The basic structure, you Do. Not. Break.

Quite a few years ago, I got to sit in on a Masterclass for a jazz band. The leader kept saying snippets of advice to the band, so I jotted them down. The more I listened, the more I heard universal wisdom in the phrases.

At the time, I was involved in a lot of worship planning and creating learning environments. Now, I am primarily involved in creating virtual space for community. These jazz masterclass tenets hold up either way.

I invite you to read through this list and consider how each may apply to some aspect of creating community in which you are a part:

“Don’t be afraid to come IN when you are at the entrance.”

“This is OUR music. You are part of an ensemble. Listen for yourself in the whole.”

“The more silence you put in your music, the better the music sounds.”

“Help the audience know when something new is happening.”

“If you are one of the loud people, maybe play closer to your stand, or back it down a little.”

“Not every note gets the same attention. Make sure the melody is singing when they get the chance.”

“Hit the back wall with your sound. You set the mood for everyone else to join in.”

“[Jazz] is like a rubber band, you can pull it any way you like, but the basic structure you Do. Not. Break.”

 

The Only Way Out Is Through

There is a moment in every Great Undertaking when I realize I can not go on.

I think to myself, “This Great Undertaking is a fool’s plan, unachievable, and just not going to happen no way-no how, stop the ferris wheel NOW I need to get OFF!”

When I was about eight months pregnant it occurred to me that this large wonderful Creature-Lump inside me was actually going to have to come OUT at some point. Up until then we had been having a lovely contemplative time together. I mostly read books and drank nourishing herbal teas. The Creature-Lump mostly hung out, grew, and mildly squirmed in an increasingly constrained space. We had a rhythm. It was just fine.

Then the comprehension happened. I was doing my normal evening routine, on a day like any other, and suddenly realized that this large Creature-Lump was going to come out into the world. It would come out. Out of me. That was just weird, freaky, and scary. And I couldn’t run away from this reality. I couldn’t wish it to be magically over or find an older sister to do it for me. I realized was just up to me and the lump-creature to make the change.

The only way out is through.

Turns out is wasn’t just up to me and the C-L, though. When we came to the moment of no return, a sizable network of people helped me, cared for me, encouraged me, and literally held me up when I couldn’t go on.

Life is often just plain hard. And hard is not always bad. The challenge sometimes leads to really great amazing stuff. That lump-creature became the most wonderful girl (now young woman) who made my whole life better.

But, facing the reality of knowing there is absolutely no turning back or hiding from the process…is a defining moment. Whether that stampeding process is childbirth, or another equally terrifying unavoidable truth ….the only way out is through. Equal measures of awareness and acceptance will save the day.

I wish I could say it has gotten easier to accept this truth. Somehow, it sneaks up on me every. damn. time.

Writing term papers. Getting a project completed. Telling the truth that needs to be told. Not telling the truth that doesn’t need to be told. Stepping away from what is known toward something new. The only way out is through.

SO I remember what always always makes the impossible possible. Surround myself with people who love me. Talk to people who have traversed this path. Feel the feelings. Read books about inspiring heroes. Dance to great music. Take naps.

And when the transition comes, because of course it will…Stay present. Breathe. Be curious and rely on the process to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel

Every day I imagine that things are different, that the thing I know is true is not true, that somehow we can all go back to 2 months ago…back to when we complained about having a busy day, how the weather was to hot or too dry or too wet….meaningless small annoyances that filled conversation.

But there is no changing time, no reversing, no matter how much we pray, plead, or wish.

That’s what feels hard today. Facing the starkness of knowing we have no control over how long we get to be with the people we love.

I want to go back to taking people for granted. I want to go back to not needing to touch my kids’ skin just so we can be a little more physically connected- as if just seeing them or talking to them is not real enough.

I want to stop listening to people so intently. I want to stop caring how their day went and appreciating that stranger who held the door open for me.

I would trade being part of this amazing loving community  in a millisecond if it would bring us back to Before.

Is this selfish? You effing believe it.

Pee for Two and Two for Pee

A collaborative post with Kim about pee:

One thing you may have not thought about this evening is pee. We have decided that it is fascinating! The subject of proper hydration started out innocently enough, but then took a decidedly different turn when another friend mentioned that in sports training center bathrooms, there are often charts, in full color, advising when a person needs to drink more water -based on the color of their urine.

Being lovers of learning, some google searching ensued* …. We determined that one of us (I wont say which of us or how it was determined) is a bit dehydrated. And one of us is doing just fine on the hydration front.

Here’s the chart so you, too, can do some comparison!

You’re Welcome!

dehydration-chart

*I certainly hope that no one ever wants to check my search history. Sometimes I just want to find out about things and then there’s a piece in one article that leads me to another odd random thing…..and on…. and on….. Let’s just say that my years as a Religious Educator have brought me to some really weird google searches ….and leave it at that.

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.

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.

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.

It’s Not All About The Benjamins

It’s March, which for most folks means the days are longer, the first flowers are peeping up, and the snows are receding. But for many of us who either work for churches or are congregational leaders, March is a time of money. Yes, it is Stewardship Month, or “Canvass Month”, or “All Hands Month”-whatever you call it, the time when we gather pledges from the congregation that finance the budget for the next year. It can be a little stressful, because a lot is riding on this one month. Also because people don’t really like talking about money.

But is this time really just about the money?

Being at church is not a fee for service equation. Church is not like going to the coffee shop, where you hand over a few bucks and get a frothy beverage. Being part of a congregation is having an impact. It is like exponentially magnifying your ability to make more good in the world than you could do on your own. Stewardship is caring for ourselves, our community, our earth and our faith. It is a big responsibility, and that’s why we join together to realize the amazing future possible.861281_10200113685198329_1232995818_o

Being plugged in to the congregation at this deep level is fitting yourself into a wonderful cycle of Receiving, Nurturing, Sharing, and Returning. That is what Stewardship is all about. A back and forth rhythm of connection, love, fullness, caring, action, healing, learning, and inspiration all in this so lovely a dance that we aren’t concerned with who is at any moment the giver and who the receiver. This is partnership based on shared purpose, shared values, and shared vision.

Yes, money is one of the instruments needed to create this rhythm. Money is the beat that determines the pace and expression of our dance. Just as the beat is nothing without the dancers, though, our congregation is more than pledges. What gives us purpose are the lives, stories, actions, and love of our people.

Seeing Stewardship in this light makes this an exciting month- a month of hope and excitement. Happy March!

 

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.

muddy-road

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.