July 30, 2006

In The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, Dorothee Soelle writes

after some initial hesitation, I decided upon the concept of “resistance” as my focal orientation. Later, perhaps, in a different time, it might be possible to write a book on “mysticism and revolution.” But for those who live in the transition to the third millennium of the common era, however “resistance” seems to be the formulation that is more accurate and closer to reality.

I find this helpful in thinking about the situation that we are in today. In other posts I have lamented about the helplessness I feel in the face of such suffering and conflict in the world. The pain experienced by the world’s people and other sentient beings is staggering. How are we to face this? What in the world can we do.

With this quote, I think Soelle is saying that complete, real, sweeping change is not within our reach right now. For now, it is not about revolution. The structures of domination are too strong, too solid. But, Soelle counsels us not to give up and to continue to resist. She writes

I do not want to be separated from those all over the world, who in seemingly hopeless situations practiced the madness of the No! from a different love of life. What I can do in the context of the rich world is minute and without risk in comparison with the great traditions of Résistance. The issue is not to venerate heroes but together to offer resistance, actively and deliberately in very diverse situations, against becoming habituated to death, something that is one of the spiritual foundations of the culture of the First World.

She calls us to continue to say No! even if it may not bring about the revolution we desire. When she writes about what she does being “without risk” I wonder, however, how much risk our resistance should involve. I have a feeling that my life is too comfortable. Too easy. Blogging or preaching or talking simply isn’t enough in the face of the suffering in the world. We must push ourselves, I must push myself, to take more risks. Marcella Althaus-Reid, a feminist/queer theologian reminds her readers over and over throughout her books that liberation theology (in the Latin American context of the 1970s and 1980s) was amazingly dangerous business. But, yet, priests and peasants and religious women and so many spoke the truth, offered resistance, at great risk to everything precious to them, including their lives. Theologies of liberation – theologies of resistance – must also be risky today. The world is not just because justice is not easy. There is not enough love in this world because love is not easy. If these were unrisky, easy things we would not be in such dire need of them.

Conclusion to myself (and readers)….
We must continue to say No! even if it will not change everything. Resistance is all we can do. And we must do it even if it is not easy. If it hurts. If it is frustrating or unfun. Justice and deep love are not easy, comfortable, risk-free endeavors. And we cannot do it alone – we need community, we need mindfulness, we need to be grounded. And this is where Soelle’s mysticism comes in. But that is for another post.

Book Review: The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony

July 29, 2006

By East Coast standards, I married pretty young – 24. It has worked out beautifully, but was, um, shall we say quite the challenge early on. In the midst of this challenging period, a friend of mine suggested I read The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony and I felt like it was very helpful and very accurate and I sure wish I would have read it before getting married and having a wedding. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have gotten married had I read this book first, but rather I would have done it with a different mindset. After I read this, I got online at and sent “used” copies to several of my closest friends. If you are between 20-37 or so, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is heterosexual focused, but if you can stand the hetero-ness of the whole thing, there is probably helpful stuff for all people regardless of orientation.

The book is not perfect, and Paul (the author) can make some big jumps in her conclusions. So don’t read this as a super-controlled scientific assessment (which it isn’t supposed to be anyway). I found that the book wasn’t anti-marriage or pro-marriage, but rather just touched up on a lot of the realities, myths, struggles, and ideas that Gen X (and a little older and younger) face when it comes marriage — like how so many go into marriage with the subconscious expectation that it will make life complete or fix things that marriages just can’t “fix.”

I was especially thankful on her section about the “wedding industry” that markets absurdly expensive weddings (the perfect dress, the biggest ring, the best food… the most important day of your life!) to individuals and couples and that often contributes to a loss of perspective about what the actual marriage after the wedding might involve. I managed to prevent this madness for our, by “average” wedding standards, small and cheap wedding, but I felt that pressure and that implication that if you make the wedding great, everything else will follow.

One of the most helpful things I got from this book was the articulation of a feeling that I and many of my friends have — that you are not complete until you are married and that being married will “make things okay,” which, until this book, I hadn’t recognized as so widespread/generational/cultural.

Secondly, I appreciated the feeling from the book that divorce can be okay, is sometimes better, but that sometimes a marriage just takes a little more work. I was glad she made it clear that marriage has had too high of expectations hoisted upon it, that it is hard work, can be great, can be hard, and can be rewarding. She is legitimately hard on the “pro-marriage” camp that promotes marriage as the savior of civilization and that advocates staying married at all costs. If you want an anti-divorce book, this is not it. But if you want a fair treatment of many of the struggles that the twenty and thirty somethings face in trying to make a life with a partner, in the face of work, high expectations for marriage, our parents’ marriages and divorces and a culture that sends amazingly mixed and strong messages about marriage, sex, and “success” this is a great place to start. Particularly for those thinking of getting married or struggling in the early years of a marriage, this might be particularly helpful.

Happy reading.

An evangelical pastor who rejects the marriage of Christianity and the Republican Party

July 29, 2006

This New York Times article covers a very brave pastor in Minnesota who dared to challenge the assumption on the part of many Christians out there that the Republicans party and Christianity should be closely intertwined.

Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword”” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,”” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

I was especially appreciative of this quote: “He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into ‘idolatry.'” If you aren’t familiar with Christian conservative churches, turning things into idols – clothes, money, popularity – is a big thing that folks are counseled against. I’m not a huge fan of the “idol” language myself, but all and all, I think it works and has a good effect in Christian churches when used responsibly – it offers language to say “Hey, you aren’t focusing on the important stuff.”

One final quote that I found to be quite wise and I really wish would pick up more steam in evangelical/fundamentalist circles across the country:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

I’m not saying I’m totally in love with Pastor Boyd. But thank goodness for someone willing to remind folks that Jesus was not a freaking Republican.


Senior Iraqi Official Says, "the break up of the country is inevitable."

July 25, 2006

I read in The Independent yesterday a story not so much covered by mainstream U.S. Media.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials say the break up of the country is inevitable….. “Iraq as a political project is finished,” a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: “The parties have moved to plan B.” He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. “There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west,” he said.

I suppose we can hope that this will make things better for the country that the United States so mercifully “liberated.” Of course, the problem remains that a big oil field is in the north under Kurdish control, and one in the south under Shia control, leaving the Sunnis with no oil field. That will not likely go so smoothly.

You can read the article here


July 22, 2006

It is just so sad and frustrating to watch the Middle East crumble. I, of course, do not think that people should go around abducting soldiers no matter who is being abducted and who is abducting. However, no matter who took your soldiers and no matter how much you love them and want them back, it doesn’t seem to be fair to then to kill lots of civilians on the other side in order to get back your soldiers (even if that actually would get back your soldiers, which does not seem all that likely). It says, essentially, “Hey, the lives of a very few of our people are just way more important than the lives of a very lot of civilians on the other side” which doesn’t seem right. I think it is the whole proportionality thing. You can’t just bomb a whole freaking country, or even parts of it, just because some people take a very few number of your soldiers. And, plus, I’m sorry, but has anyone not figured out that increased military action DOES NOT equal more stability and safety? This goes for both Israel and the U.S. There is not a military solution to Al Queda nor to the issue of Israel being smack dab in the middle of a bunch of Islamic/Arab countries. I mean, even if it did work it probably wouldn’t be something I advocated, but it not only doesn’t seem like the best solution in a ethical sort of sense, but it practically doesn’t achieve the desired results. I know these are not amazingly deep insights, but still important things to be said. And, plus, I do my best blogging when I have something far more pressing to work on, like the sermon that I should be writing right now….

Take That Left Wing Freak Show Back to Where it Belongs

July 20, 2006

I am preparing a sermon titled Radical Love: Responding to the Christian Right to give at First Parish in Cambridge on Sunday, and, eventually, after some tweaking (I find the second time I give a sermon it is usually sooo much better) I’ll give it at FUUSM.

This leads me to point out what I think is a key quote of our times. It comes from an ad against Howard Dean that was run in Iowa. It goes like this:

A farmer says he thinks that “Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading …” before the farmer’s wife then finishes the sentence: “… Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

This represents, I think, the vision that *some* people have about a cultural divide in our country. I know that some of my lovely relatives in Kentucky might not feel very far from where the farmer and his wife are. And I’m sure that there is some equally catchy phrase that more liberal leaning folks could come up with to make fun of or point out the very different-ness of those who are more conservative. My sermon goes to the heart of what I study in religion and what I envision my ministry and life to be: I do not think that conservatives are somehow different people than liberal people. I think that all people want to be loved, want to raise their families in safety, want to connect somehow to the divine, want to have a purpose in life, want to have fun, and so on. The challenge for me and, I think, for our country and the future of our democracy, and our faith (that is UUism, but really the challenge to all faiths) is to find a way to better understand the ways that we are all journeying along trying to do this sense-making and find ways to build bridges of understanding and to increase awareness and knowledge about those things that seem amazingly (and scarily) different to us. I am, I am sure, to many in my hometown in Ohio and maybe to some of my family in KY who love me dearly, somewhat of a left-wing freak show. I am a latte-drinking, New York Times reading, vegetarian, recycling-everything, Unitarian Universalist, pro-reproductive justice, pro-queer, feminist bisexual. Yet, to those in my family who might be more politically and culturally conservative, I am just Elizabeth because they know me. I am not an other. We disagree, but there is not a complete rift because we are people to each other.

So, to me (usually, when I am being mindful) conservative Christian, mega-church attending, anti-choice, Republican, farming, Fox-news-watching, Bible-reading folks in Kentucky and Ohio (and around the country) are not “other” to me because I grew up around them and I know and love many of them and know they are not a freak show, but are real people struggling to make sense of their worlds. They may be less-informed, but it is typically not mean-spirited. I am not suggesting that this is The Answer to what can appear to be a deep cultural and political divide in our country, but I believe that it is the start of that. Seeing people as people, seeking to be in community with them. Seeking to truly love them in the spirit of unconditional love – the inherent dignity and worth of all people – and, really, seeing the beauty of all people. I think that the so-called culture wars will never be won if they are understood as wars or battles or red state vs. blue state. We need to be in community, real community, with people who are different than us. Conversation will cause conversion. Not force and not making fun of people or lamenting about them (ahem, I do this far too much) in the privacy of our own homes and insular communities.

Lack of Posts

July 20, 2006

Friends and readers, The lack of posts lately comes from a bit of a feeling of “what good could it possibly do.” I know, I know. Blogs are not meant to change the world, rather it is just one way to learn, share thoughts, etc. But, with the Middle East sort of crumbling into madness and the increasing realization that the Bush administration is really not just a bad presidency but is, in many ways, doing deep deep irreparable harm to our country, democracy and world… well, it just feels a little miniscule to post my thoughts here while Rome is burning, so-to-speak. Also my internet is not acting correctly, which makes it even more annoying for things not to load or to time out, etc. But, never fear, I will be back. If anyone thinks of a way to do something about all the madness around us (the globe heating up, the U.S. torturing people regularly, Israel and that whole situation, Iraq, Iran, AIDS in Africa, etc.) do post a comment here or post a suggestion on your own blog. I know, I know. We can only do our small little resistances and hope for the best. But that sure is feeling inadequate right now. I just have this really strong feeling that my children will say, “Mama, tell us again what it was like during the Bush regime,” and I will tell them that my response was to blog about it and lament about it every day. And preach a sermon on it every once in a while. And they will wonder why we didn’t do more and I will try to explain that we didn’t know what to do. Except by then the Middle East will have imploded, there will be no more California or Florida, or Amsterdam or Venice or New Orleans (they will all be under water because Antarctica has melted) and democracy will be something we use with quotes around it in the U.S. As in the U.S. “democracy.” As Chalice Chick often says on her blog, sigh.

p.s. Sorry if this depresses anyone. I will be more optimistic soon. Sometimes I just run out of optimism juice.

Drumroll please…

July 14, 2006

Elizabeth’s Little Blog has moved to! This is because Elizabeth’s wonderful friend Rebecca loved her blog so much that she surprised Elizabeth and bought her her very own domain. Isn’t that such a sweet wonderful thing to do? It still works at blogger, as well, for the time being although eventually I hope to be technical enough to do it without blogger.

(Picture is Elizabeth and Rebecca in North Carolina after driving in a rental car and getting lost on the backroads of North Carolina and Virginia that lack any sort of signs. It is funny in retrospect but didn’t seem so funny at the time.)

Thinking About Being Sick for About 10 Years

July 9, 2006

This post is absolutely not to get sympathy or pity but it is supposed to be a little spiritual post to share some of what I have learned about health and wellbeing….

The situation is that when I was about 14 or 15 I started getting sick with various ailments and got sicker and sicker throughout my teenage years and no one really figured out what was wrong. I went to a lot of doctors who just sort of didn’t know what was going on. We finally settled on chronic fatigue syndrome, but that was just sort of a best guess. When I was about 20 and started seeing holistic doctors and seeking alternative treatment, I got less sick and it has been less bad since. But not gone. And now, the week that my mom visited for her longest visit EVER I got very very sick with multiple infections. I am pretty much always more or less tired. Think how you feel after you run maybe a mile or two. I feel like that really most of the time. So I’ve been laying around all week feeling sorry for myself but as I sit in my cozy little apartment and listen to itunes while surfing uublogs, I felt it important to honor a body that is more sensitive to her environment and reflect on how difficult it is to be in our bodies as our bodies rather than as vessels that get us around, like a little car you can take to the mechanic if it isn’t working. So often, I get very grumpy and declare that I’m just going to go to a doctor and insist that he or she make me better, whatever it takes. But in the moments when I am more mindful, I remember that Elizabeth’s body is not like Elizabeth’s Scion (that’s my cute little car). Of course, there are things that require a doctor to treat you – broken leg, breast cancer, etc. I’m not saying that doctors can’t help in the healing process. But what my body constantly reminds me is that it is part of me and I must be in my body and take an active role in caring for myself as a whole being – body, mind, spirit. I would probably not have the nerve to say if I had it to do all over again that I would go through my years of serious and less-serious-but-still-really-not-nice health challenges again. But, since I have gone through this and continue to, I am amazed at how much I learn from it and how much we are taught by our society that health is about the absence of being “sick” and after a bout like I’ve had this week, I forget how wonderful it is to feel pretty good rather than really bad. Hallelujah for the small joys of life!

What if we were taught early on that if we hold onto hurt, to trauma… that this will be held not only in our minds but our bodies?

What if we were taught that sickness is not something that needs to be “fixed” but a message our body is sending us that our systems are in distress and need attention – either physical, mental, or spiritual – or all three?

What if care of the soul was understood to be essential to health and well-being?

What if doctors learned to listen to patients? What if our doctor was one part of our approach to healing, rather than the mechanic who will fix us?

What if our culture prioritized health rather than productivity?

What if we didn’t feel guilty when we needed to rest more? To take care of ourselves more?

p.s. Speaking of small joys of life, super-companion-animal woman of our church who has cats, dogs, and, if I understand her correctly, a tourtiuse, will probably be adoptiong Harriet and Max our little foster kittens. This woman is super smart and kind and just overall cool (and her husband is equally neat although not as in love with animals as she is and as W. and I are) and she is such a good mama to her companion animals – we’re so excited that Max and Harriet might get to move in with her we can barely stand it. Max and Harriet are psyched too :) We can visit them! Yay!

Things I Learned in My Megachurch Youth Group

July 8, 2006

When I was in high school I was in a big youth group. 300 students grades 7-12. It wasn’t quite a megachurch compared to the ones these days, but at the time it was really big. Megachurch-ish. I learned A LOT of stuff in the three years that I was involved (ages 14-17). In fact, it was one of the most shaping experiences of my life. It was not perfect of course. But I was thinking about this as I am painting my living room because I spent a lot of time in the youth group painting. Here are some of the things I learned that I have time to write while I take a break from painting.

1. Painting and other “mundane” tasks are a really good time to think and relax and talk to God. When I am stressed, I look for something to paint. My youth pastor once asked me while we were building a house in Appalachia what God was saying to me (insert divine or spirit of life here if it works better for you – you know what I mean). I said God didn’t talk to me and my youth pastor said maybe I wasn’t listening and so every since I’ve listened and heard.

2. Youth groups are not about “having fun.” In the time I was in the youth group, my discipleship group (like a covenant group) painted houses indoor and out in the sweltering heat all summer long at “work projects” that were sort of like “summer camp” only a unique version of it, I spent my afterschool time tutoring kids, went on trips to Mexico and Jamaica to do work for a school and an orphanage (and paid for the trips myself which was required), rehabed an entire Brownstone in New York City in six weeks, built houses in Appalachia and spent many Saturdays spraying insulation in disgusting and gross attics to insulate the homes of low-income families. We did “fun” things in between this, but what drew me to the group was that I was doing something for others while at the same time learning so much. It was never like we were doing a great favor to these communities, but rather we were doing what we were called to do as part of humanity and as people of faith, and we were privileged to be able to learn from the communities that we were invited to serve with. I felt honored in a way that my youth group leaders didn’t think all teenagers wanted to do was to be entertained but knew that we could work hard and make a difference in the world. And we did. And we still did “fun” things too, but as a side thing not as our “purpose.” Ah! There is the key term. We had a purpose. And it wasn’t pizza parties.

3. Spiritual life is hard. It is about how we live together in community and in our world, and in relationship to the divine. Maybe I thrive on high expectations, but I guess 300 other kids did too. I liked that it wasn’t all about making ourselves feel good or our own personal pursuit of happiness or finding ourselves, but it was about learning how to connect to something beyond ourselves and live out that promise that we made by becoming Christians. Even though this isn’t how I think of my spirituality anymore, I think that the Unitarian Universalist concept of covenant is equal to this – we are living out a covenant to each other and to the divine. It is a promise. It is a commitment. And it is hard. I am glad that I was prepared for the hard yet rewarding work of spiritual life and covenantal living early on.

4. Don’t be to serious. We do our thing – spiritual, community, worship, service – but we never think that the way we are doing it is perfect or the only way to do it. Maybe it won’t work for everyone and maybe we’ll make stupid mistakes. God has a sense of humor and we are journeying along with the divine in a loving and learning relationship. Learn to laugh at ourselves, our mistakes, even laugh at the cool things about ourselves.

5. Think outside the box. You don’t have to do “church” like everyone else does church or just because it has always been done that way. In fact, you should rethink how it has always been done.

6. Numbers are not the most important thing, but if no one comes to your youth group, that is a problem. Don’t get hung up on growing, but realize that you can’t reach anyone if no one is willing to make time for it. And they can make time if they want. Oh, and that reminds me an overall thing that I learned – we make time for what is important for us. That should include God or a spiritual life. You can do it if you want. Be creative. For instance, see number 1 – talking to god while painting. Or cooking dinner. Or whatever.

7. If you save money for something yourself, you learn lessons and appreciate what you saved the money for. I had to save money for my trips with the youth group by not buying clothes and doing extra chores. I learned I didn’t need so many extra clothes (really, the start of a more simple approach to living life) and really made the trip worth it because it cost my own money.

Oooo, sometimes things get longer than I mean them too. Sorry. But there you go. If you have made it this far….

I hope this doesn’t sound preachy. I really know little about how UU youth groups run and obviously this is not meant to contradict how things in UU youth groups run, I just know that I learned a lot from youth group when I was in high school and wanted to share for those that might be able to learn from my experience.

Back to painting. Elizabeth :)