Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Court, New Jester

Eight months?
Eight months? Really?

The stage is empty for eight months.

That is truly a pathetic showing-- or non-showing, I guess-- even for the regularly irregular jester.

My apologies to the court.

The UU-Jester has been a bit busy, what with being voted out of the castle and all.
But, have no fear. Like any good jester, like all the traditional tricksters, I have landed on my feet in a place where I really wanted to be.

A month ago, after being called with a 100% positive vote, I started as the solo minister at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta, New York. Big switch in so many ways.

The air is cleaner here. There are trees everywhere. There are rolling hills (foothills to the mountains) and winding roads. Best of all, there are friendly folks here. Very friendly, folks. It may be too soon to tell, and perhaps I've fallen on my head when I landed here, but so far-- I like it here. I like it better than almost anywhere else I've been.

Which makes the jester bells ring a little bolder, the jester colors shine a little brighter, and, I think, the UU-Jester post a bit more often.

(I've got a backlog of sermons supplements to get to... so keep your eyes on this space.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

7 and 1/4 inches per day

Meditation delivered at the services on January 18th, 2009.

I’d like to suggest something specific for our meditation.

Quiet your minds, settle your bodies, and open your hearts.

Today’s meditation is inspired by the words of a colleague,
the Rev. James Kubal-Komoto.

Our meditation today is on something very specific.

7 and ¼ inches per day.

Slow your breathing. Imagine, if you can, that speed.

7 and ¼ inches per day.

A snail’s pace? Not even close, snails move 40 feet an hour.

7 and ¼ inches per day.

A glacially slow pace? Like the great sheets of ice that once reshaped this landscape? About that speed...

7 and ¼ inches per day.

It is the speed of a society.
It is the speed of a dream.
It is the speed of social justice.

45 years, 4 months, and 21 days ago,
the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps
of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed his dream
for the United States of America.

2 days from now, Barack Hussein Obama
will stand in front of the U.S. Capitol
and will take the oath of office to become the
President of the United States.

The distance between those two points?

1.9 miles.

45 years, 4 months, 23 days.

A Dream. Protests. Solidarity. Martyrs. Fears. Hopes.
Heroes. Everyday People. Politics. Faith.

7 and ¼ inches per day.

Yes, it’s been a slow pace.

And we are no where near done. No where near done.

But we have come a long way.

Today, let us give thanks for all those who have
dreamed, worked, and sacrificed to get us this far.
Those who lived to see this day. Those that didn’t.

Today, let us celebrate how far we have come.
1.9 miles… and so much farther…

lets pick up the pace,
and see how far WE can move this dream along.

So May It Be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Wright Relationship - Prologue

This Sunday's service was extremely well received. Probably the most enthusiastic, positive response I've ever had to a sermon. It was, honestly, a little overwhelming. It was also very satisfying. I've received quite a few requests for a copy of the sermon. the service was recorded so CDs are available from the book table at FUS-Milwaukee. Also, assuming we conquer the issues plaguing our podcasts, the service will be available on-line as well. I don't make a habit of publishing my sermons off-line or on-line-- though I am slowly being persuaded by some colleagues and friends that I'm wrong in my reasoning. (Not there yet-- but I'm less adamant then before.) Until that time, here's some notes on sources I used for this sermon:

I used an edited version of this blog post from the Huffington Post for the opening reading. (It was sent to me by a congregant.)
In addition to editing for length, I also took some creative license and edited for content. I'd say more, but then that would give away the twist ending.
[Since writing and delivering the sermon, more information about Governor Palin's church have come out. As much as I don't like judging a candidate for their choice of religion or choice, I'm with Dan in being a tad worried about this connection--if there is a connection.]

Recordings of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons can be found on the Trinity United Church of Christ website or on their YouTube page.

At one point, I mentioned Barack Obama's role as a community organizer. I was tempted to do an aside on that point and share a joke sent to me by a colleague, but I thought it would be too biased to use from the pulpit. No reason I can't share it here, though. A proposed bumper sticker: "Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilot was a governor."

I'd love to link to Rev. Wright's keynote address at the 2007 UUMA Ministry Days-- but no recording or transcript is available for that year. (sigh)

The "Race and Unity" speech can be viewed at the Barack Obama YouTube page but they entitle it "A More Perfect Union" speech.

Rev. Wright's appearance with Billy Moyers is available on line in video, audio, or text format.

The transcript of Rev. Wright's appearance at the National Press Club, including both the speech and the question and answer session afterwards, is available from the New York Times.

I should admit I made an error here. Many of the objectionable comments were actually lifted out of Rev. Wright's appearance at the NAACP. I didn't realize this until after I wrote and delivered the sermon. To be fair, that transcript is also available from CNN.

Senator Obama's speech where he denounces Rev. Wright is also available on YouTube in three parts.

Even with the added speech from the NAACP, I still stand by my points in my sermon. Namely, Freedom of the Pulpit and Freedom of the Pew allow for people of conscience to stay in relationship, to stay engaged.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Practice of Happiness - Prologue

For the last service of the summer, in honor of Labor Day weekend, I chose to preach on the practice of happiness.

Our first reading was "Hay for Horses" by Gary Snyder (a taste of work and regret)

Our second reading was "So Much Happiness" by Naomi Shihab Nye (a celebration of all happiness)

Our third reading was "My Last Nail" by Don Kennington (a poignant picture of work, meaning, happiness, and sadness) [The earlier link will take you to the text if you scroll down. This link will take you to an audio of Don reading his poem, courtesy of one of my favorite podcasts, Morning Stories.]

The sermon itself was based mostly on the book, "Happier: Learn the Secrets of Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment" by Tal Ben-Shahar.

The service was recorded and should be available on-line soon (if it isn't already.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

You're a What? - Sermon Prologue

Many thanks to Jess Cullinan for graciously allowing me to use her post as a part of the sermon.

My old "elevator speech":

Unitarian Universalists believe everyone has the right to their own spiritual path
the responsibility to help one another find those paths and live them with authenticity and integrity.

My new answers to the questions:

We’re a what?

We are Unitarian Universalists,
and we are saving lives, deepening our spirits,
healing the world,
and building the beloved community
we all hope, dream, and long for.

What do we believe?

We believe in people, ALL people.
We believe in freedom AND responsibility.
We believe in faith AND reason.l
We believe in the rights and the wisdom the individual (the still small voce within)
and in the larger whole to which we each belong (beyond our knowing.)

And we believe that learning to be comfortable
in the space between the apparent opposites
is the secret to peace on earth,
and good will towards all.

So… You’re a what?

We’re Unitarian Universalists.

What’s that?

It’s a religion I’m proud to be a part of.
It’s a faith that brings people together and inspires us to be better.
It’s a belief in the family of all living things, and a hope for a world made healthy and whole.
It’s my religious home, and I’d be happy to tell you why, what it means to me—if you’d like to know.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Answers My Friends - Prologue

Between the subject of the last post, being on vacation for a long week, and the joy of re-entry, I haven't had a chance to post a prologue from the last service, this year's question box sermon.

Here are the questions I received along with some very, very short answers.
(In no particular order)

Q: Describe the idea UU community. To what extent does this community meet or fall short of this ideal?
A: A community that cares for one another, cares for the wider community through social justice work, and does the hard work of spiritual deepening. On top of that, they also have to be sharing the good news of our liberal faith--inviting people to join us along with welcoming those who find us. I think our community is better than average and considerably short of where it could be.

Q: Is it OK to torture in time of emergency and then return one's "core values" after the emergency has passed?
A: No.

Q: When dealing with grief on the death of a loved one, is there a way to find comfort as a Unitarian?
A: Yes. While other faiths offer comfort in the form of promises of an after-life, UUism offers comfort in two different ways.
1. Reminding us that all of us face such grief. None of us are alone.
2. Focusing on the life here and now. Celebrating the life and the memories of the ones we've loved.
(When I was dealing with grief, I found Bill Murry's book "A Faith for All Seasons" to be very helpful with these questions.)

Q: What regions of the country are you considering for a new position?
A: We've ruled out Australia.

Q: Jefferson & his fellow deists believed that God created rules of both physical and human nature, and that any human being by observing these rules, can see God's will revealed without the intermediation of churches, bibles, or ministers. Your views please?
A: Deists did not believe in a personified god. Transcendentalists believed one could find "truth" through direct experience.
I'm partial to transcendentalists. For more on the topic, check out our upcoming sermon series. ("Transcendentalism: Part or Parcel of God" on January 18th)

Q: Why aren't people more open to new experiences?
A: We aren't trained to notice the constant change that is life, so obvious changes make us nervous.

Q: What is the most entertaining thing you have done from the pulpit and how did it fit into the service (why did you do it?)
A: My juggling service preached at the UUSG while I was a ministerial intern. The service as called "The Tao of Juggling" and it was all about the concept of balance in life. Juggling was a great physical demonstration of the concept. It was a lot of fun.

Q: Why do gay, lesbians, and transgender groups seem to have a greater influence in UU churches then most other groups or subgroups? Could the UU church benefit from greater balance?
A: I don't accept the premise of the question and I'm afraid there's another less-pleasant question lurking beneath it.
(Balance is always good, though.)

Q: How does a community that prides itself on its embrace of diversity negotiate the conflicts that are bound to arise with grace and honesty?
A: With good intentions; open, honest communication, and ready forgiveness.

Q: What of the the role of ritual and ceremony in a spiritual life?
A: A spiritual life requires a certain amount of spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is an ongoing, repetitive thing. Rituals and ceremonies help us develop the necessary practices and encourage us to go to the deeper places within us.

Q: What do you plan on doing for the rest of your time here at First Church?
A: Doing what I've been doing as the Assistant Minister so far. Only instead of working on the hire-to-call process, now I'm working on the search process. I'm also trying to leave well and help with the transition to the new supporting minister as best I can.

Q: How do you calculate the circumference of a circle?
A: 2 pi r where r is the radius of the circle. (The answer was included on the card. I knew the answer without the help, but thank you.)

Q: How do we grow our UU congregations so we're counted as a "major" religion- or should we be striving for his anyway.
A: YES! We should move from the margins back to the forefront of religious leadership in this country. We do that two ways.
1. Stop being shy. Invite people to join us. Share our message. EVANGELIZE (it is only a dirty word if you do it wrong)
(We'll talk more about that at this weekend's service.)
2. Get out there and work to make our beliefs a reality.

Q: If Jesus was alive would he be on the ticket with Obama as Vice President? Would he accept the nominations?
A: No. No.

Q: Why doesn't everybody try to pitch in to stop global warming?
A: Denial is a very strong human trait. Personal sacrifice is a very difficult human choice.

Q: Will everything ever all be set right?
A: Depends on your definition. I have hope that things will be better. That's enough for me.

Q: Wonder what you or the UU opinion of sin against the self is or why you didn't mention it? (I find wicked self-criticism a real "dimmer" of my inner spirit. What do you think?)
A: I don't know if I'd call it a sin... and I think everyone suffers from those voices. I know I do. I think they are helpful only in so far as they inspire us to be better and horrible when they make us question or deny our own worth.

Q: How do you maintain hope and optimism in a world with so much tragedy and despair?
A: I try to make sure I get an equal dose of the blessings, joys, celebrations that life has to offer. I also look for instances of creative win-win scenarios. And if all of that isn't enough, I look at the kids in our UU congregations and realize their smarter and more spiritually grounded than I was when I was their age.

That's all for this year.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jester Hat Off for a Moment of Silence

I was going to write a post about today's question box sermon and today's river service.
Unfortunately, I find myself preoccupied with the tragedy in Knoxville, TN.

Our UU family is a small one.
A friend and colleague's mother is a member of that congregation and was there today.
A retired colleague I hold most dear was in attendance there this morning.
A member of my congregation has a cousin who is a leader at that congregation.
None of them were hurt. Seven others were. Two were killed (so far...)

I keep thinking of the man who put himself between the shooter and the children (and his family.)
And the people who placed themselves in front of the door to the nursery.
And the people who jumped on the shooter and subdued him.

I wonder if I would have been that brave. I wonder if I would have made that sacrifice.

I'd like to think I would.
I'd like to think, even more, that I will never have to...

...that no one should ever have to.

My other thoughts and feelings aren't worthy of repeating out loud or on the page.
The sermon prologue will wait.

Right now, there is grieving and tending to be done.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wisdom from the Idiot Box? - Prologue

This past weekend, I preached my annual geek sermon.

(Geek Sermon? Yes. I'm a geek. Once a year, I celebrate my geekiness with a sermon on some geeky facet of my life. A little self-indulgent, I admit-- but I think it's allowable on an annual basis. And the geeks in the congregation like it.)

Last year was on the topic of Super Heroes; this year, television.

I'd direct you to the podcast, but due to a miscommunication/misstep, the digital recording didn't work out. Sorry.

I will share the music (which was fantastic, thanks Alissa) that I can and the pieces of the service and sermon as best I can here.

Prelude - The Andy Griffith Theme
(about 75% of the people in the pews were whistling and snapping their fingers)

Reading - "29" by David Rakoff from This American Life - episode #328 "What I Learned From Television"
(highly edited for obvious reasons with some reading help from the worship associate)

Musical Interlude - "The Idiot Box" written and performed by Alissa Rhode

Sermon - "Wisdom from the Idiot Box?"
I used the following examples as good, meaningful, engaging television:
Mister Roger's Neighborhood Theme  (which I sang, sort of, from the pulpit...)
Message from the Rev. Rogers to adult fans
Star Trek- "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "The Body" (specifically Anya's anguished part)
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
specifically Jon's monologue after 9/11 and his interview on Crossfire.
30 Days - specifically episode # ""

Offertory - The Laverne and Shirley Theme ("Making Our Dreams Come True") sung better by Alissa

Postlude - Mr. Roger's Neighborhood Theme

Next week: The 2nd annual Question Box Service

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Faithful Conversation Defined

This Sunday, I facilitated part two of a series of conversations on our faith, Unitarian Universalism.

This conversation followed the service with the dialogue sermon entitled "A Faithful Conversation About Evil".
(I was honored and greatly pleased to share the pulpit with Lori Hlaban. She is a wonderful colleague to collaborate with and the congregation seemed to enjoy her part of the dialogue. Lori also joined me for the class/conversation.)

What exactly is a Faithful Conversation?

Here is the definition I was working with...

1. It is about Faith
It is about our beliefs. It is about meaning. It has a spiritual depth to it.

2. It is in good faith
It is about learning about another person's beliefs, not converting them to yours.
It is about connecting, not challenging.
It is conducted with honesty and curiosity, not with duplicity and agendas.

3. It is a conversation
It is not a debate. It is not a lecture. It is a dialogue.
It is a mutual sharing that leads, if fortunate, to mutual learning-- and a deeper, more defined faith.

What does a Faithful Conversation look like?

This is the format I proposed for the session.

1. Pick a question to discuss. (What are your views on Evil?)
2. Person A answers the question while Person B listens.
3. When (A) is finished, (B) asks a question or two to invite (A) to go deeper or to further develop their answer.
4. (A) answers the questions as best they can (perhaps with a "I don't know-- I have to think about that.)
5. Trade places and repeat 1-4
6. After both parties have shared, questioned, and answered, ask and answer this question,
"How does this belief inform/affect how you live your life?" (or as my theology professor used to say, "So what?"

One of the class participants asked if "Faithful Conversation" was a phrase I had coined or if they would find it on Google.
I answered, honestly though erroneously, that I had coined it independently.

Turns out if you google it-- this blog shows up (if you put it in quotes), but there are plenty of other "Faithful Conversations" out there.

• The biggest presence is the book "Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality."
While I haven't read it, the book seems to take on the topic in a way that fits my definition. A faithful conversation on that topic would be most welcome these days.

• A more relevant hit was the sermon "A Faithful Conversation" presented at the Thursday morning worship service of the 2007 General Assembly by Rob Eller-Isaacs. (If you are going to steal/copy/rip-off, might as well do it from the best, no?) Having not attended that service, I only have the summary to base my understanding on. It does seem as if he was calling for the same thing I am: more of us having these sort of conversations.

I think they are a part of our heritage that we've moved away from, abandoned even. I believe the world needs these kind of conversations. And I believe Unitarian Universalists are ideally suited to leading the way-- if we would start having the conversations with one another, we could then start having the conversations with those outside our faith tradition.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Conversation at Court

Court Leech: You know, fool, telling the truth isn't always the right thing to do.

Court Jester: How say you this?

Court Leech: Sometimes telling the truth be not in your best interest.

Court Jester: Too true, too true. But being a fool, I exist for those times.

Court Leech: Perhaps. Sometimes, telling the truth isn't in their best interest either.

Court Jester: And how is one to know those times?

Court Leech: There is rarely any knowing about it.

Court Jester: And so?

Court Leech: And so, the truth be a most dangerous thing. Have a care with it.

Court Jester: I shall treat it as if it were my very own.

Court Leech: Indeed.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Faithful Conversation on Evil

I'm getting ready for this weekend's sermon.
It is part two in a sermon series I'm doing over the summer.
The title is "A Faithful Conversation on Evil".

Nothing like the word "evil" to get people's attention, eh?

Wanna know a secret?

It isn't really about evil.
Oh, we'll be talking about evil.
We? Yes, I said "we." I'll be preaching with my friend and colleague, Lori Hlaban.

(Wanna a preview? You can see us hanging out at GA--shortly after we planned out the sermon--on Dan Harpers blog.)

Anyway, we'll be having a conversation on evil in the pulpit.
But the service isn't really about evil.
It's about having a faithful conversation.
We're preaching through modeling. (Cool, eh?)

When was the last time you had an in-depth conversation with someone about what you believe?
However you answer, you should do it more often.
'Cause that's what we are supposed to be doing. That's what our religion is all about.
It is how we learn about each other and how we further develop our beliefs.
All that through conversation.
How cool is that?!?

Wanna know what I learned?
My concept of evil still has a huge hole in it.
(Actually, I already knew that. What I learned is that the hole is obvious to others, too.)
Gotta work on that.

Anyone have a decent explanation for people who do evil for the sheer joy of it?
By Sunday?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Poetry Stop II

Another poem while we wait for Godot, courtesy of Panhala this morning.

Proverbios y Cantares XXIX by Antonio Machado
(translated by A. Trueblood)

Wayfarer, the only way
is your footsteps,
there is no other.

Wayfarer, there is no way,
you make the way by walking.
As you go, you make the way
and stopping to look behind,
you see the path that your feet
will never travel again.

Wayfarer, there is no way -
Only foam trails to the sea.

~ Antonio Machado ~

(Translated by A. Trueblood)

Monday, June 30, 2008

UU-Jester's Poetry Stop

Well, hello there.
It's been a while.
Sorry about that.
The hat and bells were at the laundry, I'm afraid.

While we wait for them to dry, perhaps I could regale you with a poem.
This one has been on my mind a lot lately.

Riding Lesson by Henry Taylor

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly in one hand
and gestured with the other,
saying "Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps,
then left the ground,
I thought for good.
But she came back down hard,
humped her back,
swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you'd throw a rock.

He rose, brushed his pants and caught his breath,
and said, "See that's the way to do it.
When you see they're gonna throw you,
get off."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Unplanned Absence

The few regular readers I have out there were probably not surprised by my recent absence. I'm not as regular a poster as I'd like to be or as I ought to be.

But this time, the absence wasn't by choice.

It was imposed on me by Blogger powers that be.
For some reason, they identified this blog as a "spam site".
(Must have been the unusual levels of activity....)

Anyway, after a month and repeated requests-- UU-Jester has been found innocent of said charges and is back on-line.

Now, I've got half a dozen posts to catch up on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Just Curious

A Semi-Imaginary Conversation

Fellow Human Being: Excuse me?
Me: Yes.
Fellow Human Being: I enjoyed the service. It was very interesting.
Me: Thank you.
Fellow Human Being: Do you mind if I ask you a question?
Me: Not at all.
(Haven't I heard this question asked in that exact frame of voice before???)
Fellow Human Being: Do you believe in life after death?
Me: Me personally, or my faith tradition?
Fellow Human Being: You.
Me: Hmmm. I don't know. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't.
Fellow Human Being: I do.
Me: I hope your belief brings comfort to your life and guides your actions well.
(I've never said that...but it sounds like a good thing to say.)
Fellow Human Being: Do you ever use the bible?
Me: Oh, yes. Quite often. I used it in preparing this service, actually.
(Hmmm... Deja Vu... I'm sure I've had this conversation before.)
Fellow Human Being: Oh. Well, I'm a Christian.
Me: Really. I wouldn't have guessed.
(Too snarky? Yeah, too snarky. How about...)
Me (take two): Oh, good for you.
(Still sounds snarky? Well, what if I say it with sincerity? I mean, I really do think being a Christian is good for this person. Ok? Ok.)
Fellow Human Being: Do you believe in the bible?
Me: Absolutely. I've seen it. I've actually touched a few of them.
(OK, now that is just being mean. True. But, I know where this is going. Is it wrong of me to want to end it prematurely?)
Me (take two, again): What do you mean by believe?
(A perfectly good question-- but you are just prolonging the inevitable. Might as well cut to the chase.)
Me (take three): Do you mean, do I believe in the bible as the infallible word of God.
Fellow Human Being (now smiling wide): Yes, exactly.
Me: No, I do not.
Fellow Human Being: Why not?
Me: (Sigh) Why not?
Fellow Human Being: Yes, I'm just curious.
Me: No, you're not.
(This is where my fantasy conversation really begins, because now I KNOW I've had this conversation before.)
Fellow Human Being: Yes, I am.
Me: Really? You're curious? You really care about my faith, my beliefs, my understanding of the world? Or are you just trying to enter into a conversation with me in an attempt to convince me of the error of my ways? Curiosity implies a desire to learn, an openness to answers and ideas. Is that the type of curious we are talking about? Because if you are-- then I would love to talk to you. I would love to have that conversation. I hope and dream and prepare and live for such conversations. Nothing makes me giddier than the open exchange of ideas and beliefs, sincerely, honestly, and compassionately. Are you really curious?
Fellow Human Being: I'm interested in why you believe what you believe.
Me: Are you considering a change of faith or switching religions.
Fellow Human Being: No, of course not.
Me: Then why would you want me to share with you ideas and beliefs that might shake your faith. Unless you don't plan to listen to them at all. Unless you just want to argue with me.
Fellow Human Being: No, I'm just asking the question. I don't wish to offend you.
Me: Oh, asking sincere questions doesn't offend me.
Fellow Human Being: Well, then, I'm very curious as to why you don't believe in the bible.
(We covered that earlier; we'll skip it now as a sign of respect--or futility--either one.)
Me: I don't believe in the bible as the inerrant word of God for many reasons. If you wish an example, then I guess I would point to the many inconsistencies between the many myths, legends, and accounts it contains.
Fellow Human Being: What inconsistencies?
(OK...see, I knew we were headed there. I knew it. When people start out with that phrase, "I'm curious" in that friendly/detached tone of voice, I know we are headed here. Like a car accident I can't steer out of--just waiting for the crunch of ideas and the shattering of honesty--followed by the sickening sense of minutes of life drifting away never to be seen or heard again. But I'm a minister. I'm called to teach. I'm called to share wisdom when I can. I am called to help those who ask for it. I must carry on this charade to the bittern end.)
Me: What inconsistencies in the bible? How about we start at the beginning. The two stories of the Earth's creation in Genesis.
Fellow Human Being: What two stories?
Me: (Deep breath. You're in it now. If you had stayed with snark, you might not have gotten to this point.) The two creation stories in Genesis. If you aren't familiar with them, go back and read Genesis. They are fascinating stories--inconsistent and directly related to stories from earlier religions, but fascinating all the same.
Fellow Human Being (less friendly, but still smiling the same smile we started with):
I have read Genesis. I read it today.

Me: Oh. Good for you. Then you know all about the two stories.
Fellow Human Being: There is only one story. God created the earth in seven days...
Me: Do you really want to do this here and now?
Fellow Human Being: I'm just curious.
Me: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
(Sure, back to the snark. It's a great line, but I fear it will not be appreciated--or worse, not even acknowledged.)
Me (take two, last time): If you are curious, why don't you give me a call at my office at the church. I would be glad to answer your questions then if you would like to make an appointment. I'm just not sure this is the right time and place for this conversation.
Fellow Human Being: Why not?
Me: Well, for one, this is a memorial service and there are grieving family and friends who may actually want to talk about their deceased loved ones or seek comfort from the minister. And, two, you aren't curious. You aren't interested. You aren't listening and we aren't having a conversation. You are trying to convert me, bait me, ignore me, and lie to my face about your motives...
and it just isn't very becoming of a person of faith
or a fellow human being.

I have heard this conversation, with that same "curious" line, many times. I'm guessing that the faiths that put out the "how to convert the ______" booklets also coach their followers in this "non-threatening" style of confrontation. Please note, when I advocate for greater evangelizing of our faith-- this is not the insincere, intolerant, dishonest approach I am advocating.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Power Inbetween

I woke up and rewrote a few pages of that morning's sermon.
My wife asked me, "How's the sermon."
I replied, "Eh. I don't know. It is what it is. Bumbaugh would mark it up."
She gave me an encouraging smile and said, "I'm sure it'll be all right."
I gave her a small smile in return, collected a good-bye kiss, and headed to church.
I rewrote a few paragraphs when I got there.
Then, the service time drawing to a close, I said to myself, "Perhaps, it being the hottest Sunday of the Summer (so far), and our lack of air conditioning in the sanctuary, will limit the number of people in the pews."
I also paused to look at the "prayer" hanging on my office bulletin board,
written by David Bumbaugh, my ministry and preaching professor at Meadville Lombard,


What in the name of all that's holy
am I doing here?
What in the name of all that's holy
are they doing here?
Whatever possessed me
to think this sermon worth delivering
to this congregation,
to any congregation?

Ideas that seemed so fresh
now sound trite, hackneyed,
scarcely thought through.
The words have been chosen
because I like the way they sound,
the way they flow together,
the way they fill the space,
or because there another word
I can't think of,
another word that says it better,
but I can't think of it at the moment,
so this word,
which doesn't quite work,
will have to do.

if you are there,
please help them hear in this sermon
something I didn't know I said.
Help them hear in the silences
the message they need to hear.
Let there be some richness
I did not plan.

Dear God,
help me remember
what I say is less important
than what I they hear,
else I'll never dare
occupy a pulpit again.


The service went well. It was very hot in the sanctuary.
Lots of people showed up anyway.
111, to be exact.
And I' received more requests for that sermon to be printed than any other so far.
The Sermon Prologue will be coming soon.

There is something that happens in the sanctuary.
We ministers say the words.
The musicians play the music and the choirs sing.
And the people in the pews listen and hear and sometimes sing along.
there is something that happens between the saying and the hearing,
between the music and the words,
something happens transformative
between what goes out into the vaulted space of the sanctuary
and what comes in to the ears, hearts, and minds of those present.

And none of us are responsible for that transformative Inbetween
or maybe
we are all responsible for it
either way
it leaves me amazed, grateful, energized, exhausted, and absolutely blessed
every Sunday
I feel it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"No Stupid Questions" - Prologue

On June 17th, I participated in my first ever Quesion Box sermon.
In case you are unfamiliar with that sermon format, let me give you a brief description.

At the beginning of the service, those in attendance are given a note card or a piece of paper and encouraged to write down a question for the minister. During the hymn or meditative music, the questions are collected. Then, with very little prep time (enough to order the questions), the minister answers the questions.

The Question Box sermon has a couple of things going for it:
1. If you are good at thinking on your feet and speaking extemporaneously, it can be very impressive.
2. It is more personal and engaging then most sermon forms.
3. It requires less work for the minister (no sermon prep time that week.)
4. It generates sermon ideas for the next year (questions that can't be answered quickly or briefly.)

I thought it went very well and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive.
I plan to make it an annual event in the summer.

Here are some of the questions I recieved-- and some brief answers.

• What does the rooster on the top of the building symbolize?
That is the Chanticleer. What it symbolizes, I do not know. The Rooster has many symbolic meanings depending on who you ask. When I think of it, I think of two things-- greeting the new day with joy and excitment and a caution against arrogrance and false pride.

• Do you believe in God? If so, why?
First, you will have to define God for me. Then, I will be able to answer that question.

• How would you define the meaning of our existence for those who are atheists or agnostics?
I wouldn't. I don't think we should be defining the meaning of other people's existence. I think that is solely your right and your responsibility. I can tell you what I think the meaning of my existence is though...

"We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know." WH Auden

• What is the meaning of life?
Short Answer: 42
Long Answer: See the previous question AND you are going to have to define your question better if I'm to answer it.

• What, do you percieve, is a universal question that is the most difficult to answer?
Good Question! I spent a good deal of time on this one during the sermon. I'll give my short answer here.
For UUs, the hardest question to deal with is the question of evil. What is it? Why does it occur? What should our response to it be? All liberal relgions tend to look at the sunny side of life and gloss over the more depraved parts of humanity. It has been so for hundreds of years and continues to be so today.

• Why is there no coffee today? Was the decision made on theological grounds?
I don't know if they meant to make that pun or not-- either way, it still makes me giggle.

• Who are some famous political UU's in our nation's history?
Well, if they were really famous, I wouldn't have to answer this question, now would I?
A quick search turns up a few websites with lists to answer this question-- though I'm never sure of the veracity of the claims. We do tend to "adopt" people into our faith tradition when we like what they do or say, regardless of whether or not they were actually members of a Unitarian or Universalist congregation.

• How does this church directly help "the needy"?
We donate food and money to Interchange, which runs a food pantry in the area. We volunteer and provide resources to a local women's shelter. Many of our other social justice activities are directed at indirectly "helping the needy" by working to achieve justice in mulitiple arenas.

• Take a circle and caress it. There is nothing more vicious than a vicious cricle on your hands.
Is this true or false? Is this a "koan"?

Often things are not this or that. They are both/and. And if you say it is a koan, I won't argue with you.

• Why do we gain and lose members? Our UU churches seem to have revolving doors.
Very true. There are many answers to that question. Here are a few to choose from:
- We don't have what our visitors are looking for...
- We don't make our visitors feel welcome and at ease...
- It is just the natural ebb and flow of people in an institution...
- We aren't evangelizing enough or living our faith enough...
- We are always changing and some people do not like change...
- We forget to engage with members who have been here a while...
- We don't have a parking lot...
- We need more space...

These are not my answers related to FUS, but rather answers I've heard in growth literature and workshops.
They might point us in the right direction for answering the question as relates to us.
(Though it should be noted that our membership is growing and growing at an above average rate.)

• Did you have a favorite teacher in high school? What was your favorite class?
Introductory Scientific Principles taught by Mr. Bockenhauer.

• What's enough?
• Is there really such a thing as balance in life? If so, how do you achieve it?
• Where do we find peace?
• What are some similarities and differences between the Unitarian tradition and the Universalist tradition?
Hmmm. Good Questions. I think these may be furture sermons.

• What do you like about living in Milwaukee?
Well, I don't live in Milwaukee. I live in Brookfield. (Stop booing and hissing. It doesn't become you.)
This is what I like about the Milwaukee area in no particular order:
- First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee (and our other UU congregations)
- The Lake Front and the Skyline
- Sprecher Root Beer
- Friendly People
- Friday Night Fish Frys
- Traffic Jams that only take 15 minutes to get through
- Changing Seasons
- Summer Festivals and Celebrations
- Being in Wisconsin

• What are the best two books you have read in the past year and why?
Hmmm. In the past, this would have been a hard question to answer because of the amazing number of books I'd read. This year, it is difficult to answer for the opposite reason. I have had trouble finding the time to read the books I want to read this year. In looking back at the year and my bookshelf, I really can't answer the question.
This leaves me feeling very sad.
I will have to work on this for next year.

• What advice would you give parents and grandparents as they raise their children in 2007?
EGADS! The first thing I would tell them is to not solicit or take advice from people who don't have children.
If they decided to disregard that advice, I would them the following:
Give them Love. Give them Honesty. Give them Reasonable Demands and Expectations.
Give them Forgiveness.
And the same applies to the parents themselves.

• Why do some people die while their loved ones are left to grieve?
I really hope the writer of this question comes to me in person. This is a question that deserves a face to face answer.
Until then, let me offer this incomplete and insufficient answer.
First, all people die. All people grieve. It is one of the universals of humanity (and beyond humanity.)
Why? Because that is the nature of life. Without death there can be no new life.
This is small comfort when someone you love dies-- and it isn't intended to be.
The hardest lesson I have learned amidst the dying and the grieving is this--
There is no comfort to be given, no explanation, no fixing the problem at that time.
The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to be fully present and compassionate.
To be with someone during this time of hurt and sorrow and loss,
and to remind them with our presence
that they are not alone.

And with that, the question box is empty-- until next year.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Hope and Fear: Cousins in Conflict" - Prologue

Last weeks service:

“Hope and Fear: Cousins in Conflict”

Fear is often an unwelcome guest. He shows up when least expected, sometimes taking up residence. Becoming a part of your home, your church, your country--your life. It wouldn't be so bad, except Fear is so demanding as a house guest. Demanding our attention, involving himself in our conversations--and in our thinking. Fortunately, Fear rarely goes anywhere without his cousin, Hope. Hope is quiet and kind. She wants to help out where she can. When you talk to her, you will find out she is stronger than her cousin—
and actually, more demanding.

Readings from:
J. Ruth Gendler's Book of Qualities
(One of my favorite texts for worship planning. I highly reccomend it for everyone's personal library.)

Rabbi Michael Lerner's The Left Hand of God
(Another good book. I hope some of the candidates for the next presidential election have read it. Heck, I hope our next president actually reads books.>

And my addititon to Ms. Gendler's pantheon of qualities.


Hope is quiet.
She is easily overlooked.
And while she goes to all the parties, loves crowds and gatherings, she is rarely seen.

People often forget to invite her, and just as often forget she was present.
But Hope doesn’t mind.
She likes the hustle and the bustle.
She likes doing small things while people aren’t looking.
Straightening pictures on the wall.
Carrying empty dishes to the kitchen.
Little assistance, rarely noticed.

When she was a child, Hope had an unfortunate experience with a game of Hide and Seek.
When her cousin Fear had been found, the girl they were playing with stopped looking for Hope.

As a young adult, Hope had numerous relationships.
But they rarely lasted—her lovers held her too tight.
They were really in love with her cousin, but were too afraid to say so.

Hope and Fear are both best friends with Change, and they often go traveling together.

Some day, with Ms.Gendler's blessing I hope, I would like to write a sequel to her book.
There are many other qualities out there waiting to be introduced.

And the closing words:

HOPE held too tightly is really FEAR,
HOPE let loose in the World—

Burning the Midnight Oil

UU-Jester is a night owl.
He does most of his reading after the sun goes down.
He does most of his writing after the world has gone to bed.
This works well for him.


Last night, UU-Jester was working on a wedding plan.
At a certain point, the sandman came a-calling and UU-Jester couldn't keep his eyes open.
Wisely, he put down his computer and went to bed, resolving to work on the rest of the wedding plan this morning.

This morning, UU-Jester wiped the sleep out of his eyes, stumbled to his computer, and looked for where he had left off on the wedding. This is what he found:

Exchange of Vows
Question of Intent
Couple Exchange Vows
Read individual Vows
Couple floats upwards.

Couple floats upwards?

Sometimes, working late into the morning is very, very foolish.

A Change of Color

Well, hello, there.

Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned.
It has been 4 months since my last blogging.

Oh, wait, wrong faith. Must have been a guilt flashback from my early religious days.

It has been a very busy four months and UU-Jester has been having some identity issues.
Or, to put it differently, I'm still struggling with what to do with this blog.

After much thought, I've decided to turn my jester hat around to a new color.
The first jester hat I owned is a very simple four corner-four color hat with four bells on it.
It has a red panel, a green panel, a yellow panel, and a blue panel.

When I wore that hat, I was very intentional about two things:
One, I would always speak the truth while I wore it (that is what jesters are supposed to do.)
Two, I would always wear the appropriat color to fit my mood and intentions.
Green - Happy and Mirthful
Blue - Sad or Quiet
Yellow - Cautious or Tender
Red - Angry and Agressive

Now, all of these are valid attitudes for a jester to have and I have played the jester under each color.
But these past few months, I've been trying to jester with the Yellow or Red colors facing front.
I've been angry about things I've seen in my larger denomination or fearful about how my new congregation would judge me.
And honestly, Angry jestering and Fearful jestering are the hardest jestering to do well.
(They also require the most energy.)

So, its time to change the colors.
I'm turning my hat around to Green, with the occasional Blue.
Yellow and Red will be reserved for those special, rare occasions.

UU Jester's Journal will change a little.
It will have funny observations about this ministry we share.
It will have observations about this stage on which we all play our scenes.
It will have additional comments and resources from my worship services.
And I'm going to try and make entries a regular process. Once a week, or two at the most.

Time to turn the hat and live a different color.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More Powerful Words

Riddle me this: When is a church not a church?

A fair question, it seems.
I am currently a minister at a society.
But rarely do I hear people saying on Sunday morning, "I'm going to society (or to the society.)"
Most of them say, "I'm going to church."

And in our newsletter style sheet, the standard is to refer to this congregation as First Church.
(A nod to the problematic length of The First Unitarian Society, I suppose.)

Now, being the contrarian sematicist that I am, (or is that a semantic contrarian?)
I try desperately to resist this First Church label.
Why? (other than my contrary nature?)
Because I don't think we were the first church.
Certainly not the first one in the state.
Most likely not the first one in the city.
Maybe, we were the first one on our street. Who knows... we've moved a couple of times.
(I have served a church that was the first in its geographical area-- and they don't call themselves First Church-- but I digress.)
So, I just have a hard time with First Church.
I will resist until I can no longer resist -- or until orderd to desist.

BUT-- and this important-- please note my objection is to the adjective, not the noun.
It is First, not Church, that causes me to frown.

Which is very much not the case for others in this congregation-- and this denomination.
(Denomination is another word that causes trouble, but we'll save that for another day.)
Recently, I was chastised, politely, to be sure, for repeatedly using the word "Church" in our worship service.
Many words were suggested as alternatives to Church.
Church, it seems is too powerful a word for some.
Which is a shame, really, because it is a perfectly good word.

It does not, as has been suggested to me, refer only to Christianity.
Sure, it has in the past. And, yes, Christians do call their houses of worship churches.
But, meanings change.
And if you look up Church on line, you will find, buried amongst the accepted defintions,
"a place of public worship of a non-Christian religion."

When is a church not a church?
When the power you give the word is more than you can currently accept.

If we change the word, will that solve the problem and remove that power...
or just change a word.

A church by any other name...
might not be playing this semantic game.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Power of Words...

They say the Pen is mightier than the Sword.
(It should be noted that "they" was actually Edward Bulwer-Lytton-- a man famous for his bad writing, not his swordplay. But, I digress.)

Unless they are planning to use the pen in some lethal ninja way, I have to believe they are actually talking about the words that eloquently, or not so eloquently, flow from the nib.

Because words have power.

A fact that his central to my indentity and my vocation.
I spend a good deal of thought and time weaving words into... well... how do I say this?... into SERMONS.

I hesitate in choosing that particular word because it is a mightily powerful word.
I didn't realize how powerful a word it was until most recently.

Lately, when people have been talking to me...they have taken great care to avoid this word.
Much the same way some people avoid racial slurs, or vularities, or embarassing topics.
There is this embarassed pause ... their eyes slide sideways and upwards... as if they are searching, searching for an "OK" word to use in its place.

"That was a very good... a ...uh...TALK... you gave today."

Talk? Well, yes, I was talking.
But I hope it was more than that.
More powerful than that.

I really hope it was a sermon.

Of course, one of the definitions of that word in our modern day is "a long, tedious speech" and that is definitely something I hope to avoid. I don't think that is the definition these folks are trying to avoid. I think they are trying to avoid "religious discourse, often on a moral issue, as part of a worship service."

More powerful words in that definition.

Religious. Moral. Worship.

Words that some of us try to avoid because of their power.
Words like...

Spiritual. Church.

Powerful words.

Yes and No.

For words, alone, have no power.
They are just ink on a page.

Words have power because we give it to them.
With our feelings, our thoughts, our intentions, our actions-- we give words power.
Power to hurt. Power to heal. Power to incite. Power to inspire.

Even those words we all avoid, those hurtful, divisive words of power--
get that power from us.

Just as the challenging, healing, connecting words of power do--
the words of a SERMON

What's in a word?

Whatever power we put there.

A sermon by any other name might sound just the same,
but would the purpose and the promise of the words remain?


I prefer the powerful words.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Finding a Fool's Voice

Wow... someone has been conspicuously absent.

A number of possible reasons present themselves.
- I've been too busy, what with my new position, learning the ropes, meeting people, attending meetings, and all that fun.
- I haven't had any pressing issues that needed blogging about.
- I didn't think anyone would notice.

None of which are true. (Well, I have been busy...)

No, the real reason I haven't been around?

I lost my voice.

Horrible thing to happen to a jester.
Oh sure, I speak mime, every good jester does. But, this is something more than that.
I didn't lose my power of speech. (I've been speaking a great deal lately, actually.)

I lost my Fool's voice.

You see, Jesters have a responsibility. They speak the truth to power. They reveal the hidden.
With mockery and mimicry and laughter (and good will, one hopes), Jesters pierce illusions and assumptions.
They tip sacred cows. Dance with the elephants in the room.
That's what Jesters do.

And for that, they need a special Fool's voice.

For the first time in a very long time, I'm having trouble finding that voice.

I remember a time, long ago, when I used to regularly attend an improve comedy show called Comedy Sportz. I loved it. I would play the improve games with my friends all the time. I was good at it. I enjoyed it. And then, one evening, when they asked for volunteers to go head-to-head in an improve game, I raised my hand.
There I was... up on stage, playing a game I'd seen a dozen times, a game I'd played with my friends more times than I count.
The Comedy Sportz athlete "served" the first line my way... and.... and... I froze.
I'm in the spotlight, my friends are in the audience, the crowd is waiting...
and I couldn't find my voice.
My mind was blank.

They give me a second chance...
and I managed to find my voice for all of two "rounds"
and then I sat there under the lights, quiet as a church mouse.

I was mortified. I was embarrased. I slinked off the stage in shame.

Fear is the Fool's natural born enemy, you see.
And this Jester isn't wearing a mask. The lights are up. And there are people out there watching.

It has taken me some time to figure out what truths I can tell, in what way I can tell them, while keeping my head (figuratively speaking.)

I'm back, now. And I've found my Fool's voice.
The show, after all, must go on.

Thanks for waiting.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Motley Garb - A Fool's Fashion

A few thoughts on fashion, personal style, and vocation...

Once one leaves high school (or perhaps the cliques of college), there just aren't many people willing to tell you what fashion is best suited for you. (Barring, of course, GQ, Cosmo, Mr. Blackstone, Ms. Rivers, those four clowns/slanderers on Bravo, and the entire staff of the Style network.) Even moreso for those of us in the more specialized, rarified public vocations.

Ever the fool, I feel called to do my part to help.
Of course, before we start, I should probably make a few things clear.

What qualifies me to give fashion advice to you?
Not a thing. Zip. Nada. The sum total of what I don't know about fashion could stun an ox. (I love that line-- always good when I can slip it into conversations.)
That being said, I know what I like. I do have a sense of style. Sure its a strange sense, perhaps even a misguided sense-- but it is consistent. My style choices are made based on comfort, cost, costume, and character.
• Life is too short to wear things that are uncomfortable (especially shoes).
• Professional expenses do not cover wardrobe expansions (in most cases).
• Clothes are the "costume" for the role you are called to play--or the one you intend to play, anyway.
• In the end, clothes identify who you are--they denote your unique character-- or they should.
My real qualification? I'm a Fool.
Who but a fool would claim to know more about what works best for someone else, fashion-wise?

So who am I prepared to give fashion advice to?
• Anyone who asks me freely for my fashion opinons and advice (talk about foolish).
• Barring the direct question, I'm afraid I'm going to have to limit my advice to those I know something about.
Male Unitarian Universalist Ministers, 30 to 40 years old, living/serving in the midwest of the United States of America. To be truly fair about this, I should probably limit my advice to those who have come out of the Catholic and Lutheran tradtions, those that have driven cab for a living, and those who are currently overweight (though working on changing that).
Looking over my list-- checking it twice-- I find that I have narrowed the field of people I'm qualified to give fashion advice to down to just one. (That certainly simplifies things.)

My fashion advice?
• Wear hats (the more character they have, the better). Yes, in the pulpit, whenever possible.
• Wear Jeans some times-- but not the blue ones-- the black ones look dressy while still being casual for those "casual" services.
• Wear some sign of your vocation when you are actively/intentionally practicing your vocation and reppresenting your tradition. I like the chalice tie bars from CLF.
• Wear something dressier than you normally do when you are headed to church and something dressier than that when you are in the pulpit. (Please note that this is relative to your standards of style, NOT the best dressed person in the pews.)
• Wear what you want to wear-- within reason! In the end, its your style and your character-- and there is no "right" way to dress as a UU minister (or as anything else, for that matter). Sure, there are plenty of fashion wrongs, and even a few fashion "sins"; but very few of them will get you sent to hell (or increase your time there--if that's your brand of Universalism).
They will, it seems, get you mocked, chastised, and threatened with minor assaults upon your person-- but that's the price of being an individual in our society. Such has it always been.

So sayeth the man in the red, green, blue, and yellow hat with the little brass bells (curled shoes always optional).

On second thought, maybe I'll just keep my fashion advice to myself until I'm asked for it....
trusting that someone else, someone with an absolute knowledge of the fashion TRUTH will reveal it to all the less fortunate, the less stylish, the less informed.

Friday, June 30, 2006

A new Fool in the Blogosphere Court

Well, after some thought and some self-training, I've decided to tumble into the blogosphere.
This isn't my first time dipping my curly-toed shoes into the water, but it is the first time I've done so with no intention of maintaining any semblance of anonymity.

So, who am I?
Well, feel free to check out my profile-- I've tried to list as many interesting tidbits as I could. Little bits of triva-- each a story waiting to be told (each a hundred stories, most likely).

What am I doing here?
I'm speaking the truth. No, not the Truth. Well, maybe some Truth.
It is hard not to while wearing the full motley. Kind of goes with the job description, really.
Which job description? Both of them, of course.
This is my place to tell you the truth I think you need to hear (read?)-- or at least the truth I need to tell (write?).
In honor of the Universal Fool, I will try to tell them in a way that can be heard-- usually with stories and humor.
(Though be forewarned, many a Jester had a biting tongue-- when they weren't biting their tongue.)

Because it is the foolish thing to do, of course.
Because I have an abundance of ego and a shortage of common sense, most likely.
Because we are all Kings and Queens.... and Fools.... and the world is waiting to tell, waiting to hear our truths.

"Who is more the Fool? The Fool, or the one that follows him."
(or reads him, in this case.)