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....