Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year

Nori’s Nuggets

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
–Rainier Marie Rilke

First I have to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not an adrenaline junkie. Roller-coasters terrify me and even water slides give me great anxiety. I won’t even get into my ill-fated attempt to learn to ride a motorcycle (I was turning 41; clearly a mid-life crisis).

Suffice it to say I have never done anything in life purely for the rush it might bring me.

So how did I come to find myself on the morning of September 17 in a small airplane with a snug harness on my body, sitting on the lap of a tandem sky-diving instructor?

What on earth possessed me to make the decision to step out of a perfectly good airplane?

Back when I was in my 20s I had made a bucket list (before the term bucket list was even coined, I might add) of things to do before I died. As years passed and I wasn’t accomplishing any of these five items, I decided a more specific "dead"line might be useful. So I amended it to "Things to do before I’m 50." The five things were: scuba-diving, para-sailing, riding in a helicopter, hot-air ballooning, and sky-diving. Clearly, I needed to make these a list to focus on since none of them would naturally occur in my non-athletic, non-thrill-seeking, somewhat sedentary life.

I accomplished the first three in a single week on the island of Maui, HI when I was 31.

The para-sailing and helicopter ride were both fun; I learned in scuba-diving that I have serious control issues around when and how I get to breathe. But then there was a long dry period of, well, 18 years and as I turned the corner on my 49th birthday this past June I realized it was time to get serious about checking the other two items off my list.

My niece Pam got the ball rolling. She had already sky-dived and was ready to do it again. She posted on my facebook wall, other nieces saw and wanted to join and the decision was made to do it when everyone would be here for Sam’s 16th birthday.

Reservations were made (and reservations were had by me, but I pushed them to the back-burner of my mind; there was too much other fun stuff to focus on: my entire family descending from all parts of the nation for Sam’s birthday; Sam’s party itself, which was epic; the sermon I still had to prepare for Sunday, on the off chance I survived my jump). Suddenly it was the day. We all got up at the crack of dawn and drove to the sky-diving place just outside of Canon City. When we were all assembled it was my brother, Erik; nieces, Pam, Rachael, and Marissa; a friend of Pam’s; and me.

The small plane took us up two at a time; through no planning on my part, Erik and I were to be in the last plane. It was truly beautiful and amazing to see the other four jump out of the plane, two by two, and watch as their chutes blossomed open and they gently glided to land.

Now it was our turn. Erik climbed in first, positioned himself on top of his instructor and my instructor and I followed suit (Erik’s instructor said, jokingly, "I bet this is the first time you’ve paid so much money to sit on a man’s lap." I chimed in "It is for me, too." I’m not sure they got the joke). But for the rest of the 20 minute ride I was mainly quiet. I could sense this growing anxiety in me, even though I knew I had a fairly good chance of surviving this jump (and as one friend said on fb "If not, it’ll only hurt once." Cold comfort, those words) and living to preach the following day. I was trying mainly to just stay in the moment, to take in the beautiful vista of the Royal Gorge, and to ask myself, What am I to learn here? Why am I doing this? I wanted to be open to the lesson, not the adrenalin rush.

Finally, the pilot said, "Door!" My instructor open the door and I did as I had been instructed, following his left foot with mine, placed on the step there; next was my right foot. That was the most terrifying moment and I barely had time to feel it before we were out; tumbling over and over in an incredible bullet-fast rush through the skies. After about 30 seconds, my instructor pulled the chute cord and there we were: gracefully wafting down, the silence even more noticeable after the rushing of air during free fall. It was an amazing experience.

And here’s what I learned from it: that there are many times in life when I am facing something unknown; a new challenge, a stepping off from the norm; and if I wanted to, I could let the terror get the best of me and back away– and often I do remain in the place of terror, fear, anxiety longer than I need to because there’s no one there to make me jump but myself. But really (and this is true as I look back on all my free-fall experiences, mainly metaphorical though they may be) once I let go, once I give in to the moment and just free-fall– I have fun; I find I can do something I wasn’t sure I could; I discover I’ll survive.

As we come into this New Year with new opportunities for growth and change– with all the accompanying terror and uncertainty– this is a lesson I want to take with me into 2012; this is a moment in time I want to remember when it feels as if I’m being asked to step out of a perfectly good plane: the getting there is the scariest part; once you let go and jump out, it’s a fabulous ride. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tis the Season

Here is my newsletter article for December. I have also been participating in NANOWRIMO-- National Novel Writing Month-- working on finishing a 50,000 word novel (minimum) so my little brain is fried. New Year's Resolution: Blog more!
Happy Holidays!

There are seasons, in human affairs, of inward and outward revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for. There are periods when...to dare, is the highest wisdom. - William Ellery Channing, Unitarian Preacher


I must be getting older because I can hardly believe December is upon us with its frenzied excitement; its religious celebrations–from Buddha’s enlightenment to Solstice and Hanukkah, to Christmas and Kwanzaa. I have become one of those people who say “But wait! Where did the year go?” Not in a curmudgeonly manner but in a sense of legitimate amazement that another 12 months has flown by; that another calendar is on its last page and here I am!

The quote above, which I have shamelessly stolen from the facebook wall of our former DRE, Stephanie Sharp, seems especially poignant for this time of the year.

We come to the longest day and the earliest shopping opportunity, we light the festal lights and go to Christmas parties, and it can be so easy to skip over the bigger questions: what do these holidays mean? What am I supposed to be learning here? How can I slow down enough to at least be mindful that another minute, another hour, another day has passed– even if I can’t tell you all the details of the story that went with them?

We call this the holiday season, but Channing refers to seasons as having a broader sense of purpose. Perhaps this year we can look at the Christmas story of a homeless teen giving birth in the Red Cross shelter to a baby who would grow up to challenge the unjust systems and structures of his day, who would couch his revolution in the language of the religion and the language of the law that both governed over and oppressed the peoples of the land. How can that story of inward and outward revolution speak to us? In which areas of our lives– whether personal, professional or spiritual-are revolutions fomenting; under the surface at the moment but sure to erupt soon, and how can we embrace those revolutions as part of our evolution rather than as rabble-rousing that is upsetting our comfortable status quo? What if we looked at the Hanukkah story; the bravery of the Maccabees in fighting the Egyptians for the spiritual and cultural foundation as an outward revolution that also led to new depths being plumbed in the soul; even though there was not enough oil, it lasted as long as it was needed. In what area of our life do we feel as if we can’t succeed, don’t have enough, are on our last legs and how can we find the courage, like the Maccabees, to just keep going back to the jar that should be empty and discovering that in the very act of seeking, we find enough for what we need, we discover new depths in our soul that we would have never known existed if not for going back to a seemingly empty place to seek again. And what if we viewed Kwanzaa, not just as an African American holiday, but as a ritual borne out of multitudinous new wants for a better life, for more respect; a ritual borne out of the realization that at the end of the day it is up to us to define our values and claim our heritage in such a way as to live from our highest self. Finally, what if the anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment on December 8 (Bodhi day on which some Buddhists celebrate Gautama's attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India) was seen as that hallmark moment in the Buddha’s life when a new and undefined thirst for goodness brought enlightenment. Where are we simply accepting the injustices of our world, in our own lives, and our own complicity in them. What goodness, if we let our heart open to the possibility of it, could we thirst for– new and undefined, not knowing how it will all turn out, just knowing that we thirst for that goodness and that gives us the courage to see how it can unfold if we let our lives take root in the thirst.

As we go to the parties; as we do last minute shopping–online or in brick and mortar stores; as we struggle with loss or depression more poignantly felt at the holidays let us resolve not to let this holiday season to pass by in a blur; rather let us take time to seek the wisdom of each of these spiritual events and let go even further: let us dare to be willing to be changed by revolutions within our hearts and in our world; let us dare to plumb the depths of our soul, rather than stopping when we think we’ve gone as far as we can; let us acknowledge our desires and our wants even if they seem unreachable; let us open our jaded, arid spirits up to a thirst for goodness-nascent and unknowable as that might be. Let us dare to live into the wisdom of this season of our human lives. Happy Holidays.

Friday, September 30, 2011

CommUUnity

Again-- this will be my newsletter article for All Souls The Path newsletter.


It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
- Marge Piercy


I love this poem by Marge Piercy. I often think of it when I feel as if I am not making a difference in the world; when I am feeling alone or lonely. This poem reminds me of two things.

First, it reminds me that every little step forward is progress; it goes on one at a time, every time we act. It continues on when we no longer see ourselves as separate from one another but rather, as all bundled together in the cosmos.

This poem, and indeed, our Unitarian Universalist faith, calls us to deeper and deeper connections. It calls us to daily widen the circle of love in which we stand so that more are included.

Coming out as a lesbian when I was 16 years old was the beginning of ever-widening the circle for me. I suddenly realized that I was part of “the other,” the nameless, faceless assortment of those who did not fit, were not invited into the circle of love for the majority, the “normal,” the comforting sameness of life.

I distinctly remember what it felt like to be on the outside of that invisibly etched circle of inclusion. It was a revelatory moment for me. Or really, more aptly, it was the moment of the “big bang” explosion of my conscious existence. A whole universe filled with galaxies of possibilities burst forth when I came out; when I realized the “other” was just another facet of me I had not yet met.

So from that moment, my universe has been expanding to include ever more diverse peoples and cultures as part of my “We.” First I reached out to the feminists, the pro-choice and included them in my “We.” Then I reached out in solidarity – or rather reached back– to the poor, those living at or below the poverty line, whose lives echoed my beginnings in this world. I reached out to people of color, begin to educate myself about my own inherent racism; how merely by dint of my skin color, I belonged to an oppressive, systemic racist culture. I included, then, people of color into my “We” and those of the dominant culture who were trying to healing racism into my “We.” I went on to include other ways of being in relationship into my “We” as well; those whose hearts and loves didn’t fall into the neat and tidy categories of monogamous, life-time partnerships of two people (regardless of gender), and of course, gender-variant people as well are now a part of my “We.”

I’ve got to be honest here: every time my universe expanded to include more people, I felt uncomfortable. I felt resistance to the idea of stepping outside of my comfort zones of who could possibly be “in” and then, of course, those who were left out. And I’m certainly not to the point where my “We” leaves no room for an “other.” I keep expanding still; not always easily or gently, but it does go on one at a time when I care to act, when I care to learn about those who are different from me, rather than judging them; when I intentionally participate in diversity in community rather than insist on division and commonality.

It seems as if October is a month for continuing to increase the circle .

First, we will gather in all our diversity as the Mountains and Desert District at our annual meeting next weekend, where I will preach at the closing worship service on the 9th.

That same afternoon, at 2 pm, back at All Souls, I will be celebrating my fellowship status as a UUA minister with an Affirmation of Call service, in which Rev. Meg Riley will be preaching.

Finally, on Saturday, October 15, at the 2011Colorado Springs NAACP Freedom Fund Gala I will be presented with the Religious Affairs Award. This is awarded to a member of the clergy/faith community who has made a difference in the causes of diversity and inclusion and has offered unwavering support of the programs and mission of the NAACP (for more information on this event go to ColoradoSpringsNAACP.org).

I am honored and humbled to receive such an award. In my mind, I haven’t done much more than to step into the NAACP circle of love and expand mine to include them. All these events are so meaningful to me and remind me again that if we can just say “We” and mean one more each time, there is nothing that can stop us from over-turning systems and structures of injustice, insuring all people have their basic needs met and that the planet is a safe place in which to live and grow. This will become easier when we realize “we” are saving ourselves; that there is no “other,” for we are all one, we share in our common unity as sojourners on this planet.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Slutwalk Colorado Springs

Nori’s Nuggets (My September newsletter article...advance copy!)


Rape exists, in part, because society continues to support most myths which condone the act itself and place the blame and responsibility upon the victim. These attitudes can be seen in our literature, religions, laws, music, science, advertising, and daily conversation - all aspects of our culture. — from http://www.domesticviolenceservices.com/rapemythsandfacts.html

Sadly, the above assertion is all too true, as was spotlighted on January 24, 2011 in the case of a representative of the Toronto Police who asserted: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

In a galvanizing response, Slutwalks have been organized in many countries and here in the United States, many cities. I am the co-organizer of such an event that will be held on Sunday, September 18 at 6 pm. While the final route is yet to be determined, I am encouraging as many of you as possible to attend this important event. As the above website notes, it is a myth that women provoke rape by the way they dress; that they ask for it:

Fact: No woman's dress or behavior gives someone the right to sexually assault her. According to the Federal Commission on Crimes of Violence, only 4% of the reported sexual assaults involved any participative behavior by the victim, and most of this consisted of nothing more than dressing or walking in a way that is socially defined as attractive. Even in a situation where a woman is flirtatious or clearly interested in sex, she is not asking for rape. Rape in an attack in which the victim's life is controlled by the attacker. No person asks for or deserves such an assault. A hitchhiker is asking for a ride, not a violent attack. Part of the problem also lies in the interpretation men put on women's behavior. When women are cheerful and friendly, which they have been taught to be, some men interpret this as a "come-on." Again, this myth forms a part of the "good woman's" defense against a sense of vulnerability.

That this myth is being perpetuated in 2011 undermines the sad facts of rape: 90% of group rapes are planned; 58% of single rapes are planned; 75% of all rapes are planned. Also, one important emotional payoff for the rapist is to be in control, not out of control. The primary motive displayed by most convicted rapist is aggression, dominance, and anger, NOT sex. Sex is used as a weapon to inflict violence, humiliation, and conquest on a victim.

Here are more facts from the domestic violence website: Rape is the fastest-growing and most under reported crime. Over "one-third" of all women in this country will be sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime. An estimated 4-5 out of every 10 of all American children (under 16) are sexually molested. 50% are males. Studies show about 90% of these involve someone the child already knows. Only about 1 in 10 rapes of adults is reported, and fewer assaults of children are reported.

Additionally, although women between the ages of 15 and 25 are at somewhat higher risk of sexual assault than any other age groups, victims of reported rape in this country range from 3 weeks old to 93 years old. Clearly, these fall outside the purview of those “who ask for it.”

Sexual assault of any kind is wrong. It can be particularly shameful for those who work in the sex industry as prostitutes, strippers or exotic dancers. These, too, are innocent victims. A person’s work or dress does not mean anyone asks for rape. I invite you to join me and others in the SlutWalk Colorado Springs on September 18, following our 5 PM First Source service (which will be a service of healing and solidarity for those who have been victims of sexual assault). Together, we can make a difference. In the meantime, I invite you to remember these fool-proof

tips to avoid sexual assault:

Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone.

If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them.

NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, don’t assault them.

USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake.

Carry a whistle! If you’re worried you might assault someone “accidentally” you can hand it to the person you’re with so they can blow it if you do.

Don’t assault people!

The reality is this: no one of any gender, sexual orientation, age, race or social status asks for rape, no matter what they’re wearing or where they’re walking. Let’s join together to take a stand in solidarity with victims of rape and say no more to the mindless stereotypes that perpetuate further victimization. Go to http://slutwalksprings.com for more information about this upcoming event and others like it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taking a Chance

Here is my August newsletter article for the All Souls newsletter.
(with a special shout-out to Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister of Church of the Larger Fellowship, whose recent video on turning fear into love inspired this. You can view it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK2Z2uc7qM4&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL)




Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass –Mary Oliver

Is it just me or do you some days feel as if the world is spinning out of control? We are on the brink of economic disaster on a national level that many of us already feel in our personal lives. A gunman hunts down and kills scores of young people on an island in Norway after setting off a car bomb in Oslo. And many of us feel as if we, too, face frightening things out of our control: a looming divorce, or the long wait for biopsy results; a significant loss. The temperature seems to rise as folks dismiss global warming, our level of anxiety and stress keeping pace with this precipitous climb.

In times like these it seems as if our default is to isolate. To burrow into our cocoon of fear and anxiety as if we expect transformation can happen in such an environment. Or else we posture and eye the opposing sides to see which one can give us the illusion of safety, creating an “us” and “them” mentality which also, conveniently, gives us someone to blame. Someone whose fault it is. It’s the Democrats! It’s the Republicans! It’s the undocumented citizens! It’s the border patrol.”

All of this and more has been eddying in my own mind for weeks, months. Who is right? Where will this all end? And into these questions comes Mary Oliver’s tender words. What if I came to the door of your comfortable home, with the filth of poverty and despair, of uncertainty and need like a halo around me, begging bowl in hand asking you to see me, to see me and not turn away? Would you put something in it?

What if we each did this with one another, open and vulnerable in our need. What if we broke through the isolation of our pain and fear and showed up in one another’s lives.

Now, in this time of uncertainty, is not the time for pointing fingers or placing blame. Now is not the time to isolate or draw up the moat to our souls.

Now, more than ever, is the time to take a chance in our humanity, to knock on one another’s doors, bowl in hand; begging, not for pity, but for compassion; for the opportunity to be seen rather than catalogued.  So I invite you this month, to take that chance, to knock on someone’s door.

And if someone knocks on your door, begging bowl in hand, bow to the gift and take a chance by opening up and letting them in. That is, I believe, the only way we ultimately can survive this adventure called life, in good times and bad.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Somehow We Get There

Tonight I joined a couple of friends to see the Springs Ensemble Theatre production of Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. It was an intense, incredibly well-cast play about the struggle of Marine Jenny Sutter to come to terms with where she’s been (Iraq) and try to find a way back home. A story about wondering if home is where it was when she left, if anyone could see the scars seared into her soul and her body, if people could look at her and ever see her as beautiful again.

It was a poignant, honest portrayal of what it’s like for some soldiers coming home from hot zones, trying to make sense of their lives, trying to interpret what they’ve been through in that surreal war zone that sometimes seems more real than the wonder bread context of "home."

And though Jenny is the main character– and the only one who has been to war- the other characters are dealing with their own trauma, they each have their own scars–external and internal that they intermittently try to control or deny, with only sweet moments of vulnerability in which the frightened, scarred person within them makes a desperate bid for connection with another.

It was a really well done performance and, laudably, there was information available for vets of wars from Iraq and Afghanistan to Vietnam and a list of resources to help veterans of any war come to terms with a reality that includes a past most of us can’t even begin to comprehend.

After sharing a few post-show comments with my friends and hugging them goodbye, I got into my car and drove out of the parking lot and turned right. Being directionally impaired, I quickly realized that I was probably going a longer route home than I needed to. So I opened up the nav screen of my car’s GPS, selected destination and punched on the tab that said, simply, home. Quickly the GPS consulted some satellite flying thousands of miles above and showed me the quickest way home.

I was thinking, as I drove, how cool it would be if there were some kind of soul GPS, some kind of heart guidance, into which we could simply push the tab that said home and it would navigate the easiest route for us, the route that would get us there the quickest. How amazing it would be if for veterans and those scarred by abuse or incest or other trauma; those who got seemingly irretrievably lost on a road we thought led to love, fulfillment, security, only to find ourselves instead blind-sided by pain and betrayal; orphaned by loss.

The British voice on my GPS confidently told me when to turn left and when to turn right– even gave me warnings as to how far before the next change would be. "In a quarter of a mile, turn right." I could get into the right lane, check the street name also helpfully shown on the display.

As I pulled up to my house the voice in the GPS said in a soothing voice, as if singing a lullaby, "You have arrived at your destination. Your route guidance is complete."

And yes, there was my house, with the lights blazing and the always smiling lawn gnome to welcome me home.

And as the voice stopped speaking the next song on my iPod queued up: Somehow We Get There by Melissa Ferrick. Stunned at the synchronicity of the moment, I turned off the engine and listened in the silence to the words of this home–sick song. The chorus reminded me that

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tip of our headlights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are

Somehow we get there
No matter how far


The reality of it is, there is no GPS for the soul, no heart guidance to get us to home, to tell us when we’ve arrived so we don’t pass by, thinking it only a rest area. There is no simple way for us to navigate our realities, to traverse the wide and rocky terrain that waits before us when we get lost. Still, I took comfort from the words of this song. That if we just keep traveling, if we just keep stumbling along. If we feel the pain of the moment and live fully into that without trying to deny or repress it, if we can welcome with open arms the joy that shows up, the unexpected graces that bless us on the journey, somehow we will get there, we will find our home. We will, if we pay attention, know when we’ve arrived without some artificial voice telling us.

Maybe, we don’t have GPS, but we do have a compass. The compass of love and compassion, the compass of hope and faith– faith in ourselves, in the road, in the reality of a home we have not yet seen or can only distantly remember. And, if we can just follow the true north of our beating heart, I really do believe that somehow we will get there. Blessings on your journey.

Somehow We Get There

by Melissa Ferrick from CD Willing to Wait, 1995

Well I'm searching for somethin'
That I can't reach
So I whisper your name
In my sleep

N' time it isn't giving me
The space that I need
But you know at this pace
I don't think
I can
Pull into the lead

Forgiving myself is too simple too hard
There's got to be another way
To stop this car

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tip of our headlights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are
Somehow we get there
No matter how far

'Cause I can't Carry this around anymore
It's getting heavier with age
It is the boulder in my stomach
It's the avalanche in my veins

So let's leave it behind
I want to bury it beside the road
I will sit there until it comes out of me
I'll be freezing in the summer desert cold

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tips of our head lights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are
Somehow we get there
No matter how far

So hold my head
While I rock
Myself back to sleep
And I tell you that I am not easy
And you tell me that I am
Sweet

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Liberty and Justice for All

Today I joined a group of maybe 30 individuals at a rally on the steps of City Hall here in Colorado Springs. This weekend we will celebrate our 21st Pride Celebration for the queer community. For the past several years a very conservative mayor had refused to sign a mayoral proclamation honoring Pride Day and recognizing the gifts the queer community brings to Colorado Springs. So at the rally, a new resolution was put forth– introduced to the city council meeting today that asks that the Mayor and City Council sign a resolution condemning hate crimes– more specifically the alleged hate crime perpetuated against two gay soldiers here in the Springs who were jumped and assaulted while getting a late night snack. Homophobic epithets were hurled at them with the same force as fists that were thrown.


All of the usual suspects showed up to speak in support. Rev. Wes Mullins, minister of MCC, Chuck Bader, local union activist, and Carolyn Cathey– whose passion and instinct for activism have made her an honorary minister in my book (I call her Rev.– she does minister to the queer community in Colorado Springs, faithfully and without denominational prejudice). Others involved in politics, Nancy-Jo Morris, one of the more outspoken transwomen. It was inspiring, powerful. I felt the reassuring blanket of community–of queer folks and our allies– covering us, protecting us, swaddling us in love.

Following the rally, most of the folks there headed inside to participate in the City Council meeting. At the beginning of each City Council meeting –after an invocation by a local minister (I always love getting asked to do this) and the Pledge of Allegiance (for which I stand respectfully, but can never say, and will never say, until it’s true) there is a time for citizens to speak on subjects not listed on the agenda. Many of the supporters outside the rally had filled the halls and several had signed on to speak.

Queers of all ages and from all walks of life spoke about the importance of acknowledging the diversity of our community. Straight allies also stood up to urge support of our Pride celebration. Others urged the council to seriously consider the resolution against hate crimes that they will probably vote on next week, to not let silence be permission for other hate crimes to occur.

I spoke as did my colleague, Rev. Roger Butts from High Plains Church. Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of the local queer youth service provide, Inside/Out Youth Services, spoke movingly and, at times, tearfully, about the abuse she hears about from queer kids all the time; the sense the youth have that nothing will change and no one will care.

The council members and the mayor had a chance to respond. Most of the remarks were short-sighted, even scolding us. One council member suggested we were the ones causing division by not letting this issue go away. She said it was just an event and that’s not where the City Council needed to be focused. Another said that every crime was a hate crime (oh, how I weary of that retort– always given by someone who has never been in a marginalized group). Another insisted that as a Council that wasn’t their job but individuals could certainly support Pride. It’s interesting to note if that were their only recourse, to sign a statement of support as individuals, that only two councils members have actually done so: Scott Hente, President of Council, and Jan Martin, President Pro-tem.

Then the mayor spoke. (Was I the only one there who noted the irony of him saying in one breath he would never sign a proclamation celebrating/honoring Pride and in the next breath talking about the “Spirit of Colorado Springs” initiatives?? Did anyone else see the disconnect???).

Our newly elected (and first “strong mayor”) Steve Bach had run for office on a platform that said he wouldn’t sign any proclamations with “political connotations” (as was confirmed in John Hazelhurst’s article in the Colorado Springs Independent this week). Yes we knew this, and still there is something so heart-wrenchingly infuriating about the smugness behind that comment.

“Political connotations??” I guess celebrating the time when queer folk– namely drag queens and bull dykes– decided enough is enough! And boldly, fearlessly fought back against the police brutality and injustice of laws targeting queer folk had political connotations. Kind of like Juneteenth when Africans in Texas who had been kept as slaves 18 months after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and put into effect by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had political connotations– certainly economic connotations for their “owners” who were, shall we say, reluctant to let them know of their liberation. I guess Pride has political connotations in the same way in which Labor Day has political connotations– spotlighting the need for better, fairer labor laws. Or while we’re at it, let’s talk about the political connotations of Mothers’ Day which was started as an anti-war movement by Julia Ward Howe and other women alarmed at having sons of mothers kill other sons of mothers in war.

Frankly, I’m at a loss. I can’t think of a single secular holiday we celebrate that doesn’t have political connotations. Memorial Day? A day to remember the great loss of both sides in the Civil War– to decorate the graves of soldiers from both sides killed in the conflict, to look at our incredible shadow square in the face and recognize that, at the end of the day, we are all Americans– North and South, Yankee and Rebel.

Veterans Day–which honors the cessation of fighting in World War I, aka the Great War on November 11, 1918– even though the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed seven months later on June 28, 1919. What a twist of fate that 50 years to the day after official end of that war, on June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion occurred and the LGBTQI, etc. movement was begun.

A day, which had started so well, so joyously and determinedly with a rally and with citizens speaking out in City Council ended with the queer folks and our straight allies feeling, once again, misunderstood– actually not heard at all, invisible, demoralized, the lines of demarcation drawn more clearly than ever between those with power and status and standing and those without.

We walked out of that meeting in pain, in anger, in despair, for some of us. When I spoke to City Council this afternoon I started by saying at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church we don’t just celebrate diversity– we flaunt it! And I told the story, from the Jewish tradition, of a person who had heard that a particular city was evil, corrupt, greedy, not caring for the outcast or marginalized. So this man had traveled to this city and stood with a sign by the city gates that said “Repent!” And day after day he would stand there and implore the city to repent of its selfish ways, to stop being corrupt, to care for those in need. And the people passing by would laugh or jeer at him, or spit on him, or– maybe worse– just ignore him.

This went on for ten years. Finally a passer-by who had witnessed this happening day after day, took pity on the man and went over to him and said, “Buddy! It’s been 10 years. They’re clearly not going to change. Why not just give it up.”

And the man replied. “At first I stood here and made my statement in hopes that this city would change. Now I do it to make sure that this city doesn’t change me.”

And I said, after sharing that story, that maybe that’s all I was doing now. Making sure that I don’t get drawn into the cynicism of things never changing and so changing into an apathetic person who doesn’t care. I said I will keep showing up and saying "Repent!" If for no other reason, than I not be changed.

And I want to say to those activists who stood with me today. Those who have been making this same impassioned plea for justice for years and years, and those for whom this was their first act of justice-seeking, don’t give up. No matter the outcome, if we can stand united, if we can refuse to change, refuse to give in to complacency and numbing despair, if we can continue to be a bright light of justice overlooking the valley of inequity, then we are accomplishing something. We, in our subversive refusal to give in to an unjust reality can create a future of equity and peace, with liberty and justice for all. Then I will proudly stand next to you and pledge allegiance to a flag, to a nation, to a state or city that offers that. Until, then, my dear activist friends, my dear beleaguered queer community, my beloved straight allies, I place my hand on my heart, and I pledge allegiance to you, and to continuing the struggle with you. May it be so.

Monday, July 4, 2011

That's the Way Life Is

Tonight I went to an Independence Day party hosted by a friend who lives in Manitou Springs. This particular friend and I go way back, to the beginning of my time in Colorado. We have never been extremely close; rather our politics and passions draw us every now and then into the eddied currents of life– at fund-raising events or rallies or marches. Because it is such a singular friendship, her circle of friends is different than the ones I see in the course of my daily life.

At her parties (she has two or three or more a year– her house is perfect with its large, open living space and cool, enclosed patio overlooking the little village that is Manitou) I often run into friends and acquaintances that I haven’t seen in years.

And such was the case tonight. I sat for a time with three other women– none of whom I knew well but well enough to feel peaceful and at ease. We chatted about our lives, filling in the blanks of missing years. Of the four of us, three of us had dealt with cancer in varying degrees of severity (uterine, cervical, ovarian). We discussed living through that, our surgeries, how it changed us. Three of us (a different three, well one person sat this one out) were single– the other celebrating 19 years with her partner. We talked about relationship transitions, women we have known, ways in which we have grown.

Others came and went into this circle of conversation. We told raunchy jokes we remembered from our baby dyke days. We talked about softball and sports injuries, flash mobs and 5ks, pets and hoped for chickens to raise, sabbaticals and growing older.

Several times, or at least it seemed to me, we reflected on our age, our longevity, our stamina. As I looked at the faces of the women around me in the deepening dusk, I marveled at how beautiful each of us are, at how we are bearing our lives with grace and laughter.

I left the party before the fireworks began and drove through the throngs of people who had parked their cars on the narrow lane that passes for a street in Manitou, there to see the show.

As I drove home, my heart was filled with the gratitude and a sense of wonderment at our lives, and how we choose to live them and the myriad paths that lead us to this moment. Right here. Now.

"Se a Vida E (that’s the way life is) by the Petshop Boys began playing on my iPod. I listened to the lyrics :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIIhnaCkdX4&feature=related
Come outside and see a brand new day
The troubles in your mind will blow away
It's easy to believe they're here to stay
But you won't find them standing in your way

Se a vida e', I love you - Come outside and feel the morning sun
Se a vida e', I love you - Life is much more simple when you're young

Bemused I wondered, was life simpler when I was young? Maybe love seemed simpler– taken for granted even– but life seems imminently simpler now. Now when I have more birthdays behind me than before and I can look back on times I was convinced I could not survive, and yet here I am; losses whose grief was a sea so deep I feared it would swallow me whole, never to be seen again, and yet I made it to shore again and again and again.

As the song was playing and I was driving, I caught out of the corner of my eye a brilliant green-red burst of fireworks in the sky--starting small and then expanding in an ever widening arc, like the big bang, like the feeling of possibilities in my heart, growing brighter and reaching farther with every second of their glory, proclaiming Independence even as they reached out in a fervent dance of connection and hope.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Changed for Good

Nori’s Nuggets
There is no point in entering into dialogue if we are not willing to be changed by the encounter.—Karen Armstrong

Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But since I knew you, I have been changed for good.=-- from musical, Wicked

I have just returned from the General Assembly in Charlotte, NC. It was a fabulous event and at least four events were worth the price of admission alone. One was the Nick Page New Epiphany service in which science was celebrated as sacred and holy and divine. Another was the Moderator’s Report during the final plenary given by Gini Courter. Her words were prophetic and compelling (and you can check out all these events via streaming technology—just go to uua.org). The third thing worth the price of admission was just getting to spend time with my colleagues and friends that are scattered like stardust across the nation.
And the fourth event was the Ware Lecture given by theologian Karen Armstrong. She spoke on the subject of her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and noted that we need compassion more than ever. We need to see people as individuals and not as some caricatureof an ideology for which we think they stand. She asked are we in fact, willing to be changed by dialogue with others who have differing perspectives than we do?
I have over 800 friends on facebook. Most of these asked me to be friends, (I suspect through the automatic process of having fb go through their address books and ask everyone they know to be friends). Certainly, the vast majority of those 800 plus friends don’t interact with me on a consistent basis. But there is one person who I specifically asked to be my friend even though I have never met him. I did this after I read a response he had written on a mutual friend’s post. Our mutual friend, a solid liberal, had posted something that I totally agreed with and this third party had written something so clearly in opposition to it that, I admit somewhat sheepishly, I thought it was a wry and facetious. In such a perspective, I thought it was funny so I asked him to be my friend.
So imagine my surprise when this new friend started making comments on my posts that were counter to my own beliefs. It was startling. And, never having met him, it quickly became the lens through which I viewed him. I will even admit to some exasperation at his comments. I began to wonder if it had been a bad idea to friend him—or at least to do so without reading his profile first.
So I did finally read his profile, flipped through his pictures. And I discovered a person with many layers of diversity—a musician, a scuba diver, someone who loves cats (!) and I realized he was more than his political views. I discovered he was a complex person with a depth beyond our differing perspectives and, at the end of the day, a very likable person, indeed.
He still posts on my links opinions that are vastly different than mine and we will probably never agree on many things. But I have been changed by the dialogue—I have been changed, not my persectives on the economy, government, etc.
Now when I read his comments, I do so with a smile, with compassion, with a more appreciatvie understanding of who he is. And perhaps, if he ever comes to the Springs to visit our mutual friends we could go out for coffee, sit down face to face and deepen the dialogue.
All in all, it’s been a good experience for me, to look beyond the ideology to the person. A good reminder that we are more than our points of view and that we are each humans of inherent worth and dignity. Even when we disagree, even when we can’t see eye to eye. And when we see that, a diatribe does become a dialogue and we are changed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Train Still Runs (Another great song by Janis Ian)

Last night I had an opportunity of a lifetime to see Janis Ian in concert. Janis Ian!!! I would say to my friends in advance. For many I had to hum “At Seventeen” or mention “Society’s Child.”
Some of my friends wanted to come but couldn’t, others simply were born too late to understand the impact this woman has had on the arts in America, on providing social commentary, on using her art to tell the truth and thus, make us uncomfortable about our own truths we were hiding, cleverly concealed as insouciance, or recklessness, or as the numbing shawl of ennui we would wear draped over our shoulders, close to our hearts.
Of course for me “At Seventeen” was one of my flagship songs. I was that girl, and that was my truth. In part, I would say I learned this much younger than at seventeen. Maybe it was when I was thirteen and one of my best friends and I walked to the tennis courts with a boy– he was cute, and popular. I remember my friend was playing a set of tennis with this boy (whose popular, cute name I’ve forgotten) and I was being goofy, running after stray balls, thinking I was very entertaining. At the end of the game, I was sweaty and disheveled, my hair plastered to my face and neck. My friend and Popular Boy, although they had played the game vigorously, looked cool and serene. Walking home, we were no longer three abreast; they walked ahead, holding hands and I trailed behind thinking, “There’s something I’m missing about this whole boy-girl connection.”
So clearly, that memory– and others like them– arose for me last night. But it was about more than memories. It was about connections–spiritual, emotional and physical connections. After a particularly erotic (really, there’s no other word for it) guitar riff on a song before intermission, I looked at a straight friend of mine and said, “I feel like I need a cigarette after that!” She agreed.
She also connected to the audience with her humor. I had no idea – never having seen her live– how incredibly funny she is. Sardonic and wry, she told stories on herself. She spoke of the ludicrous laws of the United States when it comes to marriage (I posted a youtube video of her singing her song about this on my fb page). She told of the incredible backlash to her first big hit when she was just 15 years old, “Society’s Child” about an inter-racial relationship and used raw language in recounting that raw time that makes polite society feel uncomfortable.
She made fun of herself in her song “Autobiography” and she swept me away with her stunning rendition of “Tea and Sympathy” (another youtube post on my fb wall). This song was written well before AIDS hit the U.S. population, most chiefly, at the onset, the gay male population. When she sang this song last night, I was instantly taken back to those years when friends and community members were vanishing in the time span of a song (I think the montage in RENT shows it best, as the men and women in the HIV support group vanish during the song, “Without You”). The youtube video shows Janis Ian singing live in 1976. So, maybe 25, 26, something like that. It can’t compare to the depth and timbre of experience and a lived embodied life that Janis brought to the song last night. Although her humor came through. She said, “Now I get to sing what I really want– like a Liberace medly (and if I have to explain Liberace, forget it– he was the Lady Gaga of his era). And the words (found at www.metrolyrics.com/tea-and-sympathy-lyrics-janis-ian.html) fit in so well with the US AIDS years. Life takes on a different meaning when one’s true love– when so many of one’s true loves– have gone. I love the words, “I’ll pray to go quite mad, and live in long ago. When you and I were one, so very long ago.” Yes, I cried. I cried a few times during the evening. But I laughed a lot, too. And I nodded my head in understanding and solidarity.
I don’t mean to engage in hyperbole, but I truly think this was possibly the best concert I’ve been to in my life. And I’ve been to many– Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Summer Jam (Journey, Christopher Cross, others). I’ve seen Bette Midler three times, the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge, countless times, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Washington Sisters, Jack Johnson and Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor, Equality Rocks concert. I’m missing some.
And they were are all great. But there was something about this evening spent with Janis Ian. The venue Stargazers Theatre (www.stargazerstheatre.com) was awesome and the sound great.
And I was at a table in the very front. All of this helped. But there was a certain ineffable quality about her presence, her continued insistence on using her art to tell the truth and to reveal our culture’s folly that I think I would have felt if I were in a stadium of thousands. And her voice! Her voice was as pure as it ever was, with the rich and layered complexities of the years fully lived.
At an upcoming worship conference that will be held in the MDD, the title of a keynote address is listed as Nobody Ever Left Worship Humming the Sermon. I’m assuming this might be about the role of the arts and music in worship. But I have to say, that I had a spiritual experience last night in the listening to the embodied stories and music of Janis Ian. Her life has been a sermon– a proclamation of truth, an exhortation to live justly, and a lullaby of compassion and love– and I left humming it last night.
You can check out more about Janis Ian at her website www.janisian.com

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This is for all the lonely people

I was speaking with someone recently and she confessed that she was dealing with acute loneliness. She’d been single for about a year and half and wasn’t looking for a partner– just people to hang out with. And she’s a great person– and seemingly happy and successful. But she’s lonely– and this was made worse by the fact that efforts to reach out to friends recently resulted in no response, or cancelled plans. She told me about how stigmatized she felt with this affliction.
She said, “I can put on my fb status that I have a cold and I will get lots of responses .... suggestions on how to get over it sooner, drugs or homeopathic remedies to take, get well wishes...but if I were to post that I’m lonely, no one would respond. It’s like there’s shame attached to it.”
I thought about how true this was. Even depression is finally accepted as a normal life event, but loneliness?
I remembered times in my own life I had felt lonely– when I was commuting from Manhattan, KS to Topeka for my final year of high school and really felt orphaned; when I was unhappy in a relationship but didn’t have the skills to talk about it with my partner; when I felt a deep sense of otherness from the crowd I was in; when I, like my friend, had reached out to others and been turned down.
Loneliness isn’t the same as depression, it’s a sense of being cut off from the rest of the world, of not being noticed, of not being cared for. It’s a sense of feeling like we don’t matter to others.
Oftentimes, loneliness occurs when we are cut off, for whatever reason, from meaningful interactions with others. Maybe a beloved friend moves away, or we end a relationship, or a parent dies. Sometimes, as I said above, loneliness can occur when we’re in the thick of relationships, but feel misunderstood, or misrepresented–an outcast, the other.
And my friend is right– no one ever talks about loneliness. Why is there shame attached to that?
What is the stigma? That if we’re lonely it’s because no one wants to be with us? So there’s something wrong?
How can we love our lonely selves and have the courage to maintain a positive attitude and keep putting ourselves out there?
Frankly, I think it takes a lot of courage to be lonely in a social networked world with more online and f2f opportunities than ever before. It takes courage to admit that in spite of the glut of frenzied activities, we still feel isolated. It takes guts to keep trying to find our niche.
I felt helpless with my friend. There was no panacea I could offer to take the edge off her pain, there was no quick fix or kindle book that would make her world okay.
I could only tell her I was proud of her for continuing to try. I could only tell her she was a worthy and giving person who had much to offer. These words were, perhaps, cold comfort, in the face of the anguishing pain of loneliness. So I decided the one last thing I could do would be to talk about loneliness, how it impacts each of us at one time or another, how debilitating it is to our psyche. And to name what she cannot post on her fb. That loneliness sucks. That we’re meant to be in relationship with one another. And if a friend– particularly a friend you haven’t heard from in a while– calls you to say “Let’s get together,” then treat that as a sacred obligation to another human. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Say yes– and move heaven and earth to keep that commitment. And if you feel like you don’t want to, it’s too much trouble, it’s too much work, then I invite you to remember a time when you felt lonely, unloved, unwanted. And treat your friend the way you wish someone had treated you during that time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just Relationships

"No matter what side you take on all the craziness going on, be compassionate and respectful of each other. There are a lot of people on both sides feeling very anxious and fearful. Be politically active, but do it with grace. Ultimately, this too shall pass, so don't ruin relationships over it."
The above quote was passed on by a friend of Stephanie Sharp– our former Director of Religious Education who is living in Wisconsin now. And I thought how important that is to remember as we attempt to come to terms with the revolutions happening the world over, it seems.
In some regards, it is easier to feel like we have a common understanding of events happening in other parts of the world. The politics aren’t ours– there are different political parties and agendas, different histories of oppression and revolution. Even a different dominant religion in some cases, and a different way of understanding Christianity than here in the United States.
So it can feel easier to be aligned with one another on our commitment to justice for the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and Bahrain. Much easier to paint the government with a sinister brush stroke.
But it’s not so easy, the distinction isn’t quite as clear when it comes to our own land, to Madison, WI, where the issues are framed in language we all understand, even if we interpret it differently from one another.
Many people will say that Governor Walker has made the budget mess himself by giving huge corporate tax breaks and deciding to make up the difference by taking away the unions’ ability to have collective bargaining rights and in effect, taxing the public employees to make up for the budget downfall. That’s a simplified version of that argument, but it lies at the heart of the protests and rallies that have been happening in Madison and around the country.
Others will say that the unions are more harm than good, and that workers in unions already have it better than non-union workers. This was shown in a chart in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the debate in Wisconsin which points out that union workers make an average of $26.25 an hour compared to $19.68 for non-union and that 99% of union workers get retirement benefits compared to 74% of non-union workers. People with this viewpoint might say that it’s time for the unions to give up some of their power and benefits.
And people on all sides of this issue include Unitarian Universalists. Right here in River City (aka at All Souls). Which is what makes this quote from Stephanie’s friend all the more powerful. This is an incredible opportunity to practice deep listening, to not make assumptions, to see the inherent worth and dignity of every human– and to give space for the validity of their own point of view and how it ties in with our seven guiding principles. For myself, I am solidly in the workers’ corner. I don’t believe that Governor Walker is showing equity in his refusal to negotiate with Democrats and union leaders who have already said they’re willing to make concessions, sacrifices to help pass a balanced budget.
I will have participated in two rallies by the time this makes press that show support for the teachers and others who are being impacted by the governor’s intractability.
For me, this isn’t about the power of unions or balancing a budget. It’s about an agenda that leaves no room for compromise or for inviting all impacted parties to the table. That is what I decry and I hope that the rallies will provide the impetus for Governor Walker to be more flexible, to be more open to listening to other points of view.
That’s what we’re each called to do, isn’t it? To be more flexible, to be more open to listening to other points of view, and to remember, as Steph’s friend said, “ultimately, this too shall pass, so don’t ruin relationships over it.”

In this past week I have had a loving conversation with a member who completely disagrees with me. And what’s most important to both of us is not proving the other wrong but hearing one another and loving one another in the midst of our disagreement. If we can each do that, then, regardless of what happens in Wisconsin, we will all win.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Love is in the Air

We are standing on the side of love. Hands joined together as hearts beat as one. Emboldened by faith, we dare to proclaim, we are standing on the side of love! — Jason Shelton
What’s love got to do with it? – Tina Turner

Ahhh, February! The month of love! Or, more importantly, the month of chocolates! No, wait! Love is more important than chocolate! I got distracted for a minute, there. Above are lyrics from two of my favorite songs. The seminal anthem from UU Jason Shelton and the iconic Tina Turner’s song of denial.
Jason’s song, Standing on the Side of Love, has become our rallying cry as Unitarian Universalists. It calls us to remember who we are in the face of injustice. It calls us to an inclusive, far-reaching love that stands up for the oppressed, speaks out for the voiceless, and insists that we build bridges of understanding rather than walls of fear.
Maybe we have experienced the type of love that Tina has in her song in our personal relationships that leave us jaded and cynical. Maybe we have even experienced that cynicism in our seemingly endless quest for justice.
Sometimes, it may seem easier to just give up and give in. Tell ourselves we will never find true love or true justice in our lifetime.
But I encourage you this month, regardless of your relationship status on facebook, regardless of your level of hopelessness or hopefulness regarding our world, to make a renewed commitment to love. To being open to loving acts in your life and with your family and friends and those of us who journey alongside you at All Souls. To be open to standing on the side of love in our communities, to being allies with those who are different from you.
We have a unique opportunity to stand on the side of love on Valentine’s Day, Monday, February 14 at noon, as we join with High Plains Church and Pikes Peak MCC to do a special service on the steps of City Hall calling for all love to be legally recognized and celebrating those who are in same sex relationships. I hope you will join me there, on the steps of City Hall, as we stand on the side of love. What’s love got to do with it? Everything, it would seem.
Single or in relationship, queer or straight, we all have love to celebrate and I will have chocolates for all! :)