Applied Math

Today I was bopping around on the webs and came across this super cool TED talk by Ron Eglash. He discusses the fractals in African architecture. If you have 17 minutes, I recommend it highly.

Aside from the interesting new thoughts of the video, I am left thinking how amazing it is when we are truly engaged in learning.

I have never loved math. It has been a struggle for me all through life. Yet here I am, hanging on every word of this mathematician…because he connected math with stories, with people’s lives.

I believe that in every subject there is a way to find the spark, the passion, that makes us want to jump in with both feet. I’ll have more to write about that later, but for today I am sleepy.

Bring a Book

A book is a catch all wonderful item.

Book as learning tool,

Book as conveyer of knowledge across time and space,

Book as Tardis,

Book as solace for a hurting soul, or agent for change.

Book as companion,

Book as a handy heavy item to throw, or to prop up an uneven table.

Book as shield for unwanted conversation

Book as starter of interesting friendships,

Lordy, I love me a book.

Halcyon, out.

Value Added Extra:

this is where I cut my teeth- it is the perfect Library, all others bow before The Redwood.

Religious Needs of Young People

Summed up in one line:

"Young people have a deep interest in religious matters"

“Young people have a deep interest in religious matters” from Young People in the Liberal Church by Stephen Fritchman

True. Young people (or any age people) DO have interest in “religious matters”. They may not have interest in Sunday School, or unnecessary meetings, or  sitting and listening without getting to participate.

SO if it’s as plain as this picture suggests, why are we having conferences, books, and summits devoted to figuring out the sharp decline in church involvement? There’s a difference between religious matters and static religion.

Religious matters are the ideas and values that connect us and help us understand our lives. The questions and life events that we can only understand when we explore them in community.

Perhaps we can shift the conversation away from discovering the perfect structures or program to entice people back to church? Maybe our conversation can be more about our common concerns and what binds us together.

Find a Stillness

SO MUCH is happening. Some is good, some is really startlingly horrible. This “both true at once” and everything in between is …well, I suppose it’s what being human is about.

Today, after a particularly energizing meeting, when I agreed to be part of a new RBP*, I stopped to take a quick internal inventory:

  • Heart racing
  • Brain buzzing
  • Skin lightly tingling

I was either super excited about the Work, or having a panic attack. Sometimes they feel similar, you know?

I mentioned to my colleague that it must be hard to fall asleep at night when so much growth and vibrancy is happening now in our organization. “It’s like you can feel the seeds about to sprout!” I said. She smiled, nodded, and I thought she was going to agree with me, but then she replied, “Yes, but I also know that seeds don’t grow unless they have some dark and quiet, too.”

yup.

A lot of time we use the metaphor “cultivating ideas” to mean helping ideas come to fruition, but any farmer will tell you that a cultivator is the tool you use to stir up the soil near your precious plants to keep the weed seeds from growing. Frequent cultivating is what you do to prevent seeds from growing by drying out the soil and keep roots from taking hold.

Friends, colleagues, dear ones, we are already in constant motion. Whether because the deadline looms or because our neurons are firing with glee, I urge us put down the “Garden Weasel“. When the work day is done, it’s time to let the idea seeds rest.

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

Valued Added Extras:

That reminds me of an art installation happening now in London called Empty Lot. Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, filled wooden planters with soil from all over different parts of the city. Nothing has been planted in them but anything could grow, depending on what seeds are already in the soil.

Also here’s a lovely hymn, “Find A Stillness” by the UU Congregation of Atlanta arranged by Donald Milton III

*Really Big Project

Working Title

Like many folks in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get out of this stuck place and into the Next Great Place (NGP). In the NGP, we will have figured out all the worrysome issues of now. The NGP will have integrated, relevant, faith formation in people’s regular lives. The NGP will empower a justice filled, mulitcultural society. In the NGP, bacon will be back on the good food list.

I jest, but the pain and fear is real. We are at a point of frustration in so many areas of life and the size of the problems seems unmanageable – too complicated to know how to begin. We have named the struggles, and even have come up with quite a few possible solutions- so what keeps us immobilized and having the same conversations year upon year?

We are afraid to be messy.

With some admirable exceptions, most of us are really hesitant to fail in public. Heck- we are even afraid to fail in private! I write “we” because I am part of the group of folks who want to look more together than I feel.

I have this blog. I like writing. There have been no posts for two years. I could say I’ve been kind of busy…sure that’s true, but mostly I have been full of doubt and fear. Concerned that my ideas are not ready for reading. That I will be misunderstood or mocked for poor word choice or just plain getting it wrong the first time I express myself.

Yesterday I committed to writing just a bit every day until Dec 14. At the time, I had just read a really cool book and had all sorts of Big Thoughts and Sparkly Connections that I thought would seem exciting. Yes! I will write! It will be Glorious!

Today I woke up and thought, “Oh, I didn’t sleep too well…..there’s some personal stuff happening that is hard…..I need coffee…..”

So, I’m sorry and welcome, Reader, this is what I’ve got for today. It’s messy. It’s disjointed, and the “k” key doesn’t work on my laptop. I looked back and saw that I wrote a tiny bit years ago about failing in the congregational context, and somehow haven’t really been willing to apply that lens to my creative and professional writing.

The stars have aligned I suppose. My friend, Tim, isn’t the first to say it, but he did make a handy graphic for me to use:

If you are afraid of failure, you will never succeed.

A Reflection on Hope, Mr. Mandela, and Waiting

A Reflection on Hope, Mr. Mandela, and Waiting

This reflection was originally preached as part of a collaborative sermon, “The Warm and Flickering Light of Hope” at First Unitarian Church, Providence, RI on December 8, 2013

They stuck round yellow stickers on us as we walked through the singing crowd. Wandering around London, a gaggle of high school sophomore tourists broken away from the not so watchful eyes of our chaperones, we meandered around Trafalgar Square, listening to people handing out leaflets. “Freedom Now!” they cried. And I, a young teen girl from Newport, thought,”Yeah, Freedom! I know what that means. I know how much I want to feel free.” But, really, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.

I did know that Everyone Should Be Free.

Needing to get back to our tour group, we didn’t stay long. I remember the energy of the rally, the immediacy of their cries for freedom. I was feeling glad for this moment of connection with something big, something Important. Connection with something way beyond my circle of friends, a larger truth. “Freedom Now!”

I boarded the tour bus, and as I energetically stepped past the driver he saw my stickers and snarled, “So… You support Murderers, then, do you?”

Shocked at the hatred in this strangers face, I had no reply. I moved back and took my seat. What was it about this little yellow circle picturing a black man’s face that made the driver lash out at a fourteen year old girl? His reaction made me vow to find out more about the face on the sticker. Who was this “Nelson Mandela?” And what…was Apartheid?

Once home, I learned more about South Africa, Apartheid, the boycotts, and calls for divestment. I learned that the rally in Trafalgar Square was the first days of a multi-year, nonstop picket of the South African Embassy. I occasionally wrote letters with Amnesty International.  I would “helpfully inform” my peers, as they sipped, why they shouldn’t drink Coca Cola (an investor in South Africa.) The great Ska song, “Free Nelson Mandela” went on every mixed tape I made for a couple years…given to friends far and near.  My actions were small and based in my privilege as a white girl in Rhode Island.

It’s not the impact of my contribution to the anti-apartheid movement that is significant, though. The fact that I was aware of this man half a world away, that I cared about this one of thousands of global political prisoners, and was moved to act at all, is amazing.

In the past couple of days, I have been trying to explain to my kids why Mr. Mandela is so important to me and the whole world. It’s not easy to find the words. In fact, I hadn’t really understood that this man, whom I never met, of whom I can’t even claim to be a close follower, helped shape me…how his story is part of my story.

Nelson Mandela literally became the face of a global campaign against apartheid. Within South Africa, a ban on his image meant that as the years of imprisonment turned to decades, most people weren’t even sure what he looked like anymore – he became a near mythological figure.

Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Hope was the face on my yellow sticker that surged hatred in the white London bus driver. Hope was the power of connection I felt with the crowd picketing the South African Embassy.

The South African government was correct in knowing Mandela’s face could stir a nation, but they underestimated the power of hope that stirred the world. They thought that without a picture, everyone would forget Mandela, that as his image faded, his power would fade away. Imprisonment did not keep his ideas from changing the world. Isolation did not keep Mr. Mandela from influencing the next generations of activists and shaping ideas on how best to reconcile his country.

And after finally, finally, the South African government realized they could no longer hold out economically or politically, Apartheid was dismantled. Mandela was released. And we all watched. What does all that waiting do to a spirit? Would he be hardened? Bitter? Apathetic?

At the start of his prison term in 1964 on Robben Island, Mandela wrote: “In prison you come face to face with time. There’s nothing more terrifying.” While I have not endured the inhuman conditions of decades-long imprisonment, I can identify with these words. We are all, at times, locked in situational or psychological torment. We wait.

Theologian Henri Nouwen tells us that waiting is a positive time, is an act of promise. He wrote, “Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing on the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.” (Waiting on God)

Waiting is not empty time. Even a place of darkness, pain, and chaos is full of rightness. This sort of active waiting requires faith and hope. It requires admitting that we do not have the right answers, that we do not know where we are going- but that we know we will get there. Woyaya*.

Waiting time becomes pregnant with possibility. Waiting is creating space for unknown growth, change, and grace in our lives. After 27 years of impossible conditions, Mr. Mandela found the grace to lead South Africa in an astonishing truth and reconciliation process.

But even in his solitary prison cell, Mandela was not alone. Ideas passed among African National Congress inmates. Certainly he worked with countless partners in creating a new South African society after he was released. We don’t do this alone. So often stories of change seem superhuman and even intimidating. Not thinking ourselves as heroes, we isolate, immobilized by fear and despair.

Nelson Mandela is a global symbol of human rights. He was an incredibly powerful, intelligent, and inspiring man who met baffling challenges. He also was no more amazing than you are. You have all the strength, the access to grace, and hope that he did.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith is a hope filled faith. Unitarian Universalism teaches us that our purpose is to the shape the world into our image of Love. That we are not only worthy of love, but compelled to make our understanding of love real in the world. And that we are not alone.

We are connected to each other and to a source of love. We create this world together. When one is resting, another gives support. We take turns acting and waiting in various degrees, our strength and forward progression depends on trusting this collective effort, even if we can’t see what’s ahead.

While we wait for the return of the light, how might we embrace Unitarian Universalism’s collective power of hope for ourselves? For our families? How are we partnering with our Source to make Love real in our world?

*Woyaya (from the Ghanaian, “We Are Going”) is a song originally sung by British AfroPop band Osibisa.
We are going
Heaven knows where we are going
We will know we’re there
We will get there
Heaven knows how we will get there
We know we will
It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough
But we’ll get there
Heaven knows how we will get there
We know we will
We are going
Heaven knows where we are going
We will know we’re there
Woyaya

After the Rockers

SO here’s the thing.

Being a religious educator, I see in every conversation a spark of an idea for connecting people with the spirit.  Whether discussing Dr. Who, McNuggets, sex, or which couch to buy….all topics are explorations of values. Far from being tiring, it is energizing to find connections among people, interests, faith, and action. No news there, right?

The talking is fun, but after the conversations finish there is work to be done…and sometimes I am challenged by the first steps of making the theoretical real. The phrase, “Talk is cheap” comes to mind. So does that make action expensive?  Nah.

One of the lovely realities of this time is that conversations need not be in close physical proximity to be meaningful, productive, and deeply connective. I can continue to throw ideas around with colleagues and friends, adding in the tools of shared documents, drawing in other like minded folks to the project as we go- something that can’t happen while chatting on an island porch.

I adore modern communication tools.

Which is a long introduction to say that tomorrow I am beginning this massive, important, totally exciting project. Stay tuned and watch your inbox.

Bring On The Hot Mess

Last week, I was lucky enough to be in conversation with many talented, creative, connected Religious Educators. The conversations flowed, and ideas sparked as we moved from naming problems to designing projects to meet the many needs of our world.

This is one of my favorite aspects of professional conferences- the time and space for trust to develop, friendships to bud, and just sit and talk or play together.

There was one especially fruitful conversation, where I was able to overcome my hesitance to share a new project idea with someone who is actually in the position to help make it a reality. I left the circle feeling hopeful and elated. So much so that when I later bumped into this person in passing, I shared my excitement: how energized I felt! That my brain was operating on all cylinders! That the collaboration we were beginning was going to be great because, “I like messes!”

Wait…. What?

mess

“I like messes.” As soon as I walked away, I felt really silly. The person would certainly rethink the wisdom of working with me, an inarticulate moron. The demons of insecurity, never far from me, leapt in like hyenas on a wildebeest carcass.

But after some reflection, and a generous reframe from a close friend who heard my story, I am able to see that exclamation as an asset. I do like messes. Messes are a huge part of any complex project. My work as a Religious Educator involves sorting through innumerable messes, both physical, systemic, and emotional.

I am experienced with untangling mess. I can hold many parts of project at once. I attend to strong personalities in a working group without running away or being intimidated. Complexity and contradictions intrigue me. I am not really thwarted easily. A gift of stubbornness, I guess.

I write this not to pat myself on the shoulder, but to lift up that sometimes we need to see the blessing in the odd parts of our functioning. Also that sometimes, when our thinky brains are busy working on big thoughts, bits of pure heart truth can slip out of our mouth. “I like messes” was a piece of my heart’s truth.

Hearing and understanding this message is helping me discern what sort of work is next for me. While I am not yet ready to proclaim a next move, I do now know that it will be something that uses my gifts – all of them. I will embrace messes with the confidence that I enjoy making order from chaos, finding commonalities in groups of people, and seeing the hope in complicated situations.

And there are plenty of messes for me to work on in this world.

Ease On Down The Road

keysToday is the day. Today I drop off the keys to the building, leave the welcome letter for the person taking over, get in my car, and leave behind this place that has been so much my center for over a decade.
And I won’t come back.
Professional guidelines dictate a two year period of separation, which allows the congregation to connect with a new Religious Educator. It will also allow me to find my new path. Intellectually, I know this is good practice. Even in my emotions, I know that I and the congregation need a break from each other. But it is still really hard.

Perhaps because I came out of the congregation, I am feeling this departure so strongly. I remember the absolute joy of finding a church, a right fit after many years searching. I had visited several congregations before finding one that had everything I needed: lovely people, a great minister, a beautiful sanctuary, and engagement in the world. Finding this safe place allowed me to plant the seeds of my heart and begin an amazing journey of personal growth.
SO not only am I grieving the loss of a job and relationships with some terrific people, but I am losing my first spiritual home. This is the part which is incomprehensible when taking the leap from congregant to staff person. This is only one of the sound reasons to not hire from within. Thankfully, I listened to the advice of colleagues early on and cultivated other places of spiritual sustenance over the years. I will not be left adrift, but I am still grieving this loss.

Especially today.

Send-Off Party

Be The Change You Wish To See

The life you live is the lesson you teach.(Written for Channing Memorial Church)

Hello Justice Makers! What an amazing year we have experienced. So much good work has been done in the Newport community, statewide, and in the larger world. Channing is in the heart of the action when it comes to creating a world with more peace, health, and equality.  Letter writing, rallying and testifying at the State House, supporting green living and fair trade: all the courageous acts by Channing’s adults are seen by our congregation’s children and youth! They watch us live out our principles and following up on what is taught in our Religious Education classes.
RE ministry with our children is also justice work.  The Giving Tree, Our Whole Lives classes, Faith in Action Sundays, Crop Walk, Food Pantry collection, and other initiatives, embody the strong connection between the Social Action, Green Congregation, Interweave, and Religious Education programs. It also just the beginning of what we can do to guide our young people toward a hopeful vision of their world and give them tools to be the change they want to see.
Rev. Jennifer Hamlin-Navias writes,

“If we are to be a force of justice in this world, we must be actively creating a lived vision of justice. We must be actively creating a community that nurtures the soul of all adults and children. We are teaching our children and learning with our children, that there is a way to be in this world that is different from the mainstream. We are teaching our children that we can stand on the side of love. We are teaching them that when we love we create opportunity for justice to happen. We are teaching them that there is a different way to be in this world and they are taking that with them to the playground, the cafeteria, on the bus, …standing up to the microagressions that grind down the soul.”

I invite you to combine your passion for justice with RE ministry.  You can bring your gifts to RE through teaching in a class, working on an event, or being part of the visioning for RE next year.

Next fall, we offer two curricula for junior high youth that I think would connect with your justice centered sensibilities, “Heeding the Call” and “Our Whole Lives.” Heeding the Call needs a team of leaders to bring justice work alive for our youth. You can read about the curriculum on the Junior Youth page here.  Our Whole Lives is a comprehensive human sexuality program providing accurate, developmentally appropriate information to help youth make values based decisions about their relationships based on self worth, responsibility, sexual health, justice and inclusivity. The class already has fantastic leaders, but could use one or two people as support next year connecting with Youth Pride RI, Planned Parenthood, and other resources. There are also congregational events to support or create, like a Hunger Banquet, Standing on the Side of Love Month, or the youth group’s Sleep-Out for the Homeless.

Please check out and sign up for the volunteer opportunities that will connect your skills and passion with a new generation of change makers!

Thank you!
Halcyon