Archive for May, 2011

May 30, 2011

Periodic Table of (Liturgical) Elements

Many, many thanks to my buddies in the UU Young Adult Growth Lab for their fun and fabulous contributions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a JOKE, people.  It’s not perfect.  There are probably typos.  It’s horrifically mistitled.  It is a joke.  Just take it for what it is, ok?

May 27, 2011

SURVEY RESULTS!!!!!

Thank you, so much, to all who participated!  I received a total of 43 responses to my survey which is SUPER awesome!  9 of you brave souls had never been to a UU church before, while 21 had not gone in the past year.  The rest were some mix of “I don’t go regularly” or “this was a new congregation” or “other.”

Please not all the questions were mandatory and some people chose not to answer some of the questions, meaning not all percentages make sense with the number “43.” In fact, most don’t.

The questions!!!

Just, in general, did people have a good time at church?

Overwhelmingly yes! 37 of the 43 respondents said that they had a good time. The other 6 answered “other.”

79% of folks were greeted warmly

86% said that they understood what they were supposed to do at various times in the service

65% said that it was easy to find their way to the church

58% said they stayed for coffee hour

71% said that the service was as advertised in terms of length topic, etc

and…

28% said that somebody made the effort to tell them about various events happening at the church.

Of those who gave an age, almost three quarters were between 18 and 35, and the rest were over 35 save for the one “under 18” who answered my survey.

And… alright people. Truth time.

Exactly 2 of that coveted young adult demographic were told about young adult programming.

Two.

People had quite a bit to say about their church visits.

What did people like?

  • The people seem very friendly and approachable in general.

  • Last Sunday was our annual music service. It was mostly bluegrass music, which was a wonderful change of pace from the usual classical/organ music we hear. I like classical music, but I’d love it if we didn’t get quite so much of it. I suspect this is not a widely-shared opinion among my fellow congregants.

  • I liked the inclusive speech, the content and delivery of the minister’s sermon, the candles of concern, and some of the music–but all of the effort

  • I love how excited my toddler is to go every Sunday.

  • I liked that they had a rainbow flag and said that they welcomed LGBTQ people.

  • I was happy to see that after the big flu season scare when the sung benediction was done with hand motions, it’s back to holding hands.

  • I really liked the music. There is something special about church music that just makes me happy and peaceful.

  • There was nobody shouting which was nice. I hated that when I went to an IFB church!

  • Somebody came up to me in the service and asked if I was new, and she sat with me the whole time. She showed me where the coffee hour was, too, and I asked her some questions about the church. She was really nice and I was happy that I had somebody to ask where the bathroom was and just talk to in general because I can be kind of shy.

What needs to be changed up?

  • I didn’t notice anyone like me (i.e. people under 35ish who appeared to be there by themselves). I don’t really mind the age difference, but it did seem like everyone already all knew each other–especially during the coffee hour–and weren’t very inclined to say hello to me or ask what I’m doing there or anything. (though one person who was the official greeter did) I’m not the most social person in the world and I hate meeting new people in most circumstances, so the whole concept of awkwardly standing around while other people talk to each other wasn’t very comfortable.

  • So the reason I went, which was before I saw that you were recruiting people to go for the sake of doing this survey, is that I would really like to have a spiritual community, and I strongly agree with all of the UU principles and all of that. So, in theory, being a UU seems like a good idea. I especially enjoy the attitude that each person is on their own spiritual journey and there is no single set of dogma that we’re required to believe. However, the reason why I’m probably unlikely to be a regular UU church-goer is that I feel like the services are typically a large majority of “fluff.” Topics for sermons seem to be things like “war is bad” or “it’s good to care about the Earth” and things like that. Now obviously, I agree with these nice ideas, but I haven’t felt like I was learning anything or being intellectually challenged or emotionally affected in any way, which is what would inspire me to wake up and go to church on Sunday, rather than just sleeping late.

  • My conclusion after the service was that I think when I have children, I’d like to raise them as regular UU church-goers so that they could be exposed to all of these nice ideas and learn to ask big questions and become accepting of difference and embrace diversity, etc. So I’ll probably start going regularly once I have kids, which is nice to have as a long-term plan, but also a little disappointing for the present.

  • 10 years after signing the book and fully participating & contributing in every way imaginable, I have NOT ONCE felt welcomed or been comfortable with the word “church.”

  • There is consistently very little welcoming behavior. No one makes an effort to say hello. Although we do a welcoming ritual during church, that is awkward as well because people avoid me since I am young and usually alone. People welcome the people they already know. No one makes an effort to talk to me or welcome me. I have yet to have a conversation with any regular member of the church after or before church services.

  • I want church to be serious but also about celebrating the joy in life and love. There needs to be that balance and this church seems to take itself too seriously. It’s why I went regularly for about 6 months, but haven’t been back in a while.

  • The piano music was lovely as always. Of the hymns, 1 was relatively easy, but the other 2 were more difficult and not well known - the congregation had a hard time singing them.

  • The sermon wasn’t our minister’s best - it seemed a little disjointed and lacking in a central theme, but it did have a few interesting stories and funny jokes as always.

  • Lots of little things had changed since I was at the congregation last. One change was the benediction. While it said “the words of the benediction are printed in on the inside front cover of the order of service”, none of the greeters were giving out this piece. Apparently the church had switched to having a cardboard part that stayed the same each Sunday with the basic information, including the words to the chalice song and the benediction, as well as a paper insert with the announcements and order of service that would change each week. But most of the cardboard outsides had long since gone missing or been taken home accidentally. I wonder if greeters are expected to recognize guests and make sure they get the few cardboard outsides they have left or what. As someone coming back for the first time in a long time, it felt weird to stand for the benediction with everyone singing and not have the words to read. Same for the new chalice lighting.

  • I didn’t like the all-white congregation and celebrants. Even for Maine, it always feels unnatural.

  • I would say it was a good service; original, but not wildly unique… I wished the service had moved my spirit more

And the best comment of them all.

Wow. I never knew church could be this happy. I’m so glad I went. I will be back.

May 22, 2011

Buy some Windex and hop on in. A post about ministry. And windows.

You know textured windows? Not just frosted glass, but textured windows, with bumps and lines and squiggles. The kind of window that distorts the tree outside so much that you only know it’s a tree because you have been on the other side of the window. You wouldn’t want to have a house with only textured windows because they give you light, but they don’t let you see. They cloud your vision to the point of only allowing you to “see” what you already know is present. You could look out and “see” the tree in front of your house, but not notice the robins on the branch because you aren’t really seeing the tree – you are seeing the fragmented green and brown and blue sky behind and black car on the street because you know it’s there and not because you can see it.

And how much of that is our life? How much of our life consists of that textured window view of things? Seeing what we know is there instead of what is really there because, after all, if it’s always there then how can it be new? But at the same time we all know that things change, every day, all the time, in big or small or maybe just molecular ways but they change.

Our shoes wear out from walking but we don’t see the sole getting thinner and misshapen from the pressure of our own unique footsteps until that one day when, for some reason, you have to see your shoe and you notice it’s changed.

We watch children in our midst grow and change and learn and if we’re lucky the bigger achievements are remarked upon, but it’s the grandparents or faraway friends who comment on all the little things at those infrequent family gatherings.

So it is with so much of life. Seeing what we know and not seeing what we don’t know, wearing our textured window glasses out into the world.

“I can go into ministry,” I keep telling myself, “because trans ministers aren’t getting called and if there was a hell it would certainly freeze over before I was part of the generation of trans ministers to make that change.” I know I’m supposed to be the change I see in the world but, “hello” I tell myself “you can see that there’s not a place for you in ministry.”

But that’s not true, because I can’t “see that.” I just know it’s there, because it’s always been there and clearly it will always be there. Until it’s not, of course.

Until the kid throws a baseball through my window, and I realize that tree I “see” every day looks… different.

The tree doesn’t look remarkably different, but it has changed. It’s maybe a little bigger, and certainly those leaves weren’t so close to your house before and you should probably figure out whether that branch poses a danger to anything should it fall in a storm. Suddenly your unchanging textured window tree that you “saw” everyday was something you had to encounter and do something about, even if that something is just acknowledge that it, like everything else in this great big beautiful world, is not stagnant.

My consideration of ministry is not binary nor is it stagnant. It’s not yes or no, and it’s just kinda hanging out there until I decide on the next step. It is quite literally on my mind almost all the time. As a minister friend of mine said to me, “when I realized I was called my response was, ‘oh shit’.” My response isn’t “oh shit.” It’s more “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

I feel like I’ve stopped looking at ministry through that fractured lens of textured glass. There’s still glass there, certainly, but it’s the glass of a picture window. There is still the distance between you and the tree, and some finger smudges and water spots that blur your vision a little, but you can see the tree that is there, not the tree in your mind.

I find myself imagining what “me in ministry” could possibly look like. Taking note of little things. Trying to see who I am and what I am in the place I am and in the place I want to be and how I could transfer that who and that what to that new place. It’s like replacing your textured glass picture window with the normal window pane. And then buying a very large bottle of windex.

May 21, 2011

My “beloved community” doesn’t quite get it.

I’m still watching responses to my survey trickle in – as of this writing 32 of you have responded. Thank you so much!

I’m going to wait a couple more days before I really start compiling all the results. But, seriously, thank you for participating. I’d like to do this again, with more planning, next fall. I realize that the end of the church year is not the ideal time to do this.

…………………………………………

What I want to post about today, however, is that I’m sad.

Last Friday I had a really, really fabulous meeting with my minister about, well, ministry. I left feeling really good. I was excited. “I could do this,” I told myself. People are coming around to different identities and as long as I was able to put up with some Very Special Teaching Moments I was pretty confident that some day I could find a place in ministry.

Then on Sunday I went to church. The sermon was given by our intern minister and was titled, “The Q.” As in “the Q” of LGBTQ. Queer, in this case, not questioning. It was a really good sermon. That is not what made me sad.

After the service I did the normal coffee/awkward conversation/try not to spill stuff as children hug me thing. I had a meeting at 1pm about General Assembly so I decided to check out the congregational conversation at noon instead of trying to occupy myself for an hour. Our congregational conversations happen once a month and this was the first one I had been to.

We used the “mutual invitation” style of discussion (which the 4th grade me still calls “popcorn talk!”) in which each person responds to the service and then picks the next person to talk. We started the discussion by having everybody say their name, city, and preferred gender pronoun (she/her/hers, he/him/his, ze/hir/hirs, etc). That was where my first problem with the discussion came in.

People were… not mocking it, but definitely treating it as something unnecessary. Using statements like, “you can call me ‘it’ for all I care,” and “it doesn’t matter what you call me” or “well you could just use my name!” These statements if coming from people who have sincerely spent time thinking about their gender identity are fine. But these statements coming from people who are cisgender and have clearly never considered gender anything they needed to consider? Then it’s just an enormous display of cisgender privilege. Or, as a commenter on my blog wrote once, “Saying you “don’t stress” about gender is actually just another way of saying you “have hella cis privlege.””

Yeah. That.

I was willing to let that go, though, had it not been for the rest of the discussion. It definitely set me on edge but I try to remember that a lot of folks really have never thought about the pronouns they identify with.

But then we got to the actual discussion, or rather “discussion.” I was invited to speak first, but passed for the time being because I didn’t a) have my thoughts sorted or b) know quite what I was supposed to do. And in a lot of ways I’m really glad I chose to pass because it gave me a little bit more to say when my turn came around again.

That hour sitting in the chapel was really one of the times in my life where I have most viscerally felt that people “just don’t get it.” As much as they claim to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people they really have no idea how unwelcoming it is to be constantly misgendered and have to make the decision about coming out as trans to somebody and, therefore, derailing a conversation or ignoring it and letting people just continue without ever letting your gender identity enter their head.

A few people talked about how we are already welcoming, and another talked about how we shouldn’t have to focus on what we have to do but rather what we’ve already done. More than one person mentioned something about how “everyone in the room could be queer!” and others talked about boundaries being unnecessary, and one person even mentioned how our identity didn’t matter because it should be kept private.

I did finally get my chance to speak. I said a little, I did mention I was transgender, and I talked about how it was hard to hear some of those things because I didn’t really agree that we were as welcoming as many people felt we were. Then I passed the discussion to the next person… and everything I said was ignored.

So I left the room. I thought about walking out of the church – not just for that Sunday but saying, “You know what, no, clearly they don’t care.” Obviously I didn’t. But I was pissed. I AM pissed.

I’m pissed that a place that I felt safe suddenly became unsafe for me again. And I’m half-afraid to go back next Sunday, see those people who were in that discussion, and have to try to converse with them in a positive and cordial way.

But above everything else I’m mad because it proves my fears. It proves that congregations say that they are welcoming, open, affirming, and that they want you there. It throws me right back into worrying about ministry and whether I can ever hope to have a congregation who “gets it” enough to call me and be genuine with their call. It worries me and it makes me mad that this has to be a discussion.

I’ve been told that this was not a representative sample of the congregation! That other people felt uncomfortable in that discussion, too! That if I want to that they would love if I’d come in and talk about it, or go get ice cream, or coffee, or.., or.., or…

I don’t care if the group wasn’t representative of the congregation. They are members of the congregation. They are not outsiders, not foreign to what we stand for and what we hope for our highest selves to be. They are people I worship with each Sunday. They are part of my Beloved Community as we are so fond of saying. So it really, really hurt to realize that they do not really understand me and, furthermore, don’t really seem to want to. It hurt me, it scared me, it made me question everything I’ve been thinking for the past year or so.

Could I Should I Why WOULD I How When Where Am I Crazy?

It scared and saddened me. And I’m not sure what to do.

May 15, 2011

Now comes the “tell me all about it!” part

Well over 80 of you signed up to go to church today! That’s AWESOME!

Now comes the second part of this little experiment.

Fill out the survey! Thanks in advance, friends!

May 9, 2011

Go to church! And then tell me ALL ABOUT IT! Every single gory detail! Using this convenient Google Docs Form! Please and thank you!


DON’T PANIC

You only have to go once.

I’d love it if you went more than once, but for purposes of this blog post, you only have to go once.

I spend a lot of time thinking about church and how it could serve people better.

But I am only one person. And I’m already affiliated with a church so it’s hard for me to look at it too objectively. And that’s where you come in.

I want you to go to your local UU church. Even if you hate church. ESPECIALLY if you hate church. Just go. It’s 2 hours out of your life, you’ll live. You’ve done stupider things on a Sunday morning, I promise.

Here are the steps:

SIGN UP HERE TO SAY THAT YOU ARE GOING!

I want to see how many folks I can get to participate, and where you are participating from.

Then… go to church! Take a friend or 3 if you can. Go to the UUA website to find your local congregation if you don’t know where it is. Need help? Leave a comment and I’ll help you find a local congregation.

Take notes – either mental or physical notes. Keep track of stuff. Were you greeted? By who? Who led the service? Did it relate to you? Were you welcome at coffee hour? Did you feel like you knew what to expect?

Then go home, and fill out this survey.

Just do it. Please?

And REBLOG THIS!

THANK YOU!!!!!

And if you really and truly do this for me I will mail you an EXTRA SPECIAL GIFT!!!  Ok, well, I’ll email the first 10 of you who do it an extra special gift.  Really!!!  Details on the survey form.

———————

And, hey, if you’re a little nervous, or you want to know what to expect?  Go ahead and leave a comment or email me.  I may even be able to put you in touch with the minister at your local congregation.  And even if I can’t, because I’m not superhuman after all, I may still be able to answer some questions or help out with some worries.

I know going back to church after a long time, or going to church for the first time ever, can be a really angst-producing experience.  I’m passionate about growing our faith tradition in awesome ways, and I think that having new people show up is a great way to do it.

*Please note that this is not in any way affiliated with the UUA.  I’m doing this on my own, for fun.

May 9, 2011

You can’t beat the feel of an open mind

I went to a teeny school (College of the Atlantic, or COA) with one major that close to nobody has ever heard of.

Human Ecology.

It was a joke on campus.

There’s a facebook group called, “now THAT’S what I call human ecology!”

Loosely but officially defined, Human Ecology is the study of how people interact with their various environments.

On campus, however, Human Ecology is when a lobster pees in your hand or how long the tofu scramble has been molding in the fridge or talking about composting toilets over Sunday night community dinners. And human ecology is how we have all sat and watched somebody meditate as an open mic act, how we all sing along with familiar songs while sitting on the roof, how we go skinny dipping off the dock and how the water is always colder than we thought it would be. Human ecology is the fact that we don’t have school colors, or a mascot, or anything like that, but we do have our own appropriated runic symbol mash up and a sea shanty.

I was talking with a friend who graduated with me last year about human ecology and how strange it is that it’s not a joke to everyone. How at school, where we were all paying a ridiculous amount of money to study this “human ecology” thing, it was a giant joke and, yet, in the real world people actually seemed to think it wasn’t that funny. In the real world when we jokingly answer “human ecology!” to something people look at us with a combination of confusion and interest. They ask questions. You try to explain why it’s a joke to them. They, inevitably, don’t get it.

Because human ecology is real. It is real and that’s such a weird revelation. I know I spent a few years studying it and that I better hope it’s real for the amount of debt I’m in, but it’s real. It has real world applications. It’s this giant, amorphous, real, tangible yet intangible THING. It’s a THING. Not a joke.

I mean, it’s still funny. It’s funny when a lobster pees on your hand. It’s funny that our only officially recognized holiday on campus is Earth Day. It’s funny that we argue over whether or not to fly the American Flag on campus (the answer is that we don’t fly it, just in case your were wondering).

But it’s also real.

We all have to interact with our environments. Our natural environments, our human made environments, our chosen environments and the environments we have no choice over. We have to interact with the other people in our environments, whether we like them or not. Each of our identities, whether that is male or female or both or neither or other, our sexual orientations, whether we proudly display them or hide them. Our religious identities, our political identities, our hobbies and our -trovertedness and everything else about our person has to interact with the rest of the world, every day.

Before we’re allowed to graduate we all have to write a paper on Human Ecology and what it means to us. I wrote mine about identities and how acceptable they are based on where you live and what you choose to do. I talked about the principles of Unitarian Universalism and how they factored into my own definition of human ecology, and I talked about my identity as a religious person and how that put me at odd on the college campus where almost nobody regularly practiced any kind of “mainstream” religion.

I was not unhappy with my paper, but it didn’t really say what I had hoped it would say. It came across as more “angry at my school for thinking they are so gosh darn accepting” than anything else. And I still feel a lot of that. It’s fine to be queer, socialist, a nudist, polyamorous, or hold pretty much any other liberal fringe identity at COA and fit right in – it’s expected to a point. But it’s a lot harder to be a person of faith, or to explain that you have no interest in being vegan and not apologize for it, or to admit you stop at Dunkin Donuts every so often (or more than every so often).

With all of that, though, I think that COA, and human ecology, does have a lot to offer. If you strip away how it’s “lived” at the college there’s a damn lot to be said for it, in concept and in practice.

Paying attention to how our various identities interact with our various communities. How my identity as a trans person interacts with my religious community How my identity as a polyamorous person interacts with my queer communities. How my identity as an introvert interacts with my activist communities. How I, as a person composed of a multitude of identities, interact with my world which is composed of an astonishing number of communities.

Human Ecology is recognizing those interactions, and learning from those interactions, and seeing how those interactions could be different or better or changed or just how they could be interpreted by the rest of the world. And that’s important. It’s important to take the focus off of ourselves and see how the world sees us. It’s something I find myself thinking about a lot as I travel through this wacky, post-college world where we don’t all share this view that the world would be great if we all hugged a little more and ate less meat.

Ministry is not a popular career choice for many COA graduates. When I inquired from the alum office I learned that there are 4 graduates, that they know of, who have gone into religious leadership.

One UU minister, one Baptist minister, one Episcopalian minister, one Rabbi.

Which surprised me a little. I kind of thought that once COA students left school, settled a little into “normal” life, and started reflecting on their degrees that more of them would come to the same conclusion I have. That minister is one really excellent way to put human ecology to practice. You have this little community where you all interact with one another on a, hopefully, spiritual level. Where, in UU congregations, human interaction is often at the core of everything you are doing. Our first principle calls us to interact with people with respect to their inherent worth and dignity. Our second principle tells us to engage in every relation to another person with justice, equity and compassion. Our third principle implores acceptance and encouragement of each persons spiritual growth. And so on. Human ecology, and I’m willing to posit UUism, is about interaction.

In writing this I come to the same conclusion that I did with my human ecology paper. That, for me, human ecology is already defined for me in the principles of Unitarian Universalism. But I’ll add something more now; human ecology can be best lived, for me, in religious leadership.

Hey man what an awesome ride, you can’t beat the feel of an open mind, falling forward halfway blind, laughing all the way.

May 2, 2011

Stop. Breathe. Pray. Focus.

Let us stop and breathe
Because, after all, an eye for an eye
Makes the whole world blind
And it’s messy
And it’s certainly not a reason to jump for joy.

Let us stop and pray
For those who were hurt then
And those who were hurt now
And those who will be hurt in the future
In the name of people who seek
Justice
and
Democracy

Let us stop and focus
On what we really want
And what we really need
And what we wish for our world
Which is the same as their world

So let us focus on the world
Let us pray for the world
Let us breathe out joy
And peace
And love
On the world.

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