I write thank you notes. I write them a lot. I know they matter. But sometimes they don’t get read by the people who need to see them. Maybe if I write to the internet…

Dear Living Tradition Fund contributors,

Yes, even you, even the one who put five dollars in the plate at the last installation you attended which was when your minister was installed fifteen years ago and haven’t done anything since. Even you, who don’t know really that the Living Tradition Fund exists.

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you also on behalf of my congregation, which has no idea what a difference you have made in my life. I received my second LTF debt reduction grant this week. It’s not much in the face of my debt load: between three and four percent. Last year it was smaller. Every year I hope I won’t need it the next year. It won’t get me out of debt tomorrow. But it makes a difference. Here’s why it matters:

It matters because it helps. Every little bit helps. Even small drops eventually fill the bucket. If a thousand people give five dollars, that’s $5000. If all 100,000 of our people gave five dollars that would be $500,000. And if we each gave $50, that would be 5 million dollars, if my math is right. And if we did that for 10 years, 20 years,30 years…you can see where this is going. Every donation matters.

It matters because it says to me that I matter. It says that my denomination, its members and leaders, are interested in, and committed to, supporting the continuation of an educated clergy. Clergy education is taxing. We ask a lot of our ministers. It asks of us four full-time years (or many more at part-time), and somewhere in the neighborhood of $75,000 dollars. It asks that we move, along with our families, or it asks that we travel extensively for our education. It asks that we study hard and lose sleep and dismantle and reassemble ourselves into the shape of this thing called minister. We’re working on developing new systems, but that’s how it is right now, and every one of us gives up a lot because we believe in this faith and want to work to strengthen and deepen and bring it to the world. We believe in us. That’s why we do it. But we also need to eat. And these grants mean that people get that, and they are supportive. That matters so much, especially on the hard days when it’s easy to believe that what I do doesn’t matter. And yes, we do have those days. (Don’t believe me? Look at Mother Theresa’s diaries. Or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s). It matters.

It matters because eventually the debt gets smaller, and when it does, I will have more to give. Economic stress makes me less available to everyone in my life: less available to my congregation, less available to my family, less available to strangers on the street. Whatever energy I don’t have to devote to thinking about lining Citibank’s pockets I can instead direct toward pastoral care and prophetic outreach, study and preaching and ministry. I am a better minister when I have less stress about money. Grants reduce not only the immediate strain, but the overwhelming sense of debt that presses on the psyche. Especially for those of us paid under and in the low ranges of the pay scale, it can feel like we’re never going to get out. Your gifts help show us the light at the end of the tunnel.

All of this doesn’t even touch on the support that you give everyone else: ministers in financial crisis and retired ministers and spouses of retired and deceased ministers who need help. The LTF is the means by which the ministry is supported…by you. All of you.

So thank you. Thank you for giving your money to the Living Tradition Fund so that it could support your ministers and the ministry that we all do in the world.

Thank you.

…is a new and compelling spin on church presence being promoted by the United Methodists; most recently “Ten Thousand Doors”. I clicked the ad. What are we about?

Ten Thousand Doors

…about the meaning and purpose of worship at Real Live Preacher. He is a liberal Baptist who chose to worship at Orthodox churches during his sabbatical. This is worship that is physically demanding and intellectually rigorous in ways that we UUs don’t usually encounter. That conversation in the comments is rich and beautiful; I was particularly interested by the idea that worship which is not about the worshipper at all could be profoundly meaningful.

How would worship be different for us if we designed it around something other than ourselves, and what would the center of our worship be?

I’m really sick right now and can’t do much of anything, but this is too much to set aside and then forget.

I think about race and racism a lot. It’s in my bones. It’s in my skin. It’s in my daily experience. Even, or maybe especially, here in Maine. But in the church context it can’t be about me, because if it’s about me then not only is any conversation happening for the wrong reasons (like quitting smoking because your best friend said so) but anything bad that happens becomes about me (continuing the smoking example, it’s like blaming your best friend for the fight you got into with your spouse because you were irritable from nicotine withdrawal), even if it’s not really about me. It makes starting the conversation hard. It’s why white allies are so vital to the process, especially in churches, especially when the blatant racism is muted and what’s mostly left is subtle, systemic, invisible-to-most-people racism.

And common wisdom is that even this kind of speaking up is a risk, that I shouldn’t say anything precisely because it should be about the community, started by the community, supported by the community.

Okay, but I have a resource. So I’m not organizing any conversations at church. You can do that if you want, and it is my personal belief that the church is an excellent place to make these conversations happen for us and for the whole community. I am suggesting you read this elegant, gentle, true, informative, and accessible piece by Mary Anne Mohanraj–a writer I know a little and respect a lot–because, people? We all have to start somewhere.

The internet is a funny thing. It makes that of our imaginations real; it shrinks distances to the length of a fingertip. It makes contact wildly easy, and true intimacy easy to forget. It makes careers and whole industries, and occasionally it destroys them. It breeds a kind of pseudo-anonymity that makes it easy to forget that the whole world is watching and that that world is composed of real people with real feelings and real faces. Years ago, chat rooms and email lists pioneered new language to describe the unbearably cruel barbs that became surprisingly common: flames, flame wars, flaming. And then the beginnings of a cure: emoticons (sideways smilies made with punctuation marks), which give us a shadow of facial cues to go with our language. We can smile, wink, laugh, stick out our tongues, even put on sunglasses for a cool look. They help. We also learned, in the early days of email, to keep the emotional conversations off the computer as much as possible. When things get tough the best course is to get together as soon as you can.

For a geographically dispersed congregation like ours, scattered across at least five different regions and many more communities, technology can be an incredible grace. We can email, social-network, even video chat our way into a kind of daily intimacy formerly only available to next-door neighbors. We are working on developing our online presence: website, Facebook page, sermon podcasts, and more. If we use these tools wisely, they can build exactly the kind of strength we need in our community; if we forget that we are people talking to people, if we forget appropriate boundaries, if we use them for hard conversations instead of for scheduling the hard conversations, if we let them depersonalize us, then we are in trouble.

But we can’t let fear of a conflict keep us from connection. These tools could have been custom-made for us. The technology has matured at last, and we are in exactly the right place to reap the benefits: very much wanting to know each other better, and too busy and dispersed to get together twice a week for coffee. We literally have the technology. Let’s use it.

The UUA has been working hard to get Unitarian Universalism into cyberspace, both as an institution and as individuals. UU Planet collects all kinds of video related to or produced by Unitarian Universalists. The Reverend Shana Lynngood, associate minister at All Souls church in Washington DC, was interviewed for an “I Believe” segment several years ago. Now the show is available here:
I Believe (Shana Lynngood).

you know the funny thing about openness is you never know what’s going to come next. And that’s really, really important to remember. So when you finally get to that place where you say, “Yes God, I am open to myself and to my story and to learning about myself,” you kind of have to let go because you really don’t know what comes next. –Rev. Lea Brown

Sometimes people call Unitarian Universalist churches “gay”, as in, “Oh, the UUs? Aren’t they that gay church?” And while it’s true that we have a long history of supporting LGBT/queer rights, including full inclusion in our communities of faith, ordination, and ministries, we haven’t ever been focused enough on sexual orientation to qualify for that title. The Metropolitan Community Church, on the other hand, did (as I understand it) really start as a gay church. They are a Christian denomination which understands their ministry as one of inclusion and welcome to Christian faith practice, with the emphasis on the queer/glbt community. Read more here.

Much of what they do is a lot like what we do–they have services about being religious, they have social gatherings, they have fundraisers. But because of their focus, their origins, and their population, they have some perspectives that would be harder to explain from a UU pulpit.

The full practice of religion, and a faithful understanding of our every day, can be found everywhere, and lessons on how to do it better can be found everywhere. There’s a sermon from an evening service at the San Francisco MCC church during the Folsom Street Fair that is an elegant example.

The sermon is out there for anyone to read, but I’d encourage parents to pre-read it before sharing it with your children; it uses some edgy sexuality as an extended example. Although it never gets explicit, your children might have questions that you’d rather know about ahead of time. If you’re easily shocked or offended, under sixteen or so (everyone is different) and definitely if you’re under 14 you should talk to your parents or a trusted adult before looking it up.

I don’t want anyone accidentally clicking through if they’d rather not, so rather than linking I’ll just give you the information you need to find it on your own. Look for “Radical Relationships in Beloved Community; Radical Openness: The Spirituality of Leather” by Rev. Lea Brown. It was delivered in 2003 at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

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