This world. This place. This life.

1 Comment

How was the road trip?

We’ve been home for two and a half weeks, and we’re still settling back in.

A few days after we got back to Girdwood, Liesl came down with the flu, which changed the math around here. Instead of two adults taking care of a baby and a dog, it was one adult taking care of a sick person, a baby and a dog. Now that she’s mostly on the mend, we’re making progress on the daunting, never-ending task of bringing order to our 1100-square-foot condo.

So, how was the road trip?

It’s a hard question to answer, because we didn’t have a clear goal when we set out.

At some point on the trip I posted on Facebook that “there, and back again,” might be the measure of this trip’s success. And we’ve done that.

It was quite an accomplishment to take the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham, and then put more than 5000 miles on the truck getting back to Alaska via the AlCan. Particularly with a baby (and a dog, for part of the trip).

But what was it for? Why did we go?

As I wrote before we went, we were stuck, and we needed to yank ourselves away from here so that we could imagine a new future for ourselves.

We did that, too.

Liesl began to see the giant boulder of grief she’s been carrying around about leaving her job, and possibly leaving Alaska. Now that she knows the boulder’s there, she can set it down once in a while.

I found space to take a chance on a new life, daydream about entrepreneurial ministry, and expand the work I’m already doing.

The trip propelled us into a liminal place. Not into a new, rooted place. A liminal place.

And we’re still there.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’d like a new house, and new careers, without all the constant questioning and considering and good god all the waiting.

We’d like a home with more room for Willa to play, with plenty of space for Brady to run around outside, with a place for Liesl and I to shut the door and remember who we are, apart from our parental roles.

We’d like for both of us to have daily work that feels meaningful, purposeful, satisfying.

We’d like to expend our energy in the present, not in planning for, imagining, and trying to get to the future.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’re restless.

We get cranky with each other. And with the dog.

But then we watch an episode of HBO’s Vice, about Sudan.

And we remember how privileged—and small—our struggle is.

We remember to be grateful for our happy baby, who has enough to eat, and a place to sleep.

It puts our search for meaning and purpose in a larger perspective.

We’re looking, not just for work that makes us feel valued, but work that actually is valuable, work that helps to make a dent, however tiny, in the terrible, terrible things that happen every day around the world, and right here in Girdwood, and wherever you are.

So that’s how our trip was.

We may be sleeping in the same place every night now, but we’re still on the road. We’ll let you know when we arrive.

If we ever do.





Finding courage

Yesterday’s Zero to Hero assignment was to comment on three blogs; today’s assignment is to write a blog post based on one of those comments.

I’m still thinking about “Michael Sam’s Necessary Moment,” written by Holly Anderson on Grantland.  I keep thinking about this:

“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing,” Sam said, . . . comparing coming out to harrowing moments he experienced growing up—more moments of heartbreak than any one human being should have to shoulder.

I commented, “So often people find courage to do something daunting by having faced far worse.”

Since then I’ve been thinking about the hard things I’ve done that give me courage—and strength—to continue to make difficult but necessary choices.

Here are the highlights of my list:

  • Coming out to myself, and to my family
  • Becoming a minister—when I was raised to believe clergy were wrong, as were women in church leadership
  • Making the long journey from my childhood faith to life as a non-theist Unitarian Universalist
  • Moving to Alaska, and living here for almost nine years (and counting)
  • Choosing to recommit to ministry, and completing the long process of transferring from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the UUA
  • Giving birth to my first child, at age 42, without pain meds

Liesl and I have hard choices to make. Where do we want to live? What kind of work are we looking for? Does Liesl want to stay in aviation? What kind of ministry do I feel called to? And how do we factor Willa’s wellbeing into where we live and what we do for work?

It’s daunting to think about pulling up stakes and starting over. But it helps to remember what we’ve already done.


Zero to Hero, Day One

zero-to-hero-badgeFor the next month (with wiggle room for the realities of baby-parenting), I will participate in a Zero to Hero blogging workshop, coordinated by Christine Slocum for the UU Blog Incubator.
The first assignment is to write an intro post, answering these suggested questions.
  • Why are you blogging, rather than keeping a personal journal?

I want to write. Four hard words to say out loud. And that’s why I blog, rather than keeping a personal journal. Because the work I want to do is that difficult work of saying things out loud. Because too often I mosey through life, one day blurring into the next, failing to notice, failing to be present, failing to really live.

I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and one of the things our congregations commit to is “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” I don’t think meaning is out there, waiting to be discovered. I think meaning is something we make. We work it out of the nooks and crannies of our minds, from the careful observation of lived experience. For me, that means writing.

And writing publicly keeps me accountable. With a blog out there for everyone to see, there’s a little voice that says, “Everyone can see that you haven’t written for a while.” And that motivates me.

I like who I am better when I’m writing. Maybe that’s the most important thing. Writing helps me pay attention to my life, and writing makes me like my life better. Win-win.

  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?

I write about the nitty-gritty of daily life. For the past year or so, I’ve written about being pregnant, and then about becoming a parent. I’m a reluctant Alaskan, so I write about the beauty of Girdwood, Alaska, the tiny ski town where I live; it helps me to hold on to the good parts of being here, when I’m struggling with the cold, dark and far of living in Alaska.

I write about Unitarian Universalism, sometimes. I’m a free-range UU minister—which is another way to say “unemployed.” So some of the energy I would pour into parish ministry finds its way into my blog.

  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?

I’d love to connect with my neighbors—fellow Alaskans, fellow Girdwoodians. I’m already connected with other UU bloggers, but I’d love to be more intentional about that. And I’d love to use this blog as a way to connect with people—friends, family, neighbors—who might find, as I have, a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism.

  • If you blog successfully throughout 2014, what would you hope to have accomplished?

I’d just like to be more consistent. Parenting takes a lot of my time and energy, as does my work editing The Interdependent Web for UU World magazine. In 2014 I’d like to pour more of my energy into my personal writing here on Nagoonberry.

I’ve learned that anything else is unpredictable. Good things happen when you just keep showing up. So I want to show up. Again, and again, and again.


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.


Why we need bridges

As an Alaskan, I’ve been reluctant to talk about bridges.  Conversation tends to turn toward a certain project linking Gravina Island with the town of Ketchikan, and that leads to, well, nowhere that I want to talk about.

But I’ve been thinking about digital immigrants, and how we’re an important bridge to the digital native future.

A few days ago I asked a digital native friend in the UU Social Media Lab, “Does learning new technology hurt your brain like it hurts mine?”  He replied, “No.”  And grinned.

I’m pretty comfortable online.  I blog.  I use Google Reader to read other blogs.  I live on Facebook (sometimes too much).  I have a Twitter account, but I’m not a convert yet.  I’ve just started to explore Tumblr.

But still, I’m not a native.  My mind does hurt when I start teaching myself something new.  The learning curve is steep.  I have to take a deep breath, and give myself frequent pep talks.

Here’s the thing, though.  People at AUUF think I know what I’m doing.  Question about Facebook?  Ask Heather.  How to start a blog?  Ask Heather.  What should we do with our website?  Ask Heather.

It’s kind of bizarre, actually.  My first encounter with computers was in the DOS era, where people who were good with computers were math geeks.  If you’d told me then that two decades later people would think I was good at computers, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I was a word person, not a math/computer person.

So we come back to bridges, and why we need them.  Between the digital natives, and the digital aliens and tourists, are the digital immigrants. People who know how to learn new technology, even though it’s hard.  We learn from the digital natives, and translate for the aliens and tourists.

There are a heck of a lot of digital aliens and tourists in religious communities these days.  If the congregations we care about are going to survive to welcome unaffiliated digital natives, digital immigrants will need to recognize their role, step up, and fill it.

The aliens and tourists who ask for our help will say, “This is hard.  It’s confusing.  I feel like my brain’s going to explode.”  And we’ll reply, “Yes, I know.  But if you work through that, there’s good stuff on the other side.”


The ministry of reading

One of the gifts of my TV-free childhood was that I spent a lot of time reading. This was less true of my siblings, but for me, I filled with books the spaces my peers filled with television.

Too many children grow up without enough to eat.  I grew up feeling like there wasn’t enough to read.  I read and re-read all the books we owned, and made good use of our public library.

The more I read, the faster I read.  My mother was sure I wasn’t reading every word (and she was right–I think that I somehow take a snapshot of whole paragraphs, whole pages), but every time she quizzed me about the content of a book I was reading, I was able to answer her questions correctly.

As I move into my fifth decade (wow, writing that made me stop in my tracks), there is finally enough to read.  Books, yes.  But also innumerable blogs and other online content.

There was a time when clergy were among a town’s few well-read residents.  A minister often had a personal library, and shared ideas gleaned from that library and other reading with members of his congregation.  The minister was a conduit of learning and information.

Times have changed.  Literacy levels have risen dramatically since then.  Many people have personal libraries, access to public libraries, and to a torrent of online content, much of it free.

These changed times call for a new ministry of reading.  Not one limited to the clergy, but a shared ministry performed by all those called to it.

One of my heroes in this ministry of reading is Doug Muder, who writes The Weekly Sift.  Doug’s blog gathers the news of the week, explores it from a liberal perspective, and provides a bounty of links to the sources that informed his writing.

My own ministry of reading is wider, and less deep.  I’ve subscribed to 269 blogs in Google Reader.  I’ve “liked” a wide variety of pages on Facebook, and they send more information my way.  I have an app called Pulse on my iPod Touch, and I read more there.  I read the New York Times online, though my patterns may shift with the new pay-to-read policy.  I share the most interesting of all this reading on Facebook and Twitter (more the first, less the latter).

We live in a time of information overload.  Some of us have that time and inclination to sift through that information, gathering up the parts that interest us, the pieces that seem valuable, important.  And that is a ministry, a ministry of reading.


Leave a comment

Change agent, know thyself

About ten days ago, Peter Bowden of the UU Growth Blog created a Facebook Group called the UU Growth Lab.  It’s an understatement to say that the group has grown rapidly:  today there are 279 members, and several spin-off groups. Connecting with that many people passionate about the growth of Unitarian Universalism has been incredibly energizing.

There’s a wide range of interests represented among the group’s members, and it’s pushed me to think about who I am as a change agent–and who I’m not.

Here’s the work my gifts and passions equip me for:  I like rebuilding and regrowing dispirited groups, helping each member discover who they are, and what they like to do; I also love making connections between people and groups, creating overlapping networks of creativity.

There are among the UU Growth Lab members people whose gifts and passions equip them to be congregation planters.  Because of the way my history and temperament combine, I know that creating a congregation ex nihilo really isn’t my thing.   But I’m glad it’s theirs.

So what about you?  What are your gifts?  What are your passions?  What amazing work are you uniquely equipped to accomplish?