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Tag Archives: unitarian universalist

The sky has one more guiding star today

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Yesterday we lost a great man.  My uncle Gene died.  And when I say my uncle I really mean my husband’s uncle but in this chosen family of mine I was happy to call him uncle.  And, I think, he was happy to call me niece.  The reality is we had kind of lost him a long time ago.  He had Alzheimer’s and it had slowly sapped him of the thing that was him.  I and my family are glad that he is not suffering any longer.  And we will choose to remember him as he was just a few short years ago.

The picture above is of 4 generations of Navias men and one of my favorite. The photo seems to capture just each of their spirits.  Gene is the man in the blue striped shirt.

When I met my, as not yet, husband he at one point told me that his uncle was a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I being a UCC minister at the time laughed.  At the time I thought the idea of a UU minister was funny – how can one be a minister without a God.  How can you have a religion without a creed?  UUs to me were people who just could not commit.  And this is what the Karma fairy taught me – be careful what you laugh at.

My, as not yet, husband graciously did not respond to my pomposity.  For he knew that I would meet his uncle and I would understand.  He learned a lot of his graciousness from his uncle.

The man I met, who would end up marrying Geoff and I, and dedicating our two children, was a man formed in the UU faith.  He taught me so much about what it meant to be welcoming.  When I came to this faith and was greeted with some very sharp anti-Christian sentiment (much of it earned but still hard for a Christian like me who does not identify with the reactionary part of Christendom) it was Gene who could talk to me about it.  It was he who knew the history and had seen the shifts and changes.  He could connect the dots for me.  And he could lift up our Universalist heritage that has sometimes been so not heard.  He showed me what it means to be radically hospitable and hold your ground at the same time.

As an example I share this story.  When Geoff and I were first living together we hosted the family for Thanksgiving.  It was a wonderful exhausting experience.  All the family members contributed food and took turns cooking and cleaning.  Gene and his partner Stan took us all out for dinner one night (what a gracious reprieve from all the prep and cleaning).  I in my innocence  asked him, “So how did you and Stan meet?”  His eyes twinkled and he smiled at me – if you knew him you know that look – and he said “Well that can be quite a question to ask a gay male!  You never know what kind of answer you might get and if it can be shared in a setting like this.  But in this case it can Stan and I met at a meeting of folks who had a family connection with South Africa.”  He said this in a way that was warm and caring, not pejorative or finger wagging.  He answered my question and gently let me know that the way I asked the question belied my hetero-normative assumptions and privilege.  And he loved me in spite of it, or maybe because of it, or maybe both.

He was a wonderful support to me as I went through the process of becoming fellowshipped as a minister with the Unitarian Universalists.  He respected and affirmed all that I was my Christian faith and my desire to broaden that faith experience.  He never in any way expected me to leave some part of me at the door in order to be a UU.  And for me that is one of the powerful cores pieces of this faith of ours.  Each of us is welcome in our totality – we are not expected to hide some part of us.  We do not need to leave some part of ourselves at home.  We can be who we are fully.  And that is hard because sometime the person who I fully am does not like or get along with the person who you fully are.  Uncle Gene taught me that it isn’t about liking or agreeing, it isn’t about competition, winning or losing.  He taught me that it is about looking beyond our differences, looking beyond our similarities to the spirit of love that resides in each one of us.

In my own small way I hope I can carry on some part of that loving hospitable presence that Gene had.  He is missed.  But he lives on when we practice that open hospitality that Gene so easily shared.

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Words I spoke at this morning’s service recognizing, and cellbrating Transgender Day of Remembrance

Below are the words I spoke this morning in our congregations service.  I was honored to be asked to speak, honored to be able to speak, honored to be a mother with something to add.

So I speak to you today not so much as one of your ministers, but as a mother.  The transgender day of remembrance has become important to me as a mother because I am the mother of a son Toby who is trans.  In an email to me recently this is how Toby described his gender identity “I identify as trans, male, androgynous, fem, gender-fluid, and agender. Most of them most of them time, all of them some of the time. I use he/him/his and ze/zim/zis (or just ze/ze/ze’s) for pronouns.”  Do you find some of that confusing?  I do.  But that is OK.  Just own your confusion.

Toby was born with another name and was identified as a girl.  She was loved and affirmed and given lots of space to be who she was.  She was a cute little girl, wickedly bright, a voracious reader.  She was creative, tenacious, loved to think, cared about others, and could be bitingly sarcastic.  She was not particularly athletic and was a bit prone to be nervous or shy in new situations, especially in situations where there was a physical risk.  It was really hard to teach her how to ride a bike.  She felt deeply –  When she was happy she was so happy, and when she was down she fell hard.

In the spring of 2005, not too long before I took my position here my daughter came out to me and identified herself as male.  To say I was shocked is an understatement.  I was angry, confused, scared, worried, anxious.  I wanted to understand.  My child told us to call him him, and to call him Toby.  There ensued months of tongue tripping pronoun confusion.  I must say Toby was pretty gracious about it.

I’d like to tell you that I was this perfect mother who heard Toby’s coming out and affirmed him and told him he was wonderful and loved.  I’d even like to remember it that way.  But the truth is that I was scared as a mother, and when I am scared as a mother I do not do my best mothering.

Toby and I had many discussions about how he identifies.  Some were really good conversations, some were not.  I remember some yelling and cajoling.  I remember hugs and tears.  I also remember that I  made a promise to Toby that when I was full up with a conversation about his gender identity, when it had gotten too much for me I would own up to that ask for the conversation to end with the promise that we would come back to it.  We would always come back to it.  I would not leave a conversation permanently unfinished.

Overtime we made our way through a very rocky period.  Two incidents stand out in my memory.

The first we were in line at Wegmans.  At this point Toby had been doing odd and interesting things to his hair, it was partially shaved, partially dyed – made a statement.  In line behind us was a woman I would guess was about 75 who made some comment about Toby’s hair.  I braced myself for an uncomfortable conversation.  Toby replied describing what he had most recently done.  And then the woman pointed to her two color dye job and said, “Well look what I do to my hair, it’s all part of the same.”  It was a moment of normalization that was unexpected and so welcome.

The second incident came from my ex-mother-in-law, Barbara.  We had been somewhat estranged since I had divorced her son.  She was a good woman who had been very important in my life.  She was a very conservative Republican, who had very traditional views about men and women.  Through this process of Toby coming out we had a couple of conversations.  In one of them she said, “I don’t understand what Toby is.  But we have got to stand by Toby.  Kids like Toby end up on the street and when they end up on the street they don’t make it.  I may not understand Toby but he is my grandchild and I love him and I don’t want to lose him, and so I will stand by him.”

Those were strong words of welcome.  They meant a lot to me and a lot to Toby.  Naming the welcome is important because if you self identify as  transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid,, agender (no gender),, pangender (all or multi-gender), , the default in our society is no welcome.  And that is not who we are as UUs.  We are a welcoming folk, who stand on the side of love.  And so we must name the welcome – for the sake of those we welcome, and for our own sakes too.

And so who is Toby now.  Well as his mother I only probably know the side he lets me see.  But he is wickedly bright, a voracious reader, creative, tenacious, loves to think, cares deeply about others, and can be bitingly sarcastic.  He is still not particularly athletic and is a bit prone to be nervous or shy in new situations, especially in situations where there was a physical risk.  He has finally learned how to ride a bike.  He feels deeply –  When he is  happy he is just so happy , and when he is down he falls hard.

He is a wonderful young man now living in Santa Fe NM.  He is on his own journey.  I am proud of him and proud to be part of his journey.

What Church is for me

(A disclaimer to this post – I grew up going to church.  I went with my father.  And some of my earliest memories are sitting on his lap, wrapped in his arms, playing with his thumbs, smelling his aftershave and  the detergent my mom used on the wash, while listening to the music.  Church for me was first, and foremost a place of safety, of warmth, of love.  And I have never really lost that feeling completely.  I know that this is not true for many, many people.)

As of late there is a phrase I hear a lot, “spiritual but not religious.”  That is how people often describe themselves to me.    It makes sense that I hear that phrase a lot, first of all I am a minister in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  A place filled with folks who are spiritual but not religious.  But also people tend to get a bit defensive about themselves around me.  They often seem to act as if they somehow need to explain themselves to me, as if I am going to immediately judge them for who they are or what they do.  It has taken me a long time to realize that I am not that kind of person, and I am not that kind of minister.  By and large, I meet people where they are.  I don’t hold up a lot of standards defined by categories like “If you are a Christian then you must behave this way, or if you are a UU then you must behave this way.”  I think that I recognize that we come in all shapes, sizes and variations.  That we are all trying our best and most days most of do do our best and most days a few of us don’t and most days one or two of us will really screw up.  But then I know tomorrow is another chance to do a bit better.

I used to like the phrase spiritual but not religious a lot.  It seemed to me that it described a person who was  a free thinker and feeler, perhaps less constrained by the negativity of institutional religion (of which there is a lot!)  I used to connect it with folks who were more interested in connecting with the positive loving force (who I call God) of the universe.  Perhaps I have just heard the phrase too much and I am getting a bit jaded.  Now I am beginning to be concerned that the phrase is beginning to become code for “I don’t want to be judged by you about why I don’t participate in church.”

I guess I would have to say that in some strange way I am not so interested in why people don’t come to church, specifically why they don’t come to the church I work at.  I am way more interested in why the people who are here, do come to our congregation.  I am way more interested in what makes us who we are in a positive way, what are our strengths.  I am way more interested in building on those.

If someone chooses not to come to this place, it may be our loss, it may be their loss, but I completely respect that choice.  Let us each find our own place of spiritual nurturance.  Let us each find the well from which we each can draw.

That being said I have a hard time understanding “Spiritual but not Religious.”  I accept  it and I respect it.  I am not asking anyone to change I just don’t get it, I can’t see me explaining myself that way.

I do get that there are times to be by oneself.  I write this column after taking some extra efforts to be outside on the balcony of my church building so that I can absorb the spring sun, watch and hear the creek, listen to the birds and watch the bees chase each other.  Each summer I spend a lot of time at a lake nearby just watching.  I watch the sunrise, I watch the sunset.  I watch the blue heron, the beavers, the kingfishers, the neighbors.  I watch the sun filter through tree leaves, and watch dark and light play together.  It is my sacred space and I go there often.

I have a neighbor at the lake I hang out at who says his dock is his church.  If I ever had the nerve to engage him on that one here is what I would say:

This dock is not your church.  It is your sacred space.  It is where you are most at home with yourself, and where you can touch that which is larger than yourself.  It is your sacred space and it should be – every square inch of it.  It is where you go to let go of the effect of the work a day world that eats away at you.  It is where you go to restore yourself.  It is your sacred space.  And you deserve it.

But church is where you go to be with other people.  It is where we bring ourselves with all our quirks and shortcomings where we will be accepted, affirmed and appreciated.  It is where you come when you know where you are going and when you don’t know where you are going.  Church is where you go to share yourselves with others and they with you.  Sometimes you go there so that folks can hold you up when you are to tired to go on your own and sometimes you go there so that you can hold someone else up.  Church is where people bring you food when there is a tragedy in your life, or when there is a celebration.  Church is where people are imperfect and cranky and sometimes mean and they are loved anyway, and hopefully reminded that maybe tomorrow they could take a deep breath and try again, a bit better.  Church is where you go to meet with and be with folks who are authentically themselves warts and all.

We come to church, with who we are, imperfect, a little or a lot broken and we are loved.  There is no entry exam to church, no application process.  It is not a club, or a training center.  It is a place to be yourself.

And I would even go so far as to say that if your church (if you participate in one) is not that, or if that has not been your experience of church then maybe you might try somewhere else.  Don’t bang your head against the wall just try to find a doorway to a different kind of place.

Maybe I have been lucky enough to find religious communities that are particularly inclusive and accepting.   Maybe I have been lucky enough to make that choice over and over again.  If someone is particularly close minded or judgmental I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out with them.  My life is too short for that.  I hope I am not disrespectful or mean.  But in the journey that is my life iI would much rather hang with folks who can laugh at their own foibles, love foibles in others, and who work hard to try to improve the world around them. My nineties but still my life is too time limited to spend it gossiping and judging others.

RE at May Memorial It’s GREAT!

Sunday at May Memorial can mean different things to different people.  For some it is a time to gather with out liberal community, for some it is a time to listen and think, for others it is the enjoyment of the music, and some come for the coffee.

Our Sixth grade Sunday school class made this video.  They made me proud and captured the spirit of our community.  We had them filming our congregation for many Sundays and then they edited and here is what they made: