Tag Archives: Unitarian

Poem: how precious this life

Poem: n. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.

Precious: adj. highly esteemed, cherished, worthy, valuable

Rev. Arthur Vaeni came down from Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to speak on Sunday – about what’s really important. (A terrific message: you can listen to an earlier version of it here: Four Reasons to Try Something Different.)

It was a Buddhist message, calling us to wake up to the present moment, because life is precious and it’s all too short- a realization make all the more poignant given the gun violence that snuffed out so many precious lives in recent days.

He quoted several Buddhist sages, and read one of my favorite teaching poems “Bugs in a Bowl” ( blogged here).

Bottom line: life is what it is; this moment is what it is; you can choose to resist it (whine, complain, deny) or get into it.

He closed with a poem by Susan Griffin:

Born Into a World Knowing

This will happen
Oh god we say just give
me a few more
breaths
and don’t let it be
terrible
let it be soft
perhaps in someone’s
arms, perhaps tasting
chocolate
perhaps
laughing or asking
Is it over already?
or saying not yet. Not
yet
the sky
has at this moment turned
another shade of blue,
and see there a child
still plays
in the fresh snow.

President Peter: Rev. Morales heads UUA

President: n. leader of an organization – by election, appointment or personal decision

Peter: n. my old friend Rev. Peter Morales

Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President!

Just returned from Salt Lake City, where a couple thousand Unitarian Universalists from around the country convened for their/our annual General Assembly or GA. Although the workshops, talks, worship services and meet-greets are always worthwhile, this year I went to pimp for Peter – working on the campaign to elect him president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

And he won! Decisively – with 58% of the votes. I call him “Pope Peter”.  (“President”  is the closest UUs get to pontiff status.)

A combination of factors that led to his victory, IMHO:

  • A clearly articulated platform, with specific goals
  • An opponent whose platform was fuzzy and vaguely stated
  • A richly varied background of multicultural experience ( including in the business world), world travel, education, success
  • Skillful ease with public speaking – without notes
  • Personal charm and sense of humor

I was particularly invested in the campaign because it was I who first brought Peter and his family to a UU church in 1994. The exposure took, and the rest is history.

Now the real work begins. Ours is a venerable but TINY denomination, not natively given to evangelism. Either we grow in numbers and presence or watch ourselves become an interesting footnote in American religious and intellectual history.  The budget has been slashed by 20%.  So whatever gets done, must be done with less.

I send him white light…

Peter’s Prayer

Peter: n.  In this case, Peter is the Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and candidate for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Prayer: n. an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

Two candidates are running for President of the UUA – election is June 27. On the UU list-serve about the election, supporters of the other candidate keep questioning whether Peter is “spiritual enough.”  (Full disclosure: I am an active Peter Morales supporter…)

Because UUs aren’t traditional Christians (and most UUs aren’t Christian at all) the issue of “prayer” often comes up. So,  since today is Sunday, and we talk about P-words here, I thought I’d excerpt from one of Peter’s sermons – this one called “Prayer.” This is the last 3rd of it:

. . . So, what can prayer mean to us if we don’t pray for divine supernatural intervention, if we don’t pray for forgiveness, if we don’t pray to a god that is a kind of person? Once we dump out the superstition, what is left?

Quite a lot, actually; quite a lot.

Prayer can be a kind of meditation, a time when you and I open our hearts, open our awareness. Prayer can be a time to reaffirm our concern for other people. Prayer can be a time when we connect with what we hold sacred, a time when we remind ourselves of what is truly important, what really matters to us. Prayer can be a time when we remind our selves of our highest aspirations and a time when we confront, in all humility and honesty, how we have fallen short of what strive to be. Prayer can be a time when we quietly rededicate our selves to becoming what we hope to be. Prayer can be a time for opening our selves to new possibility, to new direction—a time for listening to that quiet, gentle, persistent voice that dwells in us. We have to be quiet to hear that voice; we have to be still.

This is the core of what personal prayer has always been. This is the essence that remains after we strip away outmoded notions of god as a ruler, of god as an all powerful patriarch. Prayer has always been a time of quietly coming face to face with what we hold sacred, what we call holy. Prayer is a kind of relationship, an experience of standing before creation.

Personal prayer need not involve any words. The key is to make time, to reflect, to be still, to allow our selves to feel our connections to life, to others, to the unity of all creation.

Today, as every Sunday, we will offer a pastoral prayer. In this prayer we share our thanks for community. We share our gratitude for being alive, for beauty that surrounds us, for loving friends. We share our concern for members of our congregation who are suffering loss or difficult times. We rejoice with others who have cause for celebration. This is what every community should do—share life’s joys and life’s sorrows, be grateful for what we have, hold the wider world in our embrace, aspire to serve. Our collective prayer is like a hymn. Our prayer expresses our compassion and our hope. Such a prayer helps bind us together. Such a prayer does not require a belief in anything supernatural.

My personal prayer today is for inner peace, for a bit more patience (I dare not ask for a miracle) and a bit less crabbiness. My prayer is for wholeness, for allowing myself to experience the joy of being alive. If I am still and open and centered, gratitude comes over me. I would pray for the wisdom and energy to serve this community effectively.

My prayer for our congregation is that we prosper, that we remain open hearted, that we be a true beacon of compassion, understanding and acceptance. I pray that we help bring wholeness and love to each other, that we honor our elders and raise our children to be kind and strong. My prayer for my world is that it become a place of peace, understanding, and justice, a place where life is affirmed and violence disappears.

When you are still, when you are in that place of profound peace and strong connection to your inner self and to the universe, what is it that you would pray for? When you look at your self, those you love, this community and our world, what is it that you dare to hope for?

I suspect our prayers would have a lot in common. When we stop to be still, to open our hearts, to express our deepest longings, we find that we share much. We want wholeness, peace, joy, love, acceptance.

Once we pray in this way, once you and I allow our selves to be in contact with our innermost longings, when we experience our hopes and express them, then you I and have laid a foundation. For praying without acting is not enough; it never has been.

Prayer is a prelude. Prayer is preparation.

Our true task is not finished. If in my prayer I feel compassion for victims of hurricane Katrina and then fail to do anything, what good is my prayer? If I pray that human life may prosper for millennia to come and then do nothing to help create a sustainable world, what good are my hopes? If my prayer for our community is that we be open and welcoming, yet I never open my heart to embrace new people and make them feel truly welcome, what good is my prayer? If I pray for justice but never work for it, my prayer is simply an act of hypocrisy.

Our prayers will only be answered if you and I answer them! Our love can only find expression through what you and I do. Love is not some fuzzy abstraction; love is acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of compassion. Peace is not concept; peace is a relationship. Justice is a relationship.

Ultimately the person who really needs to hear my prayer is me. The person who needs to hear your prayer is you. The people who need to heed our collective prayer is us.

The first step is to be still, to hear our innermost voice, to be filled by our love for life and for each other.

Let us pray with all of our hearts. Then let us act. Let us live our prayers. Let us become the kind, caring, alive, joyful, grateful, idealistic, world transforming people we long to be.

Let us pray. Let us come honestly and humbly into the presence of all we hold sacred. And then let us be our prayer. When our life becomes our prayer and our prayer becomes our life, then we will truly have learned to pray.

Let us pray. Yes, let us pray.

So may it be. Amen.

Paul Newman passes on: another fine Unitarian

Paul Newman lived in my home town of Westport, Connecticut. I’m told he was a member of the Unitarian church I grew up in, though I left the east coast so long ago I never encountered him there.   But I do remember going to see a play at the high school about 20 years ago when I was home visiting my parents. I was in the lobby during intermission and turned around to find myself eyeball to very blue eyeball with the man himself.  Whoa!

Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, were huge supporters of the drama department at Staples High School – my alma mater – they were among the wealthy Westporters who donated a buttload of money to help create a dynamite theatre department at the school.

The new high school theater is AMAZING. My class got a tour of it when we were back for a reunion in August.   A professional-grade theater plus a black-box theatre. At a public high school!

Westport loved Paul Newman. Many charitable organizations loved Paul Newman. The Democratic party loved Paul Newman. His wife, Joanne Woodward, certainly did – they were married for a long long time. My sympathy goes out to his wife and his kids.

Presentation pie

Pie: what unexpectedly lands on your face when you’re trying to be cool.

I was the “preacher” stand-in on Sunday, speaking at a Unitarian church about 60 miles from here while their minister was on vacation. It was the second time I’ve presented this particular sermon. The first time, about five years ago, was at my home church and it went over very well.

In the ensuing years I have gotten much more skillful not only at speaking but at crafting a tight speech/sermon. I reworked the old speech, lightened it up with some humorous quips and images, and added a rousing call to action at the end. It was definitely improved, so I felt confident all would be well.

After what happened on Sunday I can tell I need to go back to improv class, because those skills would have been handy.

Before I was to speak, the Sunday School director invited the kids to come forward for story time.  She started telling them a tale that seemed surprisingly similar to what I was about to talk about. At first I thought, “This is good – I can refer back to a couple of her ideas when I speak.”

But she went on and on, pretty much summarizing in kid’s language what I was going to talk about. As she finished she looked back at me and said, “Heheh, I hope I didn’t spoil your story….”

In Toastmasters we are warned in our introductions never to give away the speaker’s main points. For example you might say, “Today Mary will tell us the story of Goldilocks.” But you’d never say, “Today Mary is going to tell about how a little girl happened into a bear’s home while they were out and had to try every chair, bowl, and bed before she found one that was just right. Mary?”

OK, this woman’s version of the story lacked the depth, detail and brilliance of mine, and she missed some of the juicy parts, but still, she left me holding a half-eaten sandwich.

So I got up to speak and noticed that this was a crowd that likes to keep its distance. Most folks sat as far back as possible; the front five rows were empty. I thought I was in Missouri with the “show-me” congregation. Crossed arms, implacable faces.

Still, I wasn’t worried because most audiences respond fairly quickly to the warmth of my manner (not bragging; it’s true).

Ah yes. The congregation soaked up my words like a sponge. That is to say, my words landed on the congregants and disappeared without a trace.  It was like talking to acoustical tile.

I plowed on regardless and I guess it was all right. Next time I’ll bring bagels to toss into the crowd at the end of every page of text. That would get a rise out of them. But if it didn’t I’d add lox.

Afterwards I talked with a friend who had belonged to my church before she moved to this community. She noted that there were a lot of old folks in the group and said that this was their usual “response” to the sermon.

It made me really appreciate the pleasure of speaking to a responsive audience.  My home congregation really hangs in there with the minister or any guest speaker.   At Toastmasters we are totally attentive to and appreciative of the speaker, even if it’s crap. We know that soon enough we’ll be up front and want that kind of support for ourselves.

On behalf of speakers and teachers everywhere, the next time you’re in an audience, do your part by giving the person up front the gift of your full attention. Laugh, frown, cry in response. You’re there anyway; might as well be fully present.

Pausch passes: sense of humor intact

I wrote about Randy Pausch last week, but at that time I didn’t know the specifics about his death. I just knew he was a Unitarian Universalist. UUs are all about making THIS life THE life. Doing what needs to be done to make the world a better place – because living is about contributing, not about being saved in a future life (heaven?).  That was Dr. Pausch.

May we all be as joyful and skillful as he was at contributing. He sets a high bar.

Evidently he died with the same grace he with which lived. And with his sense of humor intact. From the NYTimes:

It probably comes as no surprise that the final words uttered by Dr. Pausch before his death last Friday from pancreatic cancer reflected the same humor and good nature that made him an Internet celebrity.

Last night, ABC aired a tribute to Dr. Pausch, replaying a Diane Sawyer special about his life and experiences that first aired in the spring. The segment also included new interviews with his close friend Steve Seabolt, who was with Randy during his final moments and noted that his “trademark wit and intellect were intact.’’

Mr. Seabolt only shared a few moments with viewers, noting that even near death, Dr. Pausch’s sense of humor remained. He said Dr. Pausch talked about how glad he was that he was home and his family and friend were close, and laughed, saying, “I just feel so bad about the dying part.”

Mr. Seabolt also relayed a conversation he had with Dr. Pausch’s 6-year-old son, Dylan. They were talking about cancer and he told the boy that “some problems can’t be solved, or they can’t be solved yet.’’

Dylan responded, “My daddy has taught me that every problem can be solved, and that I should believe that every problem can be solved, and that I’m strong enough and smart enough that I should never let a problem get in my way.”

At the end, as Dr. Pausch’s body was clearly failing, Mr. Seabolt said he told his friend, “It’s important for you to feel like you can let go. It’s okay.”

Dr. Pausch’s reply: “I’ll get back to you on that.’’

And those, according to Mr. Seabolt, were the final words of Randy Pausch.

Poking around a little more I came upon this further piece of wisdom from Pausch’s UU minister in Pittsburgh, quoted in an article by his book collaborator, Jeffrey Zaslow:

Early on, he had vowed to do the logistical things necessary to ease his family’s path into a life without him. His minister helped him think beyond estate planning and funeral arrangements. “You have life insurance, right?” the minister asked.

“Yes, it’s all in place,” Randy told him.

“Well, you also need emotional insurance,” the minister explained. The premiums for that insurance would be paid for with Randy’s time, not his money. The minister suggested that Randy spend hours making videotapes of himself with the kids. Years from now, they will be able to see how easily they touched each other and laughed together.

And he did just that.

Priestess, Pastor, Pope, Preacher, Prophet?

Last weekend I performed my fifth wedding ceremony as a minister of the Universal Life Church. I love doing these ceremonies: it’s a blending of some of my best skills: public speaker, workshop leader, Unitarian worship leader. It’s also in my genes.

My dad was a Justice of the Peace in Connecticut – and his all-time favorite task was performing weddings. My mom, my sisters and I were often called in to be witnesses because he often did the service at our house. When he died in 1994, the headline on the front page of the local paper said, “Fred Kimball dies: famed for 700 marriages.”  This would have totally cracked him up. (He and my mom were married 56 years.)

So far I’ve done a pagan handfasting ceremony, a “surprise” wedding where the guests didn’t realize what was about to happen, a wedding on a boat, and a couple of non-denominational ones. I’ve also officiated at a memorial service… whew.

I’ve been ordained by ULC since 1992 (it’s free online) but just realized I could go so much further… for a contribution of just $10.95 I can choose a reverential honorific from the following list at the ULC headquarters:

Abbe, Reverend of Rock ‘n Roll, Abbess, Abbot, Ananda, Angel, Apostle of Humility, Apostolic Scribe, Arch Deacon, Arch Priest, Archbishop, Arch cardinal, Ascetic Gnostic, Bible Historian, Bishop, Brahman, Brother, Canon, Cantor, Cardinal, Channel, Chaplain, Colonel, Cure, Deacon, Dervish, Directress, Disciple, Druid, Elder, Faith Healer, Evangelist, Emissary, Father, Field Missionary, Flying Missionary, Free Thinker, Friar, Goddess, Guru, Hadji, Healing Minister, High Priest, High Priestess, Imam, Lama, Lay Sister, Magus, Martyr, Messenger, Metropolitan, Minister of Music, Minister of Peace, Missionary, Missionary Doctor, Missionary Healer, Missionary of Music, Missionary Priest, Monk, Monsignor, Most Reverend, Mystical Philosopher, Orthodox Monk, Parochial Educator, Pastor General, Patriarch, Peace Counselor, Preacher, Preceptor, Priest, Priestess, Prophet, Rector, Rabbi, Religious Preacher, Revelator, Reverend, Reverend Father, Reverend Mother, Right Reverend, Saintly Healer, Scribe, Seer, Shaman, Soul Therapist, Sister, Spiritual Counselor, Spiritual Warrior, Starets, Swami, Teller, Thanatologist, The Very Esteemed, Universal Rabbi, Universal Religious Philosopher, Vicar, Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality, Wizard, Gothi, Gythia, Psychic Healer, Minister of Rock ‘n Roll, Rock ‘n Roll Missionary, Rock Doctor (R.D), Rock ‘n Roll Minister, Child of the Universe, Prince, Spiritual Healer, Saint, Pope

I especially like Saint Joy, but my friends and family would cough, sputter, choke and gasp if I tried it.

Randy Pausch: Positive person, Unitarian Universalist – RIP

I think Unitarian Universalism offers the thinking caring person a wonderful spiritual home. But we are not evangelical (to our detriment…there are way too few of us) so I’m always happy to learn that some well-known person I deeply respect turns out to be a UU.

Unfortunately, in the case of folks like Christopher Reeve and Randy Pausch, they leave us too early. But at least they leave us with important lessons. Randy’s Last Lecture has been an internet phenomenon.  His message is typical UU: make the most of your time on earth, do good, love each other, follow your dreams. It’s about the here and now, not the hereafter.

Here’s the obituary from the denomination’s website, UUA.org which includes an interview they did with him last month.

In Memoriam: Randy Pausch, Unitarian Universalist,
Author of “The Last Lecture”

Randy Pausch, Computer Science Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, died on July 25 after a two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. A Unitarian Universalist who first came to this faith as a member of the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Pausch was 47 years old.

Celebrated in his field for co-founding the pioneering Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center and for creating the innovative educational software tool known as “Alice,” Pausch earned his greatest worldwide fame for his inspirational The Last Lecture which was subsequently published by Hyperion Books. Pausch was interviewed by UUA.org this past June.

UUA.org: The Last Lecture has been a huge bestseller, and you have subsequently received much public attention from Oprah Winfrey, ABC-TV, and more. You once said in an interview that you wrote this book to deliver a “message in a bottle” to your children. Surely you never imagined such publicity as you’ve received…how did all this happen?

Pausch: What’s happened is way beyond my imagination. It’s sort of a classic “viral internet” event; some of my colleagues could not be at the talk [given at Carnegie Mellon University] and asked if we would make the video available online. Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column on it, and then it just took off. The thing that I find most gratifying is that people are telling me both the lecture and the book are helping them communicate with their own kids.

UUA.org: What is your religious background, and what is it about being a Unitarian Universalist that attracted you to this faith?

Pausch: I was raised Presbyterian and attended church regularly until I was about 17. I like the fact that [Unitarian Universalism] appeals to reason and thought more than dogma.

UUA.org: How important has faith been in your life? And what role did your congregation in Pittsburgh play as you have moved through your illness?

Pausch: That’s a hard question to answer; [but] I would say that the community of people who share our faith has been extremely important recently. The [Pittsburgh] congregation was very supportive; people brought meals, helped with our kids, and helped keep our spirits up. One member of the congregation has been just unbelievable: M.R. Kelsey has spent so much time with me when I’ve been sick, even after our move to Virginia.

UUA.org: You spent a bit of time being an “Imagineer” with the Disney organization. Disney’s slogan, you note, is, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” You seem like a very positive person…living that slogan. What might be possible for you at this time in your life, and what is it that you imagine?

Pausch: Well, I’m not opposed to miracles, so I still dream of some scenario where my disease is cured or goes away…. But I’m enough of a realist to know that’s very, very unlikely. So at this time in my life, what’s possible is spending as much time as possible with my family and minimizing my physical pain as we go through the endgame.

UUA.org: What are the things that bring you the most joy?

Pausch: Oh, my wife and children, without a doubt. All three of our kids are so young that each day they can do something they didn’t do yesterday, which is just so wonderful to be a part of.

UUA.org: You write, “No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.” What is it—at this point in the journey—that gives you hope?

Pausch: Well, I see so much goodness in so many people, and that has really been intensified by this experience.

UUA.org: If you could influence such a thing, what would you want your legacy to be?

Pausch: That I was a good husband and father, and that I tried to live my life the best I could, and that I was able to help other people along the way.

Randy Pausch is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. Also surviving are his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia, Maryland, and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Virginia. The family plans a private burial in Virginia, where they relocated last fall. A memorial service on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University is also being planned, with details to be announced at a later date.

Donations in Pausch’s memory may be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project.

Profundity in poetry

Profundity: depth of intellect, feeling or meaning.

Instead of a sermon this morning, folks were asked to share a short reading that inspired them, if they wished. As Unitarian Universalists we believe wisdom is not confined to a few “sacred scriptures” but can be found in many places.  Our congregation has a decidedly Buddhist leaning, so this poem tickled all of us:

Bugs in a Bowl by David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:
We’re just like bugs in a bowl. All day going around never leaving their bowl.

I say, That’s right! Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.

Over and over again. Around and around.
Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.

Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.

Walk around.
Say, “Hey, how you doin’?”
Say, “Nice bowl!”

My offering (even though I do not fish) was a song I love by Nashville songwriter and motivational speaker Tim Bays:

The Important Part of Fishin’ (follow the link to hear the swing of it!)

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
You still got the water and the trees and the sky up above
And if your lover’s not with you
Don’t be sad that you miss him
Be glad your little boat is still afloat.

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
You get some time for thinking and your life is what you’re thinking about
And if your lover’s not with you
You get more time for fishin’
It’s amazing how it all works out.

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

Do it now with all of your heart,
Do it now with all of your heart.

Patience #2

Once upon a time I was not a patient person.  My life, the traffic, the checkout line – none of it moved fast enough for me.  I remember reading a book back in the 70s titled Don’t Push the River (by one of Fritz Perls’ followers), and thinking, “why not??”

About ten years ago I went to see my Unitarian pastor about my marriage, hoping that he would tell me if I should stay or go.

(He’s also a practicing Buddhist.) He told me I was too “ambitious.”

What? Me?  He explained that he meant ambitious in the sense that I was striving for an answer (pushing the river) when the answer wasn’t yet ready to present itself.  Ambition as a form of impatience.

One day a couple of years later the answer revealed itself clearly and simply – and because of that patient stewing period the ensuing separation was pretty painless.

These days I’m much much more patient than I used to be. Yoga has definitely helped. Being older and having more perspective on what’s really important has also helped.

The fellow over at ZenHabits has a post up with his tips on cultivating patience. He suggests keeping track of your impatient moments by making check marks on a tally sheet, and by noticing what specific sorts of things tally impatient feelings.

My friend Paul suggests rock-stacking, as he did on a recent camping trip.

I’m done with traffic and checkout line impatience.  Those have been gone for years.  My two biggest impatience triggers these days are:

  • people who talk on and on (an on), without ever seeming to be able to locate their point
  • wanting to know the outcome of a situation in the future (that I can’t possibly know till that time arrives) -like whether this old high school friend and I will actually be able to create a viable relationship when we see each other at reunion in mid-August…. my imagination can’t let this puppy rest!

All my spiritual learnings tell me to breathe and be here now, since NOW is all I’ve got. Ever. Werner used to tell us “what is is; what isn’t isn’t” – get over it.

It’s hard.