....

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Now here's a little breaking news that should make just about everyone just a little happier. And it will probably end up just being a Bud....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Louis Gates and Walter Begaye

And what do THESE two cases have in common? Not much (actually) which is a whole other issue, but not really what I wanted to write about this morning.

I sure wish everyone would just accept the last word on this incident, which is that it was unfortunate and regrettable, that apologies are doubtlessly due all around, and that it's time to move on, without necessarily ignoring the underlying issues which this incident has once again raised.

I wish people (Professor Gates in particular) would acknowledge that the ONLY reason the police were at his door that day was to protect his life and his property. I wish Professor Gates could acknowledge that he was tired, that he was perhaps hypersensitive (I know I will be criticized for the use of that word) to the deeper social implications of this encounter, and that he did indeed lose his temper and behave in a disorderly manner, whether or not it was truly worthy of his arrest. I ALSO wish people could acknowledge the underlying Class issues of this incident: that Professor Gates clearly attempted to use his perceived position of privilege within the Harvard community in order to intimidate Sgt. Crowley, and that this tactic didn't really go over very well, and never does.

As for Sgt Crowley, I suppose it would have been easy enough for him to walk away after seeing Gates' ID in the kitchen, with a quick apology for interrupting his day, and wishes for a good night's sleep. The fact that he didn't is in itself a clue that there was more going on there than meets the eye, but I doubt that underlying personal racism had anything to do with it.

Finally, I really like Chalice Chick's analysis of this entire situation, especially her early tongue-in-cheek advice that "Unless you’re Stephen L. Carter, be nice to the cops anytime you interact with them." I mean, let's face it: it doesn't really matter who you are, it is ALWAYS a bad idea to get into an argument with someone wearing a uniform, carrying a badge, and in possession of a loaded firearm.

Meanwhile, let us not forget that my friend Walter Begaye just spent two months of HIS life in jail (without trial) on a bogus weapons charge, and for the "crime" of being a drunken Indian sitting in the wrong place with the wrong person at the wrong time. Nough said?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"That's one small step..."


and then another, and another after that, and another and another and pretty soon don't you know it but you're walking. I've always loved this "Earthrise" photo -- I've used it as a meditation mandala, and as a central focal point for a meditation altar, and have always found lurking near it both a strong source of inspiration, and also a sense of cautionary humility. For millennia humanity has been gazing up at the night sky to contemplate the vast infinity of which we are such a small and unintrusive portion. And then, for a brief moment in history some four decades ago, a handful of lucky individuals had the opportunity like Prometheus to ride the stolen fire once more into the heavens for a God's eye view of our tiny island in the vast darkness. And the outcome, if anything, is even MORE humbling than the view from around our solitary, stone age campfires.

Mount Rainier finally had the good manners to peek its nose out on my last full day at Camano. I've already mentioned how invigorating and rejuvenating those two weeks were, and I just wish there could have been a few more of them...maybe toward the end of the summer, after I've had a little more opportunity to settle in here in Sacto and get myself unpacked. Had my first visit with my new Doctors today (more on that later), and there's certainly much awaiting me there. And the unpacking, of course, always goes more slowly that anticipated. If I'm LUCKY I'll be fully unpacked and moved in by the end of October, just in time for my 53rd birthday.

Drove down to Portland Friday with my son Jacob's fiancee Shelly, who had already driven to Seattle earlier that morning to obtain an expedited passport so that they can elope to Italy the week after next. But of course in the process of developing this wonderful plan, they discovered that it's a lot harder to get married in Italy than they thought, so now the plan is simply to go to Italy, and then get married at some later date back here in the States. I don't know what it is about my family. Margie and I essentially eloped to Atlanta back in 1985, while Steph and Craig have actually been married for months (for insurance purposes involving the baby), but put off having an actual public ceremony and reception until now. We all seem to enjoy the party part (when it finally happens), and the chance to get together with friends we otherwise might not see so often, but we are also all basically of the opinion that a big, fancy wedding is a huge waste of money that might well better have been spent on something else.

"Steph-n-Jen" -- my joined-at-the-hip daughters by mutual discernment. Looks like they may have picked up a new admirer.

In any event, as someone who at one point in his life earned a significant portion of his livelihood by officiating at weddings, I knew better than to offer any advice or make any critiques of the Judge who actually officiated at both the ceremony last Saturday and the earlier one down at the courthouse some months ago. And as a professional, I LOVE large weddings, think I do a pretty amazing job when it comes to "solemnizing" them, and always used to consider the big party afterwards as part of my compensation (although even just 5% of that in cash would have generally been more than satisfactory). Weddings, Child Dedications, and Memorial Services -- those sacerdotal milestones by which clergy share the lives of their people, regardless of their specific faith tradition.

Meanwhile, we were confronted with a little mystery Sunday morning: "the decapitation of Saint Frank." One of Margie's garden statues had its head go missing at some point during the weekend, while we were all off celebrating the union of Steph-n-Craig. The head was eventually recovered, but the culprit is still at large; meanwhile, this reminds me of one of Steph's favorite cartoons growing up, of a monk walking out of a devestated barroom, beaten-up bodies littering every broken chair and table, while the caption reads "After that, no one dared call Francis a Sissy again."

Flew down to Sacramento Sunday night, and was picked up by my Dad at the airport here right on time. As I mentioned earlier, still plenty of details to be worked out about unpacking and the like -- Debra and Jerry are in the process of moving into a new house they purchased about a year and a half ago only a few miles from here, while most of my things are still in storage waiting to space to open up here. And I truly am guessing it could easily be another month or more before I'm really unpacked and up to speed.

In the meantime though, I have new doctors and I have a new view, plus clean clothes, a comfortable bed, a functional desk (and internet connection!), and even a new dog! Well, not exactly, but the next best thing -- a calico cat named "Lou Lou" who belongs to my father, who dotes on her shamelessly, and provides us all with hours of fascinating entertainment.

When she's not sleeping, that is....

[cross-posted from One Day Isle]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"A Perfect, Whole, Healed World."

Hurray for Mary Harrington, minister emerita of the UU Church in Winchester MA and this year's preacher at the Service of the Living Tradition in Salt Lake City last month. This is part of a much longer post that originally appeared on the UUMA chat, and was later reposted (with permission) at Kim Hampton's East of Midnight blog. And I'm reprinting this last paragraph here because, quite frankly, I COULDN'T have said it better myself, and it's a message that is well worth hearing. So thank you Mary, again and again and again, not just for your willingness to speak the truth in love to power, but for your ability to speak up on behalf of the rest of us who feel as though maybe we have lost our voices, or that people are just sick and tired of listening....

"...One reason you might not hear as much about people’s physical needs and struggles as exists is because of the high price involved in speaking up and then not being heard or helped, being ignored, being pitied, being condescended to or patronized, being accused of costing others too much money/being too expensive, being impatient, being fawned over or its opposite- having others refuse to even see you’re there or make eye contact- I have experienced all of these from my colleagues, from other ministers, not just ordinary citizens. It can be awkward, embarrassing, insulting, offensive, infuriating, heartbreaking or humiliating, depending on the situation. It doesn’t make you want to go back for more. I’m saying this now, out loud, so you can’t say you didn’t know, from now on. And because I don’t want to say it again, I don’t want to have to say it again, even though I know that’s not realistic or even fair, it’s still what I want. A perfect, whole, healed world."

Yours always, Mary

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bastille Day

And thanks to James Ishmael Ford for posting this clip: one of my favorite film moments in one of my all time favorite movies ever.  Vive la France indeed!

Monkey Mind: Briefest Rumination on the 14th of July

The French Revolution had some small impact of the emerging Unitarian movement in the United States.  That famous "Unitarian by Myself"-- Thomas Jefferson -- was very closely tied ideologically to the French Republicans in the minds of many, while many expatriate French aristocrats somehow found their way to the South Shore of Boston, where they were often taken under the wing of the soon-to-be Unitarian congregations there.  Don't ask me why, or how significant this really was.  Just something I stumbled over in the course of my research

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monkey Mind: Who is a Christian? Musing on Universalism and What it Means to Me and What it Can Mean to Unitarian Universalism

Monkey Mind: Who is a Christian? Musing on Universalism and What it Means to Me and What it Can Mean to Unitarian Universalism

What's in a name?

Thought I'd reply to something James Ishmael Ford wrote over at Monkey Mind.

But rather than launching into a long discourse about the respective aromas of roses and turds (cf. Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2), I thought I'd simply observe that sometimes it seems to me as though "We UUs" make much too big a deal about what we call ourselves.

Or shall I say, how we label ourselves. Brand ourselves.

Most Protestant traditions deriving (on some level) from the Anglican tradition have taken their names from a distinctive form of ecclesiastical polity (Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, the "Society of Friends"), or something distinctive about their liturgical practice (Methodist, Baptist. "Quaker"), or simply taken on the name "Christian" as a generic marker of their shared faith tradition.

But Unitarianism, Universalism, and "Unitarian-Universalism TM" are all derived quite specifically from two distinctive (and heretical) theological doctrines: the belief that God is One, and that ALL Souls shall ultimately be reconciled to their Creator.

Which, lets face it, are both great doctrines, even though I doubt few of us these days give them much thought in ouir live-a-day lives.

But then comes Grammar, and those dreaded hyphens. Typically in English the adjective precedes the noun, but this is not always the case. Are/were we, actually: Universalists who also believe in a Unitarian Christology? Unitarians who believe in a Universalist Soteriology? Both at the same time, and freethinking Christian heretics to boot? Some sort of other deeply-hyphenated (and profoundly personal) amalgam of adjectives (say "Unitarian-Universalist Pagan Feminist Vegan Taoists), however we might chose to identify ourselves in public or in private?

And then there are the ever-more-clever "Jewnitarians," "Unipalians," and "Smorgasborgians?" Is it still possible to be JUST a Unitarian or a Universalist any more? And what if a few of us decided on our own simply to scramble things up for awhile, by becoming "The Association of Universalists and Unitarians" (or AUU/U&Us for short)?

And then there is always the Christian piece. And the question of whether we are trying to describe ourselves individually, or our movement as a whole: theologically, or historically, or institutionally. Are we a sect, a cult, a liberal protestant denomination, or perhaps even our own "new religion?" (and how do these things differ from one another?)

Or in the alternative, are we basically still "Enlightened Puritans" who believe in Freedom, Reason, and Tolerance?

This is WAY too complicated for my poor little head. I think I'm going to go pray about it for awhile....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Theodore Parker's destructive legacy....

Why did Theodore Parker die? He died prematurely worn out through this enormous activity, -- a warning, as well as an example.... Had he been a mere student, this had been less destructive. But to take the standard of study of a German professor, and superadd to that the separate exhaustions of a Sunday preacher, a lyceum lecturer, a radical leader, and a practical philanthropist was simply to apply half a dozen distinct suicides to the abbreviation of a single life. And as his younger companions had long assured him, the tendency of his career was not only to kill himself, but them; for each assumed that he must at least attempt what Theodore Parker accomplished.... [Thomas Wentworth Higginson]

There were quite a few 19th century Unitarian ministers whose exhausting work was felt to have contributed to their premature demise, Joseph Stevens Buckminster and Henry Ware Jr. to name only two. But Parker's persona as a constitutionally robust child of farmers was a sharp contrast to the frail, "spiritual" ectomorphic body-types generally associated with piety in that era.

More to the point though is Higginson's observation that for many of the generation of clergy who followed Parker, the challenge of his accomplishments as Preacher and Abolitionist Reformer, Scholar, Lecturer, "Practical Philanthropist" (a reference to Parker's active involvement in hands-on public/pastoral ministry as well his more radical political involvement), and general all-around busybodyness set an impossibly high standard, while implicitly encouraging neglect of many of the more run-of-the-mill institutional duties of parish ministry.

Yet even recognizing this, we still admire him to this day as one of the "Three Prophets" of Religious Liberalism. We point to the 28th Congregational Society as some sort of great institutional success, the 19th century equivalent of the modern Megachurch, and...

Let me just say this. There's a lot more to "the Golden Age of Unitarianism" that Parker, Emerson, and Channing. But most of us seem hard pressed even to understand them in their context. And so we find ourselves trapped by a form of idolatry, flirting with "half a dozen distinct suicides" as we attempt to minister effectively in our time and place based on a false knowledge of our past, and a mistaken understanding of our real charge.

And yes, I still adore Theodore Parker....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Vote for Laurel Hallman if anyone really cares.

I don't know either of these candidates especially well personally, although over nearly thirty years of ministry (Laurel and I were by coincidence ordained on the exact same day in 1981) my life has crossed paths with Laurel's on several occasions. We are mutual friends of mutual friends, and I know her by reputation to be an outstanding and thoughtful religious leader. To my knowledge, Peter's and my paths have never crossed (although apparently he discovered UUism in Eugene Oregon in the mid-nineties, at exactly the same time I was completing my PhD there. But for some reason we never met personally). He certainly has many strong supporters among my friends in the PNWD, which is to his credit I'm sure. And I also believe that the issues he has identified as crucial -- radical hospitality and ministerial formation -- are the right ones, and will be priorities for whoever is elected next.

But here's the thing for me. When I look at Laurel's resume I see someone with three decades of solid experience in the ministry, and who has literally given her entire adult life in service to our movement. She has successfully served two very different churches, been a Berry Street essayist and the Living Tradition preacher, and served on more boards, committees, commissions, whatever than I can comfortably count. Perhaps most importantly (and I say this as an historian of our movement who was also there to witness with my own eyes), her work with Harry Scholefield on "Living By Heart" was one of the earliest, most influential, and perhaps even the single most important catalyst for the renewal of interest in All Things Spiritual among Unitarian Universalists.

Peter, by contrast, was only first discovering Unitarian Universalism at the moment Laurel was helping to profoundly change its face. After a year or two in the pews he headed off for seminary, and since then has successfully served the same church -- twice -- with a brief (and somewhat mysterious, at least to me) interlude at 25 in between. He's clearly an attractive and compelling speaker, who is capable of inspiring great loyalty in the people who hear him. And he has carefully positioned himself as the "outsider" candidate, who is going to bring to our movement new ideas from outside the box that are going to transform it into whatever it needs to be in order to thrive in the next century.

But I guess I'm just old school enough to think that the last thing we really need right now is more new ideas from outside the box. For too long I've watched our denomination chase after this "latest thing" and the next, every one of which is going to be "just the thing" to grow us to relevance and thus expand the impact and influence of our values and principles. But I'm not even certain that's the right problem, much less the best course. Instead, I feel what we really need is a leader who truly understands the heart and soul of our movement, not only at this moment in history, but throughout its history. Once again, Peter is certainly capable of saying all of the same right things so many of us have been thinking and saying for years (that we are not a social club, or a political party for instance). But Laurel "gets it" in a way and on a level that is difficult to put into words...although in my opinion she has certainly done so very effectively, over and over and over again.

That's why she won my vote. As if anyone really cares....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Cyber-Stalker

Shortly after the Presidential Election, I drew the attention of a notorious U*U blogger (Robin Edgar, the so-called "Emerson Avenger") for posting this image on my blog, and comparing it to (among other things) a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Robin accused me of stealing my idea from him (which, I hope it goes without saying, I didn't) without giving him "credit where credit is due" (apparently, the truly important consideration in his mind), and then later (after I tried to defend myself) called me a plagiarist and "the Klepto Cleric," accused me of "conduct unbecoming a minister," and generally began to heap abuse upon me every chance he got (which was quite frequently, since he apparently has a lot of time on his hands).

Finally, when I got tired of the whole business and tried to disengage, I made the mistake of quoting an old folk saying I first heard from my grandmother: "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk. You both end up stinking, but the skunk LIKES it." Robin took to that like...well, like a skunk to a pissing match, he routinely warns his victims to stock up on tomato juice because when he's finished with them they'll need it!

But here's my point and my request. Robin is obviously free to write whatever he likes on his own blogs, and good for him if it keeps him off the streets, out of trouble and out of harm's way. But for God's sake, PLEASE will people stop linking to his site, publishing his comments, and allowing him to gain greater exposure for his slander and abuse than he can gather on his own! All the high-falutin' arguments about "a free and responsible search" notwithstanding, all you are doing is contributing to his hateful, hurtful campaign of lies and abuse. You're not doing him any good, and you're not making our movement smell too sweet either.

I also feel compassion for Robin, and all the things he's apparently suffered...but believe me, helping him to inflict that same hurt on others is NOT the appropriate, compassionate, humanitarian thing to do. So please, PLEASE, PLEASE! just cut him off, right now, today, Cold Turkey, and maybe we can begin to put an end to this long, international nightmare....

BTW & FWI, here are the links to MY ORIGINAL NOVEMBER 17 POST, along with the COMMENT ON CHRISTINE ROBINSON'S BLOG that Robin claims I stole. So setting aside the fact that I hadn't even seen this comment until Robin brought it to my attention, you can decide for yourself whether Robin's accusations of "plagiarism" are really supportable. And then maybe the entire blogosphere will start to stink just a little bit less.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Theodore Parker, the Great American Preacher

born August 24, 1810 - Lexington, Massachusetts.
died May 10, 1860 - Florence Italy.

Lest we forget, both the Parker birth bicentennial and the Parker death sesquicentennial are coming up next summer. Might make for an interesting opportunity to reassess the impact his inspiration and influence have had on our movement. But until then, enjoy these:

The English Cemetery in Florence

The Grave of Theodore Parker

Yes, that's me standing in the rain next to Parker's headstone in Florence, Spring 2000

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


from The Professional Soldier, by Morris Janowitz (1960)

Military officers frequently made reference to linkage between their profession and the ministry. One Army colonel, when asked about the gratifications of military life, said: “It is not too different from priesthood or ministry in serving a cause.” In a letter a retired naval captain wrote to his son, which was widely distributed, the analogy is spelled out in detail:

The naval profession is much like the ministry. You dedicate your life to a purpose. You wear the garb of an organized profession. Your life is governed by rules laid down by the organizations. You renounce your pursuit of wealth. In a large measure you surrender your citizenship; renounce politics; work for the highest good of the organization. In the final analysis, your aims and object are quite as moral as any minister’s because you are not seeking your own good, but the ultimate good of your country. You train the men under you to be good and useful citizens, and, like the minister, what you say must conform to the rules of the organization.

It has not been unusual for a young man to have made a decision as to whether he would enter the ministry or the military. In the United States, and more often in Europe, sons of clergy have frequently taken up a military career. Conversely, officers who resigned from the military have found in the clergy an expression of their desire to “do service and perform in the name of a great cause.”


These ancient archetypes: the hunter and the shaman, the warrior and the priest, have been at the heart of human society since before civilization or recorded history. Only motherhood is arguably an older "profession." In an earlier post I suggested that there was potentially a great deal that clergy could learn about their vocation by studying the leadership experiences of commissioned military officers. So it's interesting to discover that this scrutiny has occurred in the other direction as well, and that military commanders are looking to religious and spiritual leaders in order to better understand the challenges facing them when leading soldiers in combat.

And at some point this will probably be worthy of a much longer post. But for now I just observe that Schaller's book is about 25 years old now, and Janowitz's more than 50. A lot of things have changed in both the military and the ministry in that time. Yet with such ancient archetypes, the fundamentals endure, and continue to be illuminating. What do other folks see here? Is this really a worthy line of inquiry leading to profound insight? Or am I just way off base here, without a lot of foundation or support?

Friday, April 03, 2009



The words below are some twenty-five years old now; they were first published in 1984, the year I completed my internship at University Unitarian Church in Seattle and was called to my first settled ministry in Midland, Texas. The book itself had its moment of attention mostly because of Schaller's early discussion of the ways in which congregational size helps dictate congregational culture and thus effective ministerial strategies. Schaller called them "Cats, Collies, Gardens and Ranches" to differentiate between what we would now call the Family, Pastoral, Program and Corporate-sized churches. And it was all the rage in the circles I ran with, in much the same way that Alice Mann is now.

But for some reason, it was these other words of Schaller's tht really struck a lasting chord with me, and although now I am much more curious about the DIFFERENCES between these two vocations, the haunting similarities (especially around issues like the mission comes first, leading by example, the connection between discipline and discipleship, and the distinctive "cultures" of both professions) have stuck with me, and return to mind often in the on-going discussion in our denomination about ministerial recruitment, formation, education and settlement. And the challenge of "careerism" continues to plague us as well, especially with the loss of real ecclesiastical knowledge by the laity, and the surge of second-career individuals into the profession.

That being said, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the many talents of my colleagues, who come from such different backgrounds and yet all bring significant gifts to share in ministry to our people and our theological movement. In the meantime, I now find myself reflecting upon my quarter-century evolution from naive and idealistic young mystic to curmudgeonly old fart. And I find myself wondering what the next quarter-century may bring, disappointed in the knowledge that I probably won't be around to see it with my own eyes....

For those ministerial readers who are affronted by the suggestion that the churches can learn from research about military organizations, it may be useful to reflect on a few of the parallels between the ordained clergy and the commissioned officer corps. Historically, both have occupied what the rest of society perceived as a distinctive office, both have a custom of wearing special garb, both place a great emphasis on titles and rank and the garb often reflects title and rank. Both have relied on their own special training schools to prepare candidates for that vocation and in both cases entrance into the profession has been controlled by the graduates, not by the general public. Until recently compulsory chapel was a part of the daily routine in these training schools. Both draw most of their administrators and teachers from those within that vocation. Both have a tradition of a special commissioning or ordination ceremony following graduations that includes the taking of an oath or vow by the candidate. Both are seen as “set apart” vocations and the families of the practitioners are very conscious of this. Historically, both have assumed that induction into that vocation was for a lifetime, or at least until retirement. (In both vocations the current generation of new entrants places less weight on that tradition than did previous generations. Increasingly both are becoming entry points into the secular labor force.) In both, the tradition has been that the needs of the cause, rather than the preferences of the individual, determined placement. In both vocations the practitioner, at an early age, had many firsthand encounters with death. In both vocations the handicap of a comparatively low salary was offset by perquisites of office, womb-like care from entrance to death, the mutual support of the brotherhood, the feeling that one was responding to a calling rather than simply “making a living,” a sense of service to the public and a pension following retirement. (In both cases those now responsible for paying pensions are beginning to show signs of rebellion.)

In both professions the wife was expected to be the husband’s helpmate, but celibacy was encouraged. Both have a long tradition of employer-owned housing, transfers at the convenience of the institution, special tax advantages, and an expectation that many practitioners will serve in foreign lands. Both vocations have a distinctive jargon, a tradition of in-house jokes, a code of ethics, a professional association, an assumption of peer group rather than outside evaluation, and special orders for the elite within the profession. Both place a great weight on graduate degrees and credentials in placement. Civilians have been expected to accord special deference to those in these vocations, ut both have experienced a substantial erosion of these deference patterns in recent years. Both have a long history of an elite office cadre who are presumed to possess certain mystical qualities. There are distinctive titles (bishop, general, admiral) for those at the top of the deference and command pyramid. The tradition that “rank has its privileges” is part of the reward system for those at the top of the hierarchy. In both vocations there is a long tradition of the oldest son following in the father’s footsteps. Both have long traditions of naming buildings after distinguished members of that vocation. What is sometimes referred to as the “ecclesiastical escalator” has its counterpart in the military. Both have a long tradition that subordinates have an obligation of loyalty to senior officials that often must override personal inclinations. Both have been experiencing an erosion of the belief that if they are loyal to the system, the system will take care of them when they are too old to be contributing members.

Finally, both are vulnerable to the blight of “careerism,” of placing the future career and well being of the individual ahead of the cause.

Lyle E. Schaller, Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984), pp. 56-8.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spilling the Beans

This morning was the kick-off of our annual Stewardship Campaign: four homilies from the four members of our ministerial "team" -- myself, the Minister of Music, and the two part-time ministers who were brought in to support me after I was diagnosed with cancer. That may sound like an awful lot of preaching, but it actually worked out magnificently...and without much advanced coordination between us either. Of course, today's service was really merely the mid-point of what has already been about six weeks worth of warm-up: planning, testimonials, the recruitment and training of visiting stewards, the preparation and mailing of our written materials, and (of course) the all-church fellowship event on Saturday night: an old-fashioned Bean Supper complete with corny entertainment and home-made pie. And now we can still look forward to another three to four weeks of home visits and face to face conversations, after which we should know how close we are to reaching our goal in these challenging economic circumstances.

As now both a part-timer and a short-termer myself, I haven't really paid that much attention to the finer details of the campaign this year. I don't even know what our canvass goal is, much less how likely we are to reach it based on our historical pledge numbers. I do know that the value of our endowment is down by about 30%, and have spoken personally with four different people who have either lost or left their jobs in the past few weeks. But I've also been told that we potentially have as many as sixty new pledgers this year, and this alone could easily make all the difference between success and disappointment. It's hard to say. There has been so much energy and good feeling around the church, really since the moment I arrived here two years ago, notwithstanding my eventual illness and diagnosis six months into this ministry. The way the members of this congregation rallied around me (and one another) was an authentic "George Bailey moment," and has both inspired and empowered a lot of people to get involved in ways they hadn't been involved with the church before. Attendance has been strong, with lots of first-time visitors every Sunday. So all those signs are very good.

But at the same time, the economic downturn has really put a damper on a lot of the things we dreamed of doing here. When I was candidating here two years ago, the air was filled with big plans for real estate expansion and partnerships with local arts, educational, and social justice organizations, and a much more visible footprint here at the head of Temple Street. Now it feels as if everyone is just hunkering down, and waiting to see how dark it's going to get before the dawn. And that, of course, has nothing to do with MY illness; it's just the sad and shameful legacy of eight years of plundering by the Bushies and their cronies. Meanwhile, now that my decision not to return here in the fall is public news, I'm starting to hear from all of the people for whom my ministry has made a big difference in their lives, who are sorry to see me going, who wish that I could stay, who tell me in just so many words what a huge inspiration I've been for them personally, and how much I have done for the church in such a short time. And naturally, it's hard for me to hear all that without beginning to second-guess myself, and falling into that trap of thinking that I'm indispensable, that no one can possibly do this job as well as I can, that by leaving now and denying this church the benefit of my vision, my experience, my enthusiasm, devotion and general excellence, I am in some way "leaving them in the lurch."

And whenever I start to feel this way, I just need to remind myself that we all THINK we're indispensable, but none of us really are, and that the fact that my departure may very well be setting them back a decade or more (as someone recently suggested to me) really means very little to a congregation which measures its lifespan in centuries. I'm proud of whatever I've been able to accomplish in my all-too-brief time here; I wish it could have been longer (as I think everyone does), but God-Providence-Destiny-the Universe had a different plan both for me and for them, and that's just the way it's got to be. And that's my mantra. None of us would have wished for this, and we can all mourn the loss of "what might have been." And I will miss them too once I'm gone. But let's take THIS time to say goodbye, and celebrate the time we had together, rather than squandering it with regret.

And if I ever find myself feeling TOO nostalgic, I just need to remind myself of these abominable Maine winters....

Meanwhile, if you are interested in what a minister in my situation might have to say to their congregation at Stewardship time, here are links to both my Stewardship Packet letter and my Sunday Morning kick-off homily. Enjoy!

Stewardship Letter
Stewardship Homily

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Monkey Mindfulness

[Over at Monkey Mind, Providence Rhode Island minister James Ishmael Ford is writing about the role Joseph Campbell played in the renewal of the "spiritual" aspects of our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition. Here's a copy of the comment I posted there, which I'm posting here as well simply because it's such an easy thing to do.]

In 1978 I wrote my Senior Honors thesis at the University of Washington on Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God (a document now thankfully forever lost to posterity). The following year at HDS I continued to pursue those interests through coursework in Buddhism and the Buddhist/Christian dialogue, The Interpretation of Religious Experience, and James Fowler's theories of Faith Development.

My point is that even then -- a decade before the Moyers interviews -- some of us had already picked up on the idea of Unitarian Universalism as a "reasonable mysticism" -- a faith tradition which had grounded itself in science, "natural theology" and the other intellectual tools of the Enlightenment, but was still open to non-rational (as opposed to irrational) ways of knowing, and had a rich heritage of intuitive, "mystical" knowledge as well, "peak experiences" (in Maslow's terms) which could be described phenomenologically, and even recreated with some reliability through the use of certain kinds of time-tested techniques and practices.

Perry Miller's famous essay "From Jonathan Edwards to Emerson" makes almost this exact same point about Unitarianism's Enlightened Puritans and their Transcendentalist offspring, who looked back to their grandparents in order to re-embrace the emotional and spiritual intensity of that spirit-filled world. Finally, the work of (UU - although I didn't know it at the time) Frederick Streng on "Emptiness," along with the theories of German Sociologist of Religion Ernst Troeslsch (a major influence on James Luther Adams) about "Church," "Sect" and "Mysticism" as the three building blocks of Christian communities, helped me to pull a lot of these pieces together, at least in my own mind.

Our UU churches are places set apart (like a sect) from the rest of the world, where we can come to safely explore more deeply within ourselves (mysticism), and then return to the world with a redemptive, sacramental gift of grace (the Church) which has the power to transform the world....a cycle which (not coincidentally) exactly parallels Campbell's Heroic Journey. Anyway, that's how I learned it at Harvard, 30 years ago. Do you think I ought to ask for my tuition back?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Swept Up By History -- Overwhelmed By Emotion

And good riddance to the Bushies! It's just so hard to describe how I feel about this transition of power. Eight years ago I witnessed Dubya accepting Gore's concession in front of the Texas State Legislature, and then leaving that building and stepping into a motorcade of Black SUVs...and in my gut I just knew that it was wrong, wrong, wrong... And now, eight years later, a very different Bush -- gray-haired, broken, pathetic -- leaves the Capitol by helicopter to return to Texas, with one last sentimental fly-over the White House before whatever awaits him next, which in my mind should be an obscure and dignified rustication in the wilderness of the Lone Star State, daily thanking God for a system of government that allows him that retirement, rather than turning him over to the World Court in flexicuffs and with a black bag over his head.

Make no mistake here: there has been a tremendous revolution in this country, two years in the making, which we seem to take for granted because the weight of our democratic traditions is so strong that it is hard to imagine it happening any other way. But from where I sit, the changes I see could not be more profound. It represents a complete transformation in the philosophy of governance, and a change-over in the control of the reins of power -- without violence or even the threat of violence, but rather via the ritualized recognition of the changed mandate of the people, and the voluntary surrender of power from those who once wielded it to those whom the people have chosen to replace them.

And already I can hear the Republican Noise Machine tuning up to talk about "the Obama Depression," blaming those who have held power for eight days for the mistakes and failed policies of those who misgoverned this country for the past eight years. But it's not going to work, because the people have seen the light and understand that it will be a long road back, even with all of us working and sacrificing together. The War on Terror, Global Warming, the Mortgage Crisis, Universal Health Care, rebuilding both the physical and the fiscal infrastructure of this country, and providing the next generation with the knowledge and skills they will need to compete in the global marketplace...not to mention the return of our civil and constitutional rights stripped away by the Patriot's a big agenda, but we can get it done. Embittered neofascist naysayers notwithstanding.

Friday, January 16, 2009

If the Matrix ran on Windows

Thought I'd make this random post, since it's been a couple of weeks since I've written anything here, and that really is way too long. So far though 2009 has been pretty laid back: preached once, paid some bills, had good news from my most recent CT scan (which you can read about at One Day Isle), and have generally just been digging out from underneath the holidays. Days have been bright but cold, and with the exception of one tough weekend following my most recent chemotherapy, my energy has been pretty good as well, despite the fact that I'm only generally sleeping now for two to three hours at a time.

Anyway, here's a cute little something from the folks at college humor about what it would be like if the Matrix ran on Windows.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I'm so glad this wasn't MY wedding....

And I suspect other clergy will immediately empathize. I've had some strange things happen at weddings where I've been the officiant, often around the rings. One of my best moments was when a ring flew loose from the pillow where it had been tied, and I reached out and snatched it in mid-air like it was something I did every day, and handed it to the bride to place upon the groom's finger. And I've also been the victim of a practical joke, where the best man pretended to have forgotten the ring, and all of the attendants pretended to check their pockets until it was finally "discovered" at the end of the line. A very funny moment (and fortunately, they were my friends), but a challenge then to pull the service back to the proper level of solemnity before I pronounced them husband and wife.

And perhaps my best wedding story ever (again, for friends) -- officiating at a wedding for two white water rafting guides on a rock in the middle of the Skykomish River above Goldbar in Washington State. The plan was to pronounce them husband and wife, and put them in a raft to float down to the reception a few miles away, while the rest of us drove ahead to meet them for their big entrance as a married couple. Unfortunately, in the middle of August the water in the river was very low; HOURS later they finally arrived to greet their now-well-lubricated guests with the story of their journey -- "float fifty yards, then pull it over the rocks; float another fifty yards...." Yep Steve, That's Marriage! -- for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; in sorrow and in joy.... At least you guys were dressed for the occasion.

Here's the URL for the video, just in case the embed isn't working....