Thursday, January 28, 2010

Long day

We spent this morning getting the house the rest of the way under control, which was not too bad. We planned on doing schoolwork, but ended up packing it up for the girls to take to their dad's. I had my first meeting with my teaching pastor, and found out that what I thought was a done deal for my two year part-time internship was not, in fact, a done deal at all. I am not sure how that miscommunication occurred, but now we begin the process of the committee on ministry and board approving it. I am depressed about it, but hopeful that it will work out. It really has to.

It is frustrating that one needs to have an internship (for good reason) to become a minister, and yet, it is so difficult to find a congregation that is able (per MFC standards) and yet, also willing, to put the considerable effort into a seminarian's formation. I am sure this will be a good fit for me - I found the minister to be lovely and we had a really good talk, that was juuuust getting going 1.5 hours in when it was time to go! I am thrilled to have a real, live minister to work with, talk to, explore, dig into my growing edges, and who gets to know me from scratch as a seminarian, not as a congregant, or from a non-church area of my life.

So after all that, through which I maintained non-anxiety on the outside , I had to drive an hour home, shove the kids in the car, then drive 1.5 hours in a white-out snowstorm to get them to the gym. Then the same trip home, in reverse. I was so exhausted when I got home,and so grateful that I had put a roast chicken with stuffing in the oven (or had my daughter do it, rather) right before we all left the house together.

Yesterday, I had my CPE interview, which seemed to go quite well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though I am sure that 11 weeks of full-time plus hours will seem like the depths of hell to my family during our favorite time of year - summer. I'm wondering if I can get away with just one class in the fall with my (hopefully) internship, so that we can at least try to get a little time to breathe.

We just watched Stardust with the littles. I love that movie. For all sorts of reasons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Update and such

Thanks for the good wishes. CT scan didn't show anything definitive but there were some obvious physical symptoms such as more left-side weakness and drooping mouth. They allowed her to come home, but she has to see the doctor again today and will have an MRI this week, which is more conclusive hopefully.

I am trying to embrace the message of Sunday's sermon: What do I want this day to bring? Rather than getting through a to-do list. I want to be my best self, have a good balance of work and play, and to not have to rush!

So I need to get off the computer!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Good Thoughts

My mother just called to tell me she is headed to the hospital for tests. When I talked to her two Fridays ago and she was having balance issue and some additional difficulty with remembering words. She had a stroke on Memorial Day weekend, so I encouraged her to call the doctor before the weekend. Fast forward to last Friday (3 days ago). She still hadn't called but was still having symptoms. Compliant patient, no. So I made her promise she would call today. Turns out she woke up at 4am with blurry vision and a killer headache. The clot that caused the first stroke is very much still present, so good thoughts would be appreciated.

In other news I have one of my CPE interviews on Wednesday, and just sent off another application in case the first site doesn't work out. I really, really want to do the intensive this summer so I'm crossing fingers and toes. I am meeting with my teaching pastor/future intern site this week for the first time too. I can't wait! I have so many questions to try to come up with some sort of plan for fall since I have to try to work it around family schedules and such. This will be an adventure in ministerial (un)schedules and learning to balance everything.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Well, I have almost survived intensives! I have 5 more assignments to turn in by mid-Feb., but I think it's doable. Maybe. I also start my 2 classes Feb. 1st. But I'll spare the to-do list.

The classes I took were challenging to my intellect and spirit. The faculty were wonderful, and it was so great to live with 3 of my classmates, talk all night, drink wine, study, brainstorm, and generally live like college students, which I've never really done.

For our learning convocation, we discussed Transforming Knowledge, by Elizabeth Minnich, as well as challenged ourselves to be creative and risky in learning about people. I forced myself into an extemporaneous preaching class, and was glad I did! I went to a CPE workshop and a RSCC prep workshop, two multi-cultural meetings, and goodness knows what else. It was non-stop.

The first full week, I took Religious Humanism with Bill Murry, and was lucky to be in a class filled with dynamic folks. Wonderful, far-ranging conversations on history, contemporary ministry, faith, pastoral care and more. I am excited to write my final paper for the class, which is a whole service. You wouldn't believe how many books I added to my wish list during this class!

The middle weekend, I took Lee Barker's Religion in a Post-Denominational Age. Let me tell you, I learned a lot about modernism, post-modernism, post-etc. while I was there. I had no idea what I didn't know about philosophy, social science, and theology. I was inspired by the class to forge ahead with taking risks, accessing my creative side and getting back in touch with my musical self.

Last week, I took Problems in Public Ethics, where we discussed abortion, military intervention, torture and other such light topics. We got drilled on our moral authority, received important tips on being media-savvy, and more. It was intimidating, interesting, and stretched my brain and courage.

I got home last night after a full day of travel. The first leg I got to fly with a classmate, which was awesome, as we have a lot in common and are going to be in a small group together for spring semester.

Everyone in my house was still alive, including all the animals. It's been wonderful to see my people and my dog again. It's wonderful to sleep in my own bed, and it was great to go to work at my absolutely fabulous congregation today and be reminded of how freaking creative and awesome they are.

This week will be catch up and prep for scholarship apps and taxes, fun with the kids, writing assignments and getting back into the groove.

I miss all of my Meadville folks already. The conversations, the hugs, the coffee, (I mentioned the wine), Jimmy's, borrowing Internet, lunch at the Commons, staying up all night talking (love you roomie!), shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (Love you Chicago!), visiting my sister and watching The Hangover and buying gorgeous boots at Lori's, Starbuck's on the corner by my apartment, snow, wind, rain, the library, First Church and just everything. Those who I didn't get to spend enough time with - we will meet again!

Flash Mob!

So much to say, but you have to check THIS out. See if you can find my family! This was THE most fun service evah.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Amen! (Post-Racial United States)

I am always a David Pyle fan, but I am so glad he posted this. This whole issue has been massively pissing me off for months, and I'm so glad he found time to articulate it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The oddities of Humanism

I have enjoyed compiling a list of many books during this past week during my intensive class on Religious Humanism. Should you at any time feel overcome by a desire to add to my library (many of the theological books are required reading for my fellowship committee review later on), I am happy to share my wish list with you :-D

We had a wonderful and odd end to our humanism class, by a few of us sharing humanist prayers that we wrote to close our class. Here is mine:

With all our human gifts and flaws
we have joined our hearts
in pursuit of knowledge,
compassion, love, and a
deeper connection to the divine
through our dreams, our lives, and our
deepening relationships with each other.
We leave this sacred time
wiser, more open to possibility,
continuing on our journey of discovery
in good company with each other.
Shoulder your bag, books, and quotes.
Embrace our humanity and our limited
understanding of the sacred,
Sally forth into the vast reaches of the unknown
And mysterious universe, carrying your
Questions and your spirit onward,
May it be so.

We were rewarded for our efforts with a class committee's treat of dark beer samples and dark chocolate. Seminary Rocks!

I started my day out with a wonderful morning devotional led by a classmate who was leaving today. It was on gratitude and ended with We Are by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

I had good intentions of writing a theological statement tonight, but I have to be at another class at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and I am mentally wiped out. But I am grateful for my humanist ministers at my congregation, their clear theological and practical vision, and the joy of being a congregant and a student of a vibrant and thoughtful denomination filled with amazing people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Seething humanism

Really, after 3 days of immersion in the world of UU humanism, amongst thoughtful, passionate, and inspirational discussion about the issues of theism/non-theism, humanism, God-language and more, I wish that I had enough brain power left to write a stunning piece of cohesive brilliance on the topic, but my mind is aswirl with ideas, papers to write, challenge, and gratitude.

I will say that the opportunity to be in class with minds who are not afraid to challenge the status quo has me all fired up (again, as usual) about diversity in race, class, and belief in our denomination. I also have come to perhaps a bit more of an understanding about why people call UUism a movement rather than religion, but I still disagree. However, the word movement does imply progress over time, and humanism is an evolutionary (in more than one sense of the word) additive to our faith tradition.

One thing that did cause me to spout out some passionate verbiage today was the reminder from Rev. Jen Crow's sermon( that I will link to as soon as she reminds me which sermon it WAS, that was probably inspired somewhat by the work of Dr. Sharon Welch), on lowering our expectations. Although I can see the interconnectedness of systems of oppression, I cannot begin to fix them all. And since I am passionate about all kinds of diversity, I am interested in part of my ministry being ways of discovering challenges, solutions and sitting down at the table to problem-solve.

My lack of experience in diversity work (I have lots of theory; not so much hands-on work) is an opportunity for me to be an ally in the great work that is already being done, and I am anxious to go home and start figuring out how to begin building those bridges now. It's like everything in life, you can do it all, but you can't do it all at once.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What is religion?

I don't know why it irks me so much, but it does indeed irk me when people refer to UUism as a movement. When you look at the various ways in which religion is defined - even the Latin roots - I cannot understand the resistance to using it in our congregations or in self-definition.

William R. Murry quotes Loyal Rue as saying that "religion is not about God," and "evolution has shaped human beings in such a way that religion is about influencing the brain 'for the sake of personal wholeness and social coherence.'"

Murry himself says that "To be religious is a matter of one's attitude toward all life." To bind together. Is that not what people do, regardless of belief in science, supernatural power, or something in between, or perhaps totally different?

I am fascinated with the possibility that there is a biological imperative for religion; a connection in our brains between science and the need to believe, or to question. There is research that posits that what happens during a meditative state (or the existence of a potential "God Spot" in the brain that reacts consistently in brain scans of those who meditate or are discussing religious topics) is that during those times, we move from acquiring knowledge to spiritual or value-based learning created by neuronal connections that allow us to think about information from a new perspective.

In other words, spiritual intelligence is actually something that could organically occur in the brain as an effect of new neuronal connections. There is something transformative that happens between reflection and hypothesis (learning cycles suggested by James Zull in The Art of Changing the Brain.

To get back to my original point, we are all subject to our own physical and organic brain, and as we gain deeper understanding of the way that it works, it may become clear that religion is an inherent and necessary part of the human life cycle. Connections are important in our biology, our environment, our relationship - throughout living and dying. Is that not what religion is?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big questions

In Chet Raymo's Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion, he tells how Nicholas Humphrey points out the questions posed in Gaugin's last painting. From where did we come? What are we? Where are we going? Questions asked in every faith, by every person. "Who am I? Where did come come from? Why am I here?"

"People want explanations for the first two questions, says Humphrey. They want reassurances for the third."

Although I think Raymo's premise of Skeptics and True Believers is too narrow, as most if not all binary or dualistic attempts are, I appreciate his wonder at our existence, and his scientific explanations from an evolutionary perspective. He is an accessible writer, like Carl Sagan.

Regardless of whether we find a simple answer to our big questions through faith in God - God made me, I have a soul, I am here to serve; or by answering in more humanistic terms, which leave room for a diversity of answers, the questions remain, and are part of how we develop a theology, or statement of life .

Raymo says, "Religion...provides a sense of belonging to a group, a history, and a culture...service... and rites of passage," referring to more conservative religion, but I believe that liberal religion offers those things as well. My ministers assert that the large societal struggle we face in contemporary times is disconnection. It is the role of our church to find connection through social action, small group ministry, worship, and friendship.

I belong to, and believe strongly in a church where my congregation has at least two, if not three ministers who identify as non-theist. Does that identification as humanist, in a broad sense that strives beyond anthropomorphic belief, negate their religious authority? I think not. A skeptical person who seeks a personal theology or a liberal church has a hard job. They have to be responsible for their path, for articulating their beliefs and defending them, and cannot fall back on simple answers of faith.

I find that our messages of connection, hospitality and service offer a religion that allows us to feel part of a group and culture, to serve, and to participate in rituals. I hope through further learning to find ways that we can address end of life issues around questions of death and the loss and grief that accompanies that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dying? Not yet.

I hear the curmudgeons go on about how UU is a dying faith. I invite them to have sat in a room with 40+ other ministers in formation today in Chicago and heard the gifts that are being brought to the table from these talented and passionate future colleagues of mine.

I have a hard time believing we are going to let UUism die in our lifetimes.

Chicago has been fine. As soon as I was safely on the plane, I was ready to go. I miss my family and miss having reliable internet access (who would think that an academic housing unit wouldn't have internet?) but I am anxious to get some real studying done this weekend.

The convocation was interesting and I learned some valuable lessons about getting out from behind my barriers, whatever they are - physical, emotional, mental - and how effective it is to preach/teach/discern outside the box.

I am very pleased to see all my classmates again, including ones I didn't have an opportunity to meet in person back in September (Hi Paul!) as well as other students I've gotten to know online but not IRL. I am rooming with 3 wonderful women in my class, and having fun exploring Hyde Park and learning city life without a car.

Hoping to visit my sister this weekend too! Hitting post before the internet connection dies :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I am adding daily writing back in as part of my spiritual practice. After years as a professional, public and private writer, I am missing the daily discipline, and the spiritual component that it brings to my life.

I had a wonderful time at Wellspring last night. We were discussing Unitarian History, specifically Channing and Gannet, and the Unitarian Christianity sermon. I am always blown away at those sermons of the 19th century. They are so deep and long, and intense. The sound-bite culture of today would have a hard time sitting through and maintaining attention to those sermons.

It was wonderful to have our entire group together again last night; we've been missing at least one person due to healthy, holidays, etc. for the last several months. It was a wonderful way to start my week, and a reminder of why I am doing what I'm doing. Sometimes the ministry component gets lost in the rush of paperwork, academics, rush to and from praxis, etc. We spent a lot of time in silent reflection last night, and it was very fulfilling. I still have "singing bowl" written on my list of "wants" and last night's use of one for inviting to and ending meditation renewed my desire. I'll have to keep looking around locally.

I'm flying off to the windy city tomorrow morning, early. I have Skype set up to chat with my family while I'm gone. I'm mostly packed, sent my books ahead, and just chatted with one of my roommates. I want to cry every time I think of the days without Lucy-hugs and Soren-hugs, but I am also embracing the adventure. I've never been away from my kids or husband (either one) for more than 3 nights! 17 nights seems like an eternity! I'll have plenty to keep me busy though, and hope to see my sister and an email friend in the city while I'm there.

I'm taking a religious humanism class and problems in public ethics. Both had very stimulating readings to do ahead, and I have done a good chunk of the writing and oral presentation prep as well. I'm hoping for some quiet, reflective time as well and am looking forward to worship and vespers during my time there.

I have had some good advice on prepping for my RSCC interview in March, but am open to more, if anyone has any!

OK, now to finish packing!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Now I know why people think I'm crazy

From Transforming Knowledge, by Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich:

"What what is taken to be 'rational,' 'correct,' 'sane,' and 'normal' has been distorted in a thoroughgoing, systematically enforced way, it is a whole dominant culture that has gone 'mad.' Things have turned topsy-turvy: it is those who resist an 'insane' reality - those who think and question and act on their consciences, by moral principles - who are labeled 'crazy' while those who go along with the madness are considered 'sane' and 'sensible' and 'sound.'"

This totally explains why my 'fringe' behavior such as homeschooling, not believing in God, not having TV in my home, and refusing to buy spaghettios, while feeding by children meals made from scratch, is so foreign to the mainstream, and labeled crazy.

She calls this psychotic conceptualizations (of the masses, not individual, it is not the same thing as a mental illness definition, though perhaps a macrocosm of it). Love it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Doing enough?

I was driving my daughter somewhere yesterday, and I saw a car coming toward me, driving erratically. It was starting and braking suddenly, swerving to the side, and as I got closer, I saw a woman walking on the side of the road. The man driving the car was trying to stop her with the car. As I pulled up parallel, I stopped and asked her if I could help her, if she needed a ride.

She was clearly embarrassed, and in denial, and kept telling me, "No, he's OK," which was not true. He was not OK, and neither was she. She continued walking, and he got out of the car and grabbed her roughly. I shouted at him, "take your hands off her RIGHT NOW, or I am calling 911!" I was already dialing and trying to remember his license plate. Cars were piling up a bit behind him and I, even on a rural country road. I got part of the plate #, and felt that I had to move my car, so I drove up the road a bit, reporting the incident as I went, and turned around to come back so that I could give better directions to the police, and get the full license plate. He meanwhile let go of her and got back in his car.

They were gone. All the cars were gone. I looked down driveways, down side streets...nothing. Upset, I went on to my destination, and a trooper called me. She couldn't find them either, but assured me that someone else would call. I was very shaken. I remembered the feeling of being trapped by someone stronger than me - horrible when a child, worse as an adult woman, of having no way to call for help, of feeling helpless and terrified, embarrassed at the stupidity of it all. Of shaky voice, trembling hands, adrenalin pumping to flee, but shaking legs and tears of impotent rage and fear making it impossible.

When I got to my destination, one of the people who has caused that feeling in me was there. I couldn't look them in the eye. I thought I might throw up. I had no idea that my body memory would be so intense.Thought I had forgiven, and moved on. That I was healed. Something hidden, something brought to light, to come to terms with, to understand and encompass, so I can help others without falling apart internally myself. I worked in a battered woman's shelter both before and after being hurt myself, but the training doesn't stop the fear.

I went back and drove around, trying to find the car for awhile. No luck. I wish I had been smarter - pulled over, pulled my car into the middle of the road, gotten the full license. Asked for the other drivers to help too. I pray that she is OK. That she gets help. That he gets help.

I could have done more, but I was so confused in the moment and had my daughter with me - I was afraid he could be violent towards us. I hope that the police found them. They were still looking when I went back - I saw the trooper that I had spoken to on the phone.

I should have done more, but am grateful I was able to do something. Next time, I'll be better prepared. At least my daughter saw me stop someone from getting hurt. From confronting abuse and intimidation, and call the police. She saw me and she'll remember.


I found that this quote resonated with me. It appeals to my own inner struggle around owning my childhood religion and my present theology.

"When I pray, the humanist in me is patient but nonplussed, asking who I think I am talking to, and I reply that I don't know, but I do it anywy, my breath casting words into the seemingly unanswering air. Perhaps it is only my need to make the universe personal and intimate. I know myself to be a personal and intimate being, and it seems not totally impossible that the powers which cast me with these qualities, which enables me to be both rational and poetic, may be the same as I, writ large." -- Frances E. West