April 30, 2006

My grandma is dying very quickly. She was diagnosed with lung cancer about two month ago or so, and we soon found out that it spread to her bones. I have planned to go see her two times, but both times ended up canceling because I wasn’t feeling well or it seemed so hectic to try to go down to see her and weave around the throngs of family there and try to talk to her while she was feeling bad and…. well, it just seemed to make sense to wait and she was doing quite well until just recently. And she is not doing well now. She can barely walk or go to the bathroom herself. She knows she is dying. She is 81 and has nine children and 32 grand children and feels that she has lived a good life. That said, I don’t think it makes it any easier for the family to watch her increased confusion, decreased ability to do adult things, her increasing pain, that fear that she has even as a Catholic that she can’t be sure what comes next. I can’t help but be angry that my mom has to take care of her again – my mom did so much taking care of my grandma and her brothers and sisters when my mom was a child and my grandma was sick then too. And of course it doesn’t feel good to be a little angry at someone who is dying, but of course I’m sure it is normal. What it really comes down to is that when people die, it just sucks. The process typically isn’t pleasant. The feelings it brings up aren’t pleasant. I know, I know. Not very ministerial, ehh? I mean, this a time to celebrate life, pass peacefully into a new place, and so on. But it just isn’t that easy, at least not for me. It sucked when my Aunt Carol died of lung cancer two years ago, it sucked when my Mammaw suffered for five years before she finally died, it sucked that a possum ate my sweet little kittens Wilbur and Lilly when I was 10, when Luke (another cat) got hit on the road, or getting that call in the middle of the night that my cousin committed suicide. I know I’ll need to develop a better spiel on this before I do my CPE with hospice (planned Summer 07), but sometimes I think people try to flower up death and make it a beautiful process and celebration of life and there really isn’t anything nice about not being able to go to the bathroom yourself or your bones being painfully eaten away by cancer. And ministers need to find a way to acknowledge the messy, horrible parts of death and not just make it some sort of divinity-school-land fluffy thing about beauty and hope and transition and cycles. It is horrible, in many ways. And I hate it that my grandma has to go through it and that my mom has to suffer too.

A short p.s. I am listening to Third Day which is a Christian band I listened to in high school and there is something comforting about it. Even though the way they sing about God is not quite how I would frame it, it is great to hear the passion and joyful aching about God’s love. And it reminds me that I really do relate to God language and it makes me more irritated about that speaker yesterday (see previous post) making fun of people who believe in God or talk about God in a certain way. In times of death and dying and deep deep darkness that doesn’t seem like it will ever go away, God whoever whatever he or she is has been a great person to be with me. And, even as I make fun of Revolve magazine (see two posts ago) I also need to remember that that type of spirituality, no matter how sexist and annoying I find it, can bring great joy and comfort to girls who ache. I just hope that in my life I can carve out a space for a God that is there for you when you ache, and even maybe a Jesus who is there for you when you ache, without all the other baggage about how nonChristians will go to hell and men need to be in charge.

Enough for today. As I wrap up Gracie (my kitty) has come up and licked my nose. Animals are so good at caring for us. That’s all for now. E

Some UU Thoughts

April 29, 2006

It is times like this that I wish I would have made this blog anonymous-ish, like some other UU bloggers out there, which would give me (at least a bit more) free reign to just rant. (I know it is hard to believe that I might be able to do such a thing…) So no ranting here. I will try to be calm, collected, and reasonable. I went to the Ballou Channing District conference today. It was a good reminder that I need to get out and about in UU land more. It was also a good experience to help me understand why so many other bloggers can be so critical of UUism. (For instance, you can find a collection of critiques of the UUA and UUism ideas about “fixing” UUism here at Chalice Chick‘s blog or you can read one of many posts that are pretty down on the UUA and/or UUism in general here at Boy in the Bands blog. I could go on, but there is an abundance of not very satisfied UUs out there who offer lots of criticism, generally, I think out of love, but still it can be a bit much sometime.)

Anyway, I guess throw me in the mix of loving critiquers. I think a lot of my previous feeling of wondering how oh how could anyone be harsh about UUism/UUA etc. comes from being a part of two really great congregations — my home church and my internship church. There has been very little if any bickering at these places, great leadership, and lots of respect and flexibility about and around people’s various beliefs. Like my early time being involved in a Christian church in high school, I freely admit I tend to come at a lot of religion stuff a tad naively. That said, it is good to learn the hard lessons of religious community — it is, of course, messy and really should be no other way because life is messy. Anyway. Onward.

I’ll start with the thing that could, in and of itself, be enough to complain/lament about in and of itself. Our every-so-loveable keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr (bio here) called people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus “idiots.” This is not an exaggeration on my part. He was making fun of how, in his opinion, Western religions think that their myths are literally true, while Eastern religions know that their myths are not really true and just a way of understanding the world. (I would question this blanket statement. And, as a side note, he also said that there are no gods in Buddhism, which is wrong. You can read a little about that here at wikipedia or here at www.religionfacts.com). And in this context about myths, he said something along the lines like “A dead guy actually rising again after death? Come on! Give me a break!” and then the bit about idiots. I don’t know if it might have occurred to him that perhaps there are UUs who believe this (like Peacebang who wrote about just that recently in this post) and he actually doesn’t care about calling fellow ministers and fellow UUs idiots or if he simply didn’t stop to think about this. I don’t happen to believe in the bodily actual resurrection of Jesus, but certainly I don’t think those who do are idiots. I must say, by the end of the Rev. Dr. Loehr’s talk I was really too offended to listen to much of what he was saying. But he seemed to argue, as well, that we shouldn’t believe in God in the traditional sense anymore, or, rather, that we shouldn’t call what is not actually God-in-the-traditional sense God because that is being untruthful or inconsistent. Really what we should say is that this ground of being (a la Tillich, or whatever language you might use to talk about the divine or holy) is not God. He seemed to understand that God must equal “a big guy in the sky.” I’m sure I’m not saying this well and that maybe the way I’m saying it doesn’t help my reader understand how annoying this was. Maybe someone will produce a transcript of this and I can then quote more accurately. The point is that I find making fun of other people’s beliefs, say, like the belief in bodily resurrection or the actual belief in God, not so helpful. And, if he is all concerned about rescuing UUism and growing the faith (as it seems he is concerned with) then I would say that calling people who believe in Jesus’ resurrection idiots and making fun of people who believe in God-in-the-traditional-sense or who just like to say God because it makes sense to them, is not a step in the right direction since in 2004 about 80% of our country self-identified as Christian. Anyway.

Onto a second, and slightly less problematic part of his talk, but still, on top of the other stuff not pleasing to yours truly. He told the story about how Friedrich Schleiermacher (an old theologian guy whom you can read about here) gave the sermon at his nine year old son’s funeral and instead of saying that Nathaniel was “playing soccer in heaven with Jesus” (these are the exact words from Dr. Loehr’s talk, of course FS would never had said such a thing anyway) instead FS said that it was really sad his son hadn’t lived a full life. Rev. Dr. Loehr’s point here was that Schleiermacher was being honest about what he believed — that his son wasn’t in heaven and rather than comforting everyone at the funeral with sweet lies (ie heaven) he instead had integrity and was honest. Hmm.

First, one of my favorite images happens to be imagining my Pappaw and Mammaw, Grandaddy, my cousin Bob, my and cats Puffy, Helaina, Tyler, Nicole, Twinkle Eyes, Linda, Harriet, Tiffany and Luke frolicking around up in heaven. I know of course that my vision of what this might look like is probably quite a ways off from what it actually looks like, but my theory is that no one knows what the afterlife looks like, so all we can do is give our best guess at imagining it. If it works for you to imagine reincarnation, fine. Soccer up in heaven, great. If you like to imagine your cats becoming friends with Jesus and the Buddha, that is just fine, too. It is not a matter of being dishonest but rather saying we just don’t know and so we might as well think about what works best for us. And this is what I think about most religious things, including the idea of God and heaven. We just don’t really know and I get really really annoyed with people (ah-hem) who think that they are super-enlightened and like to make fun of people who believe CRAZY stuff like that their cats are chasing mice in heaven and hanging out with all their departed family members. Instead these oh-so-enlightened people tell us how it really is because of course they really know that there is no such thing as heaven. Did I say I wasn’t going to get sarcastic? Sorry, I know I shouldn’t and I will stop.

Secondly, when a child dies, I am all for saying what the family needs to hear. Funerals are not a time to profess your own personal theological revelatory truths (such as there is no heaven). If you are doing a Buddhist funeral, you do what the Buddhists need and talk about interbeing and the eightfold path. If it is a humanist funeral, you focus on the person’s life more than what might (or might not) come after it. If you are doing a funeral for your daughter’s cat, you ask what the daughter thinks happen to the cat. If it happens that she thinks the cat is chasing mice in heaven, then you go with that. No one knows what happens when you die. We all come up with different ways of making sense of this. Rev. Loehr said it would have been easier for FS to say that his son was in heaven because that is what people wanted to hear, including the boy’s mom. But this was the time that FS chose to profess his theological honesty? How about when someone commits suicide? Do you talk about how sad his last moments were because that is the honest thing to do? Or when my Mammaw died should I have taken that moment to share with my Southern Baptist family my thoughts on Southern Baptist Theology or Christian theology?

“I know Mammaw believed that she would go to heaven with Pappaw and Jesus, and all of you believe that too, but actually, I go to Harvard Divinity School and have a slightly different take on what her afterlife looks like, and I thought now, in order to be truly honest and have integrity, I would share that with you.”

Anyway. I think I have made my point.

What I mean to say is that I didn’t think that our speaker today was all that helpful because even if he had some valid challenges to make to Unitarian Universalism (like, for instance, that we victimize groups of people so we can feel like the super-hero-rescuers) it was hard to hear that with all of his unnecessary making-fun-of and what struck me as a tad of hubris and oh-look-at-me, I’m going against the grain and challenging you all who are stuck in your old silly liberal ways. By the way, he referred to people who think that God is up in the sky as thinking of God as a critter. I’ve never heard this before. Not only does it sound demeaning to people who think of God in a more traditional sense, it just sounds strange to me. I theorized to a fellow conference go-er that perhaps it was a Texas thing (Loehr is from TX).
As an interlude, I will share, as the evaluation form for the conference asked, “What worked best for you at the conference today?” I loved seeing other UUs from other congregations, talking with some AWESOME young adult women (they were so good I practically wanted to hug them), and learning about UU history in a workshop. It was great to be gathered in the presence of so many beautiful people who I am journeying with and will continue to journey along with. And I’m not just saying that. That was really nice.

Now, back to my loving critiques. There was an award ceremony in the middle of the opening service. There were quite a few awards, and I’m guessing that, like me, most people didn’t know the people who were getting the awards. This could be understood as nit-picky. It comes from my many years running leadership conferences for high school and college students. This would have been something we would have taught them if they were going to have a religious service – put the names of those who are getting the awards in the program. If you must include a verbal announcement, as a way of recognizing those who contribute to the work of our faith in the world, do so in a two minute (not 15 minute) acknowledgement. Second, after the Rev. Dr.’s over-hour-long talk, and after we broke up into small groups for a half-hour (and someone in my small group dominated the entire conversation) instead of going to lunch as would have made sense, they decided to have MORE loooong announcements. Right before lunch. And they were not essential announcements, but 101 reasons why we think you should go to GA. And other stuff that I don’t remember because I was hungry like everyone else and had been sitting since . I really will say that I KNOW this is being nit-picky in a sense. But, I just want to see my beautiful wonderful denomination be run as beautifully as my ultra-professional mega-church of my youth. There is a reason people flocked to my mega-church that I went to in high school. Because they didn’t let a long string of people get up and make long, repetative announcements right before lunch. They were investing in having people come to our church because they thought that their souls needed to be saved. This was a really compelling reason to get their act together really really well and be really professional. I know that we don’t have this feeling of being in a rush to rescue souls from hell and sometimes I feel like this results in not putting our all into things or just not feeling like doing things really well is as urgent. It is sort of like “Whatever we do is good enough because we all have dignity and worth and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by suggesting maybe a different approach…” And then we have people like Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr who are really concerned about the future of Unitarian Universalism and changing thing, and his way of doing that is by refusing to call himself UU, calling The Seven Principles The Seven Banalities, insulting people’s theologies, going on about Schleiermacher and Feuerbach, and touting Paul Tillich as the best theologian of the 20th century (I happen to not be a fan of old Paul). Sigh.
But I do have hope. And not just because I am truly impressed with the future of UU ministry (that is, recent and soon to be graduates of div. school) but because I believe that there is something compelling about UUism. And that we can learn. We can change. We can take the wonderful things we have, unlearn those not-so-great things, and learn new things. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Unitarian Universalist who is or was involved in the work of the faith who wasn’t well intentioned. Not that that is everything, but it is a great foundation. I’m truly thrilled to have found this faith and the wonderful current and future ministers, the excited commited people in congregations… And look forward to learning more and doing all that I can to support the work and growth of our faith in the world.


April 27, 2006

This is a bible, my friends. See that little thing under the title that says “The Complete New Testament”? Well, they aren’t kidding. This is Thomas Nelson, Inc.’s attempt to get teen girls to read the bible. And (please, have a seat) this is the best selling bible in the country. I am reading it for a class. Of course, I’m not against people reading the Christian Testament (often called the New Testament) but I thought I was going to hyperventilate when I read some of the little extra things they wrote in the “blabs” sections of this which is a column on some pages with Q & A. Let me give you two little examples.

Q. Why do you think guys should call girls? I don’t understand that; you think men should pursue women?
A. Get a grip on the truth. Guys love a challenge. They love the chase. The game. When a girl starts asking a guy out, he likes it. It strokes his ego. But he will get bored! And when that happens…next! So guys need to step up and be the man; you need to be the woman.

and here is another

Q. Hey, I have friends who are into Wicca. I know a lot about witchcraft, but I don’t know how to start a convo with people who are happy with that religion. I need an example of something one might say. Could you please help me out? I don’t want to go to help because I didn’t try to help them.
A. If you want something to say, just tell them how you feel. Say, “You know my religion and you seem cool with it. However, I can’t say I agree with your choice. I just want you to know that I’ll be praying for you.” Don’t try to talk them into changing their faith — no one likes to be forced into anything. Pray for them.

Oh, yeah. That will make you a big Christian hit at your high school to say that to someone. And, I am shocked, shocked! I tell you that these people would somehow imply that girls should not call boys. I mean, “He needs to be the man, and you need to be the woman.” Please excuse me while I check and see what century we are in.

Although I’m sort of making fun of this (okay, really making fun of it) it is actually quite sad and, as someone in our class said, could be considered abusive. Not to mention completely insulting to a rich Christian tradition that deserves more than a creepy teen magazine. The religious center and left has got to figure out a way to offer an appealing alternative to both overly promiscuous, consumerist secularism and freako fundamentalism packaged up like Seventeen magazine. I’ll work on that and get back to you. But I thought that this deserved an emergency mid-paper blog to bring your attention to this traumatic magazinebible thing. Pray for the publishers of this magazine and all poor teen girls who are given it and get the idea that Jesus is some sort of patriarchal anti-sex anti-pluralistic middle class fashion advice giver that likes his sacred texts plastered with pictures of thin giggling blonds. I’m sorry. I’ll stop now. Obviously this was quite disturbing to me.

From The Service of Healing

April 26, 2006

Many thanks to all who participated in the FUUSM service of healing on April 23. The following is the poem read (and written) by Annie Giddings who spoke about her healing journey. You can read Annie’s Lyme Journal here and read her blog here.

I’m trying to tell you something about my life.
About how I struggle from day to day
To simply live.
About how I wish, hope, pray.
About how I yearn to rid myself of the pain.
About how this body is not mine,
Not me.
I am not this body.
I am simply contained within it.

I’m trying to tell you something about my essence.
About my true being.
About how I long to break free from this body,
From this vessel that has endured so much,
And be free.
Fly with the wind,
Laugh with the trees,
Dance with the eagle as it soars through the sky,
And be free.
Be free to be me.

I’m trying to tell you something about my soul.
About who I really am.
About the way I search for belonging,
For acceptance,
For where I belong,
For my place in this world.
About how I long to feel warm,
And safe,
And know who I am,
And know there is someone who knows me,
And loves me,
And will always love me.
Someone who will hold me in their arms when I cry,
And calm my fears,
And complete my soul,
My longing,
My belonging.

I’m trying to tell you something about love.
About how I long to look into someone’s eyes
And see myself reflected back.
To see myself through the eyes of love,
Someone else’s love for me,
About how I sometimes wonder if this exists,
If there is really someone out there
Who will look into my eyes
And see all the way to my soul.
And bring out of me all that is beautiful
And hidden
Deep within me.
About how I want to know that I’m complete,
And that I make someone else feel the same way.

I’m trying to tell you something about who I really am,
About my true being,
My core,
My center.
About how I am just energy,
Just light,
Pure and white and simple.
About how I radiate and shine.
About how few can really see me.
Few really know me.
Few have seen my light.
About how it is protected,
Deep within me.
About how I’m afraid that if I let it shine free,
It will be lost forever.
About how I long to let it shine free,
To let everyone see how beautiful it can be,
How beautiful I can be,
How free,
How real,
How pure and good.

I’m trying to tell you something about my life.
About how this body is not mine,
Not me.
I am not this body.
I am simply contained within it.
–October 17, 2003

Jesus and I Broke Up

April 23, 2006

I saw the short fiction piece “Jesus and I Broke Up” on Killing the Buddha which describes itself like this: Killing the Buddha is a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God.

Anyway, the following little ditty was posted on Killing the Buddha. I’m not sure if it is funny to people who haven’t 1) been Christians or 2) who are sort-of Christian-ish thinking sometimes or 3) have been a part of those church groups where everyone is IN LOVE with Jesus, but since I fall into all three categories, I thought it was hilarious and painful at the same time. Of course, unlike the author, I think I’m pretty comfortable with where I have landed in Unitarian Universalism (maybe he hasn’t heard of us and should visit) but still, I relate so much to that sort of funny/weird relationship with Jesus and Christianity that isn’t one of complete exile, yet looks nothing like it once did. As the author writes, “It’s not the same. Once you’ve called a man Lord of your life it’s hard to demote him to simply an influence.” Enjoy.

Jesus and I Broke Up

What happens when you realize you’re just not that into him?
by Owen Egerton

It’s hard.

Jesus and I broke up. We’d been in a close relationship for about a decade, but it had to end.

“Why’d you split?” friends ask. “You two seemed so happy.”

“He wasn’t who I thought he was,” is my answer.

I should have seen it coming. It started with these little disagreements. Something he’d say would set me off. “And what did you mean by that?” I suppose it’s natural to argue, but he had to be right about everything. It was all black and white for him. In hindsight I can see that these squabbles were the symptoms of a larger problem. I didn’t trust him anymore. Didn’t trust what he said, didn’t trust what he wanted, didn’t trust who he was. Weeks passed with hardly a word between us. Eventually the day came when we both knew. This wasn’t just a rough patch or a dry spell. It was over.

As with any break up, mutual friends choose sides. Usually one half of the couple gets to stay in the group of friends and other has to leave. In this case, I don’t have much of a chance. Friends nod and pat my back, but I can tell they believe the break up is my fault alone. Jesus is innocent.

It’s hard.

I’m often angry. I’d given him the best years of my life. Turned down college parties for Bible studies, passed on spring break flings just to make him happy. Memorized his words. Voted for his candidates.

Other times I miss him so much my chest hurts. It had been love, after all. Not puppy love, but passionate life-changing love. Late night prayers, sharing every thought, every feeling. Trusting him with my life. For over ten years nothing, nothing at all, was more important to me. Now that it’s ended, the void feels nearly as encompassing as the presence once had.

After years of praying “in Jesus’ name” I now find myself not knowing how to pray. What do I call God? How do I connect? I had come to define myself by this relationship. Now that I’m alone, who am I?

It’s hard.

Sometimes I look Jesus up, just for old times’ sake. I can’t lapse back into the old ways, even if I wanted too, but we can hang out. I can learn from his teachings. “But none of that Savior stuff, okay?” I warn him. It’s not the same. Once you’ve called a man Lord of your life it’s hard to demote him to simply an influence.

I’m frighteningly single. At least once a week I hit the religion section of the local bookstore, pick up the first title that catches my eye and take it home. Rumi one night. Buddha the next. I know it sounds cheap, but each time I hope it’s love. It never is. I promise I’ll cherish the book and read it again and again. But I don’t. Instead I leave it on my desk and go back to the bookstore, or, on really bad days, I lock my office door and surf new age web sites.

Don’t get me wrong. I want the benefits of a committed relationship: the security, the depth, the chance to build my life with someone. But I’ve been hurt before. These days when I suspect someone is going to ask that I accept him into my heart, I get the hell out.

It’s hard to be alone. I’ve let go too much to hold what I had, and I hold on too much to grab anything new. It’ll get easier, I’m sure. Time will heal all wounds. Who knows, in ten years maybe I will have forgotten all about him. But some nights are so long, so dark, that I find myself peeling open my old New Testament and flipping to some of my favorite passages.

“Hey Jesus,” I whisper. “How have you been?”

Owen Egerton is a novelist living in Austin, Texas. His fiction has appeared in journals including Puerto del Sol, Tiferet, and Absinthe.

And You Thought You Were Messed Up

April 22, 2006

I’m sorry to venture into celebrity news here, but when taking a break from sermon writing I browse the internet and today I just happened upon People and saw this picture of Donald Trump and his new wife and a poor child. I’m sorry, but does this look like a new happy family? They aren’t smiling. It looks like DT is sort of snarling a little, but that does not count. Cut DT and the baby out and she looks like she could be in a Victoria’s Secret ad. We haven’t had a TV for about five years so I haven’t seen this show with Trump firing people, but I’ve been shocked by its popularity. I mean, he seems so creepy. And I think he looks just as creepy. Just like this weirdo family picture. This poor child could never ever turn out normal. Okay, back to writing on healing. I just had to share that.

Little Lessons

April 22, 2006

Since I sort of hung around Christian churches growing up (not exactly a regular attendee) and it was a mix of Methodist, Catholic, and Southern Baptist, I feel like I missed a lot of the basics. I know Christmas, Easter, Moses, the flood… important “big” stories…. and the stuff I’ve learned in college in religion classes. I know interesting Southern Baptist things like when to say amen. And Catholic things like the fact that I wasn’t supposed to take communion or what it meant when the priest sprinkled holy water on the “audience” as I used to refer to the congregation. (You can hear my relatives muttering among themselves what a heathen my parents raised.) I cannot even begin, however, to tell you how ignorant I am of Jewish traditions. (My best friend from college is Jewish, but prior to that I didn’t even really know what Hanukah was. I did not know a single Jewish person my entire growing up until I got to college.) I took a course on “World Religions” here at HDS that covered Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism. But there is so much more to know. And I would really like to get the pagan/neopagan/wiccan holidays correct. So I thought that I would start a little series on here about important holidays that we should know about in world religious traditions.

I’ll start with Passover which just took place about a week ago. I was going to quote some parts of wikipedia’s entries on Passover and the Passover Seder, but the Union of Reform Judaism does a better and more concise job, or rather, it at least describes Passover as I have seen it celebrated here in the United States.

Pesach, known as Passover in English, is a major Jewish spring festival, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the seder (meaning “order”) and a festive meal; the prohibition of chametz (leaven); and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread). On the eve of the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, we read from a book called the hagaddah, meaning “telling,” which contains the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Pesach seder. The Pesach seder is the only ritual meal in the Jewish calendar year for which such an order is prescribed, hence its name.

The seder has a number of scriptural bases. Exodus 12:3-11 describes the meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs which the Israelites ate just prior to the Exodus. In addition, three separate passages in Exodus (12:26-7, 13:8, 13:14) and one in Deuteronomy (6:20-21) enunciate the duty of the parents to tell the story of the Exodus to their children. The seder plate contains various symbolic foods referred to in the seder itself.

This is my experience of how my friends and acquaintances who practice reform Judaism celebrate Passover. But, if you read the wikipedia article which seems to reflect a more traditional understanding of Passover as a 7 or 8 day holiday, you get a different picture where the Seder is only a small part of the big holiday. The following is an edited version of what wikipedia says about Passover.

Passover is a Jewish holiday and it begins on the 15th day of Nisan (Nisan is a month on the Hebrew calendar). Passover commemorates the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. Passover marks the “birth” of the Jewish nation, as the Jews were freed from being slaves of Pharaoh and allowed to become servants of God instead.

In Israel, Passover is a 7-day holiday, with the first and last days celebrated as a full festival (involving abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals). Outside Israel, the holiday is celebrated for 8 days, with the first two days and last two days celebrated as full festivals (Reform Judaism only celebrates for 7 days, or in many cases, only a symbolic celebration by holding the Seder). The intervening days are known as Chol HaMoed (festival weekdays).

The primary symbol of Passover is the matzo, a flat, unleavened bread which recalls the bread that the Israelites ate after their hasty departure from Egypt. According to Halakha (Jewish Law), this bread is made from a dough of flour and water only, which has not been allowed to rise for more than 18–22 minutes. Many Jews observe the positive Torah commandment of eating matzo on the first night, as well as the Torah prohibition against eating or owning any leavened products — such as bread, cake, cookies, or pasta (anything whose dough has been mixed with a leavening agent or which has been left to rise more than 18–22 minutes) — for the duration of the holiday.

There you have it.

Meet the Family

April 20, 2006

I am not a crazy cat woman. Just to clarify. I love animals. I love my animal companions. I talk to them. They understand. Nothing weird or crazy about it. We hope to have dogs some day, but right now they are too big for our small living quarters and, also, they don’t live as long as cats and somehow I feel like I would be even more traumatized after an animal companion died after 10 years rather than 15 or 18. Someday we hope to rescue pigs (who we will name Fluffy and Dawn), chickens (Henrietta and Roger), and maybe some other former farmed animals who need a home after a rescue. It is amazing how cuddly and sweet animals that we don’t usually think of as pets are/can be when they are loved and treated well. If you are interested, you can visit The Farm Sanctuary (that was their home page) and you can see some cute pictures of some of the animals here. They tell beautiful stories of rescued animals. Because I need to continue to prepare for the service on Sunday and write a case study for a class, today is time to meet Elizabeth and W.’s cat family. Enjoy. Try not to suffer from a cuteness overload. I know they are soooo adorable and sweet. And honestly, there are just so loving and therapeutic. Okay. I’ll stop and move on to the goods.
To the left is Leo sleeping between his sisters Annie and Grace. Grace is black and was found in a mud puddle in Middletown, Ohio when I was an undergraduate. Annie is black and white and I adopted her from a shelter in Cincinnati. Leo is in the middle and was found in a forest in Brownfield, Maine and his mother was found nearby — mauled by a coyote. He was transferred to a cat-woman sort of person in New Hampshire, where we adopted him from. He is very shy and our vet said he was probably traumatized by his mom being eaten. Poor thing.

To the right is a picture of Alex and Zach, our two favorite foster kittens who now live with a nice couple in Atlanta. They were adopted and lived in Cambridge for a year, but then relocated when their human-parents moved. I wanted to include more pictures but because I have (thank goodness!) a new computer to replace my dying old one, I don’t have all my pictures on here. So you’re just going to have to wait. I know, it will be tough. Tomorrow it is supposed to be up to 70! Spring is so much nicer than winter.

Preparing for A Service of Healing

April 16, 2006

So on April 23rd I’ll lead “A Service of Healing” at FUUSM. For some reason, this has excited me more than I thought it would. Maybe excited isn’t the right word — perhaps it has perked up my ministerial aspirations? It has just led me to really put my heart and soul into it. I just feel like there is such a need for healing — for making ourselves whole. I almost wrote “whole again,” but I’m not sure we are whole to begin with. Nothing to do with original sin or anything like that, rather, I don’t think we are born into a world where we can ever be truly whole – we are always already in a world of brokenness, pain, and suffering and it is only our journey of life where we can seek wholeness and healing together in community. It is a journey of wholeness, not a destination. In preparing for this service, I am reminded of those that would criticize UUs for not engaging congregants’ emotions (enough) in worship services or in church life in general. While I think that this can be overdone in any context, and I have seen it wwwaaay overdone in Christian contexts, I agree that perhaps UUs have over-intellectualized and over-emphasized political action at the expense of engaging people’s need for affective spirituality. Of course, I’ve also complained of UUs as being too focused on their own spiritual paths and being all about “feeling better” or “feeling good” rather than making the difficult decisions that need to be made in order to bring about the just world that we envision. So I guess, like all religions, we are always working on this balance. I certainly include myself in this.

UU minster Rev. Dr. Thandeka writes a lot about this, as does Michael Durall in The Almost Church (you can get this here at the UUA bookstore), although I’m not sure I’m sold on either of their positions 100%. Certainly, I have learned a lot from reading both of them and hearing Thandeka speak. She is a visiting lecturer at HDS this semester. She recommends Rick Warren’s very popular book The Purpose-Driven Church in terms of thinking about the way that Unitarian Universalism can better address the needs of more people. She argues that a key reason why Unitarian Universalism lags in numbers and influence and why evangelical and/or fundamentalist churches are bursting at the seams is because they have managed to address the affective needs of people whereas UUs ask people to join committees before we ask them what they need for their own lives and own healing. Thus, I’m thinking about how to invite our congregation and, more broadly, lots of other people who are not in our congregations, into a space of healing while also not turning UUism into a self-centered feel-good fest that is all about making “me” feel better.

One final depressing note is that I heard on NPR that there are over 150,000 people on the East Coast who are members of curling teams. You can read about the sport here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curling. Apparently the winter Olympics helped curling to pick up popularity and it is booming. I’m sorry, but please tell me that Unitarian Universalism can beat curling in terms of appeal and numbers. And I know curling teams do not have healing services. Could it be because the “rules” are more defined? Something to think about as I’m off to bed. Easter is in the morning!

Miss Manners

April 14, 2006

My wonderful and dear roommate from college who has remained a close friend is a huge fan of Miss Manners. She was sharing her book with me last time I was visiting and I was thinking that this would be a great gift for a minister, particularly one starting out. She explains graceful ways to handle difficult situations. Maybe you don’t agree with every single suggestion, but it is a great help for ministers who are expected to deal with most things relatively gracefully. Scott Wells who is the man behind the blog Boy in the Bands has pointed out that Miss Manners has recently taken on what is, in my opinion, most obviously a “joys and concerns” time in a UU church. You can go here for the reader’s problem and the and Miss Manners’ advice.