Thursday, March 19, 2015

Holding the Days, Loosely

Monday is my Sabbath and this past Monday was an exceptionally beautiful day. Like an eager puppy, my soul nipped around my heels, clamoring to go for a walk. “Okay, okay,” I said, pulling on comfortable walking shoes, some sunblock, and my hat. I went down to the water, as I like to do, and walked along the bank.

It was such a beautiful day – in just one week, the brown and brittle cold had given way to warm, lush green bursting forth. I walked along through all the greenness, peering into the water here and there, pausing to savor a delicious breeze, to look up at the trees which were shedding their winter brown as young, bratty green leaves nagged for their time to hang out over the water.

I found myself wanting to clutch the day fiercely, to hoard it, because I know that what is coming means heat and bugs. Summer in Texas is often like the photo negative of a Boston winter – they hibernate from the snow and frigid cold; we move sluggishly from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned workplace.

I have this instinct for hoarding, I have to admit, not only with beautiful days, but with happy times in general. My father says, “I don’t trust happiness,” and I suppose I have some of that attitude in me. Life teaches us that. We can one day be thrilled with how wonderful things are; we blink and we’re in an ambulance with a loved one, or getting a serious phone call.

I think it’s understandable, this desire to hoard the good days, this fear that even while enjoying the day, makes us look around suspiciously – “What is going to try to steal my happy?”

I walked farther on, finding more and more treasures. A mockingbird landed close to me and began singing loudly, protecting a nest I could see in the branches. 

I walked to the end of the trail and turned around to head back, the way that I came. I took a few steps and saw something small, amongst all the greenery I had walked past. A tiny spot of blue.


I looked closer. It was the first bluebonnet of the season. Suddenly, my eyes opened with recognition that the waves and waves of green I had been walking through were the familiar star-shaped leaf clusters of the bluebonnet. I had been walking through fields of bluebonnets the entire time. They’re not in bloom yet, but they’re there, they’re ready to go, the late freezes didn’t kill them.

This entire walk, I had been walking not through fields of green that are beautiful now but will turn brown at some point, I was walking through fields of potential. In just a couple of weeks, it will be even more amazing, more beautiful.

I realized that “Things are so great … when are they going to go bad?” can be traded in for, “Things are so great … and they may get even better.”


And so I was reminded to hold my good days with gratitude, but to hold them loosely, knowing that I may need to open my hands to hold even more happiness. My hands runneth over …



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nurturing and Feeding the “Pet Projects”

First Published on The Lively Tradition, http://www.tomschade.com/2014/09/go-forth-and-serve.html Sept. 11, 2014



When did “pet project” become an insult in UU churches?

A person has a charity or a cause that they’re passionate about. They devote time and money to it. They talk about it at their church or – horrors! – ask for support. 

“Oh, that’s just their pet project,” says someone.

We don’t want pet projects. We want Church Programs. We’re fine with making the world a better place, but it needs to be done here, through the proper channels, something we all feel the same amount of passion for. Which may be virtually nil, but at least we all feel nil about it. We’re not spending the church’s energy on someone’s pet project.

I used to buy into that. But not anymore.

I knew someone who had a passion for a particular issue. At her workplace, she mobilized others. She wound up with 200 people helping her “pet project.”  Her church did something similar and wound up with a not insubstantial 40 participants – good for their size. 

But let’s just think about that.

What if, rather than trying to get 40 participants for one program, we instead equipped and empowered 40 members to go out and each one follow their own passion? Maybe we gave them meeting space or maybe even a little seed money. Maybe all we did was cheer them on, and offer them the shared wisdom of all the other church members who were changing the world in their own particular calls.

40 x 200? Heck, 40 x 10 would still be pretty impressive, wouldn’t it?

The balance to this is an understanding that the church is not going to adopt anyone’s pet project. Because instead, there’s an expectation that every member is called to find what lights their soul on fire. And as a church, we’re going to find the ways that we can support all these different “burning coals” within. 

Pets need to be fed, given love, have people they can trust.


So do their owners. Let’s work on that. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Self-Care: Throw a Rockin' Pity Party!

I have given my little speech on pity parties to three different people this past week, so it seems
something is in the air. Let me share my view on pity parties with anyone who needs it:

Namely: I'm all for them. Even during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

Look, sometimes life just stinks. It's unfair, and it's miserable, and dammit, why should you be going through this? You don't deserve it! No, you don't. To steal a line from The Best Man Holiday, nobody deserves misery, it's just your turn.

Now, as with all parties, you need to have good food, drink, and entertainment. Oh, and dress. People always want to know what they should wear to your party. And a guest list.

Guest List: You.

Dress: Something incredibly comfortable. Jammies. Yoga pants. Sweats.

Food: Something comforting. This is not a time for counting calories. Pay attention to the four food groups, sweet, salty, fried, and au gratin.1

Drink: Whatever works for you. Sparkling cider. Dr. Pepper. Red wine of an exquisite vintage. Hot cocoa.

Entertainment: Whatever movies turn on the waterworks. Field of Dreams. Steel Magnolias. The Notebook. (Hey, I'm not judging.) This time of year, the aforementioned Best Man Holiday.

Instructions: Watch. Eat. Drink. Sob big ugly wails, feel sorry for yourself. Stop with the being brave and keeping a stiff upper lip. Give in to it. It's okay. You're allowed. 

At a certain point, the party will be over. You'll wake up the next day, clean up the debris, wash your face, and go back to putting one foot in front of the other.

But for now ... party hearty, Marty.






1 The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, Jill Conner Browne

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"The Lifesaving Virtue of Hopelessness"

Hopelessness as a virtue? Wait, wait, Universalism is "The Larger Hope," and we (wrongly attributed to John Murray) exhort people to "Give them, not Hell, but hope and courage," and we sing about bringing hope, when hope is hard to find.

Hopelessness can be a virtue?

Yes.

In Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud writes:
If you are looking for the formula that can get you motivated and fearless, here it is: you must finally see reality for what it is—in other words, that what is not working is not going to magically begin working. If something isn’t working , you must admit that what you are doing to get it to work is hopeless. This chapter is about the lifesaving virtue of hopelessness. The awareness of hopelessness is what finally brings people to the reality of the pruning moment. It is the moment when they wake up, realize that an ending must occur, and finally feel energized to do it. Nothing mobilizes us like a firm dose of reality. Whether it is finally getting an addict to hit bottom and end a destructive pattern or getting a CEO in front of a bankruptcy judge to force the restructuring that he has been avoiding, only reality gets us to do difficult things.1
I have to admit that when I read this, this summer, it was like a big ole smack upside the head. Yes! First step in making a big change, whether it's personal or organizational, is losing hope. Losing hope can be exactly what we need!

And yet, how often are we the well-meaning friend who does, indeed, bring hope when hope is hard to find? Because hopelessness doesn't feel good. At best, it's uncomfortable. More likely, it's downright painful. And so here we come, with a rose in the wintertime and a beautiful basket of hope, all tied up with a bow. We don't stop to consider that maybe this isn't the season for roses, and hmm, there might be some denial mixed in with all that hope.

Wow, you are such a downer, Rev. Jo!

But what if we actually see hopelessness for what it is -- a necessary step, a tool, a motivator -- for getting us where we need to go?

In that same book, Cloud tells about Julie Shimer, CEO of Welch Allyn, a medical device company. That company is doing very well indeed, because she was able to lose hope that the way they operated would continue to work. To quote Cloud, "she lost hope in the old way, even when it was succeeding."2

She had learned that lesson through watching the mistake of her previous employer, Motorola. In the mid-nineties, they were the market leader in analog phones. AT&T came to them and asked them to make a digital phone. Nah, they said. Not good quality, and besides, they were the leader. Why change? So AT&T went to Nokia. And the world changed. And Motorola was no longer the leader. Because they hadn't lost their hope that things would continue just as they had been.

Hopelessness may just be an opportunity. Perhaps we should consider carefully before we run from it ... or block it from others.





1 Cloud, Henry (2011-01-18). Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward (p. 74). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 
2 Ibid., 78.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

First Thing: Kill Your Mission

Implicit mission, that is. 

Before you start your visioning, before you begin looking for your explicit mission, deal with the mission your church already has.

Oh, it has one. It's implicit, and probably invisible. If it's articulated, it's through those statements that come out in conversation, when you're deciding whether or not to do something. Do we go to two services? Do we move? Do we expand our religious education program? Do we keep this particular element in the worship service? 

There are often answers that will come out, that are key to the identity you have (which is not necessarily the identity you want) and key to why you actually have a church.

Why do you have a church? What is the raison d'ĂȘtre of your church? Why does it exist?

Unless your implicit mission is first acknowledged and addressed, it will continue to be the guiding mission of the church, no matter the beautiful mission statement that is explicitly created. Maybe the implicit mission should be the explicit mission of the church -- it could be good! But it needs to be identified and then decided -- do we want this to really be our mission? Will this guide us to where we want to go? 

On Facebook, I asked other UUs to tell me some of the implicit/invisible missions they see. 

Some of the answers: 

  • We will be a community of like-minded people where everyone gets along. 
  • We will create a large enough church to maintain our historic building. 
  • We will keep everybody happy, so nobody ever leaves. 
  • We will do what it takes to keep our doors open.
  • The most important thing to do is take care of our people. 
  • We are a place where everybody knows your name. 
  • To be a place where well-educated folks can express relatively mainstream-liberal ideas that they cannot share at their workplace or most other public spaces.

These probably aren't what you want to be the actual mission of your church, the reason for it existing. Now, some of these may go just fine with the explicit mission you come up with. After all, we should take care of each other. And maybe you want to be a deliberately small community where everyone knows each other. Some churches are doing that, they call it "micro-church."

Find the implicit mission. If it's what you want, make it explicit.

If it's not ... kill it.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Testimony to the Woman in Starbucks Who Asked About My Church

You noted my clerical collar and rainbow pin and had some questions. I told you I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister, and you wanted to know more.

I screwed up, I think, with you. Because I began giving you information, little explanations that you could have just as easily found on Wikipedia. I got busy explaining "what" instead of "why." 

I am a Unitarian Universalist because this religion gives me a history and a theology that I can have faith in, and part of that includes the fact that it has faith in me. Unitarian Universalism says that I -- even on my bad days -- am worthy to be treated with respect and dignity. And it teaches me that I have both the capability and the responsibility to determine and define my own creed by which I will live.

To do that, I need tools, I need encouragement, and I need relationship. And that's why I am a Unitarian Universalist in faith and in practice. That's why I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, and would whether I was a minister or a member. 

My church gives me tools, and this is one of the great, beautiful things about this religion -- it opens up a library, a research lab, the size of the universe, and says, "Go. Look. See. Test everything. Hold fast to what is good." Writings on the world's religions, philosophy ancient and modern, science, culture, art, the thoughts of others, my own experience ... all of these are tools as I struggle with forming a creed that is a bit beyond where I am now, a creed that I can live by, with effort. And when I walked into this place, I walked in to a religion with a history, a people, a systematic theology and point of view. I study, I wrestle with them all, to see how they inform what I hold to be true. The core teachings on hope in humanity, and hope in the forces that guide and sustain us, lift me up. This is a hope-full religion. 

It takes encouragement, to keep going. Some days, I just want to pick the easy way out. Or I want to have a creed brimming with fancy flourishes that I can frame and look at, without actually having to live. My church encourages me to delve deeper, try harder, be the authentic person I aspire to be. They hold me accountable.

And they hold me. We are in relationship, in church. We take care of each other. We love one another. When I am broken down, my spirit crumbling, church echoes our Universalist theological belief that there is still love, and I am still worthy. We learn how to be in relationship even through the hard times. We disagree ... but we do the work to stay in the relationship. We get angry with each other ... and we stay in relationship. And as we stay in relationship with each other, so we are learning how to stay in relationship with the whole rest of the world, even those whose politics and creeds are so different from ours. We stay connected. We re-engage. We love. We find joy in each other. 

I am a Unitarian Universalist. In faith. In practice. In aspiration. 


http://iamuu.net/being-uu/uu-saturday-writing-challenge/





Monday, February 24, 2014

Part 3: A Minute to Learn, a Lifetime to Master -- Humankind is Good

It's pretty much like that Board Game Othello, whose tag line is "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master."

If I choose to have faith that humankind is good, and there is a force of good in the universe, then how does my life change?

It is tempting to stay in the hypothesis-testing stage forever. That, after all, requires no real action on my part, just weighing and measuring the evidence.

At this point in my life, however, I feel that I have sufficient evidence to justify my optimism, and so I put the measuring cups and scales away. That doesn't mean I might not change my mind at some later point, but I have a limited amount of time and energy, and I want to spend it now on living out the faith that I have chosen.

To have faith that humankind is good means that I must look at others not with suspicion or cynicism, but instead, with an expectation of the goodness in them. Some often call it "assuming good intentions."

It's hard. This is a culture that often urges us to question the motivations of every person. Sometimes that might be prudent, I admit, but I try to hold back. If the action seems deliberately hurtful, well yes, at that point, I need to look closer.

But often there is no need. So often, people exceed my expectations. And if they are so good, then perhaps I should be, too?

I work hard at living my values. It hasn't happened haphazardly or accidentally. I know what my core values are. Sometimes I fall short. Sometimes, I'll even write down one of these core values that I want to work on. I put it on an index card, and carry it around in my pocket, or prop it up by my computer. I put it into the present form, so, it's not "I want to be ..." -- it's "I AM ....."

If I seek to live into my faith that humankind is good ... well, I am part of humankind. Low-hanging fruit, to start with myself.