The Art of Meaning

Art has power to move us and change our lives. But what is it about the arts? We’ll examine the ways viewing, performing, and making art helps us make sense of our lives, our communities, and all of creation.

Sunday, October 15 at 10:45am

Second Congregational Society, Unitarian Universalist
11 Orange Street
Nantucket MA 02554

Welcoming Worship

Unitarian Universalists are called to draw the circle of welcome ever wider, knowing (as UUA president Susan Frederick-Gray has said) “No one is outside the circle of love.” But how welcoming is our worship to people of color? Together, we will examine the presumptions of sameness our very Protestant worship makes and how to decenter whiteness in the precious hour we spend together each week.

Shaping Change:
Sponsored by the New York State Convention of Universalists  and the Hudson-Mohawk UU Cluster

Saturday, October 21 from 9am-4pm

First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany
405 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12206

 

Reclaiming My Time

A recent Teen Vogue headline reads “Most Women You Know Are Angry — and That’s All Right.” What are we angry about? How long have we been angry? And what does our Unitarian Universalist faith suggest we do about it?

Sunday, October 8 at 10:30am

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester
236 S. Bedford Road
Mount Kisco, NY 10549

Making Worth

Parker Palmer writes that “The journey toward inner truth is too taxing to be made solo.” What does it mean to seek spiritual connection and deepen our faith with others? How do we understand the very human process of worth-making in community?

Sunday, October 1 at 10:30am

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Poughkeepsie
67 South Randolph Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

Seven years ago, I was trying to figure out what direction I was headed in, trying to hear God’s voice, trying to figure out what was actually next for me. I look back at those posts from 2010, and I see a younger me trying to let the process unfold as it should.

At every step, I’ve been fairly clear that the next thing to do is just the next right thing to do – whether it was another essay, or another form, or another class, or whatever presented itself next. I didn’t look far ahead like I usually did – I just did what I was meant to do next, because the big future planning hadn’t worked out so well for me, and why not actually trust God for a change?

Well, that next right thing process has now gotten me to this day, this day of my ordination into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

Ain’t that a hell of a thing.

And here I am, at the culmination of a journey which is in fact the start of a journey. In these nearly seven years, I have leaned in, breathed deeply, and discovered the minister I am and the ministry I am called to – a ministry of the heart as much as a ministry of the arts – and for me it is less about being the artist and more about inspiring creation and creativity as our way to truth and right action.

The readings and songs that make up my ordination service are all very much about following that impulse: to enter the difficult sideways through the act and experience of creation, to open our hearts to a love that is limitless and unimaginably good, to leap boldly into possibility.

One particular piece, written by my friend, the Biblical scholar Celene Lillie, specifically for my ordination (what a gift it is!), is a narrative of the call of Mary Magdalene: Mary, who was not told to follow Jesus and learn from him, and whose words after his death were met with doubt, and whose very character was defiled by church fathers centuries after her death. Mary, whose call, Celene notes, “is not uncomplicated.”

Our calls are complicated – especially the calls of women who choose an alternative path in ministry. What does it mean to breathe into and step forward into a complicated call of the arts and the heart in a complicated world? I don’t know, and I suspect the sermon my mentor preaches today is going to challenge us to consider it…just as I will be challenged by this call every day.

But what I do know is that this call is full of color and movement, sound and excitement, chaos and stillness, truth and beauty, awe and wonder, openness and possibility, friendship and love.

 

Below is the video and script for my thesis project, a 30-minutes chapel service called Nameless, held Monday, March 3, 2014.

Juliana Bateman– Samson’s wife (Judges 14)
Natalie Renee Perkins – Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34-40)
Ranwa Hammamy – Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10)
Ashley Birt – Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:15-26)
Jessica Christy – Job’s wife (Job 2:1-10)
Shamika Goddard – the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:3-25)
Emily Hamilton – the woman from Tekoa (2 Sam 14:1-22)
Sandra Rivera – widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16)
Lindsey Nye – guard
AJ Turner – the narrator
Zach Walter– the rhythm

longer view

As people enter, Lindsey will be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unnamed Woman.

 Zach will be lightly playing a military beat on the cajon.  

 

AJ:

Samson told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; (Juliana perks up) now get her for me as my wife.’ But his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there not a woman among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, because she pleases me.’ His father and mother did not know that this was from the LORD; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines.

As he returned to Timnah, a young lion roared at Samson, who tore the lion apart with his bare hands. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, (Juliana perks up again, a little) and she pleased Samson. After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see that there was honey in the carcass of the lion. He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went.

His father went down to the woman, (Juliana a little less enthused) and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. Samson said to them, ‘Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. But if you cannot, you shall give the same to me.’ So they said, ‘Ask your riddle.’ He said, ‘Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.’

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, (Juliana visibly and audibly annoyed) ‘Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?’ So Samson’s wife…

Juliana:

Sheesh.

AJ:

  …wept before him, saying, ‘You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.’ He said to her, ‘Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?’ She wept before him every day that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her the answer. Then she explained the riddle to her people. The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,  ‘What is sweeter than honey?  What is stronger than a lion?’

And he said to them, ‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.’

Juliana:

Seriously?!? (stands, begins ranting)

AJ:

Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and …. (Juliana confronts him) … WHAT?

Juliana:

“Samson’s wife” this and “Samson’s wife that.”

AJ:

That’s who you are… isn’t it?

Juliana:

I have a name! Without me, this whole stupid vendetta against my people wouldn’t be close to fulfilled. Without me, there is no story.  Samson gets a name. Even his second wife, Delilah, gets a name. What’s MY name?

(AJ is visibly shaken with the realization, sits)

Juliana:

All I did was fall in love with a handsome foreigner. I didn’t know I was going to be used. I didn’t know I was going to be accused of being unfaithful and deceitful just to further some warrior’s tale. The least you could do is the courtesy of a name. What’s my name? WHAT’S MY NAME?

(whisper, in time with drum) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Ashley:

I supported my husband Lot when he asked us to leave my home. Of course I turned back to look once more on Sodom, the town I loved. I sacrificed my life for my husband and daughters, whose own future was uncertain in these terrible times, whose lives I could have protected. But you only call me Lot’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

headstonesRanwa:

I saved a Hebrew child in an act of civil disobedience, knowing my father had ordered all the Hebrew children to be killed. I raised him like my own son, and risked further exposure when I let him go to his people to lead them out of Egypt. Without Moses, there is no Exodus. But you only call me Pharaoh’s daughter. What’s MY name

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Jessica:

I lost everything too. I lost my home, my friends, my children, my livelihood too. I stood by my husband Job through all of the pain and suffering. I was angry at God too, but I also remained faithful to my husband and to my God. But you only call me Job’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Shamika:

What people forget is that Saul came to me. He sought counsel, and even though I eventually recognized him, I saw how terrified he was, and I not only helped him seek wisdom from the spirit of his father, I fed him. Without me, Saul might not have become a great ruler. But you only call me the Witch of Endor. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Emily:

I stood before King David to lobby him on behalf of Joab. I alone was strong enough to stand before the king, using my wits to political advantage. And I wanted to – I wanted to ask this king why he had planned destruction of the people of God. I was a powerful political voice for my time, but you only call me the woman of Tekoa. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Sandra:

I was a widow without family or means, the poorest of the poor, when Elijah arrived in my town. He demanded of me a meal, when I could not even feed myself or my young son. Yet this man was compelling, and I did feed this stranger, who went on to become a beloved prophet and miracle worker. But you only call me the widow of Zarephath. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Natalie:

My father was returning, triumphant from battle. How could I know he had made a vow to God that would put my life in jeopardy? I only wanted to welcome him home, but he blamed me for bringing him low, when I was the one to be sacrificed. I lost my life because of my father, but you only call me Jephthah’s daughter. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Lindsey:

(stops marching as guard) What of all the other unnamed women? The widows? The wives? The daughters? The sisters? The lovers? The sick? The faithful? The outspoken? What of their names?

All:

  (joins whisper, which now gets LOUDER) What’s my name? What’s My Name? WHAT’S MY NAME?

SILENCE.

Natalie moves to “her” headstone, places a rose, and sings “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. At end, Zach begins to drum a heart beat.

 

Kimberley:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to remember these women.

These women – who walked among us.

(Juliana places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who lived and breathed, who loved and lost.

(Ashley places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who played as young girls, who learned to cook and sew, who learned to love their family and their God.

(Ranwa places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who felt and thought and sang and prayed.

(Jessica places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who made choices.

(Shamika places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who were chosen.

(Emily places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who are only known in relation to someone else.

(Sandra places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone; Lindsey sits near the tomb of the unnamed woman.)

  These women lived in a long ago time in a far away place… but they have been living in me for nearly three years. Their stories – their heartbreak, their pain, their suffering, and their joy – have filled my thoughts. I want to stand next to Lot’s wife as she makes her final goodbyes to the home she loved. I want to comfort Samson’s wife as she finds herself torn between the men of her family and the man she loves. I want to hold Jephthah’s daughter to shield her from her father’s shocking pronouncement. I want to stroke their hair and hold their hands and call them by name.

But we have lost their names, and with them the fullness of their stories.

In this holy book, this Word of God, women are largely unnamed, unnoticed, unremarkable.

But let us be clear. God didn’t do this. This is not God’s problem. We did this to each other. Over centuries and millennia, through tellings and retellings, through writing and redacting, through additions and deletions, women’s names got left on the cutting room floor.

What we are left with is a text that along with serving as inspiration, is a model of how we are to live with each other. This model, which says it’s okay not to name women, even women without whom the story wouldn’t happen. This model, which says it’s okay to withhold names as long as the woman has no family or no means of support. This model, which says it’s okay to rape and dismember, as long as the woman is a concubine. This model, which finds no reason to name daughters who don’t obey… or daughters that do. This model, which says women do not actually get counted, but simply come along, among the masses. This model, which says even powerful and influential women don’t need to be remembered by name.

You might think that God is okay with it. But God didn’t do this. We did this to each other.

And God’s not okay with it.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who gave their lives in the Triangle Shirt Factory fire, or in the name of women’s suffrage, or in one of the many devastating wars we have fought, or in back alley abortion clinics.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who cross the borderlands and give up their given names in order to escape the notice of INS officials.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who are losing their lives while protesting in the streets of Turkey and the Ukraine and Venezuela.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been sold into slavery or the sex trade.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been raped and who are shamed into hiding the truth of their trauma.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who sleep on the steps outside our buildings and whose basic needs cannot be met by a system that is increasingly ignoring them.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who serve us and care for us and protect us every day – the woman at the front desk, the housekeeper, the visiting nurse, the beat cop, the barista, the cashier, the soldier.

These women have names. They have stories. They have influence. But they too are in danger of not being remembered, of joining the unnamed in the great cloud of witnesses.

But we don’t have to keep the cycle going. The scribes and clerics gave us this sacred text, full of women placed in only one particular part of the story, known only in relation to someone else, known only for a place where they existed, known only by the terror of their texts. These scribes and clerics gave us a model we must reject. What happens when we actually speak their stories? Phyllis Tribble suggests that we must speak for these women, to “interpret against narrator, plot, other characters, and the Biblical tradition – because they have shown … neither compassion nor attention.”

Imagine if we give them our attention – how much harder it would be for us to accept some of the situations the Bible describes for us. What if we knew that Jephthah’s daughter was musical and had learned new songs to play for her father when he returned from war? What if we knew that the widow of Zarephath had been known to bake the best bread in town, back when there was plenty? What if we knew that Pharoah’s daughter found out she could not bear children of her own yet loved them desperately? If we had stories like these, suddenly, we might not accept the fate of these women – we might not accept that they weren’t that important to the stories in which they appear, and we would not accept that we should not call them by name. Just as we cannot accept the damage and disregard namelessness does to women today.

Today, let us make a change.

tomb  Dearly beloved, let us pray.

God of many names known and unknown,
hear our sorrow as we mourn these unnamed women…
in their death, we are all diminished…
their stories are alive, but all is not well.
Hold us as we take one step today to right this wrong,
to stand for these women,
to hear their stories and bear witness to their power,
to feel their presence and confess their present reality.
God, be with us in our struggle to make sure everyone is known,
to show even the long forgotten their inherent worth and dignity.
Bless us, God, with ever opening and softening hearts
as we remember the women.

Amen.

 

We will never know the names of these unnamed women in the Bible – those are lost to history. But there are names of women who have touched our lives that should not be forgotten. They are mothers, and aunts, and cousins. They are teachers, and counselors, and neighbors. They are activists, and preachers, and thinkers. We have all been touched by the lives of incredible women, without whom our own stories would not progress. Let us celebrate and name those women – let us turn this tomb of unnamed women into a space of remembering women and their names.

Folks are invited to write these names on stickers we pass out, and place them on the tomb. Meanwhile, the beat changes from heartbeat to an Afro-Caribbean rhythm.

As people gather, Ranwa leads us in Israel Naughton’s “I Am Not Forgotten”

named 

Kimberley offers a loving benediction.

 

 named with bread and roses

named - mom

 

When I first formed Word Alchemy five years ago, it was with an eye to being able to work anywhere in the world. While I was comfortable in upstate New York, I quickly set my sights on working on a tropical island, and I would joke about working “the Nassau Way”… complete with wifi and electricity that extends to the hammock near the water and an administrative assistant well-versed in bookkeeping, organization, and daiquiri-making.

I dreamed into this further as I worked with Ray Patterson and his brilliant strategic life visioning process. And for Christmas 2009, Carl Eeman gave me a poster of that hammock by the sea. When I got the poster, I taped it (I thought temporarily) over a framed print of “Night with her Train of Stars” that hangs on the wall across from my bed. Since that Christmas day in 2009, I have looked at that poster every day I have been in that room. This is my view:

dreamonmywall

Since then, of course, I heard the call to ministry and am well on my way. Part of being on my way is seeking an internship position in a congregation for the year after I graduate from seminary.  As early as this past August, I started haunting the UUA’s Internship Clearinghouse… and was delighted to discover a new teaching congregation in Key West, Florida. Key West! That seemed so fantastical… yet what an opportunity! While other congregations began to fill the page, I found myself not willing to let go of my initial thrill, and added Key West to the sites I applied for.

Now I will admit – at some point, in the midst of interviewing with some large congregations with well-established intern minister programs, I began to think Key West might be too small and too green. And then I heard someone at another seminary say “everyone is applying there!” and I figured the pool would be too large and I would get lost in the mix anyway.

I am happy to say I interviewed at all the sites I applied for.. but after each of the first three, I felt a little uncomfortable, doubtful, and worried. I knew I’d be happy at two of them but it was clear I wasn’t a really good fit.

And then I talked to the intern search committee in Key West. It was an incredibly fantastic conversation. I heard places where my gifts would meet their needs … and of course where their strengths would teach me and help soften my growing edges. We laughed together, we spoke in first person terms, we engaged each other. And when I hung up I thought “this is it.” I then heard from my references that they’d had amazing conversations with the committee as well.

On Wednesday, December 18th, Rev. Dr. Randy Becker and board president Joy Taylor called to offer me the position as their intern minister, starting August 1, 2014… and now I am a part of One Island Family, the Southernmost Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

A day later, I traveled back to Round Lake for the holidays, and as I sat on my bed, I looked and saw that poster.

The dreaming… the imagining…the visioning.

Made manifest.

Sure, not precisely as I imagined it five years ago… but five years ago, I knew I wanted to live and work on a tropical island. And in about seven months, I will be doing exactly that… in a more meaningful, heart-felt, missional way.

Can dreams come true? Bet on it. And if you are open to how they will manifest, they may surprise you and be even better than you imagined.

Join me (with my lovely colleague Naomi King) on Wednesday, August 24 at 8pm EDT for a tweetchat on Generations in the Church – Experifailing!

Use the hashtag #genchurch to follow. I recommending using TweetChat.com to isolate and better follow the chat.

IMPORTANT: When you are chatting, please do BOTH of the following:

  1. Use #genchurch in your tweet so it is part of the TweetChat.
  2. Identify your generation by initial:
    • GI Generation – GI
    • Silent – S
    • Boomer – B
    • GenX – X
    • Millennial – M

Some background you’ll find helpful:

For the purposes of this chat, we’ll be using the Strauss & Howe/Eeman delineations for generations. Keep this chart handy for reference during the chat:

Name of Current Generation Generational Type Current Ages (born between)
GI Civic 86+ (1901-1925)
Silent Adaptive 69-85 (1925-1942)
Boomer Idealist 51-68 (1943-1960)
GenX Nomad 29-50 (1961-1982)
Millennial Civic 7-28 (1983-2004)
Homeland (?) Adaptive up to age 6 (2005-2026?)

 

 

Some of the things we’ll talk about:

  • What does ‘experifail’ – failing faithfully – mean to you? Do you think your definition is generational in approach?
  • What are the barriers to experifailing?
  • How does your (personal and generational) approach to experimenting, failure, success, and new initiatives fit in your congregation/religious community?
  • What do you need to begin experifailing in order to affect change?

 

Some ground rules:

  • Please be kind! Generational differences can be amplified when we’re talking about generational differences.
  • Please stay on topic – jokes and related topics are okay, and are part of the ebb and flow of a conversation, but let’s keep it to Experifailing and Generations in the Church.
  • Please indicate irony, snark, rhetorical questions… sadly, we still don’t have emotive fonts!
  • Please remember these are public conversations.

If you have any questions before the chat, please feel free to drop me an email/comment/tweet!

Join me (with my lovely colleague Naomi King) on Wednesday, August 10 at 8pm EDT for a tweetchat on Generations in the Church!

Use the hashtag #genchurch to follow. I recommending using TweetChat.com to isolate and better follow the chat.

IMPORTANT: When you are chatting, please do BOTH of the following:

  1. Use #genchurch in your tweet so it is part of the TweetChat.
  2. Identify your generation by initial:
    • GI Generation – GI
    • Silent – S
    • Boomer – B
    • GenX – X
    • Millennial – M

Some background you’ll find helpful:

For the purposes of this chat, we’ll be using the Strauss & Howe/Eeman delineations for generations. Keep this chart handy for reference during the chat:

Name of Current Generation Generational Type Current Ages (born between)
GI Civic 86+ (1901-1925)
Silent Adaptive 69-85 (1925-1942)
Boomer Idealist 51-68 (1943-1960)
GenX Nomad 29-50 (1961-1982)
Millennial Civic 7-28 (1983-2004)
Homeland (?) Adaptive up to age 6 (2005-2026?)

 Some of the questions I’ll be asking:

  • How do you view God/the Divine/Creator/Spirit?
  • How do you view the role of the church?
  • Did you grow up in a UU congregation, another denomination, or none?
  • What do you think we’re getting right for your generation?
  • What do you think we’re getting wrong/missing for your generation?

Some ground rules:

  • Please be kind! Generational differences can be amplified when we’re talking about generational differences.
  • Please stay on topic – jokes and related topics are okay, and are part of the ebb and flow of a conversation, but let’s keep it to Generations in the Church.
  • Please indicate irony, snark, rhetorical questions… sadly, we still don’t have emotive fonts!
  • Please remember these are public conversations.

If you have any questions before the chat, please feel free to drop me an email/comment/tweet!