Friday, January 28, 2011

"Walk With Us"

Just when the jokes about geriatric rock and rollers had seemed to put his generation in its place, along came Neil Young-again. Electric guitar pounding out his passion. Lyrics that take you deep, and a voice as soulful as ever, now girded with a strength acquired from years of living.

A friend emailed me a link to the video of Neil playing "Walk With Me." It shattered the cozy context of my Pastor's office, and simultaneously rocketed me to the fourth dimension. It's so rock, that I'm sure many people will love and rock out to this song, without ever associating a religious thought with it.

I hesitate for a moment as I write. Perhaps I should do my homework before writing. But I don't care if Neil Young intended to write a religious song. He did. And oh, um... I don't think that it's a coincidence that the video appears to be shot in a church, that the camera gives us long glances up from darkness into light,... or that stain glass windows frame the background. The fact that he passionately sings "walk with me" and mentions unconditional love do not go unnoticed by this religious man.

For all I know Neil Young might have had a real life flesh and blood lover in mind when he wrote his song. I don't care. This is rock and roll Hafiz, or Rumi. Don't express that kind of passion, and tell me it's not religious. Wait, am I suggesting that all passion is religious? Come to church on 2/13 for "Love, Sex, God and Power" and find out.

Neil Young isn't the only one who expresses religious thoughts and themes in a way that enables people from a wide range of religious perspectives to relate. For years UUs have played with language and tried to make room for theologically diverse people to find common ground. However, we went so far into code that many people forgot we were engaged in a religious endeavor. We are in the business of symbol that points toward the eternal, the sacred, the ultimate concern.

The intention to journey together, as in "Walk with me" has been reason enough for most of us to be UU. When our congregations did their job, they helped us to hear the inner voice that cries "walk with me" and recognize it as a longing for connection with something larger, something as large as life itself.

Although the song is newly written, we have been singing it for years. We have been singing to the Eternal, and we've been calling each other to find "the Eternal" in the spaces between us. We've been looking for and finding "the Holy" in our relationships, in our covenants and congregations. BTW, If you don't like the words "Holy" "Eternal" or "Sacred" substitute a word of your choosing. But realize that any word that we use in this sentence will be inadequate to express what goes there.

We find divine revelation by walking and working together striving to create "the beloved community." We encourage spiritual growth by walking together on a journey toward wholeness. When we walk together, we find meaning and purpose. When we walk together we also find our answers questioned. And in our characteristically UU way- we recognize the questioning as essential for our faith development. In the challenges of walking together, when our answers no longer define truth for us, or when they fail to serve as bridges to others' souls, then we become willing to struggle, reflect and acknowledge that there is more love somewhere beyond our thoughts and words. We become willing to open up to truth that is greater then our predetermined maps and plans. It is in this manner that we call to each other with the plea "Walk with me." In our journeying together we find meaning and purpose, and we find meaning and purpose in our journeying together.

Thanks Neil!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Coming out, Our Sacred Task

Starting up this new UU matters blog, I feel excitement wondering where it will lead. Not sermon, not article, what will it be? I'm fantasizing about throwing down all political posturing. I am feeling ecstasy imagining what it would be like to hear my own true voice sound out fully. Although ministry is about serving others, what I appreciate most about it is the fulfillment that comes when I'm being most like myself.

A good part of what we are doing as a religious people is encouraging people to “come out.” The term comes to us from gay liberation. One of the reasons why celebrating lgbtqui people coming out is that we recognized it as an affirmation and acceptance of nature, of who we are. We want this kind of coming out for all humans. We wish to promote the liberation of all souls. Intuitively we know this kind of acceptance to be a religious act.

It is by allowing our true selves to emerge, that we discover the divinity in our humanity. As UUS we are proclaiming that our inherent nature as humans is sacred, whole, lovable and awesome. Celebrating the act of coming out, (with a liberal application of this term) is perhaps our most identifiable UU way of illuminating a portal to a religious experience.

Personally, I know I still need to come out in many ways. I've been careful for too long. How can I preach the tradition of a faith where all souls are saved, if I'm not willing to live it? I must accept the divinity, inherent worth and dignity within myself and act accordingly!

Twenty-one years ago the UUA's ministerial fellowship committee denied my request to enter the search/ settlement process. It was only through grit (that I didn't know I had), that I inched and crawled and found a humble place in this ministry. I tried to be “soooo good.” I believed that I couldn't afford to get into any trouble, because any misstep could result in my getting deported as an undocumented worker in the field of UU Ministry. So I limited my risks. I bit my tongue, and I've eaten a lot of humble pie.

To a large extent I overcame my fear of being cast out, and chose to express my own true voice as a minister. I had to listen to the still small voice within me, and the voice of my own heart more than my fear of what I imagined might get me in trouble. And in truth, my heart still years for greater self expression.

I joined this faith tradition because I believed it would help me have full religious expression. Jesus ministry had touched my soul profoundly in a way that was unacceptable for a Jew. Because UUS affirmed Jesus as a man and because they revered his form of trouble making, I found a home.

Later in seminary, a line in a book confirmed the value of this. In “the Meaning and End of Religion,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith wrote “every man that is today considered religiously great, was at odds with the religion of his day.” I suspect that most UU's can appreciate this quote. It's no wonder we've struggled as the "un-church" or the "almost religion" for so long. Being a religion of people at odds with religion is quite a challenge.

It's a paradox, and a tight rope we walk. We have the courage to love the path of the ethical troublemaker. But in order to make more than just trouble, we must also realize that it's cooperation that makes evolution possible. We must love people, love our congregations, love our denomination, our human race, and life itself. We must care enough to be honest with one another.

In this blog, I intend to care enough to speak the truth in love. I intend to go where spirit leads me, to burst forth from my own private, careful little world. Where will it lead me? Will I be another UU gloating in the joy of complaining. Oh ecstasy, I have just complained about complaining! Will I point out how unbridled are our egos, and in doing so unbridle my own ego?

Echart Tolle says that “ego loves to make somebody wrong because it enables a sense of superiority. I wonder if transparency will expose ego's grip on me?

How can I live without analyzing and interpreting who is right and who is wrong? Isn't critical thinking our sacred cow? Is it our communion? If so, perhaps critically analyzing our “movement” is the UU communion of choice.

If I speak more openly about what I see, feel and need, what will become of me?! If I ease off internal censorship, and express what it's been like to be UU, will it expose me as a chronic complainer? I can also imagine inflating my ego while playing large a martyr script. I could demonstrate how noble I am to express the truth without regard for what it will do to my standing. If I can't be powerful, at least I can be right. Aint I UU?

We eschew martyrdom. We have contempt for martyrdom. We are part of a global marketplace media culture that obsesses on winning. Yet, not far beneath the surface of the fabric of our UU garment, run the strong strands of distrust and low expectations. We defensively choose smugness and cling to our assumed intellectual and educational superiority, in order to hide the fact that we expect mainstream culture to dismiss, reject or overlook us. Because we don't believe we could be powerful, we console ourselves with being right.

Wow! I am amazed to realize how this “shadow” side of me helps me fit right into the UU world. We bond in the shared experience of this delusion. It's delusion because we can be powerful, and we are not "the" right ones. All our preaching about about integrity, conscience and thinking for one's self will be useless unless we can actually demonstrate it in our lives.

Did I say that my blogs would bear no resemblance to my sermons? Shalom Y'all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Priests in Trash and Forest Paths

WE are in every UU congregation. We are the ones who complain when the congregation uses styrofoam.  We are the ones who make sure that recycling or composting happens. (BTW, I love the phrase “Compost Happens.”)

At my last congregation, I was tempted to write a column “Your minister is a garbage picker.”  On several occasions, while living in the rectory above the church, I actually did fish through the church trash can to pull out recyclables; I refused to throw out discarded and misplaced cans and bottles.  

For a growing number of us, ecological action is part of being UU. Sometimes when we go out and about, we return home with a salvaged can or bottle.   My personal favorite is removing recyclables from hiking trails.  An outside observer might call it crazy, or lowly work, or perhaps consider it a random act of kindness.  To me, it's a religious act.  As I pick up the can or bottle, I imagine a chorus proclaiming “this one has been saved from the landfill!”

I have had several people instruct me in the Native American practice of making prayer ties, little pouches of tobacco to be left as offerings before receiving from Earth Mother. When done with proper intention, and prayer, it becomes ceremony.  

Picking up cans and trash from places of beauty became my offering, my religious observance.  With each can I retrieve, I include a prayer for the one who left it, as I express love to the Holy One who created us, the Web of life of which we are a part.

Before I adopted this practice,  I would see litter and make myself miserable.  Now I regard such events as a call to awakening and worship. Sometimes the sight of litter leads me to grieve for how we humans receive the gift of life.   As I allow space for grief, I find there's also room for peaceful, even joyous action.  Picking up recyclables (or trash) becomes a way to usher in the “kindom of heaven.”   There is connection to the divine and a special bond with fellow eco-spirit activists. This weird and wonderful practice can heal hearts.

Have you noticed things that UUs do? If you have notice UUs performing great or small acts of faith, I'd love to hear about it. Email me @