Recovering a Language of Reverence

Today, I want to talk about words.

I know. You’re shocked. Me? Words? Any UU, much less a UU minister, talking about words is a bit like a duck talking about water, Carl Sagan talking about stars, Senator Mitch McConnell talking about obstruction.

We UUs do like words, don’t we? There’s this old joke, goes like this: for Christians, The Word became flesh, and then UUs turned that Flesh back into The Word. I’m pretty sure that joke is dirtier in Ancient Greek.

So, today, I want to talk about words. Old, dusty, dirty words. You know, words that many UUs are uncomfortable using. Words that those “other people” use. Words like “sin” and “evil”, “grace” and “salvation”.

“God Talk” words. Continue reading “Recovering a Language of Reverence”

Memory, Change, and Goodbye

I remember the day I decided to leave grad school. This was 1996. After charging my tuition on a set of high-interest credit cards, I suddenly had $10,000 of debt. A recruiter had matched me with a tech job, traveling the country and teaching Microsoft Windows to corporate IT admins. That job paid $25,000 a year, and at 27, that was the most money anyone had ever offered me to do anything. I remember telling my dad that I would do the job for a year or two, pay down my debt, and after that, I would — absolutely — return and finish my Ph.D.

I have no idea if my memory of that conversation with my father is real, or if it’s something I invented, but I hold on to it. That memory is a key to a set of other memories. Memories of me as a student. Of my friends. Of what I wanted my life to become. Of me, when I was clean and hopeful and full of possibility.

If I start with that memory, I tell a story about my life that is very different than if I start somewhere else. If I start with an accident, or a trip, or an acceptance letter, or an insult, or a promise, then the story changes radically. My story changes. I change. Continue reading “Memory, Change, and Goodbye”

Original American Sin

When I was preparing for this Sunday’s service, I had some concerns. This is the first Sunday in Black History Month, and here I am, a white man trying to honor that in a way that’s authentic to my constellation of identities. My colleagues of color have asked that white ministers take this time to not exceptionalize an African American icon, to not lift up one black person as special just because it’s February. I should celebrate diversity every Sunday, they told me. Instead, this month, I was asked to say something meaningful about race to people that look like me. Continue reading “Original American Sin”

Advent, through a ribbon of hope

tips-for-a-spiritual-advent

Part One: Making Room

As you can see from the way we’ve set up the sanctuary, things are a bit different. A little off-center. Given the time of year, perhaps that’s appropriate. Because I’m uncomfortable. My personal bubble of comfort and complacency has been pierced over and over again this year. With politics as not-quite-usual, with the challenges of climate change, with calls for justice from the #metoo movement and the #blacklivesmatter movement and for #immigrantjustice movement, I’ve spent a good deal of this past year reeling. Uncertain. Off-balance. Not knowing what’s coming next. Maybe some of you feel the same way. And that’s why we’re off-center, today. To take at least this moment to acknowledge our discomfort and our uncertainty about what is to come. To sit, quite literally, in it.

Welcome to Advent. Continue reading “Advent, through a ribbon of hope”

No Other: A Reflection on Election

I met John almost 20 years ago, when I was maybe 30 or so and John was maybe 10 years older. We were in an airport bar, I can’t remember where, and waiting for a flight. Next to us was a younger man on a phone, talking to what I assumed was his girlfriend. He was being sweet and goofy and trying to be quiet while saying things like “no, I love you”. I remember leaning over to my friend John and saying something like – “you know, I remember being that young. 10 years ago, you couldn’t tell me a darn thing about life, about love, about anything. I was so dumb!” I could see my friend John raise his eyebrow at this. He said, “You know, these realizations keep happening as you get older.” He took a sip of his beer while I chewed on this bit of wisdom before I turned to him and said, “You just called me dumb.” He took another sip of his beer and said, “Yes, but it appears that you’re learning.” Continue reading “No Other: A Reflection on Election”

Listening at the Intersection of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can.

Thank you! I’m here all year. Please remember to tip your ushers.

It may come as a great shock to some of you, but I am not perfect. It’s a problem. And it’s one that I’ve been working on.

I joke about it, but I think that, at some point, it’s not really that funny. It’s serious. For many of us, “being perfect” is a problem. For some of us, “being perfect” is a barrier to happiness and to personal satisfaction, to interpersonal relationships, to professional life. Continue reading “Listening at the Intersection of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter”

Why My Dog Is Not a Humanist: God Talk and Kurt Vonnegut

My father in law was an intimidating man. He was unreasonably tall, an Episcopal priest, and my wife adored him, so maybe it’s not weird that I needed some way to humanize him, a bit. Maybe that’s why I called him Father Dad.

For the record, he was not a fan. There may have been a glare and a raised shaggy eyebrow, and I may have pretended I didn’t see it; I don’t remember. I do remember, however, that the very first time we met, we talked about the philosopher Wittgenstein.

Now, if that does not sound like absolutely gripping dinnertime conversation to you, you can rest assured that the rest of the table agreed with you. Father Dad and I, however, were thrilled. Continue reading “Why My Dog Is Not a Humanist: God Talk and Kurt Vonnegut”