Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Singing Is a Blessing

I went to hear Daniel J. Levitin speak awhile back. He wrote The World in Six Songs and This Is Your Brain on Music, neither of which I've read. His talk was inspiring, all about the ways humans communicate emotions through songs . At the end of his talk, we asked questions, of course. The last person to speak lamented the fact that regular people don't get much chance to sing anymore -- that music-making is now done only by professionals. I happened to be sitting in the front row, so Daniel heard me say, "We could sing something right now." And we did! He led us in "If I Had a Hammer"! It was a lot of fun. Right afterwards, people were energized and happy. One woman immediately got on her cell phone to announce: "At the end, we sang 'If I Had a Hammer'!" Several people thanked me for my inspiration.

This experience has stayed with me because I realize how very blessed we church-goers are to have the opportunity to sing every week. Regular folks singing in groups is now so rare that it is counter-cultural. But we get to experience this every weekend. I hadn't thought of our hymn-singing in quite this way before, even though we are a congregation that sings with gusto. I've been told that this is not always the case.

Sing it!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sampagne and Leg Wrappers!

I was just reading about Personal Slanguage on another blog, referring to slang and made-up terms that enjoy use by a group of friends or family members and sometimes spread wider. I'm glad to know that there is a term for this because I have a couple:

Sampagne -- this is sparkling cider or any type of non-alcoholic champagne. (Martinelli's is one brand.) My spouse Sam does not drink, but loves this stuff. Any time we're having champagne (even at our wedding), we also have Sampagne on hand.

Leg Wrapper -- this refers to something that a woman finds sexy: because it makes her want to wrap her legs around someone. I made this up as a movie review term, so I could clue my girlfriends into date movies, but a book or other media could be a leg wrapper, also.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Joys & Sorrows for 500 (with Kids)

I've been present twice for Joys and Sorrows in our new Atrium Auditorium. Imagine a free-standing candelabra-type structure with ten cups for candles, arranged in a spiral. Two of these, a standing microphone and a minister holding a lit taper worked quite well for our ritual. No more putting candles into a small bowl of sand!

This past Sunday, I shared a joy (so I won't go up again for awhile). It felt great, but the best part was having children participate in Joys and Sorrows with their parents, lighting candles while their parents expressed milestones. Now that children are present during the first part of every worship service, they can get familiar with more of our rituals.

Of course, I heard a rumor that some people are unhappy with children being present. Some are unhappy that we are still doing Joys and Sorrows. I enjoy both and understand their importance to our congregation.


Monday, October 27, 2008

A big-enough Auditorium

My hUUge congregation in Madison finally has a large sanctuary (named the "Atrium Auditorium"). We have 1500 adult members; our new space seats 500 people. So, with the three worship services we have: Hallelujah and come on in! I haven't invited any Madison friends to come to FUS in a very long time -- not for ten years. Every time I wanted to, I would remember all the caveats: you'll need to park a block away and walk, so wear comfortable shoes; we'll try to save you a seat, but if you don't make it by three minutes 'till we will have to give your seat to someone else; if no one speaks to you, it's not that we're unfriendly, we just have a lot of introverts here; after the service, we have fellowship in a long, narrow hallway, so it will be difficult, but if you keep your arms to your sides and stay right behind me, I'll take you to the coffee....

More later,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Greeting As Ministry

I "attended" an online workshop called "Ten Bright Ideas for Getting Your Church Ready for Fall," sponsored by three UUA districts: Central Midwest, Prairie Star and Heartland. Great workshop! The idea I loved the most was the first one: Greeting As Ministry:

Have greeters who see their work as a ministry, not a chore. Ideally, a greeter knows many members by name, is very warm and personable and greets everyone, not just adults. The most crucial time to be friendly is right after the service ends, so have greeters and others continue to greet after the service. Have a Welcoming Team that includes some phantom greeters: members who volunteer to assist with greeting both before and after the service, but are not the "official" greeters.

Great tips, no? For some of us, greeting is fulfilling and fun. I'm an extravert (surprise) and get quite a charge from being that friendly, smiling person who can greet members by name and welcome visitors. The more difficult piece is engaging first-time visitors after the service. I have an easier time when I ask how they felt/what they thought of the worship service and perhaps find out their church background and what they're looking for in a faith community.

I'm a huge fan of the phantom greeter idea, because having a specific role to play can make us more effective: designated phantom greeters will notice new people before and during the service so that they're ready to seek them out afterwards. Maybe a good idea for large congregations would be to have a phantom greeter in each section of the sanctuary? Ideally, this would be in addition to the official section greeter. My hUUge congregation doesn't have those, but some congregations do.

Do any UU congregations give welcome bags with gifts to visitors? Some relatives of ours recently brought home a welcome bag from their visit to a large Episcopal congregation. The bag contained a blessing, several informational flyers and a jar of preserves bought at our farmer's market. Wow! This church has an enormous building with a Cathedral-like sanctuary that was about half-full, my relatives said. I went to a Unity church once that had a tradition of giving first-time visitors flowers. That was wonderful, except that after the service no one spoke to me or my flower!

Autumnal greetings,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Joys and Sorrows: Controversial!!

The topic of Joys and Sorrows came up on the UU Leaders listserv. It seems that congregational experts view J&S as small church behavior that we have got to eradicate if we want growth. Several years back, Stefan Jonasson came to FUS of Madison and announced that we were the largest UU congregation on this continent still doing Joys & Sorrows. It is funny to think of my congregation as this renegade, but we have not had the problems with J&S that other congregations report. In fact, we love it.

It works for us because we have trained lay ministers at the services to respond to folks and offer support after worship in addition to our regular members and (sometimes) ministers. It's crucial that people feel listened to, as we all know. It's even better when people are asked, "What can we do to help you?"

Of course, we also do J&S in such a way as to strongly discourage any acting out. We have many subtle boundaries that keep it contained. We have J&S only once a month, now the fourth Sunday of each month, near the end of the worship service when people are already looking at their watches. A worship leader introduces the time as "a few minutes," "not for announcements or political statements," etc. We have a small bowl of sand and about twelve candles -- that's it!

Everyone who attends knows that we're a HUUGE congregation and knows that we have to keep it short. Folks are careful not to go up too often, because none of us wants to be known as someone who "always" has a J or S. If someone does speak for too long or make an announcement, s/he gets a gentle reminder. Also, many people are not comfortable speaking into a microphone in front of hundreds of people. All these factors mean that people only go up for really big milestones and that we do not have too many J&S -- or at least that's the way it has been in the fifteen years I've been attending.

I've been reading that J&S isn't good in a large congregation because of the intimidation factor. Certainly, all the above factors probably do intimidate some folks who would never go up themselves, but people who don't participate sometimes seek out those who did after the service to say, "I'm going through that, too." And of course, the worship leader always lights one last candle "for all those joys and sorrows that are unspoken, but remain in our hearts and minds." One of our former ministers referred to J&S as "the real stuff of religion." Rev. Darrel calls it the central sacrament of the beloved community.

The truth is that people do feel connected during our monthly ritual, despite our numbers. Most of us choose one of our three services and attend that one and eventually see (at least) a handful of familiar faces every week, so we are not a group of complete strangers for long. First-time visitors sometimes share something, so I know that we're not totally scary to new folks!

Perhaps another reason our way works for us is that the two other Madison UU congregations have J&S also, but every week. So, it seems like a normal thing to do. At James Reeb UU Congregation, we have a long, narrow trough on legs that easily fits twenty candles. (I need to find out the proper name for that thing -- "trough on legs" does not sound quite right!) At Prairie UU Society, they don't use candles, but speak from their seats after being called upon.

For me, J&S is a very meaningful ritual. It was so important to me to announce my engagement during J&S, light a candle of hope (when trying IVF), light one for my brother's brain injury, my sister's illness, my father's lung cancer and death, Sam's heart attack and my fabulous new job. I'm very careful not to go up too often (and my memory is still working well enough that I know when I've been up and whether or not I spoke).

Way back in 1996, I first shared a joy at FUS, about finally being ready -- three years after my cat died -- to get a new kitten. I was finally over the guilt of having my elderly cat (with a thyroid tumor) put to sleep. You know, some folks snickered at me. Yes, I got laughed at by a few men in our congregation. But, after the service a couple tracked me down during coffee to ask about my cat and tell me about the death of their sixteen-year-old feline.

At James Reeb,where I work, I don't feel a need to light a candle. There, my participation is as the administrator, so I'm noting what is happening for people and praying for them or celebrating with them the whole time, rather than thinking of myself. It feels freeing and reminds me that J&S is not really about us as individuals -- it is a way to sense the connections, the God in between us all as we celebrate and mourn together.

Blessed Be and Amen,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Candlelight Vigils in Support

Like many Unitarian Universalists, I went to a candlelight vigil at a local UU congregation this evening to express my sympathy, grief and empathy for the people of the Tennessee Valley UU Church (and some compassion for the shooter).

Safety was a theme at the vigil, how before, we viewed our sanctuary as the safest place, the place where we would be accepted, the place where we could relax. I mean, really relax -- enough to pray, to meditate, to cry, to be vulnerable, knowing the peace of being held by the interdependent web of existence.

Now the web seems to be unravelling. The tragedy occurred in just a few minutes, but now life is forever altered for those grieving and struggling to understand why and how. What about the children who witnessed this violence? How will they make sense of it?

I have so many questions, including: how will this change the way Unitarian Universalists act in the world? As UUs, we're admonished that it is not enough to show up for worship services -- no, we're supposed to be out walking the talk, letting others know where we stand, speaking up for equality and justice. Will we keep doing that, especially those UUs who live in conservative places? Once I heard Rosemany Bray McNatt speak about activism and how some people can be on the front lines, but others cannot. She gave the example of a woman responsible for raising children as someone who cannot afford to be involved in activism that could become threatening.

Except now we know that yesterday morning in Knoxville, being present for a UU service (a children's play, for God's sake) meant being in a life or death situation.

May our faith guide us toward healing as we pray for our fellow UUs,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wrestling With Adulthood: UU Men Talk about Growing Up

Wrestling With Adulthood: Unitarian Universalist Men Talk about Growing Up is a book of essays, one of which was just published in UU World: "Finding my path..." by Manish Mishra. Mishra really bares his soul in this essay -- I actually felt embarrassed while reading it, as if I should not know such intimate details of this man's life.

Mishra contrasts the certainty he had about his life with his later discoveries, demonstrating how he inadvertently chose both the wrong career and the wrong life partner ("vocation and human connection") when in his early twenties. At the time, of course, he was completely convinced that he was doing the right thing. Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Now, Mishra realizes that he entered into both the career and the partnership without knowing who he was or what he wanted. Perhaps for some of us, we have to choose the wrong things in order to find out what we really do want. Nothing fuels self-discovery like being miserable. It provides such great incentive! But, really, how could anyone possibly make permanent decisions when only twenty years old?

When I was nineteen, I was completely sure I was marrying my life partner. People asked how I was so sure, but my answer was, "When it's right, you know it." That is a line from a beer commercial, I think! In reality, I did not realize at the time why I was drawn to that man. It wasn't for the best reasons. There is a term for relationships in which folks marry young, don't have children, then divorce before they're thirty: the starter marriage.

Some people complain about "extended adolescence" that seems to grip so many of us, but I think it is great. Life expectancy is longer than ever, so waiting until 30 or 35 to become a responsible, settled adult is perfectly reasonable.

Enough of this -- let's play kickball!

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Now Let Us Sing" -- Finally!

Hooray! During the Closing Celebration of General Assembly, we sang "Now Let Us Sing," number 368 in our hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. At the Long Beach GA, Jim Scott tried to teach this during his GA workshop, but he started us out much too slowly (in my opinion) and people didn't catch on. I was disappointed, but you really cannot sing this one slowly. It won't work. So, it was quite a thrill when Sarah Dan Jones led it yesterday. I belted it out at home with my spouse while watching everyone get into it at GA. I hope many of the attendees take it home to sing in their congregations.

"Now Let Us Sing" is one of my very favorite hymns, partly because of its rich history at my congregation. Way back in 2000-01, Madison UUs began to learn number 368, first at James Reeb UU Congregation, then through the young adult group and then during worship services at my congregation. The first time we sang it at FUS, one of our ministers had four printed cards: Faith, Hope, Love and Joy. She held up one card for each verse! We had at least two song leaders, one for each part. After that, we sang "Now Let Us" fairly often for awhile, with only two screw-ups: once someone made the mistake of playing it on the organ and another time only the men got to sing it. Other than that, it's been pure bliss every time. We even sang it as an Energy Break at a Parish Meeting once. And of course, on the busride home from the St. Louis GA!

Anyway, if you don't know "Now Let Us Sing," I highly recommend you give it a try. Sing it fast; sing it often for optimal ecstacy.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Hands in the Air? General Assembly from Afar

I've been watching the live streaming of General Assembly: our annual meeting, conference, convention, celebration and UU Revival. If it weren't for the security restrictions, our lack of funds and my spouse's heart attack, I would want to be there in person!

GA is usually the high point of my year: I revel in Universalism, the hands-in-the-air worship services, spectacularly moving music, huge crowds, great speakers, dancing, singing, connecting with friends and meeting new ones. GA is an extravert's paradise -- each day, I have more energy than the day before as the ecstacy builds, until I shout Hallelujah all the way home!

Certainly, those of us watching on our laptops aren't having that experience, but we can still be inspired and challenged from afar. Plenary II, featuring debate on a business resolution urging us to make a strong commitment to youth and young adult ministry, was outstanding. To hear youth and young adults express their yearnings for belonging, support, guidance and empowerment was thrilling. To hear a few older delegates express their misgivings about the proposed resolution because it didn't include details about how to improve youth and young adult ministry in our congregations was sobering, but familiar.

In the end, I was proud to see a large majority vote for the resolution. What is so wrong about being idealistic, about expressing a vision for the future? I love hearing someone cast the vision. Because once we've got the vision, we can figure out the details ourselves -- the planning and execution of the objectives in our day-to-day church lives.

I don't want those select few who attend GA to tell the rest of us how to do something, but showing us why, giving us a challenging vision for the future is great.

With goosebumps,


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flower Communion: A UU High Holy Day

I attended three different Flower Communions this spring because I love the legacy of Norbert Capek, flowers and our UU rituals. At James Reeb UU Congregation, Rev. Darrel robed for the service, calling Flower Communion one of our "High Holy Days"! He had set up the chairs in the round, with a fabric-covered table in the center, complete with the Chalice, orchids and a few large vases full of water. We took our flowers up and made beautiful bouquets with them, then went up later to take a different flower. Wow! I'd never been to FC at a small congregation before, so didn't realize how creative one can be with the ritual elements.

The other two services were at my hUUge congregation, with choirs singing and the usual benches-facing-the-pulpit setup. But at the Saturday service, ushers sent baskets of flowers around so we could each take one. The usual Sunday thing is for the flowers to just be at the pulpit for folks to take if they want after the service ends, so that dispersing the flowers is not part of the ritual. The services where we took flowers and held and smelled them had more meaning to me, because grasping a flower that represents the beauty and uniqueness of a fellow human is much more profound than gazing at a bouquet from afar. It's important to me for rituals to be participatory -- open to all of us, no matter what.

When I was a little girl, I never liked watching the priest conduct an elaborate ritual to mix himself a drink that only he could have. I don't like unexplained, exclusionary rituals that don't ring true for me. Flower Communion, with its melding of natural beauty, community, inspiration, courage and justice is as real at it gets. Thank God for religious freedom and for those who gave their lives to uphold it.

One more note: Now that I've embraced the notion that a ritual is simply a repeated action that has a deeper meaning beyond the physical and has a beginning, a middle and an end, I have been empowered to celebrate and even create my own family rituals. (Learned this at the 2006 Meadville Lombard Winter Institute.)

A Sweet June Day to all,

Monday, June 2, 2008

One Heart Attack, Two Arteries and Three Stents

My world has been very small since Thursday because Sam (my spouse) had a heart attack. He comes home from the hospital tomorrow with two newly-opened arteries, nitroglycerine tablets and lots of information. He has a new role -- "cardiac patient" -- to add to all his other roles.

As scary as this journey has been, I know that our religion has made us stronger, more centered and more easily able to focus on the present than we would otherwise be. These qualities seem more essential than ever now.

But we're buoyed not only by Unitarian Universalism, but by our faith community, by the many people offering their help, support, thoughts and prayers, butternut squash soup and New Yorker cartoons. By watching a toddler push a footstool around the hospital room, being visited by a favorite minister and reading a lovely card from a baritone in our chorus.

Blessed be,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where Is the Love?

I watched the new DVD Listening To Experience, put out by the UUA. Listening To Experience features twelve parish ministers answering six big questions about growing congregations. At one point during the DVD, the ministers begin to discuss the love they have for their congregations, emphasizing that without that love, they wouldn't be effective religious leaders for their congregations, wouldn't have the energy for the hard work and certainly not the vision and growth they've had. One of the ministers said that new clergy ought not to accept calls with congregations with whom they have not fallen in love!

Following up on the DVD, Tandi Rogers Koerger has an article in the current (pre-GA) issue of The Religious Leader called "Love Or Infatuation." Koerger asks some pointed questions to help clergy determine whether they feel mature love or merely infatuation for their congregations:

Would I be able to let this congregation go if I believed it were the best thing?
Am I willing to wait for this congregation if they are not ready to grow?
Do I respect and admire this religious community?
If I were in an argument with my lay leaders, would I still feel the same way?

According to Koerger, mature love lasts through the difficult times, even through a decline in membership. Each party accepts the imperfection of the other, finds joy in giving as well as receiving and feels a responsibility toward the other's well-being. Most importantly (to me), both parties are honest and trustworthy.

I remember listening several years ago to a minister describe his former congregants: how they lined up after worship services to tell him what he did wrong and how they relied on him to plan his own installation party. "It wasn't a good fit," was his diplomatic explanation. I saw it differently: they didn't love him the way we did.

May we all experience mature love,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Test of Commitment: My Cat Has Diabetes

My large neutered male tabby cat, Shadow, has been diagnosed with diabetes. This means twice-daily insulin shots: 4 units with a little syringe at 8 AM and 8 PM. Surprise! I've had Shadow for nine years, I think. Got him from my sister Margaret when her life involved multiple addresses at apartments from Manhattan to Pacific Beach (California). Until now, he's always been low maintenance: not interested in escaping or getting treats or diving into freshly-dryed laundry or vomiting on our white rug or draping himself across my shoulders (thank God, because he weighs fourteen pounds). Totally unlike my other cat. Shadow enjoys laps, guests with large purses, kibble, being chased and getting brushed. Completely reasonable!

This twice-daily insulin ritual requires an adjustment on my part. Not on Shadow's because he doesn't even notice the injection! What am I learning from this? Well, my belief about pets has always been that once we aquire one, we must remain committed and responsible. I remember thinking long and hard before getting a kitten back in 1995, because a kitten could be a 25-year responsibility and would include having to live only in places that allow cats and never dating anyone allergic to them. (Yes, I was single back then.)

Our commitments get tested all the time. I've certainly had that happen over and over as a lay leader. The first time I had to miss a Madison festival because of a Covenant Group Ministry facillitator training, I complained loudly beforehand, "Shit! My paid job never conflicted with a festival!" But, the training was absolutely wonderful: fulfilling and fun, and the first time I facillated a training (fantastically). Came home exhausted and had to lie on the couch for two hours to recover, but was really proud of myself for rising to the challenge.

Since then, I've missed a number of events because of my church responsibilities, but have found them worth it. We'll see if I feel that way next month, when I'll have to miss part of the National Women's Music Festival for a leadership orientation at my church.

But back to having to give my cat an injection twice a day, every day -- good heavens, it is almost 8 PM. Responsibility calls.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"We Live Within God" -- Marcus Borg

Theologian Marcus Borg spoke in Madison recently. I've read Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, but not heard the Borg before. He explained "progressive Christianity" as being centered in God, concerned with our life on earth, inclusive, respectful of other faiths, seeing the Bible as metaphor and/or in a historical context and mainly trying to live like Jesus lived. Aspiring to live a life of compassion, equality and justice here on earth!

When Dr. Borg finished, I looked at my list of attributes of progressive Christianity and realized that none of them contradicts Unitarian Universalism. In fact, the attributes sound exactly like UUism to me! Obviously, believing that Jesus is divine is not part of progressive Christianity -- it's not about beliefs, it is about actions. I loved the talk, of course. I had heard rumors before that progressive Christians don't focus on the Afterlife or the divinity of Jesus or believe that God is omnipotent, but hadn't heard all this from the mouth of a progressive Christian (don't get out much, I guess).

Someone asked about believing in God during the Q&A time. "Isn't this based on a belief in God, so you need to believe in God in order to be a progressive Christian?" Borg basically said No! He said that God is the indescribable, the essence of what is -- the "is-ness." Our life here is God; we live within God. It doesn't make sense to say that there isn't an "is" -- we're all experiencing being here right now. That is how Borg describes God -- in the most broad way possible.

I felt great for several days after hearing Borg. Even now, the declaration "we live within God" feels good. It calms and centers me (especially if I'm outside or can look out a window at a living expression of nature).

Too bad more Madison Unitarian Universalists did not attend, because many of them think that there is only one type of Christian (the Fundamentalist). Unfortunately, it cost $50 to hear Marcus Borg give his talks ( lunch was included). Sam didn't go -- just me, because $100 would be too much to spend on a lecture.

I'm gazing out the window at apple blossoms. It's especially wonderful to live within God during May!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Being "Childfree" on Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers and Happy Not-a-Mom Day, too! I am "childfree," "childless by choice," not a mother, a woman who decided not to have children. I sometimes feel surrounded by mothers and grandmothers, especially in May when it seems that almost every woman I know at my UU congregation is a mom. I spent a good chunk of this weekend at a training on non-violent communication with twelve moms and just one other non-mom. (No men came to the training.) Children and grandchildren were discussed at length, of course. Many women had plans to see their families for Mother's Day or had just come back from seeing them.

Somehow, when I was a child, I learned that having children would limit a woman's choices -- her chances of graduating from college, having a middle class lifestyle, and being able to do what she wanted would be greatly reduced by having children. (Yes, I grew up in the 1970's, becoming an adult in the early 1980's.) I witnessed high school girls dropping out because of pregnancy, their dreams for the future forgotten. That's how I saw it, anyway!

I was determined never to have children right up until age 28, when I began to think that perhaps having a child would not be so bad. Everyone had aways assured me that I would love my own kid, even if I "hated children." Funny how people are so sure of this!

In contemporary US society, not having children is more accepted than ever before. I find, though, that at church a woman in her 30s and 40s is assumed to be a mother. It's as if people assume that women in this age range would not be at church if it weren't that they need religious education for the kids. Hey, I'm here for me! Yes, my own faith development, my need for community, my hunger for justice, my wish to connect with the sacred bring me to a faith community.

It's all about me, I guess. Good thing I'm not a mother....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Feminist Seder with Neighbors

Sam and I were invited to a Feminist Seder by our dear neighbors, complete with honoring Miriam (instead of Elijah) and having a large orange in the center of the Seder plate. Susan Heschel first introduced the orange as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are included in Jewish life. The tradition morphed into being about empowerment for women.

Celebrating Pesach in a Jewish home is infinitely more meaningful. The prayers really spoke to me this time, in Ricki and Jane's living room, at the long table set on an angle, an extra foursome on the couch (with Seth on the footstool). We contributed bowls and five forks. The bed served as an extra buffet, covered in casserole dishes.

We make do with what we have, remembering our strength and resourcefulness so that we know we can handle whatever happens. We may have to struggle and endure hardship, but we will survive. The family Haggadah included remembering how we've grown and become more free this year and dedicating ourselves to pursuing freedom and wholeness this year. Here is part of the Haggadah: "We can use our own experience to accept ourselves just the way we are. We have in this Seder a chance to create a community of Jewish and non-Jewish people that will welcome and embrace all people."

Right before the Korech (making the sandwich), we recited a blessing:

For the times when we do not know which way to go, but move forward anyway;
For the times when immediate action is the easy answer, and we wait and let the truth ripen;
For the times when we have a hunch, a flash, a knowing that comes to us without our knowledge, and we use these things to guide us;
For movement, despite our fears, despite their obstacles and delays, in times when movement means growth and life.

Several families came together for this celebration of spring and freedom. Ricki was the only one of us raised Jewish, raised with a more traditional Seder where girls were relatively passive. Her most vivid memories are of running around, trying to find the hidden afikomen. This time, she and the children hid the afikomen so well that we had to play "hot and cold" to find it!

Thanks to Jane, Ricki and Marka for a beautiful Seder!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Comes After Answering The Question?

Great news! I got asked the question, "What is Unitarian Universalism?" by a seeker. While I was working (getting paid actual money) as a church administrator, someone telephoned to ask that. Yes! And, I wasn’t in an elevator, so there was time for the conversation. You know what I found out? Answering the question is much less important than listening to the other person's reply.

All this business about having a short stellar speech leaves out the fact that those who might want to join with us need us to listen to their stories: their struggles and hopes, their fears and their sense of the holy. And we need to be prepared to listen with our full attention and compassion!

The crucial part in my interaction with the caller, a young woman, was my validation of her. I only said two sentences about UUism, after which the young woman told me a little about herself, her religious background, her spiritual outlook and what she wants in a church. She lives a block from the UU congregation where I work. I told her about the next two Sunday worship services and that she might really like it. Before we hung up, she expressed her enjoyment of the conversation and said that she would check us out on Sunday.

Here is what I said: UUism has its roots in Christianity, but now we’ve broadening into a liberal religion where our individual beliefs are not that important. What is important is that we are seekers on a spiritual journey who come together to help each other on that journey and help make the world a better place. See, not at all stellar.

That conversation made my day! The only hard part was telling the young woman that I won't be there Sunday, because the next step after such a conversation would be to welcome a seeker in person at church. Except on Sunday, I'll be across town at the UU congregation where I'm a member.

Compassionate listening, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Worship Service or UU Variety Show?

I recently attempted to describe my idea for a UU variety show, sort of a UU version of A Prairie Home Companion with musical acts, singers, skits, jokes and stories. And, we would sing a few of our favorite hymns ("Now Let Us Sing" and "Blue Boat Home," for example).

One person said that he didn't see how this would be any different than a regular worship service. Good God -- could some of our worship services be confused with variety shows? Say it isn't so!

The typical worship service at my congregation does contain a myriad of elements: music, poetry, stories, singing, a sermon, a meditation and (once a month) joys and sorrows. But to consider it akin to a variety show? I think the sacred is invoked throughout our worship services, throughout the time we come together to hold up what is worthy (worth-ship). A feeling of reverence and acceptance envelops us during worship. We're accepted as we are, into beloved community with fellow seekers. Aaaaah!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Will You Pray for Me?

I get asked, "Will you pray for me?" by cab drivers. It happens when I'm travelling to or from a UU function: invariably, the driver asks why I'm in town. "I'm here for a religious conference (or workshop or camp). A UU -- Unitarian Universalist -- Conference (or workshop or camp)!"

That is my stock answer. Notice that the question from folks is not "What is Unitarian Universalism?" Not at all! "Pray for me?" is the question, half in jest, but half earnest, too. What's my answer? "Yes! What is your name?" Because if I send gratitude and hope out from my mind to John, that is a type of prayer. When I do metta meditation for someone or just close my eyes and whisper, "May Jake have a good day," I am praying. To me, sending intentional positive energy out into the world is a way of praying.

The first time I heard "Pray for me," I felt compelled to explain that the word "prayer" is controversial for UUs and blah, blah, blah, on and on. That was eight years ago, at the Nashville General Assembly. I've learned a lot since then!

What about this new Ad campaign from the UUA: When in doubt: Pray. When in prayer: doubt? I don't know why this was chosen, but this prayer/doubt dichotomy has everyone buzzing. From what I know of liberal theology, doubt and faith have a long history together. The writings of Martin Buber and William James include this.

Over the last ten years or so, there has been an explosion of books about belief, prayer and doubt and how one complements the other. Many, many people have trouble with prayer because they don't have a clear idea about prayer -- do you have to believe in God to pray? I think the national marketing campaign taps into this question that many folks have.

Another thing that the general population seems to believe is that laughter is not allowed in church. Many people think of "churches" as somber, serious places. The national marketing campaign lets people know the importance UUs in general place on joy and humor.

We UUs tend to do everything amidst a storm of controversy, I've noticed. That can be good or very bad, depending on how you look at it.

Pray for me, okay?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

When is Sarcasm Destructive?

"As long as we get the check, that's all that matters!" This is apparently what an administrator at a UU congregation said upon learning that an elderly member had fallen while trying to put a check into a church mailbox. I heard this story at the Large Congregation Conference. An usher witnessed an elderly member fall down in the lobby when she (the elderly woman) was about to put a check into a donation box. The usher called 911. It turned out the 85-year-old woman had fainted and was okay, but paramedics came to make sure of this.

Later, when the usher described the situation to the administrator, the administrator made the sarcastic, caustic remark shown above. What a thing to say! I would be both hurt and angry if someone made such a mean remark about a member of my congregation. I want members to be treated with respect. The comment was probably meant to be a joke, but how cruel.... It sounds to me like something one staff member might say to another over a third beer, but in any other context is inappropriate (IMHO).

As I mentioned in a previous post, our keynote speaker at the Large Congregation Conference was Susan Beaumont of the Alban Institute. Beaumont shared an outline of what to do in cases like this, when someone seems to exhibit inappropriate influence. Susan's outline involves a series of steps, beginning with searching your own heart and ending with using "I" statements with a technique sort of like: when you W, because I thought X, I felt Y. I would rather Z.

After that, you just take up your relationship with the other person again. If the uncomfortable stuff happens again, go back to Step One. According to Susan Beaumont, if you've gone through all these loving steps four times or more, only to have the nasty behavior continue, then it is finally time for Step Four.

I cannot write anything more specific about Beaumont's outstanding presentation (because "the materials are not intended for general circulation"), but I hope that poor usher hears about it.

Here's to being seen as more than walking checkbooks at our congregations!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

UU Television on the Internet

Peter Bowden, a life-long UU, has launched UU Planet TV, a website devoted to good Unitarian Universalist videos. My favorite video so far is "Universalism for such a time as this" by Rev. Dan Harper. The video is very simple -- just a history of Universalism and how it continues to enrich our faith, especially now that Hell has made a "comeback." The best part is when Harper states that someone who believes in a God who sends people to Hell may lean toward vengence as a world-view (rather than compassion). If you want to know more, watch the video!

My imagination is running wild now, thinking of all the UU videos I'd like to make. I could film us doing a flag corps routine in the Madison Pride Parade! A few years ago, I helped my congregation form a small flag corps as part of our participation in the annual parade. I'll always be indebted to Stacy Harbaugh, who taught us the routine and was willing to carry the orange flag. I'll have to make a new Blue flag because ours disappeared...my head is full of fake UU commercials, the acting group at my congregation, my UU stand-up routine...a UU variety show....I'd better start saving for a camera!

If you would like to hear more from Dan Harper, go to his blog: Yet Another Unitarian Universalist. Notice how all the great blog names are taken? I wanted to name mine Elizabeth's UU Blog, but it was too close to Elizabeth's Little Blog! But, I am often exuberant, so this name fits.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Worship Associates in our Pulpits

I went to a great seminar called "Welcoming Worship," facilitated by the Rev. Michael Tino, when I was at the Large Congregation Conference. Michael emphasized several great ways to make our worship services enjoyable for more people, especially more young people. He made the point that at every service, three to four voices ought to be heard, not just one because just one voice, no matter how wonderful, will not provide enough variety for the congregation. Tino recommends that a few Worship Associates speak in addition to the minister. According to Michael Tino, large congregations need to have lay members visible (in the pulpit). Worship Associates are folks with good public speaking skills who are chosen by the minister to assist with the announcements, readings, the chalice lighting or the benediction. I was proud to raise my hand when Michael asked how many of us have Worship Associates at our congregations. And I kept my hand up when Michael asked how many of us have WAs who are under 30(thanks, Abby!).

My church began the program just last fall, I think. I love it! Having confident, relaxed people in the pulpit helps the whole atmosphere at a worship service. A few years ago, the person finding lay members to do the announcements wanted to get a different member in the pulpit every time: someone who had never done it before. The idea was that seeing all these different people would help us get to know each other better. Well, it just didn't work. Almost every week, a nervous, anxious member flubbed up the announcements because s/he wasn't able to project warmth and welcome to everyone and would mess up pronunciation or speak in a monotone or ad-lib inappropriately. For a year at least, no one doing the announcements knew how to do it. I thought it made us look like a very large group of amateurs!

But, I couldn't really complain, because the people recruiting announcers had the attitude that the announcements did not need to be done smoothly; in fact, they thought it was kind of sweet when anyone fumbled and bumpled (makes us seem more human, they said).

Gee, I couldn't disagree more! I want a seamless, reverential delivery by someone who is relaxed, not self-conscious -- someone who is able to warmly and joyously welcome us all into sacred space. Because at every worship service, some folks are there for the first time and some folks are hurting and looking for solace or compassion.

There was a time that I was in the pulpit for what (to me) was an extended period: ten minutes. I admitted that I was nervous, so the minister helping reassured me immediately by saying that every UU comes to services wanting to engage with us -- no one is here because they have to come! Plus, he told me that our pulpit is shaped like a hug and would hug me while I spoke. My nervousness disappeared immediately!

Though I love Worship Associates, I prefer that the opening words be delivered by a minister -- because a minister will invariably use the proper cadence, emphasis and reverence. That great preaching style ministers learn that brings us into worship, into the sacred! I am disappointed when someone says the opening words in an everyday voice.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Is the Saving Message of your Congregation?

I'm back from the fabulous Large Congregation Conference. What an experience! So much to think about now that I'm home. What really caught my attention is the question both Rev. Bill Sinkord and Rev. Stephan Jonasson asked, "What is the saving message of your congregation?" Stephan made it clear that a "congregation without a saving message barely has an excuse to exist" -- I think those were his exact words.

A saving message is a vision of how a congregation will "save the world" -- because just being a home and community for congregation members is not enough. Unitarian Universalists "save" by making the world a better place. In doing so, we save ourselves as well. The thing is, each congregation needs to be able to articulate its saving message, its vision. Then each congregation member must be able to do the same. Stephan mentioned that we're having trouble with our elevator speeches, in that they only work if we are in an elevator on the ground floor of the Empire State Building when we begin to answer the question, "What is Unitarian Universalism?" and even then, when we get to the 50th floor, we have to keep hitting the stop button!

What we need is a saving message we can articulate passionately. According to Stephan Jonasson, when the senior ministers of twelve of our largest congregations came together last fall, they each gave what they see as their congregation's saving message. Most answered it along the lines of "Nurture your spirit; Help heal our world" -- a vision of both spiritual growth for us and a deep commitment to our wider world. The UUA's slogan is a saving message!

These senior ministers at large UU congregations answered a number of questions (in addition to explaining their saving message) when they got together. Apparently, these sessions were videotaped and will soon be available on CD. Yahoo! I see being able to ask this question and articulate an answer as a breakthrough for our liberal religious movement. Being able to ask the question shows that we have a language of reverence of our own, that we know the term "saving message" is large and inclusive, not narrow or fundamentalist in its meaning.

At the LCC, I connected with wonderful people: my friend CA, whom I met way back in a UU campus ministry group, AH (a fellow Ferry Beach camper), and Rev. Mark Ward, a former intern at my congregation (who preached the inspiring closing worship service while robed!). I met many thoughtful, committed, passionate Unitarian Universalists -- this is why I love conferences!!

Thanks to Alice, Karen, Tom and Harry for the great camaraderie in our mini-van.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Live from the Large Congregation Conference!

What a great day in Louisville! There are fifteen of us here at the Large Congregation Conference from FUS of Madison, plus folks from 48 other large UU congregations (over 300 people in all).

Our outstanding speaker, Susan Beaumont of the Alban Institute, gave the theme program: Using Power and Authority Effectively, Ethically and Spiritually. I had a delicious dinner of crab nachos and a margarita at Joe's Crab Shack, then did the Macarena with the wait staff (except I didn't stand on a chair). After that, my congregation's delegation met together to discuss what we learned today and to make sure we've got tomorrow's workshops covered.

Of course, now I am very tired and must go to bed....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Five Things You Need To Be Happy

I just saw a posting by CK about asking college students: name five things you need to be happy. I jotted down my answers before reading the entire Arbitrary Marks post. You're welcome to grab a pen: What five things do you need to be happy?

Okay, maybe this shows a class difference: my number one is having my basic needs met for food, clothing and shelter. As a matter of fact, I first began to list each one separately, then realized the wisdom of lumping them together so that I would have room for:

2. Love/life partner
3. Family
4. Friends
5. Freedom

I was disappointed that I'd filled up all five so fast! I want a sixth one for fulfilling, meaningful work. And a seventh for world peace! Gee, could I give up having friends or a place to live in exchange for world peace? No, I could not.

The college students have a similar list, except they omitted basic needs, possibly under the assumption that they're a given.

CK wonders if this Love-family-friends trio is generational. CK, a "Gen-X-er, was thinking in pretty individual terms, about my own freedoms, ability to be compensated, pursue my dreams, etc."

None of us put down good health, I notice. Other than that, I imagine that my list (with basic needs first) would be more in keeping with what people around the globe would say. Or, perhaps answering a question about happiness would have no relevance to many people, beyond basic survival? I kind of doubt it, because humans seem to be made to love....Hmmmm.

Anyone else have a top five to share?

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Large Congregation Conference. I'll be picked up at the crack of dawn by a group of some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists (in a rented mini-van). Hooray!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Reverend James Reeb

It's the anniversary of the March 10, 1965 murder of the Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama. Unitarian Universalists in Madison know Reeb's story because one of our UU congregations is named after him. James Reeb opened in 1993. I was a charter member of JRUUC, but left in favor of the "huuge" society.

As of last week, I'm delighted to be the new office manager at James Reeb! I'm so happy to be working for a faith community -- I'd been saying for years that the next time I earned a paycheck, I wanted it to be in service to Unitarian Universalism. Hooray! To work part-time at one congregation, but still have a spiritual home in a different congregation feels wonderful.

Here's to answering a call,

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Singing "Doo Doo"

Katherine Von Till singing "Alto's Lament" always makes me laugh!

I joined the Meeting House Chorus at my UU Congregation to sing in the venerable alto section. It's the type of church chorus with no auditions, but lots of practices. We go over and over the material until we get it right, but the music director also teaches us to read music as we go along. So far, I've learned to recognize the bird's eye and tent icons and a few of the swoops, dots and accent marks. I'm exceptional at pp (sing very quietly) and the "Ha!" during the last chorus of "Turn the World Around" (1074 in our hymnal supplement). The x-on-a-stick means "happy shout." I nail it every time!

Anyway, I'm having loads of fun, except sometimes we altos sing "doo doo" for what seems like ten minutes straight. Easy to memorize, but hard on the lips! Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is difficult in that way.

Right now, we're learning "Seasons of Love" (525,600 minutes) from Rent. The song is all do do, do-do do for altos, but I like it because of the great rock beat. And we get to sing lo-ove....

Happy Ha! shout to all,

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Developing Home-based Rituals: Singing "Thump"

UU World features this insightful article: "Home grown Unitarian Universalism: Developing home-based community rituals that root UU adults and children" by William J. Doherty. Doherty explains:

My goals for the religious education or faith formation of Unitarian Universalist children are twofold: First, that they grow up spiritually alive, free, and engaged with the world; and, second, that they grow up as citizens in our living religious tradition. The first goal reflects our traditions of spiritual seeking, personal freedom of mind and conscience, and commitment to building a just and loving world. The blend of these elements is what makes us unique as Unitarian Universalists. My second goal refers to citizenship in our tradition, which means active involvement in building and maintaining local congregations and the Unitarian Universalist movement.

To achieve both goals for the religious formation of UU children, I believe the central venue for faith development is the home linked to an intentional UU community. The essential ingredient that makes this work is not what we spend most of our time on when we “do” conventional religious education: Sunday school classes, worship services, and youth activities. Instead, the key ingredient is the spiritual development of parents and other adults, and their grounding in both a local church community and the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Our children will not advance much beyond our adults, and if parents have allegiance only to a local congregation (and, even more limiting, to a particular favored minister) but not to the larger Unitarian Universalist movement, then why would we expect their children to join another UU church after they leave home and move away from their local community?

The UUs I know who grew up in homes with strong links to our religious movement demonstrate a high level of commitment to our faith and can lead the way for the rest of us, if we pay attention. Here are just a few of the home-grown UUs I know:

A young friend of mine, C, is a third generation UU. For our Coming of Age worship services, youth make collages about their lives. The vast majority of these collages feature only secular activities, but the one from C was different: hers was grounded in our free faith. C had a family photo from her dedication, another of a social justice project for children, her dancing during a winter Solstice service, and photos of the three churches she had attended (two UU and one UCC). I think there was a photo or two of her with a minister and maybe a church Easter egg hunt.

Another UU told us during Joys and Sorrows about singing hymns around the piano when he was a kid. His favorite: "For All the Saints" (103). His family called it "Thump" because of the loud chord that's played at the very beginning! He's very committed to UUism, even though his wife and child lost interest.

One of my very favorite people is a home-grown UU who sings in one of our choirs. He remained active through college and graduate school because of vibrant campus ministries. It was such a joy to see him get married in our Auditorium and have his baby dedicated a year later. His beautiful wife is UCC, so I'm hopeful that baby M will learn of both venerable traditions.

Lastly, I must mention Justine Urbikas, who is the UU Board trustee from the Central Midwest District. Ms. Urbikas is about 21 years old and a full-time student at DePaul University. She previously served the CMW district as Youth Trustee to the CMwD Board as well as serving on the UU Campus Ministry Advisory Committee. I had the pleasure of meeting Justine and her delightful parents (still members of the Unitarian Church of Evanston) before voting for her to be our UUA Trustee.

Here's to growing up in a liberal religious home,

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Church Shopping Story

I'm fascinated by the news that 44% of U.S. Adults have switched religions or denominations from the one they were raised. Peacebang features a round-up of the news and surrounding UU Blog buzz here. Shopping in general is so ubiquitous in this country that it's no surprise to me that folks religion-shop!

I've heard a number of church-shopping escapades, but a story I heard at General Assembly let me know how vital it is for our congregations to have a strong campus and community presence: A woman told me that she had attended college in Madison in the early 1950's. She church-shopped many, many Sundays, usually arriving back at her dorm in tears because everywhere she went, church was all about narrowness, set beliefs and creeds. This college student had no idea that Madison had a Unitarian church. In 1951, First Unitarian Society of Madison moved from downtown into a building built by Frank Lloyd Wright out in the country (at that time it was out in the country -- now it's right across the street from the Children's Hospital). She told me that she has always wished she'd known about Unitarians back then, because it would have saved her some heartache.

This woman, bless her heart, did eventually discover Unitarian Universalism. She is now a minister's spouse and carries little cards about UUism everywhere she goes. When she meets young adults who seem to be seeking, she gives them information. Fifty years later, she remembers her failed search for a spiritual home and still reaches out to young people.

The fact is that FUS actually had a campus ministry program way back in the 1950's: it was called the Channing Club. Obviously, news of the program did not extend widely enough. With so many folks out shopping these days, it's more important than ever for us to be "out there": open, accessible and welcoming.

Let your light shine,

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Time Banking -- Social Change through Community

I'm a member of the Dane County Timebank. Time Banking creates social change by weaving communities together. Through a timebank, we create reciprocal relationships with those who live near us. It's very simple: for every hour I spend doing something for another community member, I earn one Time Dollar. Then I have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for me!

Time banking is a way to create what happens naturally in communities with high social capital. Don Cohen, author of In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work, describes social capital as "the generalized trust and reciprocity that bind the members of human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible." Cohen was our keynote speaker at the 2005 Large Congregation Conference.

Yesterday and today, I earned time dollars by driving two women to and from a job skills class they must attend. They live about fifteen miles from the campus training center, so it would take at least 90 minutes via public transportation. It's a small thing, but having transportation provided made it easier for A and F to be at class on time and get home promptly.

I empathized with the ladies: it would difficult to get up at dawn and take two long bus rides to a strange place. The Madison Metro is great, but no matter where you want to go, you have to make a choice: do I want to arrive way too early or a little bit late? (I used to opt for being late, which meant I never heard any announcements at church!)

Today, A told me that her mother was hospitalized and may need surgery on her arm. I felt compelled to give her some wild rice soup. A very small gesture, but it felt good to do that.

Prayers for health and healing,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Secret to Being Incredible

How do we become incredible? It's easy. All we need to do is lower our standards! Think about it: any day we wake up alive is automatically an incredible day. If you not only woke up, but got dressed, had something to eat and looked outside (or went outside), that is quite incredible. I first learned this from Steve Wilson.

The main reason I love celebratory worship services is that when I attend a service and look around at all the others who are also attending, I'm often ready to celebrate the fact that we made it to church! We surmounted all the obstacles: transportation, parking, weather conditions, work obligations, family needs and obligations, sleep deprivation, disabilities, illness, injury and more.

Did I mention flannel sheets that grab hold of us and won't let go, pets that pin us to our beds, and power outages?



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Praying to the Spirit of Life

Wayne Arnason & Kathleen Rolenz's "Praying as Unitarian Universalists: How can we pray with integrity, grace, power, and purpose?" is an excellent article. I found the section about invoking the language of reverence by addressing prayers to Something quite enlightening. According to Arnason & Rolenz, UUs sometimes get too caught up in invoking everything we possibly can, spending too much time naming the Something to which/whom we are addressing our prayers.

I wrote a short spoken meditation based on my favorite name for God, Oneness, Energy:

We sometimes begin a meditation or prayer with these words: Spirit Of Life And Love, Whom We Know By Many Names

What exactly is the spirit of life? Perhaps, at its most basic level, it is Breath. We can concentrate on our breath, the in-breath and the out-breath.

Feeling calmer and more centered with each cycle.

I feel the spirit of life within me. Know that the spirit of life is within you. When we come together, this Spirit is within and around us.

What exactly is the spirit of love? Perhaps, at its most basic level, it is a Heartbeat. When we are still, we can be mindful of our hearts, feeling them beating.

I feel the spirit of love within me. Know that you are surrounded by the heartbeats of others, surrounded and uplifted by the spirit of love.

Know that the spirit of life is within you.
Know that the spirit of love is within you.

May it be so,

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Skit about the Annual Pledge Campaign?

This weekend, something very new and different happened at my UU congregation: we presented a humorous skit during all three worship services -- with adults playing all the roles! This is unheard of for many large congregations, where a skit could happen in August or at a special intergenerational service, but would include children and youth.

I wrote this skit about our annual pledge campaign, daring to cast myself and three other grown-ups in the roles. Because the skit characters are four adult members having a conversation about pledging, I decided the actors should actually be adult members of our congregation. (Plus, someone else wrote a different skit, to be presented next weekend by groups of youth.)

We get to have all this fun because members of the annual pledge committee set the intention of a lighthearted approach to the campaign. The committee asked a member who is a good actor to write a skit. He didn't have time, so asked a different actor-member to do it, but she didn't have time, either. Meanwhile, I had a skit idea, so approached the committee independently. Suddenly, I had permission to write it! Hooray!

As all of our weekend worship services must be "excellent," our three ministers approved my skit's script. In past years, lay people who gave short testimonials didn't need them approved. But because last year's pledge testimonials failed to include any mention of pledging, this changed.

We presented the skit at all three worship services to rave reviews by the congregation. Even the youth liked it! I've copied most of the script below.
The title is "Working on Balance."

A: Long-time member
B: enthusiastic member (Me)
C: Singer
D: New member

B: (To A) What meeting do you have now?

A: Annual Campaign Committee.

C: Yes, the Day of Promise is next month.

D: I’m not familiar with all our UU Holidays. What’s the Day of Promise?

B: The Day of Promise is when we promise to recycle.

C: It’s the day the Meeting House Chorus will sing “Pennies From Heaven.”

A: It is when we begin our annual pledge campaign -- the day we promise to commit, or re-commit, our resources to First Society.

B: I already re-committed! In December, I added to my pledge. We have several years left to pay, so I won’t pledge again until 2012.

C: That’s different.

A: (to B) C is right – you’re talking about your Capital Campaign pledge. This pledge is different; it is for our annual campaign.

D: This is so confusing. I need to sit down.

B: Of course! I forgot. Yes, our capital campaign pledges are for our fabulous new building -- growing right outside! Picture it, D -- 500-seat Auditorium, large fellowship area, lots of classrooms....(In raptures with hands in the air.) Aaaah!

A & C: (in raptures also) Aaaah!!

A: But our annual campaign pledges form our budget: our day-to-day operations for the next year: all our worship services and events, our social justice work, Children’s Religious education --

C: Adult RE
B: Chalice Groups
C: Three ministers
A: Lay ministers
C: Wonderful music program
A: Councils and committees

D: Everything we do, in other words?

A: Yes, well said!

C: I’ve been thinking about increasing my pledge this year.

D: I have to decide what to pledge. I’ve been a member for one whole month.

[A, B, C congratulate.]

B: Some of us give a percentage of household income, say 2-10 percent. Sam and I usually give 4%. It’s important for each of us to decide for ourselves what we can give, based on our means.

C: I think of it as “Put your money where your heart is.”

A: Years ago, I heard that most people could double their pledge and not feel a thing. So I tried it, but it’s not true that I didn’t feel a thing. I felt great!! I discovered that I can usually find money in my budget if I care about something enough. And now I've joined the annual campaign committee.

D: You’re a hero!

A: No, no, absolutely not. I’ve gotten much more from this place than I ever gave – FUS has been my anchor for twenty years.

D: Really? That’s great. But, with my finances, I don't know...once I pledge, do I have to start paying right away?

A: No, it’s for the next church year – July '08 through June of '09.

D: The fiscal year?

C: Academic year?

B: Congregation year?

B, C and D: (shouting) Society Year!!


This was my favorite part:
I had to put in this true story!

C: My most memorable moments have been when I’m singing in the Meeting House Chorus. Singing the Missa Gaia last April was my favorite.

A & B: (blissful) Aaaaah!

A: That was one of the most moving services I’ve been to. That whale song!

B: And the wolf! Haunting! (Pauses) Hey, remember back when a bat flew around during a worship service? I loved it. First the bat was over here on the stone. (hurries to one side, points, with the others following) Then it flew all the way over there. (scurries to other side, points, with the others following)

A: What was the sermon about that day?

B: (walks, points) During the sermon, the bat flew over here -- above the pulpit.

The whole congregation enjoyed this so much that I may explore the possibility of presenting more skits. According to my friend E, who formerly attended a periodic-skits-during-services congregation, we need a Playwright and a Producer to be successful. Finding actors is easy in a large congregation. Hmmmmm....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Answering Questions About God

A Coming of Age class interviewed me last Saturday about the process I went through to formulate my faith statement. What an honor! They even wanted us to read our faith statements, so I had the thrill of sharing my thoughts about the Big Questions. Speaking to the Coming of Age students reminded me of a glorious dream-come-true experience I had last fall:

I was walking on Library Mall (on the UW-Madison campus) when a stranger asked me, "Do you have a lot of opinions about things?" I answered the same as any UU: "YES!" Two young men were standing just off the sidewalk, the shorter one holding some sort of contraption. The tall man said, "We would like to ask you some questions about God."

Instant joy! The tall one, Jeff, clipped a microphone to my shirt while Eric lifted the contraption onto his shoulder -- it was an enormous camera. I could scarcely believe my good fortune: young adults were so eager to hear my views of the trancendent mystery and wonder of the universe that they were willing to film me!

But, guess what the first question was: Does He exist?! I immediately explained that God is not necessarily male, that whenever I hear the word "God," I translate that to "He, She, It." I explained that to me, God is an energy, a life energy that flows through all of us, as It does through all living things.

You know what Jeff did? He asked more questions! He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, listening as I explained my views on human nature and the nature of God-energy. I told them that I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the arc of the universe bends toward justice, that I think the energy is a positive energy, rather than neutral. Jeff even asked me what happens when we die, so I expounded on my current theory: we simply return to pure energy. Period. (After giving him the caveat that no one knows for sure....)

When the interview was over, I had to return the microphone, but other than that it was glorious to be able to state by beliefs and opinions without being interrupted or told that I'm wrong or scoffed at for finding meaning in the word God. Wow!

I was walking on air until I told S what had happened. He was instantly suspicious: Who were those men? Why did they ask those questions? Why did they film my answers? How will the interview be used? Gee, I had not thought about any of that practical application stuff! It wasn't important to me.

It's all about listening. In May, I'll be listening to our youth as they present their faith statements during our standing-room-only Coming of Age worship services.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm a UU -- Unitarian Universalist!

We are now more than forty years past the merger that formed the Unitarian Universalist Association. Merger occurred way back in 1961 -- before I was even born! But many UUs have not caught up to this yet, referring to themselves as "Unitarians." Yes, Unitarian Universalism is long name, but UU is much shorter and easier to say than "Unitarian." More importantly, the term UU proclaims to everyone that we are aware of our Universalist heritage and its importance. Universalism boldly proclaimed that God is Love and that salvation comes to every person. We can be proud that one of the first women to become an ordained minister in this country was Universalist minister Olympia Brown.

Many folks say that they don't like acronyms, but acronyms abound in our language, especially when it comes to religion. United Church of Christ, for example. Do they refer to themselves as "United"? No. They use the term UCC.

How about African Methodist Episcopal, the first Christian denomination in this country to be founded by African-Americans for African-Americans? Do they use "African" when referring to their religion? No. They are AME. "African Methodist Episcopal" has the same number of syllables as "Unitarian Universalist."

Lutherans use acronyms, too. When liberal Lutherans want to make sure that others know that they're not Missouri Synod, they call themselves ELCA, short for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. ELCA, not "Evangelical"!

When I'm asked what religion I am, my answer is "I'm a UU -- Unitarian Universalist." I wish more of us did that.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We Finally Get to Vote!

Today is our primary here in Wisconsin. I heard Senator Obama speak in Madison last week and voted for him this morning. My theory for why lots of Unitarian Universalists are ga-ga for Obama is that he talks like an excellent UU preacher! The Senator is UCC -- United Church of Christ -- our closest Protestant cousin. The words he uses, his cadence and use of repetition, his calling for justice, equality and hope, remind us of our best ministers and that bond of trust we form with them.

But I could be wrong....

Wisconsinites: Bundle Up & Vote!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Searching for a UU Partner

St. Valentine's Day honors a martyred holy man named Valentine who defied the power of the Roman Empire and paid with his life. His crime: he secretly performed marriage ceremonies for people whom the Emperor denied the right to marry.

In the third century, the Roman Emperor Claudius II had decreed that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young prospective warriors for the Empire. Believing this unjust, Valentine defied the decree and was put to death in AD 270.

This Valentine's Day, I'm thinking of the single, committed Unitarian Universalists I know, both gay and straight. Many are young adults full of UU faith, wanting to keep our religious movement a large part of their lives. Do they dare search for a Unitarian Universalist partner/spouse? Would it be possible for a "spiritual, but not religious" potential date to become a UU? How about the unchurched, the formerly churched, the devout atheist? Let's face it, the UU pool of potential soulmates is quite small.

A friend of mine, eager to be married and have children, began to date a dogged anti-religionist. He referred to her small UU congregation as "that cult you go to every Sunday." I'm sure you've guessed the result: she left our faith. Some UUs partner with those who aren't hostile to organized religion, but would never become Unitarian Universalists themselves. A woman at district Leadership School said that she tried to find a UU, but ended up with a Catholic partner. Surprise!

My advice for UU singles is to introduce all your dates to a UU worship service, then spring for lunch at a locally-owned restaurant afterwards. I introduced four people to Unitarian Universalism this way! I'm proud to say that one of them is now a member of a large UU church in a state south of mine. Some people assume that seeing a dating couple at a morning worship service means they must have slept together the night before, but I believe that attending church together should be an early test -- date number three, perhaps?

It takes resolve to decide not to hook up with people practicing a faith that is quite different than ours. Even I had to refrain from telephoning a very sweet Italian Catholic! Knowing that it's risky to narrow the field, those who envision a UU wedding/commitment ceremony, taking adult ed classes together, dedicating children, singing UU hymns around the piano, or simply attending worship together ought to keep that dream for while. It's not impossible.

Some of my work colleagues thought I was way too picky to ever find a mate. More than one refused to fix me up with anyone after I made the mistake of sharing my criteria, which included not just UUism, but being a good cook, having liberal politics, an understanding of feminism, being comfortable with LGBT folks, not being too tall, being curious about life, willing to dance....Okay, it was a lengthy list. I've heard that you'll know you've found the right person because you tear up your list of criteria!

For me, a small miracle occurred: I fell in love with a Unitarian Universalist friend. We were such good friends, see, that we decided to share an apartment as roommates. Many complex situations and emotions ensued, but eventually led to our wedding. Believe me, I'm not recommending this as a strategy, but being in close contact with someone reveals character in a profound way.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Fair Share Pledge?

A "Fair Share" pledge at my congregation is 2-4% of household income, according to the Annual Campaign Committee. What sad news -- it's not even 5%! 2-4% has been the recommended range for a number of years now. This year, if we give 3% or more, we get a copper pin as a reward, as a matter of fact. I'm guessing that Annual Campaign chairs and the Board are probably not giving more than this, or the range would be higher. Now I'm curious: what is our level of giving? How would I find out?

Perhaps a fairly accurate method of discovering this is to do a calculation based on the 2006 Median Madison household income: $67,000. Some people insist that the UU median would be much higher, but I'm not going there, because some members are students, some are unemployed and many are the only UU in the household. We have over 1400 members: 1000 pledge units, so 3% of the total income would be 2 million dollars! In reality, our budget is about half that amount.

Maybe 3% is our target because anything over that seems absolutely inconceivable! $2 million is an enormous amount of money, probably because I'm not used to thinking big. Given the chance, though, I'll bet we could discover how to greatly increase our positive impact in our community and the world at large if we had a budget of $2 million. We could also better provide ministry and growth opportunities for all generations of local Unitarian Universalists and the many more who would find us. How amazing that would be!

Perhaps having 3% as a goal isn't so bad, after all. After we attain that, 5% shouldn't seem so impossible. Changing the culture of giving will take a long time. It would be futile to suddenly ask all of us to increase our pledges by leaps and tithes.

In case you're wondering: My spouse and I give 4% to the Annual Campaign and an additional 5% to our Capital Campaign. Frankly, 9% to our church is as much as I can give. Any higher and the Chump Factor would kick in!


Friday, February 8, 2008

Welcoming Working Class UUs

How can we become better at welcoming working class or economically disadvantaged visitors once they show up at our congregations? How can we help them want to become members? I've been contemplating this for awhile, especially after reading Doug Muder's blog post.

It would be great to agree on a definition of what working class means in the US today before going any farther. I’ve been reading that the best way to define socio-economic class is by examining how much power and autonomy people have on the job. I’m all for that! Someone working in a law firm with the title “librarian,” earning $30,000 a year and attempting to please sixteen bosses (partner-lawyers) is not middle class. S/he may have a bachelor’s degree, but lacks power. Having responsibility and accountability without any authority describes many working class jobs.

Here are a few modest tips I wrote, tips for welcoming working class people when they visit our UU congregations. I’m basing these tips on my own experience in addition to the experience of the working class UUs I know. Even though I am now middle class, I am going to use the pronoun “we” when referring to working class people. This is partly because I first visited a congregation while working class, but mostly to demonstrate that many people with working class backgrounds find that they continue to identify themselves as working class, never feeling entirely comfortable with middle class values. If you are currently working class or were when you visited a UU congregation, I'd love to hear your critique of my little tips based on your experience (but all are welcome to comment, as usual).

1. Acknowledge that working class UUs exist in our congregations already. This is an important first step. If Unitarian Universalists continue to say that UUs are all middle class and above, all highly-educated and all privileged, they will immediately alienate working class people. Some of us like to dress up a little bit for church because we must wear a uniform or jeans on the job, but some of us like to dress casually because we have office jobs and must look professional at work. Do not assume that you have a working class divining stick and can tell just by looking.

2. Working class people do not have our identities wrapped up in our jobs. We just have to pay the bills. This means that when we are at UU congregations on Sunday, we probably don’t want to discuss careers or jobs, neither yours nor ours. Please do not ask boring questions like “what do you do for a living?” during our fellowship time. “What do you enjoy doing when you’re not here?” is a good question, but the wise UU begins by asking what we thought/how we felt about the worship service we experienced. Not just what we thought of the sermon, because a worship service is much more than merely a sermon! Then listen carefully, without judgment, to the answer. If we were not raised UU, ask what changed that led us here. If we all learn to approach everyone in a more meaningful way after our worship services, we will be more aware that Unitarian Universalism is not about exchanging business cards – it is about nurturing our spiritual lives.

3. We may be more likely to be eager to explore our gifts and talents and to learn new skills at church than professionals may be. Of course, if we’re working two jobs or caring for children this may be impossible. On the other hand, many working class people would never be allowed to chair a committee, run a meeting, collaborate on a fun project or make a presentation at our jobs, but we might want to learn how to do that at church, if the atmosphere assures acceptance, encouragement and some guidance. It may be that growing into a leadership position while being mentored by a lay leader is just what we need to feel empowered in our lives!

4. Be open to the possibility that we may be able to teach you something valuable about life. As UUs, we are invited to reject the dominant culture of individualism and ultra-independence in favor of relationships and interdependence. Working class people might not use those specific words to describe what we know, but especially if we’ve experienced poverty, we tend to understand how to create relationships and know that humans are interdependent better than some individualistic, upper middle class members. For example, because I already knew how to welcome people into relationship, create community and model shared ministry (which is interdependency at its best), I easily grasped the concept of Covenant Group Ministry. I went on to help found the program at my UU congregation and before long was the key person keeping the program going.

5. We may help you turn away from wealth acquisition and mindless consumerism and instead embrace sustainability. Concern for the environment and attempting to live sustainably go hand-in-hand with spending less while enjoying life. This coupling does not work for food (because locally-grown organic food is often more expensive), but for many other resources, the most sustainable way to do something is also the method that costs the least. Both sustainability and saving money require thinking creatively, exercising delayed gratification, feeling the fragile abundance of life and being grateful. Whenever we don’t purchase something, carpool or use public transportation, drink tap water instead of soda or bottled water, carry a re-useable covered mug for coffee (and water) and forgo expensive vacations and home expansion projects, we are caring for our natural resources. Shopping at secondhand stores saves money and keeps items out of landfills while revealing our consumer society in all its waste and excess. Our seventh principle makes our responsibility as consumers clear: plan each purchase carefully, with patience and creativity, reusing resources as much as possible.

6. Be mindful of inadvertently flaunting your wealth by discussing your latest or upcoming exotic trip abroad, your vacation home, your child-care provider or your housekeeper with a visitor or member, because it may seem like one-up-person-ship. I recently told another member what my spouse and I did for our tenth anniversary. Unfortunately, her response was to tell me about an anniversary trip to Venice. That ended the conversation.

7. Working class folks may be more likely to directly experience the "Spirit of Live and Love Whom We Know by Many Names" as a benevolent support in our lives. This may be a result of not feeling in control of our destiny or not being able to provide our families with every advantage. This often means that we are more comfortable with God-language and the language of reverence.

May the light within you reach toward another's light.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Race, Class and Gender (and Me)

Speculations about how voters are divided and grouped among differences of race, class and gender are currently rampant. I've heard that white working-class voters prefer Senator Clinton, African-Americans prefer Obama, women prefer Clinton, men prefer Obama, Latinos/as prefer Clinton. My guess is that no one will predict who white, heterosexual, middle-class men prefer, because the dominant group rarely gets dissected like the rest of us. I suppose they're the ones with the power to collate the rest of us, but see themselves as individuals. They're not part of a group -- they're independent thinkers! (Of course, many men have a keen awareness not only of all the above, but also their own powerlessness.)

Like many UU congregations, we're grappling with power, privilege and oppression. How do we, in addition to recognizing each human being's inherent worth and dignity, treat everyone with respect and deep compassion? Of course, in order to do that we need to be sensitive to societies' and our own biases and learn a new (old) way of being in community. I believe that Radical Hospitality is the way, but will leave that for another post.

There is hope for the future because change is happening! Anti-racist, anti-oppression initiatives are growing in communities. Young people today seem aware of the issues surrounding oppression and justice. More and more people do not fit into the assigned categories: those of mixed race, folks raised by parents of a different race, transgender people and those who move between different socio-economic classes.

Warning: What follows is my personal story of class fluidity. You may stop reading at any time. I'm white and was raised in a white middle-class suburb of Des Moines until age nine. Suddenly everything changed: my dad lost his job, followed by mortgage foreclosure, separation, and a move to an integrated low-income housing project in the inner city of Des Moines with my mother and three siblings. At that time (1970s), poor families received Medicaid, free school lunch and food stamps. An avid reader, I knew by age 10 that a poor girl had to do well in school and go to college, thanks to Maude Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy series and Emily of Deep Valley.

Working at a fast-food restaurant after high school to scrape up money for college, I realized after a few years that it would be impossible to save enough money. So I went to Iowa State University thanks to student loans and the Pell grant, where 98% of the students were middle class, with two parents at home: a working dad and a stay-at-home mom. Of course, no one could tell that I was different -- I decided not to wear my "Raised On Welfare" sandwich board. Because of white privilege, many people assume that all whites are middle-class.

I graduated from college owing thousands in student loans and found a late 1980's English major Mcjob earning six dollars an hour. Now I'm middle class! I earned a master's degree while working full-time, but what really hauled me back up was falling in love with and marrying a white, middle-class, straight guy followed by deciding not to have children. (Heterosexual and male were absolutes. Yes, I admit it!)


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you the weather. Yes, we're having a blizzard in Madtown today! Our Music Director cancelled tonight's Chorus rehearsal, even though we sing this Sunday. If that weren't incredible enough, the city bus system cancelled all routes. My spouse walked two miles home after the bus he was riding got stuck -- and buses can plow through almost anything.

In addition to shoveling, my during-a-snowstorm tradition is to walk to the public library. Lots of Madisonians do that -- it's our version of the March of the Penquins. Today, however, even the library closed early! That's the most shocking of all. Wait, I just heard that the UW-Madison closed due to snow for the first time in eighteen years. Yahoo!

May all be enveloped in a white blanket of peace. (Not wet blankets!)
A Woman of the North

Monday, February 4, 2008

2008 Large Congregation Conference

I registered for the UUA's outstanding triennial Large Congregation Conference (in Louisville, Kentucky March 13-16). I've been to the Large Congregation Conference twice before and loved it both times! Great networking and learning, outstanding workshops, challenging issues to discuss, and (of course) inspiring worship services and wonderful music. One comment on the online evalution for the 2005 LCC states "Absolutely fabulous!" -- that must be mine.

Because it is geared especially to those of us at congregations of 550 or more members, the LCC gives us the chance to delve deeply in our growth areas. Just one of several issues we have at FUS of Madison is how to connect better with the many, many visitors we get -- especially when we can only be sure that someone is a first-time visitor if they wear a special nametag given out by a greeter in our congested lobby. Ideally, friendly members would meet and talk with those without a nametag, too, with the understanding that the nametag-less are not necessarily visitors, but could be. I'm beginning to wonder if we could offer adult RE classes on how to connect with and get to know each other in a meaningful way after a worship service. Class members could practice on each other (because most people in the class would be strangers at first). It's great when those who have been members for fifteen years finally meet for the first time, but it shouldn't have to take a decade or more to make the connection.

About the great networking at the Large Congregation Conference: It's enriching to have conversations with folks who have an understanding of "hUUgeness." At General Assembly, it is always clear that the majority of our churches, societies, congregation and fellowships have 100 members or less, so anything I say about my experience could sound boastful. Even "I sing in one of our adult choirs" draws envy. And, yes, I've been known to blunder: when a UU told me that her whole congregation goes on retreat together each autumn, I asked her which of her ministers attends the retreat. Whoops.

There's a myth about the Large Congregation Conference -- that it is only for ministers and paid church staff. This is Absolutely False! The LCC is for lay leaders, too. At our largest congregations, I believe this includes all committed members with a role in the congregation, not merely the Board of Trustees or other elected leaders. Besides, most positions in churches have two-year terms, whereas the LCC is on a three-year cycle. Best to go whenever you have the desire and ability.

What prevents more people from attending? Time, money and energy (the usual suspects). The registration fee, room and most meals add up to under $500, but all have to travel to Louisville this year. I can afford it, but am a privileged, middle-class member. Back when I was a young adult, I could not afford to attend any conference, not even the GA held in Milwaukee in the early 1990's. Still regret missing that....

Anyway, I highly recommend the LCC.
Today is Hug a Lay Leader Day,


Creating Snow Angels as a Spiritual Practice

Friday, we had a memorial service for a 90-year-old lay leader of my congregation. I managed to arrive at church early enough to make a few snow angels in honor of Jane H. Wood and still have time to change into a suit for the service. An ardent feminist, Jane H. did not hesitate to speak her mind and was much admired and modeled by the women (and men) who knew her.

We've gotten a lot of gorgeous snow this winter, so I've been making snow angels at my UU church whenever I can. Creating them in what I consider to be a sacred space is a wonderfully uplifting and peaceful experience for me. I watch the sky while I carefully make each one, intentionally pressing my hood into the snow and sweeping safely mittened hands to form large, graceful wings. And I always make sure to move my legs so that the angel wears a skirt, not bell-bottomed pants! To me, a snow angel symbolizes the joy of having a spiritual life in the north country, because creating a snow angel is a way to not just acknowledge mystery, but have fun with it in our natural world.

Of course, no one knows what happens when we die, but I don't think that any of us sprout wings and fly around like birds. However, that is a powerful image of something that humans have aspired to do for thousands of years. We imagine that being able to soar like an eagle would be exhilarating, joyous, a peak experience. Why, it would be a direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder which renews our spirit. It would open us to the forces that create and uphold life. Sounds like our first source to me! It's what I connect with when forming an angel.

Every time I've created a snow angel, I've encouraged other UUs to join me in this spiritual practice, but everyone I've asked has said no (to my continued astonishment). Even a little girl didn't want to make one! Instead, she insisted that we make snow butts, which means we merely sat down in the snow. Maybe in another year, she'll be ready for angels....

I first created an adult-sized snow angel when at a spiritual retreat with some members of my congregation. We went to St. Norbert's Monastery (near Green Bay, WI) and woke up to sunshine, dazzling snow and a fine temperature -- 18 degrees. I was raised Catholic until age ten, so this Monastery seemed sacred to me, except that retreatants were only allowed in certain places. I urged the others to come outside, but they said that it was too cold out (wimps). By myself, I found the perfect place for an angel and made it joyously, but realized afterwards that the angel was in the forbidden zone! I confessed to the manager, who seemed delighted. In fact, he went out and made a snow angel right on top of mine so that I wouldn't get into trouble.

May we all find joy in our direct experience of mystery, whatever it may be.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Finding a Religion that Doesn't Disrupt Your Current Lifestyle

"Finding a Religion that Doesn't Disrupt Your Current Lifestyle" was the cover story from the non-existent Onion Magazine awhile back. The photo was of my church -- First Unitarian Society of Madison. Bwahahaha! There is no article, only the cover page. Naturally, I have this photo with caption as my computer monitor wallpaper and still chuckle whenever I see it.

I suppose Unitarian Universalism seems from the outside to be an easy religion -- we don't have to believe in concepts that seem illogical, don't have to attend church, don't have a fear of hell, etc. The irony is that UUism extolls us to make dramatic lifestyle changes. Our seven principles call us into so many challenges, everything from how we treat ourselves and other individuals to how we care for our environment, fight for justice and equality, work toward a world community of peace, encourage others on their spiritual paths and make sure we're on one, too. In addition, our individual congregations challenge us to work toward the beloved community both out in the world and within our UU congregations. We are continually challenged to acceptance and compassion for everyone of every age. I find it difficult to do this with the acerbic one, the curmudgeon, and the condescending person.

Really living our faith can impact everything in our lives: everything we think, do, experience or purchase. My UU faith affirms, inspires, nurtures and challenges me every day.

May it be so.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yes, I am another Unitarian Universalist with a blog!

We Unitarian Universalists are chock full of opinions! There are so many UU blogs already. But, yes, I simply must join the fray. Sometimes I talk about doing something for a very long time before I finally Just Do It. This time, I decided to take action after only thinking about this for five months. Hooray!