Monday, November 28, 2005

tottering into heaven

“Bend and break the will, discipline and scourge the flesh, face blindly the unknown, the enormous, the terrifying. Love your life and you'll lose it. Risk it and--half blind, mangled, limbless, maimed--maybe, just, you'll totter into heaven: the place of both annihilation and total knowledge. The risk is absolute, you'll get nothing else out of it, not pleasure, not health, not affection, not comfort, and certainly not safety. Just beauty.”
--Sara Maitland, from her novel, "Ancestral Truths."

I have carried that quotation around with me for about a decade now. I’m uncomfortable with (and not really able to) bend/break/scourge, but Ms. Maitland’s words have helped me to face the unknown enormous.
I believe in the quest for Goodness and Truth, as well as Beauty, but I suspect they also require a lot of risk(!)

Somehow, I find these words comforting. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

holding two emotions at once

I clicked on (submitted my name to) 15 congregations yesterday. I am officially “in search” for another ministry next year. I feel both excited and terrified. There are some really great things happening in those congregations, and wonderful people, whom it would be a pleasure to serve. And there will be lots of work to create a packet, and many (I hope!) interviews and exhilarating-and-exhausting precandidating weekends. And when (if? no—when) I am called to a congregation, there will be the hassle of moving, and the pain of moving away from friends and (likely) further away from family.

When I consulted a friend’s Tarot deck about a new position, I drew The Hanged One: tumult, fear but success, with the key being “Not my will, but Thine.” Isn’t that always the case? I will go where the Spirit moves me, and it will be scary, and it will ultimately work out for the best. It has thus far.

My therapist says one definition of health is the ability to hold two emotions simultaneously—for example, the fear of, and hope of, a new professional ministry. Perhaps this is a demonstration of how healthy I am!

God of Life and Death, Spirit of Change and Unceasing Love,
I am grateful for this opportunity and challenge
I am grateful for the strength and patience to do it well
I desire clear guidance through the process
I pledge to conduct this search with integrity and an open heart
Praise for life
So may we be.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

every heart to love will come

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've
summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me…

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in…
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

--"Anthem," by Leonard Cohen. Off his "The Truth," and his new "The Essential Leonard Cohen"

Monday, November 07, 2005

santos? vinick? big oil!

NBC invited us to vote for the winner of the live “debate” that was last night’s West Wing episode. In my opinion, the winner was neither Santos nor Vinick, but Big Oil.

Alan Alda’s character, Senator Vinick, for whom we are expected to have some respect and appreciation, said he did not believe in global climate change; that he’d open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling because no tourists visit there anyway; and likened a war for oil to (an equally implausible, in his view) war for sugar.

For the record, global climate change is now an accepted fact; our most important natural resources are not defined by the money (or photos) they generate; and the current war in Iraq has killed over 12,000 human beings because of the petroleum underneath that abused nation’s soil.

I’ve heard it said that the makers of The West Wing set out to depict the best possible Liberal administration in Jed Bartlett’s White House, and now they are also depicting a dream Conservative candidate in Arnie Vinick. Well, any dream candidate ought to recognize scientific facts.

For a show that many liberals love, to present Vinick’s arguments without any real challenge is indefensible. Maybe they’re hoping that the viewing populace will get the irony behind a fictional candidate comparing a “war for oil” to a “war for sugar” while we in the real world are enmeshed in a real war for oil, but that isn’t very satisfying. And it doesn’t address the other two concerns. If there were as good a candidate as Jimmy Smits’ character, Matt Santos, he would have a better retort against drilling ANWR, and he would certainly have the global warming statistics as readily available as the education and health statistics he presented.

For example, here is what a real environmental candidate says about global climate change.

bathroom of heresy

The Bathroom of Heresy was created by two of my colleagues, the Rev. Heather Janules and the soon-to-be-Rev. Elizabeth Harding, when their seminary living quarters shared a bathroom. They decorated it with religious images both sacred and profane, setting fine art next to contemporary kitsch. They displayed everything from tracts handed them on street corners to postcards with Jesus pointing the way to Las Vegas. There was a reproduction of a Renaissance painting near a wind-up “boxing nun” toy (she spit sparks!), and a poster on the wall advertising a play called “Pastor of Muppets” with Cookie Monster wearing a clerical collar. They had non-Christian icons, too, including a Buddhist monk drinking coffee and talking on a cellphone.

Despite its name, I did not perceive it as heretical. To me, it was a museum of the ways human beings try to make sense of their world. There was certainly a skeptical, slightly sarcastic tinge to it all, but there was earnestness as well. It wouldn’t have been funny, if there weren’t something powerful behind all those images and toys.

Similarly, there is a Coffee Messiah coffee shop in Seattle, with a blue neon “Caffeine Saves” sign in the window. The bathroom there is no less heretical, although more tightly focused, depicting various scenes of a Christian hell. Again, although some may find it troubling, others really do congregate in Coffee Messiah seeking the salvation of human company. The irony of the iconography affirms that while the patrons have joined up, they have not been sucked in, to borrow a phrase from Tom Levinson’s book, All That’s Holy.

All of this is well and good for adults. I imagine that many UUs might appreciate the message of the Bathroom of Heresy. However, our children need a more concrete, less complex message, on which to build their spiritual foundations. This is why we spend so much time and money on our (very strong) Religious Education program. I definitely want our young people to grin if they enter the Coffee Messiah shop, but I also want them to appreciate the power of the yearning behind the imagery.