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….

As a Unitarian Universalist, “Holy Week” doesn’t hold anywhere near the significance, meaning, or panic as it does for my Christian colleagues. In many of our congregations, a Seder may be held, but otherwise our only big event is an Easter service largely centered around the metaphor of resurrection and its placement during spring and fertility festivals. A few of our congregations are primarily Christian and do other services, but the majority are much more mixed, and thus much less focus is on the many stops along the way of Holy Week.

Normally – and even last year – Holy Week goes largely unnoticed. However, this year, I have watched from a distance the confluence of events. It began for me a few weeks ago when I preached at a Presbyterian church, using the text from John 12:1-8, where Mary washes Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfumes, presumably foreshadowing Jesus’ death. This text made me acutely aware of the ritual time of the season leading up to Easter, and that it’s carefully mapped out so that the entire story, including the Passion, is told in a particular pattern, in time that is both ritual time but aligned with ordinary/calendar time.

I then preached on Palm Sunday; while I didn’t preach anything about the Christian story (I spoke about grounding, using the spring equinox as my jumping-off point), I was aware too that the next night I would attend a Seder for the first night of Passover, knowing that it was a Passover meal that Christians call the “last supper”… and while Passover and Easter were originally separated for somewhat negative reasons, the consequence of ritual time lends itself to a deeper understanding of that part of the Easter story.

And now it’s the final weekend of Holy Week, this time out of time, but strangely in time. The commemoration of the events as told in the Gospels takes Christians out of time and into a long ritual time; from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, Christians essentially hold open sacred space. Yet the days described in the Gospels are the same length as our days, and thus it’s possible to mark the last 40 days of Jesus’ life in actual days, as opposed to a two-hour film.

I find myself in a space of curiosity; twice in my life I’ve held sacred space open for a long stretch of days when doing deep healing work, and it’s both amazing and difficult. It requires focus and intentional action. That Christians who are serious about this time hold this space open every year is remarkable; it inspires a sense of devotion to faith that I admire. And I think it’s something my tradition may be missing. For all its openness and expansiveness, I think we occasionally miss deepening in our eagerness to be spiritual squirrels. It makes me want to instill some sense of longer ritual time for deepening our faith practices. I don’t know what that looks like yet… I think some space was held open during the year I participated in a Wellspring group. But I think we have an opportunity to shape and develop our own “time out of time, in time” to commemorate, honor, and celebrate things that are important to Unitarian Universalists.

I learned this week that I am a radical Universalist.

I credit David Bumbaugh for this. In his book Unitarian Universalism: A Narrative History, Bumbaugh spends 20 pages outlining the beginnings of the Universalist church in America, from deBenneville’s sermons preached across Pennsylvania; to the founding of the first Univeralist church by Murray in Gloucester, Massachusetts; to the founding on the New England Convention of Universalists; to Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement. It’s a rich history, and a reasonably short one: only 44 years passed between the first universalist sermons in 1741 and the first Convention in 1785 – just 44 years to go from idea to denomination.

I have always been fascinated by universalism, have always found it one of the most hopeful aspects of our faith. But it was in reading this treatment, seeing the varying theological differences within universalism, that I saw my place, standing with Caleb Rich and Hosea Ballou in believing that we pay for sins in this life – that “God doesn’t need to be reconciled to humanity; rather, human beings need to be reconciled to God.” I stand with them in understanding God as a loving deity and that Jesus’s ministry is largely about how to “grow into harmony with the Divine.” I stand with them – Ballou especially – in believing that “God would not endow humanity with reason and then present a revelation that was incompatible with that reason.” I also stand with Ballou in rejecting the Trinity and instead embracing the unity of God.

(I also, by the way, appreciate Benjamin Rush’s assertion that faithful Universalists must commit to social justice, which he calls “an unescapable consequence of Universalist faith.”)

Rich’s theology was called “Death and Glory”; unlike other Universalists who believed there is some punishment for sins after death but then eventual reconciliation with God, Rich said no – a loving God doesn’t want to see us suffer. In a world where a loving God exists, we have room to reconcile to each other, to work out our issues, to confront our sins, knowing that every step we take toward the good is another step toward the Divine. For me, it’s encouraging to think I don’t have to rely on some magical thinking to be saved from a mythical hell. Every mistake I make, every trauma I suffer, every sin I commit – everything I do to heal, reconcile, rectify, brings me closer to God and those around me.

Some find this theology too freeing – if there’s no eternal threat, why do good, they suggest. And I know it’s an issue people have long debated. But what I know is that it is human nature, for the most part, to do good – to act in altruistic ways, to nurture, to help, to want to improve the world. People want to be in right relations with other people. And when we do this, we create a more harmonious space. Universalism tells us that this isn’t an exclusive club, where only some go to heaven, and the only way you get in is by believing and/or doing exactly the right things. Univeralism tells us we’re all part of the club, and we have to do right by ourselves and each other in this world, while we can. And this is what I think the creator-creating God (see process theology) wants too.

So maybe I’m a radical process Universalist. Whatever the label, with this set of theological perspectives I feel loved, and compelled, and nurtured, and yes, in awe of the expansiveness of the Divine and of human potential.

I grew up in a musical family – meaning, we loved musicals. We performed in them, we watched them, we sang them, we bought the cast albums. I grew up in the country, the youngest by 13 years, only a couple of other children living nearby, with a performer’s spirit. And… a large 6-foot by 6-foot mirror prominently displayed in the living room, next to the cabinet where the stereo lived. Many afternoons were spent in front of that mirror, acting out the musicals I played over and over. While I had intimate knowledge of musicals like My Fair Lady, Carousel, Camelot, and Hello Dolly, it was the modern rock musicals that attracted my attention. Let me correct that: it was the modern religious musicals that attracted my attention.

Simply put, I was hooked on Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

While Joseph holds a special place in my heart (both from my youth and the performance we gave at UUCSS in 2005), it is the first two that are driving this post today. It is those first two that I realize have shaped, more than anything else, my understanding of who Jesus was and is.

I don’t know if this is a fact or something I made up, but I think it may be true that no matter what we learn as adults, our initial impressions and ideas about religion are formed before puberty. We may reject those ideas, but they are our starting point. Now if that’s true – and I will make the case that at least for me, it is – then I learned about an incredible man with incredible things to say about how we live.

From Godspell, I learned parables – the sheep and the goats, the prodigal son, and the good Samaritan. I learned how he treated the least among them (the adulterous woman). The Jesus in this show is warm, funny, loving, insightful. He dislikes hypocrisy and greed. He feels deeply. He teaches with patience, humor, and honor. He remembers his people and their past – during the last supper scene, they sing Psalm 137, a lament from the days of the Babylonian exile.

From Jesus Christ Superstar, I learned about his final days – the burdens of celebrity, the difficulty in teaching and reminding his fellow Jews the lessons of the prophets (Amos, Hosea). I learned of his patience, and of the political situation he was teaching in. The Jesus is also warm, but detatches in very human, somewhat Zen ways, when he needs distance. He is forthright and stallwart in the face of those who would be his enemies, but he is not combative (the moneychangers scene excepted).

Both representations of Jesus end with the crucifixion. We hear the pain of those final moments – sung heartwrenchingly in Godspell, desperately spoken in Superstar. And this is where it ends. We are left to accept or reject the resurrection, to make up our minds whether we buy it.

As a child, despite the lessons from the Methodist Sunday school my parents sent me to to learn about religion, I did not buy the resurrection. It wasn’t part of the story I knew, but it also didn’t make sense to me. I know it didn’t make sense to my Unitarian parents.

As an adult, I spent many years not even thinking about Jesus, no less considering the resurrection or the divinity of Christ. It’s only been in the last couple that Jesus has been in my sights again – and I admit to truly struggling with what I believe, what I think is true, and how to parse my childhood understanding of Jesus with my adult spirituality. And I don’t know. Believing in the resurrection seems a long stretch, one that contradicts other things I hold to be true about Jesus, his life, his divinity. I am deeply Unitarian in that sense… so parsing an understanding of Jesus and the resurrection in that paradigm becomes a bit of a struggle. It is even more so as I am now attending a Christian seminary, where in order to understand some of the theologians we read, we must understand that they take the resurrection event as a given circumstance, not a point for debate. And so I struggle – and I just don’t know.

What I do know is that the portrayals of Jesus being pushed by some of the more conservative and fundamentalist preachers is not the Jesus I know… theirs is certainly is not the Jesus whose most important sermon was the Sermon on the Mount. The Jesus I know is the Jesus who washed John the Baptist’s feet, who hugged the leper, who spoke with the Canaanite woman, who loved and laughed and cried.

I don’t know if I’ll ever know for sure what I think. But I do know that Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice were wonderful teachers and gave me a picture of Jesus that feels true for me.


Every Monday thru Thursday at noon, Union Theological Seminary holds a chapel service – they vary wildly, with many different speakers, themes, styles, music. Thursdays always incorporate communion, however, although the flavor and presentation changes each week.

The first communion chapel I attended two weeks ago was uncomfortable for me. As I have talked about a bit here and with others, I’ve been thinking more deeply the role Jesus might play in my life and in my theology. I have grown to appreciate the model, lessons, and hope that Jesus offers… but am still quite far from calling myself a Christian, as there are some seemingly important tenets of the faith that I cannot reconcile (and which I won’t go into at this time). Suffice it to say, however, I have grown to deeply respect a true Christian faith as modeled by Carl, and many of the friends I have made on Twitter and at Union. Thus, I feel strongly about my participation in some of the sacraments – or, I should say, refusal to particpate – particularly when it comes to Communion. In my mind, it is a sacrament shared by people who believe in Jesus Christ as savior and son of God; it is precious, meaningful, an important and sacred act of the faithful. Because I do not believe those things, I don’t believe I should take part – I haven’t taken part in a Christian Communion in almost 30 years – and I respect the sacrament too much to denigrate it by my half-hearted, unbelieving participation.

So the communion chapel two weeks ago was uncomfortable, because it was clearly a sacrament for Christian believers. I understood the message – and it was not for me. It’s hard to separate being excluded from excluding myself, but it was clear that this was not a ritual for me. I decided that I would probably skip most Thursday chapels as a result.

Fast forward two weeks to this past Thursday. I went to chapel despite there being communion, because one of my professors, David Carr, was giving the message. I figured that when we got to that part of the service I’d slip out, so I sat near an aisle. Professor Carr’s message was centered around the story in Matthew about the vineyard owner who pays everyone the same wage, whether they worked 11 hours or just 1. His message was about abundance, particularly in response to the latest charges against President Obama about ‘class warfare’ when he suggests that the wealthy pay their fair share. Carr spoke of Jesus’s message in that parable, that a society is healthy when all have food, and clothing, and shelter, and even an hour’s worth of meaningful work.

A good message… a healing one… but it was in the prayer that followed that God spoke to me (I am sorry to say I don’t know who wrote it):

God of abounding, lavishing, unfair grace,

At times, your generosity challenges us, overwhelms us, and even offends us. We ask that in this moment, you would push us to love one another more deeply.  We also ask that you grant us grace for ourselves in those times that we fail to love one another well.  As we approach your table, where all are welcomed and none go hungry, we are reminded that there are still many situations – in our own community and in the world – in which your abundance does not seem so apparent.  We now pause to offer up prayers for people and places where more of your bountiful unfairness is needed.

God of abundance, teach us how to live with open hands and open hearts, that we may tear down the barriers that divide us and contribute to the healing of the world.  As we come to your table, we ask that you continue to challenge us with your unrestrained love and meet us in all of our needs.  In your name we pray. 


By the time the prayer ended, I was sobbing. After the prayer, we sang Daniel Schutte’s “Table of Plenty”:

Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
here is the table of plenty.

O come and sit at my table
where saints and sinners are friends
I wait to welcome the lost and lonely
to share the cup of my love.

Another of my professors, Paul Knitter, presided over the Communion, and while he used many of the familiar words of the sacrament, he repeated the sentiment that this was an invitation to share of God’s abundance, to sit at God’s table. All are worthy – whether they believe or not, whether they work all day or just an hour. All comers… all hearts welcome.

God opened up the table to me, who feels unworthy and unwelcome, excluded and apart from. Me. God invited me to sit at the table.

And I could not refuse.

Still sobbing, I made my way to receive the morsel of homemade bread dipped in wine and the blessing Professor Knitter offered.  I sobbed through the final song, “The Peace of the Earth Be with You”… I sobbed in the bathroom after the service ended.

It has taken me until today to begin understanding what happened – and I’m still not quite sure, but I DO know that for all my feeling “outside’ – especially in a most decidedly Christian seminary, and with a most decidedly Christian boyfriend – God said “you’re welcome too.” God doesn’t seem to care that I have doubts. God doesn’t seem to care that I’m still quite angry. God doesn’t seem to care that I feel unworthy. God has a place for me at the table. How can I refuse?


Oh Creator God, I live in a state of awe.

I am in awe of the new friends I have met, who have such wisdom and insight to share.

I am in awe of the technology that allows me to connect to these new friends – to find people all over the world who have a variety of perspectives that help feed and shape my own.

I am in awe that I have been given the space to experifail – to truly step out in faith, not certain whether I will fail or succeed.

I am in awe of  the natural world – the power of storms, the constancy of life, the ever-present regeneration.

I am in awe of God’s call to all of us, to be co-creators in a world we can only imagine in concert with one another.

I am in awe of God’s call to me, to take the step out in faith, to embrace my gifts, to life in fullness.

I am in awe of the expansiveness and limitlessness of divinity, of how far people can stretch toward the light when they feel deeply, think openly, act courageously.

I stand in awe today.

May I always stand in awe and wonder at the great mysteries.


A conversation on Twitter just reminded me of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”… and I remembered that I rewrote the lyrics a couple of years ago.

We had held a “check your theology at the door” hymn sing at the church, and we had a blast singing “Just As I Am” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”…songs of our pasts, which stir up our souls in old and sometimes meaningfulways. We sang and told stories and laughed and cried that night… blessed to share this with each other.

 “It Is Well” was my trigger. THe words spoke deeply to me – to a point. Theoriginal lyrics by Horace Spafford are deeply tied to ‘washed in the blood” theology, and I found someof them to be too out of line with what I believe. And yet the song moved me. My minister, Linda Hoddy, suggested I rewrite the lyrics, which I did.  Our music director, Michael Harrison, arranged the song for a quartet, and we sang it the first time at a service on Faith, Hope, and Charity.

You can read what I wrote about it here. Below are the words as rewritten:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, faith has taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul.


Though pain, tribulation, and trials should come

Let this simple prayer now console

Though I have regarded my helpless estate

I shall know it is well with my soul.

 It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul.


When life beareth down, and no answers arise

And all is beyond my control

My heart still can rest in the peace I have found

And proclaim it is well with my soul.

 It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul.


 New lyrics by Kimberley Debus, 2009; original lyrics by Horatio Spafford, 1873. Music by Philip Bliss, 1876.

“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. 🙂

At the end of the Friday morning worship at General Assembly, one of my fellow offsite delegates typed into the chat box, that was a moving service. Worship is my least favorite part of being a UU.

As someone whose probable program focus will be preaching and worship, I was floored. Isn’t that kinda the point of belonging to a congregation? If it’s for social or justice reasons, there are lots of other places to go, whereas a congregation puts all that together with a spiritual dimension.

As I contemplated this, I remembered a conversation I had with a member of another local congregation about the CRUUNY joint service. I was excited because we were going to have a lot of music – organ, choir, congregational singing, and even a multigen rock band. She sighed and said, I don’t think I’ll go then. I dislike music in a service. I’d rather just hear a sermon and some readings.

Again, I was floored. I was in the first class to pursue the Music Leadership Credentialling certification (which I dropped when a back injury kept me out of commission/having surgeries for 18 months). What’s the point of worship services if there isn’t music? If all you care about are the words, there are plenty of books and lectures.



And then I recalled a conversation in our Stewardship committee about Time, Talent, and Treasure. We all agreed that members should be willing to make an investment in all three, but what did Time mean, exactly? Was time the hours spent in Sunday services and at church-wide events? Or was it okay if someone didn’t come to church but attended a small group ministry once a month? Do we ask for a commitment to the one hour a week that everyone shares (as opposed to the many more hours we share in small groups, committees, task forces, etc.)? If you’re all about the small connections, then…what?

All of this leads me to a larger question, one I’m not sure I have the answer to yet, but one which I’m willing to entertain discussion on: does worship matter? Does it matter to a person’s spiritual development, to their connections, to their expression of compassion/acceptance/courage/love/trust/justice/service? Does going to a worship service (whether in person or online) make a difference?

My gut says it does. My gut says that without worship, we are nothing more than a social club with a service focus. Without worship, we forget how to enact the deeper parts of ourselves, which long remember the rituals of our ancient ancestors. Without worship, we become isolated, away from the interconnected web of which we are a part. Without worship, we lose touch with the sacred.

And more…without all the elements of worship – sights and sounds, touch and scents, words, music, movement, and silence – we are missing ways to access our own Divine spirit, as well as that which we define as Divine that is outside ourselves.

I think, too, worship matters for groups. For several years, I was what they call a solitary practitioner in the pagan tradition. I held rituals, by myself. I meditated, sang, danced, incanted, by myself. And half the time, I gave up before I had finished, because it felt empty or I felt silly. When I was in ritual with even one other person, suddenly there was meaning. A shared experience. A connection.

It’s this connection that then leads me on to act. just being with other people in scared space makes me want to be a better person, more engaged, more connected. They don’t tell me to, I feel it. I sing it. I smell it and touch it and taste it.

And…if we are to understand who we are and where we are going, it helps to share this experience time and time again, together, in worship, in community.

Worship matters.