Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

from the minister’s emailed Weekly Message 1/28/2011

Faith, Work & the Economy:  I just returned from  2 1/2 days in Berkeley with a few hundred progressive Christian ministers, lay leaders, activists, and seminarians and a handful of UUs, Jews and Muslims.  I attended the annual lecture and leadership conference at Pacific School of Religion, across the street from our own Starr King School for the Ministry.  Speakers on faith and economic justice in America included Prof. Robert Reich (former U.S. Secretary of Labor), the young-adult founder of the first Islamic liberal arts college in the US (based in Berkeley), the founding leader of Interfaith Worker Justice, and Bishop Yvette Flunder, pastor of City of Refuge UCC church in San Francisco.  The music and worship were great, and I attended workshops about speaking to the media about the need for comprehensive immigration reform–and for compassion.  Within a week I think you can see or hear some of the speakers at the PSR website.

Gay Activist Murdered in Uganda—The Rev. Mark Kiyimba has sent us tragic news from Kampala.  A gay man and activist from his congregation has been beaten to death in his home.  In October, as Mark visited UUSS and several other American churches, a tabloid newspaper published a listing of “100 Homos” with pictures and addresses, and a side banner on the front page that said “Hang Them.”  You can read about it and read Pres. Obama’s remarks by clicking this link to the Unitarian Universalist office at the United Nations.  You can hear Rev. Mark’s October 27 interview on Capital Public Radio’s “Insight” at this link. If you were not able to meet him at UUSS and would like to support the Ugandans who are Standing on the Side of Love, you can do that securely (and see more pictures) through the UUA website.  We raised $1,400 on one night at UUSS!


SERMON: Whatever Happened to Happy Endings? (Ray Bradbury’s Answer)

Sunday, January 23, 2011
UU Society of Sacramento

Not all quotations have page numbers here, but all are from Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, Bantam Books, 1976.

Hymns: #298 (Wake Now, My Senses),  #201 (Glory, Glory, Hallelujah), #128 (For All that Is Our Life).

Dances by the Sarah Bush Dance Project:
“Someone’s Daughter” by Beth Orton; “Wanting Memories“ by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Meditation and Prayer
It’s the 23rd of January:  3 weeks of a new year, already gone—just like that!  To me, the rush of time is all the more cause to give thanks for this new day, to appreciate these moments and this time together with all these people, of all ages and stages of life.
As we prepare for our personal meditations and prayers, let us give thanks for every breath we take and every pulse of life through our blood vessels.  Let us notice our bodies in our seats, notice our breathing, our neighbors’ breathing:  our common breath, which is the breath of life.   With the sounds of our community around us, let us take a few moments for that silence which is more than the absence of sound, but which is the source from which we all emerged.  Our time of silence will be ended by spoken word, and followed by dance.

I’d like you to go with me back to the summer of 1928, in Green Town, Illinois, population 26,349.  A neighborhood’s children enjoy life, explore their city, and come face to face with change, loss, and grief.  These kids are characters in a novel written in the 1950s by Ray Bradbury.  The book’s title is Dandelion Wine.  It is based on Bradbury’s memories of childhood in the northern Illinois town of Waukegan.  In the novel, Tom Spaulding is 10 and his brother Douglas is 12.  At the start of the summer, Doug takes out his yellow pad and a Ticonderoga pencil, and he begins making two lists.
In the first category are the traditions of summertime in the Midwest, such as taking the wooden swing out of storage and hanging it up and on the front porch.  After supper, the family sits out on the porch in the warm air.  Other ritual pleasures of the season are swimming, fishing, and staying out until late sunset.  There’s eating the first Eskimo pie of the season.  Another one is making homemade wine out of dandelions from the yard.  On the pantry shelves, adults line up the bottles of fresh, golden green liquid, capturing a bit of the summer for enjoyment in the other seasons. The kids might even enjoy a tiny, exciting sip of the tingly juice.  Tom headlines this list, Rites and Ceremonies.
His most important ceremony is getting a new pair of sneakers for the summer, but this year he’s a dollar short of the price.  On a warm afternoon, he goes to old Mr. Sanderson’s shoe store.  He stacks nickels, dimes and quarters on the counter top.  The man, dressed in a business suit, is gruff:  “I see you every afternoon at my window; you think I don’t see?  You’re wrong. … You want the Royal Crown Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Tennis shoes:  ‘Like Menthol on Your Feet.’ [And] you want credit,” he barks.
The boy says, “I got something better than credit.”  First he asks the man, when was the last time that he wore a pair of sneakers?  It’s been decades!
Mr. Sanderson, don’t you think you owe it to your customers, sir, to at least try the tennis shoes you sell, for just one minute, so you know how they feel? …. How you going to sell sneakers unless you can rave about them and how you gong to rave about them unless you know them?
The man resists a bit before putting the sneakers on.  Doug says:  “Now, could you kind of rock back and forth a little, sponge around, bounce kind of, while I tell you the rest?”
He proposes a deal.  If the man will sell the shoes to him, he will work off the dollar he owes by running errands.  “Feel those shoes, Mr. Sanderson, feel how fast they’d take me?  All those springs inside?  Feel all he running inside?  Feel how they kind of grab hold and can’t let you alone and don’t like you just standing there?” Mr. Sanderson sinks down into the shoes and rocks back and forth, while the 12-year-old spins the tempting offer to do the man’s unwanted chores out in the afternoon sun.    He gives Doug a list of errands for the day and sends him along.  “Thanks, Mr. Sanderson,” and the boy is off. (24)
The second column on Doug’s writing pad is a list of things that happen for the first time in the summer of 1928, and lessons learned.  This list bears the title Discoveries and Revelations.
Some revelations are not so easy to accept.  The kids learn that life changes, and not always the way you want it to.
They take a last ride on the town’s electric trolley, before the train is put out of service, to be replaced by buses, including school buses.  The boys mourn the end of an era. The change for them is not only sentimental; it has practical implications.  One boy grumbles:  “School buses!  …. Won’t even give us a chance to be late to school.  Come get you at the front door.  Never be late again in all our lives.  Think of that nightmare, Doug, just think it all over.”  (100)
They learn that people disappoint us.  Doug doesn’t “get the book of magic tricks he wanted for his birthday.  [His brother says he] got a pair of pants and a shirt instead. That’s enough to ruin the summer right there.”
The kids begin to learn that they will age.  One day several boys and girls greet an elderly woman on her porch, and she invites them in for lemonade.  They notice a picture of a little girl sitting in a frame on a table.  “Who is that?” one asks.  “Why, that’s me, when I was your age.”  First they don’t understand her.  Then, they don’t believe her!  They can’t accept that she was ever a child or a young woman.  Rudely they insist:  “You’ve always been old!”  “You stole that picture!”
Desperate, she grabs other pictures from her life to show them.  The clash of two opposing realities only escalates, and she throws the kids out.  Back home, Doug writes on his yellow pad:  “Old people never were children.”  His brother calls this revelation “brilliant,” but also “kind of sad.” (78)
When I was a child, and I would see people who were sick, old, frail, or weak, I did not imagine that such conditions could happen to me.  It was if they inhabited a different world from the one I was in.  Aging, physical pain and health problems happen to other people! Fortunately I was never so rude as to say what I was thinking.  In any case, this mindset did not long endure.  My perspective on physical health began to shift… with foot problems in my 20s, chronic neck and shoulder pain in my 30s, a recommended colonoscopy in my 40s due to a family history, and now back, hip and elbow pains, and wrinkles and gray hair taking over my body.  So much to look forward to!
In the book, after the kids leave the older woman’s house, she has a good cry.  On reflection, she decides they were right.  She’s been holding on too much to images of who she was, and not been open to who she’s becoming now.  So…she throws out her pictures!  Days later, in a reconciling gesture, she invites the kids back in.  She’s much more forgiving than I could be.  Timidly they enter, and she and  they talk again.  Before they depart, she invites each one of them to choose an item in the house they would like to own.  She’s downsizing!
The kids discover the world is a dangerous place.  For example, someone has stolen Doug’s catcher’s mitt, which cost him a dollar ninety-five.  Much worse, a serial killer is on the loose in Green Town, strangling women at night.  The townspeople refer to the man as the Lonely One.  They urge one another not to go out alone or stay out late.  The boys joke and scare one another about the Lonely One, until a dead body is found in the nearby ravine.
The kids learn that people you love will leave.  Doug’s admires his friend John, a godlike human being, an athlete who knows all the wildflowers and the times when the moon will rise and set.  John’s kind as well as talented and fun.  And one day, he tells the boys, his family is moving out of town.  No!  It can’t be true!
The kids learn that people die.  The boys’ Great-grandma is full of energy and creativity, and now in her 90s.  So strong, she even repairs the roof.  This is how Bradbury puts it:  “Every April for as far back as there were calendars, you thought you heard woodpeckers tapping the housetop.  But no, it was Great-grandma somehow transported, singing, pounding nails, replacing shingles in the sky.”
But even she slows down, weakens and her body shrinks.  One day she decides she’s tired, she’s not well, and she’s done.  And that same day she goes upstairs, nestles herself under the covers of her bed, and waits to fall asleep and pass away.  At her bedside Doug tries to talk her into living longer.  She assures him it’s okay, that it’s really her time, and gives him farewell advice.
The kids learn that love stories don’t always turn out the way you want them to.  Tom, Doug and their pal Charlie are talking about Miss Loomis, who just passed away at age 95.  Not long before her death, a much younger man whom she had known earlier in life tracked her down.  A hopeless romantic, he had carried her picture around for years.  He had imagined that as he aged, he was catching up with her, and that she was still the age of the young woman in the picture.  He found her in Green Town, and called on her.  He reminded her of their past friendship, and confessed his continuing love.  At age 95 Miss Loomis was philosophical about the opportunities they had missed over the years.  She was accepting of her life.  But on hearing the story about her, young Charlie is disillusioned, and he asks his friends for advice.    Charlie says, “Tom, answer me true now….  Whatever happened to happy endings?”
Tom says: you can see happy endings at the movies.  “Sure, [Charlie says] but what about life?”  Somebody in heaven must not have been watching, he says. “Somebody up there slipped.”
One night Doug sneaks into Tom’s room like a ghost, and scares him.  The Spaulding boys are not allowed to stay up late, and forbidden to have flashlights in their room, because they would use them to read after hours.  So Doug has brought an invention:  a big glass jar full of three dozen fireflies.  Doug sets down the jar, takes out his pencil and yellow pad, and begins to write in the flickering light.  He makes two columns.  One lists reasons why “You Can’t Count on Things.”  The other column gives the reasons why “You Can’t Count on People.”
Then he writes a stunning realization: “So if trolleys… and friends can go away for a while or go away forever, or rust, or fall apart or die, and if people can be murdered, and if someone like Great-grandma, who was going to live forever, can die…if all of this is true…then… I, Douglas Spaulding, some day… must….” He doesn’t finish writing his thought, as the fireflies have turned off their flashing.  So he lets them go.
The summertime discoveries of these kids are part of growing up, part of the struggle of spiritual awareness.  Some of us face hard revelations earlier in life, some later.  How do we live with such unwelcome facts? It’s easy to get lulled into thinking that change is avoidable, that nobody else is leaving or dying.  It’s easy to believe that since life is going well for me, right now, life really is fair.
Life is not guaranteed to be fair, yet life is worth it.  Life is a gift.  The characters in this book, the residents of Green Town, show a joy in ordinary life.  In the book are lovely scenes of big dinners around Great-grandma’s table.   One of the rites of summer in Green Town is going on a picnic to enjoy sandwiches by a river or in the woods.  One boy says:  when you eat a sandwich out of doors, it’s more than a sandwich.
An old man by the name of Col. Freeleigh has become an invalid.  His adventurous days are gone, and now he’s stuck in his bedroom upstairs, with an in-house nurse.  The kids had heard that Col Freeleigh had a time machine, but on their first visit, they learned that he is a time machine.  Through his words, he transports himself and the kids to great eras of world history.  He still enjoys their visits to hear his stories, but the nurse won’t let them come back.  All that excitement can’t be good for someone in his condition!
He doesn’t mind dying, he protests, but when the kids visit he knows he’s alive.  Another joy for him is to telephone a friend in Mexico City.  He asks the man to hold the telephone receiver out the window so he can hear the familiar sounds of that beloved city.  A little escape, though it likely comes with a large long distance bill back in 1928.
Tom admits the story of Miss Loomis’ lost love was a hard one to hear, but he accepts it as a part of life.  “The last few days when… I finally put it together—boy, did I bawl my head off.  I don’t even know why.”
Tom is a 10-year-old sage.  When hardship happens, his prescription is to let it all out, and then rejoin the parade of life.  He says, “You cry just so long and everything’s fine.  And there’s your happy ending.  And you’re ready to go back out and walk around with folks again.  And it’s the start of gosh-knows-what-all!” (156)
The adults and youth of this novel are blessed with relationships across the generations.  Not only in the same family, but in their neighborhood.  Elders invite kids in for a visit, even if they get unfriendly questions about their age. Adults watch out for one another’s kids, helping to keep them in line by keeping them in sight.  Of course this neighborly ideal didn’t exist for everyone who grew up in the 20th century, and it’s almost nonexistent these days.  It’s a rare thing today for people in a local community to reach out across the generations.   But it remains important for us to build connections among all age groups.  When we are young, we need to develop identities and roots.  As adults, we need to think of the legacy we are handing on to those who come after us.
I believe that religious congregations serve as one of the last places where connections can take place across the generations, especially beyond family lines.  What does this bridging of generations look like?  It can be as basic as introducing one another to gardens, parks and rivers.  It can be helping someone learn to read—whether an adult is tutoring a child or a child is helping an adult learner.  It can be inviting others to share in the joys of serving and helping out in the kitchen, at a shelter, or on a parkway restoration project.
It can be as generous as asking someone questions and waiting to listen to their answers.  As I thought about Ray Bradbury’s characters, I realized that we have characters in this church that a novelist could put in a book.  Actually you could draw a book out of any one of our lives, no matter our age.
As Great-grandma lies on her deathbed, Doug asks:  Who’s going to repair the roof?  She whispers:  “Don’t let anyone do the shingles unless it’s fun for them…. Come next April, ask ‘Who’d like to fix the roof?’  And whichever face lights up / is the face you want….  Because up there on that roof you can see the whole town going toward the country going toward the edge of the earth and the river shining, and the morning lake, and birds on threes down under you, and the best of the wind all around above.” (182)
Tom’s advice for disappointment and loss is practical:   “A good night’s sleep, or a ten-minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice-cream, or all three together, is good medicine.”
For him, a happy ending is going to bed at night, knowing he’s alive, appreciating the simple joys of life, and giving thanks for a time of rest and the promise of a new day.
Ray Bradbury writes:  “One day you discover you are alive.  Explosion! …Illumination! Delight!  You laugh, you dance around, you shout.”
The hardships of life do not prove this discovery false.  They only call on us to affirm it, over and over.  For the gift of life, and the gift of every new day, let us give thanks.  Amen.

Christmas Eve & Easter Services . . . and Community life–words from Forrest Church

Pastor Cranky just found this in an old sermon by the late, great Forrest Church, of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in NYC.  What he says about Easter attendance is probably even more relevant to the high attendance we see at Christmas Eve services (in UU churches and all other kinds, I am sure).

Forrest Church     April 4, 1999

Let me tell you a little secret about Easter sermons. They almost always begin with a joke. Catholic Easter sermons. Protestant Easter Sermons. If there were such a thing as Jewish Easter sermons I can promise you they too would begin with a joke. Not that death is funny, even with resurrection as a rider. It’s just that jokes make people comfortable. Since a quarter of you are making your yearly or bi-yearly pilgrimage to church, and therefore must feel at least a little strange sitting in a pew, a good joke can work wonders in the ‘Relax this is not a scary place” department.

Believe me, I am delighted that you are here. Thank you for coming. Come back if you wish. I should add, that regular Sundays are far more real than Easter Sunday. Not as festive perhaps, but on regular Sundays you are part of a community, not part of an occasion. Occasions are wonderful. Community is better.

family minister’s column for February

For the Good of the Whole Shebang:
Family Minister’s Appreciation & Invitation

You probably don’t have a baby in Child Care on Sunday mornings. I don’t.

You may not be in our group of UU Young Adults.  Me neither.  When I turn 50 in a few days, I won’t even be eligible for the Not-So-Young-Adults group.  Our Member Connections Facilitator is helping to get it started, even though she’s not in that category.
Count yourself lucky if you do not have a teenager in these distracting, complicated, busy times!  But be glad for those at UUSS who do, for they can find values-based sexuality education in this church community.

Maybe you don’t till the soil in the UURTHSONG garden, or even pay it a visit or take some fresh produce home after services.  Maybe you don’t walk the green grounds of our campus.  Or perhaps you don’t get much out of sermons or music on Sunday morning.

Maybe you don’t drink coffee or peruse the beautiful new Bookstore in the Library.  Maybe you don’t stay for soup, or sing in the choir, or play an instrument for a worship service, or attend a meditation retreat or an Adult Enrichment class.
Maybe you don’t ever have a heavy heart, a challenging illness, or any need for a pastoral counseling session or help from a Lay Ministry volunteer or a Friend in Deed.

Perhaps you don’t come to church for the hugs, smiles or words of wisdom.

Well, not everybody needs everything that UUSS makes available.   But I hope you do find plenty to enrich your life here.  And I bet you are glad that UUSS is able to do all it does, and to offer so much to so many different kinds of people.
I am glad, too!

We support this congregation because we care—not just about our own special preferences and priorities.  We care for the good of the whole.  The whole congregation:  newcomers and long-timers, singles, families, kids, elders… people.  The whole shebang!

If you are like me, you don’t go hungry or wonder where you will find a place to sleep.  You don’t have your liberties threatened often, or your labors underpaid, or your parents deported, or your gender identity a cause for someone to persecute you.  You don’t live in a war zone or an oil-spill zone.  I don’t, and I’m lucky.

Yet you and I care about people and creatures who are at risk, suffering, or in need.  We care about human rights and peace.  We are glad this congregation is here.  We’re proud of the good we do locally and in our world.  We are inspired by the values it stands for.  I’m proud the UU movement is Standing on the Side of Love.

We care about the good of the whole.  The whole person, the whole human family, the whole blue-green planet we share with others.  The whole shebang!

This is why we show up, why we reach out, why we speak up, and why we stretch ourselves to support the mission and programs of UUSS.

We care about the good of the whole.  Thank you for caring, and thank you for giving so generously.
For the good of the whole, you make a difference. We all do!
Yours in service,

PS—In case it’s not clear above, our UUSS Pledge Drive for the 2011-12 fiscal year kicks off soon.  This is when friends and members make commitments of financial support for the next budget year. Thanks!

“Cats, Collies and Well-Tended Gardens”–an Interim Minister’s Farewell Sermon

Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship
Sunday, June 8, 2008, Bloomington, Minnesota

In one short year, the spirit of this Fellowship has touched me, and your way of being together has impressed me, taught me, and reminded me of some important lessons.
For example, with you I have been reminded that all of us are fallible. Human beings let other people down, and feel let down by others. We disappoint ourselves, too. It’s such a relief to remember that you can count on this–all through your life! To any of you who have felt let down, or even hurt, by my words, actions or lack of them, I apologize and ask for your forgiveness. I ask you to have compassion for me in my imperfections and compassion for yourself in your experience of hurt or of disappointment.
Another example: I have had my faith restored about this: while ministers may be called or hired to serve congregations, the ministry is not reserved for professionals alone. If the members of a congregation had no sense of ministry to one another or to the wider community, no professional’s talents would make a whit of difference. You have been talking this year about sharing the ministry, about minister and lay leaders working as partners. You have the talent and you have the spirit to make shared ministry blossom and flourish.
In my final reflections I’d like to leave you with some concepts I learned in a book. The book is Looking in the Mirror, by Lyle Schaller. He’s a church consultant for Mainline Protestant congregations. He’s written over 20 books and some of them are favorites with UU ministers.
Schaller explains how differences in church size affect congregational dynamics and personality, and how size differences relate to professional ministers. Schaller says that a small church is a very different animal from a mid-size church. What kind of animal, you might ask. Well, a small church is like a cat. There are lots of cat congregations in Protestant America: one-fourth of all churches have fewer than 40 people on any given Sunday. How many of you have ever owed a cat? [HANDS.] No, no: If you answered yes, then you “don’t understand cats,” Shaller says. Nobody “owns a cat. You may keep a cat. You may work for a cat.” But they are “independent” and “self-sufficient creatures,” Schaller says. They live by instinct and do not want to be trained. Do you think this Fellowship was ever a cat?
Cats don’t like big groups. They’re fine by themselves or with a few others with the same temperament—but a houseful of cats? You can hear the growls: “That’s too many.” Cat congregations don’t have much need for ministers, except in a limited role. They know that ministers come and go. The cat’s main concern is: When am I going to get fed? The professional who doles out the spiritual kitty chow might be different from week to week or the professional might change every few years. A cat may even decide there’s other ways to get its needs met than with a professional cat-sitter. The cat says: “So long as I can hear the whirring sound of that can opener when I expect it, I’ll be fine.” Cats “rarely seek advice on improving their [skills,] performance and behavior,” Schaller says. He asks: “Have you ever [known] a cat that wanted to be transformed into a dog?”
The next category is a dog, as a matter of fact, but not just any dog: a collie! Collie congregations have up to 100 people attending on a given Sunday. Has the Fellowship been a collie? Well, collies are cheerful and loyal. A collie congregation likes everybody to be happy. It does want to be fed, of course, and to be looked out after. Often a part-time minister can provide that for a collie. What a collie wants, most of all, is to know: “Do you love me?” It wants to be loved, and it likes to spread the love.
Let’s say the minister goes away for a few weeks, and the feeding and the walking for the collie have been arranged in advance. There may not be a backlog of work when the minister returns; a well-behaved collie does not create much new work. But even though little has changed around the house and things went well in the minister’s absence, the collie is darn glad to see the minister come home! The cat, one the other hand, says, “Oh, you’re back. I didn’t realize you were gone.”
The next size category is the church that receives 100 to 175 people on a Sunday. This church is such a complex thing that it can’t be compared to an animal or to any single organism–it’s a system. In Schaller’s terms, the mid-size church is a garden. Has the Fellowship become a garden in some ways? In most garden congregations, there’s a lot going on. To thrive and be fruitful, gardens must be planted with intention and tended and protected. In such a garden there are different things to feed many different kinds of people. Nobody is expected to like everything in it, of course. People can focus on their favorite garden foods, though now and then you might have something new. In general, though, the eggplant folks generally hang around with others like themselves, and the rhubarb crowd sticks together, and the zucchini people—well, don’t they have a lot of stories!
Garden churches usually have full-time ministers as well as a few other staff leaders to watch over and water all the growing things, and to nurture the seeds of new projects. In a garden, the work is never done. If a key staff person or a key lay leader goes away for a few weeks, coming back is not so easy —weeds grow, things crowd together. Sometimes the garden gets out of hand all together. So gardens need regular tending. With planning, a garden congregation can grow very much in size and in scale. Garden congregations are more comfortable with numerical growth than the other ones. Cat and collie congregations can grow, of course. Beyond a certain level of growth, however, dogs and cats get quite uncomfortable, maybe even ornery. Of course, if a church has grown a lot over the years–from a cat to a collie to a garden– you can be sure that the cat and the collie are still aspects of its personality; the church will have traits of its earlier identities.
And what do collies like to do with gardens? Dig and play in them, mess up those orderly rows. Cats, on the other hand, have little use for gardens—too much work, too structured and organized for a cat. They’d “rather not,” thank you.
If you’re at a garden church, it’s easy to look around, to sample what’s nearby, and to get a feel for the garden as a whole. But not in a house! This is the next size category: the house. Will the Fellowship become a house someday? A house congregation gets around 200 folks on a Sunday. The house has special rooms–that is, well-organized programs. People can come and go in any of the rooms, but they don’t need to go to all them. In fact, it’s not possible to be in every room at the same time. Without attentive hosts in this house, newcomers may not find the rooms, or programs, they’re looking for. The house may have within it a collie congregation from days gone by and maybe a cat or two—the earlier identities of its history.
The cat tries to find a couple of rooms to claim as its lair. And the collie? The collie is frustrated that it can’t get into every room, can’t share the love with everybody at the same time.
I won’t detail the other size categories from Schaller’s book, except to say that the next one is a mansion, and after the mansion is a ranch.
In discussing these categories with me, a UU minister friend made this important point: Some of the stresses of growth in a church have their origin in the earlier identities of a church’s life story. Different folks joined it at different stages in the story: Some joined a cat, others joined a collie, some now are looking upon a garden. Nearly all of us join a particular church because we love it. We join the church we love. The ideal church, for many of us, is the church as it was when we found it. Consequently, changes in its identity can threaten our sense of comfort and familiarity.
You hear questions and worries: “Do we have to keep expanding the garden?”
“Oh, my, now some are dreaming about getting a house! God forbid we ever become a mansion!”
In a changing congregation, it’s important for us to be honest about our feelings and and have compassion for ourselves and for others in the midst of change. None of us is foolish for loving the church as it was when we joined it. It is natural to fear the loss of what we have loved.
It is possible, fortunately, to meet many of the needs of the cat and the collie that continue to live in a church that’s becoming a garden or a house. With planning and good programs, it is possible to serve many of the needs that were met by the earlier identity of the church. However, the shape or the scheduling of the programs that aim to meet those needs may not be identical to that of programs and structures in days gone by. This is known as change by addition instead of by subtraction.
The last metaphor I have for you applies to congregations of all sizes. A congregation is a parade. Unless a congregation is stale or stagnant, it’s moving and changing all the time. New folks come, others leave, babies are born, and volunteers hand on the reigns of leadership. I observe that this Fellowship is not the same congregation I met last August. You have made some big decisions and implemented a new board structure. You’ve grown closer to other churches in the local community. A good number of regular visitors have decided to make the Fellowship their church home. The parade goes on–always.
After I arrived here in the fall I heard phrases like, “We always…,” “Everybody likes,” “Everybody knows…,” “What we want is…” But then I began hearing a variety of preferences and hopes voiced among you and a variety of assumptions about what the Fellowship can be. I learned that making a claim or an assumption about what “everybody” is, or wants or knows is not very helpful in planning for the future. Who “everybody” is, is diverse, and it’s always in flux. “What we are” is changing all the time.
This is not the same congregation I met in August. Yet it has the same spirit. And however much it grows in size, I have confidence that it will grow in spirit.
In the coming years, whatever metaphoric identity this congregation might morph into, I have faith… that your love and care will endure, your witness for freedom and justice will grow, and your practice of compassion and generosity will thrive. Whoever “you” become, and no matter how many become part of it, I believe that this congregation will continue to provide insight, inspiration and hope to all who choose to call it their community and their home.
So may it be. Amen.

2010 in review–summary of my fans from last year
January 12, 2011, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 113 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 210 posts. There was 1 picture uploaded, taking a total of 65kb.

The busiest day of the year was November 18th with 63 views. The most popular post that day was Pray and Get Rich? The Prosperity Gospel and Real-Life Capitalism.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for short sermon on thanksgiving, short sermons on thanksgiving, short thanksgiving sermon, money anxiety, and prosperity gospel.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Pray and Get Rich? The Prosperity Gospel and Real-Life Capitalism May 2010


Thanksgiving 2008: Saying Grace — a short sermon November 2009


Sermon: Words & Deeds of Prophetic Women & Men January 2010


The Lure of the Fuzzy: Stuffed-Animal Blessing Service October 2009


Winter Solstice Sunday sermon–2009 December 2009

Death Penalty abolition in Illinois

I was happy to read that my former home state and former employer, Illinois, has taken a big step toward abolishing the death penalty. I worked for two governors, but not for the Republican now in jail for corruption who got this rolling with a courageous moratorium on executions. Nor did I work for the Democrat recently making the talk show rounds; when does Rod have to show up for prison?
Anyway, the legislative houses have both passed abolition. I hope Gov. Pat Quinn will sign it!  The link takes you to an article with a very unscientific poll you can answer.