Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

April Newsletter Highlight #2 — From Grasshoppers to Goats — An Explanation

Some of you have been asking me about the goats you have seen on our church campus recently. They are truly adorable but are here for a more practical purpose.

They are not here every day but are brought here three days a week and watched (herded) closely. We have been blessed, finally, by rains and by new green growth of grass on campus. Unfortunately, our UUSS Grasshoppers —the teams of grounds keeping volunteers— need some new people to help out in the wake of retirements of longtime volunteers. (Call Elaine in the Office if you are curious about what the commitment and the tasks involve.) While waiting to get a larger group of human Grasshoppers, we have bought a small herd of goats to keep the grass and weeds cut back.

This purchase will NOT affect the funds available for the Building Project! The funds for the purchase of the goats have come out of the fundraising line in the operating budget. The goats will be… uh, gone before this Saturday night’s Auction Dinner.

Speaking of the dinner, you have one more day to buy tickets from the UUSS Office, since April 2 is the deadline and today is April 1. Thank you.


When “Spiritual but not Religious” is not really enough: a Colleague’s Perspective

At the  June meetings of the UU Ministers’ Association, we had an entertaining and inspiring (as well as challenging) talk by the Rev. Lilian Daniel, a liberal Congregationalist minister from a Chicago suburb. Her somewhat snarky blog post of 2 years ago went viral. Her more recent book includes that but has a lot of other, more charming anecdotes and reflections about church community and the calling of parish ministry. Anyway, take a look:

Prayer in Georgia–travel journal–in 3 Parts


Of course I prayed over Eric and Kate at their wedding in the apple orchard, and I trust most of the gathering joined me in sincerely giving thanks for them and for a day so full of emotion and promise, and in sincerely wishing and hoping the best for their future, and committing ourselves to as much support of them as possible.


Sunday morning I went to the large UU congregation in Atlanta for church, arriving between services to enjoy Fair Trade coffee, donated Panera Bread leftovers (for a contribution) and conversation with lay leaders who head up some of the congregation’s ministries, like a longtime volunteer alliance with an inner-city school (for tutoring, fundraising, seasonal fairs and fun times) and a new task force called Spirit of Service, which aims to help folks discern their gifts and know how to  plug into volunteer service.   My colleague Anthony is the senior minister and gave a great sermon about a UU spirituality of prayer.  He spoke about public prayer, private prayer, and prayer between close friends and colleagues.  Prayer is not giving instructions to God, and to do it one need not believe in any particular kind of divine, or in the divine at all, period.

Prayer is a way of focusing our attention and our intentions.  It can be a ritual that sets apart a special time, such as when the family gathers for supper at the end of a day of diverse and separate activities and needs a centering and bonding moment.  It can take the form of a caring and open heart– listening and repeating back the longings, concerns, or good news of the friend who is speaking.  It can be opening up to the sky above as you lie in the grass, and seeing the bright stars in the vast darkness, and feeling that you belong amid this creation and are no less mysterious than the rest of the universe, and no less wondrous.

In addition to his eloquent sermon, we had a pastoral prayer with piano and choral music under it, and we all joined in on the refrain from UU songwriter Nick Page’s lovely “We Pray.”  The service opened with a Hebrew chant to welcome Rosh Hashanah, the start of the High Holy Days.  After we commissioned the Religious Education volunteers for the year, we sang them and the kids and youth out to the RE program by singing Joyce Poley’s “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  The service ended with another form of prayer, the rousing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known also as the Negro National Anthem.  The whole thing flowed with beauty and power–clearly the result of a lot of time in collaboration among all the worship staff and volunteers.

3) Back to the night before.   Hungry after a movie, I found myself sitting at the bar at a loud, crowded bar in a cool section of Atlanta.  It boasts the largest selection of beers anywhere–heck, that’s not all– it has more kinds of whisky than most other bars have kinds of beer.   Part of the large, young crowd was a wedding party, post-reception.  I ordered a newfangled shepherd’s pie with salad greens on the side.  A young man sat next to me and set down a glass with a foam sleeve that keeps drinks cool; it had that day’s date and the name of the happy couple.  He had brown hair in a pony tail, a thin beard, and a flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up to reveal some tattoos and strong, fleshy forearms, one of which had a lace garter around it.   He asked what I was eating.

Somehow we got to talking about weddings and what I did and where I was from.  He has some friends from out here, a woman who came here to start a church.  He mentioned his own church, which I could find online, one site in his area and another out here.   “I used to be an atheist,” he said.  His father was a Baptist preacher, his parents strict, and he was resentful of church.   Then, six years ago, when he was 28, he had a motorcycle accident.  He t-boned a bulldozer that had pulled out in the road.  The doctors told him there was no hope for him to walk again.  He would be paralyzed from the waist down.

A friend of his sister asked if she could bring some friends from her church to visit him in the hospital.  He said he didn’t mind.  They came to visit and prayed for him.  They did so regularly.  In three weeks, he could walk again, and soon he left the hospital.  “Did you have physical therapy?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “my spine was severed; they said it wouldn’t help.”  He leaned over and pulled up his shirt to show scars on his lower back.

“Ever since then, I’ve known God and believe that he is a healer,” he said.  “I’m not very religious, though.”  He pointed to his glass on the bar:  “I drink and smoke.”

“You still smoke?” I asked, showing my Unitarian bias when it comes to social vices.

He said that yes he does, “But I’m praying to be delivered of it.”    He said he likes talking to people, “loving them up, and telling them how good God has been to me.”

We spoke about his work as a contractor and about the emerging economic turnaround he’s experiencing.  He noted that it was striking that he’d sit down in a bar next to a minister.   Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it?

I hadn’t even wanted to come to this place, but my first stop–a quiet cafe with internet–was no longer serving food at this late hour.    I didn’t even order one of the 400 beers or 35 whiskeys, as I was annoyed that the bar didn’t have internet, so I’d have to go back to the cafe after the meal to get online.

Had I mentioned this to my neighbor, he’d have seen the hand of God at work.  Maybe so.   His meal came and I paid my check and wished him well.  We shook hands and parted.


Kids talking at Chalice Camp with Pastor Cranky

Conversation at the short lunch table at Chalice Camp earlier this week:
I was asking Alec, almost  7, about his “Scooby Doo” lunch box. Was it originally a parent’s box? (It’s their and my generation.)
No, it was his, given to him recently. (I should have guessed; it was a soft-sided one.) Does he know Scooby Doo? “Yes, I’ve seen a lot of episodes. I’m also watching John Adams.” Who’s that, another kid asks. “The second president.”
Really?! I asked him. “Yeah. It’s kind of grownup-y, but I like it.”

As I write, they are all giving a shaving cream hairdo to the oldest boy in a wading pool outside.

This is the first time our congregation has offered Chalice Camp in six years.      We tried last year but didn’t get enough registrations in time.  This year we publicized it in advance and a great lay leader stepped forward to be camp director.  We decided that 9 kids (grades 1-6) was enough to get going, and that if we make it happen this year it will generate more interest for next year.

We are just about breaking even on the costs (stipends, materials) even while giving some financial need tuition reductions.

We have good staff support, a lot of cheerful and willing adult helpers, and four great teenage camp counselors for this year’s camp.  I am so touched to see these youth blossom as they teach, nurture, and exemplify UU faith and values.  Thank you so much!

An important thing about Chalice Camp–in addition to the fun that happens in most camps–is that the kids and the teenage counselors both get a year’s work of UU heritage and values education in just 5 days.  Plus worship, snacks, arts, music, and getting each other soaking wet on a hot afternoon.  Here is the official site of the creators of Chalice Camp:

Busman’s Holiday/Minister’s Vacation #2– Sunday worship, July 15

While my pal Bruce was bringing his prophetic and heartfelt message to the flock at home (“Who Gets What:  Economic Inequality in America), I went to church at the smaller congregation in rural New England where I had done my seminary internship about 17 years ago.

Linda and Ed picked me up in the city; we got there early so they showed me the “new” building the congregation had bought a few years back and renovated.  It’s a former convent or monastery, with a lovely rectangular chapel and a decent-sized and bright fellowship hall next to a kitchen that’s too small to cook a meal for 150 adults (but not too small to heat up or refrigerate some of the potluck dishes).  Their capital campaign had a goal of over $300,000 and raised about $800,000.  The main level includes a library/meeting room, nice administrative office, and minister’s corner office; one of her windows looks out on a nearby pond!  The RE rooms were downstairs, but they opened onto a ground level since the facility is on a hill.  There is a long hallway with floor-ceiling windows outside all the classrooms, whose windows let in a lot of that light. Right outside is a playground, and you can see the pond.

Of course, a congregation is not a building, no matter how nice it is.  Linda told me on the ride there about the major losses by death of some beloved elders:  Joan and Elsa, both of whose husbands were there.  I was very choked up to think that they are not here anymore.  Linda also reminded me that her youngest is now 32 and a tattoo artist on the West Coast–how could that be:  he was only 16 just a couple of years ago, wasn’t he?  Here’s a bit of UU diversity for us to ponder:  Another kid from the church recently got married; she’s in her 30s.  Again:  How could that be; she was just a teenager.   Her mom told me she owns and runs a gallery for local artists in another town and makes jewelry.  Her husband is in marketing for an adult video (etc.) store, and they attend a nearby UU congregation.  The mom (his mother in law) works as an advocate/social worker for women who have been abused sexually or physically, so this is a challenging juxtaposition in the family.  Another mother told me about her four grown kids, one of whom is a son on his Mormon mission in another country.   The others are UUs or nearly UUs, but this one didn’t feel enough at home in our religious culture, and became a Mormon (while attending college at a major progressive university founded by Universalists).

The sermon was given by a lay leader in the church, a  young mother of two-year-old twins, a preschool teacher and permaculture farmer.  It was about mindfulness, the practice of noticing, thinking without words, observing what is and being gentle with ourselves.  Very nicely done.  This church has the practice I don’t like of–early in the service– inviting visitors to rise and introduce themselves.  I did so, since Linda would have done it for me if I had not.  I said it was good to see some familiar faces again.

I had noticed on arriving that a young heterosexual couple and two little children were there for the first time.

Though they had gotten name tags for all four, they did not rise to introduce themselves.  (And, nicely, the service leader said that all those feeling shy about standing up were welcome to stay after service for some ice water and conversation so the congregation could get to know them.)  I was disappointed to learn that there was no RE class or nursery care on summer Sundays, though a family could leave the service and go down and tend their own kids in the nursery).  One of the kids couldn’t handle much of the service, and mom left with him.  Dad stayed with the other, occasionally trying to get him to be still.  I felt uncomfortable knowing that they had made the effort to check out a spiritual community as a family but were not having an easy time of it.  I wanted to talk to them after service, but it seemed strange for me–another visitor–to say “thank you for being here today,” or “we’re glad you came.”  But after the benediction I did introduce myself to the dad and told him I was a family minister at another UU church.

“Is this your first time here?”  Yes, he said.  I responded:  “It’s a major undertaking for a family with kids to get out of the house to be at services and visit a church, and I admire you for making the effort.”  He said thanks and “We’re glad we came.”  They didn’t rush off, the mom and other kid came upstairs, and the lay preacher’s two twins came in and added to the mix of toddlers.

I was surprised to realize how much I care what kind of welcome families receive when they visit our congregations.  Whatever the reasons they decide to make the effort, the reasons are significant ones and their visits to check us out are a precious gift.

Busman’s Holiday/Minister’s Vacation–Northeast Worship visit July 8

In Ithaca, NY, area on Sunday, July 8, it was the second Sunday in the pulpit for the new pastor at the liberal United Methodist church.  He had started his job with them on July 1, when many clergy are starting vacations.  We two UU ministers (traveling companions and friends for 16 years) skipped UU alternatives because we had done some research:  We wanted a real service, not a “talk” with “feedback” by the congregation on some issue that might be interesting to the regular UU church friends and community of the lay speaker but might not spiritually feed first time visitors.  And another UU church in the area was shut down for the summer.  We enjoyed a warm congregation (and warm, humid sanctuary), robust hymn singing to organ music, a strong soloist (as the choir was off), a relevant prayer for the challenges of life (even while one is on vacation), a kids’ story before they went out for Backyard Bible Study, the summer RE program there.

The Bible reading was from the Gospel of Mark 6:13–Jesus says a prophet is welcome everywhere but in his home town, he urges his disciples to take no possessions with them and not to be picky about accommodations in the towns they visit, and if they are ignored or spurned by the towns to which they seek to minister and witness, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on to the next stop.

The sermon was not a stem-winder, but thoughtful, subtle, delivered in front of the pulpit with no notes, with the middle aged man in a shirt and tie but no jacket or robe).

Folks were friendly but not so outgoing to intercept us before we left.  Two of them gave us walking directions to our next stop.  One note:  At the start of the service, they ask you to pass “pew pads” down the row, signing in your name and whether you are a visitor or member, and if you have any requests.  The pad of paper makes its way back and forth, so you can read to see who else is there with you.  I asked a man in our row if he was related to a UU minister with the same last name, but he wasn’t.

We got the impression that this was a genuine spiritual community with a lot of health, a progressive heritage, a presence in the local college-oriented community–not perfect or stellar, but solid.  It was also explicitly and clearly in opposition to the official stance of the United Methodist Church on full inclusion and affirmation of LGBT people.  (The denomination recently had voted not to accept non-celibate gay persons as clergy or to affirm marriage covenants in same-gender couples.)  This church was having a series of films like “Fish Out of Water” and “Incompatible with Christian Teaching.”  Gotta love those progressive Protestants who keep the faith, and maintain a stance of open doors, open minds, open hearts.

We discussed the sermon with interest and appreciation while walking to meet my friend’s daughter (26), who had spent the morning with coffee and the Sunday New York Times at a bakery.

Politicians–Local Hopefuls Pitch for LGBT Endorsements

It’s easy to trash politicians, and easy for me to think it’s merited.  Just turn on the national news or open the paper.  (Today I’d like to trash a few Supreme Court justices too.)  But when you look down at the local level, you see that they are just people, and most of them care a lot about their calling and their work.  And they all work hard.

Tuesday night I went to the first-ever endorsement forum of a brand new PAC (Political Action Committee) for the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce (which includes many LGBT-owned, -run, or -friendly area businesses).  I have not joined the Chamber so all I could do was watch and listen.  The PAC endorsed many office-seekers for seats on a local school board, the county board of supervisors, and state assembly.  Several of these folks came by; some of them are Chamber members (not necessarily LGB or T), but even they had to leave the room for the discussions (and hand their ballots in through a volunteer.

The dramatic highlights were three-minute speeches by those seeking office in three city council districts; the June election for these seats (and mayor) is non-partisan.  If nobody gets a majority in a given race, there will be a runoff.

All of the candidates were passionate, thoughtful, and articulate in describing their backgrounds, visions, and qualifications.  Some showed more expertise in the issues than others, some had more connections to leaders in the group (who made strong testimonies while the candidates absented themselves).  None is an incumbent, though some have held office before.  My response to the speeches did not always match the outcome of the vote, but this was the first time I met most of them.  The PAC’s rules state that a person must get 60% in order for an endorsement to be made, and in every case the vote was overwhelming and not close.

I am grateful to all these folks who dare to step forward and stand for election.  They all bring many talents, and already they have served their communities in significant ways.  Their willingness to walk neighborhoods, knock on doors, listen to anyone and everyone who wants to bend their ear–it’s so old fashioned!  It’s nearly an obsolete phenomenon, except in local politics.

Their generosity and commitment has revived Pastor Cranky’s idealism about the political process and the dignity of elected service.

Notable among those endorsed by an overwhelming vote is the young but smart, experienced, gifted and highly esteemed young man who is competing to be my city council member:  Steve Hansen.  When I get his sign for my window from him, I’ll bend his ear about the trashy lots in this neighborhood.