This, from Loco in Yokohama
I have other reasons for not writing here for a while, but this could be the antidote!
This, from Loco in Yokohama
I have other reasons for not writing here for a while, but this could be the antidote!
Christmas weekend is upon us at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, like millions of other churches around the world. The longing for peace and a spark of hope is always strong at this time of year.
Tomorrow there will be an engaging sermon by the Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery, Minister Emerita of Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church. (No, not the Bay Area in California, but in Clear Lake City, Texas, home of NASA’s Mission Control.) Well into her 9th decade of life, Leonora will speak of her pilgrimage toward God and invite us to entertain at least the possibility of God’s existence. Her journey took many turns over the years. Now she no longer worries about whether or not she is right. Instead she is satisfied that, having explored many options from childhood on, her beliefs stand firm.
That sounds good to me. Believe what you believe without worry. Explore at your own pace if you wish, but don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. Who does? No one really knows all there is to know about God.
Christmas Eve at First Church offers a double header. At 5:30, a family pageant coordinated by our Religious Educator Natalie Browne will be a treat for all ages. Adults will ponder lovely messages and food for thought and the children and youth move us all into and through one of the most beloved stories of all: the birth of a child. Shepherds and magi and angels add layers of importance to this child’s birth. Did the people who paid their respects know what he would teach during his lifetime? Could they have imagined ideas so progressive to his time that he would someday be executed?
But at Christmas there is only the birth of this holy child, reminding us that “Each night a child is born is a holy night” (Sophia Lyon Fahs).
At 7 we’ll have a service of lessons and carols. Choirs will sing at both services, but at the second one we’ll have a brass quartet. What a fanfare! The Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell will deliver the homily.
Both services will end in the traditional way: with candlelight throughout the sanctuary and Silent Night sung into the darkened space. “All is calm, all is bright,” we sing with hope in our hearts even knowing that this world is chock full of sorrow and tragedy. On this symbolic night let the spirit of love flow through every heart.
The “Nativity of our Lord” carved in rock salt in the cathedral of Saint Kinga, in the salt mine of Wieliczka in Poland, 101 meters under the surface…
Sculptor of the figures: Mieczysław Kluzek
St. Kinga’s Chapel
Phote by Klearchos Kapoutsis
It’s so nice out today. Recent rain and a cooling off period! A cardinal brightens my view and a light breeze carresses this early fall in Austin.
This is a lucky time, a liminal time. Between jobs I can simply fantasize about my next ministry; anticipate without the burden of specifics; reflect on generalized anxieties that stem from a lifetime of experience.
I would love to know if any of this applies to you, my faithful readers, so do let me know!
Self-deprecation, self-doubt: I am my own worst critic. I’m smart enough and experienced enough to know how inadequate I am to life, to vocation (in my case, ministry). Praise feeds my ego and every criticism goes straight to my stash of inferiority. Compliments from unexpected quarters leave me both grateful and amazed. Loved ones may say I’m great, but how can they be objective? On the other hand, doesn’t self-criticism place me smack in the middle of humanity? Believe in it or not, I know I can do a good job.
[Here's where you can substitute your own fine qualities]: Speaking for myself, I have plenty of experience and ability; a gift for collaboration and synthesis, and a calming presence in groups and with individuals. Whether or not I am called to a specific place, I can remain confident in my ministerial excellence
Perfectionism: Perfection is perhaps a worthy goal but it is neither attainable NOR necessary! My seminary friend Nan posted a quotation on her computer–”Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” She was even more of a perfectionist than I and she was brilliant! The quote was not an invitation to do poor work nor to slack off but simply to say, Do Something and let go of the expectation that it will transform the world. The perfect sermon/essay/column/report is probably still a blank document. Plain paper, blank screen. Just do the writing then edit later if there’s time.
Until something is written there is nothing to edit. Until the text is read or the sermon is delivered there is nothing for reflection. Okay, then, I am a perfectionist by nature and always seek to do my best. However, I meet deadlines and come prepared. My sermons are rich, thoughtful, and full of content and story. My delivery is not flashy even after an acting class and an improv class but I am comfortable in the pulpit with notes or outline and there are plenty of people who like them!
Wounded Healer: I am aware of my family dynamics and from whence come the wounds and scars. I have had ample family systems training and use systems theory in my work.
But here’s the good news. My failings as a professional are simply failings as a person. They are part and parcel of my character. They mark me as human (imagine)! That very simple statement brings me comfort today. Our work in no way expects perfection no matter how many complaints or snide remarks may be thrown our way. Indeed, ministry expects humanity.
We are expected to do our best with our gifts and challenges and within ethical boundaries. We love praise but we learn to live with the complaints that yea, verily, we disappointed or royally screwed up. Sure, we may not be right for a particular ministry, but we are inherently worthy. At the very least we have significant education, multiple supervisors, mentors, and evaluations along the way, and ever-increasing quantities of life experience. We can model what a compassionate and competent person can do when we fail.
Moving to a new home or city or employment is one way to make a new start, but still we bring our best and worst selves along for the ride.
One more thought. I can let God be God–hold all that perfection and ideal and power that eludes every single one of us–and I am human, just doing my best with the choices and challenges life brings. End of sermon!
P.S. About an hour after I wrote the earlier reflection, I accepted the offer of a nine-month ministry as assistant to the Rev. Daniel O’Connell at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston! The previous assistant had resigned abruptly and this is to finish out the church year. Back to weekly commuting to/from Austin as I have done before. I think I will learn a lot at First UU, a church that is anchoring a transition to satellite churches–4 clergy for 3 campuses. Hmm, a 3-ring circus!
Every now and then a couple’s got to talk. Particularly when transitions are looming, both parties know that there will be changes in their relationship.
The right moment to talk is pretty important, as those of us remember from adverse reactions on other occasions. One such moment comes up when there’s extended time together, like driving all afternoon through lovely countryside. And so Jon and I talked. We’ve been married for 15 years and it isn’t as though we haven’t talked practically every day. This talk was in the context of potential changes in our lives and how it might affect us individually and as a couple.
Two good-hearted people who don’t want to hurt one another will do it anyway. Usually it’s a mistake or a misunderstanding. Sometimes it’s because you didn’t realize it would be a big deal when you went against your best instincts and made the wrong move.
In what ways have you disappointed your Significant Other? How do you get past the old habits and get to the truth? How do you manage big transitions and support your integrity as a couple?
These are not simple questions that to answer once and for all. Relationships over time need nearly constant tweaking and occasional overhauls. I’ve been through a divorce and understand why that it may be both necessary and painful. Better communication would have helped a great deal.
Sometimes the magic works but I think the magic requires hard work to make it even look easy. I’m still learning! Discuss.
A group of trusted peers helps many a person stay sane!
Who but the people in your line of work understand fully the challenges you face? When I was a young woman, recently married and with one then two sons to raise, neighborhood mothers offered a lifeline as we learned by experience and from each other. Since then I have often developed special relationships with co-workers.
As a clergyperson I find collegial connections essential to my formation and continuing education.
Clergy love the people we serve but we need friends among our peers. They are the folks we can lean on in times of struggle–and there are many! My group of twelve meets monthly if we can possibly be there. We share a devotional time of reflection and ritual. We brag on our successes but more importantly we share the raw edges of our lives, the places where we’re bruised and bleeding. We are bound by mutual expectations of confidentiality so that we, too, have a safe place to be open and real.
Uncertainty, confusion and doubt? Of course. Requests for advice? Sometimes. Leaning on one another? By all means.
We hold one another accountable when our professionalism or actions fall short of our Code of Ethics as Unitarian Universalists. Between meetings we often follow up with a phone call of support or a one-on-one meeting. We serve as mentors to one another–either on a formal basis or through simple collegiality.
Then we go back to our ministries, refreshed and ready to serve.
Thank you, colleagues!
“Was it something I posted? Doesn’t she like me any more? Why would she cut me off?” Maybe it’s just my imagination, but these thoughts might have crossed the minds of some of my Facebook friends.
It was not easy to do and required a lot of reflection. Several days ago a ministerial colleague of mine posted that she had de-friended all her former congregants. “It feels crappy,” she said. But she woke me up to what I must do. Every now and then I had heard that this was the “best practice” but had resisted. After all, if it’s posted on Facebook it can’t be harmful to read without comment, can it?
With every posting, though, I remembered that relationship and it was keeping me a little bit stuck. I had known many of them for nine years, some longer than that. Weddings, child blessings, coming of age ceremonies, memorial services, yes but mostly the week by week and daily connections as we did the work of ministry. I still want to know about the big events. Births and deaths are the biggest events upon which I would love to heap blessings. I just have to do it from a distance.
As I went through the list of friends I reviewed their latest postings and sent love and prayers to each of them. After all, we were in relationship for a long time. Maybe someday in some other way we will be again and we can be Facebook friends again. But it’s time for me to move out of that world for my sake and for theirs.
I do hope and pray for blessings to grace those lives as beloved individuals and as a congregation. May life smile upon you and bless you. May you know that you are loved.
I awakened from a dream about the Wisconsin shooting of a Sikh temple–a gurdwara (“Gateway to the Guru”). It was not a narrative dream but the disconnected images seemed to ask a single question: Why?
At the time of the dream I knew nothing about the shooter–background, motivation, history of violence, mental state, family life, upbringing–except that he was male, 40 years old, a former Army soldier. I’ll not use his name. All of the unknowns of his life factored into a context. He had guns and knew how to use them. There was a recent high-profile shooting in Colorado. There was a target: people who undoubtedly are not like this man.
They are so different, in fact, that their clothing and hair are distinctive; the turbans set them apart. They have a separate community within a suburb near Milwaukee. There was a significantly large assembly at the same place and time. Perhaps worst of all, their religious life, race, culture, language, and country of origin are unfamiliar and somehow “strange.” Sikhs are often confused with Muslims; violence against both distinctive groups has gone up significantly since 2001. Since the Milwaukee shooting, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, was burned to the ground.
They are Other.
Perhaps that explains the curious lack of media coverage. Yes, it was reported. Yes, one can find info on the web. We were pretty saturated with coverage in Aurora, CO, just a couple of weeks, when there was television coverage for hours on end. More of us relate to going out to a movie than with Sikhism or face it, even going to a worship service of any kind.
What do we have in common with Sikhs? Best I can figure out, they believe in one God, in human equality, and in service to the community. Here’s what Amanda Yaira Robinson has to say, with links to further information.
For those of you who have wondered from my previous blog, I have no plans at present to move. (It could happen some day but not for a long while.) There have been opportunities presented to me and some that I have pursued on my own. Although each of them had positive attributes they ultimately did not fit well enough with my priorities–the things I value more.
Instinct, conscience, and family carry a lot of weight. The story of my life … still unfolding, outcome uncertain. For now I am content and very fortunate to enjoy the unfolding. Life is good.
How about you?
Theodore Parker said (and has often been quoted): “The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice.”
Shrink that down a great deal and you might also consider: The arc of my/your life is long and it bends toward _________________.
Something positive, I hope!
Your past may well be full of hard knocks, understanding, or humility. (Better those than hanging on to emotions like anger, resentment, or remorse.) But look ahead, especially when faced with one of those crucial decisions. What has been the arc of your life, where is it going, and why? Most importantly, how does it serve your higher purpose?
Blessings to all!
I have been following a blog by Cristian Mihai that focuses on various aspects of writing. He has written several short stories and will soon release a novel, Jazz, for which he solicited opinions about its cover art.
Cristian sent 20 of his readers who requested it, a digital copy of his short story “A Sad, Sad Symphony” in hopes that we would review it. So glad I had that chance! I wrote a review for Amazon, where you can download it for 99 cents–well worth the price of a tune. Check it out! A Sad, Sad Symphony
His website is here, where you can find a link to his blog. Cristian Mihai
I like his signature quote: “If the doctor said I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”
Lost in the struggle between Mind and Matter
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