Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Homemade Holiday

We are going to experience our first snow during the holidays here in Wisconsin. I have to say hearing the Christmas carols near Thanksgiving at least felt more authentic in the frozen Midwest as opposed to the balmy South. Still I hate this rush to move from holiday to holiday. The retail stores seem to lay in wait like a cat ready to pounce on every ounce of holiday sentiment they can wring out of you. It doesn't matter if it is Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice or Kawanza, retailers are equal oppurtunity exploiters. The more holidays people celebrate the more target audiences it seems.

With that in mind, I was almost relieved when my husband had discovered he'd left all of our boxes of decorations at his mother's house. We had managed to get the tree up, but had no lights or ornaments to decorate with. So my oldest son and I got to work. Thanks to some quick searches for printable ornaments we got some neat Celtic designs, some snowflakes, bells and other cool designs. He spent a good bit of time coloring and I did a little coloring of celtic knots myself. Afterwards we found some of our card board recycling and cut backing for the ornaments. With a little glue, creative hole punching and yarn we had wonderful and inspired ornaments. To add a little more shiny to the tree I also pulled out some of our antique cookie cutters and hung them on the tree with yarn.

This is our first tree without some lights and ornaments with "history." We haven't yet hung out strings of popcorn and cranberry, but we've found our own simplicity and satisfaction in decorating. It feels simple, homemade, and not the product of some retail design. My son is very proud of his efforts and has claimed them for his own one day. This is one small way we are bringing more Light back into our holiday festivities!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do you have Snow-fu?

We are the proud new owners of snow shovels. A big one for Karl and I and two small ones for the boys. So far I have been assured that a snow blower may only be necessary once or twice a year. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on that, if you have snow-fu. Snow-fu is like Kung Fu only you kick butt with your knowledge of winter.

One day I will too have Snow-Fu. First I must ice on and ice off. Second I must survive one Wisconsin winter. Third I will learn when to plant bulbs before the freeze. There are probably steps I am missing.

I love Eau Claire. Yes, I am a South Carolina girl wondering where you put your shoes when you walk around in snow boots. Do you carry them in a bag?

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Standing before the world
Standing before the precipice
It is the moment of recognition
The moment of waiting has ended
Ministry is here and now
The hands have touched your forehead
The hands have reached from one to the other
From young to old, large to small - we are reaching
reaching to ordain a person
reaching to the world with another clear call
that there is work to do
that there is brokenness
there is healing in one more hand
one more light
one more voice

This call is a moment in time
but the call echoes onward
to be answered and heeded
and ever remembered.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Holidays don't wait.

My kids don't get the gimmes from commercials, they grab the circulars from Toys R Us from the Sunday paper apparently. They are circling toys they want right now. There is no escape!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ordination and Installation

Sunday at 4PM I will start a service as Julianne and end it as Rev. Julianne Lepp - the installed minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Eau Claire.

Congregational bathrooms have been remodelled, my diploma is being hung and I have new shelves for my office. There is a new sign front with the chalice designed for my ordination theme. There are so many changes and yet there are services beyond this one that need planning and meetings, of course. There are children that need to go to bed on time and homework that needs checking. So many checks and balances in this rich life.

The planning for this has been much like a wedding. We will have flowers and music. We have guest lists and people descending from many places. It will be holy. It will be lovely.

This is everything I have prepared for these years of seminary, internship, and chaplaincy. I am prepared, yet I will not know fully that path until I stand there. I will not know that charge until I hear it. I will not know that mantle until it is given.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Would John (Lennon) Do? WWJD?

We are all born in the miraculous circumstance of birth, tears, and that first breath and wail to the world.

Hopefully our births are accompanied by loving voices and soft light. In an almost prophetic nod to his future peace work John Lennon was born amid the noise of Hitler's bombs and was serenaded air raid sirens. His mother also gave him the middle name Winston in tribute to Prime Minister Churchill. The Liverpool docklands were a primary target for Germany's Luftwaffe. Air raids were commonplace and sirens wailed warning of an attack on the 9th October, 1940 as Julia Lennon gave birth to John Lennon. Night after night German bombs rained down on Liverpool and often Julia, her newborn baby and her family took refuge in a nearby makeshift bomb shelter. John Lennon's Aunt Mimi ran to the event of his birth ignoring the bombastic dangers. She said, "I knew the moment I first set eyes on John that he was going to be something special."

John Lennon has been mythologized and canonized in both life and death. Yet the break up of the Beatles was often embodied by childish aggression. Despite being a childhood bully, making fun of those with disabilities, an avowed womanizer, aggressive and jealous in his relationships and a general jerk in many ways- John Lennon was also a talented cartoonist, brilliant musician and song writer, a creative visionary, and one would even say a prophetic voice for peace and justice. He definitely walked the flawed walk of many tragic heroes. Though John Lennon was not imbued with supernatural powers, he and the Beatles earned the love and admiration of a generation in the 60's. In an article written about Lennon by Martin Lewis he said, “The appreciation for him deepened because he decided to use his celebrity as a bully pulpit for causes greater than his own enrichment and self-aggrandizement. For several key years in the late 60's and early 70's, Lennon and Yoko Ono turned their lives into a virtual “Truman Show” to promote the issues they believed in.”

There is the Lennon legacy of an astonishing body of music. Lennon was unafraid to explore his struggles with jealousy, suicidal depression, and even heroin addiction in the later song “Cold Turkey.” After the painful revelations of scream therapy, he also spoke of relationships. In the song Mother he said in plain heartbreaking words, “ had me..but I never had you, I needed you – but you didn't need me.” He set in the music a repeating plea of Mama don't go and Daddy come home. Those plain howls of pain had not been heard in popular music. In his history of interviews and relationships John Lennon was an achingly honest kind of guy. He later regretted some of his honesty and accessibility in interviews. Yet in the latter stages of his career by choosing to set his life and music in the stage of art, Lennon seemed to make a conscious decision to live in the raw moment of truth and revelation. Lennon said, “You're just left with yourself all the time, whatever you do anyway. You've got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It's all down to you, mate.”

I think the best heroes are the ones that inspire us to find our own inner hero. The hero that calls us to something greater and larger than ourselves, multiplies their own actions and the affects ripple onward and onward. When we move beyond looking for a savior – we might just save ourselves – and who know's - maybe the world.
John Lennon's song God called this out, He sang

God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I'll say it again
God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in Kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me...and that reality

At the core of his seeking, John Lennon called us to become our own hero. He called us to wake and tune in. He called us to save ourselves from our own lethargy. John looked for “The Answer”in music,through teachers, lust and conquests, through drugs, through gurus and pilgrimages, and material pleasure. Ultimately in the throes of painful therapy, I believe John Lennon boiled it down to himself. He had to find the answer within before he could truly act in the world with integrity.
John Lennon was certainly a hero for many. He inspired many.

On December 16th 1969 huge billboards appeared in Times Square New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Montreal, Tokyo, and Port of Spain, Trinidad spelling out in plain black type “WAR IS OVER if you want it, Happy Christmas, John and Yoko.
We ask, “What Would John Lennon Do?”
All You Need is Love....All You Need is Love..Love...Love is all you Need

Piedmont Park was covered with something besides pollen one hot day this summer. Youths, parents, and activists marched, sang, and supported the gay and Jewish community with signs saying “God loves Glitter” and “Peace, Love, and Tolerance.” Of course, we had our Standing on the Side of Love signs! I saw some fellow seminary students carried signs saying “God is love!”
Thursday afternoon a lot of teens from Grady High School in Atlanta and community activists converged into a wonderful counter-witness to the hate-filled messages of Westboro Baptist Church. The church members had horrible signs, “God Hates Jews”, “Fags Hate God”, and other horrible language. A youth from Grady High School found out that Westboro would be protesting at their school so she helped to organize a counter-protest. Over 800 people responded on Facebook and there were hundreds that came.

We took this moment to bring our Standing on the Side of Love signs and join other faith groups, local teens, and activist in a peaceful witness to love. It was a great day to see the power of all ages and types of people coming together in spite of hate. It was a testament to the power of people gathered in the name of love.

What Would John Do? All I can do is think that he would not stand silent. He would still be witnessing to that inner struggle for truth and The Answer that he sought for so long. I think John would not be silent on the Gulf. I imagine he would support the right for all to marry. I would hope that he would have kept creating, inspiring, loving,and acting from the core of his not so perfect being.

All we need is love. Imagine. Give Peace a Change. Come Together...Right Now. May it be so.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reflections on Yom Kippur

The sound of the shofar is synonymous with Yom Kippur. For me, the sound says "Pay Attention!"

Think of a moment recent or far past that you have paused to listen. Think of a moment when you have paused at all, paused to hear that inner voice – paused to recognize the holy - - paused to recognize the man beside you, the child within you, the brush of grass against your skin. In these moments we glimpse something beyond a blinking screen or quick sound bite. We connect. We are a part of something bigger. It takes these moments to move to deeper moments or we are stuck in perpetual shallow living. We are stuck in the wants of now and a land of no regret. I know that can be an easy place to reside, but it does not deepen and indeed leads to eventual pain.

Yom Kippur is a time of concentration on the past so that the future may have better return. Yom Kippur calls persons to look beyond simply becoming better individuals, but also becoming a better human community.

If you have done a wrong, ask forgiveness. If you can find forgiveness for others, give it. We are connected in relationships of all kinds. We have neighbors, friends, teachers, co-workers, children, lovers.

We all have behaviors that we can examine. I can think of so many things about which I could ask forgiveness, yet I often let them pass. I could ask my children to forgive my impatience after a long day. I could ask my dog Baldur to forgive me for not walking him as often as he needs. Yet if I am too busy writing my sermon, posting on Facebook, and doing everything but paying attention to the persons I am with, then I miss this opportunity. I miss an opportunity to connect.

I am missing the holy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Beneath a dream in time
She scatters her words like breadcrumbs on a swirling current

Eyelids close and she whispers her face towards the sun
for that one moment of innocence
that one frozen time in the spotlight

Water colors
a summer without borders

Beneath a dream in time
She pushes the overstuffed stroller

A child strapped in
A life strapped together

This moment in time.
When another face meets hers. Eyelashes flutter like hot feet on a

looking for a stray sprinkler.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What I miss...What I love...

I remember the "What I love...What I miss..." game from my childhood. There always seemed to be a need to make lists, distinctions and categories when I was younger. Perhaps I need that boundary now. A new ministry is such a change and such a transition that maybe checking a few boxes is a healthy thing.

What I miss about Atlanta is -

Twelve years of relationships and community
A great chiropractor, pediatrician, and dentist
comfortable connections
Blackberry mead
My spiritual places of renewal
Dogwood trees
sweet tea!!

What I love about Eau Claire is -

I can get anywhere in less than 15 minutes
A fantastic farmer's market
the warm people
my new Credit Union
My lovely congregation -the people - the building
I have the best office manager EVER
The Episcopal church bells that ring RIGHT in the middle of annoucements on Sunday morning. OK - I love them every time, but then.

I know what cheese curds and walleye are now. I like cheese curds. I haven't been brave enough to try walleye yet.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Prayer of Welcome

When you are called unworthy
When you are called unreliable
When you stand at the edge

You are Welcome

When you need community
When you need silence
When you want to sing high

You are Welcome

When no one meets your eyes
When no one calls your name
When you need a door to open

You are Welcome

When you reach for peace
When you reach for a hand
When you need to open a door

You are Welcome

We have all been strangers
We have all needed welcome
We all need to hear the words

You are Welcome

Thursday, July 29, 2010

For those in Arizona...

We light a candle for our fellow UU's and protestors that sit in jail tonight in Arizona. We also light a candle for those that will be arrested with little press and fanfare - those whose rights are jeopardized and unrecognized. We light a candle that each voice raised in hope will make a difference, just enough of a difference to dowse the voice of hate...the voice of oppression...and the power of apathy.

As UU's we live our values in the world, because we can do no less. Rise up, speak out, and be the change in the world. We can do no less and there is a need for so much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The spiritual practice of moving

I had imagined that moving was going to be rigorous and would pull all those lazy scholar muscles that have not been in use during seminary. Moving has also moved my mind. It has moved my social location. It has moved my imagination and even my dreams. This has been wonderful and disorienting, sad and exciting. Humans are such a bundle of contradictions.

Boxes are piled to the ceiling around my head and the accomplishment of the day is having a clean kitchen counter. The spiritual accomplishment is a sense of cleaning out. I am cleaning out old things. I am reviewing old letters. I am letting go and holding on. There this tug of new and old and it feels right. It feels like positive growth.

Bless these changes. Bless my hands for lifting and carrying and letting go. Bless all those who make this possible.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Question of Salvation....

Since Unitarian Universalism does not approach faith from a foundational set of truths, I believe the concept of salvation can be observed in the practice and values of the community. It is witnessed by the life of faith community, how it worships, how the community is self-governed, and how the community carries its faith into the world. Unitarian Universalism is a faith community that upholds the tenets of interdependence and the inherent worth of every person in word and in practice. Unitarian Universalist congregations are highly covenanted communities. While the individual faith and life journey is upheld, it is upheld within the idea of a world community that rises or falls together. There is a recognition of intimate interconnectedness to the whole of life and the importance of each individual that makes the whole. The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism is the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. This makes an argument for remodeling a salvation framework that is not individual, but based on the interrelatedness and ultimately the interdependence of the community.

A sermon on the topic -

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dancing on Daddy's Feet

Dancing On Daddy's Feet - in honor of upcoming Father's Day

(Excerpted from a Father's Day sermon I delivered two years ago)

According to Hallmark research there are 102 million cards in circulation about now – that is the number of Father’s Day cards expected to be given this year in the United States, making Father’s Day the fifth-largest card-sending occasion. I remember asking my mom, when I was little, why there wasn't a “Children's Day?” Her predictable response was that everyday is Children's Day. She said moms, dads, and grandparents deserve one day of the year that they get a special day. The idea of Father’s Day was conceived by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, while she listened to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Dodd wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart, a widowed Civil War veteran who was left to raise his six children on a farm. A day in June was chosen for the first Father’s Day celebration—June 19, 1910, proclaimed by Spokane’s mayor because it was the month of William Smart’s birth.

Dodd corrected the imbalance of honoring fathers, by communicating her support for her father as an important part of her life. Society has often relegated dads to the back of the parenting wagon.The tranformation of expectation of fathers in the twentieth century alone was tremendous. There is an expectation that fathers participate more in the process of raising children and be more involved in the day-to-day family life. Sometimes the role of nurturer is blended when the dad assumes more of the traditional care roles, and the other parent works. There are families where both parents are dads – how does the expectation appear then? I find it strange that while society has slowly moved the image and expectation of fatherhood more in sync family rhythms, children's toys still reflect a bias that girls will nurture and that boys will do. I want to see more boys' family life toys. If we want men that can nurture, then let us nurture that.

Expectation can be detrimental when communication or action doesn't happen. From the book “A Chosen Faith: An Introduction To Unitarian Universalism,” John Buehrens recounts the first Thanksgiving that he and his wife Gwen celebrated. He thought there were too many people, too many friends, and too much food. Gwen seemed to think it wasn't enough, not enough people, not enough recipes – she didn't want anything ommited. He had been asked to carve the turkey, something he had never done before. With good humor, he donned his apron and went to it. Much to his unhappiness his later reward was his wife bursting into tears. In her family the turkey was brought to the table and laid before the paterfamilias, grace is said, and then is carved. John cut it up in the kitchen. In response to his wife's tears John hollered, “So I fail patriarchy, what do you expect?” What a terrific question! What is expected of men, of fathers?

There are an estimated 66.3 million fathers in the United States today. What does that look like? We've all seen the commercials, the ideal portrayal of the involved dad, or the successful dad. What is the real picture of fatherhood? Is it the classic tale of throwing the football with the kids in the backyard and the white-toothed grinning dad who's grilling burgers on the back deck? Is fatherhood the single dad trying to get off in time to make his daughter's PTA meeting? Currently there are 2.3 million single dads with children under 18, up from 400,000 in 1970. Among single parents living with their children, 18 percent are men. What about the stay- at-home dad that organizes his kid's activities through his Blackberry? There are an estimated 143,000 “stay-at-home” dads. Fatherhood is not one stereotype or picture.

Then there are the dads that the media has given us. We've had iconic dads like Steve Douglas on My Three Sons to horrific nightmare dads like Darth Vader. There were the '70s dads Archie Bunker and George Jefferson. In the 1980's there was Al Bundee or even more underwhelming, Homer Simpson. Of course, let's not forget Doctor Huckstable from the Cosby Show. Looking at Frazier from the 90's or more recent shows, they seem to focus on the cute family dysfunction. Yet, love or saving action somehow brings them back together. Do happy endings come at the end of every episode? Is this fatherhood?

One literary depiction of fatherhood is in a book that my son got for his birthday called “And Tango Makes Three.” This children's book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo. These same-sexed penguins formed a couple. The pair were observed trying to hatch a rock that resembled an egg. When zookeepers realized that Roy and Silo were both male and could have no viable egg between them, it occurred to them to give them the second egg of a mixed-sex penguin couple. The egg was from a couple which had previously been unable to successfully hatch two eggs at once. Roy and Silo hatched and raised the healthy young chick, a female named "Tango" by keepers, together as a family. This was one of the most controversial books in 2006. Schools tried to get parents to have to sign permission slips for children to read it, and one school moved it to the restricted section.

What about historical father figures? We have Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lost his father at eight and who's own son died at the age of five. He experienced many losses in his life – the loss of his first young wife caused him great spiritual upheaval. I think that this must have colored his parenting and his strong desire for inner strength, personal accountability and rugged individualism. Look at a different historical figure, Joseph Kennedy, who was the strong patriarchal presence of the famous Kennedy family. Having descended from poor irish immigrants, he had ambitiously made it to “the top” and pushed his children towards success. The drives of parents color the formation of their children.

We have all carried baggage from our parents at some time or another. Parents and parenting can certainly be a loaded subject. I actually had three father figures. As many of us have learned either by receiving or doing, there is no perfect parent. Parenting is a akin to mad science: you try different hypothises, add a touch of discipline to the beaker, with a dose of common sense, and a big splash of love, and see what happens... Parenting is messy, because our lives are messy. What works with the first child bombs with the second, and life circumstances change. A job is lost or relationships are strained; the love boat has crashed into a large ice block. We have dads that are involved, those that are over-involved, and those might be absent. With any parent, mother or father, the degrees of skill and presence vary.

Parenting is magical. Your day can be transformed by the transcendent mind of a four-year-old. One morning, I was having a lousy slow-to-wake morning after being up all night with Ehren and my oldest completely turned me around. After breakfast, Kiernan starts serenading me from the kitchen with his homemade "Ballet on Ice" song. He informs me that the kitchen floor is an ice rink and begins twirling and singing. After a few minutes of some lovely twirling he grabs his dump truck. He rides the dump truck rather elegantly, while singing and "dancing" in the truck. He says he has hurt his leg, but he's still doing ballet on ice via his truck. The gift of children is a ticket of transformation and invite into worlds we might only touch when we can shed our adult lens for a while.

Parenting requires some creative conversations. My husband Karl was talking to our four year old son, Kiernan about an eighty-two year old man that had died, and how it was a sad thing. Kiernan promptly announced that he wanted to be 82. Age and death aren't the easiest topic to communicate with pre-schoolers, though the topic had been broached before. Karl explained to Kiernan how long it would take for him to become eighty-two and that he is ten times as old as Kiernan. This caused some thought, and Kiernan looked up at Karl and asked if he would die when he was eighty two? I was glad I wasn't the target for this question, because it is hard to know how to give an answer that is both honest and well-targeted to what a young person can both appreciate and understand. Karl was honest and said that it could happen that late or earlier. Kiernan thought about it, and said “Daddy that's okay. Because you'll be in my dreams just like Yaya.” Yaya is my mom that Kiernan didn't meet because she passed away in 2000. Kiernan has had several dreams about my mother, so that has opened up the words and dialogue we use for life after death conversations.

The largest expectation I looked to in my father figures was safety and protection. In the chaos of my early years, I wanted stability and that was hard to find sometimes. One of my favorite memories as a child was walking on feet. I did this with my dad, my step dad, with my brother and whomever would let me glide on them. I felt like I was riding a giant and I remember feeling very protected and literally uplifed. Dancing on Daddy's feet, didn't have to be my daddy – it was that lighter than air feeling of being in concert with a male figure in my life. It was someone who cared enough to have a tomboy girl, barefoot and grimy-toed dance with her for a while. Those were the moments that made my heart fill up.

Children are not the only ones with expectations. Parents have their share. How we parent at twenty-something can differ greatly after a decade. The expectations of a parent for the first child often differ from the last born. As we age, our relationships with parents hopefully shift to friendship. Though our expectations can get caught in place. We might have trouble adapting our stories about how our parents fit into our lives or we in theirs. Our family of origin can become the binding glue of our ongoing relationship patterns with our own children, our spouses, or how we engage in friendships and congregational life. How we navigate these waters can be a map to the world before us, whether it is making peace, or recognizing the past; whether it is finding new relationship or letting go of the old. As I said earlier, expectation can be disastrous. Since I lost my mother when I was in my twenties, I have made a promise to myself to not live with regret in relationship. I have tried to move past my childhood expectation to reflect on what is now.

What is it that I want in a father as a thirty-four year old mother of two? The answer is, of course, just as complicated as when I was six. Sometimes it would still be nice to be swept up and carried to my bedroom after falling asleep during a movie, sometimes it would be great to dance on daddy's feet. But, I am more blessed with watching my sons boat on granddad's pond or learn about plants in my father's mountain garden. I love to watch Kiernan listening to boating adventures from his uncle Robert. I am able to share bedtime stories from my stepdad and carry on the seeds of activism that he planted in me with my own sons. I am nurtured by exploring the history of my dad's life that I never heard, because I hadn't thought to ask before. It is in the continuation of relationship that I find the blessed feeling of being uplifted.

Dancing on Daddy's feet has become a metaphor in parenting - in finding the magical moments to share with my own children.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hello Eau Claire

Looks like it will be Hello Eau Claire! I was happy to accept their call to be a full-time settled minister with a vote of 100%!

Time to rest.
Time to pack!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hello, Goodbye!

Saturday morning my family and I will hauling ourselves out for a 7AM flight to....Eau Claire(! I'm very excited to be candidating for ministry this coming week in lovely Eau Claire, WI. There will be sunny skies and no to little humidity. Take that Atlanta!

Departures and arrivals are in my future, and that has joy and sadness all mixed together. Transitions are liminal times creating a need to look out for guideposts and solid surfaces. I have had a series of goodbyes at my internship congregation, from my home congregation,and from fellow seminary students. Somehow though I keep running into people unexpectedly and more people have been telling me what a wonderful place Eau Claire and the Midwest are to live. I feel very much like the Beatle's song, "Hello, Goodbye!" On that note - I'm excited to be doing a "Beatles Theology" for perhaps my last sermon at UUMAN( in perhaps a great while. What Would John (Lennon) Do?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Protesting & Perfect Signs (God Loves Glitter) - Standing on the Side of Love in Atlanta

Piedmont park was covered with something besides pollen today. Youths, parents, and activists marched, sang, and supported the gay and Jewish community with signs saying "God loves Glitter" and "Peace, Love, and Tolerance." Of course, we had our Standing on the Side of Love signs! Fellow seminary students carried signs saying "God is love!"

This afternoon a lot of teens from Grady High School in Atlanta and community activists converged into a wonderful counter-witness to the hate-filled messages of Westboro Baptist Church. The church members had horrible signs, "God Hates Jews", "Fags Hate God", and other horrible language. A youth from Grady High School found out that Westboro would be protesting at their school so she helped to organize a counter-protest. Over 800 people responded on Facebook and there were hundreds that came.

We took this moment to bring our Standing on the Side of Love signs and join other faith groups, local teens, and activist in a peaceful witness to love. I really enjoyed meeting some of the parents of the high schoolers that spoke supportively of teen efforts to organize and get their message out. One parent said, "How can I not support my daughter, when she is supporting two friends that came out in high school." This may have been the first protest for many of these teens and they conducted themselves with good spirit and peaceful enthusiasm despite the hateful message they were protesting.

It was a great day to see the power of all ages and types of people coming together in spite of hate. It was a testament to the power of people gathered in the name of love. Even the police doing crowd control couldn't help smiling a little.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Early in life I grasped a sense of the sacred in nature. I sensed something unspoken in the whisper of pines as my eyes strained to see through needles and filtered sunlight. I felt something magical as I broke across the mist in early morning walks in the bend of the Broad river. I didn't need any complicated theology to see the divine and the good in life in those moments. I grew up in Irmo, South Carolina which is a suburb of Columbia. Despite being in a suburb, I was lucky to have miles of woods behind my house. I could hear frogs and crickets in the evenings. I spent sun burnt summer days building forts,and playing flashlight tag among the fireflies and pines. My favorite time was to make my way to the river just as the sun broke the sky and the mist still cast mysterious coverings against the trees. I would sit on river rocks, mindless of mocassins or the rush of the river. I was queen of the river in that moment. I look back on those wild moments of my childhood and taste a freedom I struggle to find again.

There was some elemental understanding of my connection with those woods, that river, and the pulse of life. I would come home baked in mud, my mom would hose us down before she'd let my sister and I back into the house.

Water, earth, air, fire – and spirit. So elemental and basic, yet we lose touch behind our computer screens and the pace of a hurried life. It is easy to think that we can separate ourselves, and remove ourselves from the cycles of nature. Yet the hurricane reminds us. The rainbow reminds us. We must be reminded of our sacred connection, if we can possibly hope to find some balance in our life on this small, blue planet.

David Suzuki writes in The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature ,"Human beings depend on Earth and its life-forms for every aspect of their survival and life. It is impossible to draw lines that delineate separate categories of air, water, soil, and life. You and I don't end at our fingertips or skin - we are connected through air, water, and soil; we are animated by the same energy from the same source in the sky above. We are quite literally air, water, soil energy and other living creatures."

On this 40th Anniversary of Earth Day let us reconnect to this relationship. Let us step outside on a starry night and hope to see some fireflies. Let us think about what we eat and why. Let us think about the small things we can do to save energy, to use sustainable products, and live gently on mother earth.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How we spent Earth Hour...

While we may have been one of the few marking Earth Hour in Marietta, GA - mark it we did. My children were enchanted with the candlelight and it generated some good questions about how our power needs affect the planet. Kiernan is great about turning off lights and often reminds me when I am forgetful. He is an empathetic child and he gets upset when thinking about the planet being harmed by his(our) actions.

Earth Hour reminds us that small efforts can make a difference in climate change, sustainability, and raising awareness. This small spiritual exercise of setting aside an hour of time was helpful in giving me food for thought for an upcoming Earth Day sermon. When we are overwhelmed by phrases like 'catastrophic climate change' and 'devastation of rainforests' we often feel powerless. Yet, small changes in our own lives can make a real impact. Think about how much difference it makes on those grocery trips when you remember to bring bags. How many times will we shop in a lifetime? That is how many times we can make a difference in that small way. My youngest son Ehren is mindful of putting all of his yogurt containers in recycling, and small children eat a lot of yogurt, applesauce, and other asundry containered items. Each container that is reused is less that have to be produced - less pollution from that production etc.

This hour was not only about sustainability, it also reminded me about sustainable time with family. In a consumptive and fast paced world it is important to sit down for some actual face time with one another. Not Facebook, face time.

If you were wondering, Kiernan won the board game by a landslide.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Civil Society

How far does hate go?

Barney Frank, an openly gay senator, is met with gay-hating chants from the Tea Partiers. John Lewis from Georgia is met with the N word, and another representative was spit upon. The discourse on healthcare and politics in general has devolved into hateful name calling and dehumanization.

How far does hate go?

President Obama is featured in a dehumanizing clown face. The taunt rings out, "You lie!" People are yelling down folks at community meetings...

It won't be long before the hate breeds more than violent words. This sort of de-evolution of the ability to communicate with respect is the sort of de-humanizing banter that was the stuff of Civil Rights battles. We can not have civil society if people will not act civil. It takes a great deal of cooperation to have democratic process and to hear one another.

I'm afraid I can't hear much over all the shouting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Standing on the Side of Love at Candler School of Theology

At Candler School of Theology myself and fellow UU students have formed a Unitarian Universalist Student association. To be recognized, one often needs to organize and unify the efforts and action of individuals. We wanted to establish our presence at Candler and set a precedent of welcoming for future UU seminarians. Though some of us have sang in choir and attended Chapel, there has not been a Unitarian Universalist Service at Candler's chapel since 1992. We saw this as something that needed to be corrected.

So we gathered together local ministers and students and brainstormed on a service. The theme of Standing on the Side of love quickly became an apparent choice. With the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, we knew had a topic that would be prophetic and speak to our fellow students and faculty.

The central theme of Universalism calls to a loving God that would not condemn her creation to be separated from fundamental reconciliation with the divine. Unitarian Francis David said "That we must not think alike to love alike!" There is a strong history in both strands of standing up for the rights of slaves, workers, and women.

We had this service on March 18th in Canon Chapel with local UU's attending, along with a good number Candler seminary students and professors. The service was split between students and primarily local clergy graduates from Candler. Myself and a graduate, Lynn Hopkins, did a reflection. Rev. Marti Keller did the central homily and called us to understand our connection to standing up in the face of violence. The convicted voices of Rev. Rhett Butler, Rev. Joan Armstrong, and Rev. Roy Reynolds rang out in the meditation, chalice lighting, and call to worship. Duncan Teague, a current student, sent us off with the holding of hands and hearts. We emphasized our heretical UU history that has always puts always on the leading edge of questioning and standing on the side of justice. We spoke to our spirituality of interconnectedness and the irrefutable human and spiritual connection that calls us to stand up and out. There was a rich connection between the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and its history of racial justice and ties to Martin Luther King, Jr.

We sang Spirit of Life and of course, Standing on the Side of Love. I was proud at how many of my fellow students raised their hands, when I asked if there were other heretics in the Chapel. We built a bridge with that service, and hopefully a relationship in justice and love.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kids and Activism

It is important for me as a parent to involve my children in activism that embodies our Unitarian Universalist values. Both my boys have been thrilled to participate in marches, protests, and supply drives. They like to make their own signs and of course being outside singing and chanting is fun for small children. Yet, I want them to move into the deeper reasons we act from our hearts. It goes beyond a cause and into the basic human relationship that is between each human being. I want them to grasp this feeling of a shared humanity and the shared experience of this finite existence. Kiernan said to me this morning, "I'm really sorry that people are cold in Atlanta. I wish the homeless didn't have to be cold." He is glad to do something concrete for what sometimes seems to be an insurmountable problem of poverty and homeless. This is basic compassion, but I'm so glad that it crosses his mind to think of others.

Kiernan is continuing to work on a community service badge for Sprial Scouts in collecting items for the homeless.

Atlanta Homeless suffer from poor foot care due to lack of socks and proper shoes. We'd like to collect clean socks of all sizes to donate to Crossroads Community Ministries where I was a Chaplain last summer. When you stand or walk in the heat, it is important to have clean dry socks.

We are collecting clean socks, shoes, and backpacks this week. It is my Spring Break, so I have flexibility for pick up. Pass the word!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Your Presence is Near - Julianne Lepp

Your Presence Is Near

We have not forgotten
In nature we seek you
In the whisper of wind
In the new green wood

Your presence is near

We have not lost hope
In the dust of the desert
In the rush of the wave
In the rise of the mountain

Your presence is near

We remember the cycle
In the promise of blossoms
In the dying leaves
In the bare branches

Your presence is near

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow in the South

My children got to throw snowballs at one another for the first time. The neighbors made a snowman, and our other neighbor really wanted to give us a carrot for a snowman. Kiernan thought it made a nice digging implement for the snow, but was not interested in the effort to shape snow.

Maybe I'll make a snow lady tommorow - give her a great hat and maybe a baby carrot nose. Let's hope that the snow and ice make it off the roads, because Atlantans truly panic at the sight of white on pavement.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MLK Parade in Downtown Atlanta

Kiernan and I did our annual Marta train ride downtown for the parade. It was almost a two hour wait for the start of the march, but it was great to see fellow seminarians and the Unitarian Universalists turn out for the parade. I was really proud at the number of UUCA youth that also participated in the march.

For the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in downtown Atlanta we had over thirty participants from UUCA marching with our congregational and Standing on the Side of Love banner. There were some men shouting anti-gay and anti-Jewish rhetoric once they saw our banner and our people marching. We met their hateful shouts with a rousing sing of "Standing on the Side of Love." We lived out our UU values of faith in action and meeting hate with the power of love.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Since When is Compassion a Bad Word?

I could blog quite a rant about Pat Robertson's horrible comments. Yet, I think Jon Stewart had it covered when he held up the Bible and said, "Has he even read this book." Somehow I don't think Pat's behavior falls into the "What Would Jesus Do" loving behavior category.

When you have a position of power in ministry or like Rush Limbaugh as an icon in radio - there is a responsibility to think beyond the foot in your mouth. Thousands of people are suffering and Pat can't pull out one psalm or verse of comfort. Limbaugh is saying how this "plays" right into Obama being able to offer compassion.

Well folks, I'll take the compassion and empathy over hot air and condemnation thanks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Old Battle Continues: Vatican vs. Nature

The Associated Press reports that, "The Vatican newspaper and radio station are criticizing James Cameron's 3-D blockbuster for flirting with the idea that worship of nature can replace religion — a notion the pope has warned against."

This is certainly not a new battle. In Roman times the Catholic church co-opted pagan holidays for Christian celebrations. Perhaps the Vatican has forgotten the history of half the Christian calendar dates back to pagan religious holidays. The Vatican has vilified worshipping nature as heresy from the beginning. While this Pope defends that he is more environmental, he is quick to worry about the worship of the natural world. I hate to tell the Pope, but worship of nature doesn't replace religion - it is religion.

Indeed, this cements my desire to see Avatar this Friday evening. If the Pope is this worked up about it, then by all means it must be worth the price of a ticket. Also the Vatican seems to have failed to notice the distinct difference between worshipping a tree and recognizing the divine spark within it and all things. When I recognize the divine in nature it is an understanding of the complex inter-relationship of all things. I know many Christians that find God in nature understanding that God is not separate from creation or even humanity. Perhaps the Pope is fan of the theologian Barth that finds nature to be as fallen as humankind.

As a Unitarian Universalist I find this kind of thinking destructive. If we do not see our relationship with nature as spiritual and important, we will continue the destructive course of consumption and pollution modern society has embraced. Our fate is intertwined with nature, and our transcendentalist Unitarian forefathers Emerson and Thoreau certainly recognized it.

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand. ~Henry David Thoreau, journal, 5 January 1856

The cathedral of the world in all of its leaves, shadow, and light outshines any cathedral of stone and glass. I am proud to be a part of a religious tradition that embraces many sources of wisdom, including the spirit of a tree...including the wisdom of the natural world.