Saturday, October 4, 2008

Passionately Pink for the Cure

My friend Vivian was 34 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. After having a radical mastectomy performed on her right breast and undergoing weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, she was pronounced cancer free. Then, seven years later, she got grim news. The cancer had returned in her lungs. She was very ill and traditional chemo and radiation would not work. She was given the chance to undergo a stem-cell replacement treatment, a procedure she would have a 50/50 chance of surviving. With no other options, she chose to do the treatment. Fortunately, she not only survived the treatment but beat the cancer. That was 10 years ago and she is healthy and active today.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It is a time to remember those who have died with this disease and to celebrate those who are survivors. Many of us have been impacted by this disease, either personally or with someone we love. Some of us are currently dealing with mothers or sisters or aunts who are undergoing treatment. It is an insidious disease.
Every 2 minutes, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. Every 13 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from breast cancer. This year 1.1 million people may be diagnosed with this disease worldwide.
While those numbers are grim there are encouraging numbers as well. For example, the five year survival rate of all people diagnosed with breast cancer is 89% . This year the Susan G. Komen foundation donated $100 million in grants to researchers worldwide who are actively seeking a cure. Progress has been made in treatment. If my friend, Vivian, had been diagnosed with that form of breast cancer even a couple years earlier, the stem cell replacement treatment would not have been available. Ten years later, more has been done in the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as early detection.
Still there is work to be done. I encourage you this month to be passionately pink in efforts to help raise awareness of breast cancer. Check out for more information on ways you can be a part of the race to the cure, also go to to donate $5 one day in October, and be sure to wear pink.
If you are a woman, educate yourself on breast self-examinations, risk factors, and mammograms. If you are a man or woman, spend some time this month with someone who is dealing with this disease on some level, ask the women in your life if they've had a mammogram in the past year (recommended yearly for women over 40, or earlier with a family history of breast cancer), offer to take a woman to her mammogram appointment.
Together, we can make a difference! Together we can work for a day when this cancer has been eradicated. Until then we can be passionately pink, fierce in our activism and vigilant in our own healthcare.

L'Shana Tova -- Happy 5769

We are living in the Days of Awe, the high holy days that mark the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, and continue through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Unlike the New Year's celebrations that occur throughout the world on December 31st of each year, Rosh Hashanah is a religious holiday. It marks a time of reflection, of looking back over the past year and forward to the coming one, it is a pause amidst the busyness of life to do a self-assessment and make course corrections if needed.
Then on the 10th day of the new year, Jews observe the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. On this day, people are encouraged to make amends for wrongs done to others, for promises that were broken, for any way in which they broke relationship with one another.
I like this focus on repairing relationships with one another, rather than just asking for a blanket amnesty from G-d. This causes us to take responsibility for our actions directly with the ones whom we have hurt. It also gives us an opportunity to be agents of grace with those who have hurt us or broken relationship with us.
Many religions provide opportunities for people to reflect on their broken relationships and give a chance for them to restore them. I think this is one of the most important things we can do as human beings. We cannot hope for the world to attain peace and harmony if we don't first start with seeking those things in our own lives.
So I encourage you, during these Days of Awe, regardless of your religious beliefs, to take some time to reflect on our lives, our actions over these past few weeks and months, to honestly and boldly evaluate your behaviors and to see if there is anyone with whom you need to restore a relationship. This could even be relationship you've broken with yourself by how you have talked to yourself, lies you have told yourself about who you are in the grand scheme of themes.
As the High Holy Days end on October 9 this year, at the last hour a service called "Ne'ila" (Neilah) offers a final opportunity for repentance. It is the only service of the year during which the doors to the Ark (where the Torah scrolls are stored) remain open from the beginning to end of the service, signifying that the gates of Heaven are open at this time.
And I believe that as we reflect, seek forgiveness from anyone with whom we have broken relationship, offer grace and forgiveness to those who have wronged us, that the gates of Heaven are opened, that we can exist in a moment of existential harmony.
In fact, I would encourage us to try to keep the gates of Heaven open throughout the year, not just during the High Holy Days but every day. So that, when we make a mistake, break a promise, hurt someone, we admit it immediately, seek grace, give grace. In so doing, I believe we can always be living in the Days of Awe.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Off and Running

Today was Ingathering and Water Communion Sunday. It was also my official welcome as the settled minister at All Souls.
The house was packed, the energy was great and, although it was a longer than usual service, it was awesome to hear the stories of water people brought back from their summer travels.
Many were from vacation spots but some were more poignant. A woman who brought water back from the place where she scattered her parents ashes, water from the Tigris River from a soldier home on R&R who will be returning to Iraq in several days.
In my sermon I talked about the hidden messages in water made famous by Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto and what the implications are of messages we tell ourselves about who we are as individuals and as a church. I ended by inviting people to come up and put a temporary tattoo on their body, using the commingled waters of the Water Communion to moisten the tattoos and stick them on. I had tattoos that said life, love, clarity, insight, growth, wholeness, forgiveness, respect, outreach, grace, respect, sharing, kindness.
It was a very fun, interactive service. I chose the word grace for my tattoo and placed it on my right wrist.
Afterward, a congregant asked if he could speak to me privately for a moment. I ushered him into my office and he started by praising the service, saying everything he loved about it. He was very gracious.
Then he said there was one thing that didn't sit well with him. During my sermon, I spoke of the belief some Christians have about their Communion called transubstantiation. This means they believe that during the consecration of communion the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus. I said something off the cuff, to the effect of how that kind of creeped me out.
This congregant told me that he thought that was disrespectful of Christianity and how we have a history of being inclusive of all, except for Christians.
As he spoke, I realized he was completely right. I would never have made a remark that judged indigenous spiritualities or Hinduism.
I apologized and told him it had been wrong of me to say that. I said it was ad-libbed and not reflective of the respect I feel for all religions, including Christianity.
I thanked him for coming in to talk to me about this and I really am glad he did.
As I drove home, I reflected on this exchange and realized that, by being willing to talk with me and not hold resentment in silence he enabled us to have a conversation. I learned something new today and while I regret the comment that precipitated the conversation, I'm grateful for the conversation. This is the kind of place I want All Souls to be known as-- a place where people can listen to one another and be heard and understood, where differences or disagreements don't mean division but rather an opportunity to stretch and grow.
I looked down at my tattoo: grace. That's what happened today in those brief moments in my office and that's what happens when we can acknowledge our mistakes and receive forgiveness and move on.
It was kind of cool to realize the message I had tattooed on my arm was already manifesting in the congregation. I am sure all the other messages we wrote on the body of All Souls today--messages of affirmation and growth-- are also already at work in our lives.
How exciting to be a part of the community. I look forward to a great future with them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Dream Come True

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to attend the Democratic National Convention on the night Senator Obama accepted the nomination as the candidate for President.
It was an amazing event. The Invesco stadium was filled with over 84,000 people all waiting for that moment when history was made. As I found my way to my seat I was handed a small American flag. I almost refused the offer - it has been a long time since I felt the need or desire to wave the flag. It seemed as if in recent years (and certainly since 9/11) the flag has been co-opted by those who would use America's power to limit freedoms at home and enforce America's agenda abroad. But, I took the flag, after all, feeling only a little foolish and joined my friends.

It was amazing to hear the speeches by various politicos, but even more profound to hear the "everyday people" speak of how the last eight years of the Bush regime has negatively impacted their and health insurance lost, homes in jeopardy, education quality spiraling down.
Of course, the most amazing moment was when Obama spoke. His speech was bold, inclusive, daring and filled with passion for our country and what it can become.
I came away feeling that there is truly hope for our country after all. That perhaps this can be a new day for America. I felt the winds of change sweeping through that stadium.
What was also amazing was just being a part of history - a black man accepting the nomination for the Democratic candidate for President. They had a great retrospective on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since it was the 45th anniversary of his "I have a Dream" speech. There were shirts and buttons with pictures of MLK and Obama saying "The Dreamer" next to King and "The Dream" next to Obama. And I thought that Dr. King would probably have been so proud of this moment, to see the fruits of his labors in such a monumental way.
And I thought of all the movements toward justice in the last century and into this one: the Southern Freedom movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement; how it does seem as if perhaps all those efforts--which felt so futile at the time-- are bearing fruit.
I mean, to think that the two main contenders for the Democratic ticket were a woman and a black man. The DNC would have been historic either way. To think I have lived to see the day when same-sex marriages and benefits for same-sex partners are becoming a reality in more and more cities and states.
I wanted to pour a libation to my activist ancestors, to honor them and their courage and commitment. I wanted to bring them all back for this moment, to reassure them their efforts weren't in vain.
Of course, there is still much work to do. Women's right to choice is continually under attack, poverty and lack of health insurance still hound much of America, we're engaged in a war in which thousands of lives have been lost. But perhaps the signs of change can give those of us who are activists renewed hope and vigor to continue the struggle for justice and peace.
As Dr. King said, at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."At the DNC, I saw that to be true.
I waved my flag proudly during the event. It felt right and good, as if the flag could represent me once more, as if it could stand for something I could believe in once again.
As I left the stadium, I noticed that many people had left their flags in their seats. I picked up as many as I could. I decided I would give them to people and say, "This is a flag that was given at the 2008 DNC. It's a piece of history, wave it with pride."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Space and Time

I had lunch yesterday with a friend from Topeka, KS and her partner, who was in the area. Cherl and I have been friends since I was 18 years old. I came out as a lesbian when I was 16 and heard about a group called TLC--the Topeka Lesbian Community. I knew they met weekly and I would often drive by the nights they held their meetings and longingly wish I could go inside, but I figured it was for adults only. So the week I turned 18 I showed up and attended every meeting until I joined the USAF. Cherl and I talked about those it was a special time to be a lesbian in the late '70s in Topeka, KS. We all wore flannel shirts and jeans, most had short-cropped hair (not me..I was too chicken to get my hair cut at the time and had it styled the way it had been for years...shoulder length and bangs feathered back). There was a sense of radicalism in being a lesbian then... alternative insemination was virtually unheard of, marriage not even on the radar. There were no social networks outside of the TLC and The Lambda (the one bar in town, seedy, run-down with exotic drag shows on Friday nights). Feminism and women's rights, pro-choice were all big deals back then and we members of the TLC did our part. There were no vehicles with rainbow bumper stickers. There were no "out" singers or entertainers (although everyone assumed Liberace was gay) and women's music was shared with the lesbian community via a small record company called Olivia. Singers like Cris Williamson and Meg Christian, Tret Fure and Deirdre McCalla, Teresa Trull and the Berkeley Women's Music Collectice would travel across the country playing on college campuses and in small venues. The Changer and the Changed by Cris Williamson was the largest grossing album by Olivia, having sold more than 100,000 copies... in 10 years. AIDS was a gathering storm of which we were ignorant. Everyone smoked.
It was a magical time and a historic time, too, I think. We were on the verge of something big, we felt and yet we were also a small enclave of women who came together to create community. I remember those days like a crisp autumn season, the air brisk , the colors vibrant, both life and death crackling in the trees of possibilities.It made me reflect on my life's journey since then, the autumns I've lived through, the lives and deaths I've experienced, the many changes I've undergone.
In some ways I've come so far from that 16, 17, 18 year old girl I was back then and yet, in other ways, I am still her. She is still me, radical and bold, timid and tentative, longing to change the world and striving to find her place in it. I feel a little sorry for those coming out as lesbian or gay today, whisking off to California or Massachusetts to get married, considering children in their future as a matter of right, not as battles to be won. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for these opportunities (and have certainly availed myself of alternative insemination to my ever-lasting joy). I'm glad for youth support groups and services and for laws on the dockets in states and cities and companies providing protection for LGBT employees. I'm glad Melissa came out, and the Indigo Girls and Greg Louganis. It would have been great if all that had taken place when I was 16, wearing a t-shirt to high school proclaiming "How Dare You Assume I'm Heterosexual!" But I gained something in those lean years when the only affirmation we had was given by one another, when the only role models were the ones we were creating. It was a sisterhood, a family, it truly was a community of TLC-- tender, loving care.
As we left the restaurant, Cherl hugged me, and said, a little sheepishly, "I don't know if I ever told you, but I had the biggest crush on you in those days." I laughed, remembering how much in awe I was of the women in the TLC when I first joined. They were all at least 9 years older than me and I thought them so wise and powerful and wonderful. "That's funny," I said. "I had crushes on all of you."

Falling Leaves and Fallen Lives

This past Sunday I preached on the topic of letting go. I spoke of how autumn with its fiery array of falling leaves is a good reminder of the need to let go of things that no longer serve us.

There were two ways of letting go, I pointed out. One is like the trees let the leaves simply fall away without attempt to make them stay or keep them attached. The other type of letting go is when we need to unlock the grip we have on something so that it can be let go.

At the end of the sermon I asked everyone to write down some things they needed to let go of on autumn-colored paper leaves that were provided them. I told them I would take them and burn them, like we do with leaves that we rake in our yards.

I told them to crumple up their paper leaves like a dried, crackling autumn leaf and then to just throw them! I said we didn't need them anymore and with these leaves allowed to fall, we make room for new growth.

It was a cathartic moment, with crumpled up leaves flying across the Great Hall, people laughed and whooped and applauded themselves; for their willingness and their courage to let go.

That same evening, I gathered with folks from All Souls at Ft. Carson to participate in the Run for the Fallen. This local effort was a supportive gesture to the national Run for the Fallen in which participants set forth from Ft. Irwin, CA and travelled to Arlington Cemetery, VA to honor the women and men who have been killed in Iraq ( This non-partisan event was another way of letting go, I think; a cathartic moment of dealing with the incomprehensible loss of over 4,000 US soldiers.
The event at Ft. Carson featured the 200+ soldiers from that base who have died in Iraq. Each of us was given a placard to wear with the name of a fallen soldier. I pinned mine, with the name of Spc. Nicolas E. Messmer on my t-shirt and went to join my friends in looking at the two large banners displaying pictures of those whose names we bore. Stephanie, whose husband Larry is currently serving in Iraq, pointed to the photo of one young man. "He was in my husband's command," she said.
I tried to take in the photos, the lives cut short, and found myself shaking my head in sorrow. I wondered, what was it like for Stephanie to view those pictures? What about the people, clearly members of the family of a fallen soldier with matching shirts proclaiming the stats of their loved one's too short life.
I thought, too, of the Iraqi citizens -- more than 60,000 -- who have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I wanted to be dictator for just one moment, to declare a cease-fire, to bring all of our troops home, to patch up the landscape of war with hope and healing and peace.
We walked around the track, then, about 3 miles, a line of people over 1,000 strong. Some were soldiers themselves; some had served in Iraq and watched friends die there, others had orders to go to Iraq. Some were family members who had lost a soldier, others, like my friends and I, were there to honor those who had fallen and to wish and pray with all our hearts and minds that we might never see a familiar name or photo on that terrible banner of death.
It was a moment in time, a solemn reminder of how transient life really is.
How we're called to hold life with such care and such love.

Last night, I took the basket of crumpled-up leaves outside and put them in my firepit. As I lit them and watched them catch fire, I silently said, "You've been released. We bless you for your presence in our lives. Thank you for what you have taught us and for preparing us for new life. Go in peace, as you go the way of all the earth."
Leaning back on my heels, I thought again of the faces on those banners, the names printed on our placards. I thought of Spc. Nicolas E. Messmer and all the other fallen lives. And as I watched the smoke spiraling into the sky, I silently echoed those words to those women and men, "You've been released. We bless you for your presence in our lives Thank you for what you have taught us and for preparing us for new life. Go in peace, as you go the way of all the earth."


Welcome to my official blog. As settled minister of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, CO I wanted to have a place where I could share the musings, the insights, the subtext of ministry that won't make it into sermon form any time soon.
In this place I will share my thoughts and feelings on things both personal and public.
If you have any questions, please feel free to write me and, if appropriate, I will try to answer them in this space. If there are topics you'd like for me to weigh in on, let me know those as well.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you.