Monday, January 31, 2011

evolutionary cross training

How many of you feel like you are economically worse off now, than you were in 2006? How many have family members or neighbors or friends who are economically worse than they were, five years ago? How many feel like you have more stress in your life now, than you did in 2006?

If you are feeling stressed, you have a lot of company. According to the most recent “Stress in America” survey, published by the American Psychological Association just a couple months ago), a majority of adults in the U.S. live with moderate or high levels of stress; and 44% of those surveyed report that their stress levels have increased over the last five years.

Stress is not just an adult phenomenon: the APA report indicates that nearly a third of children experienced stress-related health symptoms like trouble falling or staying asleep, headaches or upset stomachs in the month prior to the survey.

And in the annual UCLA survey of first-year undergraduate students, a bare majority report that they have good mental health. 51% of new students report good or above-average emotional health, which is the lowest number since they began asking the question, in 1985. This survey indicates that anxiety has replaced depression as the leading manifestation of dis-ease in students.

To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lotta stressin’ going on.

Read the rest of this sermon--how evolutionary cross-training can reduce our stress--at So May We Be.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

science fiction

Science Fiction is “the branch of literature that deals with the responses of human beings to changes in science and technology,” according to Isaac Asimov. Alvin Toffler recommended reading science fiction as the only preventive medicine for future shock.

According to a article by Robert J. Sawyer, the job of science fiction is “not to predict the future. Rather, it’s to suggest all the possible futures—so that society can make informed decisions about where we want to go. George Orwell’s science-fiction classic Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t a failure because the future it predicted failed to come to pass. Rather, it was a resounding success because it helped us prevent that future.”

In celebration of the power (and necessity) of science fiction, there is a list of my favorites at So May We Be. Most of the authors are white males--please suggest other authors I should read.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

resources for perinatal / reproductive loss

Resources for perinatal / reproductive loss, as suggested by my dear colleagues:

Perinatal Loss Group – many great resources, including birth/death announcements, excellent “support cards” and books with readings for memorials and other rituals of healing

Compassionate Friends -website and national network for parents who have lost a child, with information on how to find local chapters

Faith Aloud has a free hotline for women experiencing either an unplanned pregnancy or a reproductive loss

March of Dimes is more for premature births and birth defects, but their website does have some useful resources

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice offers an excellent training in Pastoral Counseling for Reproductive Loss, designed to equip clergy of all faiths in meeting the needs of women and families who encounter infertility, abortion, stillbirth, post-adoption loss, and other experiences that could be seen as reproductive loss.


Still to be Born: A Guide for Bereaved Parents Who are Making Decisions About Their Future, by Pat Schweibert

Tear Soup a “children’s book” about grief, but great for all ages; highly recommended (also by Pat Schweibert)

Unspeakable Losses: Healing from Miscarriage, Abortion, and Other Pregnancy Loss, by Kim Kluger-Bell.

An Empty Cradle, a Full Heart: Reflections for mothers and fathers after miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death, by Christine O’Keefe Lafser. This book of meditations is most appropriate for someone who is accustomed to receiving comfort from Hebrew & Christian scriptures.

“Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death” by UU Rev. Sarah York (Jossey-Bass) has a chapter entitled “All Deaths Are Not Equal” which addresses such a grievous loss as that of an infant.

General Advice:

Validate the relationship—acknowledge the status as mother (father, grandparent, etc.). A family was created and will always exist, even if the child died too soon. Help grieve the loss of all the planned activities, events, celebrations that the person(s) had imagined and dreamed about.

Existing systems may discourage burial, memorial services—even an obituary. Helping to make sure these things occur will further support and validate the grieving family members.

Some women are interested in holding a ritual several weeks or even months after their loss. A small remembrance on what would have been the child’s first birthday can be meaningful.

I post these resources for others to use (and for myself, when I need to find them again someday). Please feel free to add other resources/advice in the comments section. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this compilation.

The post with links to the various groups and books can be found at So May We Be.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU hugging game

While there are already several drinking games prepared for tonight’s State of the Union address, including some creative rules (e.g., borrow a drink from your buddy if/when President Obama uses the word “debt” or drink a shot of coffee at the word “stimulus”), I am proposing a different game for myself: a SOTU hugging game. Every time Mr. Obama, or Rep. Paul Ryan, or a commentator–-or even Rep. Bachmann–-says something with which I disagree, I will try to hold her/him/them in my heart. I will try to imagine a good, life-affirming reason that one might hold the opinion expressed. I will try to find compassion for the fears and hopes that motivate such statements, and I will send an imaginary hug to the person who voiced them. Then I will give myself a hug, for doing the hard work of meeting fear with compassion.

I haven’t heard anyone suggest it, but you might also take a drink (of your favorite alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverage) each time a speaker is shown to be lying, according to the HuffPost real-time fact checker.

Links to the games, and the fact-checker, can be found at So May We Be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meadville building sold to UofC

The University of Chicago has agreed to purchase the Main Building of Meadville Lombard, subject to approval by the university's trustees. The official announcement is here and here. The sale will close by the end of December 2011.

School officials are seeking a proper place for the Wiggin Library, and the wealth of Unitarian, Universalist and UU history and scholarship therein.

Meadville and Andover Newton are combining their schools, to create a new kind of theological education. The schools are actively seeking to welcome other faiths and other seminaries. They may include a Muslim school, and/or the Jewish seminary at Hebrew College, according to the President-Designate of the new school, the Rev. Dr. Nick Carter.

Also, I am thrilled to see that the Rev. Dr. John Tolley will be on the new faculty.

You can forward a copy of "The New U Checklist" e-newsletter to yourself or a friend here.

I am very sad to see 5701 Woodlawn go; and I am still quite hopeful about the phoenix that will rise from its place.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

lamenting Giffords, Tucson, Todos

My heart is broken,
my soul is sick
because of last weekend’s attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords,
a committed public servant
whose life will never be the same.

I grieve for the death of nine-year-old Christina Green,
who may have followed Rep. Giffords,
or murdered Judge John Roll,
into working on behalf of her fellow human cousins.
I mourn for the four other people killed,
and all those wounded
(including five still in hospital).
I grieve with the families and friends
and all those who are learning to cope
in this new, tragic, situation.

My heart is torn asunder
contemplating the painful life of Jared Lee Loughner,
who struggled with mental illness
in a culture that fears and denies it,
a culture which provides scarce help for those who experience it.
I weep in sympathy
with the tens of millions of people in our country
who are mentally ill—
6% of us, 1 in 17—
and with the hardships
those with mental illness face
as they attempt to find support or even understanding

I am brought to my knees
by the death of civil discourse in our nation,
where too few public speakers
appear to respect those who differ,
or even imagine them capable of a valid point.
I weep bitter tears
because there are no longer
common endeavors
to build our nation or culture together;
I despair that every gain by one person or group
is seen as a loss to another,
and so resisted, on principle.
I am saddened
that willingness to compromise
or see another’s viewpoint
is considered a weakness;
I am angered
that authentic apologies
and taking responsibility for one’s own exaggerations or mis-statements
seems a thing of the past.

I am ashamed to live in a country
where it is trivially easy
to purchase semi-automatic weapons
and prohibitively difficult
to find real support for a mental illness.

I am outraged
as the many positive things about our nation
erode and fade
as the very concept of “good government”
is attacked and undermined
on a daily basis

I despair for our future,
if fewer qualified leaders
will choose to become judges or elected politicians
because of the hostile environment in the media
and the risks in real life.

I despair for our future
if fewer public servants
will meet with their constituents
because of the threat of violence,
and thus access to the politically powerful
becomes even more limited
to the elite and the already-connected.

I rage about our future
as fewer and fewer leaders
will challenge the outrageous statements and behaviors of others,
for fear that their picture
and their family’s address
will show up on some website “hitlist.”

I shudder and cry aloud
anticipating the inevitable results
as politicians who *thought* they could control
the violent fringe groups,
who thought a nod and a wink
and a little plausible deniability
would cover the violence they implicitly encouraged,
all come to the same end
as every similar scenario through history—
the violence spreads from the fringe
to the mainstream
until it is only halted
by more violence.

I hang my head
at the loss
of the example this nation could have set,
as a beacon to other countries, as it was 230 years ago,
but will now be one more regrettable example
of the need for eternal vigilance
against bigotry and violence.

I grieve for the Latinas, Latinos
and other Americans of Hispanic heritage
who are caught in the crosswinds of this angry storm.

I feel immense compassion
for the poor in Mexico,
and other places,
who are so impoverished
that they risk harm and even death
to try to sneak into the United States,
that they might attempt to earn a living here.

I weep for the poor people in our United States,
already struggling to make ends meet,
who feel threatened by
legal and illegal immigrants.

I sympathize
with the fear and anger
of working-class Americans
who continue to lose ground,
who have not received a raise,
in inflation-adjusted real dollars,
in over a generation,
who face rising healthcare costs
and fewer employment benefits
and who fear that they will lose what little they *do* have
as others are seated at the welcome table…

I am concerned
as the long-standing last resort
sold to white U.S. citizens
since before the states became a nation—
“well, you may have it bad,
but at least you will never have it as bad off
as those poor,
lawfully-oppressed blacks have it”
is finally, finally,
becoming less true,
to the consternation and resentment
of those who have had to believe it,
to make sense of their own difficult lives.

I rend my clothes in frustration
and grind my teeth to nubs
that our conversation about race and racism
is also polarized
and simplistic
and susceptible to knee-jerk pronouncements.
I lament that there are so few leaders
willing or able
to help us hold
deep conversations
and the hard work of engagement.

I am sorry
that we get caught up in blame and punishment
and forget that *every* one of us
can have a bad day or bad week
and end up saying or doing something tragic.
I am sorry
that we forget compassion, in our rush to judgment.

My eyes overflow with grief
for those who will yet die,
because we have not learned
the lessons of this or previous violence;
because we have not come to understand
that we must come together and work in solidarity,
or we will perish, isolated group by shunned group.

My heart aches
for all people who are marginalized in this country:
bisexuals, gays, lesbians, transgender persons,
people of color,
Muslims and so many others;
My heart bleeds for all of us--
*all* people,
of any race, creed, gender or other possible distinction,
who live in this isolating, ambiguous, violent , consumerist, hypersexualized toxic culture.

I am saddened
because this shooting in Tucson
will make it more difficult
to pull together,
to recognize our common needs and common interests;
it may make it still harder
to see ourselves in the shoes of others;
it might make it take yet longer
to feel compassion for those
whom we’ve heard demonized so frequently and thoroughly.

I lament that it makes me feel defeated, just thinking about it.

I end with the adapted words of my colleague, the Rev. Mr. José Ballester:

“O, Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Spirit of Peace,
come unto me,
for I am filled with anguish and despair.

[Lest we be] condemned to specters,
walking the earth
to atone for our blasphemy and our silence,
[so] warning others of our foolishness;
[Lest we] look upon our world
and see no hope
and look inside [ourselves] and feel no joy,

Show me the strength and fortitude I possess to confront injustice.
Show me the seed of hope
that I might use to grow hope in others.
Show me the faces of all who suffer,
and all who cause suffering
so I may remember
that they are all my sisters and brothers.
Show me there is still hope.”

So may we be.
(follow the link for notes and references)