Sunday, June 27, 2010

Free Weekend

I didn't have any responsibilities at church this weekend. This is the last time I'll be able to say that for 2 months. For the next 8 weekends my attention will be focused on the goings on at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. The contract has been signed, and so it begins.

One of the realities of my life is the need for focus. On the one hand my mind races along at miles per second, while my attention gets stuck on work. The church for me is a bit like a tune that you get stuck in your head... I just can't escape it. So I end up focusing on one thing, but unable to properly focus on anything else. The short version of this, which you've already discovered, is that I can't blog creatively while I'm spending my intellectual capital on work.

I might try to add a post every now and then, but I'm afraid it will be thin for a while. Eight weekends on, then a couple off. Rinse. Repeat. I'm relatively confident I'll survive the 12 months ahead and come out of it with the desire to think about something else. Anything else. Check in once in a while, and set your alarm clock for July 1st, 2011.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


"I just vacuumed." Were we on Twitter you would read that phrase often, especially this time of year. Even more often you would read, "I need to vacuum." The dogs have been shedding at an incredible pace. ("You can't teach pace" - a phrase we're bound to hear during World Cup coverage in the days and weeks ahead.) I'm somewhat impressed the dogs can shed like this and still have hair. I know that I can't, not that you've noticed.

Shedding came to mind as my mind wandered back to the summer of '84 and our decision to move to California. We had no idea where we might live (though we were assured housing was no problem in the Bay Area!) and couldn't afford high moving costs. So we sold our stuff. Much of it wasn't of much value. Some pieces, notably bedroom furniture we had gotten from my grandmother, I have thought about with a degree of regret. A small degree. For the most part the shedding experience we went through turned out to be freeing. We had a whole lotta stuff we just didn't need. Whew, glad that's no longer a concern!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Summer of Uncertainty

The summer of 1974 was a time of uncertainty, bargaining, and ultimately resolve for us. I had decided to enroll in Matthew Fox's graduate program at Holy Names College in Oakland, known as the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality, or ICCS. Sally had encouraged me, stating that it seemed preferable to having me committed to a different type of institution.

Once the decision was made, we began the process of figuring out how the two of us, with our two little girls, would actually move from Wisconsin to California for the year. How would we support ourselves? Where would we live? What would we do with our possessions? One early thought was that I would ask the church I was serving for an academic year off, with the commitment to serve them for at least a year after completion of the program. This seemed a safer course of action than just dropping off the grid.

As we talked about and lived with the idea of proposing an agreement with the church we came to the conclusion that we were in a psychological bargaining phase. We were trying to hold on to some semblance of security to blunt the risk and impact of our decision. This phase ended when we considered the prospects of returning to a church that had been incredibly difficult to serve. How would that feel after the changes we would experience in our lives and insights? Thus we came to the conclusion that, despite how high and scary the precipice, the best course of action was to make the leap. I gave notice at church, and we began the process of cobbling together our financial resources while simultaneously shedding the material possessions we could not afford to move.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beginning an Epic Journey

It started 26 years ago at St. Benedict Center in Madison, Wisconsin. I was a member of a committee that sponsored a stewardship conference featuring Douglas John Hall, author of The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age. Hall was really fantastic. He talked of all the wonderful stewardship going on in the world, and decried his sense that so little of it was happening in the church. His talk was not about the narrowly framed financial development many people had come to hear, but rather about bigger questions of life and what is worth living for.

As committee chair I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Doug Hall while in Madison. That too was a great experience. It rekindled the idealism in me that 6 years in conflicted churches had battered down. Then, in a life-defining moment, I went into the bookstore at the retreat center and bought the book: Original Blessing, by Matthew Fox.

I had read two other books by Matt Fox, both given to me by my internship supervisor, Larry Rezash in Yorkville, Illinois. I had been intrigued by their contrarian view of spirituality. Original Blessing went much further. It was like a spiritual manifesto, calling people to an entirely new view of themselves and the world. I couldn't put it down, or at least didn't want to. Back home in Appleton, Wisconsin, reading the book while putting off going to the office, I turned to the contact information for Matt Fox's graduate program in Oakland, California. I made the expensive, long-distance call and requested application materials.

During this little episode, Sally had been upstairs taking a nap with Erin and Megan, then 1 and 4 years of age. When Sally came downstairs I told her about calling California. Her simple reply: "When are we leaving?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time Flies...

It just occurred to me that this month marks the 25th anniversary of my graduate studies with Matthew Fox at Holy Names College. Interestingly enough, that fact came to mind as I was recalling a chant that we used at several rituals that were part of the program. The same chant was referenced in the website of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), an organization that is affiliated with the UU Church of Spokane where I've been working. As I read the words of the chant, the music came back to me. "How long has it been?" I mused. Then, to my surprise, I realized it has been twenty-five years.

I have related some of the stories of that year to our kids from time to time. Given that this is the 25th anniversary of that year's completion, I think I'll do my best to recall some of the events of that year that so shaped and informed our lives over the subsequent quarter of a century.

But not now.... Gotta jump on my bike and ride downtown to "pick up" Sally for the ride home from work. Apparently time flies whether or not you're having a good time, though truth is, I haven't had enough bad times to know if that makes any difference. How fortunate I've been!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"I'm as mad as Hell..."

In the 1976 film, Network, anchorman Howard Beale goes off on one of the all-time great rants, calling his viewers to throw open the windows and shout, "I'm as mad as Hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" Then says Beale, the solutions to all our problems will emerge.

I couldn't avoid thinking of this movie after watching a speech by Joanna Macy last night. Macy is a famed Buddhist scholar, environmental activist, and graduate of Wellesley (I know, Megan...friends don't let friends go to Wellesley.) In her speech at the 2009 Bioneers event, Macy went on a rant of her own, accompanied by video images of the birds fish and mammals placed at risk by human activity. She urged her audience to get angry at this horrible devastation (even before BP's Deep Horizon mega-disaster), that the solution to all our problems might emerge. From our anger.

Macy was clear in identifying where the problem was centered: Them, and who serves as the allies of life and all that is sacred: Us. How original. How helpful.

My problem was that I couldn't listen to Joanna Macy, a writer I have admired, without also hearing Sarah Palin, who I can't stomach. The "Tea Party" is a Howard Beale-esque, mad-as-Hell movement. Terrorism springs from the same source. "I'm as mad as Hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore." Actions often follows this exclamation, but are rarely characterized as solutions to anything.

So let's talk. More so, let's listen. Let's try to understand the perspectives, opinions and feelings of others before they feel compelled to throw open the windows and scream. Let's do what we can to resist anger's siren call. Will remaining calm make everything better? Of course not, but at least it won't make things worse.

I'm sorry, Dr. Macy, but your call to heated emotions and expressions left me cold.