I posted this last week. Found a way to let you subscribe if you like!
I posted this last week. Found a way to let you subscribe if you like!
I am diving into a three-year course of study through Formation in Direction, FIND. First assignments have us plunging into both eastern and western Christian spirituality, and into personality types (beginning with our own).
The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous Christian mystic in 14th century England, captures the state of my progress.
Unknowing whatever I thought I knew about God, the unknowable.
Unknowing whatever logic gets in the way of silence.
Unknowing where FIND will take me.
Anonymous begins this book by telling the reader not to read it aloud or copy it or quote from it. Its lessons about contemplative prayer belong to one reader at a time. Until I have read the 75 short chapters and actually followed their instructions, I cannot know the whole of it, nor can I explain it fully by sharing it in part.
How delightful! This unknowing!
As I travel this unknowable path toward an unknowable God, I will come here to this blog from time to time to drop pebbles of uncertain origin. They might help me find my way home. The stones on my desk are inscribed with individual words:
Always Say a Prayer
For now I shall claim them as my touchstones and solid companions to help me find my way home. Let the Unknowing begin!
Goodness, gracious, what a week this has been! Generally speaking, clergy are sometimes asked to deliver a public prayer or something along that line. This week I had three different opportunities that came around serendipitously during the same week. Okay, part of it is that I’m the designated summer minister while the other three in our team are on vacation or study leave.
Cherry Steinwender, founding director of the Center for the Healing of Racism, asked me if our church would co-host a Community Dialogue on “The Legacy of Trayvon Martin: so that he may rest in peace.” That has been a plea by Trayvon’s parents, who have gone a long way toward advancing a national conversation about race in the United States. Their son was one more young person caught up in the fear and general unconsciousness about race. I feel sad about our vast separation along skin color lines, but grateful that we could encourage an honest conversation.
Participants packed the place. More and more chairs were brought in until there were anywhere from 75-90 people in close quarters. It was the most diverse group of people I have seen in one place with a common, interactive purpose.
We wanted to express feelings–confusion, anger, tears, and even some laughter. Ground rules were established from the start. I provided opening and closing words; others gave a short history of racism in the country and a little about what people were saying on opposite sides of Highway 288, one of Houston’s color lines. Cherry facilitated as individuals shared their feelings. We tried (not always successfully) to keep speakers to 2 minutes each.
The collective dialogue was honest, respectful, and heart-felt. I would say that every one of us heard something to make us uncomfortable, but we stayed with it for two hours. Afterward, people made personal connections and invited one another to coffee, to lunch, or to another event. Our next event at the church is a video and discussion about Michelle Alexander’s scholarly work on the New Jim Crow (the prison system as modern segregation).
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During the month of July, my sermon series has been on immigration, with the Big Idea = Welcome the Stranger. On the 21st I addressed the issue of minimum wage ($7.25 / hour OR the “tipped” wage of $2.13 / hour). The $2.13 hasn’t gone up for 22 years! The $7.25 was established 4 years ago. Anyway, I had read Saru Jayarama’s book Behind the Kitchen Door and decided it was sermon-worthy. Word got around to a former president of the church Board who has since moved to the west coast. Her daughter, who grew up in our church, is now an Ph.D. student and an intern with Restaurant Opportunities Center. ROC is establishing a presence in Houston and has joined with other organizations in campaigning to Raise the Wage.
So I met with ROC organizers and was invited to deliver the closing remarks at their March to Raise the Wage on Wednesday. We started at a downtown building where the cleaning staff gets low wages, marched past some of the others with our signs and chants and drums, and ended the rally with a few more testimonies from low wage workers and my remarks. (I’ll post them separately for anyone interested.)
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Today I delivered and invocation / grace before the Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce. Board members Jacob I was seated at a table for the Houston City Council, and met Council members Brown and Bradford, their Chiefs of Staff, a Constable, two photographers, and a few from the Power Women Group–they had 3 tables! There were women throughout the gathering of 200 folks, but the Power Women’s table sign caught my eye. My prayer was as inclusive as possible, knowing that it was a diverse group in attendance. I’ll post that later, too. Congressman Ted Poe was the keynote speaker.
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Now it’s back to sermonating / sermonizing / wrestling with words for Sunday. It’s the last in the immigration series this time around, with stories of people I know who have crossed international borders to make a new life. There are some truly remarkable stories. Natalie, Lin, Rob, Fibi, Maru, Farah, and so many more, I salute you!
My life has been so rich and full that too often I push aside this writing opportunity. Months ago I resorted to a simple spreadsheet to keep track of projects and deadlines, people and promises. Perhaps I should have a similar spreadsheet or an even more visible reminder of personal interests.
With a newsletter deadline coming up next week, I need to focus on Summer Worship. The summer theme is Power and Justice: Out in the World. We’ll have a Hogwarts Camp for children and youth and I was thinking of Harry Potter and his friends’ quest for justice!
My intention is to recognize that while we may not agree on specific problems and solutions, we can learn something about how relationships with those who have very different views, opinions, and passions. It’s a spiritual challenge for all of us.
June 2, I’ll launch the series with a look at personal power: Authentic Power. What can one person do? What difference will it make?
June 9, the Rev. Christina Branum-Martin, who moved last year to Decatur, Georgia, will preach on The Arc of the Universe. How can we relate to the stranger beyond the current political environment? How can a bystander become part of the solution? Christina’s older daughter is an activist against bullying in her school. How do we increase awareness of bullying and what do we do? In the afternoon we’ll dedicate Christina’s baby with a special Blessing Service.
June 16, the Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery, on The Unique Power of Men. She is making a point to interview men in multiple generations to get a better sense of their understanding of power or frustration over lack of same.
June 23, the Rev. Bob Tucker on Justice from Jail. It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail. Bob will address King’s understanding of justice and his movement to bring that to fruition.
June 30, the Rev. Bob Tucker will return for a sermon he calls “I Am a Man,” to speak on King as a full, rich human being. King was a deeply spiritual man, well grounded in his prayer life. He was passionate about economic justice and an end to war as well as racial justice. The complex nature of King as a person has been lost over the years, distilled into a clip from his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In July I’ll launch a mini-series of 3 sermons on independence and immigration (not yet set in stone):
July 7: Independence for Everyone? Many of our ancestors came here undocumented; today they would be denied entry. Who do we have yet to serve? Why don’t “they” just come here legally?
July 14: A Day in Court, based on experiences and observations of retired judge Susan Yarbrough and her new book (I’d better call her to make sure she’ll be in town on the 14th!) Bench-Pressed: A Judge Recounts the Many Blessings and Heavy Lessons of Hearing Immigration Asylum Cases
July 21: America’s Second Kitchen, with a focus on restaurant workers who cook and serve our food. Even with tips, a minimum wage of $2.13 that has not risen in a decade leaves millions in poverty. Some unscrupulous employers cheat workers out of the tip pool, too. Who are the people behind the scenes of our happy practice of dining out?
For July 28, Aug. 4, and Aug. 11 , I’m contemplating a 3-week series on local justice issues. One good possibility is our own Healthy Parenting project with our African-American neighbors. We provide tutoring for school aged children, tutoring for single moms who are in college, and nurturing childcare for those moms while the tutoring and workshops are in session.
I wonder what other Houston-area issues I should address? Maybe I’ll also revisit the entire summer and look at local work in the areas of racism, immigration, and/or bullying. Actually, I’d like to keep those 3 weeks relatively open for the moment. The suggestion box is now open in the Comment section. ♥ Help me out, won’t you?
Incidentally, Daniel O’Connell will be back in the pulpit Aug. 18 and 26 with a two-part survey of Unitarian Universalism, especially geared to church shoppers.
What is your take on transformation?
I just finished a very rough draft and condensed it to an outline for my sermon 2 weeks from now. This Team ministry is an extraordinary way to push each of us to pull our thoughts together early, to offer relevant material and ideas, and to suggest appropriate music and a story that will become the Big Idea for all ages.
The sermon series on Transformation begins April 20. My sermon, Life Story, is secheduled for the 28th at our Mid-Town location. Two weeks later, my content will be delivered live or via video at our two satellite locations. Fun stuff!
I hope to “get at” the dreams we have as (children and) adults to imagine ourselves and the world as different, ultimately accepting it (and ourselves) as beautiful, and discovering our own transformation. The basic steps I’ll address are these:
Liminality (the transitional period from the old to the new)
Spiritual Fulfillment / Acceptance and Gratitude
So now’s your chance to help me shape this sermon. Yes, I have a rough draft filled with my own reflections, stories, and message, but there will be more wrestling with all of it until that last moment before delivery. A gestational period, I suppose.
But now, it’s Friday evening at 6 p.m. I think I’ll have a glass of wine with my neighbors!
Today marks the 20th anniversary of my Ordination!
Way last century, back in 1993, I was ordained by the members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church. After the laying on of hands I think I was floating for weeks. Both sons Rob and Fred Nugen participated in the service and surprised me with a simultaneous kiss on each cheek in front of the congregation.
The Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery preached the sermon–and now I’m back in Houston, where she is Minister Emerita of Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church, retired (though still extremely active), and a member of the church I now serve, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston.
In that summer of 1993, freshly ordained and graduated from Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas, I was in search of a congregation but without an income. Leonora graciously offered her garage apartment and many late night conversations in her kitchen. It was a bonus to have a swimming pool just 2-3 feet from my door. I continue to feel grateful for her kindness, generosity, and wisdom shared with so many colleagues and congregations.
I plan to celebrate today by working on my sermon. What a privilege it has been to delve into a topic, reflect on its spiritual aspects and why they matter, and craft a coherent message for people who have a variety of experiences and spiritual understandings. My sermon this week is actually on a universal theme: “A Good Birth, a Good Life, a Good Death.”
Life is sacred all the way from birth through death and into whatever beyond one might imagine. We fear aging and debilitating illness more than death. We can’t quite imagine death–what that means for us and how life as we know it will change after we’re gone. We’d be glad to live forever if we could stay healthy, vibrant, and wise. (Few of us wish to return to our youth and go through all the tough times again.)
Tomorrow my loving husband Jon Montgomery will take me to dinner for a different kind of celebration. Meanwhile I will dive back into this vocation that has taken me on an adventure of a lifetime.
So my earlier post was simply a link to Loco’s prescription for “surgically removing writers block” in a careful way. He started loosening up with a book he couldn’t put down; he exercised his mind by getting into a writers’ group; he chose a subject that would keep his interest and carry him forward; and he replaced the hate that was rising within him with love. He said a lot more than that but you should read it for yourself to get a fuller context: http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2013/03/05/how-to-surgically-remove-writers-block/
One challenge for me has been to live and work alone in Houston for most of the week while Jon lives and works alone in Austin most of the week. I’m not complaining, just observing that my tendency has been to come back to my apartment and either work some more or slip into some mindless tv or resort to comfort food.
Time to get out of that rut!
First stop, music. I changed my schedule to put me in Austin on Monday evenings where I can rehearse with Tapestry Singers and the small ensemble Loose Threads. It’s my 10th year and we’re coming up to my 20th concert on May 5. To return to that great community of women and song is a real lift to my spirits. In the car I can listen to mp3s of our songs to help implant them into my brain. By next week I should be able to sing along with greater accuracy.
Before starting this entry, I couldn’t find a radio station that suited me this evening, so I turned on Pandora and chose the Shuffle option to add interest. Folk, jazz, classical, piano concerti, bluegrass; people like Hubert Laws on flute, Dar Williams on vocals, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, and already I have the makings of a musical feast!
Exercise was simply a walk around my neighborhood to loosen up my body and mind. Blackbirds were coming home from work, too, and making a racket that made me smile. Neighbor Alice, frail and elderly, was walking around the complex as usual, opening the door or gate for people if she is close by. She was a librarian before retirement–talk about a world of books! If she can get out for a walk several times a day I have no excuse. I do like to walk over to Memorial Park, close to my apartment, or to Hermann Park, close to the church. A beautiful day.
Yesterday Jon was here and we watched the movie Happy. I think next time someone asks me how I am, I’ll say “happy.” Much better than the usual “busy,” don’t you think? You CAN choose happiness.
A couple of interesting things are coming up in my work. On the 16th at 10am, a Blessing of the Animals. We have invited a local shelter to bring some of their adoptable pets for blessings and some extra love. I’ve been told that one year someone brought a donkey; another time, one of those hissing cockroaches (I’m not sure I’m up for that, actually).
In April, we will have a special Coming of Age worship service for ten young people. We’re so proud of them and their work all year long! They will be writing their own statements of belief and I’m sure each credo will rival any religious doctrine. When beliefs come from the heart at a time of spiritual awakening they touch all our hearts. This Friday I’ll get to meet with them during their lock-in to start planning the service with the kids and their advisors.
Also in April there will be a memorial service I will be privileged to conduct. It’s unusual to have this much time to plan such a service, but that’s what the family requested. Two sons will be my primary collaborators.
There is a good bit of work involved in preparing for special events but the payoff is huge. Rites of passage, all three, will include blessings for those beloved with whom we share an extraordinary life. Considering all these blessings from birth to death, along with our animal companions, love and happiness fill my spirit. May you be blessed and happy and full of love!
This, from Loco in Yokohama
I have other reasons for not writing here for a while, but this could be the antidote!