My Cup Runneth Over

January 19, 2009

To the extent that there were Bibles in my life growing up, it was the King James Version all the way. I was a competitive child and wanted to win every contest, including the Bible verse memorization contest at Mt. Zion (the church where my Baptist family goes and my dad grew up). I memorized this verse in this context (along with, amusingly, lots of verses that are not significant at all but were easy to memorize and, thus, win the contest). This passage still speaks to me even though I rewrite it a bit in my head these days.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I love this for so many reasons. A God that restores my soul. That invites me to lie down in green pastures, and walks with me along still waters and is with me when I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I don’t even know really much what a rod and staff are, but reading it in this passage, it just sounds comforting. I always sort of skip over the part about the enemies, and get to the part where God anoints my head with oil. Have you ever had your head anointed with oil? I have, and it makes you feel so special. (As a side note, I tried to figure out a way to incorporate this into a healing service at a UU church a few years ago, but it was just a little too much, I think, for the congregation at the time. I have not given up though.) Surely, I will dwell in God’s house forever. And ever. Sweet. I just love the idea that no matter what I do, or where I go, God has built this house of love around me – full of still waters and pastures and, yes, even valleys of the shadow of death – but in all of this God is with us. It is coming back to these sort of verses – with such a long tradition (I can see myself right now saying this along with my Mammaw and my Dad and my Aunt and all the elders of the church who loved me so much) that I miss Christianity and think maybe I could become Episcopalian. I know I can’t. And won’t. And don’t want to. But sometimes the thought sneaks in.

I thought of this verse now because every once in a while I am just knocked over by how much my cup runneth over. I sit in my nice warm apartment, two cats at my feet and one sleeping on my rocking chair pillow behind my head, eating frosted flakes, drinking tea, with my supportive, kind, lovely partner in the other room. We are both working on our computers – him for his job (we feel so lucky he has one these days) and me for my school in my doctoral program that I am so lucky to be a part of. And I just think, geesh. What a life I live. Full of love. From my friends and my family. A faith community we love. Gosh, it even makes me feel thankful for our neighbors downstairs who are playing very very loud base right now. Ah, the lessons they have taught us about loving your neighbor! It is hard when it is literal and your neighbors are not very lovable. But I suppose the idea was to do it especially to those who are not lovable.

So I am thankful this evening. And, as a side note, procrastinating on a paper that is due. But it doesn’t take away from how thankful I am. And how ashamed I am, sometimes, that I am not able to better be thankful for all that is good in my life instead of focusing on all that is not that good. Gotta work on that. Or even, as they say, pray about it. Give it up. Hand it over. And know that I will fail again and again, but must just keep opening myself up to change and transformation and keep in mind what I wrote about for the New Year. Trying harder isn’t always the way to go. So, maybe I will not try harder to be thankful, but see if I wait, and walk in green pastures and beside still waters, listen, rest, praise, and worship… maybe my thankfulness and gratitude have been there, and I just need to be able to see it and let it wash over me.

Or something like that.

Much peace, E


When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

September 25, 2008

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.


Resources for Sharing Information and Sparking Discussion About Vegetarian Issues With Your Congregation

May 3, 2008

A Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA) member, Charlie Talbert, shared this with the UFETA list the other day and I thought it was really well done and could be quite helpful for those that are interested. Please feel free to share with others.

Thanks for raising the vegetarian issue to your group. I’m happy to suggest some resources. Many who want to raise this topic in their congregation find that people often want to avoid the topic, which is unfortunate.

I was telling someone at GA last year about a workshop I had just attended at GA, with Doug Muder presenting. He’s a favorite Unitarian Universalist writer of mine. He made an analogy between effective advocacy and Captain Cook’s strategy for greeting island cultures that he discovered in the 1700s. Some of his crew would leave items of interest on the beach and row back out to their sailing ship. Afterwards the island inhabitants would cautiously approach the beach and investigate what the Europeans had offered them. They might then similarly leave items they considered valuable on the beach and retreat, giving the Europeans an opportunity to row back in and have a look. This careful, non-threatening approach facilitated communication and mutual understanding between these groups where who were wide apart in traditions, culture, and language.

As you probably know, some Unitarian Universalist congregations have experienced some controversy over the idea of banning meat in the congregation all together. I believe it’s ineffective to try to ban animal products at congregational functions. The suffering inherent in animal agriculture is too entrenched, too accepted by even Unitarian Universalists – who have a heritage of questioning traditions that institutionalize cruelty – to be challenged so directly.

Members of UFETA regularly share what’s going on in their congregations on this issue, and exchange information and ideas. Perhaps some members of your fellowship would be interested in joining the listserve. UFETA’s website is at http://www25.uua.org/ufeta/. Instructions for joining the listserve are at http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/ufeta

Advocacy can take two approaches that can be summed up by two words: unnecessary suffering.

It’s the “suffering” part that sometimes makes people squeamish. That’s why much of our denominational advocacy focuses on the “unnecessary” part – that shows a vegetarian diet can be tasty, satisfying, and healthy. We have presented “Cooking With The Compassionate Cooks” at my congregation here in Kenosha and one close by in Racine.

This DVD is upbeat, entertaining and full of information about nutrition, basic ingredients, and delicious but simple recipes. We have prepared some of the dishes demonstrated in the DVD and served them afterwards. We have also displayed the ingredients (e.g. tofu, seitan, tempeh) with information about where they can be obtained in our community.

The founder of Compassionate Cooks began her cooking classes at First Unitarian in Oakland when she was a member there. She is now well known in vegetarian cooking circles and has appeared on the Cooking Channel. You can see more information about her and her DVD at http://www.compassionatecooks.com/ .

Vegetarian food can be not only tasty and satisfying, it can be much healthier than a diet with animal products. People are increasingly accepting this, but the protein and other nutrient myths are still out there. No group I’m aware of challenges these myths more authoritatively than the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine. Their website offers a lot of useful nutritional information that can be downloaded or purchased for sharing with others www.pcrm.org/.

But showing the pleasures and health benefits of a vegetarian diet is not enough to persuade some people to consider their food choices. They like to eat animal products. They’re tolerant of those who don’t, but they don’t what to be “told what to do.” To them, this is a “freedom” issue, and freedom is fundamental to Unitarian Universalism. In my opinion, it’s an admirable “live and let live” ethic that – in this case – humans want to apply selectively: to themselves but not to other animals.

The moral issue is a sensitive one, but I believe it’s a legitimate one for religion to consider. In my observation, it’s usually the more conservative people who object to it the most, which is why Matthew Scully’s writings are so important.

Scully is a political conservative and former senior speechwriter for President Bush. His 2002 book, Dominion – The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, has influenced many people, including me. You can get an idea of his considerable writing abilities from his 2005 cover story “Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism – for Animals” for Patrick Buchanan‘s magazine, The American Conservative. www.matthewscully.com/fear_factories.htm. Our UFETA chapter has made this article available at our church. The word “conservative” can spark some curiosity in a UU congregation!

Our UFETA and Green Sanctuary chapters have also displayed this pamphlet www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf on their table. It has drawn attention particularly among our congregation’s younger members. Vegan Outreach is a primarily volunteer organization that hands out over a million of its pamphlets every year at colleges and high schools, primarily in the U.S. Its posters were used in the two-page advocacy ads that UFETA sponsored in the UU World in May 2006 and May 2007. (This May the UU World will have a statement signed by 40 or so Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians.) We also make available PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, which offers a concise overview of the issues and some very appealing pictures of veg food.

I would also recommend the DVD Peaceable Kingdom. It has influenced a number of people in our congregation, including our minister and her partner, who went from vegetarian to vegan after seeing it. It’s produced by Tribe of Heart www.tribeofheart.org/, and its other film, The Witness, is also outstanding. You can see a trailer for the yet to be released newest version of Peaceable Kingdom at www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/pk3previewhome.htm. Tribe of Heart is not distributing the older versions any longer.

If your fellowship has Christian members, then I would recommend materials from the Christian Vegetarian Association www.all-creatures.org/cva/ . Its DVD “Honoring God’s Creation” is wonderful. It includes Fr. John Dear, a board member of the CVA who coincidentally will be speaking at GA in Ft. Lauderdale on Jesus and the question of peace.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations provide lay led services. If yours does, then members in your fellowship may want to use the opportunity to provide a sermon. Some of these are available at the UFETA website under the “Resources” tab.

As you may know, one of two Study Action Issues that the GA is currently considering for 2008-2011 is “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”. If it is selected as an SAI, this would present an excellent opportunity for discussion in your fellowship. You can find more information about it at www.uua.org/socialjustice/issuesprocess/currentissues/55648.shtml

Thanks for taking the time to raise this very important issue in your congregation.

-By Charlie Talbert, May 2008


a prayer

April 8, 2008

I have posted a few other prayers here before and hope to do so more regularly. Please feel free to use without attribution in a religious service. If you reproduce online, please link to this blog and include attribution.

*

all of all

love of all love, peace of all peace, depth of depth

so often, in the midst of all we do, as we are washing dishes… sending email… going to work… and doing all the things we do day in and day out,

we can forget that our time here on this earth is both a gift and a miracle.

do not let us forget.

because sooner than we think, a tomorrow will come and it will be our last tomorrow and we will have missed the miracle. we will have emailed, and worked, and complained, and watched tv through the miracle.

we will have let the sunrises, the fresh air, the warmth of a bed, the taste of our orange juice, the first snows, and the cricket chirping slip by as we go about doing all of our so important things.

we will have let our pain and struggles and our tasks and achievements and our accumulation of things obscure the enchantment and richness that can be life.

love of all love, peace of peace, depth of depth –

let us find the holy in all that makes up our life.

let us slow down. stop doing. and learn to simply be.

may we find the holy in our coffee, in the spider whose lovely eight legs carry her effortlessly over her web, in the kiss goodnight, in the hot meal, fuzzy blanket, and in the chill of the dark night air. may we be seekers and makers of the holy.

amen and blessed be.


Maybe I am a charasmatic UU?

October 1, 2007

So the search for a home church is on. It is so much harder than I thought it would be and brings up all sorts of issues. One of the main ones is: I want to want to go to my church. I don’t want to go to church because I should join a church. I don’t need to be ultimately fulfilled each and every Sunday. Everything does not have to be perfect, but I need to find a church that I am excited to go to. And for this to work, I need to feel something during worship. And I need to feel welcome and not awkward. This has both to do with me and my mindset, as well as the way churches are. This brings me back to my megachurch days where there was a whole team of people trying to make church welcoming and enjoyable and they did a great job. I know that this can cross the line and turn into “church lite” or all warm fuzzy feelings without grappling with the hard challenges. But, for me, it didn’t. What it meant is that I could bring my coffee to worship with me, people were friendly and nice to me, I could sing along with the songs and feel them, and I could even get so excited about a song or about something that was being said that I could put my hand up in the air and say “amen!” All the prayers were not written out – they came from people’s hearts right then and there. And the sermons were not all written out – they were not polished or perfect, but they were more spontaneous. There was a sense that we didn’t have to control everything, or think everything out, and we could give some of ourselves, even recklessly give ourselves, over to some power that was awesome and overwhelming. I am not trying to hark back to the good old days of megachurch life – there were lots of problems with it too. But I guess what I am trying to express is a desire for something more charismatic. For something to get lost in and overwhelmed by. For something more welcoming and less stifled feeling. It sucks so much feeling like an outsider each Sunday. Is there a way to make visitors not feel like outsiders? Maybe it is impossible. I don’t know.

It is important for me to stress the balance here – this is not meant to be some sort of indictment of Unitarian Universalism. I feel like too often individuals’ struggles with an aspect of UUism turns into a “Gosh, UUism can’t get anything right.” So I don’t mean to imply that there is some sort of crisis and we need to rethink everything. I suppose I am reflecting on whether or not I am longing for something that we are not. For me, and others that want get overwhelmed by God and lost in the spirit and warmly welcomed by people who really seem to want us there, is this just something we need to find somewhere else? Or can this be us? Or is it asking us to be too many things to too many different people?

p.s. Afterthought: I wonder if this has more to do with being in New England than being in Unitarian Universalist churches? Or, if it has more to do with me feeling more at home in churches that are like the one I grew up with and it is really about me and not the churches I’m visiting? Probably all of this plays into it.


Part-Time Church

July 27, 2007

Can I just say how amazingly frustrating it is that so many Unitarian Universalist churches seem to go on vacation for the summer, with either no service or very little ones or ones not regularly led by the church’s minister? We were planning on trying to find a new home church this summer but it is virtually impossible since the ministers aren’t around and aren’t leading services, there are almost no activities, and some churches are 100% closed? I understand this is tradition, ministers need a break, people go on vacation, etc. And I guess I am pretty understanding of that – but what about people that really actually need to find a church home soon? It’s just sort of not very welcoming feeling. For us, we can handle it, although it is sort of frustrating. But what about people who might just be coming to the faith? Or looking for a faith? I hope that this tradition dissipates.


Overheard at the coffee shop

June 24, 2007

A group of people were sitting next to me today talking about the webpage business they all seem to work with. I heard this said very casually (as if it was so obvious) and thought it was funny, yet not so funny.

I’ve been working with a church for the past year, so, I am dealing with some very ugly ugly nasty politics.

I did not put two uglies in there. That was what they said.