Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Many years ago, there was a catch phrase in evangelical Christianity WWJD? It stood for what would Jesus do? It showed up on bumper stickers, those rubber bracelets and there was even a book written about it called, essentially, WWJD– answers to this question on a variety of topics. Of course, what the author neglected to mention was that the book was really what he would do, not Jesus, although he might think Jesus would agree.
I think it’s a great concept, asking what would Jesus do, if we could keep the answers to how the recording of his life is Christian scriptures showed him to be. He befriended the foreigner (Roman Centurion, Samaritan woman at the well) which might lead us to believe he would also befriend and speak for the rights of undocumented citizens from Mexico or Canada or any other country who is fleeing oppression or seeking justice. He healed the sick, which means he might be for universal health care. He said “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” which might indicate an aversion to the death penalty.
And of course, other witty responses to the WWJD arose– WWBD- what would Buddha do and WWJB– who would Jesus bomb. But perhaps the most important question we should be asking is WWUUD? What would Unitarian Universalists do in morally repugnant or frightening situations? How can we live our principles out in the wider world of which we are a part?
I’ve recently become a big fan on the show What Would You Do? On ABC, hosted by John Quinones. I think it’s on Friday, but I really have no idea since I set up the dvr to record it and watch it all hours of the day and night. But it’s a fascinating look into American culture. It’s like Candid Camera – only with a message. Hidden cameras are posted in various places and actors portray events that really happen and record the reactions or nonreactions of unsuspecting people nearby. Recent shows featured a “cafĂ© worker” berating alleged latin@ day workers and saying they should all go back to Mexico and stop taking our jobs. Another showed “teen bullies” pushing and verbally abusing a “gay teen”. Yet another showed what happens when someone carelessly leaves their pet with someone outside a store.
There are more but you get the point. It’s interesting to see what sparks people’s courage or outrage. Ironically, more berated the woman who was leaving her dog with strangers than came to the aid of the teen allegedly being gay-bashed. A good number of people spoke in defense of the latin@ workers – less than those who stood up to supposedly drunk doctors on call heading in to do surgery.
It’s a good question, as we enter this holiday season filled with stories of bravery and standing in the face of dominant oppression. Buddha, who gave up everything and devoted his life to end suffering, Mary and Joseph who bravely withstood the sneering neighbors, homelessness and poverty to give birth to Jesus and who accepted the foreigners and their gifts later. The Maccabees who fought off domination and kept the fire of their commitment burning long after most lamps would have given out.
As we enter this season of crazed shopping, frenetic parties and insane traffic, let this be a reminder, that we are all a part of a wider world. That we are each of to care for one– family, friend, foe and foreigner alike. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what we think Jesus or Buddha would do. At the end of the day, it really only matters what WE– you and me actually did to further civility, justice, compassion and caring in our world. That’s a gift anyone would appreciate. Happy Holidays.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Religious Intolerance

Today, as we observed the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our nation I participated in two very different events.
The first one was part of an annual festival in Colorado Springs celebrating innovation and the pioneering spirit that has made our nation so great. The theme this year was “What if?” I co-facilitated a conversation on why inter-faith dialogue was so important and how it could help to heal our world.
Our small group spoke about how we came to realize that everyone’s story was different and interesting and important– even if it was not in keeping with our own faith. One man, a member of the congregation I serve at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, said he wanted to be some place today where Muslim-phobia wasn’t the order of the day.
It was a small group but one news station had showed up to interview us. I left feeling uplifted and hopeful about our future.
Then I went to a local bed and breakfast that hosts outside weddings in their stunning gardens. It’s a beautiful place and I have been called upon to do several weddings there over the summer. I am to officiate at a wedding there tomorrow and was to meet the couple and go over the details of the service this afternoon.
I introduced myself to the young couple and the bride’s parents who were also there. As I was beginning to explain the ceremony the bride’s father suddenly asked, “What church are you with?”
“All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, downtown, on Tejon,” I answered. This was a local couple who had grown up here and my bio was on the bed and breakfast’s website. I assumed the parents had at least a little knowledge of where I was from.
“Is it a Christian church?” The dad persisted.
“Well, it has its roots in Christianity, but it has since grown beyond that,” I answered. Then, playing the name-dropping game, I added, “It’s the church of Ralph Waldo Emerson, P.T. Barnum, Thomas Jefferson..”
I trailed off as the father of the bride pressed even further, “Is Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior, the head?”
Startled, I responded, “No. Well, maybe for some folks...”
The bride reached over to pat her father’s arm. “Now, calm down,” she said gently.
We went on with the brief rehearsal but I felt sick to my stomach. I had once again experienced religious discrimination– ironically, what I had just been talking about at the What If festival an hour earlier.
I remembered when I was still an MCC minister. I had accepted an invitation from The Navigators to a minister’s retreat. I had naively sent in the registration form stating that I was a woman and would need to share a room with another female. As I was driving to the retreat I thought about whether or not I would come out as a lesbian minister. I flew out of the closet when I was 16 years old so it was weird to think about coming out again. But once I reached the retreat site all bets were off. The retreatants consisted of 35 white straight men, one African American straight man and me.
Many men were clearly angry that I dared to show my face as a female minister, let alone a lesbian. I felt shut out, silenced. My only saving grace was one open-minded minister who dared to sit with me during meals and asked to hear my story. One man who dared to believe a woman could have a place in ministry.
I’ve come a long way since that retreat, since entering the ministry 21 years ago. I’ve changed and grown and so has my theology. Still, I felt reduced somehow during today’s interrogation at the wedding rehearsal. I felt as if my character were in question if I didn’t believe the same way that the bride’s father did. I felt shut down and silenced.
I was not a part of the majority, therefore, my beliefs were suspect.
Driving home, I tried to analyze my feelings. I realized it wasn’t that I felt insecure about my UU beliefs– which I proudly and defiantly uphold and celebrate. Rather I was just reminded about how important interfaith dialogue– inter-religious acceptance is. And how easy it is for the dominant religious culture to assert itself as the only truth– as if among all the nations, throughout the breadth of history there could only be one truth.
As I drove away from the bed and breakfast, I realized the exchange between me and the father of the bride made me all the more determined to work for a place where all faiths could be shared in safety and respect, where no faith was privileged above the others and where every person felt the freedom to embark on a free and responsible search for truth and meaning– with no map given– only a compass by which to navigate their own spiritual journey.
I was reminded of a quote one of the participants in the interfaith dialogue shared today by theologian Hans Kung. "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions."
And I humbly remembered, I used to be that guy– the father of the bride– who thought I knew the only way to truth, who arrogantly sought to impress my beliefs on others. And so I blessed him silently as I left. Blessed his fervency, blessed his zeal and then let him go. Let him continue on his path even as I am on my own. I took in a breath of air from earlier in the day– when a small group of us discussed interfaith dialogue and hearing different stories and being intrigued by them and learning from them and just listening to them without having to prove our “rightness”.
That’s what this anniversary should be about, nine years after the destruction of America’s myth of invulnerability. That all matter, that every belief is sacred, that what is different is not to be feared but to be explored. And for those who don’t want to have those conversations, I shake the dust off my feet, as Jesus said, and move on. Life is too short to be navigated with fear and with righteous intolerance. So I shook the dust off my feet, but I say to you, fellow sojourner, no matter what your story is, if you want to share it, if you want to hear mine, come along side me. Come, let us reason together.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cruisie Control

“And my life, which is my body surely, is also something more— isn’t yours?”
— Mary Oliver

Today I had to wake up early in order to head to traffic court. After almost 2 years of flying under the radar (I mean, of driving the speed limit) I got a speeding ticket. Now, for those of you not as seasoned as I in the area of speeding tickets, let me just say it’s worth it to take the time to go to court. While your fine will stay the same, the number of points will almost always be reduced.
So, as usual after getting a ticket, I have been trying to be more conscious of my speed as I’m driving. It seems I have no will power to regulate my speed so the only way that I can guarantee I’m not more than five miles over the posted speed limit is to put my car on cruise control.
Even though it seems as if I’m barely crawling along, I am always amazed to see that I arrive at my destination in a timely fashion. And I do know it’s easier on my vehicle.
I think I drive like I live my life. I often make jack rabbit starts, speed through my days, go from one appointment to the next. If there were speeding tickets for how we live, I’m sure I would have a whole trunk-ful by now.
But I believe somehow our bodies conspire with the universe in a sort of cosmic cruise control enforcement to at least get us to pay attention, to slow us down, remind us to breathe. Over two years ago after my annual physical exam, I was notified that my pap smear came back abnormal. This led to having pap smears every three months to monitor that. My last test revealed a change from abnormal to cancer cells- severe dysplasia (I only wrote that to ask- why is it that in humans dysplasia means cancer cells and in dogs it means hip problems???) While my doctor is confident that the biopsy procedure used to diagnose this also got all of the cancer cells, I decided to have a hysterectomy. This will greatly increase the chance of the cancer not returning.
My surgery is scheduled for August 3 and the recovery is typically about six weeks. During that time, I will be on cruise control. In my recovery I hope to rest, to read, to reflect on how our bodies are surely us, as Mary Oliver said, but not all of us. And it is also a reminder to me to pay attention, to honor my body, to take good care of it, for even if it isn’t all of who I am, it is me.
I am not oblivious to the fact that this cancer was caught and treated in a timely fashion, because the abnormalities were monitored for over two years, and all of that was possible because I have the luxury of health insurance. For many uninsured women, annual exams are a luxury they can’t afford. Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treated if caught in time. For many, the difference between detecting it early or having it progress into invasive cancer is having health care coverage. While I don’t believe the Health Care Reform bill that has been passed and is to be implemented soon is 100 % perfect, I do think it goes a long way to insuring that more women will have the opportunity I’ve had to be an active partner in my health care and to have access to basic services that could save their lives.
So beginning August 3, I will be on medical leave for a few weeks. I’m one of those folks who likes to suffer alone so don’t really need a lot of visitors. My girlfriend is a fabulous cook, so I won’t need meals. I do have Skype and would love to touch base with any of you who have that as well. I can’t guarantee what my hair will look like on the video call, though. It has a mind of its own and attempts a coup every night while I sleep. Fortunately, I already had a great line up of guest speakers for the last four Sundays in August so that’s one thing I don’t have to stress about. And I also won’t have to stress about how the church will get along in my absence. We have a newly reconstituted Caring Team headed by Charles Peterson. So if you need assistance of any kind, All Souls will be there for you. You are a wonderful, committed, caring congregation and I know you’ll continue the mission and vision of All Souls even while I’m on cosmic cruise control.
I am so grateful for each of you!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Road Trips

Note: I've decided to cross-post my monthly newsletter articles here so that people new to All Souls can have easier access to them if they're not on the newsletter email list. Here is my article for May, 2010. I promise to try to be better about posting pithy comments and remarks.

“We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to take several road trips. To be sure, road trips generally take much longer than jetting about the skies from point A to point B, but there’s something mystical about them to me. Road trips require us to feel every mile. We cannot hop, skip and jump over the tedious parts, the pot-holed roads, the two lane back highways on which it seems every slow-moving tractor trailer is ahead of us. We must have patience on road trips. We must keep alert, watching not only the road ahead but also checking our rearview mirror and scanning the horizon to be safe.
Road trips remind us that we have the wheel, that we control our speed, our rest stops, the music that we listen to.
We can take solitary road trips, such as my most recent one to Albuquerque, NM for a district minister’s retreat, or have companions, such as the one Sam and I took en route to New Orleans. We can also have others who can share the driving load, as on the way home from New Orleans when Angela Sullivan and her son Draper teamed up with Sam and me.
All have benefits. Driving in solitude gives us time to reflect on our lives, where it is we’re truly headed and where we’ve been. Some of my most profound insights have been when I was driving a long distance alone.
Having a child along can remind us of our sacred responsibility to our children, to help guide them down the roads that will bring them hope and courage and their own desire to find their own paths, soon enough– all, too soon, in fact. Driving to New Orleans with Sam gave us the opportunity to simply be with one another, to have meaningful conversations, to hear about what’s important to him.
Sharing the driving with a friend can remind us that we don’t have to do everything, that burdens can be shared and, in the small, enclosed space of a car, stories can be shared, connections deepened. Oh, maybe I couldn’t sing along with the tunes on my iPod and Angela couldn’t listen to her beloved NPR talk radio programs, but we talked to one another and when one of us got tired of driving, the other took over.
And nature, herself unfolded to me in a way I would have missed at 30,000 feet in the air. Driving through the bayous of Louisiana on the final stretch to New Orleans, I noticed how the trees crowded up to the road, as if watching a parade, as if cheering me on in my journey. I honked the horn as we passed their waving, ebullient branches– my own greeting to them, my own acknowledgment of their mystery and their ability to continue on year after year.
And as the setting sun clocked out and the moon took up her post of watching over us as we sped along, I felt the vastness of space and time enfolding me, reminding me that I am a part of something much larger than my own petty concerns and gas receipts.
The clouds that filled the sky on my way home from Albuquerque showed off their incredible permutations– long, flat white clouds provided the background for the more cheery bands of popcorn clouds that puffed with pride in the foreground– almost 3D in their presentation, as if to say, “We are all clouds and we are all different and that is very good.”
And I saw, too, the many memorials along the different highways where someone’s life had come to a sudden, definitive end. On the way to Albuquerque, I saw a car parked on the shoulder of I-25, a couple embracing in front of two new memorials. I wondered about their loss and I wondered at the fragility, the impermanence of life; how all our plans and dreams can rest upon a single moment in time. I felt anew the desire, the necessity, of living life fully; of not putting off dreams for another day which I might not see.
And through all these road trips, I felt each bump of the road, I passed over every inch of my journey. There was not a moment on the trip that I missed. It is, to me, a powerful reminder of my life, of the need to resist the urge to fly over, fast forward through parts of my journey in an effort to reach my destination. It takes longer, to be sure, but the pace reminds me there is no destination other than this moment in which I exist, that the journey itself is home, and that life, whether in solitude or in the company of others is a grand adventure, if I only will creep out of my close and crowded house and open my eyes to the majestic beauties that daily wrap me in their bosom. May your own life be a grand adventure as well.