Portals of Discovery

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

– James Joyce

OOF! Of all the failure reframe quotes out there on the interwebs, this one is a doozy. I never made it through Ulysses, the book from which this quote originates, so I can’t comment on it’s relevance to the story, but Joyce’s words are often held up on their own for us to pull meaning and wisdom about mistakes in general.

Mistakes. Disappointing, and at times, brutal. I totally get why folx want to pretend that mistakes are not inevitable parts of everyone’s life. It’s tempting to imagine that there are special people, genius people, who are exempt from making mistakes, that these heroes possess special qualities that make them impervious to failure. Each error a planned event, a sort of experiment, testing out a hypothesis. But like when we trip on uneven pavement and loudly exclaim, “I meant to do that!” the myth of the impervious genius is not describing reality. Sorry, Friends. Joyce was, after all, a storyteller.

The notion is dangerous, though, because it perpetuates the idea that mistakes are shameful. If super smart people can be mistake free, maybe, if we try hard enough, we can be like them, figure out their secret, and avoid the pain of mistakes in our own lives. As if that is the goal- to never make mistakes, to never fail, to never fall.

The more I embrace mistakes as part of the human experience, the more I am able to see them as opportunities and, as Joyce describes, “portals of discovery” not only for genius people, but accessible to all of us. That doesn’t mean that I enjoy being in the midst of mistakes…or fresh from a new failure, but it does help me ride out the low points and remember to reach out to others, because we all can relate to the experience of having messed up. We all can help pick each other up and move forward.

We can’t think our way to a mistake free life. No one is born with an extraordinary ability to choose when to gain insight. One of the best things about mistakes is that absolutely everyone makes them – it’s one of the few commonalities that binds us together. We are here to support each other in making meaning from our failures. Our portals of discovery are created by relationship. Relationship is my resilience superpower.

If you’d like to be resilient in community, check out my project Unbroken: Accessing (Y)Our Resilience


Happy Things and Lots of Exclamation Points!!!!!!

Yeah, I, too, have noticed that the communications from people in my line of work often contain a humorous number of exclamation points, smiley faces, and generally excited messages. We are a people passionate about our work- enthusiastic about the truly beautiful opportunities for connection and grace in our programs. Sometimes, it can get a bit out of hand, so today I offer a slightly different tone. Yes, I still want to communicate the amazing, transformative energy of our program, but maybe with more question marks.


Living a faith-full life is challenging. Navigating the decisions of every day amid distractions and disappointments is hard work. Paradoxically, developing our hearts and minds calls us to stay open. Whether we are adults, youth, or children, the complicated business of getting through a day with an intact soul takes all the energy we’ve got. Can our church be not merely a place of refuge, but one of recharge, re-forming, and respect?

Our Unitarian Universalism wants to connect us with the power of Love. Our Unitarian Universalism wants us to build Beloved Community. Connecting with the power takes energy. Building anything stable takes solid materials and tools. What happens when we do not possess these resources? How can we make sure everyone has access to the healing, creative force that our church community can give?

All our congregations are experiencing declines in attendance and membership. Why are we losing ground? Why are the numbers dwindling? Partly it is the culture that surrounds us. Perhaps you have been following the series on NPR about the growth of the “nones” – the people without religious affiliation.  Could it be that we are focused on only one type of growth- numbers? What about developing other kinds of growth in the faith formation of the folks who are already in the pews (or even our members who are staying home on Sunday!)

This big hot mess we are living is you, me, them, and even those folks over there. All of us. When our conversations see the whole crowd and considers each voice as important, then I know our intentions have become reality.

When the experience of the child is considered wisdom for the Board table, then I know that our Principles are more than words.

When the door is held open for the parent, not for a tip, but to give respite from a world of fear and pain, then I see our compassion.

When we learn how to trust from Youth and give them cause to respect us, then I know we understand the chicken and the egg.

How might we imagine a better way? How might we support our people, even if it means we have to make changes? Can we honestly face the reality that changes need to happen, and be ready for something good to be just over the horizon?

This is the part where it helps to have faith. While I don’t know where we are headed or how we will get there, I do believe that the power of Love expands beyond our wildest imaginings. I know that when we tune into the frequency of connection, of caring, of creativity, then it is a tremendous force for life. And I know I don’t want to miss it happening. Woyaya. We are going.

Religious Education According To Ms. Frizzle

An invigorating day at Murray grove Heritage Week!

Today we spent time learning about the first era of religious education for Universalists and Unitarians up to 1900.  Part of our learning was using a lesson from a period catechism.  My group spent time with Judith Sargent Murray’s 1782 catechism, which is a question and answer format lesson which would have been taught in the home by the head of the house.

Judith Sargent Murray

It is so interesting to notice how different the approach to learning was in this early period from our present day Sunday classes!

A most notable difference is that students of the 18th century were not allowed to ask questions about the lesson or interpretations of theology. The focus was memorization and transmission of concepts without individual exploration.

This makes me incredibly thankful that I am a religious educator of the present day!  One of the most dear values of our program is that children, youth and adults are ENCOURAGED to ask questions, mull over the material and consider what has resonance in how to live their lives.

I remember once at age 4 or so being told by a patient mother to stop asking “so many questions1” to which I replied, “But, Mom, how am I going to find out anything if I don’t ask questions??” Most of my greatest understandings of faith have come when I reach out and question.

Let’s explore together!  History, faith development, theology, how to be together…all these topics and more…

Maybe our motto can be (as they say on The Magic Schoolbus):

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!