Monday, December 21, 2009

Retro Jesus

Yesterday, while visiting family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I bowed to peer pressure and attended a Christmas "show" at the local megachurch, Valley Family Church ( It was a Christmas pageant with songs from the 60s and 70s, with cast and co-pastors wearing jeans and tie dyed shirts. The description sounded intriguing, so I went along although I had planned to go to the UU church to hear what I'm sure would have been a much more meaningful service on Hope in Hard Times.

The newly built (even in hard times) megachurch had all the usual accouterments--parking attendents, smiling greeters, coffee bar, bookstore, and what looked like fabulous classrooms for the children.

There were glow sticks on the seats and a guided program at the beginning to "practice" using them in response to commands from the video screen. Then one of the co-pastors came on stage and gave a long series of announcements/adverstisements and took the collection. They gave out free traveling coffee mugs if you turned in a "connection card" after the service.

Then the "show" began. For the most part, it was shallow, and at times, downright racist. Their approach was to rewrite words to fit "their" Christian message. Sometimes they parodied singers--Sonny and Cher singing "I got you babe," implying that Joseph and Mary got married before the birth. The Shirrelles (Mama Said) with ridiculous tall fluorescent colored wigs. (all the actors were white). They parodied a black preacher and several times spoke in insulting Jewish and other accents. The worst was when they donned fake leopard skins (men) and hula skirts (women) for "The Baby sleeps tonight" ("Wimoweh" / "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"). They even tossed out plastic leis. The audience roared.

The program notes described the show as a parody--and it certainly succeeded in mocking the original songs and the spirit in which they were written and sung. Yet its purpose supposedly was to bring people to Christ. I wonder how that could be.

There were two points in the show I found meaningful--when Jesus' father sang "King of the Road," reflecting on what it would be like to raise this child. I wish I could remember the lyrics, which were drastically changed, of course.

The second truly touching moment was when Mary sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as if she were hearing these words from baby Jesus. The lyrics were only barely changed at the end.

I wish I had thought earlier to take pictures of the lyrics, which were projected on one of the three large screens above the stage. Here are a couple I caught at the end.

This is an invitation across the nation
The light of the world is here .... (Dancin' in the streets)

Yes and how many tears will it take til we know
His death on the cross was not in vain (Blowin' in the wind)

Somehow I doubt they got permission from any of the composers/authors to make these changes. Nor, I imagine, did they even think of it.

As bad as the show was, it did give me the idea that we UUs could do this same sort of show with much deeper meaning. As Tom Schade pointed out, we have the capacity--if we so choose--to more truly embody the spirit of Jesus than those who often claim the limelight at times like these.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter is a sort of limbo day. This year it's grey and gloomy, drizzly and cold. One of those early spring days that takes us back into winter. But spring is already in our blood, and we know the time is coming very soon for blossoming forth with new life.

Religion gives us stories that bring to consciousness direct understandings of the changing seasons as transitions in our lives. We are so blessed to have these stories. We are blessed to live in that moment of change, poised on the brink of a new world.

Each year we have a new opportunity to make the leap of faith into love. Maybe we only do it this year with one other person, maybe only for a day at a time. Maybe it is only to love ourselves a bit more, for how can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves. Or maybe we can reach out and touch somebody’s hand who is sick or dying or just being born. Whatever expressions of love we are able to bring into the world this coming year increase the amount of love in the world.

I figure one day of love in a person’s life balances out two days of hate. One day for the day that is now filled with love, and one day for the influence that love can have on others, so that exponentially love grows and grows.

Hate can spread like wildfire—we’ve seen that more than once. But so can love. And love is stronger than hate. If we can only harness love and learn to live it all the time, we will have discovered a power greater than fire, greater than ice, a power for healing, and justice, and peace.

This is the message of Easter. And “I await my resurrection, feeling fine.”*

*Graham Nash, “A Girl to be on my Mind”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Drugs, Sex, and Rock and Roll

The one definition of hippie pagan that surprised me was lack of inhibition. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. That's one of the things that makes me feel out of place in Massachusetts--too much inhibition here, I mean. I'm forever getting myself in trouble for speaking my mind, being too free/relaxed with my body, laughing too loud, talking too loud, speaking too openly with strangers, dancing too freely, etc. I learned all these things in California, of course.

The talking and laughing too loud part came from my lower middle class family. When we got together as an extended family, everyone talked at once. I had a professor at Harvard Divinity School with a southern background who called this style "conversation by interruption." We didn't just interrupt, we talked at the same time--over one another. I only found one friend in my adult life in Massachustts who could do this, and she was from the south.

A lot of the rest of it came from my young adult years in the era of drugs, sex and rock & roll. It's hard to be too inhibited when you're stoned. Psychedelic music lent itself to free form dancing, which was just all right with me since it gave me a chance to move my body from the inside out, following with my feelings rather than some predetermined dance steps. I'd clearly never make it on "Dancing with the Stars."

My generation got turned on to birth control pills in a major way. We didn't know any dangers, and we believed in loving the one we were with. It was almost a religion. Why be exclusive when that just caused cheating and jealousy? Openness in sexuality meant freedom from the uptightness of our parents' generation, many of whose marriages had ended in divorce anyway. We protected ourselves from hurt by knowing that love was all around. What wasn't around yet was AIDS or even herpes. If we got the "clap," we could take antibiotics, and even that didn't happen very often.

It wasn't just about sex, though. It was the whole lifestyle. We had a sort of blind faith that things would happen that needed to happen, that if you needed something--or someone--what you needed would show up in your life, if you weren't too stressed out to see it. So we would say, "I'm easy," affirming that we were in the flow.

On some level, I suppose I still feel this way inside--only I do a lot of planning and arranging, just to be sure. Now I live by a calendar, everything scheduled, even times to relax. It used to be different, and I miss those days.

Rock & roll provided the proof texts and the accompaniment for our lives: "when the inside is on the outside, there's no pain"--"it's only castles burning, find someone who's turning and you will come around"--"feed your head"--"here comes the seems like years since it's been clear"--"something's happening here"--"you, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by, and so, become yourself"--"when you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" and on and on.

Anyway, the funny thing about being called hippie pagan is that I kind of wish it were true. I wish I were as uninhibited as I once was. Maybe I need to find my hippie pagan young adult self and reconnect.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hippie Pagan Speaks Out

There's a great article this week at about the International Convocation of U*U Women. I don't know the author. She's obviously a generation or so younger than I. She "got it" that those of us who planned the program (crones and queens) wanted younger women to feel connected and welcomed, but I must say I feel misunderstood and rejected by her labeling of the opening ceremony as "hippie pagan."

I'm so very glad she understood the importance of the first keynote--on third wave feminism. She got it that we need to connect the present with the past and see ourselves as part of a developing lineage of women (and men) who understand that women are key to the future of this planet. But she didn't get the opening ceremony. Neither did some others.

The Right Relationship facilitator even included in her report that some women had commented that the opening was "too pagan" and that it wasn't their spiritual tradition. I wondered at the time if she would have made that report if women had complained it was "too Christian" or "too Buddhist." My defensive self wanted to shout out: "Hey women, didn't you come to an international conference knowing you might experience some religious practice that was different from yours? Where's the love and respect you pledged to this community at the end of that opening ceremony?"

I realize, though, that maybe what we were trying to do simply didn't come across as well as we might have hoped. As the coordinator of the opening ceremony I'd like to tell you about our intentions and see if you can maybe help me figure out how we might have communicated the spirit of the opening better. I know part of the problem was that we had no time for rehearsal--and I now have new respect for those who orchestrate opening ceremonies at other conferences, like the UUA General Assembly.

I will be posting on another blog--"Rainbow Ceremonies"--a full description and text as soon as I get it up and running. But I can give you some of the basics here.

The hippie pagan label stung precisely because one of our stated goals was to not be too pagan. The worship theme for the whole conovcation was the elements--earth, air, fire, and water. We sang that chant from the UU hymnbook, as was suggested by others planning worship. Was it the drums that made it too hippie pagan? Or was it the chant?

We started with a procession, four lines of women of different ages and cultures--youth and young adults, adult women (35-50, queens (50-65), crones (65 and older). These are approximate ages, of course. We were lining up in the dark and guessing at ages. I was frantically trying to get the lights turned on, so the augdience would see the diversity as we danced in from four different directions up onto the stage.

Once on the stage, we wove the four ages of women together and danced as the chant continued to build. It was a joyous moment for those of us on stage, as we passed by each other and smiled across generations and cultures. I have no idea what it looked like to the audience. Hippie pagan, I guess.

Then one of the youngest women lit the chalice and said the words of the chalice lighting in her language. Women from 5 or 6 other countries then said the words in their languages. Each time the audience applauded. I wasn't sure if they were welcoming the women or rewarding them for speaking their languages. Ironically, I got no applause when I said the words in English. Too hippie pagan, I suppose.

The emcee then dedicated the ceremony to the women from Africa who were unable to attend due to US goverment refusal to grant visas. She read words from the UU hymnbook that included the line: "Gaia, mother of everything." We chose these words because our assigned elemental theme was earth. Clearly hippie pagan.

One of our most beloved songwriters then led a song from the UU hymnbook that she had written. As we sang a group of women did a lovely liturical dance. The women on stage were a mother and daughter. The song has "a rose" in it and mentions one of the seasons. More hippie pagan elements.

We asked the administrator/coordinator of the Convocation to welcome women to Houston, to name the unique location of our gathering and invite us to be open to the energeis of the place. Then we "called the directions," a traditional practice of earth-based religions. Many years ago, at a Women & Religion workshop at GA, four women invoked the directions by naming women who came from those direction. That seemed like a universal way to bring us all togehter, so that what we did. The words acknowleged the indigenous people of the land on which we met and named the different countries women came from. What part of this was hippie pagan?

Probably the most specifically pagan thing came next. The emcee said these words: "We are between the worlds. What we do between the worlds affects all worlds." I think I'll explain what those words mean in my next blog. This is long enough for now. Besides, it's time for "Ugly Betty," one of my favorite hippie pagan shows.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Money and spititual growth

There's been quite a discussion recently on the UU ministers chat list about what to do about taxes. Some of what I wrote on the chat applies to a wider audience than just ministers, so I decided to revise it and post it here.

At this time of year, people are thinking about taxes. Some people choose to use a computer program, such as Turbo Tax. My spouse, an Enrolled Agent who has been doing taxes for nearly 30 years, reports that Turbo Tax can work, but many people have trouble with it and find it takes them a long time to use. You may also not find all the deductions you are due.

Another option is to seek professional help. One minister shared her experience of finding a financial professional who not only does her taxes but also provides advice on investments and retirement planning. She has found that over the long haul using a professional she trusts has saved her lots of money--as well as providing peace of mind in dealing with her finances.

The difference between doing it yourself and working with a professional is kind of like doing religion on your own, finding resources online to deepen your spirituality, or out in nature, or in books. For some people, this works well and serves their needs. It's probably cheaper--and may be less time consuming--than being part of a group. However, there's nothing like working with a group facilitated by a professional religious leader.

In case you think I'm stretching the point by relating taxes to religion, some of my clergy friends and other clergy clients call my spouse, their "money minister."

Something else was said on the chat that I take issue with. A minister praised her financial professional for doing business on a "fee for service" basis and implied that anyone who operated on commission might not give as good advice or support.

My spouse gets paid in three different ways:
1. fee for service
2. percent of assets under management
3. commission

The choice of which way to pay is determined by the client, the size of the account, the type of transaction. Financial professionals, like my spouse, who provide a broad range of services offer the same advice and support to all clients, no matter which way they pay.

Some financial planners, however, do not handle investments themselves. They only offer advice. so they would have nothing to charge a commission on. Some of them have the attitude that this makes them better than those who handle investments directly. Sometimes, however, in order for them to make enough money to stay in business, they have to charge fairly high upfront fees. If you don't have a lot to invest, you might be better off with a reputable financial professional who works on commission.

Sometimes, when people start working with my spouse, they have fairly small accounts and pay commissions. Then as their accounts grow they switch to percent of assets under management. Sometimes people come to her for advice only--on a fee for service basis--for instance to ask her to evaluate their current investments in terms of social responsibility or for retirement planning. Sometimes people come to her for tax planning and advice, also on a fee for service basis, but do not have her do their taxes. She also provides advice and sets up mortgages and equity loans, and life insurance policies. These services are only available on commission. It all depends on what you want, need, and have.

To find a financial professional, like my spouse, who is knowledgeable about socially responsible investing, check out Green America's (formerly Coop America) National Green Pages.
In the drop down menus, look for "Financial Consultants: Advisors and Planners."

Here's our website, in case you want to check out what my spouse does.

If you have a financial advisor or money manager for your congregation or organization funds, then chances are they are paid on percent of assets under management. If you are not already working with a socially responsible investment professional, you might want to check this list (and the Money Manager list) and compare fees and services. We have been surprised to learn that many banks and managers charge a higher percent than independent financial consultants who often offer a greater range of services and have important tools to help you invest your money is ways that are consistent with your organizations's mission.

In terms of your personal finances, I suggest you keep an open mind. Interview several professionals (like church shopping) and get a sense of who they are and how they work. Talk to their other clients. Pay attention to their reputation in the community. Find someone you are comfortable talking with. Money gets us into some pretty deep places and it's good to have someone you can trust to work with.

Our money lives are in many ways as important as our spiritual lives, especially in these difficult economic times. Getting into right relations with money can be an important part of spiritual growth. Blessings on the journey.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day--largely ignored in the US (except on college campuses) but an official holiday in a number of countries. What would it take to make it an official holiday here?

I'm celebrating this day especially this year, because I just returned to Massachusetts from Texas where I participated in the first ever International Convocation of U*U Women. What an amazing gathering, coordinated by a grassroots effort--with sponsorship of the UUA but no money except through grants. Still nearly 600 women managed to come, from most continents of the world, representing nearly 20 countries--mostly UUs. What a wonderful feeling to be part of a large UU women's gathering again.

I came into the larger UU movement (beyond local congregation and district) in 1983, when I attended General Assembly in Vancouver BC. I started with the UU Women's Federation Biennial, so my gateway was women. Then I went on to study UU women's history and develop resources for others through the UU Women's Heritage Society, along with becoming a parish and then community minister.

History is important--and we need to know what women were doing as well as men. I am particularly struck by this after doing research for the sermon I preached today. There are an amazing number of parallels between what was happening a century ago, when International Women's Day started, and what is happening now. At first I was depressed at how little has changed, but then I started to get excited. If we look at this past in terms of role modeling, we might just discover some new perspectives on what we need to do now.

On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City for better pay and working conditions--and for the right to vote. I would like to know more about how that coalition came together--because it seems like two movements must have merged in that march. One was the largely white middle/upper class suffrage movement, and the other must have been women who worked for a living in low pay jobs, like textile mills, etc. That latter movment erupted a couple of years later in the "Bread and Roses" strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In that movement, women from different ethnic groups, religions, and cultures overcame their differences and organized successfully for better working conditions and pay.

I'm not suggesting that strikes and marches are what we need right now. Instead the role modleing I'm referring to is the way diverse groups of women worked together. It seems to me that one of the largest failures of the feminist movement has been our inability to work across lines of race and class.

At the Convocation we heard about third wave feminism. May this new wave of women's organizing bring the world closer to gender equity and every other sort of equity too.

Some say the 21st century is the century of women

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Getting Started

I finally decided to take the plunge into the blogging world. Before doing so I consulted my Unitarian Universalist minister colleagues. Some were surprisingly quite negative, but the ones who were positive convinced me that this was a practice that would serve me well--and hopefully also serve those who might read this.

I had been thinking about blogging for awhile and had already decided on my name. I'm at least a third generation Californian--a rare breed. I left my home state in the 1970s "to see the world" and never managed to go back there to live. But California is still the home of my heart. I try to go there at least once a year. One year I got there four times--and I was in heaven.

Right now, though, it's easy to feel more at home in Massachusetts, since my marriage is legal here and probably wouldn't be there. That's a topic for another post.

At this point, I've now been in Massachusetts for 25 years. In terms of friends and work, I suppose this is my home now, but my heart will always be in California--not San Francisco especially (as the song says), but in the whole state.

I was born in Seaside Hospital in Long Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The problem with Massachusetts is that the ocean here just doesn't have waves, unless there's a storm at sea. I miss the coast of California as much as I miss the state itself.

California is a crazy mixed up place. Anything is possible--and probably exists there. All the extremes. Massachusetts is logical, educated, and sane--which is why they were the first to figure out that same gender marriages are just as worthy of recognition as different gender marriages. I'm glad of that, but sometimes I miss the crazyiness.

Turning 65 this past year has forced me to look back over my life and realize the need to reclaim my crazy California girl inner self. That's what I hope to do in this blog. Born to be wild!