Resources on Ministering to Someone Who is Chronically Ill

October 30, 2006

Regular readers, friends, and family know that I have struggled with chronic illness since I was in my early teens. Certainly, I am at a point in my life where my history with being sick and my current health doesn’t rule my life as it once did. Generally, I think I live a pretty normal life, perhaps with just a few more bumps in the road than a generally healthy person would face.

That said, I am still knocked over sometimes in realizing the difference it makes in one’s life to have been or be chronically ill. It gives you a new lens with which to see the world – in both a not-so-good way but also in some more positive ways. I realize that no matter how much better I get, I will bring that lens with me.

I was just reading the blog Journey to Somewhere which is written by a lovely woman about my age, who goes by the pen name Penguini, and who is in the congregation where I am the intern minister. I wanted to point it out because I am impressed with her ability to capture life as “a sick person” through her writing. I think for ministers, friends, or family who want to be there for someone who is struggling with chronic illness (or who has come through a chronic illness), Journey Toward Somewhere can be a helpful resource.

Journey to Somewhere also pointed to But You Don’t Look Sick, an online magazine “about living life to the fullest with any disability, invisible disease, or chronic pain.” In particular, Penguini pointed to an article on But You Don’t Look Sick called The Spoon Theory that I think deals well with helping friends and family better understand the day-to-day reality of chronic illness. Among other things, there is an article, 10 Tips for Visiting Someone Who is Sick, and there are also book reviews, and even a section called “sick humor” which is, of course, always important when facing illness. :)

Thanks to Penguini for her blog, writing, and, in general, her wonderful self. May all of those out there who are facing illness find healing, strength, and hope.

If you know of other good resources, please feel free to list them in the comments.


Thinking Outloud About My Thanksgiving Dinner

October 19, 2006

My sister and I have been planning our Thanksgiving dinner since we and our partners are the four vegetarian/vegan people in the family so we are having ourselves a lovely UnTurkey, and all sorts of delicious sides like stuffed butternut squash (stuffed with lentils cooked in red wine topped with brown sugar), mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and some other fancy stuff that my sister is making since she is a very fancy and talented cook. I thought of this because I was just in the kitchen doing a trial run of my stuffed butternut squash (which, by the way, members of FUUSM, will be featured at the Chalice Thursday dinner on November 16). As I was mixing my lentils with the squash, and getting so excited about the yummy food (food is one of my greatest pleasures in life) I was thinking, “Oh, those turkey eaters at Thanksgiving will be so jealous of all our good food that is just as good as theirs but much less harmful to the environment.” And then of course I stopped and thought, “Oh, no they won’t be jealous at all,” because food and where it comes from isn’t a huge concern for them. They like turkey, chicken, and such and like me, before I had my series of ah-ha moments that lead to where I am today, they don’t think much about eating animals or products that come from animals. I mean, except for my sister and I always eating differently at family gatherings, what would lead them to think about that? I notice so much how little connection there is between animals walking around and something on our plates to eat. And I’m not judgment of that, as if meat-eating is the moral litmus test for good people or something. But as someone who is aware of the difference that diet could make environmentally and in terms of the immense suffering an animal-based diet causes, I am at such a loss of how to share the issue with people – I mean, to most people, compassion for living beings is important. I really don’t know anyone that would say that they like to harm animals or cause them suffering. And even the most conservative of my family would like to continue to have an inhabitable planet for their grandkids. And I KNOW it seems like a huge leap to reduce animal products and meat, but it becomes such habit after a few months… and it would make such a difference. I just have this horrible sense that rather than lovingly sharing information and ideas, the animal rights movement has somehow not done a great job of making vegetarianism or veganism or, geesh, even compassion for animals, one thing among many we can do to save the world and make it a better place, but it has managed to pit “us” against “them” in a way that makes people feel awkward and defensive. Rather than a complex topic dealing with environment, habits, histories, compassion, etc. it has become ONE ISSUE – much like the abortion issues. You are either FOR or AGAINST. I don’t think this is solely the result of animal rights activists not doing a good job at framing the issue – I mean, food goes very deep and is very tied to traditions and it is sensitive because unless one is vegetarian because one doesn’t actually like meat and other animal products, it does sort of imply that one thinks it is the better way to live. But why don’t people get defensive when someone drives around a Prius? People don’t immediately start feeling attacked in thier non-hybrid car? But people do tend to immediately feel defensive about someone who is vegetarian. My thoughts are rambling here, but I guess what I am lamenting is that it is such a sensitive issue and that, for instance, W. an I cannot comfortably share the role that increased connectedness with animal beings has enriched our spiritual journey – sharing this is automatically interpreted as “AND YOU SHOULDN’T BE EATING STEAK” OR the other extreme it is completely not heard and has no impact at all. I haven’t written a lot about my vegetarianism on here for all the reasons I just talked about – fear of being perceived as pushy, concern as to how to go about it best, etc. But it is a very central part of my life and spiritual journey, and I see my love toward non-human animals as part of my ministry and as a natural extension of my compassion to humans. Our cats remind us every day that non-human animals have feelings, are amazingly kind supportive creatures that can give and receive love. And I guess the way I see my vegetarianism is that there is such a lack of love in this world – a lack of clean water, clean air, of general good energy – I just find the suffering experienced by so many on this earth almost paralyzing and overwhelming – suffering for whole lives, day in and day out, struggling just to survive – I see my vegetarianism as one little thing I can do to make sure that there is less suffering, a little more clean water, a little more clean air, a little less bad energy. And I don’t argue that everyone must do this, but rather I would just like to find better ways to invite people to consider this as one path toward doing the work of love and justice and care that we are always struggling to do more of. After you get used to it, it is such a nice thing to know that with each yummy meal of, for instance, stuffed butternut squash, you are doing something good – causing less harm.
Less harm. Less harm. Less harm…. so says the poem by Ellen Bass Pray for Peace. My little chant.
Now for the squash. E


Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Friends: Aren’t they just AMAZING?

October 19, 2006

…because it must be so hard to give away money and stand up for justice in between your world travels and the Oscars and making new albums or movies AND raising your very own family all at once. I wonder how they do it?

Okay, here is the thing. I think it is GREAT that celebrities such as Pitt and Jolie and Bono are doing good things for important causes, adopting children in need, raising the profile of important issues, and so on…

But, what I really am not so much a fan of is the lack of perspective that media and the general public seem to have on this. I mean, I am very happy that Angelina Jolie apparently gives away 1/3 of her income. But she still has money to live in a mansion, rent out a freaking entire complex in Africa to have her baby, buy designer very very over-priced clothes, jet around the world, and live better than, not only almost all the people alive in the world right now, but better than most people throughout the entire existence of humanity. It is great that she (and now apparently Madonna) adopt children who need homes. But, let us not forget that plenty of nannies are helping out here. I could go on, but you get the point. Celebrities are not really doing much hard work in terms of making things better. And I think, generally, they know this and it is only when people (like Anderson Cooper in the Angelina Jolie interview a while back) and media make them seem oh-so-giving-and-loving-and-just does the problem come along.

I do not doubt that the celebrities who have made do-gooding a hobby and their “thing” are amazingly well-intentioned and do make actual differences in people’s lives. I suppose I just want to get away from this whole “Wow, isn’t that great of them” sense that I get from the media. They are not living a difficult life. Not even a little itsty bit difficult based on their do-gooding. It is not hard to tour around the world and visit struggling countries or to set up funds or contests or even to give away A LOT of money when you have so much money you have no need of it all and generally live a VERY luxurious life.

This goes to the heart of one of my life-long struggles: how much “stuff” and “comfort” is okay to have? My gut tells me very little – my $1000 spent on vacation (or clothes or whatever I might spend it on) could go to something way more helpful to people who are suffering greatly. I don’t “deserve” a vacation or nice clothes or fun stuff anymore than people who don’t have such things “deserve” what they have. I live this out very poorly. I have accepted this. It improves, but not to the extent to which I think it really should. I just can’t think of a justification for the sort of unneeded stuff that we all have when that money could go to buy food for children who are hungry, housing for those without shelter, healthcare for those who are sick and in need. So you can see why I am not that impressed with celebrity do-gooding, until they really actually sacrifice something that they want. If a celebrity lives in a 2000 sq. ft. home and rides coach on the airplane and doesn’t have fancy cars or full-time nannies or extravagant vacations – that is the point where I might start to be impressed.

Just general rambling…. I’ve had bronchitis this week, which instead of getting better each day as I envisioned it when it was a little cough, has instead gotten progressively and substantially worse each day. And not only will I give a sermon on my favorite topic ever on Sunday (feminism) but I am scheduled to take the GRE on Monday which I cannot reschedule because not until today did I realize that I am getting substantially MORE sick each day rather than less and I would have had to cancel it yesterday in order to get a refund. So what do I do in response to all of this? I write about celebrity charity. Such GREAT time management Elizabeth.


Missionaries of Cambridge, MA

October 18, 2006

Somehow, in studying at my favorite coffee shop a few days ago, I managed to sit right next to some of the few evangelical missionaries in Cambridge, MA. As some of you will remember, I also managed to be approached by one of the few anti-choice street proselytizers in Harvard Square and had the pleasure to reflect on that experience here. Perhaps folks can just sense that my mega-church-Baptist-Catholic heritage will, at least, prevent me from being rude and even, perhaps, help me understand a little of where they are coming from. Or maybe I am just a statistical anomaly. Anyway, the missionaries sitting next to me reminded me a lot of my Campus Crusade days – friendly, hip-seeming people in love with Jesus. Which, of course, I think is lovely and have no problem with. In fact, I sort of miss that closeness with the savior of the world that one feels like one has as a Christian in love with Jesus. However, what I was a little irked by was all the talk of taking the message of Jesus to other countries. I am not even that terribly opposed to sharing about the work Jesus has done in your own life with other people, especially if you are very culturally sensitive as they appeared to at least be trying to be (I was not purposefully listening – they were just right next to me and I could not avoid it). I mean, I like to share about Unitarian Universalism and how much I enjoy my faith and how much I get from it, and the work of hope and justice that it has the potential to do. But my thing with spending one’s life sharing Jesus in other countries is all the time and energy this takes without lots of practical results. I guess to me, the idea would not to be to share Jesus for Jesus’s sake (just like I don’t share Unitarian Universalism for its own sake) but rather to share the LOVE of Jesus through one’s work and let God take care of the rest. Kind of Jesus as the path and not the destination. (I DO however, understand that this is exactly the opposite of how they feel. Jesus is FOR SURE the path AND the destination. I’m just saying what I would prefer.) This is why I am pretty impressed with what I know about Habitat for Humanity (I’m sure they aren’t perfect, but try to focus on my general point here). Habitat builds houses and says we are showing God’s love through our work. Houses – something people really need. So if you are DYING to share Jesus with the people of the world, why not do that WHILE you are doing something helpful. Rather than spending all your free time plotting and planning about how to share Jesus – why not do that through your works and, as they say, give the rest up to God? I think a house or clean water or unconditional, sustained, support and love over years speaks way more than going through the rehearsed-yet-spontaneous-sounding ways of sharing your testimony and bringing people to Jesus. The missionaries sitting next to me seemed relatively progressive (as missionaries go) and truly excited about sharing their excitement about Jesus and wanting not to be all “we know best” and “give up all of your culture and adopt our culture along with our god” old-style Christian missionary. But rather than having strategy meetings at a cafe and lots of small group meetings on planning and months of praying (I heard them discuss this all) why not DO God’s work of love and justice and trust that those acts, and inquiries about your acts of love, will be the path to sharing the message of hope of your faith rather than thinking that God or Jesus needs you to run around laying out all the details to people who are not in need of more creeds, but are in fact, in need of deeds, particularly from privileged Americans whose privilege rests in large part on the structures set up by the U.S. military and economic hegemony. Just my thoughts. Now back to work. p.s. Afterthought here: I really don’t like the idea of going to other countries to bring people to Jesus at all. I don’t like the idea of Christians thinking that they have something better than what people already have. I guess my point is that if you have a strong passion to be in another country or culture to do works of love, and the people in that community happen to ask you about your faith, you share with them from an honest place, and those people happen to convert to Christianity, I see no harm in that. But when the idea is to go there so that people will accept Jesus and you do good things in order to show people “See, how cool Jesus and Christianity is?” I do not think this to be okay. My main point is that I am much more supportive of people who feel no need to convert others to their faith, but instead feel a strong need to love and do works of justice as a result of the faith that they hold. I’m going to stop now. I could go on but I won’t. Hope this is clear enough.


Question and Answer: Unitarian Universalism

October 16, 2006

So Fausto asked me a bunch of very good questions about Unitarian Universalism in the comment of another post. Thought I would respond. I’d love to hear other thoughts as well.

Is there a legitimate tradition of UU syncretism? (Fausto says: I think so. I think James Freeman Clarke and Jenkin Lloyd Jones were excellent, if perhaps contrasting, exemplars of the tradition.)

I have to admit, and promise that this will obviously improve with time, that Unitarian Universalist history is not my strong point. I know the basics, but not the details. However, I guess my only comment on this question would be that if there is a history of something does that make it (more) legitimate?

Is “Sheila-ism” a valid spiritual discipline? (I think not; apparently neither do you or Shawn.)

Well, not to be all President Clinton (it depends on what you mean by “it”), but it depends on what you mean by valid. I think I might struggle with calling someone’s spiritual practice/belief is invalid. I suppose I do feel a concern with drawing from multiple traditions with which you have no historical or communal connection, and particularly the idea that you can pick and choose the parts you like and put them all together without regard to their original context and claim them as your own. Somehow that feels like it is demeaning to those traditions – that there is a lack of acknowledgment that these traditions developed in particular contexts and with particular histories in particular communities. So I guess I feel as though contextualization is important, and being careful when/if we claim a tradition as our own.

Is Shawn right that UUism has come to be, or is in the process of becoming, dominated by Sheila-ism? (Fausto says: I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but it’s a real threat.)

I agree that it is something to keep an eye on – the main concern that I have is not the multitude of practices or beliefs, but the lack of context of those beliefs and practices. As if you can just pick out what you like best from a salad bar of religious practices and beliefs with no knowledge about how those faiths were grown, or where they come from. As a future minister, one concern I don’t believe that can give you a grounded, centering religious life. Also, to me, it reminds me of some form of colonization – that we can just take what we want and toss out the rest.

Should we, either congregationally or denominationally, be doing more either to encourage or discourage Sheila-ism? (Fausto says: I think we should be doing more to discourage it.) If so, what could we do?

I would like to see this addressed both in minister training, and at the denominational level and in congregations. Classes on the history of religions (for instance, Introduction to _______ (fill in the blank: Judaism, early Christianity, Hinduism)). I feel particularly concerned with the appropriation of Native American practices, histories, beliefs, given the particularly brutal history of colonization. Sort of like, hey, we took your land, killed pretty much all of your people, but hey we like some of your spiritual ideas and so we’d like to take those parts that we like and sort of change them around a little bit to fit our needs, and get meaning from them. Kay? Again, I guess for me the main point is respect and the acknowledgment that most religious and spiritual traditions come out of a particular context and from a particular community that are also parts of those traditions. Religious traditions are not a collection of practices stored up in a database of cool ideas that we can go pick out like from a store. I think this somehow relates to the commodification of everything including religion.

Do our legacy denominations of Unitarianism and Universalism, as expressed within a generally Christian orientation, still offer anything of lasting value to us today? (Fausto says: I think so.) If so, what are we doing, and are we doing enough, to preserve and promote them? (Fausto says: I think not enough.)

This is an example of how naive I am about religion sometimes. I’ve said here before that I was truly SHOCKED in high school when I joined a Methodist church and one of my fellow youth was, gasp, complaining about the work we were doing to build a house for a family. What sort of Christian was she? Hadn’t she heard that you were supposed to work JOYFULLY? Of course, there were some hard lessons to learn there and the same has happened as I came to Unitarian Universalism and I found out that some people were prejudiced against Christians. Did they miss the fact that we were supposed to be welcoming to all? Loving? And, yeah, what about our long history as Christians? Remember that whole prior-to-1961 time? Anyway, so I am personally very appreciative of our history, and disappointed that some folks aren’t as appreciative of it. I not always in love with studying early U.S. religious history, but would hope that a basic knowledge for most members and a deeper knowledge for ministers would be important. I really don’t know what is being done at the congregational level or denominational level to preserve or promote this history. I know I need to read a lot of books about it before I go before the MFC and need to take more classes about it, so that is at least something we are doing to make sure ministers are grounded in our history. I would like to see churches who are uncomfortable with Christian “stuff” go through a process of learning to appreciate that tradition along with all the others. But at a practical level, I’m not sure how all this would work.

In theory, is there still enough room for our U and U Christian legacies to flourish within present-day UU syncretism (or Sheila-ism)? In practice, is there? (Fausto says: I hope so, but Shawn evidently has concluded otherwise.) Should there be? (Fausto says: I think so.) If there should be, are we doing enough to preserve that room? (Fausto says: Shawn’s example suggests not.) If not, why not?

I would question anyone (and I know they exist) who would suggest that, in theory, there is no more room for U and U Christian legacies to flourish within present-day Unitarian Universalist syncretism. How in the world does it make sense to say we are accepting X, Y, and Z but no no no, not Christians. I find this to be amazingly hypocritical and narrow-minded. I do understand that some individual congregations are more humanist or Buddhist-learning and would not feel comfortable with a strong presence of Christian liturgy or theology. Just as, I believe some of the more Christian congregations would not love a strong influence of humanist or pagan (for instance) I don’t think I have a good enough overview of the world of Unitarian Universalist congregational life to know if, in practice, on a whole, if Christian Unitarian Universalist are feeling as though they have room to flourish. Of course, I would hope it would be clear by now that I think that this should be the case. I can’t really say if we are doing enough to preserve or create that room to flourish. I envision a faith where, within the context of our principles and purposes and healthy congregational life, a multitude of spiritual paths would be able to flourish, including Christianity.

I’d love to write more but this is a blog, not a paper for school so that will have to do for now.

Watch out for: more info on An Inconvenient Truth (which we showed at church today) and my experience sitting next to the Cambridge, MA missionaries while trying to do school work….


Phineas is sick :(

October 13, 2006

Our little foster kitten Phineas was sick when we got him – eye problems and his whiskers had fallen out and littler than his brothers and lethargic. We treated him with antibiotics and eye drops and his eye got a little better, but it is not all the way better and the situation is not looking good. He needs to see an cat ophthalmologist but even the diagnostics seem to be amazingly expensive and the shelter we foster Phineas through is running low on money. The doctor said that the worst case scenario is that he might have to have his eye removed, and it is questionable whether or not he can actually even see out of it, or if he will be able to in the future. Poor little guy. I was thinking about what to do about it, but it seems difficult to have a fundraiser or people donate money for ONE kitten, while lots of people go without essential healthcare. But he is just one of the sweetest cats ever. Ever. Say a little prayer for him…


Some more thoughts on Unitarian Universalism

October 12, 2006

So I made a quick post the other night in response to a comment that Shawn at Lofi Tribe made and it got lots of comments going. Exciting in a way, but in another way not so exciting because it seems as if I inserted myself into a big discussion (Christianity in the UU faith/”new age” stuff in our faith, etc.) that I wasn’t really aware I was inserting myself into. I learned. Hopefully others did too. Yay for blogging.

Anyway, there were a few lines in the comments that I wanted to highlight as I think about our faith – where we are. (As as side note, I try to sort of not focus on this too much in my blog or sermons or work in general because it seems like Unitarian Universalists spend a lot of time “assessing” where we are and thinking about what should be our theology or our strategy or whatever, and sometimes it gets done so much I think we forget to just live our faith. Committee meetings or “discussions” or blog posts can only go so far – but I digress.) What I wanted to point out was this quote:

There are many paths to God. I just don’t want to tread every single one of them at the same time.

Which I think is brilliant and made me laugh. In the sense that I just picture people trying to do this – a little bit of Buddha, a pagan goddess here and there, some nice historical Jesus…. in religious studies talk this is sometimes called Shelia-ism – which refers to a study or article some time ago about a woman named Shelia who just picked the parts she liked from various traditions and knitted them together to make… Sheliaism. I think it is important to keep in mind that Unitarian Universalism is not – or, in my humble opinion, should not – be a salad bar of faith where you just pick what you like and throw it all together and do whatever you want.

Shawn Anthony pointed out a situation of “the senseless act of recklessly smashing together three or four different traditions and naming it something else. I have no problem with a Pagan, Native American Flute Music, and/or Egyptian/Greek/Christian Labyrinths. When they are all combined it is religiously ridiculous…” I think that this is a perfect example of Unitarian Universalism at its worst – Shelia-ism gone haywire – thinking that we can somehow just squish together this and that and that somehow that will provide the spiritual grounding that is needed for the hard work of justice and love lived out through faith.

I think, at its best, Unitarian Universalism can be a religious identity and community that comes together to support each other in our diverse spiritual paths, honoring the wisdom that various traditions (that we were possibly not born into) can bring to our spiritual journeys and work of justice, while at the same time grounding ourselves in Unitarian Universalist history, principles and purposes (which I happen to like, although I know some don’t). I think a balance between being Unitarian Universalist while at the same time being _________ (fill in the blank – Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Humanist, something in between, atheist, nothing else, etc.) AND at the same time being aware of the traditions which we draw from that our not ones we were born into and being aware of the complex histories that those traditions have is tough. It is a lot of balls to keep int the air. It is why some people feel excluded. Others perceive the denomination as weird. As pointed out, it is problematic we fail so miserably at speaking to poor communities and minority communities. But I HOPE that even in all this difficulty, that it continues to be a project that people are willing to take on because I think it is an important one. Important to honor our Unitarian and Universalist histories…important to welcome people who have not been able to find a spiritual home in a Christian church, or a sangha or a temple…central to provide a faith where people feel as though they can recover from past religious hurt…important to welcome Christians who want a place where Jesus and the God of the New Testament/Hebrew Bible isn’t the only/main context in which to think about the divine…key because people on different paths have a lot to learn from each other and, I believe, have a lot to offer the world as a united faith community. And so on.

This is getting too long, as usual. I’m not editing closely again. We’ll see how this blogging off the cuff goes. I’m not sure what I think about the slight conflictish nature of the comments on my last post. I’m not one for controversy, but I try to remind myself that it is also important not to avoid controversy just because you don’t like it…. A good place to learn, if not always totally fun. We shall see how it goes, I suppose.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers