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Lowering the bar

June 10, 2014

So, I feel like I’m stepping into a confessional here. Forgive me, readers, it has been… I dunno. Months? Yep. Just checked; months. Since my last post. Today I read another blogger’s post, saying how she blogs in her head all the time but doesn’t actually write, and I thought hey, me too! Then she promised her readers she would blog at least once a week. I told her I was going to try to keep up. I don’t have a good track record with promises like that, but I am awesome at starting over, trying again, looking for a new way through an old problem. So, I’m going to try to keep up for one solid month, as a start. That’s three more posts after this one. I’m not promising they’ll be inspiring or interesting. I’m promising to post *something,* and to risk failure. Or success. They each have their drawbacks.

That seems to be a lesson the universe offers us over and over, that I resist every time. To grow, we need to risk failing. (Or succeeding: we need to risk change.) I took a philosophy class at some considerable expense to my parents when I was in college, but the only philosophical statements I still remember from those years came not from class, but from the Salada tea tags dangling out of my morning cuppa. “If you don’t try, you can’t fail” was one of them that went up on my bulletin board. I mean, I *get* that it isn’t suggesting we don’t try. But isn’t that so often our first reaction? My first reaction, anyway. You are probably way more evolved than I am, or you’re an adrenaline junkie who says yes to everything.

So, my recent soul work has been to make really sure, as life presents me with opportunities to risk, that I look past any initial reluctance for a second possible reaction. Maybe a third… it’s called “discernment” in my line of work, and my next post will explain why I decided to go to trapeze school in March. Stay tuned.

Chipmunk theology

October 19, 2013

The past few months have been a good struggle with theology in practice, trying to see and feel how the often very academic-sounding theology I’m reading might help to frame or reframe the experience of ordinary living, and how ordinary living in turn reshapes my thinking about theology.

In my introduction to Buddhism class I was introduced to the idea of Indra’s Net – in which every intersection of an infinite web holds a jewel that reflects the light of every other jewel in the net. It is a beautiful addition to how I think about the Unitarian Universalist principle of “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.” It holds infinity in a way I can nearly manage to contemplate it without getting existentially dizzy. Because if each jewel is reflecting every other jewel, then every jewel holds pictures of its own self reflecting all the other jewels, in a hall-of-mirrors kind of infinity.

If I am making any sense of the little snippets of recent developments in quantum physics, it’s also not so far off from what they’re coming up with to explain… stuff. The illustration I’ve seen on Facebook of a new model for a Theory of Everything looks like ->drum roll<- a jewel! Some day soon, perhaps this summer, I will make a serious attempt to learn more about what physics has to teach, but even with my very limited understanding, I can’t help bursting out with a “Wow!” of awe and wonder.

And then there’s theology. Last Sunday I heard Kate Braestrup, one of my writing and UU heroes, preaching. (In our pulpit! *happy sigh*) She passionately declared that her theology can be summed up in three words: God. Is. Love. It’s an assertion I began making somewhat apologetically several years ago, when I felt pressure to come to some way of translating the word “God” so that I could hear what others were trying to say when they use that word, without reacting like a knee-jerk atheist and dismissing them as superstitious or silly. (At least not immediately.)

Then I brought my little three-word theology to seminary. While I am certainly not alone in my theology, I began to experience what is called “push-back,” as in “Let me push back on that a little bit,” the current academic version of “Oh, bless your heart, that is *so sweet,*” before they proceed to toss big, heavy ideas – centuries of complicated theological thought plus all the latest, sharpest constructs – at your naïve little theological idea, which suddenly looks like a chipmunk on a busy highway. 7793565238_d475cb09c1_z

I am a religious liberal, a believer in the idea that revelation is not sealed, which means I need to be willing, if my little chipmunk gets flattened out there, to admit that my theology is too fragile, too small, too insubstantial to survive the tests of experience, reality, Truth.

So far, for me, the chipmunk lives. God as love still captures the essence of my faith, the conviction that what gives life meaning and purpose is love. Kate Braestrup sums up the practical application of “God is love” this way: Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live. (in Marriage & Other Acts of Charity, p. 61) She answers the “Why?” question in a single word: “Because.”

So, now we go back to Indra’s net. Or web. Imagine that little chipmunk of love, reflected in each dewdrop strung on that infinite web, and reflections of the reflections contained in each… in talking about how she responds to the problem of suffering and evil, Kate replies that in those situations, you look for the love, and there you find God. If chipmunks creep you out, think of something you like better, but I am pretty happy with the idea of a loving little chipmunk darting through every situation, always making it safely to the other side to come perch once again in our palm, turning an acorn in its tiny paws to nibble away the shell and feast on the luscious nut within.

How’s THAT for an odd theology lesson? And I’ll leave you to ponder why, but I’ll also share here this animation that somehow seems to me to be closely related to all of this. Here, lamb = love.

Like a Phoenix! Or Lazarus!

October 15, 2013

I declare myself not quite dead yet, with a nod to the writers of Monty Python. It has been nearly a year since my last confession. I feel a bit like I have been in a chrysalis, undergoing a metamorphosis I cannot yet fully articulate. Ministerial formation is a fairly major remodeling of one’s interior landscape, and I thought I was stuck with nothing to say. In low moments, I wondered if I would ever have anything new or useful to say, worth tossing out into public conversation. One of the things I have been learning to trust is the mystery that I cannot always know how or where my words will land, and to offer them anyway, in a spirit of love and generosity, hoping for the best and not letting my worries about the worst hold me back.

No long post today, just a hello and a poem that captures some of the feelings I’ve had over the past three years of growing and changing on my journey deeper into my own faith and my calling to ministry.


This is where I yank the old roots
from my chest, like the tomatoes
we let grow until December
thick as saplings

 This is the moment when the ancient fears
race like thoroughbreds, asking for more
and more rein. And I, the driver,
for some reason they know nothing of
strain to hold them back.

 Terror grips me like a virus
and I sweat, fevered,
trying to burn it out.

This feat is so invisible. All you can see
is a woman going about her ordinary day,
drinking tea, taking herself to the movies,
reading in bed. If victorious
I will look exactly the same.

Yet I am hoisting a car from mud ruts
half a century deep. I am hacking
a clearing through the fallen slash
of my heart. Without laser precision,
with only the primitive knife of need, I cut
and splice the circuitry of my brain.

I change.

Ellen Bass


December 2, 2012

Last week I had a Skype session with my spiritual director, and she began by asking me politely how I was. A torrent of reply spilled forth, and after a few minutes both of us became aware that we hadn’t lit the chalice yet. (For my non-Unitarian Universalist readers, the chalice is a UU thing, a way we use to mark sacred time.) As she lit the flame, she suggested we spend two or three minutes in silence.

In those minutes, I was able to notice what I had just done, notice the jumbled and swirling state of my own thoughts, and to take a few slow breaths. Everything slowed down, and it was like seeing clear patches in a lifting fog. I almost laughed out loud. The sense of relief and relaxation was most welcome, and the conversation that ensued was richer for my having been led to that still place.

I kept thinking about those moments of silence over the next few days, and how good it had felt. My spiritual director suggested we use silence more, because it seemed to be something I need. I thought, “Yes! THAT could be my spiritual practice, something I could do in a disciplined way. Silence. Just… silence.”

I know, I know. You mean, like, meditation?

Yes, sort of. Like meditation, but I don’t worry about needing the latest cushion or bench from Shambala, I don’t need to learn Sanskrit chants, I don’t need to fret about whether my position is Buddha-approved. I can just shut up, breathe, and notice what’s going on in my thoughts. In my body.

This, too, makes me want to laugh out loud. All these years I have not committed to a meditation practice because I didn’t feel like I was “doing it right,” and if I just call it “silence,” there I go. I know how to do it, my anxiety dissolves, and I have a spiritual practice that feels genuinely mine.

And now, a word from Monty Python and the man who couldn’t say “C”:

“You mean, spell ‘bolor’ with a ‘k’? ‘Kolor’?”

“That’s right.”

“What a silly bunt!”

I now invite YOU to spend a minute, or two, or five, in silence, and offer you a flame to watch as your mind quiets.

Jelly Beans – Daily Compass

November 30, 2012

Below is a link to a great little thought from the Daily Compass. Very short, and worth the click: Jelly Beans – Daily Compass.

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich | The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

November 21, 2012

For all my people whose Meyers-Briggs letters end with “P.” And for those whose end with “J” and wonder why we don’t get our act together… That red text is a link; click it to read a fabulous poem.

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich | The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.

Great Expectations…

November 20, 2012

Forgive me readers, for it has been months since my last post.

There are several beginnings of posts in a file on my computer, and something has been preventing me from finishing and going public with them. Perhaps because I am reading about Buddhism for a class, I am working to be curious about my balking, rather than leaping to my favorite conclusion: I am a loser, a disorganized, lazy, undisciplined and unworthy excuse for a human being.

It has not required hours of meditation for me to be enlightened on this particular matter. In a couple of weeks our worship topic at church is “Expectations;” a major part of what has been holding me back is just that. A fear that I’ll post something that disappoints you. So, hold that thought for a moment and read these words from Kassie Temple, a Catholic Worker:

“While it’s important to be as *effective* as we possibly can in doing vital tasks, it’s even more important to be *faithful* to our gifts and the way they can help meet the world’s needs. When effectiveness is our only norm, we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, because they’re the only ones with which we can be effective.” – Kassie Temple

 I felt slightly stricken when I read this, realizing how often and in how many places in my life I fall victim to the trap of perfectionism, of undertaking only those tasks where I know I can be successful.

So here’s the post I promised to some of you who’ve asked me to keep writing. It doesn’t begin to cover all the ideas I’ve had, but I’ll let those wait for another day. Today, I will bite off more than I can chew, write for my book even if those words might not be the ones that end up in the final draft, and offer loving energy to everyone I encounter. And before I even check my email, I will post this on my blog, sending loving energy to YOU, dear readers, and thanking you for reminding me to be faithful to my gifts.

Go, now, and do likewise, offering *your* gifts to the world.