Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making Room for All: Coming Out Still Matters (with Karen Madrone)

This past Friday, October 11th, marked the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day.  This day set aside each year for telling a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, about your identity began one year after a half a million people descended on Washington DC in 1987 advocating for the rights to GLBT people.  The theme for this year’s Coming Out Day is: “it still matters”.

Does it still matter?  As, a lesbian, I have been receiving mostly “ho-hum” responses for years now…at least in the UU world! …and from my family and friends.

Even this past spring when my wife to be and I booked a venue for our “marriage”, the staff in Charlotte was mostly blasé….about our relationship and our ceremony….

Even the very conservative place where I went time after time to get the custom made invitations just right…dealt with me just like every one else.…

Gays and lesbians have come a long, long way in 25 years.
Yet, just last week, Robin and I went to the courthouse to ask for a marriage license.  This, of course, is North Carolina and we knew the answer would be “no”. 

Even with that hurtful “no”, I am quite aware that I benefit from privilege.  Actually a lot of privilege.  I feel certain I will not lose my job for engaging in an act of public witness…

I am in….we all are in…. one of those “yet, but not yet” places…

 The response to gays and lesbians desires for now to be legally married differs state to state.  I left the Mecklenburg courthouse saying that “we will be back”.  I know that this denial, perhaps among the final barriers to legal equality for gays and lesbians will come down someday soon.

It will come down, because more and more gays and lesbians continue to come out, to ask for equal treatment, more and more will “come out” publicly at church, at work, at school, in the court rooms…

The Human Rights Coalition says that now—25 years since the first Coming Out Day one of out of every two Americans has a gay or lesbian friend or relative or co-worker they are close to, that they know well. 

That is a lot of progress in “just” 25 years.  That is a lot of being known and accepted, welcomed into the circles that count…  That is a lot of coming out as gay and lesbian.  That is a lot of coming out as allies…
Yet, HRC, also says that for a trans person, someone born in the wrong body, someone whose gender identity does not match their body parts, the statistic is quite different.

Only one in ten Americans are close to a friend, a relative, a co-worker who is transgender.

It is a very different world for someone who has been and still is marginalized because of gender identity.
For those who are trans, the world can be a lonely, confusing, even violent place. 

This ought to be a sanctuary for all those who are marginalized.  We ought to be better than 1 in 10 here.  Changing that statistic, by coming out as allies …not just welcoming…if “they” happen to show up…  We ought to be out there inviting. We ought to be seeking….those who are on the margins.  We ought to be engaging in the kind of relationships that will transform us …

I have participated in our denomination’s Welcoming Congregation program three times, in three different congregations.  All three experiences where powerful…taught me things I did not know.  One was transformative…

When I led the Welcoming Congregation program in the tiny UU church in Athens, Pennsylvania some 7 years ago, those of us who were/are gay and lesbian were transformed by the experience we had with our trans members.  We learned just how much we as gays and lesbians-- so long used to being on the outside, had been guilty of keeping those who were trans even further out…  it was a painful learning.
This UU faith asks us to feel pain, sometimes.   It asks of us to be not just tolerant of difference, but welcoming.  To be radically welcoming:  to offer hospitality to all, especially those who have been defined as “other”, who have been systemically disempowered and oppressed, pushed to the outer edges of society.  AND to be transformed by doing so…

The Welcoming Congregation certification that UUCG has hanging on its wall, asks us to be in alliance with those GLBT local groups doing the work of dismantling oppression.

This is not just a day each year…

It is about seeking out those who are hurting, lonely, isolated and who are often daily threatened with violence.

Next year, if I should ask you to raise your hand if you are friends with, love – respect – know the life story of a trans person, who is your relative, neighbor, co-worker, fellow congregant….I hope instead of 1 in 10, here it is 1 in 5…                                                              [Rev. Ann Marie]

I am going to start my talk with a confession: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can also be homophobic, biphobic and transphobic. It’s true. I think those of us glbt people who are active and vocal have a façade of having all our stuff worked out. But, believe it or not, we don’t.

When you are raised in this culture you are constantly reminded of the norm and that norm is held up as the correct way to be. Anything outside that norm, whether it pertains to sexuality, gender identity, physical abilities, race, class or any other category is considered to be “less than” and not given the same status as the norm. GLBT people, since we live in this culture, too, also have these beliefs.

On September 14, two friends of mine Allison Woolbert and Debbie Duncan, came to our church and spoke about their life experiences, Allison as a male to female transgender woman, and Debbie as the wife of a male to female transgender woman. At the workshop, one of the ground rules was about recognizing our own internal biases. This ground rule reminded me of times in my life when my personal biases surprised me.

When I was a graduate student in Missouri, I worked as a graduate resident assistant at a local college. I was an out lesbian and everyone seemed to be fine with that. But an interesting thing happened. One day I found out that one of the resident assistants was a lesbian…and my first thought was…”I thought better of her than that.” Thankfully my next thought was “I can’t believe I just thought that!” That incident reminded me that even with everything I had gone through to accept my own sexuality, I still had issues with accepting others where they were.
When I moved to North Carolina in 2004 I played softball with a co-ed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender softball league in Winston-Salem for a few seasons. Now, I clearly do not fit the stereotype of lesbians who play sports, have short hair, and know how to fix cars. I had never played softball in my life but I was willing to do whatever it took to make friends in the area. Thankfully a few people took the time to teach me how to throw a ball and I learned how to work with my weaknesses to become a decent player.

One of the great experiences I had with the league was getting my own stereotypes blown to bits. I got to meet gay men who fit lots of stereotypes our culture has of them (you know what they are)…and were also really fierce softball players. I was stunned. Actually, many of them have gone on to win regional and national competitions. I also got to meet gay men who were the absolute opposite of our cultural stereotype – big burly tattooed guys that at first I was kind of afraid of until I realized they were one of us. Who knew?

I feel that all of these experiences, and my involvement at this church, made a difference in my friendship with Allison. Allison and I met through facebook. Yes, facebook can be a force for good. I “met” Allison through a conversation she was having with Michael Tino, a former ministerial intern at this church. In spring 2012 I saw she was posting information about an event they were calling a Welcoming Congregation Summit. This intrigued me because as chair of the glbtq subcommittee, I’ve been wanting our church to renew our energy around actively living our Welcoming Congregation status.

Our church has been a Welcoming Congregation, a special status designated by the Unitarian Universalist Association, for at least ten years. Churches that are designated as Welcoming Congregations have undergone an internal study to increase their awareness of glbt issues. However, when our church became a Welcoming Congregation, the T for transgender hadn’t been added to the curriculum, it was added the following year. If you’ll notice on the sign in the foyer, transgender isn’t included. So when I saw the notice about the Welcoming Congregation Summit, I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet with other congregations, find out what they were doing, and bring some of that energy back here. There was just one hitch – this event was happening in Princeton, New Jersey on April 11, the same day as our Dance for Equality, an event we held here to raise funds to support defeating amendment one. So I got in touch with Allison and said that I really wish I could go but it wouldn’t work out. I found out that she is persistent. Then she told me they were doing a similar event again in the fall and would I like to come speak about our experiences here in our fight against amendment one? So I said yes.

It sounded like the craziest thing to do, I know. I flew to Newark New Jersey and stayed in the house of two total strangers at the time. Before meeting Allison, I had known a few transgender people but really only in passing. Staying in someone’s house is totally different than having a short conversation in the hallway. I’m not going to lie, there were moments I was uncomfortable.

First, because I had never met them before but also because I hadn’t spent much time with transgender people. But thankfully I have years of experience of being a Unitarian Universalist and I take the first principle of the belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every person very seriously. I’ve learned that if I’m uncomfortable with someone, it’s my issue, not theirs.

Many years ago a friend recommended the book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk. I have read it several times. I highly recommend her work. Another author I’ve learned a lot from is Geneen Roth. She approaches life through a Buddhist and Jewish lens. What I’ve learned most in my readings and experiences is the importance of being truly present. Being present in the moment, allowing the other person to be who they are, as they are.

From Geneen Roth I’ve learned to use curiosity and kindness as a spiritual practice. So while I was with Allison and her friends, in a room full of all transgender people but me, I asked myself, “What am I feeling? What is it about this person or this situation is causing me discomfort? How can I be more present for them?”  I have found the question, “I wonder why?” to be helpful in times when I’m having an uncomfortable response to someone or a situation.

At times during the course of the weekend I was reminded that gay and lesbian people haven’t always been welcoming to transgender people and I allowed myself to just be there, without being defensive in responsive, and just listen. And I realized they were right. Prior to going to this Summit I was aware of the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum but I hadn’t had my assumptions tested. When Allison said she was bisexual, I had yet another stereotype blown to bits!

The song the choir sang just now “Would you harbor me?” asked the same question over and over again, only with different groups of people. An alternative to the question is, “Would you be an ally for me?” All the time I feel like Allison is asking me, would you be my ally? Would you stand with me and my transgender community when the chips are down? Will you remember me when a transgender person is attacked, raped and killed merely for their gender expression? Will you help raise money for organizations that work to end discrimination against transgender people? Will you remember that transgender poor people, people of color, and who have a lower socioeconomic status are treated disproportionately worse in our society? Will you hold national gay and lesbian organizations to account when they dismiss the concerns of transgender people? Will you make sure that transgender people are welcome in your home, your life, your church?

Friends, as someone who is white, passes as straight, fits the gender expectations of women in our culture, and has a college education, I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to come out as an ally, to harbor, those who are less than in our culture. And this church does, too. I challenge each of us and our church to take a public stand for those who cannot come out themselves. Whose lives are in danger due to their gender expression. Sit with this idea for a moment. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling? How can I be present to this challenge?” I ask you to sit with the discomfort of being challenged about your assumptions. Ask yourself what can I do? What can my church do? What can we do as a community to be welcoming to all? How can we be radically welcoming?   [Karen Madrone]

Monday, September 16, 2013

What is Your Spiritual Type?

What is your favorite part of worship here on a Sunday morning?  Do you like that liberal religion is defined and celebrated here, Sunday after Sunday, same place, same time?  Or is you favorite part joys and sorrows or coffee hour, because you like to talk?  Do you feel like you haven’t been to church if you don’t get a hug?  Or is it the silence, the prayer or the chiming of the singing bowl that speaks to you?  Or is your favorite part the announcements, or the Share Half offering when you get to find out how and when to do something to make this world a better place?  How about the choir?  Do you like that it is consistently excellent?  That the music often inspires you to feel?  That singing makes you feel at one with others?  That the songs inspire you to work for justice?

What is your least favorite part?  Does not beginning and not ending promptly drive you crazy?  Do joys and concerns embarrass you?  Do you sit so you can look out the window because that is secretly your favorite part of being here?  Do you think services are a waste of time if they don't cause you and others to want to take concrete action in the “real” world?

This morning, I am going to invite you to reflect on the attitudes and activities that characterize how you most comfortably make a connection with whatever you consider to be most worthy of your ultimate focus.  For means of simplicity, I’ll use the shorthand phrase “spiritual type” for all those attitudes and activities that most serve to connect to whatever you consider higher being.  I want you to leave today, with a better understanding of your way of expressing whatever it is you come to church to express.  I want you to better understand what you need to feel connected, what it takes to feel like you have been “to church”.  And I want to understand that what feels like worship to you, may be quite different from what feels like worship for the person sitting next to you.    

Sometimes we think that if we make space for the theists (those who believe in the existence of a specific God or who value a God-concept) and the humanists, those who are agnostic or a-theist, and for those who define themselves as more earth centered, we have covered the variety of preferences...here.  Yet, if we think only about these three differences…theistic, humanist, neo-pagan... it keeps us from looking at another way we are a diverse which may have a much more powerful impact on how we understand our expectations and needs.      

Knowing about spiritual types can help us to understand different styles of worship across different faiths, different styles of worship within a particular faith, and the variety of expressions within particular denomination, and the diversity present here most every Sunday.

The premise of this is that all of us have a “primary” spiritual type. Discovering what yours is, will help you to appreciate that the spiritual expressions of others may be very different from yours.  Discovering your spiritual type, will help you see that no one way is the “right” way.  That no one type is the “truly” spiritual type.  For it takes all of us to make a whole congregation, to express and appreciate all the ways that we can together connect with what is worthy in this life.   

So, I am going to ask you a series of questions.  Try to keep track of how many you can say yes to!

  1. So, when you sing a hymn, do you look ahead to see if you agree with the words?
  2. Do especially like the music when it sounds like the kind you might hear at the Symphony?
  3. Could you easily complete this sentence:  The truth is ____?
  4. Is it important to you that services, or meetings, or classes start and end on time?
  5. Does the wording of the Unitarian Universalist principles, of the church mission statement, or of the statement of affirmation really matter to you?
  6. Are you especially interested in the content of most sermons and want to read more about whatever the subject is?
  7. Do you take pleasure in intellectual inquiry and critical investigation?
  8. Do you have a passion for congruence in thought and statement, wanting propositions to be demonstrably logical?
  9. Do you want to hear more sermons about our Unitarian Universalist heritage?
  10. Does being right mean more to you than being in relationship?
  11. Do you prefer classes where an expert speaks on UU history or World Religions over one on spiritual autobiography?
  12. Do you like the Sunday service to be all of a piece, carefully planned, with a clear theme running throughout?
 If you said yes to most of those questions, your spiritual type is HEAD!  You approach spirituality with your intellect.  You appreciate history, order, logic…tradition!  Going to church is to put the world back into proper order…

Try these:

  1. Do you really love that we end worship holding hands?
  2. Is your idea of a good service one that deeply moves you, brings tears to your eyes, or makes you feel deep joy?
  3. Do you enjoy encountering others on a one on one basis?
  4. Do you like meetings, classes, social functions, coffee hour because you can share conversation with those you like seeing and being with?
  5. Is time for spoken Joys and Sorrows very important to you whether or not you have something to share…because you want to know what’s going on with people?
  6. When you come to a Sunday Service, do you hope to leave knowing the speaker better than you did before?
  7. Do you prefer an Adult RE class where people get to tell their own stories?
  8. Would you like to see more opportunities for sharing your spiritual autobiography and hearing other’s?
  9. Do conflicts really matter to you, either energizing you or draining you?
  10. Does being in relationship mean more to you than being right?
  11. Are you satisfied if a sermon tells a good story?
  12. Do you love having the children in the service, even when (or especially when) they are spontaneous and talkative?

You are all HEART!  You approach spirituality with your emotions, and haven’t been “to church” unless you have made an emotional connection.

How about these?

  1. In your best moments, do you feel in tune with/one with the whole universe?
  2. Does the metaphor of life as a journey really work for you?
  3. Does prayer or meditation appeal to you, the more in silence the better?
  4. Do you love being alone and wish you could be alone more?
  5. Do you wish the loud conversations inside this room were kept to a minimum, so that you could more easily make the transition from your busy life to this worship time?
  6. Do you like the sound of the chime calling you to be present to the moment?
  7. Do you wish there were more and longer periods to empty yourself of the chatter of daily life during our worship services?
  8. Is the chalice lighting and just coming forward to light a candle during joys and sorrows… parts of the service that are important for you?
  9. Do you love chants and rounds?
  10. Is it important to you that our church building, inside and out, be a place of beauty and serenity?   Would you like for us to have a building that was big enough to separate the fellowship area from the sanctuary?
  11. Would you like to see more communion services, (water, flower, bread, because ritual speaks to you in a ways that words don’t?
  12. Does a class or a group focused on the sacredness of ordinary moments appeal to you?

You are a MYSTIC.  Approaching the ultimate has to do with emptying yourself, being at one with the great beyond…

And finally?

  1. Did you like the UU slogan, “deeds not creeds”?
  2. Do you believe that one of the best ways to find out who you are and what you believe is to act publicly in concert with others?
  3. Would you be highly complimented to be called an activist, or an advocate?
  4. Have you attended a Social Action Team meeting…(with a proposal for us to do something)?
  5. Did you participate in Moral Mondays?
  6. Where you or are you considering being in the Peace Corps?
  7. Do you get goose bumps when singing, “We Shall Overcome”, or when we use gospel or folk songs that inspire you to work for justice?
  8. Do you believe that the purpose of a church is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?
  9. Is it important to you that The Newsletter, the bulletin boards, the e-news and the spoken announcements make people aware of the ways that we can put our values into action in the community…in the state…in the world?
  10. Do you wish our congregation did more work to dismantle ableism, ageism, racism and homophobia?
  11. Do you believe that the purpose of a church is to transform the world and not just to change ourselves?
  12. Do you believe that church services should be the way we express our convictions?
 Your spiritual type is HANDS.  Worship may be the last place you want to be.  There’s too much to do “out there”!
If you are guided by your head you may value the intellectual and speculative approach to worship, tending to appreciate what can be put in logical terms. Concepts are valuable to you. This type of spirituality favors heritage and form, what it can see, touch, and vividly imagine.    Words and speaking are important.  Your aim in coming to church is intellectual renewal, finding better ways of understanding what is worthy of your attention in life.  Order, structure, heritage are important.  “Rank by Rank” is the kind of hymn you relate to.  Corporate congruence is important.

Yet, over reliance on this spiritual type leads to intolerant rationalism, persons always on the lookout for the illogical, or what fine point they can argue with.  Perhaps a growing edge for persons with this type of spirituality is to be found in learning to wait, in practicing whatever slows the rush to thinking.  Head types might be served by taking a mediation class, where they may learn to empty the mind.

If you are of the Heart type, also like Head appreciates vivid images, stories with characters…but everything that really matters will always be filtered through your feelings.  Whatever your feelings are in the current moment are the most important thing to you. You come to church to feel good.  You may feel abandoned or forsaken by your religion when you feel low or angry.  Your aim in worship is personal renewal and transformation.  Spontaneity, warmth, memory, story, practical serving make sense to you.  You may not be on the picket line, but you will volunteer to clean up the kitchen, because your momma did and her momma before that.  Amazing Grace is your hymn.
The weakness, or shadow side, of this type is sentimentality or what used to be called “pietism”…It is easy for you to adopt a holier than thou attitude.  If you are a Heart type your growing edge may be to immerse yourself in learning to think critically adding that skill to your immense ability to feel.

If you are a Mystic path, hearing is more important than speaking.  Your aim is union with the divine, or renewal of your inner life.  For you the Sacred is a creative force, met through journey.  Being, symbol, beauty, and ritual speak to you.  Chants are your song.  The practice of contemplation is important to you.

A weakness of this path may be isolated withdrawal from the world.  A reality check might be in order!.

Those who are Hands type aren’t satisfied unless they are engaged in action.  These are the crusaders.  They measure worth by the level of their, and of your, commitment and passion.  We’ll Build a Land may be your song.  If you are a Hands type the transformation of society is important to you. 

Too much emphasis on this as “the” path leads to moralistic fanaticism.  So your growing edge may be whatever helps you to experience joy in the present moment, realizing the need to constantly work for a better world can be modulated by focus on now, rather than always then….

Exclusive dominance in any one quadrant leads to it’s excess, dogmatism, emotionalism, withdrawal, or tunnel-vision.  Any congregation that allows the expression of only one spiritual type, will drive out those who express themselves differently.  And they will also too easily identify their particular spiritual tendency as THE RIGHT WAY….missing appreciation for balance and wholeness …It is important to be with those who are different from you, to learn what it means to be whole. 

All individuals and groups have multiple spiritual tendencies.  How many of you couldn’t decide and find you are of two types, or three?  What might you think is the dominant type of this congregation?  …of UUism in general?    

As a worship leader, I try to remember to build into every worship service what will appeal to every type. 

I know that any time I hear folks insist that the right way to do worship is to end at such and such a time…, or we must have spoken joys and sorrows, or more silence please, or so come to me afterwards and say; “so what are we supposed to do about it?”….that they are telling me what their spiritual type is!

Probably the most important thing to take away today is for all of us to know that these four “types” are not liberal vs conservative, or reflective of theism, humanist or pagan.  There are not liberal or conservative.  There are theistic, humanist and pagan groups peopled by all four types.  It is not the case that any of these styles are better or more mature than the others, just different.  They reach different people in different ways at different times.  A whole church ought to attend to meeting everyone’s needs for comfort and challenge.   There are those who express their spirituality and expect to be addressed in a cognitive/intellectual/head fashion or a emotive/connectional/heart fashion, or an introspective/meditational/mystic fashion or who are hands on activists.  And all of you are here every Sunday!

What I hope you have heard is that we are more diverse and perhaps in deeper ways than we may have imagined.  It takes all of us, to be whole!

Read more about this topic http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Spiritual-Type-Corinne/dp/1566991498

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Whom Do You Serve?


And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled…

Then the man said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And the man said, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.

Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But the man said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And then he blessed him.

Jacob called [out] …“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed …limping because of his hip.


The morning brought such a lashing rain
I decided I might as well stay inside
And tackle those jobs that had multiplied
Like an old man's minor aches and pains.
I found a screw for the strikerplate,
Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,
Cleared the drain in the basement floor,
And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.
Each task had been a nagging distraction,
An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;
Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,
I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.
Then I heard a great crash in the yard.
The maple had fallen and smashed our car.
Barton Sutter

I wrestle most days to get the little details right.  Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed, it helps to focus on small things that can be fixed.  I feel satisfied when I can see what I have straightened out.  AH, those papers are all organized now.  The pictures are hanging level on the wall.  The organizational chart is clear and accurate and flowing in my mind…

The chaos is pushed aside for a moment.
Some days, often on stormy days or when it is drizzling outside, I realize that life has left me, left most of us, with our assorted pains, our “limps”.   Wounds that have become scars, places out of joint or stiff from wrestling.  Terrors.

Nagging, little pains.  Perhaps we can take another pill, or stretch out and ease the old wounds…maybe a trip to the massage therapist will help…

Then the tree falls.  Or some other potentially life changing loss hits…

It is those moments, when “the maple falls and smashes the car”, when we realize to what or to whom our life is “all bound up…”

I was at my home in Jacksonville some years ago.  It was a spring or maybe it was summer.  We had received lots and lots of rain, day after day.  On this particular day, it was just drizzling…the windows were open and it was smelling sweet like spring does…when suddenly there was an earth-shaking THUD.  I was in one side of the house, when the deafening sound and the shudder of a huge tree falling and smashing something started and then only seconds later came to a stop.  I was convinced that the kitchen on the other side of the house was gone.  I was sure some terrible damage had been done to the roof, to the room that was no more, damage that would inconvenience me for weeks.

With trepidation, running to the kitchen, I saw out the window that one HUGE live oak branch had fallen in the back yard.  It was resting un-easily on what was left of the carport roof.  Under the carport were all the tropical birds that my girlfriend and I had not long ago housed there. 

We had built an outdoor aviary, where they could be messy and loud and would be plenty warm enough for the late spring and for summer.  I was panicked.  I was sure that tree limb was not finished falling all the way down to the ground…When it did, which it surely would, the birds would be either smashed or their cage ripped open and them set free..

I could hear the neighbors gathering in the street.  I was irritated that not one ventured to our front door to ask if we were ok.  I was relieved that no crowd appeared in the back yard to watch me hurry to rescue the birds.  Dutiful that ONE day, they were all amazing easy to capture.  Their little hearts beating way faster than they already did every day, they agreed to all be hurriedly shoved into one cage, crammed together predators and victims, all answering to a higher call to survive..

In the house, they were separated once again.  With the tree guys and the insurance people called and all having done their jobs…life went on.   Life went on… Forever, I knew what too much rain can do.

The writer Anne Dillard thinks a church should be a dangerous place, a zone of risk, a place of new birth and new life, where we confront ourselves with who we truly are and who we are being called to become.  She says a church ought to be a place where you need a hard hat.

Luckily, I have one. 
Given to me years ago by a congregational president…during a particularly difficult transition in the church’s forward progress.  I plan to put it in my office here.  I may need it.  You may need to borrow it.

I may need it when we aren’t sure what the future is going to bring.  I may need it as a charm to wear when what feels like life-threatening harm has come to call, when you and I venture forth into dangerous areas.  When there is an earth-shaking THUD.  Or when I wrestle with all night as Jacob did.  Or you do.

In the story Jacob, he asks for a blessing.  He gets a new name and he receives a blessing.  Yet he walks away from the hard night with a limp. 

He asked for a blessing, he asked to be honored as special, as chosen, yet he left the encounter with a wound…a hip out of joint.  He will have to live with that injury the rest of his life…

His name no longer Jacob, but Israel…

He went into the danger zone and came out wounded, yet transformed… 

There is always pain in holy work.  If there is no pain, if it is all easy and smooth and obsessively attending to the details is satisfying cause it keeps the chaos at bay…then one is likely standing at some distance, intellectualizing, observing, perhaps cataloging….   Taking a sampling taste of various religious traditions, perhaps casually visiting faith communities…  testing the waters, but never really diving in…  never wrestling…with meaning and purpose and ultimacy…

Who do you serve?   To whom or for what are you in service?   Is it fear?… or something else?

Engagement with the sacred, doing the kind of holy work that changes us into who we can be, who we ought to be, are meant to be ….is painful and often terrifying…It can, and often does, leave us wounded, yet transformed…broken and blessed.  Yet, we know who we serve.   We who go into the danger zone again and again,…into the holy place where there is brokenness and blessing…don’t need names. 

Story after story in every religious tradition talks about this…  what it is like to encounter the holy.

Reading about it, listening to other people’s stories is not good enough.

Debating the names of the holy is missing the point.

I have taught Bible courses to UU’s many times.  I have said many times that I love studying the books about the Bible way more than studying the Bible itself. 

I could say the same thing about the Bhagavad Gita.  I love reading books about Hinduism, yet I have never traveled to India…for I am afraid.

I am a “study it from a distance” kind of learner, most of the time…

But not all the time.

If there is a life at stake, I will do my best to be fully present, engaged in doing what needs to be done….

If there is a congregation at risk, losing its way, forgetting who they are and why they exist and to whom they are in service….I will do my best to partner them back to right relationship with the holy.

In the story from Genesis, Jacob asks for a blessing, which he receives…and he receives a new name…

But he has yet to understand who or what he serves…

The man said to Jacob, why is it that you ask my name? 

One wouldn’t have to ask, “who are you”  if one was really in it…If one was living engaged with the divine, one would not ask, one would know.


Who or what calls out to you?  With whom or with what do you wrestle?  Who or what leaves you blessed and broken? …transformed?

Straightening the books on the shelf, staying in the office getting the flow chart just right, is not the kind of learning, engaging, wrestling with life’s meaning and purpose that real spiritual maturity demands. 

One has to open the book, read the stories….hear your own story in the stories…learn to let life’s little nagging pains not worry you so much, not give straightening little things give you an insane sense of satisfaction, when SANITY and wholeness comes from doing the hard, deep, engagement with what calls you beyond pettiness and futility to LIFE…to solidarity with those who work for justice…into the love that creates true community, where risk and trust go together…

Sometimes you need a hardhat..

You can borrow mine...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When to Contact the Minister

My wife and I are about to close on a house in Salisbury.  It is halfway between her place of ministry in Charlotte and mine here!  It is an older home, in a historic district. I am imagining I am going to learn very quickly where the home improvement stores are in that town!  I am already acquainted with some of the home improvement “experts” there.   Friends who live there now, some in older homes, are already offering advice.

I am not shy about trying to learn what they know, about asking “how do you go about doing…? ... Whatever comes up that we might need to know to make this old house more live-able for us.  Make it do what we want it do while we live there.  How can we make it fit us?  And be fit for us?
You have some of that to do with me and me with you.  How will we learn over time to fit, how to be fit for each other? 
Just like I do in approaching others, sometimes you will come to me as an “expert” on something.   Other times, I will help you see how you are the expert.  That is what is meant by “shared ministry”.  We are all talented and wise and have gifts to share. 

A week from tomorrow, I will be traveling to Minneapolis for the annual Interim and Developmental Ministry training.  I plan to ask lots of questions of those who have been doing interim ministry for a while.

There will be some “developmental” ministers like me there too.  I plan to especially corner them and seek out their wisdom. 

But, I can tell you there aren’t that many of us and no one has been doing Developmental Ministry very long.
This thing you and I are doing together is like an interim ministry, what Rev. Eric did,   only different!  There aren’t any “experts” yet! 
Developmental ministers partner with congregations for 3-5 years, to get them ready to settle a called minister, and they might even become that called minister.  We stay longer than an interim, to help your leaders really move your congregation into a new way of being together.

Interims are around to give you time to grieve, or at least shift your loyalty from a past leader, to pause and breath and allow the space to let in a new called minister…

We are on a different kind of journey together, you and I.  It has less to do with pause and breath and more to do with CHANGE and grow…

It is a path that ought to lead UU Greensboro into becoming a highly functioning, efficient, live-able, fun, safe, “make a difference in the world” kind of place…

Are you ready?

We will be building not only a new way of being together, but re-building trust, and that will take time.

In the meantime, life goes on.  In the meantime, whether we get to that place we are going or not, life will happen.  Life, and marriages, and children born.  Illness and death, and getting up again the next morning with a loss to live with.  In the meantime, maybe you aren’t a leader and you don’t care about all that was or what will be.  You are here now.  Maybe you just came in the door this morning, or in the last few months.  Maybe you came in the door 20 years ago, or 10.  And you just want a minister to be a minister.  For you a minister is not just to manage a journey to the great transformation in the sky, but for the meantime. 

Being your minister is not just about standing and talking to you on Sundays…
[although that’s very important!]…

It is about being for you and with you in the meantime.  …as life happens. 

I am here to help you celebrate, to comfort you, to challenge and inspire you, to just be present so you can hear yourself, so you can be your own expert.

Call me, send me an e-mail, do what ever it takes to initiate contact with me when you need me to be your minister. 

In these first few months, I would love just to get to know you better.  Ask me out for coffee, or lunch or dinner.  Invite me over, or in, or come by just to visit. 

I will do the same.  You may learn that I will seek you out if I sense you have a ministerial need.  A life or death major event is happening in your life, or you are struggling with how to find meaning or purpose…in the midst of a terminal diagnosis, or a move or a separation…

The UUCG grapevine will keep me somewhat informed about some of your concerns that call for a pastoral response.  I will be listening for your needs during joys and sorrows, and during our “casual” conversations.  You may not know I am listening to you that way, but I am.  You may not yet be ready to seek me out, yet.  But I hope you will when you are ready.  I hope you will act as if, I can be your minister!  Sometimes, I will be the one who comes to you.  I promise I am listening for the metaphorical door to open.  If it does I promise I will walk through it.

When that happens I hope I help you see/experience, what I am here for as your pastor.  

You don’t have to rely on the grapevine to let me know something I should know.  I’m good, but I am not psychic!  Contact me.  My phone works, my e-mail works, my office times are posted.
Call me, come by.  Call me first, then come by!

Sometimes, some of you may come by…eager to me to tell me what some one else needs from me.  That’s OK.  But sometimes, some of you will come by or call to tell me not what someone else needs, but about a “concern” or an issue that some third person has with me. 

It would serve us all so much better if you would take that person’s hand and offer to come with them, so that I can hear directly from the person who has a concern clearly and exactly what their concern is!   If you come tell me alone, I am very likely to hear what you have to say not as an expression of their concern, but as yours!  That’s OK, too.  But you need to know I am hearing what you say as your concern.

Let’s choose to be direct!   I will be direct with you!  And gentle.  If you are bold, I will be gentle in hearing what must have taken a lot of guts to say.  That’s my promise to you!

If you are a member here, I will officiate your marriage ceremony or your memorial service at no charge!  If you are a friend, a friend of a friend, a relative…I will make you a deal!

If you are ready for your child to be dedicated, here or in a sacred space of your choosing, come see me.

If you want to talk about your ceremony of life and how you’d want to be remembered come see me.  Let’s talk
If you want to talk about theology or polity or something thrilling or confusing that’s happening in the UU World or in the world that has a spiritual, ethical, justice-making dimension come see me.

If you can’t figure out how to be a UU at work, let’s talk

I am always ready to hear what you are excited about learning next.  I am here to help you explore religion and spirituality, to help you widen your horizons, to deepen your knowledge, to grow in understanding, to help connect with others who have your same interests or concerns, to help you to understand those in this community who are different in their faith orientation and practice from you.

It is appropriate to call me for comfort or guidance, or help with hearing yourself think, for a confidential place to express your feelings, to talk about illness, death, transitions.  Call me to be present during a crisis or trauma…

Pastoral care is about deep listening, providing comfort, recognizing when the door is open for spiritual growth, and being present with you as you walk through that door. 
Most UU ministers are trained in “brief counseling”, knowing how to identify growing edges, to comfort and to be present during times of crisis.  We are trained to make appropriate referrals especially when the need to be addressed goes beyond our skill set, or the kind of time that is needed is far beyond what we have to offer.

Ministers are trained to listen for and explore what role your faith or your core beliefs are taking in helping or hindering your move through a transitional point in your life.

Part of pastoral care is to be available to you when you are upset or disappointed with me.  You can expect to receive a good listen.  You can expect that what you have to express will be kept within the bounds of confidentiality.  When I am engaged in giving pastoral care, my focus will be on you and your needs. 

I am your minister, yet…I am also human!  Like with all human interactions, you may come to me at a time when I am distracted, defensive, reactive, and am not able to offer you a good listen.  Even when you’ve done your part and initiated contact and have been clear that you are looking for pastoral care, there will be times when my needs will get in the way of meeting your needs.  I will tell you when we need to arrange for another time, so that I can get myself out of the way!...and be able to listen to you without getting defensive, without rushing to “fix” the problem, without trying to end your discomfort….  Coming up to me after a Sunday Service in the crowed foyer is not the best time to seek pastoral care from me!  It is OK to arrange a time then, but it dishonors both of us for you to ask for or me to offer pastoral car in the middle of a crowd!

When I am present to you and for you, I will do my best to listen to you…to listen to whatever you have to say, whatever you feel, with respect that you are coming to me to be heard, to be companioned until you find your way again.  I promise to give the space for you to say whatever you need to say.   

When I am present with you I will create space for you to hear your own wisdom; for you to find your own way to continue to be in loving relationship with yourself. 

I am here ready for your call.  I am here to be your minister…to celebrate life with you, to help you grow, to hold you through change….

There are so many of you that I don’t yet know.  Call me.  I would love to visit you in your homes, or at your place of work.  I want to know what motivates you to be a part of this community.  I want to know what you are expert at, what you struggle with, who or what is important to you and why.

I want to know what your hopes and dreams are for yourself as an individual, for your family, for this congregation and this community.

Call me!

Many years ago UU minister Peter Lee Scott wrote a column called "When to Call the Minister." In the intervening years, his column has been adapted, messaged and added to by others. Here’s a version:


When you don’t know me, but would like to.

When you have problems you would like to discuss with your job, children, marriage, or anything else where a sympathetic ear might help.

When you are going to the hospital or know of someone else in the congregation who is.

When someone close to you has died or is critically ill or you’re dealing with a significant loss of some kind.

When you are planning to be married or divorced.

When you would like your child dedicated.

When you are pregnant and glad you are or wish you weren’t, also if you want to be pregnant but aren’t.

When you feel ready to join the congregation.

When you have concerns or suggestions.

When you have religious or spiritual questions.

When you are seeking to deepen your spiritual life.

When you are upset with me or would like to express appreciation.

When you have won the lottery and want to make a large donation to the church.

To add a little humor, Rev. Marilyn Sewell (retired minister who was with the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon) added several reasons NOT to call the minister:

Don’t call the minister when:

You want to give her "the real scoop" on another member.

You want to explain that you’ll have to cut your pledge in half because you are spending the summer in the south of France.

You want to tell her you didn’t like what she wore in the pulpit last Sunday.

You want to tell her that one of the reasons you are a UU is that you have always distrusted organized religion. (Our church is, after all, a part of organized religion).

Your leaders have wisely organized this place so that you have a minister who is a pastor, too.

Call me!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Transient and the Permanent

When I was a child, I was taken to church (willingly) by my parents “every time the door was open” (as they say).  I loved the sense of community, of adults beyond my parents who cared about me, of friends beyond my sister and brother to be with.  I even often enjoyed Sunday School, because of the stories.  Sometimes, though I would ask way too many questions about the facts, or the mechanics of how did something happen the way it was said to have!  When my questions were met with silence or encouragement to just believe, I didn’t like that so much!

Sometimes I enjoyed the sermons, but mostly what I liked was the music!

I was in the youth choir. I was in the hand bell choir.  I loved the sound of the whole congregation in one voice, washing over me.  I loved when the adult choir performed and the soloists,… even the one we made fun of …who sang like we were at the opera…  I loved it all.

I was child in that church.  I was a teen.  It wasn’t until much later as a young adult in religion classes at the big state university, and with my revolutionary peers that I would begin to question the “theology” of the words to the hymns I loved so much.  It wasn’t until later that I realized there were parts of “church” that needed to be left behind.  

It fell out of favor for me to sing the old hymns about a risen savior come to save me from sin.  Consciousness raised, I replaced those songs with protest songs, with Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and much later “womens music”.  The forms changed, but the community building remained….

The forms always change…

Thrilled to be in this living faith that acknowledges and honors change, I was stunned some years ago when there was some consideration regarding changing the wording of the principles and the sources….Frankly, I was stunned that the majority demanded that every word, every phrase stay the same exactly as it had been…

Not quite dogma and doctrine as is offered by some other faith traditions, yet our principles and purposes, our sources, play a role in holding us together, in forming the circle that defines who we are… Eventually, they too, will change.

They aren’t the essence.   Neither are our governance structures, or “they way we’ve always done it”.   All those forms are like the Buddhists say:  The fingers that point to the moon.  Everyone knows it isn’t the finger we worship!

The feelings from those child hood times that music brought to me about love and care and community have stayed in my memories.  (and some of those old hymns)  That feeling reminds me of times and of people long past, of forms out of favor, of all that is the essence of love beyond our immediate families, beyond all the particular communities that have formed and deformed us….

Moving in our lives towards greater compassion step by step involves constantly sorting through what is transient and what is permanent and trying to understand the difference and where our loyalty ought to lie, to whom or to what it ought to be given.

Almost 200 years ago, in the late 1840’s thousands of Bostonians couldn’t get enough of one Unitarian preacher by the name was Theodore Parker.  He wasn’t always as popular as he would become for a while in the city of Boston.  What he did, for a time, a very important time, was help people sort through, tell the difference between the finger and the moon.
His name may be at least vaguely familiar to some of you as he was in the news (at least the UU news) not too long ago.  President Obama had attributed the quote; “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” as many do to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, JR.   Yet, MLK did not create it.  As a few UU’s were quick to point out the originator was none other than our own Theodore Parker! …a Unitarian way back in the mid 1800’s.
Perhaps you are familiar with more famous contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson?   Perhaps you know that as a young man Emerson left the Unitarian ministry because he thought the denomination “corpse-cold”!  He detected no passion, no activism, no “religious” spirit among the Unitarians who were taken by the forms rather than the spirit!

Frustrated, Emerson resigned as a clergy person and never again served a congregation as its pastor.  As you know, he moved on to become a famous transcendentalist author and speaker. 

Theodore Parker, was Emerson’s contemporary, and he –as a Unitarian pastor, filled a large hall in Boston, Sunday after Sunday with thousands.  There was nothing corpse-cold in his services.  He was and he remained committed to the faith that values the freedom of the mind and spirit above all else, and he became the model of the activist minister.
His most remembered sermon, was one he delivered in 1841 entitled “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity”.

In it he laid out, what was at the time, his controversial theology.  That sermon and the person of Theodor Parker marked a significant turning point for Unitarians. 

Earlier when he was a student at Harvard, he had been exposed to what we know think of as the very early forms of Biblical scholarship, understanding the text according to its original cultural and historical setting.  Because of this, he came to believe that it was idolatrous to make the bible more important than a living and immediate relationship with the holy.  He preached against words that had been written down so long ago to become more important than God!
At the time, what his perspective was called “transcendentalist”.  Not all Unitarians were Transcendentalists and not all Transcendentalists were Unitarian.  Yet what defined them all was the belief that the religious impulse, in other words, the desire for and the knowledge of something beyond the self, was inherently resident in all of humankind.  Transcendentalists thought that the quest for “truth” was natural and universal and was satisfied more by the exercise of intuition than by reason, or allegiance to dogma or doctrine.

During the early part of the 1800’s while Parker was in the early years of his ministry, most Unitarians generally subscribed to what might be called supernatural rationalism; meaning certain religious truths could be determined by the exercise of reason, but to also be a Christian (as the vast majority of Unitarians were) one needed to believe that Jesus was more than human.  The evidence that he was found in the miracles he performed. 
Parker began to preach that one need not rely on a belief in the miraculous to hear and to live out the ethical truth of the core of Christianity, what he termed its primary and permanent message.   Insisting that all human beings are by nature religious, he preached that the beauty and greatness of the religion of Jesus lay in its affirmation of the essential truth of all religions, which is simply love of God and love of man. 
Religion was the process of awakening to the essential truths that live within each of us.  In other words, to be religious was to touch and be touched by the ‘spark of the divine’ within.

In his 1841, sermon, “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity”, he claimed that the essence of Christianity could be found in what Jesus taught about love, a teaching that anyone could teach and anyone could follow, even if they had never heard of Jesus. 
He caused a controversy because he also said that one needn’t believe in miracles, nor in the literal authority of the Bible, nor subscribe to the various creeds, confessions or doctrines found within the history of the Christian church, or even in the Divinity of Jesus, to know and to live by the core of Christianity. 

Essentially, he said that one didn’t have to believe in Christ, to live the religion of Jesus.

At the time, the Transcendentalists, (among whom were some women) included only a very small percentage of Unitarians.  These transcendentalists were coming to value a more passionate, intuitive, natural spirituality.  They were the young men and women, who like Emerson, objecting to the “corpse cold” version of Unitarianism that was acceptable to the social elite….objecting to the old forms…

Parker boldly challenged Unitarians to leave the transient behind and focus on the essential!  
By 1845 a small group of Parker enthusiasts founded the 28th Congregational Society in Boston.  It was a Unitarian congregation, but primarily served as a lecture forum for Parker.  He regularly drew 1000’s, including William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Louisa May Alcott, Julie Ward Howe and many other famous progressive persons. 

There was a growing hunger for a deeper, more immediate, more passionate religion that made sense...and that made a difference.  His was a unique Unitarian congregation for its time, equally representative of both men and women and racially integrated.  In was in that pulpit where he became widely known for the passion and conviction he brought to social ills.

He talked about America becoming an “industrial democracy”, “of all the people, by all the people, for all the people” (a concept that later influenced Abraham Lincoln and could be heard in the Gettysburg address.)  

He focused his passionate love of neighbor on cultural, social and political reforms.

He was a well known out spoken abolitionist, who harbored fugitive slaves.  It was said he kept a loaded pistol on his desk while writing sermons, in case those he helped on the way to freedom (who he sometimes housed in the basement) were threatened.  He believed that women should be equal to men.

He said that “while the church exists to cultivate the heart, mind and conscience, it should also “ be the means of reforming the world.”  It was one of his images—that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends toward justice—that would be adopted over a hundred years later by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. …and quoted by Barack Obama…and many others..

He greatly influenced younger Unitarian ministers who admired him for taking reason to a new level, for his fight for a truly, free faith and his example of public engagement.   He never left the Unitarian ministry.  He continued to call himself a Christian until the end of his life.

In his 1841 sermon he said; “It must be confessed, though with sorrow, that transient things form a great part of what is commonly taught as Religion.  An undue place has often been assigned to forms and doctrines, while too little stress has been laid on the divine life of the soul, love to God, and love to man....if we are faithful, the great truths of morality and religion, the deep sentiment of love to man and love to God, are perceived intuitively, and by instinct, as it were, though our theology be imperfect...”

“....Christianity is a simple thing; very simple.  It is absolute, pure Morality; absolute, pure Religion; the love of man; the love of God acting without let or hindrance....The only form it demands is ...doing the best thing, in the best way, from the highest motives....”

In a sermon entitled, What would Theodore Parker Do?, the Rev. Mark Ward, currently serving our sister congregation in Asheville said:  “Spiritual exploration and the search for truth and meaning require a good deal of inner work as well as time to engage with each other..... But we do not fully inhabit our faith until we live it, until it guides how we interact with others and society at large, until it helps open our eyes to a larger view of the world and the duty we owe to each other....to all humankind and to the earth.”

Music perhaps better than theology, combines excellence of form, the mathematics of composition, with feeling and intuition…with memory and hope…with the soulful things that cannot be measured or regulated…

Words and forms, even the chalice, notes on the paper, are only the form, the fingers that direct our attention to the moon.

Let us gather again and again to worship, to lift up “what will live and give life” generation after generation.. 

The forms may change, may go out of favor and come back again, but what gave us life, what gives us life remains.

Amen, blessed be, shalom, salaam, namaste - the light in me honors the light in you…

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

After the Epiphany, Then What?

Have you ever experienced a sudden revelation?   In a flash, an answer or an insight comes to you that makes all the difference and sets you off on a new path of discovery, or a new way of being.  You feel as if you have just received the answer to something that has been troubling or puzzling you.  Now you can move forward!

Today we pay homage to those moments of sudden insight.  It is after all Epiphany Sunday.  Today, January 6th, is the day some Christian traditions celebrate and have been celebrating for over 2000 years.  The Epiphany.  What they are focused on is the time told of in the Gospel of Matthew when non-Jews recognized the significance of the baby Jesus... 

Perhaps you know the story, which is told only in the Gospel of Matthew.  Wise men, known as “the magi”, come from the east following a star.  On their journey they stop to ask the ruler of the region (that would be the evil King Herod) where the star had led them, what he knows about it.  He knows nothing, but suspecting something must be amiss, he asks them to come back and tell them what they find.      

Some Biblical scholars are sure that Matthew’s point in telling this story is to say that not only did the WISE men have the skill to follow a star, but even though they were not Hebrew, when they found what the star led them to, they had an epiphany!  The star they had been following shown down on a future king.   They had been wise enough to follow the star to where it led.  Yet, they were ignorant of Jewish prophecy.  But even they could see why it was important to the whole world not to go back and tell King Herod that this child had been born.    

So, after they left their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they quickly moved on…   

It was later legends that would make these wise men out to also be kings, maybe as a way to explain why wandering astrologers would have such precious gifts as gold, frankincense, and myrrh packed away in their side saddles.
It doesn’t matter how wise they were, or if they were of royal lineage.  The point that Matthew seems to have been making, stands.  They weren’t Jews.  Yet, when they got to where the star had been leading them, they had an “a-ha” moment.  Everything about their training as magi had enabled them to follow an unusually bright star, but seeing, really seeing what the star illuminated was an epiphany!  They had a sudden flash of insight that they hadn’t been trained for, hadn’t anticipated. 

OH, MY GOD, they exclaimed!   No wonder King Herod acted so funny!

Now, let me assure you that even though I studied the Bible as a child, then in a very secular state university, then in divinity school and am now over ten years a religious professional…. I don’t call myself a Christian.  I don’t even usually think of myself as a theist.  I am not any longer uncomfortable with those terms.  I just don’t use them to describe myself. 

So, the usual Christian interpretation that the wise men suddenly recognized that the baby they found in a manger was to be the savior of the world or the king of the jews isn’t what I hear in this story…or why I bring it to you, this day…

What I hear, what I hope you hear, is that these trained, experienced wise men found something that wasn’t necessarily what they were looking for.  Yet, they felt a sudden recognition.  And they knew that the “revelation” they experienced could be dangerous.  They changed course…

Like many people I know…I have had my moments, too…when I have exclaimed OH, MY GOD! 

Oh my God, it all makes sense now!  I see.  I get it!

Maybe you know the famous tale about Archimedes, the classical mathematician who shouted “Eureka” when he suddenly discovered how to estimate the volume of a given mass.  He also had a feeling of sudden insight, like the wise men must have had.  The answer to a vexing mathematical problem had come him in a flash!  It was an epiphany.

Holy Cow!

Here finally was the sudden revelation…the answer to a nagging problem.  Was it from the gods? 

Does it matter?    

Those astrologers from the east where moving along their normal path of discovery, like we all do.  Archimedes and countless other scientists and all manner of ordinary folk are moving along their normal paths every day, day in and day out, like we all do. 

Maybe some are following a fascinatingly bright star.  Maybe others are just turning on the tap water.  Maybe some are at the beach watching the sun rise. 

Then suddenly, in a flash of insight, the key to much greater understanding is plopped at our feet. 

Do all epiphanies come from God?  Does “the universe” suddenly reveal a mathematical formula?  Or was it there all along for a trained and searching mathematician to see? 

Maybe?  Maybe not.

Does it really matter where it comes from? 

It seems to me that what does matter is that suddenly something makes sense in a way that something has not made sense before.

This flash of insight can change everything…about our normal course of affairs…

It doesn’t matter if the flash of insight is about something that has been puzzling the mind, or tickling the soul.  When an answer,  …a kind of “two plus two”, instantly dawns on us, when we are “given” an insight that propels us forward in either solving a problem or in gaining a much deeper perspective concerning some conundrum, or maybe we suddenly have the ability to hold a disturbing paradox in a life-giving balance….maybe we do shout Eureka, or Oh, My God, or …we might say “No DUH!, as I often do wanting to deny how overwhelmed I am with my previous state of ignorance, ….of course I knew that all along!


Suddenly what didn’t connect does.  What didn’t make any sense does.  What wasn’t meaningful, what was painful, difficult, made us feel remote from any truth, suddenly we are full of purpose, we have been brought a message that it’s all going to be alright, or we have been suddenly been made privy to a great secret that calls us in close to the center of existence…  when we have been living so far outside the core…now in a flash we are in…


In a flash we are close, very close to the truth, to a truth that REALLY matters! 

We have all had these moments.  Remember the solution to a math problem you finally got?  Remember the significance of some spiritual truth that finally made your pain make some sense? 

We have these moments when we get it, really get it. 

Then what?

In religion, in stories and legends trying again and again to teach us about living with deep purpose, living with deep security in this chaotic universe, you find encounters with the divine described as epiphanies...  Suddenly God, or what we call god, appears.  Suddenly God is responsible for revealing the meaning of life, or if not the meaning, then delivering a sudden feeling of security…everything is ultimately going to be alright…we can have faith again that our lives make some sense, have some purpose, that someone or something is in charge…is holding us still…

Maybe we are lonely, or sad, or poor in spirit…or maybe we don’t even know we are, yet somehow suddenly we are with the companion that never leaves our side, we see that our long lost love ones will be with us again, we feel suddenly rich…with insight and safety…

Maybe we want to keep our particular epiphany to ourselves, hide it from those who would destroy it, or belittle it.  Maybe we want to shout it from the roof tops.

Maybe we want to make our sudden flash of knowing what we did not know a TRUTH for everybody.

Maybe we want to pretend we don’t know what we do now know.

These moments of deep insight, of the purpose of it all revealed, come to us.  Part of the feeling we have when we know now, what we did not know before, is that we must not go back to the way things were.  It would be dangerous to go back knowing what we know now…just as dangerous as it feels to go forward.

What made the wise men wise?  Not their training as magi.  Not their following a bright star.  Not their deciding not to return to King Herod.

What made them wise was their ability to see what the light pointed to, what it shone over, then to move on in a different way from the way they had come.

Epiphanies always include that invitation that we can respond to if we choose.  We can leap into the new, move from what was to what will be.  There is risk either way, whether we go back to the way things were, or go forward into the new.

Experiencing an epiphany can change the course of your life.  If you let it.

Paying attention to revelation is not restricted to wise men traveling from the east.  Epiphanies are not frozen in grand cathedrals.  The insight, the answer, the security revealed to you, may not fit what has been guiding you.   But it can guide you now, if you let it.
Sometimes you can only see, or hear, or taste, or feel, a sudden revelations’ power to change your life after days, weeks, years, decades of preparation so that you stand in the right place at the right time able to recognize the answer when you see it.  To know the flash of insight for what it is, a key that unlocks the answer to whatever the riddle is for you….that causes you to exclaim OH MY GOD….

An epiphany makes one “wise” in a way one wasn’t before…

What you do then is up to you.