Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meet the Holy

Each day I wake up wondering where and how I'll meet the holy. It's an adventure - and it is free. Even when I can't leave my bed, even when I'll really sick or limited, I can seek the holy in each day.

Here's a one-minute invitation video on meeting the holy:

Do you meet the holy by visiting special places? by setting aside special times?
Do you meet the holy in interruptions? through people you love? through unexpected wow moments?
Do you meet the holy in the midst of hardship? in the midst of play?
How are you meeting the holy today?

I'd love to hear from you how you're meeting the holy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sabbath Keeping & Digital Life

Our digital lives are our lives – so much part of who and how many of us are, we feel real loss and disconnection when separated from the technologies that support our communities of connection and how we practice our faith. Addiction is an issue, but I want to notice the differences between internet addiction and the grief that comes from being separated from where we have meaningful relationships. When folks who’ve been largely defined by work find themselves unemployed or retired, there’s a similar sense of grief and loss. They weren’t necessarily addicted to work. Liberal religious spiritual life is so much about balance. We want to notice when we’re being defined or only have meaning in discrete sections of our lives and turn there instead of addressing more difficult or absent relationships and meaning. As liberal religious people, we seek revelation and meaning everywhere in our lives – via social media, in families, with friends, through work, through volunteering, through play.

Like many people I connect with in my social media ministry, I’m often housebound, due to my chronic illness. Since I’m also hearing impaired, I love the print and video forms of social media because I can connect with fewer missed words and attitudes. I also connect across faith divisions and with colleagues, in ways that busy schedules and long distances don’t allow. Our lives are more grounded and attentive because of the ways we’re staying connected. I love being with people, talking with people, finding out what’s going on for them spiritually, sharing stories and enthusiasms and encouraging folks in living faithfully the best they understand. How could I not be attracted to social media, where so many people are increasing and deepening their connections to the holy and to one another?

I'm reflecting with my friend and colleague, the Rev. Phillip Lund, on issues raised by a recent news story, one of the many that find loss when folks shut off their electronic devices and take time out of their regular communities and contexts. 

If you look at my social media presence, you'll notice I have two primary modes - one where I'm sharing information and acting as a spiritual resource, and one where I'm interacting with more particularly and directly. Both are ways of living faith publicly. I build the sharing/resource side on a program, with themes and regular practices, and use a scheduler. The scheduler keeps things regular and the spiritual practices accessible without my immediate attention. The scheduler can mask my Sabbath-keeping, but I also do it because the spiritual communities of which I am part aren't on my same schedule or in my same location. Indeed, most of the people I follow and who follow me via social media - our digital religious community - won't share my same Sabbath. What changes in my digital practice during Sabbath is my immediate interactive presence. I rest from that, unless there is an emergency that calls me back to the digital religious community. Just as my other peeps are resting on their Sabbaths, most of our communities have learned to have more patience in expecting or yearning for responses from Friday through Monday. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays things speed up and there's a hope for immediate presence. Because my diverse religious community will be keeping Sabbath beginning what's for me Thursday night, but is Friday elsewhere in the world, and will keep different days through what's midday for me on Monday.

 Turning away from social media to silence, to being in the same room or on the same park bench with someone, to the city streets and to the quiet spaces amid the hammocks and swamp where I live, is part of how I cultivate balance. I meet the holy in a lot of different places but I am wary of being too comfortable of meeting the holy in one place over another. I don’t want to lose my ability to be surprised by the holy or to find the holy in places where I’m uncomfortable. So if I do feel uncomfortable away from the media feed – and sometimes I do, particularly when I’m not choosing being away but am kept off by technical difficulties or illness – I turn my attention to that discomfort and ask myself what I can learn and where the wonderment and mystery is in this discomfort?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homelessness & My Neighbor

If you want to know some of the real effects of discrimination, let’s look at a recent study of 6,300 Massachusetts public high school students. Large numbers of homeless youth are a sign of societal trouble. Three percent of exclusively heterosexual teens polled were homeless. But fifteen percent of bisexual teens were homeless and nineteen percent of lesbian or gay teens were homeless, even though only five percent of students overall identified themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The enormous difference between youth rates of homelessness point to much more than economic troubles; we’re seeing the effects of another kind of discrimination. Even more troubling, this study reflects Massachusetts, one of states in the U.S. where legislation suggests a wider public acceptance of homosexuality.

Biblically, families are large and extended kinship networks matter. Neighbors are the people nearby who aren’t kin. When we’re asked to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’re being asked to treat our neighbors with all the protections we accord our families. Strangers are those who aren’t neighbors and we’re also asked to accord the same protections we would to our families to strangers. Lot tries to shock his neighbors into understanding the protection he’s given strangers by telling the mob at the door he’d rather give them his daughters. He’s saying, in the social code of Genesis, “handing over these people is like handing over myself, my household, and my future." He's saying, "Here's the bank account. Here's the car. Here's everything we've got stored away. Here's all my furnishings. Here, take everything. I'll give it to you before I give you these people for violence.” (Genesis 19:6-8) 

The traditions of teaching this text, particularly in Christian history, have stripped away Lot's attempt to shock his neighbors out of a state of violence (otherwise, if Lot is serious, this really is a text of terror).  The real sin of Sodom isn’t what we’ve learned to call sodomy: it is hostility to the stranger, the estranged and alien, and the alienated. Millennia of interpreting this story in the opposite direction of what is meant is one of the reasons behind so many homeless youth who identify as bisexual, lesbian, and gay. Unpolled, but who should also be included in those numbers are the homeless youth who identify as transgender or gender queer. The way we tell our stories makes a difference.

Sometimes families do reject the very ones they’re supposed to love. Sometimes families are abusive and unloving. Sometimes neighbors or strangers are better family members than the people we’ve called kin. Our religious communities need to be cities of refuge where none alienated and estranged, no stranger, no kin, no neighbor -- no one -- will be handed over to violence because of social discrimination or convention. Unitarian Universalists have sought, regularly, to be sanctuaries for bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and intersexual people. So too are we called to be sanctuaries for migrants, refugees, displaced peoples of every kind.

People of faith have been doing some great and wonderful work welcoming displaced and alienated people, working for immigrant justice, and creating a home of hope for lgbtqi families. And we have more to do, as this study from Massachusetts tells us, for there are still too many people living on the streets, suffering discrimination, and being exploited by the fear and the limited opportunities that join legal and social discrimination. 

Who’s my neighbor? You are. 
Who’s your neighbor? All of us. 

We’re called to care for one another, to welcome one another, to make home together, to give thanks and sing praises in our own ways, together. It was a radical and pressing idea more than 5,000 years ago; it is still radical and pressing today. No one need be homeless – that’s our choice as to how faithful we shall be today.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heaven Is

(Here’s a mid-week reflection exercise to go with the video “Heaven Is (Yeasty)”. You can use this for personal study or in small groups.)

What are our beliefs and images of heaven? When cake is delicious, we call it “heavenly” as well as “sinful.” Listening to music, I learn heaven’s streets are paved with gold. Everywhere I turn, a popular image of heaven is a place where all the people we’ve ever loved and who’ve ever loved us are present, for eternity.

Ideas of heaven influence ideas about what goodness is. Yet Jesus teaches (Matthew 13:33) that heaven is like a person adding yeast to flour to make the dough that will rise. That’s not an idea of heaven that is a destination to which we travel; Jesus gives us a definition of heaven that is an action, an action necessary for every day living.

What are the ideas and images of heaven you know? Which ones are appealing to you? Why?

How does the idea of heaven happening right now, in ordinary and messy ways sit with you? What shakes you up? What surprises? What delights?

What are some yeasty moments that might be ways of heaven opening in our every day lives?

How do your ideas of heaven affect how you live your life? How might the possibility of yeasty doughy incomplete holy action heaven change how you live?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Stone: Revelation Not Sealed

James Luther Adams, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, ethicist, and educator, teaches five practices for liberal religion. If you're interested, you can read the original essay, "Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion" on line. Adams connects those five practices of liberal religion with the Biblical story of David and Goliath and the five smooth stones Saul gives David as his weapons (1 Samuel 17:38). In ourselves and in our wider world we face the troubles the five smooth stones of liberal religion answer.

Here's a brief video (five minutes) introducing what the first stone means - revelation is not sealed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Strangers Traveling Together

Everyone doesn’t have to be like you in order for you to be a good person or for the other person to be a person of worth and contributing to greater goodness in the world. It is a blessing that we need not be alike, that we can be different together, and grow stronger and more resilient because of those differences.  Biodiversity demonstrates strong and resilient ecosystems. Human diversity can do much the same.

Neither does everyone have to like you. There isn’t a number of people liking you below which you can’t be considered a person of worth or merit. You can be and do good and actually have a whole lot of people who don’t care about you, a great many who are uncomfortable around you, and a number of folks who find you an enemy and adversary.  Contrary to the operating code of Facebook, “likes” do not mean you are a person of worth, a person who does good in the world, or a person of faith.

Life’s purpose is not filled by how many people like us or how many people are like us. That’s a blessing.

In June 2010, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations set a challenge and made a promise. Like any challenge and promise there was risk involved, because this was a movement of faith – we can grow real partnerships with other communities – communities that are like some of us and communities that are unlike some of us – and work together to change the world for justice. We agreed to commit ourselves to demonstrating that love is a powerful agent of change in this world, particularly when that love is in service with and for people who are experiencing oppression.

In July 2010, many Unitarian Universalists joined many, many more people in Phoenix, Arizona for the National Day of Noncompliance. During the events, those present learned more about what it means to be the love people, the risks, the challenges, the joys, and the discomfort. I wasn’t there. I’m reflecting what I’ve heard from people who were. 

We have less than a year until a massive demonstration of love’s transforming power is shown (June 2012) – in Phoenix and everywhere Unitarian Universalists are, as we show what our faith means in real ways related to the social issue that has defined Unitarian Universalism in the American context and often defines Unitarianism and Universalism around the globe: who is a real enough person to be accorded dignity, human rights, and the opportunity to be a family. We're joining a diverse coalition of people, locally in Arizona (including but not limited to PuenteAZ and NDLON - the National Day Laborer Organizing Network) and in all the different kinds of communities in which we're located.We’re saying immigrants of all kinds – people who choose migration, people who are displaced by economic and ecological change, people who are stateless, people who are dispossessed, people who are refugees. Many more people seek refuge and seek lives crossing borders in our world than most of our states and international agencies can handle. Yet the rights involved – to earn a living, to an education, to have a family, to cross borders, to conscience, to religion – are all part of the various United Nations declarations of human rights, from the first declaration to the Yogyakarta Principles. Unitarian Universalists have called each other to cross borders spiritually, emotionally, and culturally to be faithful members of a bigger and more diverse community than some of our Unitarian Universalist congregations have been part of before, because there are people suffering enormously, people dying trying to reach for life, families separated and profiteers at work reaping a living from human suffering.

Suffering calls people of faith to action – for compassion, through political change, through creating communities of refuge and communities of resistance. Those are diverse communities, filled with strangers learning to live and love together, to weave together a better world. To be faithful partners in and of diverse communities requires being comfortable as a stranger. For majority culture folks, comfort as a stranger can be a challenge, because it means accepting and celebrating that many central experiences accepted as “normal” and “good” in majority culture will be reviled, rejected, and not practiced. Not practicing justice-making, witness, partnership, or celebration in the ways that feel comfortable and right from one culture is precisely the experience of minority culture people in majority culture situations, particularly when that culture operates in such a way that belonging is both being liked and being similar to everyone else. To be faithful partners with people experiencing oppression means developing that same capacity for moving into and between cultural experiences that minority culture peoples have to do all the time.

I rarely feel a deep sense of belonging or that the community is sharing my preferences – even in Unitarian Universalist circles. I accept that to be part of a wider whole, I will spend a lot of my life, perhaps all of it, as a stranger. When I meet folks who know they’re home, acceptable, and accepted because nothing is strange and they’re not strangers to that way and culture of doing things, I’m surprised to meet people uncomfortable with being strangers. Yet that experience of being the stranger is a common migrant’s experience, a common displaced person’s experience, a common experience of those oppressed and marginalized by the larger culture and society.  Being a stranger isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, if we create societies where difference is truly valued and we, the people who make such societies, accept both our own strangeness and loving cultivate and celebrate all the cultures present in the wider communities to which we belong.

Unitarian Universalists have before us a year of learning, in every place we already are, how to be ever more faithful partners in the diverse communities to which we belong. Doing that work, Unitarian Universalists are going to have to develop a greater comfort and acceptance of being strangers, of being travelers with peoples who are alienated by laws and culture that define and shape Unitarian Universalism in most of our American communities. Even what Unitarian Universalists might hold to be common values – love, justice, dignity, compassion – have different meanings and practices associated with them in different communities. Learning about and appreciating those differences is just one of the many lessons of being strangers together as we’re building cities of refuge and the world in which we truly wish to live.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Reflection for Sunday, July 17, 2011

Some days I lay my head down where I can, weary and wondering where the holy is in the mess and muck of our lives. Where is the holy in the rising seas, the drought in places that used to be green, the flooding in places that need warmth and dryness for the grain to ripen? Where is the holy when a person is consumed by despair or ablaze with rage and lives are taken? Where is the holy in the hungry families wondering when they shall eat next or in the veteran who’s been seeking work ever since coming home? Some days I lay my head down where I can, weary and wondering where the holy is, praying for rest enough to get back to doing my bit after dawn.

When Jacob left Beer-sheba and fled toward Haran, he had just stolen his brother Esau’s birthright (Genesis 25:31-34). Some of the translations tell us that Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, and if we go that route we can focus on Esau selling out for temporary hunger, for his birthright would have been the means to eat every day of Esau’s life. Sometimes I retell the story with Jacob using a jesting tone, almost teasing Esau and Esau going along for the ride, until he realizes that Jacob is serious. Some translations observe Jacob extorting Esau when Esau’s in a terrible position, so hungry he’s not really understanding what Jacob’s about. Whatever Esau’s responsibilities, Jacob’s done wrong, and Jacob knows it, for he does not sleep easily on his stone pillow that night. Instead, Jacob has a dream of the holy moving around on earth, not being up in the heavens and separated from the earth, but traveling around freely, angels and the Breath of Life, YHWH (Genesis 28:12-14). In this dream, Jacob comes to understand that he has a birthright, a blessing from Life. He awakes exclaiming, “Surely G-d was in this place and I did not know it.”

Some days I find it easy to be Jacob, convinced that no blessing – or few of them that might amount to what the ancient Israelites would have called a birthright and today we might call human rights (the terms aren’t synonymous, but analogous, so if this analogy doesn’t work for you, find one that does) – exists for me or for so many of the people I meet. But one of the meanings I take from this story is that I have to, like Jacob before me, turn my attention to how the holy is in this place and how I did not know it.

Paying attention to how the holy is already with us and we are with the Breath of Life, filled with the Breath of Life, all our days, is one of those humble spiritual practices that can travel the globe and every way of being in this world. One of us might be drawn to the soughing trees and hear the Breath of Life stirring those leaves. Another of us might see the holy among the folks who rise in the darkness to go and glean from backyard fruit trees and neighborhood parks or out along the harvested fields to bring fresh food to hungry people. We might meet the holy in a shared song, as the Breath of Life moves through us and joins us together. We might meet the holy leaning into the shoulder of one who is with us where we are right then, without judgment and with whole-hearted love. 

This is also our birthright: the holy is with us and we are with the holy, in this place, whether this place is a prison cell or a palace, a flooded field or one ripening with grain, the people we’ve come to know as family and the strangers we’ve come to know as friends. All our days, the Breath of Life is with us and we with it. The question then is: what shall we do with this birthright?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2030s & Vital Unitarian Universalism

Some of us gathered for a first #uuya tweetchat  Tuesday July 12. The 2030s Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Atlanta lead the chat, sharing their successful model. 2030s has just launched a website to help support and encourage other communities in developing healthy religious community with and for young adults.

Key learning from the tweetchat:
·      Regular times to gather matter. 2030s started with a monthly lunch that quickly became a weekly event.
·      2030s orients their programming 75% social/ 25% classes & covenant groups. They don’t have organizational meetings; they focus their energy and time on having diverse events at different times that permit a larger group (about 400 on their email list) participate as people have time and inclination. As Chance Hunter noted, “The main thing is to do something, anything that’s low maintenance, regularly. And don’t expect the same people every time.”
·      Covenant groups for young adults matter. Peer-to-peer sharing of faith and life experiences in a place that’s truly supportive makes a real difference to feeling part of the community. These covenant groups met bi-weekly. (Several folks mentioned experiences where older members of the congregation treated young adults in demeaning or dismissive ways – and one reason why a peer group was even more important.)
·      Young adults need to be part of the whole worshipping community. Offering brief mid-week messages is something many yearned for, but haven’t seen. See the 5-minute spirit video challenge.
·      Young adults need to be part of leadership and leadership development. 2030s worked with the UUCA Board to intentionally integrate young adults in leadership and to continue to cultivate young adults for whole congregation leadership.
·      Competence in web technologies isn’t everything, but it does send strong signals of caring for people who have their first and regular contact with a religious community through electronic media. Tumblr is one community in which more religious people need to engage.

Many participants made commitments to specific actions on nurturing vital Unitarian Universalism, which means one that also speaks to and involves young adults. We’ll be connecting again via #uuya Tweetchat Tuesday, July 26, 8:30pm ET(US). Come on over and join the conversation, share what’s working, find support from others also on the journey!

5-Minute Spirit Challenge

Tweetchatting last night with a group of folks who know Unitarian Universalism and young adults go together, one of the hopes that came out from Spirituality & Sunflowers, is for more mid-week five-minute video homilies. I’ll expand that in two ways: five minutes of spirit from all kinds of religious leaders. That means you.

Here’s my contribution this week, Pausing for Breath:

I’m sure you can do something wonderful. Putting together a five-minute spirit video doesn’t have to be time, labor, or money intensive. Make your videos mobile viewing grade and load them onto the many free video sharing sites. Then let the world know through other social media – like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and RSS webfeeds of all kinds.

A little mid-week spirit helps all of us keep hoping and keep working for greater goodness in this world. The more voices who contribute a little spirit, the more we’ll be making a good difference.

Tag, you’re it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Proving Love is a Transforming Power

I believe that the purpose and theological heart of Unitarian Universalism is transforming this world through love for merciful justice. That heart means we measure success by how much of an effect we’re having in that work. How well we faith is about equipping us for the spiritually difficult work of ending evil and encouraging good. Measuring success by how many big donors, by social approval, and by holding power in systems that perpetuate injustice is not why we’re here. Everything we do as people of faith, our souls, are risked in how well we’re transforming this world through love for merciful justice.

That’s why I’m still excited about what the 2010 General Assembly voted to do in 2012: we have a chance to live faithfully in a way that is measurable in transforming this world by love, in solidarity with communities affected directly by immigration injustice.  The work of transforming love is the work of our Association of Congregations and of every individual.

Unitarian Universalists were invited to attend to this work in Arizona June 2012 by local partners PuenteAZ and NDLON (National Day Laborers Organizing Network). We recognized the difficulties many of us will face to participate and have been working on establishing teams and support resources to make as diverse a group of participants present as possible.

More still needs to be done. The kind of  faithful partnership we’ve committed ourselves to requires showing up being spiritually prepared and with experience of working with local partner communities affected by injustice.

Building capacity for the crossing borders work in just under a year is something we need to be practicing in even more intensive and bigger, more inclusive ways, as of now. We’re not doing this as a legacy creator for our faith or because it is good for some people or congregations, or because of financial prudence. We’re committed to crossing borders and working in partnership with communities suffering from immigration injustice because our faith tells us it is the moral thing to do. Surely we wouldn’t sell our consciences or our souls for a particular dollar figure. Surely we’re not so desperate for public attention that we’ll fail to pay attention to what our partners need from us. Surely we’re not so fragile spiritually that we cannot accept the risks and sacrifices ahead and know well that they are worthy ones.

Building capacity for crossing borders means:
identifying and developing real partnerships today with local communities suffering from immigration injustice;
creating broad coalitions and conversations so we benefit from a diversity of experiences and opinions in shaping the arc of justice;
practicing spiritually what strengthens us when we meet violence, resistance, hatred, oppression, and spiritual, emotional, and physical risks;
encouraging one another in faithful solidarity and response with the families that are desperate and separated from each other, from the displaced and dispossessed seeking safety, work, food, and water, and from those enduring human rights abuses;
giving thanks every moment along the way that we have a calling to be people of love in a time when this world so deeply needs that.

How will you build the capacity for crossing borders and risking faithfully to end immigration injustice in your immediate area, in our wider world, and in preparation for Justice General Assembly 2012?

What inspiring stories, songs, prayers, meditations, and other spiritual practices that will equip us to endure the spiritual trials ahead?

What are your local partners suffering from immigration injustice asking of you? How are you responding?

In a month, three months, six months, nine months, and a year, what measurable effects will practicing this risky faith for love creating immigration justice have in your local, regional, national, and global communities?

It is up to us to prove that love can be a truly transforming power in today’s world, that love is humble, persistent, strong, resilient, and a soul force for change.

Being the Love People

Preaching to the Universalist Convention of 1853, T.P. Abell asked the delegates what our purpose was as a people of faith. Abell answered,

Based in infinite benevolence, it [our purpose] must necessarily become effective through the ministry of love. This is its source, its nature, and its end. It inculcates no doctrine, embodies no principle, applies no motive, encourages no hope, announces no result which is not…with love…It remains to us, in the pursuance of our great purpose, as the chief burden of our labor to show the sufficiency and safety of love, not only redeeming for earth, but in sanctifying for heaven; that by this principle, there is salvation, and that without it there is no salvation.

What T. P. Abell asked the convention now, and the question Unitarian Universalists can live faithfully by continuously checking our words and deeds against that question, is how we shall be the love people?

Abell isn’t remembered in our Universalist Unitarian histories. He’s become one of the great and larger many who found a faith worth living each day, a faith that challenged him and his communities to act differently, to pray differently, to worship differently, to vote differently, to live each day in every way differently from the dominant social message that said then and says now that being comfortable is a sign of being divinely favored, consigning those uncomfortable to hell, and those already comfortable to fear of falling into disgrace and vigorously defending their comfort.

The ministry of love demands accountability and risk. It isn’t any easy way of faith, or even a particularly comfortable way of faith. A ministry of love transforms and aligns our personal preferences and desires to that which is needful for and celebratory of the whole and our calling into greater goodness. When we’re living for love, as lovers of life, we’re risking our whole selves to make sure love’s presence is known and apparent, transforming our cities, our planet, and our spirits.

Who are our partners beyond our faith families, in our larger communities, for the ministry of love? If we’re truly partners in practice, then we pay attention not only to the gifts and concerns we bring into that partnership, but those of our partners. When we’re part of larger coalitions – even if that larger coalition arose from within the Unitarian Universalist faith community and grew – that means paying attention to all our partners, not just the ones saying what we most like to hear. 

The ministry of love is a ministry that belongs to all of us as a people of faith. It cannot be primarily or preferentially the work of one group or subsection of specially designated people, people with particular advantages, authority, or blessings, or only for people who've been marginalized and oppressed. The ministry of love also calls us to pay special attention to those who have been and are marginalized and oppressed, because the very experiences of oppression and marginalization are experiences of love being denied, of grace being stripped away, of justice being a weapon rather than blessing, of gifts being crushed, of spirits being broken. Where else would love want to be most in love's transforming work than with and being part of the communities who are in trial and tribulation? Love saves not by spending most of love's time and energy with the relatively comfortable and those who have power and privilege. Love saves by being with people who are perishing and threatened, in every condition and place.

The ministry of love asks us to submit and carry our preferences, our tastes, our wounds, our burdens, and our weariness and not ask others to carry them. If we’re living faithfully, those with who we risk faithfully, our partners in practice and around particular strategies, will sometimes be able to meet and attend our stuff too. But as a people called by and to transforming love, we need to not expect others to be like us, but for us to stretch and strive and live fully with those unlike ourselves in support, celebration, and shared calling.

The love people have work today and every day that is spiritually demanding and risky work. We are asked to give our whole selves over to the work of transforming love. In solidarity with diverse communities around particular issues, in attending to the work of reconciliation and renewal, in celebrating the gifts and blessings of every being and ensuring that each can share those for greater goodness, we’re asked to live humbly, not as people in the center of things, visible and remembered for particular histories, but as people who are part of the great change future ages can tell wonderful stories about. Like T.P. Abell, we need not have our names remembered to know we’ve had an effect, and we need receive no rewards or recognition  to be pleased and honored to live as humble instruments for transforming love.

May today we live even more fully into being the love people, for heaven and earth knows, we need every one hauling together to create a world filled with mercy, justice, compassion, ecological health, peace, and joy.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Wider (Digital) Circle

Digital delegates, non-local congregations, and the ways social media and digital ministry are changing how we practice faith was a theme that emerged from this year’s Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly. Existing congregations, individuals, and people seeking religious communities all can learn more about how we can be practicing faith in this emerging age of high creativity, community creation, and generosity.

A Cloud of Witnesses
The Association of Congregations has recognized for some time now that the cost of
sending delegates is prohibitive for some of our congregations. We have been testing a virtual delegate presence, as a way to widen the circle of democratic practice and participation. Virtual delegates could speak on and vote on issues and were able to watch, via livestream, the whole debate. This kind of inclusion does still need people on-site to facilitate the inclusive practice, so let’s give thanks this year for that team. Moderator Gini Courter introduces the Virtual Delegate Support Team –  half of the team introduced in this video: Charlie Behrens, Christopher Wulff, Adrian Hilliard, and Mark Steinwinner 

UUA General Assembly Offsite Delegates from UU World on Vimeo.
What strategies can your religious community practice in order to widen the circle of participation and inclusion? 

If you are part of an existing community, how might you increase your participation in the larger community through digital connections?
If you are an individual, how would digital democracy affect your faith and your life?

Open Congregations

Peter Bowden, of  UU Growth, UU Planet, and UUTV  interviews Abbey Tennis and John Hawkins of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations Board of Trustees.

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations Board of Trustees has been reflecting on what it means to be a congregation – essentially, what it is to be a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In that, we have to talk about what practices of faith are in different places, what’s shared with digital religion and with town commons religion, and what’s different.

Where was the energy in the conversation?

Which practices of faith are central to being Unitarian Universalist?

How do you imagine a congregation that isn’t primarily or ever within a set of physical walls?

How can we create vibrant, diverse congregations?

What kind of communities do you feel most part of, valued in, and where you can contribute your greatest gifts for goodness?

Social Media & Changing Faith

Different ways of practice reflect differing values. Social media both shapes and is shaped by some values that can challenge and change the way we’ve practiced faith in the age of expensive wisdom sharing and designating authority. Broadcast and print media both have large fixed costs that have only recently been challenged. Because of those costs, authority to speak, create, risk, and share was much more limited. Through the low cost of social media, the circle has been dramatically widened – and authority shifts – causing theological, ethical, and cultural changes and challenge.

Dan Harper and Scott Wells shared some time about that challenge in this blog reflection.

Victoria Weinstein, Meg Riley, Andrea Lerner, and Stefan Jonassan talked about taking risks with social media and creating a friendly presence. The UU World posted a piece about their workshop.
  What practices of social media might you and your community risk faithfully?

 Changing Faithfully
We’re in a time of big and rapid changes. As the ways we communicate change, as authority widens and democratic practices and access become more accessible to more people, as more of us can create, share, and connect, how will our faithing change? What do we need to learn?  What existing ethics, theology, and practices do we connect to digital religion and the wider circle of inclusion?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Introducing Addictions Ministry

One of the things that happens at the Unitarian Universalist annual meeting – General Assembly – is a sharing of resources for leaders, individuals, and congregations. A ministry well worth spreading the good word about is the Unitarian Universalist Addictions Ministry. Here’s a brief video introducing that ministry, made by Peter Bowden of UU Growth, UU Planet, and UUTV.

UUA Addiction Ministry Team from UU World on Vimeo.

Peter Bowden asks, “What’s the relevance of this ministry for our congregations?” Therissa Libby responds that when Addictions Ministry Team members visit a congregation and ask for volunteers to name that they’re affected by addiction, 75% of congregation members respond affirmatively. If 75% of your congregation is facing a particular life issue, won't your community want to direct care and resources to that?

Congregations can create addiction ministries. There are wonderful recovery networks and supports, thanks to the wider Recovery Movement. Congregations can help with the spiritual side of recovery, with space and support, and with understanding and appreciating both addiction and the practices of recovery, for the whole family and community.

Connecting Unitarian Universalism to Twelve Step programs has been a personal journey for individuals. But as more and more Unitarian Universalist families live with addiction and seek to practice recovery, the connections become easier to name and claim. Rev. Dennis Meacham’s Addiction Ministry Handbook is a resource that needs to be on every religious professional’s shelf and in every congregational library. The Unitarian Universalist Addictions Ministry Network offers many wonderful resources.

September is National Recovery Month. Why not connect with the Unitarian Universalist Addictions Ministry now to offer some programs, devotional resources, and ways to develop, strengthen, or begin an addiction ministry in your congregation and area?

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Heart of Who We Are - Moderator's Report 2011

Moderator Gini Courter delivered her report to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly 2011 on the last day, in the last session of that Assembly, when a number of delegates and attendees had already left. 

Her report has three important messages: 

  • how we govern our congregations, 
  • how we tell the story of our living faith, and 
  • how we plan to tell a bigger and even more diverse story. 

Even if you were there, the segment 4:24:05-5:08:35 bears watching and close attention:

Watch live streaming video from uuaga at

(4:24:05 – 5:08:35)

How Do We Govern Our Congregations?
Where does authority for decisions come from in our congregations and our Association of Congregations? Gini Courter reminds us, “the authority for our governance comes from the people.” What are the ways you’ve participated in and practiced that authority?

Every organization of people needs some form of governance. Gini Courter names three types of religious polity (governance): Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational. What are the three differences?

Gini Courter observes, “In our polity, there’s no higher up [for authority], there’s deeper down.” What do you think she means? How does a congregation reach deeper down in times of crisis, discernment, and calls for justice?

There are many teaching traditions and languages of reverence among Unitarian Universalists around the globe. One thing the congregations that make up the Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States is how we practice democracy. Gini Courter says, “the vision for our religion comes from the people. There is nothing more fundamental for our religious life than this understanding, right here…” How does our shared democracy reflect and affect our living faith together and in our local communities?

What’s the purpose of leadership? Of congregations? Moderator Courter says, “..the purpose of elected leadership in our congregations is to facilitate your power…to facilitate the ministry of the laity, to power and equip lay folks – like you and like me, to build marvelous new tomorrows, and to make real their aspirations. It is the voice of the laity – your voice, the voice in this hall – that creates and shapes Unitarian Universalism. It is the inspiration of our religious professionals to shape and to guide and encourage those visions and those aspirations, to ask us to reach deeper, to reach further, to imagine more, and to make that vision real.” What’s your community’s vision? How are your leaders empowering people and facilitating making that vision real?

An association of congregations like ours is one where every congregation has responsibilities for and with every other congregation. Sing #143 “As Tranquil Streams” – substituting the older words “our fellowships unite” instead of “our hearts and minds unite”. What difference does that make as you reflect on the responsibilities of our congregations to one another?

Gini Courter referenced the Orlando Platform in passing in her report. How does this document recall us to shared vision and leadership as people of faith, to care for each religious community and among communities, and to telling a whole history, reflective of the people’s vision and commitment?

How Do We Tell The Story Of Living Faith?

Gini Courter reported, “The way we tell our stories, it’s often a story of individuals, the lists of names and dates. It’s not a bad start, but it’s not the whole story. We need to tell a history that’s full and fair, a history both wide and deep, a history that’s a proud succession of individuals who’ve always accomplished important things, but we must remember: our richest history is a people’s history.”

Reflect on the history of Unitarian Universalism you know. How much of that history reflects a people working for a particular vision, empowered and facilitated by leadership?

What stories do you want to learn, tell, and share that are our Unitarian Universalist people’s history?

“It is critical, then,” Moderator Courter tells us,  “that we learn to paint a vision that includes everyone – not just who we talk about, but includes everyone in the vision. Our story is not a list of president, a list of delegate resolution, not a list of hands-on justice events. Our story is the story of all of us. We need the vision of all of us, the passion of all of us, the wisdom of all of us. We need all of us to represented when we tell our story.”

How does your community recognize and honor the ministry of every person? Of the whole? How is your religious community telling the story of living faith?

How Do We Plan And Live Into A Bigger Story?

Moderator Courter apologizes for not realizing earlier that one of our challenges in planning is who’s involved in planning living into that bigger story. She said, “In telling a flat story about who we are what we do and in asking folks who do a great job doing one thing now to do a totally different thing – folks who by & large were elected to do one thing, now having to do a new thing – one of the things I find is there a point at which we need to say that we asked too much.” Then she introduced members of the Phoenix Justice General Assembly Accountability Team and the many, many people involved to make any General Assembly work.

What’s your experience of not having the experiences and voices needed to fully live into the big story of our Unitarian Universalist vision – one humanity, one world, holy and healed?

Experiences of racism and other forms of exclusion are part of the history of how we’ve not lived fully into the faithful story we’re trying to live. Moderator Courter reminded the delegates that experiences of racism our youth and young adults of color had at our 2005 Fort Worth, TX General Assembly were formative experiences just like the experiences of racism from our 1993 Charlotte, NC General Assembly. We have learned, and we still have a long way to go. How shall we not let down our youth and young adults in living the biggest most diverse story of our faith?

Gini Courter asks, “How shall we create a congregation that reflects the diversity in our setting, the diversity where we are located? Where are we located, my friends, everywhere, right? So our job is to create the diversity of everywhere in Unitarian Universalism. Do you see the diversity of everywhere here yet? No, it’s not…(learning from the Rev. Dr. Jacquline Lewis) What she said is, if you’re planning on doing something new and different – and particularly if it is going to be something she calls multi-ulti, multiclass, multiage, multiracial, multiethnicity, multigender – then the group who plans needs to reflect the diversity you want to be….You have to plan with the diversity you want to see, because that’s how you’re accountable from the beginning.”

How is your community working to live fully the diversity of where you’re located? Who’s involved in planning the ways to live that full diversity?

After looking back at the past fifty years, where the history we’ve often told is exclusionary and not fully living into our theology or our justice commitment, we need to do things differently for the next fifty. Moderator Courter reminds us, “If we’re going to build the GA we need in Phoenix, we can’t wait…we need the passion of all of us. We need the wisdom of all of us. Everybody has to know that they will be part of the story for the next fifty years.”

How are you and your whole community building capacity and nurturing the wisdom of all of us? What preparation are you making? What successes and learning can you share? How are you making sure everyone is part of the great story of faith we’re living?