In Between Sundays

April 20, 2017

Big F, little f, what begins with F?

“Four fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff,” says Dr. Seuss.

But I’m thinking of a different F-word a lot recently. F-A-I-L-U-R-E.

Failure, said the Rev. Alma Faith Crawford* to a group of clergy years ago, is The F-word that most haunts many of us.

Big Failures, little failures. Our sense of failure causes embarrassment and shame. Our fear of failure hinders our willingness and ability to act boldly and take healthy risks.

We try to teach our children that mistakes and failures are opportunities for growth and learning, and yet we know how crippling they can be to our self-esteem and our sense of competence.

Lately I’ve had a litany of mostly-little failures running through my head, nagging at me. My lack of follow-through on a task, negatively impacting someone else. A worship decision that fell flat. Carelessly hitting a raw and painful nerve in a loved one. An oversight that left someone feeling invisible. A broken promise.

But there are other F-words, too – ones that remind me that I am not wholly defined by what I perceive to be failures.

Friends. Fidelity. Fun. Forgiveness. Faith.

And it’s that – faith – that sustains me. Faith in our community. Faith in myself. Faith in my relationships. Faith in Life itself.

We are part of a reality greater than ourselves alone, and I have chosen to entrust myself to that greater reality – Life, Love, Ultimacy, God – that calls on me to remain in relationship, to not give in to despair, to live a life that is humbly courageous, to confess and apologize and ask forgiveness, to make choices that affirm life.

So, in the face of fear and failure, I will choose to be faithful – to you, to myself, to love, to life.

Yours in Faith,

* The Rev. Alma Faith Crawford will be the preacher at this year’s Union Service on Sunday, May 7, 2017, at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. She’ll deliver a sermon titled, “Sanity While Black: Enduring Racial Trauma without Losing Our Damn Minds”. The service will begin at 4:00 pm; doors will open at 3:30 – pre-worship concert by orchestra and combined choirs.

Greater Baltimore Unitarian Universalist congregations gather each May to remember the 1819 visit of Rev. William Ellery Channing to Baltimore, where he preached the sermon “Unitarian Christianity”. At this year’s service, worshipers will hear a challenge from the Rev. Alma Faith Crawford, former Professor of Worship Arts at Starr King School for the Ministry (Berkeley, CA) and founding pastor of Church of the Open Door on Chicago’s south side. Crawford shares how racism generated her clinical depression, anxiety disorders and PTSD – and how medical treatments and activism both help and hinder her recovery.

April 14, 2017

It’s great to be spending more time outside now. I’m planning what flowers to plant in the many pots in our backyard and I’m watching the birds carry twigs and treasures to build their nests. I’m also enjoying the sounds of dawn and the early morning light.

I pulled the book Celebrating Easter and Spring-An Anthology of Unitarian and Universalist Readings off my shelf yesterday. This great book is compiled by Carl Seaburg and Mark Harris and is full of wonderful spring and Easter readings and poems.

I bet I picked out ten poems I wanted to share with you, but this one by Richard Gilbert is the winner for today. Enjoy and Happy Spring, Easter and Passover to all.


Spring Housecleaning of the Spirit

Julian Huxley, the great humanist, once wrote: “It is of the greatest importance that humanity now and then should take out its beliefs for spring cleaning.” Perhaps the same is also true for the human spirit.

In the holy quiet of this promising hour of spring,

May we purge ourselves of the coldness of spirit that warm spring breezes may
thaw our souls;

May the debris of wrongs unforgiven be gathered and discarded so we can start anew;

May the slowness of spirit, frozen by cold, be quickened to every fresh possibility;

May the song that has lingered too long in our lungs be inspired by twittering bird choruses;

May the grime of mistakes made be rinsed from our minds with the springtime waters of self-forgiveness;

May the dust of the exhausting journey be wiped from the furniture of our lives so that it gleams again;

May we muster the strength to do our own housekeeping of the spirit.


I hope to see you Sunday!

In faith,

April 5, 2017

“You cannot make Remembrance grow
When it has lost its Root --
The tightening the Soil around
And setting it upright
Deceives perhaps the Universe
But not retrieves the Plant --
Real Memory, like Cedar Feet
Is shod with Adamant --
Nor can you cut Remembrance down
When it shall once have grown --
Its Iron Buds will sprout anew
However overthrown – “
                                                        -Emily Dickinson

So there I was.
In a hotel room in Boston – two Wednesday evenings ago.
Staring blankly at my laptop screen, which was staring just as blankly back at me (I’m not sure who was winning the contest).
Truthfully, it was probably a tie…
We were both equally at a loss for words.

All of my dearly beloved Word documents, downloads, files, photos, papers, sermons (including the one for that coming Sunday), ceremonies, templates, spreadsheets, and saved things were now dearly departed.
In the blink of an eye, my everything had vanished into nothingness. Every last one of my remembrances uprooted. Every memory.
My life had flashed before my eyes and faded to black. Disappearing (and dissolving) into dark matter.
The tech-support souls had done all they could. They tried to sneak me through all the unofficial backdoors. Every slick millennial parlor trick in the (Mac)Book.
No dice.
My hard drive was no longer.

I can’t imagine there is ever a ‘good’ time for your hard drive to crash.
However, this moment in time (the night before my appointment with the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee) seemed the most untimely of all time.
This is the hour for which all UU ministers-to-be begin diligently preparing as soon as they are accepted into seminary. Two yellow brick roads (your studies and your internship) merge at this intersection - culminating in your presence at the UUA Headquarters in downtown Boston.

You stand before a cloud of witnesses (a panel of fellowshipped ministers) who are tasked with deciding whether or not to give you what they all already have – fellowship.
You light a chalice, preach a sermon, and then answer about 45 minutes of questions on a number of competencies (UU History, RE, World Religions, Spiritual Development, Social Justice, Worship Arts, etc).
The MFC folks are not unlike the TSA folks at the airport, in a sense. They pull you to the side before you pass through the ‘ordained minister’ gate, double-check your identity, and look through your baggage (metaphorically speaking).
And they’re clear we all will have baggage.
Mostly, they want to make sure you know what’s in there and are addressing it. That there are no ticking time-bombs, or bags that need to be checked. And that no one else packed your bag for you.

So you are with the MFC for an hour, roughly.
Or smoothly.
Or somewhere in between.
You are then escorted to a nearby holding room, where you wait for the longest 15 minutes of your life. You’d swear time was standing still. Or moving backward.
When the smoke clears, the jury of your would-be peers brings you back into the room, and they reflect for a few minutes about how they experienced you.
They type it all up in a letter that gets mailed to you later – which is great, because you really don’t hear 99% of what the panel says to you in that moment. You only really hear the verdict.
The number.
The MFC assesses you on a spectrum from 5 (lowest) to 1(highest).
Either a ‘2’ or ‘1’ gets you ministerial fellowship.
You are then a newly minted minister.
Very much ordain-able. And employable (thankfully).

So, I had all these grand plans for that night before the interview (my MFC-Eve). I’d do a deep-dive through my 98 page packet, review my notes, peruse the sermon I’d prepared, and google a list of last-minute refreshers.
And then - my hard drive was overthrown.
And there was no retrieving this plant, as far as I could tell.
No rescuing the remnants. No recovering the roots, I feared.

In the silence of my lament, I began thinking about memory.
Who was I in the absence of my collected things – my random access memories?
Surely, I was more than my remembrances… Greater than (not equal to) the sum of my stuff.
I mean…
Don’t all things – even virtual things - come undone at some point? Don’t all castles made of sand – as Hendrix once posited – fall in the sea eventually?
I then had this strange moment of backhanded bliss.
A reversal of mis-fortune.

I didn’t really ‘need’ my packet.
It was a 98 page reflection of me. If I knew myself, I knew my packet. I could stand on my own two cedar feet. Adamantly. For some strange and serendipitous reason, I’d printed my MFC sermon a day earlier.
And I could articulate the rest of my essence without the safety net.

It was strangely liberating to not have my hard drive. To release the fear of not knowing enough or being enough. Of failure. Of humiliation.
I’d probably just lost everything I’d written in the last 4 years of my life. And – it didn’t really matter. I could re-create those recipes. Or variations on those themes, or altogether different streams of consciousness.
It all lived in me. My real memory. My soul.

I remembered fondly a most soulful patient I had at Johns Hopkins for whom I’ll forever have a soft place in my heart-drive.
He had fairly advanced dementia – a particular kind that ‘reset’ his short-term memory every 15 minutes or so. He would start over from scratch 4 times every hour – like clockwork.
A suddenly blank slate.
He’d tell you the same story every time, as if it was the first time. And he was easily the most present patient on the floor (and the most joyful). All he had was ‘now’. And he was incredibly thankful for it.
And he has remained quite memorable to me (despite the absence of his own memory).

Certainly, there were ministers before there were hard drives, I thought. Clergy were credentialed long before there were computers.
So I exhaled. Ordered some rather timely (and tasty) Pad Thai. And slept.
Soundly, if memory serves.
And I saw the MFC. And they saw a ‘1’ in me.
No flight restrictions. No delays or cancellations. I’d been granted fellowship.
I was cleared for takeoff – and could now move freely about the cabin of ministry.

I gave thanks.
And then proceeded to spend that Saturday morning reconstructing my sermon for that Sunday morning from scratch. All 19 pages of it.
Strangely enough, the text flowed from my fingertips with startling ease and recall. The old iron buds sprouting anew. Reconstituting almost faster than I could type them out.

The universe had chopped down my tree, but the roots were mercifully untouched. And as I was setting up my new-old (refurbished) laptop the following Monday. I had a smile-inducing epiphany.
I discovered (quite accidentally) a great deal of the memories I thought I’d lost.
Very much alive - in my sent mail folder.
My ‘share drive’, so to speak.
Everything I’d shared with others still existed. Both my present and future were restored through my past connections and communications. Sermons, set lists, services. and snapshots – almost all recovered from the interdependent web (of which we are all a part).
Baggage reclaimed.

So- the moral of the story?
Know yourself.
And share.
Oh -
And back up your hard drive.

Of Evident Invisibles,

March 24, 2017

Many of us who work professionally in congregational ministry – ministers, musicians, religious educators – sometimes joke about being introverts who pose as extroverts. Often we are kind people who genuinely care about others, but often we’re not naturally social. Our preference is to keep to ourselves, our books, our music, our private spiritual practices. We definitely pose as extroverts on worship days and at other congregational events, engaging energetically with a bunch of people. But we might not go out of our way to meet new people or interact with neighbors. (And by “we” I mean me...)

This self-reflection is on my mind today as I think about how frequently – at UUCC and in other contexts – we have been saying how critical it is to talk with each other, and especially to talk with folks whom we don’t regularly interact with. We need to listen to each other, to know each other better, to understand each other. But, especially for those of us who aren’t naturally social, it takes real effort to reach out.

So, what a gift when someone else creates space for engagement and invites us to participate, which is exactly what ColumbiaDialogues offers. Below I’ve pasted information from the promotional materials. The deadline to sign up is next Tuesday, March 28 – I do hope that many of you will choose to participate!

In community,

Columbia Dialogues — working together to enhance Columbia as a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community for all

Interested in fostering a more inclusive Columbia? Want to find common ground and learn from community members who are different from you?

Please consider participating in facilitated, small group discussions on the intersections of race, class and culture. The goal of ColumbiaDialogues is to create a personal and collective commitment among participants to help make the community more inclusive. Each group will reflect the diversity of our community so that we can learn from each other.

If interested, please use this link to learn more on how you can participate. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, March 28. Sessions will begin this spring. If interest exceeds capacity, CA may hold additional sessions in the future and/or work with other organizations to sponsor similar sessions.

March 15, 2017

If I had to identify a precise moment when I “heard” the call to professional Ministry, it would be Sunday, October 15, the year I was 24... in worship at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Georgia. I began looking at divinity school applications the following week, and was enrolled a year later.

But the seeds of that call were planted much earlier – more than 10 years earlier, when I was a pre-teen in the Wilmington Island United Methodist Church in Savannah, Georgia – when church leaders first began inviting me into the ministry of the church.

When I was still in elementary school, Mrs. Herrington invited me to be an acolyte – it was such an honor to don the white robe and carry the flame into the sanctuary at the beginning of worship, and to extinguish the altar candles at the end. As an acolyte, I helped serve communion occasionally, too. Around that same time, I began singing in the Junior Choristers (and later the Youth Choir), through which Mrs. Roth, the music director, cultivated a love of liturgical music. We understood ourselves to be an integral part of the church’s worship experience. Once I entered middle school, I joined the youth group (there were two – Junior High and Senior High), which soon became the center of my adolescent world. In high school, Rev. McAfee invited me to serve as youth representative on the church council, and occasionally I did the scripture reading in worship, and I was asked to be an assistant teacher in the preschool Sunday School class.

Throughout it all, it was clear that I was a member of that community – one whose presence mattered, not merely as a child who needed to learn the ways of the church, but as a contributing and valuable member who had gifts to offer.

Every year as we approach the Sundays when our YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) or Quest (Coming of Age) groups are going to lead worship at UUCC, I think with great fondness and gratitude of those early days of my life, as the seeds of ministry were being planted and nurtured in me.

I hope to see all of you in worship this Sunday, March 19, for our YRUU services, and again on Sunday, May 21, for the Quest credo services – not because these youth are our future, but because they are our present; not (only) because they need us, but because we need them. They have much to offer, and we are wise to listen and to hear.

See you there,

Worship With Us

April 30 at 9:00am and 11:00am
Intern Minister Anthony Jenkins will preach
More info

General Information:

  • Academic Year: Two identical services at 9am and 11am.  
  • Summer (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend): One service at 10am.
Location: Owen Brown Interfaith Center (Directions), Sanctuary C, 2nd floor, East end of the building.  Read more about worship.

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