Monthly Archives: December 2012

god with a small “g”

Like millions of people, I’ve been trying to get my head around the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This tragic event defies explanation; and the fact that so many of the shooting victims were small children makes this tragedy even harder for many of us to process. The fact is we will never know what caused Adam Lanza to first kill his mother, then 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and then finally take his own life–never. And that reality is hard for many of us to handle because, well, we’re human beings, and not knowing why things happen makes us feel insecure, powerless and not in control.

And we do love being in control, don’t we?

Of course not knowing why things happen doesn’t prevent us from speculating and offering our opinions, and doing so in healthy ways can be therapeutic. Talking through inexplicable events like the Sandy Hook shootings can help us process our grief, confusion, and anger. Such processing can help us move toward our eventual healing. Healthy speculation can also lead to needed changes in the laws intended to protect and care for the most vulnerable members of our communities.

There has been religious commentary, however, that is nothing short of hateful, callous and ignorant–like some of the comments recently offered by people like Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and James Dobson. Friday–the day of the shootings–Huckabee said, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” On the same day, Fischer commented that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn’t because “God is not going to go where he is not wanted” and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer. Dobson added today that God has “allowed judgment to fall upon us” because the nation has turned its back on him by accepting things like abortion and gay marriage.

Then we have the folks from Westboro Baptist Church who, as of this writing, plan to picket the funerals of the murdered children and adults, and–according to Shirley Phelps-Roper–“sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

For people who see God as an external being who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, events like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are especially challenging; and comments and actions from people like Huckabee, Fischer, Dobson and Phelps-Roper do nothing to help anyone process their feelings and begin healing. If anything, these comments and actions have the potential to encourage people to walk away from anything that even remotely smells of faith, religion and God. To me, the god described by Huckabee, Fischer, Dobson and Phelps-Roper is a petty, spoiled child god with a small “g” and is not worthy of my attention–much less my worship and devotion.

To me, assigning blame–or giving credit–to any deity for everything that happens in life which we can’t explain not only downplays our inherent beauty and giftedness, it also absolves us from our responsibility to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly in this life. At the same time, events like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are challenging for people like me who, while not believing in an external Supreme Being who tweaks events at his/her/it’s/their discretion, also deeply feel there is a mystery about creation and the universe which is a cause for reverence and respect (a stance referred to by William Murry as humanistic religious naturalism). What folks like me are left to ponder is the very real possibility that, in the end, life is mysterious, beautiful and yes, sometimes tragic. We can’t explain it–period.  And that possibility really bothers people like me who want to help–people who want to “make it better” for folks who are hurting and who are looking for answers.

Perhaps in the end healing and hope in the face of life’s tragedies eventually comes–not by reinstating prayer in schools or by sacrificing intelligence and reason to appease an angry god–but by relying on the inherent worth, dignity, love  and giftedness of one another. These are the gifts of a mysterious awe-inspiring Universe…

A Universe some choose to call “God”–with a capital “G.”

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Hitting the “Pause” Button

I saw a Facebook post this week which is the inspiration for this blog post. In it, a clergy person is standing in front of her congregation on a Sunday in Advent encouraging those in attendance to slow down. The next day she is shown being bombarded on all sides with questions which, of course, need her immediate attention–especially during this busy season of Advent. The peaceful look on her face on Sunday has now turned to a frazzled look within 24 hours. Truth be told, it probably took far less than 24 hours for that transition.

Sound familiar? If you’re a clergy person, I’m sure this story does ring a bell–or a few. At the same time, you don’t have to be a clergy person to struggle with reconciling the idea of the spirit of hope, peace, joy and love (which I consider to be the particular focus of Advent, and for some people that spirit is made manifest in the birth of Jesus) with the reality that this season is extremely stressful on many levels. Let’s admit it; shopping, decorating, parties and church, when condensed into a short period of time have the potential to rob of us of the hope, peace, joy and love of not only this season, but also of life itself. And for some folks, this type of stress is a year-round struggle.

This year, however,  I’ve hit the “pause” button. For example:

We had a “tree malfunction” at church this year. Translation: Our huge, beautiful 25 year-old artificial tree finally broke–literally broke at the base–during decorating. Rather than running out and buying a similar tree and hastily decorating it the day before the first Sunday of Advent, however, we put up a simple, small tree. A slightly larger 4-foot tree will take its place later this week or perhaps early next week–it depends on when we find time to decorate it. We put up some nice banners and wreaths as well; but all the glitz and glamour of previous years is largely gone.

And so is all the stress of decorating the sanctuary, fellowship hall and outdoors “to the nine’s” with a few volunteers.

I’ve hit the pause button personally, too. In November I was approved as an official candidate for full ministerial fellowship in the UUA. My plan was to hold ministerial credentials in both MCC and the UUA. And if you’ve read any of my previous posts, the values of MCC and the UUA are not mutually exclusive. So I could remain true to what I see as my growing UU identity while ministering in MCC, as well as broaden my professional credentials all at the same time.  A win-win situation, right?

Not really. As I continued to “count the cost” of plural standing in terms of time, commitment, finances, family life–not to mention my personal health and well-being–I decided to hit the pause button. Please don’t misunderstand me; nothing the UUA asked of me is unreasonable–not at all. In fact, in many aspects the UUA ministerial fellowship process reflects what MCC requires of incoming clergy candidates seeking licensure and ordination. I completed this process with MCC 12 years ago, so I know the joys and challenges of such an undertaking. Still, I preach and teach self-care to others. So why would I add so much to my “To Do” list when it is already quite full?

I think this is a great question. Not only for me, but also for many of us–both clergy and non-clergy types. I mean, really, what are we trying to prove and to whom? Of course there’s nothing wrong with improving ourselves through additional education; and there’s nothing wrong with working hard and making the sacrifices necessary to secure a reasonable standard of living and (hopefully) retirement one day. Having beautifully decorated sanctuaries, moving holiday services and the like are wonderful, too.

At the same time, I believe there comes a time when enough is enough. That is, there comes a time when the fabulous decorations aren’t worth the frayed nerves and hurt feelings the process generated–whether those decorations are for the church or for our homes. There comes a time when the upgraded car, home and shiny gadgets aren’t worth the extra hours at work–or even the extra job–it requires to first obtain, then continue to maintain those things. There comes a time when that next professional designation or degree–while desirable–isn’t worth the toll it takes on our lives and the lives of those we love.

Again, achievement and seeking success are fine; after all, I love nice things and success as much as the next person, and I am a self-identified education freak. Still, and as Jesus is quoted as saying in Mark 8:36: “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” The good news for me is I don’t have to lose the “real me” as a UU in order to minister in my current context; still, the time did come for me to ask when enough is enough when it comes to taking on another credentialing process; and I decided now is the time to hit the “pause” button. I think I actually felt my blood pressure go down when I made that decision, too.

In the end, we can’t remove all stressors from our lives; and yes, there will always be a certain amount of extra stress during the holiday season. Still, however and whenever we can, let’s consider hitting the “pause” button. Let’s take time to remember what is really important in our lives. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.

And live–truly live.

Blessed be.