Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New Year!

Last year I set a goal to "get my house in order," literally and metaphorically. I’ve gone a long way toward accomplishing that goal, though I suspect it is one that requires a lifetime to fulfill and even then, there will still be items not crossed off on the to-do list. Still, I’ve made progress: I got new living room furniture and replaced the old, scarred mismatched night stands in my bedroom with a set that matches my bed. I’ve organized my closet (a daunting undertaking, filled with the ghosts of fashions past) and cleaned off my desk at work. I’ve gathered ideas for major revamping of my bathroom and kitchen.

I’ve deepened my spiritual life, and have become more consistent in my running (or, as I like to call it: controlled stumbling.) I went to a wonderfully fulfilling, enlightening weekend retreat with the poet, David Whyte, on the theme of Solace. (For more information on this poet, check out his website at http://www.davidwhyte.com/.) Local peeps, he’s giving a free lecture at CC on January 28th, 4 P.M.

So the end of 2014 looms and I feel content with what I’ve accomplished, though mindful of where I fell short. There certainly are areas where I didn’t give my best effort, where ego triumphed over love, and where I stubbed my toe on the sharp corner of discontent. This proves, for those of you who were wondering, that I am human, after all! :)

I wanted to share with you some of my goals going into 2015, both as a means of holding myself accountable to them, and to opening myself to any encouragement you want to give! :)

I have decided to run four half marathons, one a month, June-September. Before you question my assertion that I’m human, let me just add that my version of running is a run/walk combo (known as the Jeff Galloway method) in which I run four minutes, walk one. Psychologically, I know I can keep running for four minutes as long as there’s that one minute break. I am going to begin a training program that will prepare me for this. The farthest I’ve run is a 10K, which is 6.2 miles, so almost half of a half marathon! My time for that was 1:23, so I’m hoping to finish the half marathons in 3-3 ½ hours. See below for links to the races I’ve chosen.

Another running goal is to run a sub-36 minute 5K. My current PR is 38:41, so this seems do-able and hopefully the training for the half will help in my pace and endurance overall. I want to end the year having run 1000 km (that’s just over 621 miles but sounds so much more impressive to say 1000!!).
I would like to make some progress on my bathroom remodel, and continue in my efforts to make my house more of a home; a sanctuary, rather than just shelter. I would like to do something to make my yard more inviting as well. I am the most uninspired "gardener; it’s all I can do to make sure Sam mows the lawn in the summer. But there’s always hope!

So now, we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome, with all the hope we can muster, the uncertain days of 2015. I am reminded of this quote by poet Rainier Marie Rilke: "Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final." And that is all we can do, after all, isn’t it? I offer best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2015, and the courage to let everything happen to us and to keep going, and this final poem by another of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue:

A Morning Offering
I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.


Here are the races I’ve chosen for the summer.

June 13th (the weekend before my 53rd birthday) Huntington Beach Fun in the Sun

July 4th The Colorado Springs Half on the Fourth

August 16th Run the Rockies Trail Half Marathon

September 6th Half Marathon at the Happiest Place on Earth!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” -- Ani DiFranco

I’ve spent the past two nights filling out holiday cards while Sam and I had a Hobbit marathon, watching the first two movies in anticipation of seeing the final installment today.

It’s been years since I’ve sent Christmas/Holiday cards– and these will clearly have to be considered New Year’s cards, late as it is– so why the sudden change this year?

Several of the members of the Siblings Survivors of Suicide group on Facebook suggested sending cards to one another, a list was created and here I am filling out 61 cards to send to people I’ve never met but for whom I feel a deep affinity. We call each other sibs or siblings in our comments and it truly does feel as if we are family, born not from the same DNA but from the same searing experience of losing a sibling to suicide.

I actually belong to two specialized communities on Facebook: the sibling group and CJ’s Holiday Challenge group— a group I happened to read about on an online store where I buy running clothes.

In some ways the two groups are very different. For me, one lessens the darkness and the other increases the light. In the siblings group, the posts, this time of year, are about missing our siblings during the holidays; for many it’s the first holiday without their brother or sister. In the other group, it’s mainly for runners and it’s about staying active during the holiday season and our posts are about fitness goals we set for ourselves each week and races we do and tips on which kinds of shoes are better in winter.

But there is one way in which the two groups are very similar: we support one another. In the Siblings group, when someone posts about their sadness, or their anger at their sibling, or their disappointment and anger in friends who think they should just "move on" others post "I know exactly how you feel!" "Hang in there" "I understand" "You’re not alone."

Cards from my "siblings"
In the Challenge group, when someone posts about meeting their weekly goals, or missing them, or being sidelined by an injury, others post "Great job!" "Keep it up!" "Shake it off!" "You’ve got this!"

In neither group is there any judgment of what a person is feeling or what they have accomplished. We just genuinely and compassionately let one another know, we really aren’t alone, there are people out there cheering us on, believing in us, and being there for us.

So, when a sibling suggested sending cards, I added my name to the list. And, as many other siblings have said on that page, it has made a difference this year, to receive cards from a dozen states and as far away as Australia, cards that say Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays and that are signed by someone who is in community with me, who understands that any time we say these words of cheer, there is a sadness embedded in them that not all will see.

I know that even though my cards won’t reach folks (particularly the four people in Australia!!) before Christmas Day, that they will just be appreciative of them when they do arrive. Just as we all were for the woman who gave up trying to get the cards out and posted a holiday meme on our page instead.

Some of the people on both pages have also become friends on my regular Facebook page and it’s been interesting to see where we are alike and where we are different in our beliefs, outside that small box of commonality. And it’s been fun and refreshing to see a side that is different than the one we all focus on in those two special groups. There really is strength in our differences and definitely comfort in the places where we overlap.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden."

These groups make an inhabited garden of this earth for me, as does the community at All Souls, my Junior High Alum gang and others.

Truthfully, community is what strengthens us and binds us heart to heart, life to life, in an inextricable network of mutuality, to paraphrase Dr. King.

Where do you find community? Where do you share your life in support of another and let your guard down enough to receive that support as well?

There will be two opportunities to gather as a community at All Souls this week. One is our annual Christmas Eve service at 7 PM and the other is this Sunday, Dec. 28 at 1030 AM when high school senior, Kendra Burdick will be sharing her stories of community as we celebrate Stone Soup Sunday. I hope you can attend either or both. The truth is, we need each other, and that’s a very good thing.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Beauty of Darkness

We are counting down to the longest night of the year, the shortest day, the time when our ancestors feared the light might disappear altogether as daily the sky darkened earlier and earlier. Although in our modern times, this is one of our most frenetic seasons filled with holiday parties, bright lights, frenzied shopping and crazy drivers (umm, sorry), in the ancient days this was a time of stillness, of gathering quietly together, of building a fire as big as we dared to ward off the darkness and fight comfort in the warmth and light reflected off the faces of our community as we told stories of surviving the darkness in years past.

One thing that remains the same is that we humans tend to want to ward off the darkness. Then it was with a fire, now it is with all those parties and shopping expeditions I just mentioned. And we do this not only in the long nights of winter, but throughout the year. We have night lights, and bright inside lights– some even scheduled to automatically turn on at dusk, even if we’re not home; we have a multitude of blue and green and red lights blinking on all of our electronics, we ward off insomnia by watching the Late Show on television. We have flashlights and candles at the ready, all to ward off the darkness that we have been wired to fear.

Danger, we believe, lurks there, in the darkness, where there is just enough ambient light for us to see shadows menacingly crouched, ready to pounce.

And we have learned to do the same in our own, interior world. We fear the darkness, the shadows of our lives, we don’t want to be still and sit in the silent night of our fears, and terrors, our shame and regrets, our ugliness that is as much a part of our human birthright as is our opposable thumbs and our ability to draw meaning from life. We would do almost anything to not have to spend time in the darkness of our souls.

But the shadows in our world, those moments we’re not proud of, those memories we fear because they bring a grief so overwhelming it might consume us, might eclipse forever the light of our days; those dark thoughts of despair we’ve had, those times when we failed ourselves, all of those are equally a part of who we are as the medal we’ve won, the promotions we’ve received, the love we have shared. And it is only when we can learn to love the beauty of the darkness that we can be fully alive and centered in our light.

This Sunday at All Souls, as we sit on the precipice of darkness, with the longest night of the year beckoning, the choir will be performing our winter cantata called "The Beauty of Darkness." In it, we will explore through song and word, how we can find the beauty, the gifts, the lessons that await us in our darkness, how we can discover the darkness is nothing to be feared by rather to be embraced. I hope you will join us for this special service. And also, don’t forget the Solstice Party which will be this Saturday, from 6-10 at All Souls where we will celebrate with food and drink, and music and rituals, the returning again of the Sun.

Happy Holidays

I am imperfect. And I am enough

Last week I went to a class on Whole-hearted Living and Loving. It was based on the book, "The Gift of Imperfection" by Brene’ Brown. Many of you are familiar with her ground-breaking work on the impact of shame in our lives. The book covers many ways to bring healing into our lives, to break the hold shame has over each us, in differing ways.

One of the things we talked about in class was how we are enough. How we are flawed, and frail, and that’s okay. The facilitator talked about the stories we tell ourselves, how we think if only we can..... we will be worthy. She invited the class to share some of their stories aloud. Some mentioned getting a better job, or losing 10 pounds, or finding the perfect partner. If only that would happen then they would feel worthy.

Of course they’re worthy now; we all are. But the lies we tell ourselves, that were instilled in us so early that they are almost our native tongue, say otherwise. We can be so quick to find flaws within us, to feel unworthy in our lives. I was speaking to a friend the other day who is struggling financially and how she felt so unequal to the task of giving the right amount of the right quality of Christmas presents to her family and friends. If only she could afford better presents, then she would be worthy. Another friend mentioned how she feels invisible with her family– as if she isn’t good enough for them. If only they would be proud of her, then she would be worthy. For me, I feel unworthy when it seems as if my best isn’t good enough– in any situation, as a friend, a parent, a minister, a sibling. If only I could be enough for those in my life, then I would be worthy.

Often the holidays can heighten these feelings of unworthiness, the bright lights and cheerful holiday music seeming to highlight even more our shortcomings, our "unworthiness." I invite you to think of those things that make you feel unworthy– that if only you had more of, or less of then you’d finally be worthy. Now imagine saying that same qualification about your best friend, your child, your parent, your partner. Probably you’d never say of your child, for example, "if he only lost 10 pounds, then he’d be worthy!" or of your best friend, "if she only got a better job, then she’d be worthy." It sounds just as ridiculous to say those things about yourself, when you think of it, doesn’t it?

As we enter the thick of the holiday seasons, mid-way through Hanukkah and rocketing towards Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanza, and the end of the year, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself, to consider trading in those old, tired, false beliefs about yourself for something shiny with joy and possibility: the truth that yes, you are imperfect. And you are enough. Write it on your hand if it helps. I did. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. – Oscar Wilde

Last Sunday I preached on the intersections of hope and gratitude, how those two always combine to create a generous life. I ended the sermon by handing out DIY Advent calendars. This consisted of a blank December calendar page and a list of Random Acts of Kindness with the suggestion to put one in each day of December. I said you could tailor it to your beliefs or schedule. If you wanted it to be like a traditional Advent calendar, it would end on Christmas Eve, or you could end it on December 21st, in celebration of the Solstice, or do just the eight days of Hanukkah, beginning on December 16th, or the week of Kwanza beginning on December 26, or the whole month of December! Why not??

I got this idea from a face book friend, who in turn scooped it from the website http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/. Here’s the link if you missed the service. On this website, there are actions listed in each date, so you can just use that or print your own blank December calendar and fill in what you uniquely want to do (in good ole UU fashion!) The main thing is to just do something that fosters kindness and gratitude and hope in this season.

There has been a lot of troubling news coming across the airwaves in recent weeks and it can be easy to feel cynical or downright despairing regarding the strange species of humanity. This Advent Calendar of Kindness is a way to dispel the negativity and instead seek to instill beauty and wonder. In this season of Joy to the world, why should we not be the Joy that advent awaits? Why should we not be the holy one come to bring wholeness to our world? Why should we not be the bright star in the sky that leads those who seek to miracles of justice and hope and love?

I filled out my calendar with my RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness) on Sunday night. I confess, I used some more than once. I liked the thought of leaving a happy note or kindness stone for someone to find and decided I would do that for more than one person. I haven’t candy-caned a parking lot yet, but it’s on my list!

What I like about this practice is the intentionality of these random acts of kindness. On Monday, my day off, I normally like to lie low and not leave the house, but I realized I had put offer my place to someone in line for that day, so got dressed, went to the store to buy some non-essential items, all so I could say to the person in line behind, "you go ahead of me." The smile on that man’s face was priceless, particularly in this season of shopping madness where people come to fisticuffs over the last blue sweater on sale.

Today, I am donating books I no longer need to our new outdoor mini lending library. I have chosen only a couple, as per the instructions of the mini library team, but am setting aside others to donate as these books disappear.

What about you? If you were in church on Sunday and took home the DIY Advent calendar, what have you and your family done? How has the experience been? If you didn’t get a chance, here’s the link again, to the pre-made calendar, or you can just use a blank December calendar page and fill in the blanks with these suggestions culled from the website:
RAK Ideas

1. Give up your spot in line.
2. Donate money to an organization you participate in.
3. Pay for someone else’s coffee.
4. Send cards to service men and women.
5. Tell jokes to make someone smile.
6. Donate food to your food bank.
7. Donate pet supplies to the shelter.
8. Help someone do a chore or other job.
9. Do yard work or shovel for a neighbor.
10. Donate books you no longer need.
11. Pick up litter.
12. Donate to a charity
13. Put packaged bag of microwave popcorn with a RAK card on redbox DVD kiosk
14. Donate toys to a children’s hospital.
15. Donate a pair of new pajamas for kids in a shelter.
16. Make get well cards for someone who needs them.
17. Bring coffee to your teachers.
18. Make holiday decorations for others.
19. Make ornaments for your neighbors.
20. Donate new toys to Toys for Tots.
21. Feed the birds.
22. Candy cane bomb a parking lot.
23. Call a relative who lives far away
24. Make a thank you card for your librarian
25. Give a compliment to a friend
26. Tape change to a vending machine
27. Smile at everyone you see today
28. Give your outgrown toys to a charity
29. Take cookies to the fire station
30. Bake pies to take to friends as a surprise
31. Leave a happy note or kindness stone for someone to find
32. Give someone a hug coupon

Let’s make a conscious effort to do random acts of kindness in these holiday times so that we might indeed bring joy to the world!

Hunger Games in America

This past week I’ve been watching the first two Hunger Games movies in preparation for the third that will be in theaters soon. The story is set in the future and it follows the lives of Katniss and Peeta, 16 year olds who are "tributes" in the annual Hunger Games. These games have been going on for 74 years (in the first movie)in the country of Panem–which appears to be a futuristic reconstituting of the United States and Canada -- and consist of choosing a male and female tribute from each of 12 districts, chosen from all those between the ages of 12-18. It’s call The Reaping and each eligible child’s name is place in a bowl; one is randomly chosen to be that year’s tribute.

The tributes are then sent to the Capitol where they are trained, interviewed and generally paraded about for the entertainment of the citizens of the Capitol. Finally, they are released into a computer controlled "natural" environment where they must fight each other to the death until only one remains: the Victor.

Why would the world allow such a horrific nightmarish version of "Survivor?" It’s simple. There was an uprising over 75 years ago, with the 13 districts attempting a coup over the controlling Capitol. The districts were forced back down, district 13 was annihilated, and the Capitol initiated the Hunger Games as a way of keeping the districts in their place, a reminder that for those outside the Capitol, life is dangerous and unkind and the only way to survive is to fight one another rather than the forces of greed and power and domination that comprise the government and citizens of the Capitol.

So for over 75 years, the people of the different districts have lived divided lives; they separated from one another by what their districts offer in terms of supporting the Capitol. Three of the districts are known as Career districts; they are wealthy because their services are in high demand (perfumers, masons, supplying seafood) while the remaining 9 districts supply coal, technology and other things but live in abject poverty. The Capitol will give extra food to a family who is starving, but at a cost. Their eligible youth will have their names added more times in exchange for this small amount of food and grain. Because the three Career districts don’t have to worry about their day to day survival, they actually train their children for the Hunger Games and eligible youth will volunteer to be the tributes each year. They have the highest amounts of victors.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have been thinking of how we live in our own version of Panem in these days. We live in a culture in which those with power and money and the right skin color control those of us without those things. We live in a culture, in these days, in which every day there is a Reaping among the less fortunate and people are killed in some unofficial Hunger Game which rewards those with the most violence, those who use what little power they have (such as the Careers) to defeat and dominate those who have even less.

We live in a culture, in these days, in which we are pitted against one another as surely as the districts are in the Hunger Games and, as long as we are forced to fight the other tributes, we remain blinded to how the Capitol–those with money and power and influence– is the greatest threat to all of our well-being.

Twice, in a 10 day period, we have witnessed Grand Juries refusing to indict white police officers for their murder of black unarmed citizens. When you consider that of all the Grand Juries convened in our nation, only .01% come back with a decision not to indict, it is hard to imagine that race had nothing to do with these two decisions. When a black tribute is taken down by a Career tribute (police are not part of the Capitol, they just come from a more privileged District and have trained for this fight) and there is no outcry, it is because we are too busy trying to survive in our own corner of the Hunger Games.

Oh there are exceptions, of course. In the first movie, Prim, a first year 12 year old girl, is the one chosen to be the District 12 tribute, but her 16 year old sister, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. At the end of the first movie, Katniss and Peeta, her male counterpart from District 12, are the two remaining tributes. Rather than one of them kill the other, they choose to take their lives together, as an act of solidarity. The Game Maker immediately stops the game and declares them both Victors.

And while the person selecting the names in each District always begins with the saying, "May the odds be ever in your favor," of course the odds are not equally weighted. There are those with more chances of being picked because they traded that possibility for more food, and each consecutive year you’re eligible, your name is added again, so a 13 year old has his/her name in twice, a 14 year old, 3 times, and so on. So that the odds are increased that you WILL have to play this game simply by virtue of you having survived another year.

And this is definitely true for young men of color in particular and for all who don’t fit into the Capitol’s norm. Even those in Career districts who are comfortable and feel secure are being manipulated by the powers that be. You know this is true if you say, "Well, they looked menacing. They were in the wrong neighborhood. He was shoplifting! He was selling untaxed cigarettes!" As if this would excuse the way in which the officers shot down one and killed the other in choke hold that has been outlawed for 21 years. Do you see how similar that is to saying, "She was asking for it! She shouldn’t have that short dress? She shouldn’t have been walking alone in that neighborhood?" when we speak of rape victims? Say rape victims of young white high school athletes who are demonized while the perpetrators play in Friday night’s big game? Do you see how that plays into the Capitol’s hand? ***

This is also true if you say, "A white person in the same situation would have had the same results." This ignores the fact that the odds aren’t equal and that some folks (people of color, the poor, queer folk, trans folk, women) have their names in that particular bowl a hell of a lot more times than others. ***

When we do these things, not only do we turn a blind eye to the real problem of systemic racism and sexism and heterosexism that controls this game, we also fail to help those tributes who "win" like Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo escape this game we’re all in. They are victims of this manipulated setting as well.

And, like Katniss and Peeta, many have found ways to break free; to choose another way than that proscribed by the Game Maker. #### As a reviewer on Amazon.com said of the movie:

"this film is first and above all about much more important things: how to keep hope, not lose the courage and preserve humanity and dignity under a totalitarian oppressive regime."

And this is the star shining brightly in the darkness of these days: that there is always hope, if we work together, if we agree to stop fighting other people and instead fight the system that has held us down, that wants only to keep our attention on fighting one another so that we won’t threaten their power and wealth.

The third book is being made into two movies. The first one, as I said, is coming out soon. Having read the series, I know how this particular story ends. The one in which we are currently living though, depends upon us. Which way will we go? What plot line will we carry through? How will we end our own Hunger Games so that the odds are always ever in all of our favor? Only we can determine that. Choose well.

*** If these statements make you feel uncomfortable, I highly recommend these following articles that break down the statistical realities of racial profiling and racism inherent in our system:
Repetive Motion Disorder; Black and White Denial in America

UU World aarticle by CLF Minister Rev. Meg Riley

Article by on the ground UU minister, Rev. Krista Taves

####Click these links for articles on those who have broken free of the Game
Story behind Devonte Hart and white officer hugging

Story about white St. Louis officer gaining trust of black community without military gear

Story about someone who succeeded and hasn't forgotten those still in poverty