Friday, December 23, 2011

Making Peace With Christmas & Solstice

In which I address steps that have helped to make this holiday season the best in years.

Since leaving Christianity I have struggled with how and whether to celebrate Christmas.  It felt false to cherry-pick parts of a Christian holiday while rejecting Christianity itself.  On the other hand, I did not want to cause further division in my family by refusing to participate, nor did I want to force my kids to be those weird kids whose mom won’t let them do Christmas.  I like Christmas and I wanted to keep it, but I always felt a little inauthentic about it.

As a humanist science nerd and a dabbler in paganism, I love the Winter Solstice.   The trouble is no one in my family celebrates the Solstice or has the slightest interest in changing the date of our winter celebration.  Every year when December 21 passed, mostly unobserved, it felt like I was neglecting something important, or missing out.

All of the pieces of this change have been in my head for years, but this year they clicked in way that is meaningful for me.  Christmas is the way my culture celebrates the Winter Solstice.  For me, that is it. It may be a few days late, due to a calendar clash, but that is far from the strangest thing about western euro-american culture.  This may be a big "duh" to you, but sometimes it takes a while between when you know something is true and when you feel its truth. When you look at the history of winter festivals, you can come away with a feeling that Christmas is somewhat false, but this year something has turned and it feels more universal.  I am not going to begrudge literalist Christians their refusal to see how much of their sacred day is borrowed from older traditions, but I won't let them interfere with my understanding of its history either.  Instead I will just view Christmas as one aspect in a web of winter holidays.  I will celebrate the Solstice on December 25 and call it Christmas.  The actual story of Christ's birth is not spiritually significant for me, but the long darkness and the reborn sun are. If I focus on joy and peace and warmth and beauty in winter, who cares if it is a few days late? This is Christmas and Solstice on my terms, and I don't feel like I am fighting either one of them anymore.

The second change I have made this year is in my expectation for my own performance on Christmas.  Our kids are getting older and understand why financially this will be a smaller Christmas than normal. Knowing that I will not be able to provide everything I want to freed me from feeling like I have to make the BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER! every year. I am focusing on spending time instead of money.  This means watching Dr. Who Christmas specials with Tall Daughter E and cutting paper snowflakes with Tiny Daughter M.  It is hot cider with Husband S late on Christmas Eve and learning to knit gifts.  It means very little time spent Christmas shopping.

This Christmas is important.  It is the last Christmas when all my kids will be children.  It is the last one where I know for sure that the whole family will live together and race together down the hallway Christmas morning.  I hope Tall E is with us next Christmas, but she will be an adult then, and it is possible she will be living somewhere else.  I want to wrap my arms around this Christmas and hug it.

Yesterday I had a very frustrating afternoon and what should have been a vexing evening.  But as I killed time running errands and walking in the beautiful falling snow, I stared pondering this post and found myself so in love with the world, so happy not to be a neurotic mess.   I am not totally sure why I find myself calmer and less frantic this holiday season, but I am.  I find myself honoring the stillness of the season more than the joyous frenzy. I want to rest and dwell in this Christmas.  To everyone reading this, I sincerely wish a wonderful joyous and peaceful holiday, on whatever terms you choose to celebrate it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Force Majeure & Gratitude

We had some pretty weird weather last weekend, and with it, some unfortunate force majeure type damage to our house. This has not been a fun experience as we are learning about construction and insurance policies, and figuring out how to pay our deductable and still manage Christmas. This falls under the category of character-building experience.

This happened right after I started a personal discipline of practicing gratitude in every situation. There is not a lot to feel grateful for when one is hearing the term “structural damage” about one’s home. For days my mantra was, “it could have been much worse”. I consoled myself with thinking about all of the terrible outcomes that didn’t happen.

No one was hurt

We did not lose our windows and have water and wind pouring in our house.

No big leaks in the roof

Our vehicle was undamaged.

This list provided some comfort, but things could be worse only carries one so far. Then I noticed that something had been happening since Saturday night – Husband S and I have been so close to each other lately. I shouldn’t be surprised by now, since adversity has always brought us together, but I am enjoying the effect, if not its cause.

Over and over this last week I am reminded of what complimentary skill sets S and I have. The areas where I excel are his weak points, and his strengths are in areas that leave me overwhelmed and frustrated. We don’t even have to discuss it anymore. One of us will take the lead and the other will either back them up or get out of the way. This week has left us both so grateful for each other. This stress and anxiety has all been worth it, having construction going on during Christmas if OK if it means I get to have this man in my life and we get to feel this way about each other.

I am not happy about the cost and the inconvenience, but I am so glad to have this opportunity to remember how lucky I am to have him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sex & Glee

Knowing what the subject matter would be, I almost didn't let my girls watch last night's episode of Glee, "The First Time", but I am really glad that I did.  This themed episode about losing one's virginity was a little bit after-school special for adults, but I don't think it was aimed at us.  I don't think most kids get to see these types of behaviors being modeled, but Glee demonstrated teens discussing using condoms; teen partners have open and only slightly embarrassed conversations about what they wanted out of intimacy, how long they wanted to wait for it, and why; positive and negative emotional outcomes of having sex in high school; partners resisting sexual advances from someone they loved because they were honoring their own feelings; a romantic relationship for a non-traditionally attractive character that was not played for laughs, but introduced the idea that not everyone is attracted to blonde cheerleaders; and a homosexual relationship that had just was much emotional and physical importance as the heterosexual relationships.

I wish that there had been a little more balance and someone other than the mega-uptight counselor and the bitchy ice queen advocating for why they abstain from sex.  In spite of some great West Side Story numbers, this will probably not be listed among my favorite Glee episodes ever, but again, it wasn't made for me.  Most teenagers don't get to go to OWL and the sex ed schools teach is often ridiculously inadequate.  If it takes a silly musical TV show to tell young people that they deserve to have their voice heard in intimate relationships, them I am all for it.

I am so happy with the way this episode approached sex that I am willing to overlook how annoying it was that not one, but two adult female high school staff members are virgins due to their hang-ups and that one of them even discussed this with a high school student.  I may be, ahem, singing a different song if the show pursues the choir teacher/student romantic storyline, but not now kudos to Glee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Knitting & Neurosis

I am not a craftsy person.  I generally find most crafts to be sources of frustration rather than fun because I can't make things look like I want them to. I can picture or see how cool something could be, but my fingers are too stupid to make it work. I like to be good at things so I hate having lofty goals and amateurish results. So it is with real trepidation that I am committing to making all of my Christmas gifts for adults this year. I am committing here so that I will actually do it, and you can all hold me accountable. My kids will still get indulgent and wasteful stuff. If there is something I hate more than doing crafts, it is the stress and expense of Christmas shopping.

I had solved the holiday shopping problem by using Amazon. Sit down, click around, get a bunch of presents - no muss, no fuss, no traffic. Except that I am trying to reduce the commercialism & waste in my life, and I do my best to buy local, so a Christmas sponsored by doesn't really fit in with those goals.

More than anything else, I dread the idea of giving people cheesy, tacky, hideous, handmade things that they would never want or buy, even in their wildest dreams.  We've all gotten those gifts from well-meaning relatives and the thought of giving them makes me cringe. So next week I am going to learn how to knit.  I mean, I live in Alaska so who can't use a nice scarf? My BFF and knitting coach assures me that if I start now, there is time to re-do them if they are ugly.

Now, if I were a normal person I could approach the idea of learning knit as the simple acquisition of a new and useful skill without being all neurotic about it, but noooooooo.  I am not going to make things that simple; I am going to overthink everything instead. I have been intending to learn to knit for about three years, but have always helf off because of the emotional drama I spin around in at the idea. I know several really good knitters and it fascinates me. I like to watch them knit and it is amazing when they take some yarn and twist it around for a while, and magically it turns into a thing...a useful item. It is like yarn and stick-based alchemy. In my mind there is an intergenerational communion in practicing old skills, like the rare occasions when I knead bread and I feel in harmony with all of the women who came before me and fed their families with the work of their hands.  It might be a good thing to learn this relaxing and meditative alchemy.  It is probably a better thing to do with my hands than to continue to use them to shove Nutella in my face. But I digress.

As soon as I decide to learn the other voice speaks up. Do I really want to learn to be so domestic? I spent most of my life trying to prove that I was a female person and not that bogie-woman a girly-girl. Did I work that hard to be taken seriously only to fall into a stereotype now?  I mean, what kind of feminist knits for goddess's sake? I had the same thoughts when I learned to really cook and I love cooking now. But cooking is a little different - everyone needs to eat, but no one needs to know how to make their own socks.  If I end up liking to knit, am I telling myself that I am someone other than who I think I am?

To any reasonable person, the second point-of-view is stupid. The whole point of being a feminist is to be able to make my own choices, not to limit my choices to a different, less traditional, more masculine set. As I wrote this I could imagine the Buddha laughing at me.  Why would you not allow yourself to do something possibly useful and enjoyable because it might conflight with your identity which you, yourself created and isn't even real?  But those values of creativity, utility, relaxation, and humility are real, so why let my ego get in the way of giving knitting a try?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grateful for Older Women

UU Membership is "graying"; we all know. In my short time as a UU I have heard and read a lot about why this is a problem and how to fix it. Demographically, I understand why aging memberships are a concern, but I have found a benefit to this lop-sided nature of our congregation. It has given me an opportunity to get to know a whole group of people with whom I almost certainly would have never interacted.

Older women.

I love the older women in my church and I am so grateful I have gotten the change to get to know them. There is the cheerful & bubbly woman in her 70s who did more than anyone to convince me that AUUF was worth looking into. She loves and welcomes everyone and embodies loving-kindness. I recently heard one of our board members whisper that he wanted to be her when he grew up, and I don't think he is alone in that sentiment. She also introduced me to her women's group and the wonderful retired teacher who turned 71 on our shared birthday. That detail is just one of the many things this second woman and I have in common. She has shown me how to remain yourself while embracing change, and that gratitude and contentment lay on the other side of difficulty. Her spirit make me glad to be around her.

The simultaneously bold and relaxed 60 year old who hosts our small group is such a role model for me. Every time I talk to her she makes me feel valued and appreciated while continuing to push me to be the person I want to be. She pushes in the nicest way possible, but still... you know you were pushed. These wonderful women take everything in stride. When things go wrong they laugh, do what can be done, and move on with life. I love this about them.

These are just the three who stand out to me the most. There are others who I don't know as well, but I look forward to learning what they have to teach. I only hope that when it is my turn to be one of the elders I will have gained some of their love and wisdom, expressed with their humor and grace. I hope that I can be to a younger person what they have been to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Liberals & Evangelicals - Part II

In my last post I wrote that religious and political liberals need to start taking the Christian evangelical movement seriously rather than just ridiculing them and hoping they will go away. So in this post I want to present the flip side. I am not comfortable any time people, including myself, make broad generalizations about groups of people. I want to make sure that I continue to view conservative Christians as people - people who have a very different philosophy than I do, but not necessarily uncaring, mindless bigots either.

It is easy to look at their positions and come to the conclusion this movement is made up of people who hate women and the poor, and anyone not just like them. Corporately, I believe their philosophy is dangerous to a free society and yes, I believe that unconscious or unexamined bigotries underscore part of their worldview. But I don't want to judge individuals based on the group as a whole.

The marriage between conservative Christianity and libertarianism & nationalistic jingoism makes it easy to view adherents as selfish and uncaring, but...

Some of the most generous, selfless, committed, and loving people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

The public hypocrisy of some makes it easy to view members as insincere, but...

Some of the most spiritually passionate people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

Their portrayal in the media and the lack of intellectual curiousity of certain politicians make it easy to view these true believers as ignorant or stupid, but...

Some of the most well-read and intelligent people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

As a child raised in the evangelical movement I was taught to, "love the sinner; hate the sin." Now, I want to translate that into my current belief structure. I want to separate my appreciate of the individuals' value from their philosophy. Work against the movement; love the movers. A woman at my fellowship said soemthing once regarding getting along with her ultra-conservative son, "our primary relationship is not political." I have carried this phrase with me ever since and remind myself when dealing with my evangelical colleagues and family members. My primary relationship with my family is neither political nor theological. It is familial and based on love. After all, connection is why I got into the whole spirituality search anyway, right?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liberals & Evangelicals - Part 1

I am always astonished to see religious and political liberals who are just now noticing evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and their influence. Where have they been all these years? I am a big fan of Rachel Maddow, but I have to shake my head every time she covers evangelicals and asks, do they really believe this stuff? Yes, yes they do.

Following political news has been a strange experience lately as I feel like I view the media coverage of various evangelical political figures through two sets of eyes. Maybe a better analogy is that I have one foot in two different worlds: one in that of my conservative Christian upbringing, and one in the secular liberalism that I chose. Like my fellow liberals I am often appalled at the statements and opinions of prominent conservative Christians, but unlike them, I am not surprised by them. They have been saying these same things for years, but few have been paying attention. It is only now that some of them are gaining real political power that their beliefs are getting notice.

Some people want to dismiss evangelicals as ridiculous, or na├»ve, or un-serious. This is a mistake; these people are completely earnest and they are not dumb. Their views may seem extreme, but they really mean them. They truly believe The Rapture is likely to happen in their lifetime. They mean it when they say that God has anointed America as a Christian nation and they are called to save it from the forces of darkness – they aren’t kidding. Treating fundamentalists as a joke or a fad will have serious negative consequences for liberalism because there are a lot of them out there, and they vote. Right now, they are successfully framing the debates. They are not just going to go away any time soon.

Evangelicals’ earnestness and commitment is beginning to have an effect in national politics. Old school beltway pundits wonder why it is that the Republicans are no longer willing to compromise. Yeah, um evangelicals hate compromise. They believe they are called to do God’s work in the world and that God requires them to follow the scripture. Compromise is disappointing God. Compromise is putting something else ahead of God and His commands. They are called to be apart from the world, not work with the secular world towards solution both sides can live with. This being the case, we need to stop letting them define morality for the majority of Americans.

It is time to really start paying attention to the religious right. We can no longer afford to dismiss them as a lunatic fringe. Religious liberals need to become a lot louder in their claims a vibrant spiritual life can be found a different way. We have got to stop letting them define which are good and bad religions, and what Christianity means. My struggles with Christianity are no secret, but it is the dominant religion of the United States and we need people to show that there is a meaningful way to worship Jesus Christ and the Abrahamic God with a focus on love and without dangerous literal interpretations. My fellow agnostics and atheists should be more vocal about how their humanistic belief leads them to a meaningful and ethical life instead of continuing to bash any and all forms of religion.

Our mockery and scorn for fundamentalists does not hurt or hinder them; it feels into their worldview that “the world” is out to get them. If the mainstream media does not like what they are doing, then it MUST be pleasing to God. Disbelief in their seriousness and effectiveness will not make them go away. We need loud counter-arguments to their claims. The evangelical movement has spent the last two generations gearing up for this. I believe religious fundamentalism is dangerous. If liberals want to keep the liberties earned and fought for over the last century, we had better start to pay attention and to advocate for a better way. Otherwise we could lose this debate before we even know it’s on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my magic.

Lately I have been out of touch with my pagan “roots”. The reason I looked into UU in the first place was it looked like a place where I could explore my life-long interest in paganism and still be an agnostic. I thought I might end up a UU Humanist Witch or a non-theistic Jungian goddess-worshipper, if you will. UU seemed like it would help me explore those contradictions.

For the last year or so, Buddhism has been speaking much more loudly to me. The more I investigated Buddhism, the less I was drawn toward trying to make sense of exploring goddess archetypes. While I love what Paganism teaches me about connection & responsibility, Buddhism is helping me live in this world in a better, happier way. Because of all of this, I have been feeling out of sync with my local goddess group and other pagans, most of whom worship and practice ritual in a much more theistic way than I do. I don’t want to be a downer on what they are trying to do, and what is sincerely meaningful for them, but sometimes the level of woo is a bit much for materialist me. There were a few rituals where I went home feeling like I went along with something I didn’t actually believe; I do not like that feeling. If I wanted that, I could have stayed a Pentecostal.

Then something strange happened; in the last week I came across references to the same goddess three times: Tiamat. Just about the time I started thinking that was a little weird watched a film with an unnamed sea goddess/personification of the ocean. Hmmm. In general, when I notice the same uncommon thing a few times in a short amount of time I make a practice of paying attention to it. I am not saying the universe is trying to tell me something – maybe it has been there all along and my subconscious is drawing my attention to it. However you describe it, I try to look into it and see if there is something there I can learn. After all, that is how I found UU.

When I started to think and read about Tiamat, I thought she might be the perfect patron for this blog. Tiamat represents the powers of creation and chaos. Chaos Theory and the patterns within creation is what got me interested in forming my personal spirituality in the first place. Tiamat is the dark All-mother creatrix who was maligned and re-cast as a demon by who's destruction men gained glory. How perfect is that for a feminist? I felt like her struggle was my struggle. I mourned for her. To me she represents all of the strong and fierce women who were put down and told they were shameful over the millennia. I have been mediating this week on finding the Tiamat within me and nurturing her. I don’t exactly know what that means, but I feel like it is important.

I still do not know how to integrate Humanism, Buddhism, and goddess worship into a coherent spirituality. One of these always seems to be in contradiction with at least one of the others. For now I will continue to stumble from inspiration to inspiration until something coherent emerges.

"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea" - Isak Dinesen

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Day of School

I am feeling a little emotional today. This morning I sent Tall Daughter E off to her first day of her senior year and I walked Tiny Daughter M to the school for her first day of 6th grade. Today feels like the beginning of an ending.

On the walk home by myself, I was sad until I realized I wasn't remotely being in the moment. My head was living in the future without them - where they don't need me anymore. I brought myself back to where I was, which was a beautiful, sunny, late summer morning on my way home to a day of solitary peace and quiet. Today they both hugged and kissed me and smiled. I have a whole year to still have both of my girls in my home and there is little to be gained spending that year worrying about its end.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Harry Potter, My Daughter, and Me

It may seem a little late to write about this, but well, see the previous post. I’d like to bid a fond farewell full of gratitude to Harry Potter and the rest of the Hogwarts gang. I actually took the day off from work to go see the final Harry Potter movie with Tall Daughter E on opening day and I am glad I did. I don’t know how she felt, but the whole event was tinged with bittersweetness (if that is a word). Some moments are heavy with all the other moments that led to them and this was one of them for me. At this point, either you are a Potter fan or you aren’t, so I am not going to write here about the movie itself. I loved it and wept like a baby. Either you cried your eyes out, or you don’t care; that’s fine.

Much has been written about the “Harry Potter Generation” and E falls right into this category. This series neatly brackets her childhood. I read the first book to her when she was in kindergarten on the advice of her teacher, and we watched the final film together on the verge of her senior year in high school. She and I have attended all eight HP movies together on the opening day. No one else in the family likes the series – no, I don’t know why not either. It is Our Thing.

So I was really emotional heading into this movie. I took the day off, made arrangements for Tiny Daughter M, and splurged on IMAX tickets. So. Worth. It. I was eager for this movie since I had loved the final HP book, but I was also just so grateful. Thanks to J.K. Rowling, E and I have this Thing to share. While we talk alike, we have really different interests and personalities. Ever since she took her first steps towards independence in school we have had this Thing to bond over. It is hard to find activities that we both want to do, but this was something we could share. This was not just a film for me, but the culmination of all of the moments we spent together reading, and watching, and wondering what would happen next.

So thank you Ms. Rowling for Hermione Granger, and Molly and Ginny Weasley. Thank you for Professors MacGonagall and Snape. Thank you for the last twelve years of magic.

Great Post on the Goddess & Chaos

I always get excited when someone else sees a connection between chaos theory and spirituality so I loved this post by Carolyn Boyd on the goddess and chaos. It especially reverberated with me because I was just reading the myth of Tiamat and Marduk. Thanks to Medusa Coils for the link.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Beautiful Brides and Broken Mothers

Life got pretty crazy around here last week. I am hoping to catch up on a couple of blog posts I wanted to write, but we will see what my chaos level is by the end of the week. Last week was a big mishmash of joy and frustration. My BFF got married this weekend and that has kept me very busy, but very happy.

On a similar note, congratulations to all the same sex couple in New York state who can now make themselves as stressed out, and crazy, and ridiculously happy at their own weddings as the one we just had up here.

I knew the week was going to be busy, but I didn’t expect the week’s other complication – my mother broke her ankle while my dad was out of town. This part has not been fun. If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that things between my mother and I are loving, but strained. Neither one of us is really real around the other. Since both of my sisters live in the Lower 48, I am the only child around to help her. Mom is a very smart woman who is very good at many things – accepting help and feeling powerless are not among them. Her frustration manifests as irrational stubbornness. I believe this week is referred to as “character building.”

One afternoon I was at her house, vacuuming for her and helping her to make her home a little more wheelchair-friendly and it struck me that I was looking at my future. There I was, vacuuming the same hall where I had done so many times growing up and I realized that dealing with her while she deals with her diminishing physical capability is around the corner. My sisters and their kids all live a plane-ride away and my father has serious health problems. Mom is going to get older and angry at her aging, and I will be taking care of her. This future scares the shit out of me.

My most awesome and wonderful Husband S deserves a special note of appreciation. He dealt with a nervous bride, a cranky mother-in-law, his visiting mother, and me while I was stressed out with all of them. He never complained or batted an eye. He is my rock and I don’t know what I would do without his support.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Social Media Story

Last week Husband S and I went to an unusual wedding reception. Other than the families of the bride and groom, almost everyone there had met each other through Twitter. There were a few people who knew each other before, which is what allowed to connections to grow in the first place, but I have known most of these folks for about two years and have gotten to know them 140 characters at a time.

The Anchorage Twitter community is very close-knit, more so than other places from what I have heard. In the time I have participated real friendship have emerged. Anchorage Tweeps babysit each other’s kids & dogs, they housesit for each other. They bring medicine and food to people when they are sick and offer moral support when times are tough. Frequent “tweet-ups” bring us together in “meat space” and just this month there was a memorial service and the aforementioned wedding for members of this unofficial community with no rules whatsoever for belonging. Last year, a favorite local musician’s car broke down right before leaving on her self-supported tour. We responded with a fundraiser and many of us chipped in a few bucks to help her get on her way. A few people even started an Alaska Tweets Kiva team. While non-traditional and leaderless, this is a community. Tweetup events are some of the only places where I can talk to both conservative Christian librarians and openly gay IT professionals who are both treating each other civilly.

Why can’t we have a spiritual community that operates in the same way? I’ve been on Twitter with my personal account for about two years, which is just about the same amount of time I have been involved with AUUF. Both of these new communities are of roughly equal importance to me. There is something really important going on with social media that most religious organizations are missing out on. Social media should be more than a tool to let people know about official events; it should be a way for people to make community outside the church walls. It should be more than just ministers using it, too.

I love the UU blogosphere. I value being able to learn so much about Unitarian Universalism and about all of you, but this loose network is dominated by ministers and seminarians. What I would like to see is a social media tool where lay people can reach out both to clergy and each other for ministry. Not all of us live on the east coast. Alaska probably has fewer than 1,000 official UU church members, and other western states also have small numbers of UU’s. What if we could connect people and enable them to enhance the spiritual community they find at church? I do not believe that social media should replace real life church, but it can have a role in building relationships and retaining young adults. We have many tools to inform people, but not necessarily to engage them. Speaking for myself, when I am engaged in something I am much more likely to be committed.

With a structure halfway between Twitter and Facebook, I am interested to see what role Google+ could play in creating such a community once it goes live. There is a lot of talk in the UU blogosphere about how to attract and retain members to prevent UU-extinction. I believe that for most people, relationships trump theology. Anything that helps people find each other and minister to each other can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Friendship - Connection & Reconnection

This was a great weekend for connecting with friends. Friday night was spent at a party with new friends, and Sunday and Monday were spent at parties reconnecting with an old friend, the Math Teacher and her family. One was a girls' night, and one was a 4th of July barbeque. Our friendship has a strange arc; we were friends as children, and again as young adults*, and we are re-connecting now as we each approach middle age. Who knows, maybe we will lose touch again and bump into each other in an old folks home.

Sunday night I hung out with the Math Teacher and her friend Goldilocks. We had a great time, but the conversations were a little surreal. On the one hand, we know each other so well and have so much history, but I have seen the two of them only sporadically over the last 15 years. We each know parts of the other’s lives intimately, but we are each totally ignorant about whole other swaths of our own personal history. Each conversation feels like the past is sitting there with us. We have tried to reconnect before, but we always let busy lives get in the way. I have to thank Facebook for helping us to start our friendship back up for a third time.

One of the best parts of hanging out with her is seeing what an awesome person she has become. She is still her, but it is like she has become her best self. Life has taught her how to be a strong and centered person that I really admire instead of the person who doubted everything about herself. I really wish I could take her back in a time machine and introduce her to her 20-year old self. I want to tell her younger version that this is who she will become.

I read somewhere once that as we get older those who knew us when we were young become more and more important. I have loved meeting all the new friends I have made over the last two years and I am grateful for them, but having people who knew you as you were and see you as you are is really grounding.

*The Math Teacher’s father was the first UU I ever met. I thought he was crazy when he tried to describe his church to me – the church I now attend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Here's To the Summer Solstice!

Even when it’s cloudy, like it is today, Summer Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year. Some people see this day as half empty since the days will all be getting shorter from here on out. I prefer to see today as a reminder to embrace joy. If things are not going to get any better than this, we had better celebrate what makes this moment awesome. I tend to be on the analytical side, but today is a day for celebration and abandon. On Summer Solstice, I remember just how good it feels to be alive.

I don’t think I am going to be able to stay up and see the midnight sun tonight, so I will have to toast it before I snuggle down in bed – behind my blackout curtains of course.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Like Change

I try hard to see things from other people’s points of view. I do. When I get too wrapped up in my own indignation, I try to remember that my point of view isn’t the only one, or even the only legitimate one. But there is one area where I struggle with this and I can’t seem to put myself in another’s shoes: I like change.

Not all change. Some change is bad, or sad. Not often, but even I am susceptible to nostalgia at times, but generally change in exciting. There are a lot of great options and things to try in this world and if you never change, you never get to experience them. While I am far from a physical daredevil, the fact that I have never tried something is a perfectly valid reason to pursue it. I like to try a million different ideas and see which ones stick. We won’t even go into what I think of cooking the same meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. Most change is not scary, but an adventure.

Most people I know do not share this same attitude and that is frustrating. I often feel like I am being prevented from trying great things for no better reason than other people don’t want to change or try anything new. This trend is coming into play within our fellowship. From my biased and imperfect point of view it seems like many people want the fellowship to grow, and provide more services, and increase diversity, and attract young people as long as nothing has to change to do so.

This is driving me crazy.

I would never presume to join a functioning organization only to tell them how they need to change it to be more in line with my needs; that is just arrogance. But if you say you are concerned with dwindling numbers nationwide and you want to grow, if you say you want to reach out and have a bigger impact on your community, if you say you want to be a beacon of liberal religion in a very conservative town you have to be willing to try something new.

I am raising changephobic people, but I don’t understand them. I want to understand that point of view better so that I can work to find a middle way between my own quixotic nature and those who revere tradition. Husband S points out that I should be glad some people are happy to stick with what they like. I am not sure I will get it. I took a few days to write this and I’m glad I did, because the first draft was about how these people were wrong, wrong, wrong when I need to focus on finding harmony. How do you all had success in convincing people that growing means trying something new even if it is scary?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My First Labyrinth Walk

So I finally got to walk a labyrinth yesterday. I have been fascinated with them for years, but I didn’t know we had one in Anchorage that was open to the public until recently. I first became interested in labyrinths in my goddess studies, but I walked the local one with my Buddhist Small Group. That is one of the things I love about labyrinths – they are so ecumenical. Pagans, Christians, Buddhists, people of wildly diverse religious faiths all find usefulness and beauty in this walking meditative tool. What could be more UU than that?

This won’t be the last time I use the local labyrinth at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, but on this first walk one metaphor stuck with me. As I walked, there was a moment when I had to step out, another moment when I had to balance precariously, and a final moment in which I stood firm in stability on both feet. I repeated that pattern, which we all do every day without thinking about it, over and over again. That pattern is like life and we repeat it metaphorically all our lives. There are times when we have to get inspired and venture out into something we have never done before, times when we don’t really know what we are doing and might fail, and times when we are stable and sure in what we are doing. To get anywhere though, we have to step out again. The thing that both surprised me and didn’t was how much I enjoy the unstable part of each step. That is something worth paying attention to.

Another group of women followed our group through the labyrinth and they were clearly much more organized than we were. Their beautiful chanting enhanced the whole experienced and changed it for me. The labyrinth walk became an evolution and I learned to step and sway in their rhythm. While I started the walk focusing on Buddhist-style mediation, I finished it like a pagan. I am pretty happy with that.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Great Leggings Debate

In times like these when weighty theological subjects demand to be addressed, I am compelled (and was nudged) step forward and speak my mind. The controversial subject for today is… leggings. In these posts Peacebang and ChaliceSpark debate the appropriateness of leggings for ministers. Since I find myself smack dab in the middle I will roll for a diplomacy check here.

It is passed time that we admit that different standards of dress exist on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the country. What is considered appropriate, or dressy, or formal is not the same in Philadelphia as it is in Portland. (St. Sagan as my witness some people wear Carhardts to the symphony in Alaska.) Broad proclamations about what should be always or never worn need to be considered in that cultural context. If you minister in Texas, cowboy boots are probably appropriate in the pulpit; in Ann Arbor, maybe not so much.

On the subject of leggings, I must say, I am not a fan. In my personal opinion, no one over the age of 20 should be wearing them. As long as they are being worn with long tops, I consider that a matter of personal taste, not one of right and wrong. I mean, they’re not crocs for cryingoutloud. I don’t wear leggings, but if you want to rock them with tunics for casual wear, OK I can live with that. Not everyone looks horrible in them and declaring them forever verboten on everyone is a little silly. I can easily picture a minister in her off time wearing leggings with a short dress and cute boots, and looking lovely. Calf-length leggings under a miniskirt are a blight upon humanity, and no one over the age of 16 can be excused for wearing them. If you choose to do so, I will try my best to look at your lovely face and think nonjudgemental thoughts.

Peacebang has one thing right though, how we present ourselves matters. If you want to encourage respect for yourself or for the service you are leading you cannot wear leggings in a professional context. I want you all to promise you will never conduct a service in leggings unless you are around a campfire. If you choose to do otherwise, please don’t let me know about it. No leggings for board meetings or anything else where you are presenting yourself as a professional minister or lay leader. As for GA, if a convention showed up in my town and they all looked like they just rolled out of bed and slipped on their camping gear and Birkenstocks, it would be difficult to take them seriously. Maybe that’s shallow, but it’s true.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Roles... Maybe

This weekend two different people approached me about taking on roles that I would not have thought of for myself. One of these options I am seriously considering, but I am pretty sure the other one is not something I want to do even though I am interested in the subject matter. Both conversations took me totally by surprise, but were extremely complimentary. It is always encouraging to see what others see in you that you never see in yourself, but it also stops you short. You think of yourself as a certain kind of person, but someone else sees the you who is past your limitation. Scary, but cool.

On second thought, I said there were only two, but Heather at Nagoonberry has practically made a hobby of encouraging me to stretch beyond my complacent comfort zone. She is wonderful.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Running, Zen, and Me

I love finding spiritual growth in unexpected places. The wonderful Husband S and I started the Couch to 5K running program a little over a month ago. It is designed to get sofa spuds like us from the couch to a non-stop 5K run in 9 weeks. So far, so good. 30 minutes, 3 times a week, we have been sticking with it really well.

I chose this program because I was looking for something cheap to help me get into shape, and something for S and I to do together. So far, it has been successful on both front, but I didn’t expect any other benefits. I have never been a runner, even when I was young, healthy, and thin. I have never thought running was anything but exhausting. It was something to endure if necessary and avoid if possible. I think I am changing my mind about that. Through a series of events, we decided to turn off our music and just listen to the timed instructions. The quiet run turned everything around for me.

We are not yet good runners, but we are now to the point that we are no longer gasping for breath constantly and can actually jog and walk for the directed times without focusing solely on survival. I’ve heard runners talk about how their head clears when they get into their “zone” while running, but these were people who liked to run, so I didn’t really believe them. I have been amazed this week by how it feels to be able to tune into my body and my surroundings, while ignoring everything else. Actually, I am totally astonished that I am capable of such a thing. I have been practicing meditation for the past couple of years, but have only been successful while seated. I find walking meditation almost impossible and active mindfulness is generally an exercise in frustration. But running is hard enough that my mind does not swing through the daydream trees in its normal monkey state.

Neither S nor I feel like running when it is time to go, but this week we have both felt great afterwards. I know that some of this is the endorphins, but I think the meditative aspect contributes to how good we feel. After yesterday’s run I actually felt like I could complete the whole program for the first time. It was always my intention, but I don’t think I actually believed I was capable of doing it until then. It was an awesome feeling. Running is helping me put myself into my physical body. I have written before about living mostly in my head. Running is helping me to understand that the legs pumping and moving me down the path are just as much me as the mind writing this post. Once I get passed the stage where I just want it to end, I find I view things a little differently while running – in a good way.

I am not sure what we are going to do this winter since I don’t see myself being hardy enough for outdoor winter running, but for now this is working even better than I expected. As an addendum, I opened up a Dove Dark Chocolate Promise while finishing up this post. The message on the inside said, “lose yourself in the moment”. Exactly.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Confessions of an Easter Crank

As requested by the lovely lady from Texas in one of her guises of @TheMissionalist, here are my thoughts on why I was glad to be done with Easter yesterday evening.

1. Sick kid who really wanted to have a fun Easter, but was feeling lousy – not much fun.
2. Family. Many people share my feelings about family and holidays. It can be difficult, especially in theologically diverse families. I am not the only one who has that one relative who makes every gathering a chore to endure, but I do have one. That one special person who makes you smile though gritted teeth and think to yourself that you really do uphold the worth and dignity of EVERY person regardless of how you are feeling at the moment. My feeling is that you have the opportunity to contribute and the right to criticize, but you can’t have just the latter. (Letting out that deep breath now.)

Now, for the theology. I’ve written about this before, but Easter as a holiday is meaningless for me. As a non-theist, I don’t celebrate the risen Christ. Participating in Easter festivities makes me feel dishonest and I hate being dishonest with people. My family of origin believes in the literal resurrection story so I know that the remembrance and celebration of said story holds significant meaning for them. For me, it means extra shopping and cooking I have to do. I guess it just tugs me back to feeling like I have to pretend to have a faith I don’t have in order to make them happy, and I won’t do that anymore. I don’t want to be disrespectful to their faith, but I can’t share it with them either.

Being post-Christian, I don’t like the whole Easter story. The theme of re-birth and renewal is lost on me because what I see is a celebration that your leader was tortured to death. That is not so festive for me. When I was a conservative Christian, Easter had meaning: Christ’s sacrifice bought my eternal life. But if you don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus and you don’t believe in penal substitution, then what is the whole point? Without a literal resurrection Easter just seems gory.

Sarah at Ernie Bufflo writes here about what Good Friday means to her as a liberal Christian so I know that there are other ways to view Easter from a liberal perspective. I recommend her post if you want a more uplifting version of Holy Week than mine. I guess I could sum this whole post up by saying that I would be happy to ignore Easter altogether and wish the faithful well as I do with many holidays that are not part of my faith tradition, but celebrating it part of the way, without any faith behind it feels wrong.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Finally Spring!

Anchorage woke up this weekend. It is officially spring here now and everywhere I went people were walking, jogging, biking, and generally frolicking in the sunshine. I enjoyed the warm weather even more watching everyone else enjoy it. I don't think southerners can really understand the frenzy that comes over northerners when they finally get a chance to get outside without snow gear. The worst part of being a blog junkie is reading about people’s warm weather while I am still swearing at the snow. Now that spring has finally crept this far north I’m just giddy. Now begins the season where my children sigh at me a lot for forcing them outside. Again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Failure in UU Parenting

Tiny Daughter M: "Mom, can you come help me with my math homework?" Me: (In jest) "I can't. I can't do math anymore. I gave up math for Lent." Tiny Daughter M: Sigh "You're not even Jewish." File this under Doing Something Wrong.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Reading Dennis Prager

I am doing something that I should probably do a lot more often – reading something with which I am pretty sure I will disagree. Since reading only works by people with whom you agree leads to a closed mind and groupthink, I am reading Happiness is a Serious Matter by Dennis Prager. A friend of mine, The Artist, loves Dennis Prager and is always recommending this book to me and until now, I have always politely declined. The Artist and I don’t agree about much of anything political so I blew off his recommendation as an attempt to show me the glories of libertarianism. Sorry, been there, done that. He got a mutual friend to read it and she loved it so much that she actually bought me a copy. At this point, I felt obligated to read it. Prager is a libertarian type conservative and a staunch advocate that the basis of our society is traditional judeo-christian values. I did not expect to agree with him about much, but so far I actually like some aspects of his book. We are never going to agree religiously, but we may not end up too far apart on the nature of happiness. I did not expect that. Feel free to remind me that I need to keep an open mind the next time I tell you I am not going to waste my time reading something written by a conservative. Unless it is Ann Coulter - some sacrifices are just too much.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Terry Jones is Not a Terrorist

I don’t like Terry Jones. The pastor of World Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL is an unloving and hateful idiot without much concern for protecting American lives. His recent decision to publicly burn a Quran was reckless, arrogant, and stupid. But he is not a terrorist. The people who are calling him one are holding him responsible for the actions of people he offended. American law has long held that people can be held responsible for advocating violence even if they never commit it themselves, but that is not what we are talking about here. Those who want Jones legally punished want to do so because he offended people and some of those people reacted violently. In America, we do not recognize the right of people not to be offended. Those in Afghanistan who rioted and killed Americans are to blame for their own actions. The fact that they killed because they were really really mad at Terry Jones in particular and the United States in general does not excuse them. Murderers are responsible for their own actions and we infantilize people when we say that isn’t true. Terrorists commit violence against non-military targets with intent to frighten people. Terrorists crash airplanes into buildings. They blow up busses and cafes. Burning books might make you a great many things, including not invited to my home, but it does not make you a terrorist and we diminish terrorism’s horror when we say that it is. Personally I am offended by Jones’s message and his actions. I not only condone, but encourage people to denounce and shun him. Picket his church if you want. But legal or congressional action against his 1st Amendment right to express his twisted religious views is threatening to all our religious points of view. Terry Jones is an intolerant fool, but he is a constitutionally protected one. Terrorists kill people, and we shouldn’t confuse two.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Response Regarding Libya

Yesterday Joel Monka questioned why politically liberal UU bloggers haven’t been writing about the recent military action in Libya. I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you why I haven’t written about it yet – because I have been hiding my head in the sand trying to pretend it isn’t happening.

I believe that the strong have an obligation to protect the weak. I believe that great powers should do what they can do prevent genocide and massacres when they can. I am very glad that there are people alive today who would not have been if we had not intervened. I am glad that we prevented bloodshed in Libya. On the other hand I do not understand the philosophy or methodology by which the Obama administration is choosing whom to help. Why are not intervening to protect civilians in Yemen, or Bahrain, Syria, Sudan, Congo, or the Ivory Coast?

I am frustrated because I do not have an answer to this question and President Obama does not seem to be in a hurry to articulate it. The lack of an answer leads me to cynicism. I dread the idea of being at war in three separate Muslim nations simultaneously and the fallout that may come from that. I am angry that we can’t seem to afford social programs but we have plenty of money to attempt to save the entire Middle East from itself, as it anyone asked us to. I am disappointed that Obama neglected to consult Congress before taking us into another military action.

Most of all, I am sad - sad that I am frustrated and disappointed this way. Anyone looking fairly at this situation can see that Libya is not Iraq. When Bush took us into Iraq I was angry, but now I am sad and discouraged. I expected better of Obama. When I happily voted for him two years ago, I was not voting for expanded war efforts. I also didn’t think I was voting for no end in sight for Guantanamo, or for going to war without consulting Congress.

If I have been quiet on this issue, it is because I am feeling a bit hopeless. When protesting against Bush, it seemed like the right person in authority could undo the wrong, but now it seems like electing the “good guy” still brings a bad outcome. Where do we go from here?
Given time, I am sure I will remember that I agree with Obama about a lot more than I disagree, I will give him credit for a very productive first two years in office. Right now, I am ignoring the situation so I can forget that my side let me down. I do not claim that this approach is commendable, but it is human.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Day the Glamour Died

The world got a little less glamorous today.

I am sure you know already that Dame Elizabeth Taylor died today of congestive heart failure at the age of 79. A lot of digital ink has been spilled over memorializing her today and I won’t attempt to repeat it here, but I will tell you what she meant to me.

One of my peculiarities as a child was that I fell in love with old movies around the age of 9. As I grew up Elizabeth Taylor was the definition of glamour for me. She personified female sex appeal. She was fierce before that was a term. From Dame Elizabeth I learned that a woman could be strong without having to de-sexualize herself, or conversely that she could be sexy without having to be weak. I didn’t have to be powerless to be feminine. But she was more than just her extraordinary looks and she demonstrated that a woman’s value lasts far longer than her youth when she championed the cause for AIDS treatment. At an age when many women in her line of work as tossed aside, she began a second career as an advocate. To borrow a phrase she stood on the side of love and advocated for people whom others wanted to condemn.

Heather at nagoonberry has been encouraging me to write about fashion and self love, and I will, but I couldn’t even begin to write that without acknowledging the woman who epitomized beauty and glamour for me. Now I just have to figure out which of her films to watch this weekend – right now I’m leaning towards Butterfield 8.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


So, um… Lent.

What to do with it? It is there, and it seems all around me the past few years, but it isn’t mine. It feels like it needs addressing somehow. As I mentioned last year Lent was never part of my childhood faith. Neither Southern Baptists nor Assembly of God “do” Lent. As a non-theist, I don’t do Lent now. Other than remembering not to eat whatever it was that friends had given up in front of them, Lent has always been irrelevant to my life.


Last year I enjoyed the 40/40/40 challenge when I gave up eating meat for 40 days. Especially for those of us in the developed world, it is good for us to go without something for a time, to focus on how fortunate we are to have all of these luxuries we take for granted. Times of excess and celebration are wonderful, but times of denial are their balance, and I have neglected that side of the equation. Lent seems like it would be a perfect time to be in sync with others doing the same thing, so I thought about it.

But the theology is getting in the way for me. Practicing Lent, for me, would be like admitting than I am an inherently evil person who needs Christ’s bloody sacrifice for salvation, and that I need to try and share, in some small way, with his suffering. That’s not going to work for me. I realize that not all Christians view Lent this way and it is meaningful for many. This is how it feels for me.

Then I saw that the UU Ministry For Earth is continuing the 40/40 for Earth Challenge from April 17 – May 26. I will have to delay my fast another month, but it is good to know I can do it in conjunction with others. Is anyone else out there in blogland planning to participate in this challenge? If you did it last year, what did you get out of it? If you are doing it this year, what kind of fast or change do you intend to make?

I do wish a blessed Ash Wednesday and Lenten period for all those who observe it. May your fast bring you what you seek.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Einstein & Heisenberg

Whew! It has taken me weeks to get through this last book I was reading, Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the nature of reality by Manjit Kumar. Since I find both science and the history of science fascinating, this book was right up my alley. But it was dense, and I was busy so it took me a while to get through. Saturday afternoon I approached those last few chapters like a marathon runner reaching out for that ribbon. We need not speculate about whether or not I actually lapped the living room with the book held above my head. Let’s just move along.

Amongst all of the interesting scientific advancements and attempt to peer into the universe’s weave was a very human story that has stuck with me. Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg were both highly respected German theoretical physicists who were on opposite side of the great debate over quantum mechanics. (I promise I will not bore you here with particles, etc.) Before WWII, Einstein refused to return to Hitler’s Germany and settled in Princeton, NJ. Many Jewish scientists were exiled from Germany and many non-Jews left in support of their colleagues. Heisenberg stayed and went on the head the German nuclear weapons program.

In his book’s penultimate chapter, Kumar tells a brief story about Heisenberg visiting Einstein in 1954 in Princeton during a speaking tour after the war. Einstein claimed that the men avoided the subject of politics and discussed physics. It is a brief aside in the book, but it has stuck with me for days. How do you do this? This wasn’t like reconciling scientists after WWI where people ended up on opposite sides of a continental meltdown almost by chance. How do you sit down with an old acquaintance and pretend? How does one not ask, how did you try to help this man succeed, this man who wanted to see me and everyone like me dead? After learning about the camps and the slaughter, how do you sit across from someone and sip coffee? How do you not ask if he knew what was going on and what he did about it? If Heisenberg has built the bomb first, how horrible the outcome would have been, and yet they sat, and discussed particles and old times. For that matter, what did Heisenberg say? How do you suggest that bygones be left to be bygones after the government you helped tried to wipe out the other person’s entire race? Did he even attempt to say he was sorry?

I don’t understand this. I don’t even know if I admire Einstein’s equanimity or if I am appalled as his lack of demonstrated outrage. I’ve been thinking about this story for days and I have imagined it playing out in numerous fictional ways. Physics and its waves that are also particles are complex and fascinating, but we humans are each little universes ourselves and the stories or why we do what we do is the world’s most interesting puzzle.

Monday, February 28, 2011

RIP Merlin Stone

Merlin Stone passed away this weekend. As usual Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt has an excellent write up on her impact in goddess studies. I try not to engage in hyperbole, but I can honestly say her book, When God Was a Woman changed my life. That book started a process that totally changed the way I think about religion and spirituality, their place in human history, and what all of that could mean to me.

I came across her book by accident. I was shopping in the college bookstore my senior year and it was on the clearance rack, marked down to some ridiculously low price. It looked intriguing so I bought it and promptly put it in the books-I-am-going-to-get-around-to-reading stack. When I finally worked my way around to it, I was totally absorbed. I had learned about the Venus of Willendorf, and Crete, and Catal Huyuk, but the idea that deeply matriarchal and spiritually vibrant culture was not an aberration was earth-shaking for me.

It didn’t convince me to believe in a literal goddess anymore than I believe in a literal god, but those archetypal images and symbols stuck with me, as well as a desire to connect with what they mean. Reading Stone helped me to understand how totally out of touch I had become with Christianity. I read it a second time a few years later and it revitalized in me a determination that my daughters not be brought up in a faith that taught them they were second-best.

Thank you, Merlin Stone. May you rest in peace.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Enabling Evangelicals

I earned some daughter points this week.

Through my work, I was able to get two tickets for my parents to attend a major evangelical Christian event next month. They are excited. They are disappointed that I will not be attending the event with them, but still, they are happy to be going.

I struggled with this a little bit. My initial reaction when a co-worker suggested I invite my parents was that I did not want to support something so totally antithetical to my personal views. Giving them the tickets felt like giving the event my blessing and I don’t want to do that. After thinking it over for a few minutes I changed my mind. I am not paying for these tickets; my company has already purchased them and someone is going to use them. Letting someone else use the tickets would not mean that the message would not be getting out. I am not encouraging my parents’ beliefs because they are not going to change them whether or not they attend.

Giving my parents the tickets will A) make them happy and B) show the respect for their beliefs that I would like for myself. In truth, I bear a fair amount of hostility toward their belief system, but I respect their right to worship as they please. I can’t really expect them to extend that respect to me if I am unwilling to give it to them.

This occasion does present the danger that my co-workers will be spending time with my parents, unsupervised – a chilling thought. I’ll have to take that risk.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can We All Just Stop Hurting For a Moment?

Can everybody just stop hurting so much for a little while? I need a little break.

There is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called “Earshot” in which Buffy Summers temporarily gains the power to read minds. As the ability grows, she becomes overwhelmed with the burden of hearing everyone’s private thoughts. She explains to Jonathan, a suicidal classmate, that the reason no one notices his pain is that everyone, no matter how they seem, is busy dealing with their own.

I am feeling a little like Buffy this week. Everyone around me is carrying on living their lives, but underneath the surface is such pain. A friend found a second type of cancer after the first was successfully removed; an old high-school buddy threatened to shoot himself, a casual friend was left by her husband of 16 years and is now readjusting to her new role as a single mother; a co-worker and a sister both struggle in marriages that crush their spirits, but they are unable to fix and unwilling to leave; another friend just lost his wife to a protracted battle with cancer; a dear relative is combining the joy of expecting a baby with an emotionally abusive relationship; another friend is struggling with depression; body image issues are tampering a close friend's joy; one branch of the family is dealing with a possible drinking problem. These are just the things I know about, just the ones that come to mind at the moment.

Right now this pain is highly visible to me, but I realize that this is normal. This is life. I am currently noticing it more acutely, but I think the aggregate of pain is probably the standard. I am trying really hard to be there for the people I care about, but it is becoming exhausting. This week I feel a little overwhelmed. I am so glad that Husband S is the rock I am always depend on. He is keeping me stable so that I can be there for others.

Several UU bloggers, but especially Lizard Eater, talk about becoming a missional denomination. I admire their dedication, but I don’t usually feel compelled to join in. Lately when I look around and see all of the unfortunately mundane suffering I almost get the missional bug. I admire people who try to save the world, but that is not in my power. I just want to help ease some suffering, one person at a time. I can't fix people, try though I might (and believe me, I have tried), but I can listen, and I can accept, and I can love.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Learning To Disagree

I am becoming more and more convinced that learning how to disagree well is the foundation for …well everything. Anyone who has been paying attention has seen the toxic effect of I'm-right-and-everyone-else-is-a-horrible-person on American politics, but it is not just politicians and pundits we can point fingers at; it is us, too.

Husband S and I got married when we were young, dumb, and brand new parents. With an eye on the odds, you probably wouldn’t recommend that young people take this route. Sixteen years later, he is still the love of my life and I shudder to imagine my life without him. Most of the time I am at a loss to explain how we beat the odds to make our marriage work when so many others who marry young do not. The one thing I come back to is we always try to fight fair. Whatever either of us is upset or angry about, the goal of the conversation has to be to fix the problem and heal the relationship, never to make the other person feel bad. We never call names when we fight. This is hard. Really hard sometimes, but it establishes a foundation of trust. I know that S is never out to get me. I know that I can count on him to listen to me and that my feelings are important to him. Always.

I thought about this yesterday and we need to apply that same standard in our congregations. Yesterday I attended some communication training at our Fellowship and during this session, it became very clear that there are deep divisions within the Fellowship that are still in the process of being healed. Some of these revolve around a specific experience, but I believe many others are part of our denominational dialogue at UU’s: theists vs. non-theist, those who want the church to be a mission to the world vs. those who are content with a liberal oasis, etc. Do any of us want to be in a Unitarian-Universalism where the only people left think just like us? Or do we want to continue as a faith with a rich dialogue of dissenting voices? If the latter, we need to focus on remembering or leaning how to disagree.

The thing about your church that totally annoys you, well that might be just the thing that keeps the person next to you coming to church. For non-theists it can be threatening when people keep bringing all their god-talk into your last bastion of rational safety, and I know there will always be tension there between these two camps. But surely our commitment to support each other in our own searches for meaning is bigger and more important than whether or not we involve a divinity in that search. Working together to make the here and now a better place takes precedence over what compels us to do so.

When I am mad at someone, I friend of mine is in the habit of asking me if I want to be right or be happy. The answer varies based on mood and circumstances. I want to apply this question to our congregations in a broader sense. Do we want to nurse our sense of righteousness or do we want to have a relationship with others in our church community, one which nourishes both of us? We say we want a big tent, so we have to build that tent with our individual everyday interactions with each other.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2 Charming Graphic Novels - Highly Recommended

Completely free of any paid endorsement or incentive, I’d like to recommend a couple of graphic novels I read recently.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, written and drawn by Barry Deutch is a charming all-ages stand-alone story. The sub-subtitle “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl” spells out the subject matter, and gives you a hint about the book’s sense of humor. Aimed at younger readers, I still enjoyed it. Mirka lives in a conservative Jewish community where the other women try to convince her to hone her domestic skills, while she dreams of becoming a dragon slayer.

One of the things I liked about this book is that Mirka does not have to learn to transcend her community realize her dreams. Her heritage is not incidental to her success, but a major factor in it. I would recommend it for older elementary and middle school kids for discussions about how our religion and community shape us.

I spent part of the last weekend reading Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. I didn’t even know this book existed, but I happened across it in our local library. Van Lente and Dunlavey are both comics industry professionasl who were awarded a grant to publish this history of western philosophy under their independent label.

This book is awesome. It explains dozens of philosophers and their theories down in comic book form. I swear, I will never think of Plato in the same way again. Need a quick review of someone you read in college, flip through this book and you’ll be sucked in to read the rest. These easily digestible nuggets of complex ideas are actually funny. Try though I may, I still don’t get Wittgenstein, but I don’t hold Action Philosophers responsible for that.

While Van Lente and Dunlavey mostly restrict themselves to western thinkers, I appreciated the inclusion of a few non-Christians like Rumi, Boddidharma, Lao Tzu, and the guy who began Kabbalah (his name is escaping my mind). I would have liked to see a few more of these, but I still enjoyed the book for what it was. The only two women featured are Mary Wollstencraft and Ayn Rand, but I lay the blame for that more on western culture as a whole.

There are a few off-color jokes, but I think this would be fine for older teenagers. Thank you for indulging this moment of nerdery; you may now return to your regularly scheduled reading about important things.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Impermanence of Parenting

I’ve been spending more time with Buddhism lately and it is affecting my parenting in a good way. Tall Daughter E will be graduating from high school and turning 18 in about a year in a half. This realization after the holidays started a panic beating in my chest. There is no way she is almost ready to be released out into the world as an adult. No. Way.

I am trying to take a step back and look at the impermanence of this stage of parenting. I do not feel remotely ready to be the parent of an adult; I can’t believe she is actually almost ready to be one. Unfortunately, me feeling ready and it actually occurring are unrelated ideas. No one is going to ask my opinion about the matter; it just is. So instead of railing against in inevitable, I am trying to savor and appreciate the time I have left with Tall E as my little girl. There are only so many more times she is going to hug and kiss me goodnight before she goes to bed. Only so many more times she will grumble as I ask her to help me with dinner. (That reminds me, I need to teach her to cook more different things.) The added side-effect of this is that is makes it easier to deal with raising a teenager. When I know that I don’t have that much longer to spend with her or to try to teach her my values it makes it easier to deal with things that, in the past, would drive me crazy. Why would I spend my remaining time with her being angry about small stuff?

Except when Tall E bickers with her little sister, the rhythm of our relationship has already changed in the last year or so. We relate and talk to each other differently than when she was a child and I can only imagine things will be even more different as she starts to lead her own life. I have been her favorite person for most of her life. She has always been bound to me in a way that I have sometimes found suffocating, but now I can’t imagine not having on a daily basis. It is hard to conceive of her not needing me. I have been raising Tall E almost my entire adult life so it is will real sadness that I view the end of actively parenting her, but that makes living with her all the more precious.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How To Discipline Yourself to Meditate

I’ve figured it out. I finally know how to get myself to be more disciplined in a mediation practice. All you need to do is get yourself in a situation so over-whelming and stressful that you need the mental time-out of mediation to deal with it. See, it’s easy to be disciplined. It’s like how I am able to stick with my morning yoga routine because my back hurts a lot if I skip more than two days. Apparently, the stick approach is working better for me than the carrot.

I haven’t been writing here for a while, mostly because of the same situation that drives me to meditation. I just haven’t been able to spare the extra mental energy for it and I didn’t want this blog to turn into a whine-fest reminiscent of a 14-year old’s diary. I am working on getting my act together and being there for some people who really need the support. Sometimes people close to you have problems that make you reassess the scope of your own. That is where I am at right now. Hopefully, I will find the time for more reflection here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Doug Muder's Humanism of the Sun

I have been growing increasingly frustrated with the Humanist/non-theist blogosphere and publishing. Many people seem to put all of their energy into disputing any religious validity while offering nothing positive of their own. Then Doug Muder published this speech on the Humanism of the Sun today and it was like an inspiring salve to my little Humanist heart.

If you want to be reminded of what is awesome about Humanism and where it can lead humanity, go read it right now. It is a big longish, but well worth it. Go. Click. Read. Right now.