Nagoonberry

This world. This place. This life.


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Living with a Good Samaritan

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

–Luke 10:30-35

We were on our way to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave in a few hours––the one that would take us to the East Coast for my interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.

I’m always uptight before we fly, and I was even more so that night, with my interview looming.

We were driving south on Spenard Road after a delicious pre-flight dinner at Ray’s Place. I was driving, and at about 9 p.m. it was dark out.

Mid-conversation Liesl said, “Hey––that guy’s getting beat up––right by the bus stop.”

I have to admit that my first thought was not wanting to miss our flight.

“Pull over,” Liesl said as we got closer to the incident. By the time I pulled to the curb––still in my lane––the assailant had left, leaving only the victim.

Liesl had called 911, and was describing the incident to the dispatcher.  She rolled down her window.  “Are you OK?” she asked.  He mumbled something.  “Do you want to talk to the police? I’ve got them on the phone.”  He said, “Oh, no, it’s OK, I know that guy, he always picks on me.”

I have to admit that I was feeling distracted by the fact that I was blocking traffic. I could feel the pressure of headlights on my bumper, and expected honking at any moment.

“What’s your name?” Liesl asked, passing along the dispatcher’s request.  Believe it or not, his last name was Love.

When we could see that he wasn’t seriously hurt, and with assurances that the police were coming, we drove off.

“I don’t care if he was drunk,” Liesl said.  “That’s no excuse to beat someone up.  I can’t believe that whole bus full of people saw that happen, and no one did anything.”

I didn’t tell her that, had I been alone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. And if I had noticed, I’m not sure that I would have stopped.

That’s how it is for some of us.  By temperament and training, we’re more likely to “pass by on the other side.”

Some people are content to stay that way, but I’m not.  I’m really glad that I live with a justice-seeking, courageous Good Samaritan who’s teaching me to notice, and to act.

Image by Tim Green, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Two stories about tradition

There’s an often-told tale that goes something like this:

A newly-married young woman prepares a pot-roast dinner. Her husband watches as she cuts one end off the roast before putting it in the oven.  He asks, “Why did you cut one end off the roast?”

“My mother always did that,” she said.

Later, he asks his mother-in-law, “Why have you always cut one end off your pot roasts?”

“My other always did,” she said.

Finally, he asks his wife’s grandmother, “Why did you always cut one end off your pot roasts?”

“Because I had a really small roasting pan,” she said.

I thought about that story yesterday morning, after I took a batch of muffins out of the oven.

The first thing I did after taking off my oven mitts was to grab a fork, and gently tip each of the muffins sideways––as I remember watching my mother do.

Sounds like the same story, right?

Except that recently I read the rationale behind the practice. Tipping the muffin in its cup allows steam to escape, so that the bottom of the muffin doesn’t get soggy.

Here’s the thing about the stories we tell: they’re never just the facts. There’s always something behind the story, something we’re trying to say indirectly. Slant, as Emily Dickinson might say.

When we’re restless, eager for change, frustrated by rigid, incomprehensible rules, we tell stories about silly, meaningless traditions.

When we long for connections to a deeper, older knowledge, when we want to remember how to make, fix and create, we tell stories that value what we learned at our mother’s elbow.


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Transfer complete, at long last

Preparing to meet the MFC

A quick self-portrait snapped in our hotel room before we drove to Eliot & Pickett House

Nearly seven years after David Pettee warned me that “the process tends to move slowly,” the transfer of my ministerial credentials from the PC(USA) to the UUA is complete.

For nearly seven years, I have carried the live coal of vocation with me; now I have a place where I can set it down, and let it catch fire.

In the biblical numerology of my childhood, seven was the number of completion, and that feels about right.

I am so grateful for all of you who sustained and supported me during this long process–– helping me remember my true self, suggesting connections in my new religious home, giving me swift kicks whenever self-doubt had me dragging my feet.

If I haven’t thanked you personally, chalk it up to my MFC-addled brain. I remember you with gratitude in odd moments, when I’m away from a phone, when I’m walking the dog, as my head hits the pillow at night. Thank you.

Some of you have asked about my next steps. I’ve been “cleared for search,” which kind of means “hurry up and wait.”  For now, my main tasks are reading the Settlement Handbook, and preparing the packet of information that I will share with congregations. As the Transitions Office begins posting available positions, I’ll start imagining life in those new places. Even if everything moves at lightning speed, the earliest we would leave Alaska would be late summer, 2013. Given the glacial pace of the last seven years, I have no illusions.

So the next steps are still almost completely unknown, and yet I feel a new sense of security, knowing that whatever direction the path takes, I’m walking “in fellowship” with my new community of faith, together with a new community of colleagues.


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Thinking about (mis)appropriation

Today, as my mind wandered away from my once-again yoga practice, I found myself thinking about religious (mis)appropriation.

Lent has been on my mind lately––partly because it is Lent, but mostly because other UU bloggers have been writing about it.

This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same date as Losar, commonly known as the Tibetan Buddhist New Year. I’d never heard of Losar before this year––but I learned a bit about it from Dolma, a Sherpa Buddhist blogger.  Among other things, she writes, “During Losar we aim to begin the New Year with a fresh start, which is represented through purification pujas and other traditions like cleaning your entire house and wearing new clothes.”

It sounded to me a bit like Lent. Not that the rituals were the same, or the religious teachings. It felt like perhaps the two shared a common human longing, tied to this time of year.

I know it’s a longing I feel when the light turns, and hope for spring begins to stir. It’s the root of my return to yoga, and it strengthens my commitment to my new writing group.

I began to wonder if Unitarian Universalists could forge new rituals for this time of year, coin a new name for this season where we long for new life, and find the strength to prepare for it.

Then I thought of how our Unitarian and Universalist traditions have too-often succumbed to the temptation to meld religious traditions together, to say, “It’s all one thing.”  Even though it’s not.

And that brought me to religious (mis)appropriation. To the problem of cherry-picking the parts we like from other religious traditions, without really understanding their context, or respecting the whole fabric of those traditions. To the reality that too-often (mis)appropriation is an act of the privileged––another in a long line of thefts.

But then I started thinking about Christianity, the religion from which Unitarian Universalism came. And all the things that Christianity (mis)appropriated––from the very beginning.  It seemed a bit ironic to me, that after all these years, we’re suddenly worried about it. If we stripped away all that we’ve ever taken from another tradition, what would we have left?  And who is this “we” I’ve been talking about, anyway? How do we decide what belongs to whom?

You see, when my mind wanders, it goes on quite the walkabout.

Back to the breath, the body, the stretch, the stillness.


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Monsters in our closet

I have a working theory that many UUs are more afraid of the imagined beliefs of other UUs, than they would be if they knew what those other UUs actually believe.

Here’s what I mean. When I hear people insisting that we need to define our UU identity, that we need to name the core of what UUs believe, I get nervous. I’m afraid that the circle they might draw would shut me out.

But something changes for me when I hear what people really believe, rather than what I imagine. The bedroom light switches on, and the monsters in the closet are just shirts and shoes.

I first realized this when Patrick McLaughlin shared with me David Bumbaugh’s suggestions about UU core beliefs. Bumbaugh’s poetic language allows enough space for a range of interpretations, for a broad spectrum of UUs to say, “Yes, this is what I believe.”

Christine Robinson has also risked articulating our common beliefs. Here’s what she says:

Life is good, and so are you.

Reason and Intellectual Faculties are good.

You can trust them to understand life.

However it’s a Very Big Universe out there,

and many important things can’t be known

through reason and intellect.

For this we have intuition, heart, spirituality,

and other faculties which are useful

but don’t lead everyone to the same conclusions.

Truth on these Very Big matters

is best found in conversations,

actual, virtual, literary, and internal.

It is to be expected that there will be differences.

They enrich us.

That’s what we do as Unitarian Universalists…

grow in spirit, together.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to propose a list of “things commonly believed among us.” We’re a tough crowd. We attack imagined monsters before anyone has time to turn on the lights. We shred a lot of shirts and shoes.

I think it’s time for us to find our courage. Courage to speak our beliefs––and courage to listen to others without reflexive critique.

We are not children. We can expect more from ourselves. We can replace fearfulness with a deep and abiding trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”


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People can change

More than 20 years ago, my high school gym class went out to the track after a heavy rainstorm. The oval was littered with earthworms, stranded by the storm. It was nearly impossible to find a place to put our feet without stepping on one of them.

My squeamish teenage self freaked out. Yuck. Worms. I couldn’t imagine touching them, feeling them wriggle in my hand.

Fast forward to today.

A few years ago I bought a Can-O-Worms vermicomposting system. Now that we live in a small condo, my worm farm lives in the shower in our guest bathroom. Just before Thanksgiving I ordered a Soil Sifter Pail Buddy to make processing the compost easier.

Yesterday I assembled the Pail Buddy, and tonight I sat in the bathroom, up to my wrists in compost, casually tossing red wigglers back into the Can-O-Worms trays.

And then I remembered high school gym class.

When I wrote a few days ago about being discouraged, I was mostly talking about being discouraged about myself. About living with my personality, my quirks, my shortcomings. About things I’d like to change about myself. Changes that seem impossible.

I don’t know how that squeamish teenager became a carefree worm farmer. It was a gradual, unconscious change.

I get discouraged every time another of my self-improvement schemes fall flat. But sometimes, when I step back and look at the big picture, I can see the good changes I’ve made.

At this time of year, when the days are short, I need that big picture view.

Even if it’s just that I’m no longer afraid of worms.


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Patiently and persistently

At last summer’s writing workshop in the Wrangell Mountains, one of the leaders recounted  a story about a Buddhist retreat she’d attended.

She lowered her voice to mimic the deeper tones of the Buddhist monk leading the retreat.  “Patiently and persistently.  Persistently and patiently.  Patiently and persistently.”

She brought us back to those words throughout our workshop.  At early morning writers’ circle. Patiently and persistently. During free-writes at the Root Glacier.  Persistently and patiently. As she wandered among us late in the week, while each of us scribbled or typed frantically to finish our work.  Patiently and persistently.

This afternoon Brady and I stopped by the hangar to show Liesl the Christmas wreath we’d purchased at the Girdwood Holiday Bazaar.  The snow outside the hangar was deep and slushy, half-way up the car’s wheels. When I headed home, I thought the Subaru might get stuck.

Gently and slowly, I told myself.  Slowly and gently.  I heard the echo: patiently and persistently, persistently and patiently.

Slowly, gently, patiently, persistently I depressed the gas pedal. Applying consistent, steady pressure, I didn’t get stuck, not even in the uphill, car-swallowing slush pits on Mt. Hood Drive.

I can do it.  Yes, I can.  Slowly and gently, patiently and persistently, I can do it.