Click here to listen to this sermon as delivered in Nantucket on March 4, 2018.

People find wisdom in a variety of places – folk tales, sacred texts, nature, the words of prophetic people, music. I add to that list popular culture – specifically, movies and tv shows – in particular, those I find well written and which speak to something deeper than entertainment: Star Trek, M*A*S*H, and of course, The West Wing.

I’ve told this story – from an episode called “Noel” before, but it’s worth the retelling:

“This guy’s walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out.

“A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up ‘Hey Doc! I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.

“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

“Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!’

“And the friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’”

This story helps me talk about my own journey out of that hole – because, to use another movie reference, this time from The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, in the spring of 2004, I dropped my basket.

I was struggling to make sense of my life: on one hand, a corporate drone shuffled from Connecticut to North Carolina, working too many hours in a dog-eat-dog world with no release; versus my personal life, a queer, spiritual woman, longing for connection, missing loved ones both alive and deceased, feeling very broken and divided. I was exhausted, trying to balance this divided life. I burned out and fell into a major depression.

As I sought treatment and began to look for a way out of the hole, I found many messages about how to become whole again – Madison Avenue and the Self Help Industry told me that wholeness was everything and could be achieved for a price. Yet the more I heard how I had to fix my flaws, the deeper the hole got, and the more broken I felt.

This desire for wholeness caused more pain…because like so many of the empty Madison Avenue promises, wholeness – the way it’s sold, anyway – is a myth.

So what does that mean for getting out of the hole? If wholeness isn’t the way, what can we do? I know that I was really deep in that hole and had no idea how I was going to get out.

And then, someone who had been down the hole jumped in, in the form of a book, The Joy of Burnout, by psychologist Dina Glouberman.

In her book, she talks about the physical, mental, and psychological exhaustion that comes from our drive to be everything, do everything, take care of everything, balance everything. But instead of calling us to fix the problems that led us to burnout, she suggests we can get out of the hole by learning from the burnout.

The first lesson is simply “Wait.”

Waiting means we have to give up the struggle – take a break – breathe – listen. Waiting isn’t easy. Because in the waiting, still in that hole, things still seem awful and hurtful and empty. We are broken, not whole. We are profane, not sacred. We are ugly, not beautiful.

But the waiting gives us time to hear what might help us.

It was a throwaway line in the middle of something else Globuberman was talking about, but it stopped me in my tracks:

“I asked life that tormenting question: why is it that you always give me everything but the thing I really want? Life, like a good Jewish mother, answered a question with a question: why is it that whatever I give you, you still complain?”

I realized my hole was telling me I had nothing, was nothing, and was always going to get nothing. But as I pondered this line, I decided, okay, I’ll show you what I don’t have… and so…I made a list.

It started with the pen and pad I was writing on. And then the sofa I was sitting on. And then my cat jumped up, so I added ‘cat’. And then the bookshelf across the room. And the books. And oh yeah, magazine subscriptions. And if I look at the desk over there, I see pens, markers, a computer, a mug from my alma mater. A picture taken with an ex in England. Soon the paper was filled to the brim.

I began to sort them out into what seemed like good categories – and I realized that I not only had a lot of what I needed – food, shelter, employment – I had a lot of things higher on Maslov’s hierarchy of needs too – friends, family, hobbies, health insurance, transportation, security. And those things pointed to the intangibles – a sense of humor, an artist’s passion, a love of language, curiosity, compassion, …. and a sense of connection to something… bigger. Something…we might call hope.

And then Glouberman’s second lesson of burnout is “Give up hope.”

As she explains, giving up hope is letting go; she says “it is the opposite of hopelessness because it is trusting in ourselves and in what we may be, given half a chance and loads of patience.” It’s about forgiveness and relieving pressure, and mostly, giving up hope for a better past.

I gave up hope when I realized I couldn’t go back to corporate America, couldn’t bring loved ones back from the dead, couldn’t change the choices I had made – for good or for ill. I could only learn from what I had done and experienced.

I could only “keep the faith” – Glouberman’s third lesson.

Keeping the faith is about surrender, deciding that we can trust ourselves and that we are already whole.

How can I already be whole? I am a broken mess. I cracked up. I’m full of cracks.

And a voice whispered “that’s how the light gets in”… a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem.

Soon after, I met a Hindu goddess named Akhilandeshvari.

akhilandeshvari-300x450“Ishvari” in Sanskrit means “goddess” or “female power,” and the “Akhilanda” means essentially “never not broken.” In other words, The Always Broken Goddess.

As writer Julie Peters notes,

“Akhilanda derives her power from being broken: in flux, pulling herself apart, living in different, constant selves at the same time, from never becoming a whole that has limitations. The thing about going through broken times is that one of the things you lose is your future: your expectations of what the story of your life so far was going to become. And of course, this is terrifying.”

Akhilanda invites us to make a choice in how to go forward. We gave up hope for a better past, so our stories about the past don’t dictate how we go forward. We are in flux – flowing in new ways, with this incredible opportunity to decide how we want to put the pieces back together. We have the choice to hide the brokenness with carefully hidden repairs and a new coat of paint; or honor the brokenness, like those Japanese bowls, mended in celebration with copper, gold, and silver.

Because no matter how we treat the cracks, we get to put ourselves back together in new ways. No matter what anyone else says or thinks about how we are doing it. No matter how many times we are told that we are broken, ugly, worthless – whether from others or our selves. Every broken bit of ourselves is our key to wholeness – full of cracks, and differently beautiful.

When I started putting the pieces back together, differently, out of my own divided life, I realized that just saying goodbye to corporate America, to exhaustion and negativity, to North Carolina itself, wasn’t enough. I could do some of this work on my own, but I could not do it all alone.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer says

“The journey toward inner truth is too taxing to be made solo – lacking support, the solitary traveler soon becomes weary or fearful and is likely to quit the road… the path is too deeply hidden to be traveled without company: finding our way…[requires] the kind of discernment that can happen only in dialogue. …we need community to find the courage to venture into the alien lands to which the inner teacher may call us.”

And so I came back into community – both to where the rest of my family lived, but also to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York – a perfect place to be held in the expansive embrace of our faith. A faith that teaches that our very humanness means we have inherent worth and dignity, and that there is always a place for us, even in our brokenness. As the Reverend Robert Walsh writes, “Universalists believed that the fate of a human being was like that. No matter how rough the trip might have been or how badly you might have behaved, at the end you would come home, and it would be a place of trust, safety, and love.”

Not just that congregation, not just my family, but in the very totality of life, the universe, and everything – a place of trust, safety, and love, where I can be never not broken.

I am whole. You are whole. Holy and sacred, full of holes, and whole. Every single one of us, with the cracks and scars that are evidence of a life lived through grief, trauma, sadness, and illness. Every single one of us, going through things no one else could imagine. Every single one of us, always in flux, always putting ourselves together differently. Every single one of us, with our own stories of how we got out of the hole – every story sacred and valuable and meaningful. Every single one of us, never not broken, but instead called – as always – despite of and because of our cracks – to love anyway.

Theologian Henri Nouwen says this:

“The great mystery of love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that we are loved. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away. But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Love is to put your brokenness under the blessing.”

In the blessing of brokenness, we can find a measure of comfort, a call to grace, and joy – joy in having made it out of the hole, joy in helping others out, joy in loving, joy in the very complex, beautiful, brokenness of life itself. We are meant not to be perfectly whole and harmonized, but to be humans in our messy humanness, growing into harmony with the divine and each other.

We are human. We are holy. We are whole.

Over at Quest for Meaning, David Breeden made the case for Unitarian Universalism being a Do It Yourself religion. He writes:

We do well to draw a sharp line between the subjectivity of religious experience and the objectivity of a congregational, corporate life together. Where I get my personal religious jolt is up to me—Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, paganism, pantheism, atheism, all of the above . . . Up to me. DIY. Where I find my meaning is up to me.

Where I go for my religious, corporate, home is up to us.

For those who will be following Moore’s advice on DIY religion, one of the best homes is a Unitarian Universalist congregation . . . If . . . we can awaken to how big the tent must be.

This is the wisdom of the idea of covenant embedded so deeply in Unitarian tradition. “We need not think alike to live alike,” is the sentiment, even if no one famous ever actually said it.

Breeden makes a good case for widening the tent, recognizing that as the more narrowly-defined mainline churches are declining, we have an opportunity (using his metaphor) to be the craft brewery in a sea of Budweiser. We should be, can be, must be the big tent of belief. Our third and fourth principles (acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations, and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning) demand it. And we have an opportunity as a non-creedal religion to make that tent as large as the world. And he even is clear that we’re not talking about congregational life, but rather individual spiritual growth.

But there is a danger.

As I read his post, Breeden seems to have forgotten the lessons we learned from Tim Taylor.

Tim-Al-home-improvement-tv-show-33059707-392-500The television show Home Improvement featured actor/comedian Tim Allen as the host of a DIY show called “Tool Time” – an expert on DIY, except an incompetent one. The running gag throughout the series was that Tim was constantly at the ER for various accidents, was always messing up a DIY project at his home, and relied heavily on the calmer expertise of his sidekick Norm. Without Norm, all hell would indeed break loose (and often did, to great comic result).

But amid the laughter, we saw Tim waste precious time and resources on ill-advised projects taken up without good support, guidance, or the right tools.

And that is the danger I see in the DIY model of religion. I should know. I was a DIYer for a long time.

Throughout my 20s and most of my 30s, I did it myself. I read books, I tried my hand at spiritual practices, I attempted to find communities of likeminded people to conduct rituals with, but my actual religious life was a mess. Even in those early years of attending a UU congregation, I was there mostly for the LGBTQ activism and the music. I was a DIYer, and I knew my path.

Except I didn’t. Contradictions abounded in my beliefs, in my practices. I felt constantly adrift, always looking for the next cool thing to feed my spirituality.

And then I began attending a UU congregation whose minister actually cared about our spiritual growth as well as our personal growth. Her gentle and calm expertise helped me, and others in our congregation, find and explore our spiritual paths responsibly and with great care. As a result, I stopped drifting and seeking aimlessly, and I began to not only understand my beliefs (which, as it turns out, is Universalism on a bed of Process Theology, seasoned with Paganism and a bit of Christianity on the side), but finally stop long enough to hear the call to ministry.

Breeden is right in that we have – or at least should have – a tent big enough for the wideness of spiritual understanding. But we should not be a place where folks wander aimlessly through the aisles hoping the right screw or angle brace jumps out at us. We should not be a place where a towering wall of microbrews beg for our attention with catchy names and striking labels. Let us instead be a place where each person is calmly and gently welcomed and guided by those who have been on the path before us and know the way. Just as home improvement stores hold classes and have experts on hand, so should we – courses like  Building Your Own Theology and Wellspring Spiritual Deepening, along with good spiritual direction, make all the difference.

That is why we are a religion and not a collection of people who like some of the same things. Not because we believe the same things, but because we travel together with knowledge and the same kind of seeking hearts. Our tent is big, but our tent should contain experts and signs and guides and companions so that we don’t have to just do it all ourselves.



I don’t understand it.

I am an extrovert and love to process ideas, emotions, and experiences with people. I hold strong opinions about equality, justice, compassion, and ethics. I am willing to be in a crowd of people rallying for causes, to sign a petition, to write letters, to even blog a bit about things I believe.

But I am scared to death of stepping out on my own.

I want more than anything to be brave, to have the courage of my convictions, to not worry about what others think of me, to go boldly in the direction of my dreams and vision. I want to be an example. I want to be Me with a capital M. I want to affect change. I want to take risks and make a difference.

Instead, I worry about what others will think. I step out gingerly. I couch my comments in wiggle words. I make excuses to stay among the crowd, not stand out. I dress conservatively.

Some of my caution comes from knowing there are others who have to approve of me in order to reach my goals – including ordination. I surely don’t want to freak out the Ministerial Fellowship Committee any more than I have already freaked out the Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy (who thought I was too theatrical and garrulous). And I will always need the approval of someone who will hire me to be their minister/consultant/artist/director.

Some of my caution comes from living in a family with beloved members who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, who are older and have the power to put me on the defensive with just a look, whose questions hit like accusations.

But most of my caution comes from being a middle aged woman in America.

I’ve been called pushy, overwhelming, aggressive, too much. I’ve been told I “scare the boys in engineering.” I’ve been told to not go too far, do too much. Even in my years as an LGBT activist in the 1990s, I experienced urges for temperance and caution.

I’ve been taught to not do too much, not to color outside the lines, not to breathe into the fullness of who I am.

Who I am, of course, is a beautiful, loving, passionate, creative, compassionate, brilliant, sexy, queer, full-figured femme woman with a deep and unshakeable call to ministry. I am a powerhouse who wants more than anything to unleash my femministry on the world. I am a guide and a muse who wants more than anything to help others unleash their awesomeness on the world. I am a missional mother who wants more than anything to love the hell out of this world.

It is a fact that I am surrounded by bold, creative, beautiful, brilliant people who are much less fearful – who step out, who make waves, who are not afraid to be who they are. One of them even got honored on this impressive list of incredibly bold femmes.

Now my experience, qualities, and desires are particular to me, but the truth is, most of us are scared of something. Something holds us back from living into our fullness. Something keeps us ineffective, uncreative, and fearful. It could be money, or family, or a job, or – and this is more likely – messages from someone who told us we should scale down our dreams and desires, to be realistic, to be responsible rather than radical.

So how do we stop the cycle? How do we stop letting others’ expectations keep us from our fullness? How do we  – how do I – stop being afraid?

dragshow2014Over this past year, I’ve been observing my Year of Jubilee – it is my 50th on earth, and I have been consciously noting life lessons, the thoughts and habits I want to discard, and those I want to express. I’ve been unearthing my true self. It’s been incredible – I’ve made frequent posts on Facebook, run a Tumblr of ideas, slogans, and images that speak to my true self, and have done a fair bit of private journaling. I know that by the time I complete this year-long spiritual practice, I will be stronger, freer, more creative, bolder. I am daily rejecting messages that keep me cowed and timid.

But it’s a process.

And maybe that’s my real message today. If you’ve spent a lifetime being timid, boldness can’t necessarily come rushing in all at once.

But I am ready for more boldness. I’ve been preparing for it, and when I look back, I can see many places where I am much bolder than I have been as recently as last fall.

I am still scared. I am still hesitant. And I don’t want to be.

But step by step, I’m making progress.

And that’s something.



self talkA few days ago, a dear friend rightly called me out on a bit of negative self talk. And while the moment passed, it’s been sitting with me since. I know that I’m a lot better about self talk than I used to be – I recognize my gifts and talents and don’t measure myself against others the way I used to. But still, I can get pretty down on myself, especially when it comes to things I think I should have more control over.

And I know negative self-talk – even in little bits – can erode confidence. This is the last thing I need, knowing I am applying for internships and seeing the RSCC soon. I need to believe in myself, authentically and realistically.

So starting today, and at least until October 31, I am on a focused mission to eliminate negative self talk and say something nice about myself out loud, within earshot of beloved friends, each day… and post some sort of affirmation about my self on Facebook. I’m not going to brag, or say things that aren’t actually true – or even things I suspect might be true but can’t be sure of yet. I simply wish to speak the positive truths that I know about myself, to myself.

I am either going to become more confident and breathing into the fullness of who I am – or an insufferable fool. Either way, by Halloween I suspect I’ll know something about myself.

And so it begins….

“You bring a sense of humility.”

My friend Nan said this to me yesterday while we were having coffee to discuss the practical arrangements of my staying in her home while attending seminary. We were talking about what I want to do in ministry, and she was telling me what she saw as my gifts – my theatricality, my practicality, my gentleness, my insight, and my humility.

I agreed that on the first few, I could see it too. I have a deep background in theatre, which I know helps me when it comes to preaching and the worship arts. I have been both onstage and backstage, so I know the practical side of things. And being a GenXer, I have a bit of that pragmatic streak common in my generation. Gentleness, well, I’m working on that. I think I still have sharpness around the edges that are offputting to me and others. Insight? Well, I suppose it smore that I have a little more confidence that if I’m thinking about something, others may be too, and may wish to hear what I have to say on the topic.

But humility? How do you react to that? “Why yes, I do bring humility” sounds so… well, NOT humble. “Nah, I have no humility” is too self-depricating or snarky. I’m reminded of that funny Mac Davis tune (remember him?), “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble”:

(Ah, Muppets. But I digress.)

So what IS humility? And how do you accept it as a quality you own?

Or… is it more like Grace… something that is a gift from the Divine, something you really only notice once it’s passed?

Or… is it something that you can’t ever own, or name for yourself, but only hope to achieve it in the abstract?

A dictionary definition calls humilitythe state of being modest, respectful, egoless. Interestingly, its Latin root, humilitas, means “grounded”…. something I never thought of until I looked it up just now. So maybe (wow, talk about abruptly altering the course of a blog post!), when we embrace being grounded – rather than being too much in our heads, too much in our personalities, too much in our ego selves – we are humble.

Now this is something I can wrap my head around. I know I am my best self when I get out of my own way. This doesn’t mean I don’t exist; I’m not a fan of the kind of egolessness that makes us disappear. I believe we are here, as ego-filled, individual, thinking humans for a purpose, and that purpose can’t be to disappear again  into a singularity. Rather, when I get out of my own way, I am less likely to take things too personally, less likely to see things only from my point of view, less likely to measure myself against others. When I get out of my own way, I am more likely to have clear thoughts, enjoy the situation, and hear the joys, pains, sorrows, anger, and contentment of others. I am more likely to notice those moments of grace. I am more likely to be awed by all of Creation. And I am more likely to share that awe with others.

So…the paradox. Maybe it’s not such a paradox after all. Maybe accepting a compliment such as the one I got from Nan yesterday is about knowing a different meaning for humility and responding, “yes, thank you, I feel it is important to get out of my own way and let things happen.” How others interpret that may not matter – but it may be easier to handle being called humble and being graceful enough to accept it.

I will end with this quote from William Temple, Archbishop of Cantebury during the Second World War: “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

I saw a tweet this afternoon that used the hashtag #SpirituallyLazy – the writer was bemoaning his lack of attention to his practice. He was kicking himself for not being more attentive… something I’ve done plenty of times.

But the truth is, I think we all spend more – or less – time on our spiritual practice at different times. The reasons are varied – from state of mind to season to schedule to what you eat last night. And I used to really get down on myself when I didn’t do anything for a while – something I sheepishly reported at Wellsprings sessions now and then.

Recently, I have found that when I’m not as motivated as I want to be or as attentive as I’d like, having a quick tool to at least get me off on the right foot has been a comfort.

The tool is a very simple, attractively designed questionaire. It asks the questions I need to ask myself to get going, plus provides room to clear the clutter (to do lists). And there’s open space on the flip side for more involved writing. And… when I am really on a roll, I add sheets.

This tool is something I use every day, whether I’m in the right frame of mind or not. On good days, it is a jumping off point. On bad, it is a five-minute chance to pause a moment with the Divine. I offer it to you free of charge, to use or not as you wish (click here to download full pdf version). You’re free to use the idea and make your own, too. Maybe you don’t wake up with a song in your head but rather the snippets of a dream. Maybe you make a practice of reading a verse from scripture, pulling a tarot card or a rune. Add whatever you need.

I offer it to you because it enriches me. And may your tweets be free of #SpirituallyLazy – even on your worst days. 🙂