Friday, May 1, 2015

Feral Unitarian Universalists

It is an old joke, in many organizations, and certainly over(used) in Unitarian Universalist churches, that working with a designated group of people is "like herding cats."



So ... what if we didn't? What if we encouraged congregation members to run free and wild, like the creative people they are, bent on loving the hell out of the world?

I've written before about a collective disdain for members with "pet projects." There are those feral cats again. Running in a hundred directions, each one on fire for something different.

How awesome.

I don't want to corral that energy, I want to stoke it.

They say if you feed them, you'll never get rid of them. That sounds pretty good, too. Let's figure out how to feed them, so they keep coming back for the sustenance that will keep them going.

And let's, all of us, find our own wild side. We can still be good upstanding responsible citizens, paying our taxes, bringing a casserole to the potluck. But we prick up our ears at a certain conversation, or a certain issue that makes us say, "Something MUST be done." Well-nourished, we do that thing that must be done, roaming the streets til we find the others who are headed in the same direction. We work together with these others, different from us, but united in purpose.

And then we head home. We know there will be a light left on, a bowl of kibble, some fresh water. Sometimes, we may even bring with us some of those whom we have met out in the night of united purpose. They haven't eaten lately, and are looking a little gaunt.

Let's feed the cats, not herd them.







Thursday, April 30, 2015

Halfway around the world from right next door

We had just lifted up his mother's 95th birthday in church. I didn't know if he had heard the news, so I just sent a vague-ish email: Where in Nepal did his mother live?

Kathmandu, he replied. But before the news broke worldwide, breaking the phone system, he had heard from his brother. The immediate family was okay. His mother was okay. They were sleeping in a car out in an open field to avoid aftershocks. It is devastating. All rubble. They don't know about other family members.

My son is safe at college, just three hours away from me. But another young man, exactly his age, is also at college. We have sponsored his education since he was 12, exchanging letters and photos twice a year. He is studying engineering and is growing into a fine man. In Nepal.

We are following the status updates that Answer-Nepal is putting out, scanning the list for Alish's name, multiple times a day. I have sent an email to the last email address I had for him.

I just checked again.

The silence is loud.




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Real News, Real People

There is real news today
The Supreme Court of the land hearing arguments
About whether all who love, may legally marry
And a real couple watch: can they make plans?
Set a date?

There is real news today
Baltimore is burning
With rage, with despair, with anguish
And 2 real persons watch from their respective windows
Is it safe to go to work today?
Will his blue security uniform mean attack?
Will his black skin mean death?

There is real news today
Nepali people dig in the rubble for loved ones
Landslides, avalanche, no way to get supplies
And 2 real family members, a world away, listen
Hoping for a phone call that mama is okay
The ping of an email that the student has been located.

Turn off the analysis
The posturing
The replaying over and over
To elicit the emotional reaction
That means you'll keep watching
And paying for them to do it all again
Tomorrow

There is real news today
With real people.

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.