Monday, May 14, 2012

Longing or Gratitude

The other night I watched TV for the first time in a long time.  No anti-boob-tube righteousness in that hiatus . . . I've been busy.  But I did get a break the other night, and I tuned in MythBusters, and . . .

I was amazed at all commercials for food!  It seemed as though food were being shoved in my face over and over again with a break only to tell me about how there was more food in another room somewhere.  I was reminded of an experience I'd had at a wedding reception -- after half an hour or so of eating at the most splendiferous buffet you could ever imagine, it was announced that the appetizers were finished and it was time for us to go in to dinner!

For anyone who's not been following this blog, yesterday was Day 30 of a fresh vegetable and fruit juice fast.  (See the movie Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead to get an idea of what and why.)  And today is 36 days since processed foods, fast foods, sugar, or the like have passed my lips.  So maybe you can imagine the reaction I was having to this visual smorgasbord.

Or maybe you can't.  Maybe you'd imagine that after a month of eating (drinking?) really healthfully all of this excess would have been unpleasant.  If so, you'd be wrong.  A Double Quarter Pounder from McDs?  Heaven.  A pepperoni pizza which cheese sticks for a crust?  Seventh Heaven!  I watched each and every image of food-like product that was being flashed before my eyes and I coveted it!

And what made this longing even worse was the fact that I know the changes I am making in the way I eat are permanent.  I am not juice fasting so that I can return to eating poisonous food facsimiles.  I am trying to heal my body and save my life.  So I intend to finish this fast and switch to a nutrient-dense, whole-food, plant-based diet.  As of this moment I think I'll be following the kind of diet advocated by Dr. Joel Furhman (among others), author of such books as Eat to Live and which he describes in great detail at his website.

But this means no more ribs.  Ever.  No more KFC.  Ever.  I will never taste the fabled deliciousness of Pizza Hut's Royal Crown Pizza.  Even if it ever gets to the United States.

I love popcorn shrimp.  (Heck, I like any kind of shrimp!)  I love the aroma of barbecuing meat.  And I could look at the changes I'm trying to make from a perspective of deprivation:  I could focus on all of the things that I love to eat that I will never eat again.

Or, I could look at this from a perspective of opportunity:  there is a world  of amazing tastes out there just waiting to be discovered!  Vegan food; raw food; unbelievably tasty things that I've never eaten because instead I've been filling up on fast food.

How do you look at your life?  Do you focus on the things you don't have, on your longings?  Or do you celebrate the things you do have, your gratitude?  This choice makes all the difference.

In Gassho,


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Source Church, continued . . .

Back in the summer and early fall I wrote about the concept of "the open source church."  This is a phrase to describe a new model of thinking about and "doing" church that seeks to take the best of the new ways of interrelating that have been developing in this Internet Age and apply them to the venerable institution of The Church.  It's pretty exciting stuff, I think.  Challenging, but exciting.

My own Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is conducting what I see to be an experiment in this direction during our upcoming General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona.  General Assembly is our annual business meeting and conclave -- Unitarian Universalists from all over the country, and the world, gather in one place for about a week of meetings, worship, workshops, reunions, and introductions.  A friend of mine likes to call it "the eight-day coffee hour," but I've always really loved going.

But here's the rub.  Those who attend GA are a rather self-selecting group.  There are a core of folks who attend General Assembly year after year after year -- GA Junkies we are called.  Then there are the folks who attend because this year GA is located geographically close to where they live and worship (and they've always wanted to be able to go).  One thing these two groups have in common is that they can afford to go -- the commitment of money and time is considerable.

Which puts the UUAofC into an interesting predicament.  On the one hand, we are committed to democratic principles.  In fact, it's one of the principles enshrined in the UUA's bylaws as one of the seven principles all Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant with one another to affirm and promote:  "The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large."

And yet, at the same time, the venue through which we can use the democratic process at our Associational level is itself only questionably democratic.  Many of our congregations have no representation at all because no one from these communities is able to attend.  And, so, our larger and more affluent congregations -- and the relatively more affluent members of these affluent congregations -- are generally the people who decide the Association's business.

But last year the General Assembly began an experiment, allowing some folks who could not physically attend the event to do so virtually.  Last year, as a couple of thousand of UUs descended on Charlotte, North Carolina, others went to their computer screens in their homes or congregations.  They watched live feeds of all of the plenary meetings; they were able to participate in discussions and debates; and they were able to vote.  Last year the experiment was aimed at shaking out the bugs -- last year's off-site delegates could vote but the votes weren't counted.  This year, though, we're doing it for real.

This year's General Assembly is June 20-24 in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is promised to be a GA like no other in our history, one in which we engage issues of social justice on the ground -- this is the land of SB1070, after all.  If you'd like to attend -- on-site or in-person -- you should probably do that soon.  (Details are at the UUA's website.) 

And if you're one of the folks from the congregation I serve -- Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, VA -- and are interested in being a delegate (again, on- or off-site) you can apply for delegate status by contacting the TJMC Board Executive Committee or sending a letter to the Board President  as soon as possible!

And if you're interested in learning more about being an off-site delegate, click here.  Plans are underway to have a location  at  TJMC for off-site delegates to view the proceedings, along with technical support.  Contact Bev Thierwechter  for details and BEFORE registering. Off-site delegate registration fee is $ 100; the deadline is June 8th.  If you require financial support for the off-site delegate registration fee, please contact the me.

It will be interesting to see where this experiment takes us.  What seems clear is that it will open up our process . . . and that seems to me an exciting thing.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Helicopter God

There is a relatively new term making the rounds in parenting circles (and discussions):  helicopter parent.  This describes a mom or dad who hovers around their child, always watching, whether needed or not, and who swoops in to rescue their child at the first sign of trouble.

While this is apparently a growing phenomena, it is also one that's being (rightly, I believe) criticized.  Firstly, if a parent hovers too closely to their child that child is constantly recieving the message that they aren't to be trusted.  This isn't the intent, of course, but it is the result.  "You need me to be watching over you," is the message that the behavior itself is sending.  "You're not safe/strong/smart/something enough to handle the world on your own."  This is not, as you can imagine, the kind of message we want to be giving our children if we want them to grow up as strong, independent adults.

The second problem with this parental approach is like unto the first -- if the parent always swoops in to save the day whenever there's the slightest problem, the child has no opportunity to learn problem solving skills for her or himself.  They'll always be looking for someone else to do things for them, waiting to be saved from every predicament.

This morning one of my children asked me to help him do something.  Actually, to be more accurate, he asked me to "help" him by doing it for him.  I told him that he could do it himself and made sure that he really did understand how.  And then I let him do it.  When he asked me why I didn't help him I told him that I had, and that now he'd not only done it but also knew he could do it himself and didn't need to wait on me to do it in the future.  This doesn't mean that I never "help" him by doing things for him; I just want to make sure that he learns how much he's capable of doing on his own.

It strikes me that a lot of so-called "religious" folks have the idea of a helicopter God.  This "God" they imagine is always hovering around, always watching, and ready to swoop in at a moment's notice.  Of course, this isn't what people actually experience most of the time, but it's what they seem to expect.  Let's unpack that last line a little bit.

When, as the saying goes, bad things happen to good people lots of folks turn their faces skyward and shout, "Why?!?!?!?"  They wonder why God isn't "answering their prayers" -- by which they mean "fixing this problem in the way I want it to be fixed."  Essentially, people are asking their "God" why God isn't helping them, by which they mean  "doing it for them." 

This is what turns a lot of people off from the very idea of "God," that their experience of living suggests that if there is such a thing as a "God" she/he/it is doing a really lousy job.  Why is there so much suffering in the world?  Why aren't my prayers being answered?

But what if God were more like a parent than we'd like to admit?  This, of course, is all metaphor and analogy because whatever God might be God isn't really like anything we can conceive of.  The inconceivable is just that -- inconceivable.  But still, throughout time and across cultures people have imagined the divine as parent . . . and what if that metaphor has some real truth to it?

Well, then, wouldn't a helicopter God be just as bad as a helicopter parent?  Wouldn't God's children be receiving the message that they aren't to be trusted?  And wouldn't they have a hard time learning how to fix their own problems and clean up their own messes? 

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is remembered as saying, "Which of you [parents], if your child asks for a fish will give a snake instead?  Or if you're asked for an egg, would give a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God do for you?"

If God "is" a parent, then God is the greatest, most perfect parent possible.  And a helicopter parent is just not an example of perfect parenting.

In Gassho,