Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Matter of Faith: We must welcome the stranger

Many faith traditions remind us to welcome the stranger. Yet how big is the welcome table in a post-Sept. 11 world? How welcoming are faith communities when we are divided along political, theological and social lines?

It takes building relationships, opening hearts and practicing welcome to offer a place where people can seek their truth in love. For myself as a Unitarian Universalist, welcome is the highest practice of honoring the sanctity and inherent worth of others.

How we welcome others defines our community - whether it is our family, friends or spiritual community.

It takes a risk to welcome people different than ourselves, yet when we do we are invited into new experiences and relationship.

Many faiths have tenets about welcoming the stranger. For some Christians welcome is embodied in the practice of open or common table, where all persons are welcomed to communion. This embodies the welcome of Jesus for the stranger and marginalized.

The Quran tells us, "It is righteousness to give of yourself and your substance, out of love for Allah, to your kin, to orphans, to the needy, to the wayfarer, to those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves ..." The Hindu scripture Taitiriya Upanishad tells us, "The guest is a representative of God."

A humanist might say that welcoming the stranger recognizes the inherent worth of all persons. An earth-centered standpoint might recognize that we are infinitely interrelated on a soul level with one another - even with the trees and earth that shelter and support us. On a given Sunday in a Unitarian Universalist congregation - whether atheist or Christian, gay or straight - we come together in community.

Yet welcome is a two-way street, and the respect goes both ways. The Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen said, "We are not hospitable when we leave our house to strangers and let them use it any way they want. An empty house is not a hospitable house ... When we want to be really hospitable, we not only have to receive strangers but also to confront them by unambiguous presence, showing our ideas, opinions and lifestyles clearly and distinctly."

Welcome extends inwardly as well as outwardly and must take into account safety, congregational covenant, and honoring all persons.

We must move beyond our comfort zones, enter into challenging conversations and challenge ourselves to think about who is really welcome into our lives. When we truly welcome the stranger, we invite ourselves into deeper relationship with the holy. We cross the artificial divides of belief and background and reach toward the sanctity of our shared humanity

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Hard Road of Compassion

Last Sunday I guest preached at White Bear Church on the topic of choosing awareness. I cited great thinkers like Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Han. The idea is that if we can choose awareness to our lives and others. As we practice awareness our compassion increases and hopefully the actions of compassion follow.

Upon travelling we had left our newly adopted cat in the care of my Mother-in-law for the weekend.

We adopted Chewy and Obi from the local shelter a few weeks back. These were young cats with lots of energy and health. After a week or so, Chewy began to have signs of an eye infection. I thought it was a blocked tear duct so I tried to massage it and hoped it would clear. As it moved to both eyes we took him to the vet. He had also begun to show signs of lethargy. We were shocked when he turned up with a 104 temperature and dehydration. The vet gave him the works in major antibiotics, hydrated him with a water bag, and took tests.

The eye infection did not clear with eye drops and antibiotics. By last weekend we were very concerned about his health, he barely moved or ate. We thought he was battling the fever and tried to treat his symptoms. Upon our return from White Bear he appeared to have only improved some and yet his eyes were still infected. They took tests and eventually called back to let us know that he had strong signs of Feline Infectious Peritontis. This vibrant and loving cat who was not quite a year old was given a fatal diagnosis. We could expect him to deteriorate and have a painful death, made comfortable perhaps by drugs. He would live uncomfortably for perhaps a few weeks and months.

We made the best choice we knew to make. We chose to give Chewy a peaceful ending. Based on the advice of our vet and the information we found this was the best way we knew to exercise our love for our new family member.

Writing my sermon last week I did not know that we'd be practicing a hard form of loving kindness. It is a terrible choice and power to end life as a compassionate act. It feels kind in action, but oh so hard on the inside. We played and loved on him this morning. My five-year old hugged him and tagged him with string. My soon to be eight-year old said that he would keep him in his heart for the rest of his life.

Life is suffering, but certainly there is also joy in these moments. There is joy in the purr of loving cat. There is grace in the wisdom of children.

Friday, June 24, 2011

General Assembly

As a movement we continue to struggle between rationale religion and the deep calls of emotive heart-felt spirituality. Nick Page and the youth bridging service both captured the rich promise of moving and deep worship while still balancing our diversty of belief. The future of Unitarian Universalism lies in this balance. This is not the wintry words of 60's humanism nor blind emotionalism...this is the evolution of our movement into realizing the relational quality of religion. This will be the future of UUiism.
....And the peoplen said AMEN.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top 10 Count Down of First Year in Ministry

First year of ministry in Eau Claire

#10 I know what dessert bars,
walleye, and hot dish mean. Ken
Adler, an umbrella will not keep
snow off my head. I can get my kids to school in snow
pants, boots, hats, gloves, and ready to survive -20.
#9 Learning how to walk, drive, and live in snow, ice,
and below zero temperatures. Snow is heavy; not
light and fluffy to shovel. Southerners can do it!
#8 The people here in Eau Claire are awesome.
#7 The unfolding process of learning how to be a
multigenerational congregation.
#6 Wednesday night services and dinners. (The skit
about the Lepps - Tom with a fake moustache was
#5 La Befana, Fire Communion and other fantastic
multigenerational services
#4 Experiencing the Harvest Auction!
#3 Doing the Cupid Shuffle at the youth group lockin.
I was so relevant!
#2 Twenty-two inches of snow and we still had
service! We were one of the few congregations in
town still conducting services. Take that snow and
#1 Being ordained and installed as Lifespan Minister
in November 2010.


I will be focusing on rest and renewal during my time off. Part of being a good minister is to have time for study, reflection, and writing. This summer I will be attending General Assembly, studying and writing in preparation for next year's sermons and Lifespan Sundays(Children's Chapel), and also some personal spiritual retreat. I will be going South for both General Assembly and to celebrate my nephew's graduation from High School. Our family is also excited to be camping at Edisto Beach in South Carolina this June. I will be away from June 6th-July 26th.

The Buddha said, "Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men(women)
cannot live without a spiritual life." Play is important spiritual work! Play in the sand, watch a movie, and perhaps even finger paint. Find what healthfully feeds your soul and do it!

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Death of Osama Bin Laden

I remember crying and grieving for days at the destruction and loss of Sept 11th, 2001. Yet I can not understand the cheering in the streets for the death of a man. I mourn the loss of any life, even that of a killer. I hope that we can condemn the actions of persons, without rejoicing when more violence is taken. Dr. King said it best.

Unknown author, "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
--Martin Luther King, Jr

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flower Communion and Family

Today was my first Flower Communion in Eau Claire. We had a lovely ceremonial procession of bringing the flowers forward in a Spring Display and later in the service picking a flower brought by someone else.

This was a different Flower Communion than other years. This was my first Flower Communion as the minister of my own congregation. I also had a sense of the true meaning of Spring. There was real joy on the faces of these Wisconsiners as they paraded with their Spring bounty. In Georgia we appreciated the flowers, but I had not been through a long, hard winter. This was one hard winter. Can you say 22 inches of snowfall in one day! It was a balmy 60 degrees here in Eau Claire and beautiful.

My husband brought a vase for us to carry our flowers to and from church today. This is much more practical than my typical wet paper towel handling of Flower Communion flowers. We took our vase out to lunch with us after service. Our waitress noticed how lovely the flowers were and we admired them with her. It was then we noticed how different all of our flowers are. Each flower speaks a lot about each member of our family. Karl picked roses, which his grandfather was famous for growing. Kiernan, my super creative ballet boy, chose a very tall and bright yellow daisy. Ehren, who is all sports and boy, picked a blue flower. I picked the sad little yellow flower that someone had dropped and a few people had stepped on.

We carry our flowers and remember Spring. We carry our differences and they are also beautiful.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Standing on the Side of Love In Madison

On Saturday February 26th I drove up to Madison with a fellow minister from Eau Claire. We were travelling to meet other clergy to lend a faithful voice to the protests against Governor Walker's "Budget Repair Bill." We arrived to the streets filled with signs and energy. We missed our rendezvous with the other clergy that were starting the march, because there was no where to park. Eventually we took refuge in a church parking lot with the hope that they would faithfully not tow us! We wandered past a great diversity of protestors winding their way through the streets up towards the Capitol.

I have been a part of many different protests, but this was by far the largest. There are estimates that the crowds reached between 75,000 and 100,000. Yet in those crowds we were able to find our fellow clergy. I also found a fellow UU from a Madison church and this is how I came to hold our slogan sign of "Standing on the Side of Love." There were fireman, teachers, janitors, and artists. There were children, college students, and clergy. A diversity of voices rose that Saturday in the falling snow. It was a moving experience to be united in the demand for justice. It was a moving experience to see the peaceful way that my fellow protestors treated one another.

Justice with dignity and truth is faithful. We have to keep being faithful. We have to keep standing, shouting, and singing with our brothers and sisters. This is not about a budget. This about busting the rights of workers and not coming to the table. When you are talking about families, jobs, and education it can not be a zero sum game. There is too much to lose. There is too much to fight for.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Worker's Rights

Dear Governor Walker: Sacrificing freedoms does not balance the budget. Conservatives and liberals are agreeing on this one.

Budget cuts are different than abolishing the rights of workers to collectively bargain. Let's not cloud the issue. This is an attack on freedom of assembly.

I was happy to atttend the Eau Claire County Board meeting where they passed a resolution against Walker's bill. I was proud to stand with teachers, fellow people of faith, and others that believe that a budget is not balanced on the backs of public workers and workers' rights.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Crack in the World

A Crack in the World
where the pain and beauty lie, bare and unafraid
A Crack in the World
where politicians dream and empires are made

There is that fulcrum of experience that breaks the facade
There is that point of tipping when
the cards topple and
the hand is played.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

MLK Day: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" - Martin Luther King Jr.

Tommorow will be the first time in a number of years that I won't be marching in Atlanta for MLK Day. It always struck me as interesting that the majority of faith representation that made up the march were primarily socially active seminary students of all denominations, African American Baptist Churches and Unitarians. You'd see social justice groups, bands, and schools, but the representation of faith communities in Atlanta was not as inspiring.

Though there are lots of ways to honor the dreams of Dr. King for beloved community. I think half the battle is getting past apathy and showing up. Public witness has many forms: marching, letter writing, voting, and service among others.

My college town in Wisconsin does not have a large march through the city or a big hubub about this day. In fact schools are still in session, except for the University.

One of my congregants did invite me to an event that helps people tap into community justice opportunities. Justice does not happen with only words and feet, it has to happen with working hands. This year I'll be attending Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the Community Table. I look forward to connecting with others in thinking about how simple acts of service can change lives. When a community comes together to think and work on equity in housing and wages, food distribution, and the basic needs of fellow beings then perhaps we are moving in the right direction. Dr Cornel West said, "Justice is what love looks like in public." May we work together to keep strong in the practice of love, justice, and most of all - showing up.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Civil Public Discourse: A response to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords

When you put a political opponent in the cross hairs of a gun, when you encourage people to "reload" there is a direct violent message delivered. Let us not mince words. The incindiary right has been frothing at the mouth and riling people up. There is a point when freedom of speech moves to incitement. I am wondering when that point will be observed?

There is a need for civil public discource in the media, in politics, and goodness knows in every community. Between Fox news and their "fair and balanced" reporting (see Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin) and infammatory Tea Party remarks there is little surprise that there has been political violence. If we appeal to the base instincts of fear and "othering" how do you think people will respond? When our president is painted as everything but "American" anger is incited.

Napolean Bonaparte has a remarkly true quote, "In politics stupidity is not a handicap."

We have to move away from this zero sum game of winner takes all politics. If we can not talk with one another, we can not work together. If violence becomes the accepted and promoted language of politics, it will foster violence.

Saturday, January 8, 2011