Wednesday, December 23, 2009

promise of Christmas (Trapp)

This is the season when the child in the heart of all of us awakens, and the embers of long-forgotten dreams are blown into flame.

The tramp of the legions is stilled; the Caesars lie in dust, but the light from that humble stable shines warm and bright.

Something old, and almost lost amid the clutter of the years, is calling from the skies and across the fields of snow.

The night winds are stilled and in the darkened heavens the stars foretell the lengthening days and the birth of spring after the winter's cold.

This is the sign that the light of hope, which shines in the dimness of our broken dreams, will never fade or die.

O stretch your hands, shaking with fear, and with the simple trust of a child, grasp another's hand and walk the way together.

Though the darkness press in upon us and the promise of Christmas comes like an echo of music upon the wind, let our hearts remember that loveliness, that light.

---adapted from Jacob Trapp

(source: Seaburg's Celebrating Christmas.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

spirit of compassion beats: thumpty thump thump

There must have been some magic
in that old silk hat they found
for when they placed it on his head,
he began to dance around.

Whether or not we believe in Frosty the Snowman,
the Spirit of Compassion
*is* alive as we can be…

Not merely one day a year,
not one week, or month,
nor one season;
but every day,
each hour,
every moment,
our lives pulse
with the universal rhythm of care…
…thumpety thump thump
thumpety thump thump

Life presses us,
to breathe, to eat,
to dance around—
to care for other living beings.
thumpety thump thump
thumpety thump thump
inside our hearts it grows!

Friday, December 18, 2009

changing carols

Garrison Keillor wrote on that it is "wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite 'Silent Night.'" While I may agree with Mr. Keillor for aesthetic reasons, I disagree on theological grounds.

I think our version of "Silent Night" (#251 in Singing the Living Tradition) is actually quite nice. I'm more unhappy with "Joy to the world! the Word is come" (#245), which may be theologically and historically defensible, but is an abomination to my ears.

GK continues, "Christmas is a Christian holiday -- if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or..." Perhaps he is unaware that many of our beloved "Christmas traditions" have been borrowed from pagan and earth-centered faiths. Not only do holly, mistletoe and Christmas trees (and the YULE log!) come from pagan rituals, even the date is borrowed. Up until the year 330 CE or so, Jesus' birthday was celebrated on January 6th. Then they replaced the Roman holiday of Natalis Invicti, the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun, with the birth of Jesus, and celebrated not the sun but the "maker of the sun," on December 25th.

Holiday traditions--all human traditions--must evolve to continue serving the people who celebrate them. I understand that many people need and rely on absolutes; for such folks, there is nothing metaphorical about religion, and nothing should be changed about the various festivals and celebrations. I leave it to them, to deal with the cognitive dissonance of the historical fact that Christmas has changed.

For myself, I appreciate that we adapt our rituals, to stay fresh and meaningful. I still want some "old" rituals and elements, and I want some new understandings, too. As usual, it is all about balance. Rather than a moribund, brittle, unchanging faith, I need evolving, vital, relevant spiritual practices. Perhaps that is why they named the hymnal "Singing the Living Tradition"--because we are singing, and co-creating, our living faith.

Happy holidays to all, whichever and however you celebrate.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

democracy is not a spectator sport

Celebrate hope and the human spirit this holiday season: watch "The People Speak" on the History Channel, this Sunday night, December 13th, at 8pm (7c).

"Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, THE PEOPLE SPEAK gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice. Narrated by Howard Zinn and based on his best-selling books, A People's History of the United States and Voices of a People's History, THE PEOPLE SPEAK illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today and reminds us never to take liberty for granted."

You can also download a study guide; or vote for your favorite video depicting our human struggle through history.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

making UU sticky

Our UU message is not "sticky" enough; we get bogged down in details and complexities when we try to describe the good news of UUism, according to Peter Bowden, who uses Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point to diagnose this issue. We already meet two of Gladwell's three criteria: the wounded and evolving world is the perfect context for our message, and we do have a sufficient number of passionate followers. Alas, our identity is too complex to be communicated easily; it does not stick.

Bowden (and his co-thinker, the Rev. Ms. Amy Freedman) came up with the following rebranded, sticky, UU identity:
"We bring diverse people together around shared Universal values.
Now you spring this on somebody and they are going to have questions. That’s cool… Answer the questions. What people? What values? And why?"

The rebranding comes from cognates of Unitarian Universalism--Unite, Universal. It doesn't remove the complexity or subtlety of our theology, it just moves it back in the conversation, so the sticky part comes first.

I am not convinced that our values *are* universal, and we aren't that diverse--but that's part of the conversation *after* the stickiness. Get it to stick first, then add nuance. And maybe, if that is the identity we tell ourselves, we will more easily become more heterogenous and more widespread.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas List Eating

Robert Fulghum wrote:
"I usually draw up a heavy duty Things To Do list about this time of year.
I am black belt at lists. I even have lists of lists.
Seven pages of expectations that are in themselves enough to permanently destroy the spirit of Christmas.
But this year I started from somewhere else in my mind.
New list
One page.
A Things to Be list.
Concentrating on the feelings I wanted to have,
the condition of mind and spirit I yearned for,
The quality of life I wanted to manifest,
The vibrations I wanted to give off to other people.
A Things To Be list for Christmas.
Then I boiled the list down into one line.
And then summarized that line in one word
And then I wrote that word on a tiny piece of paper.
And then I wrapped that tiny piece of paper around a small candy cane.
And ate it.


I suppose you want to know what the one word was.
Nope. You got to work it out for yourself.
Like Christmas.
Cause if it ain’t inside you somewhere, all the lists in the world won’t make it happen.
Here, have a candy cane on me."

(with appreciation for Roger Otis Kuhrt, who sent this to me)