Category Archives: Unitarian Universalism

The Seven Days of Chalica

I am coming out of blogging silence to share today’s inspiration.

Each December, Unitarian Universalists celebrate a relatively new holiday known as Chalica.  It is held from the first Monday of December through the following Sunday (7 days) and honors and celebrates the 7 principles of the UUA.  I posted a status update on Facebook today and mentioned that it was the 5th day of Chalica.  A friend commented: “on the 5th day of Chalica, my true love gave to me…

That got me to thinking what the end of that sentence would be, and what the other verses (1st day, 2nd day, etc) would be.  I decided to give my creativity a try and came up with words to The Seven Days of Chalica, sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, with each verse about the principle for that day.  I am thinking it might catch on!

The Seven Days of Chalica
Sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas

On the 1st day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 2nd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 3rd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 4th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 5th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 6th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
A Peaceful Free World,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 7th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
The Earth Which We Value,
A Peaceful Free World,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

The Trip of a Lifetime

I was re-reading a sermon I gave at Neshoba about three and a half years ago, and realized I had never posted it here on my blog.  So for what it’s worth…

The Trip of a Lifetime

One time, years ago, I decided to spend part of my spring break visiting a good friend who had moved to Colorado, about ½ way between Denver and Boulder.  I had never been to that part of the country and was excited about seeing what I had heard was beautiful scenery.  I was anxious to see as much as I could in the week that I had, and figured the best way to do that would be to travel by train.  To get from DC, where I lived at the time, to Denver, I had to change trains in Chicago.  I had driven from the East Coast to the mid-west many times growing up – my father’s family was in Wisconsin and Minnesota – so that part of the trip was not the motivating factor.  But I had not been in any of the states between the Mississippi River and California, so was really looking forward to watching out the train window as the Great Plains rushed past and the Rocky Mountains approached.

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Sacred Ground

Last month, I attended General Assembly, the annual gathering of the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association), at which there are business meetings, workshops, and social events.  Each day, there were breakout sessions called Reflection Groups.  We met with 8-10 other attendees to discuss assigned topics and to share our thoughts on our experience at GA.

One of the Reflection topics was the Biblical story of Moses and the burning bush.  One member of the group read it aloud and then we reflected on what part of it spoke to us the most.  We were asked to consider how we could apply the message of that story to ourselves as UUs.  From that discussion, I was inspired to write the following poem.  I shared it with my congregation last week as our Chalice Lighting words.

Sacred Ground
Within each of us is a spark of the Divine,
A burning bush,
Always lit, never consumed,
That speaks the voice
Of our God, of our Goddess, of our Holy.
“You are on Sacred Ground.”
In the presence of this fire,
Whether in ourselves or in another,
We are standing, we are walking, we are traveling
On Sacred Ground.
We are compelled, we are committed,
To take up the torch,
To carry the flame
To light the fire of passion, of life, of holy work,
As we journey towards truth
On Sacred Ground.

Soul Sisters

In honor of National Poetry Month (and today’s “A Poem in my Pocket” event), I would like to share my most recent poem, written after walking a candlelight labyrinth during our annual Women’s Retreat at Neshoba Church.

Soul Sisters by Chrystal Hogan

Soul sisters, on a journey, we tread our own path.
In… out… circling ’round…
Passing those who lead, watching those who follow.
Footsteps resonate,
Beating a rhythm that matches the cadence of our hearts.
Sometimes I move toward her –
Others, I move away.
Sometimes we travel side by side,
One moving forward, the other returning home.
Lost, I put one foot in front of the other until I find my center. 
Walking alone, I am not alone.
I follow the path created by another,
Showing the way to sisters I bring to the circle.

Peter and the Rock

I am currently participating in an Adult R.E. (Religious Education) class at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The minister is leading a course titled “Owning Your Religious Past” that is designed to address where we have come from in our spiritual journey.  She described it this way:

“Few UU’s are born into the faith, and when we find our way here, it can be with significant baggage from past church experiences. This class will help us sort through what was, what is, and what can be in our experience of religious community, its tools of self-exploration and sharing, finally enabling us to realize a faith that is powerful, nurturing, and relational.”

Last Sunday, the 2nd in the 5 week curriculum, we spent some time with our eyes closed, remembering a church from our past that had a big influence on us, either positively or negatively, mentally walking through the entire building, recalling sights, sounds, and smells.  We then spent a few minutes drawing a floor plan of it and sharing with the other members of the class what we remembered.

My memory was of the Catholic church of my childhood.  I remembered walking up the large flight of marble steps, through the heavy wooden doors, and into the sanctuary with my family.  We were usually late, rushing in as the first hymn, or even the first reading, was already underway.  We sat in the same general area each week – near the back, on the left side of the center aisle.  I still do that at my new church – although now I move to the right, near the side aisle, and am a bit closer to the front.

I think we are all creatures of habit and tend to gravitate to our “comfort zone”.  I remember often asking my dad why we had to sit so far back.  Looking back, it was probably because we were late, and he didn’t want to make a bigger scene than necessary.  He was never one to draw attention to himself.  But his usual answer at the time was to suggest that I look at all the candles on the altar and then tell me that if the place caught on fire, he wanted to be as close to the door as possible!

One of the sights I remember from many Sundays sitting in the pews was the Bible verse painted around the clerestory, just below the upper level windows. In letters edged with gold, it read


For those as lacking in biblical knowledge as I am, that verse is from Matthew 16:18.  As you can see, it was in Latin, which I never took, and it wasn’t until I was in French class in high school that I deciphered what it meant.  In French,  the name Peter translates as Pierre, while the word for rock is pierre.  Yes, the same word.  Sometime after I learned that, I was sitting in church one Sunday, looking at the words high above my head (probably trying to keep from falling asleep during the sermon), and realized that Petrus/Petram looked a lot like Peter. Aedificabo looked like “edifice”, which had to do with buildings, and all of a sudden I put it together.  I was sitting in St. Peter’s Church!  And there was a Bible verse I vaguely remembered hearing at some point in my Catholic school education about “You are Peter, and on this Rock, I build my church.”

It all began to make sense.  At least, the choice of Bible verses made sense.  (I mean, it was St. Peter’s Church!) I never did make sense of the dogma that was preached.  Which is why I no longer consider myself a Catholic.

I have been thinking about my childhood church a lot lately.  Taking part in this exploration of our religious past is bringing up lots of memories, but I also have realized this week that St. Peter’s is still a part of my present.  7 weeks from today*, I will be back in St. Peter’s Church.  This time, though, I will be sitting in the front row, listening to my brother eulogize my father, and missing my rock.  I just hope the church doesn’t catch fire!


*For those who don’t know, we have had to wait for my father’s funeral until we were given a burial date by Arlington National Cemetery.

A play-by-play of our wedding day

Last week was the worst week of my life and the best week of my life.  On Wednesday evening, my Dad passed away (a blog post for another day).  On Thursday, I left for Iowa to get married.  Jeanne and I had been planning our wedding since the end of September, and since the date for Dad’s funeral is up to Arlington National Cemetery and may be several months off, there was no reason to change our plans. We had planned for it to be a very small affair anyway – just us and 2 attendants – so we decided to go ahead and leave.  Between the original plan and the date of the wedding, we did add one guest – a cousin who lives close enough to drive to the location we had chosen.

Jeanne & I, along with our dear friend Lorena, drove about 1/3 of the way the first day.  We got back in the car Friday morning, arrived in Davenport at 2:15 pm, and met up with my sister-in-law who drove in from Wisconsin.  We got there in plenty of time to pick up our license at the court house, check into the Bed & Breakfast we had found, and get to the church for a 4 pm rehearsal.  All went smoothly that day, and we went to bed early to be well rested for the big day.

Saturday – our wedding day – was almost perfect.  The day began with sleeping in (which we all needed), followed by a yummy breakfast casserole, cinnamon rolls and a trip to the mall to get our nails done.  My color matched my flowers and Jeanne’s color matched her blouse.  It had been sprinkling as we walked into the mall, but when we left, the sun was shining – yay!  After a quick bite at Panera to make sure we all made it through the afternoon, we returned to the Beiderbecke Inn to get ready.  Jeanne was ready first and went downstairs to wait.  My cousin Michelle arrived and kept her company while our 2 attendants helped me get into my dress.  Michelle then came up to see me and give me two tokens to have with me during the ceremony – a hankie that was her mother’s and a pin that was one of Dad’s other sister’s.  The pin belonged to my godmother, and was a silver shamrock with a pearl at the center.  Both gifts were very meaningful and gave me a sense of having part of Dad with me on this special day.

When I was finally ready, I came down to meet Jeanne.  As I rounded the corner in the staircase, I could see her waiting at the bottom – her mouth hanging open as she saw my dress for the first time.  I was so happy she liked it!  We took tons of photos, inside and out, and then headed for the church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, a UU congregation very similar to our home church of Neshoba.

When we got there, several cars were already in the parking lot.  Our minister in Memphis had emailed the minister in Iowa to suggest that he invite members of his congregation to attend, since we couldn’t have our church family with us.  When we went inside there were already 2 families and a couple of other people.  More arrived before the start of the ceremony – we were amazed at how many people came to see 2 strangers get married.  One couple, Dana and Betty, told us that they had been married over 2 years ago, and when they had their ceremony, they had also been together 19 years.

The ceremony itself was lovely.  The minister said a few words of welcome, and talked about love.  One phrase that stuck with me was he told us to “knock gently on each other’s hearts, and open them to each other in gladness”.  Our friend Lorena, who we gave the title of “Best Woman”, read the chalice lighting words. Lori, my sister-in-law, who was the “Matron of Honor”, read a passage from Robert Fulgum.  Following that was a prayer that Lorena and Lori read together.

Then came the vows – we had each written our own and not shared them at that point.  I was already a bit teary because Lori & Lorena had each teared up a bit during the readings.  I went first because I didn’t want to cry at Jeanne’s and then not be able to get through my own.  Turns out I cried during mine anyway.  But I got through it.  Jeanne’s were touching as well, so I was glad I had a hankie in my pocket!

We exchanged rings and then all of a sudden we were married!  Our recessional was “Can I have this dance” by Anne Murray, so we danced for a bit in front of everyone, and then walked down the aisle.  As everyone left, we stood by the door thanking them for helping us celebrate.  Several of them gave us cards, and one woman actually gave us a gift.  It was a small figurine of 2 people (of indiscriminate gender) embracing – we found out later, it was crafted by a famous local artisan, Isabel Bloom.

We took more photos, went to the minister’s office to sign the paper work, and then went outside to take even more pictures.  Our Matron of Honor, Lori, is a wedding photographer by profession, so she knew just what poses to capture and how to take advantage of the light.  Most of the photos were taken on her camera, so we will get those after she has a chance to upload and edit them.

A few photos were taken on iphones. This one turned out well!

It was quite breezy on Saturday, so that presented a challenge, but Lori is experienced in dealing with challenging situations, so I have no doubt the pictures will be amazing.  As we got into the car to leave the church, the rain started up again – just a sprinkle, but we were thrilled that it waited until we were finished with pictures.

We returned to the Beiderbecke to put our feet up and visit for a while.  Michelle had brought Prosecco and sparkling pear juice, so she, Lori & Lorena toasted us and our marriage.  We opened gifts from Michelle and Lorena, opened all the cards from the members of the church, and then got ready to go to dinner.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped again!

We had a 6 pm reservation at Biaggi’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant that has locations around the country, but none in Tennessee, so we hadn’t heard of it before.  I just found it the way I did most of the parts of this weekend – searching on the internet for “Fine Dining in Davenport”.  The atmosphere was warm – literally and figuratively. We were seated near a fireplace in a back room – a round table set for 5.  Lorena sat next to Jeanne, Michelle was next to me, and Lori was across the table from us – perfect vantage point for the photographer!

The waiter, a nice young man named Angel, informed us that the manager wanted to provide a bottle of wine for our celebration, so we went with Prosecco again.  For appetizers, we ordered calamari fritti and lobster artichoke dip, shared around the table. Then it was on to soup and salad – I had a Caesar and Lori & Lorena shared a beet salad and a bowl of lobster corn chowder.  The soup was passed around also so we could all taste it.   Everyone agreed that the food was all delicious.  Then came the main course.  Jeanne ordered a seafood pasta bowl that included shrimp, scallops, muscles, and clams in a tomato sauce.  I had shrimp & crab cannelloni in a lobster cream sauce.  Michelle had chicken piccata, and Lori & Lorena each ordered a ½ order of a pasta dish – the cannelloni and a black fettucini with lobster and wild mushrooms – and then shared them.   We should have all gone with 1/2 orders – Michelle, Jeanne and I all had leftovers, while Lori & Lorena cleaned their plates!

Finally, it was time for dessert.  Lori had brought a stunning cheesecake made at a Wisconsin bakery, Simma’s.  Besides being beautiful, with swirls and plum-colored dots that matched my dress, it was the most delicious wedding cake any of us had ever tasted!  It was two-tiered, and we used the figurine given to us by the member of the UUCQC as a cake topper – it was the perfect size for the cake.

We had to say goodbye to Michelle after dinner, but it had been a wonderful day and we were so grateful she was able to be there to help us celebrate.  Lori, who was doing triple duty as witness, photographer, and driver, got us all back to the B&B for a relatively early night.  The drive home the next day was going to be long, so we retired to our respective rooms by 9 pm.

Even if our marriage is never recognized by the state we live in or by the federal government, we are so happy we made this trip.  We have hopes that it be legal everywhere one day, but in the meantime, we know in our hearts that we are legally married and that we will continue to love each other … at least one more day than we have so far.

Revisiting an old post

I first posted this 2 years ago… it was a sermon I gave at Neshoba UU Church and was one of my first blog posts.  A comment on another blogger’s site made me think of it.  I have added a bit of information and tweaked a few other details, but I thought I would share it again for those who are new visitors to The Spirit Within.

I have a Jewish friend who forwards emails to me on a regular basis. Occasionally, her emails make reference to God, and I have noticed that she spells His name G – d. From what I have read, observant Jews follow this practice out of reverence for the Almighty.  One reason it is done is to avoid desecrating His name by crumpling, tearing, or otherwise destroying the paper on which it is written.  The other reason has to do with the belief that we as humans are not able to fully understand Him, and so we should not use his full name. In this interpretation, the dash represents all that they don’t know, can’t know, about their god. Think of all the various names that different faiths and different people use for God. Yahweh, Allah, Father, Almighty, Spirit… the list is too long to name. To me, the dash represents the fact that we all have different understandings, different interpretations of who or what God is. The differences between us – the important distinctions – are all in the dash.

Even within each of us, there can be different, sometimes conflicting understandings of the idea of God. There can be the God of our childhood – the one that our parents believed in and taught us to believe in. For some, that was a vengeful god, keeping a tally of our sins for the day when we would be judged. For others, it was a God of forgiveness, full of love for His children.

Click on image for source

And yet others might remember a God that was 3 in one – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I grew up being instilled with the concept of a trinity and with an image of God, the Father, as an old man sitting in the sky. Even as a young person, I just couldn’t accept that as plausible. It seemed too far-fetched to be real, so for a long time, I was very uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Whether or not we were raised with a concept of God, as an adult, we might have a whole different understanding of the Holy. Individually, we may each have different names for the Divine. One may profess faith in a living, loving God, another in a Holy Being that transcends life; still others, in the Spirit of Life that we sing about each Sunday, or even in a Goddess of the earth… Some may disavow the idea of God all together. However we conceptualize God, if we do at all, it is our own understanding that is important. As Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

I still have some hesitation over the term God. It seems to carry a connotation that I am uneasy with. On the other hand, I have come to appreciate the concept, borrowed from many 12-step programs, of a “Higher Power” or a “god of my own understanding”. I like the phrase “Higher Power” – it provides another perception of the Holy, the idea that the word G – d doesn’t have to refer to a being at all – it can mean the power of love in a community, the life force that joins us together, or – if you think of the dash as standing for “OO” – the GOOD in each other.

So for me, the dash in the word G – d represents the divine, the spirit, the spark that resides within me – within all of us. I do believe that there is something holy in all of us that only gets bigger when we give it away. Your spark, your love, your spirit only grows stronger when you share it with others. So how to we recognize the divine in ourselves? In each other?

Consider this poem by Linda Ellis.

The Dash 

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars….the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spend your dash?

Examining how we spend our dash can help us find that spark. Do we fill it with things? With people? With money? With service? Is it about whom we love, or what we have, or even how we worship? Forrest Church, a UU minister who is widely quoted, says, “Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die.” So is religion how we should fill our dash? Personally, I tend to resist the word “Religion” – much as I used to resist the word God. It brings back memories of childhood and the hypocrisy I felt when attending church. A better word for me is Spirituality, so perhaps I can paraphrase Reverend Church by saying that Spirituality is the human response to life and death. Spirituality is what should fill our dash.

But what exactly is Spirituality? For some, it is about a belief in a supreme being – in G – d. For others, it is less about “god” and more about the Spirit within themselves. Spirituality, our dash, is a path we are all on, a journey towards truth. Each path is a personal one and as truth evolves, the path can change. This spiritual journey is a search for one’s core beliefs and for ways to demostrate those beliefs through actions. It is also a recognition of those moments that speak to us on a level sometimes beyond description.

Spirituality is about noticing the small things – the soft skin of a newborn baby, the smell of the salt air by the beach, the colors of a sunset flooding the horizon. It is also about noticing the big things.

When I was in high school, I spent many weekend hours with my dad on the farm he owned about an hour outside of town. One Saturday, the work that needed to be done took longer than he expected and we were still there after dark. As my dad continued to work in the barn, I climbed up onto the roof of our station wagon and laid back, staring up at the sky. As the light faded away, stars began to emerge, first the biggest and brightest, then the smaller and fainter. Out there in the country, far from the lights of the city, the sky was darker than I had ever seen. I tried to count the stars and quickly realized there were many more than I could even begin to number. When it seemed as if the sky couldn’t get any darker and the stars any more numerous, a cloud of dust emerged across the sky – the Milky Way! I had heard of it, but being a city girl had never actually seen it. I think that was my first, and possibly most vivid, spiritual moment.

I realized then that there was something out there, larger than each of us, larger than all of us. I feel that we are like the stars scattered across the sky. Some are bigger and brighter, some smaller and fainter, but each one adds to the beauty and together we create moments beyond description. These moments are the stepping stones on our journey, but we still have to fill the space in between.

For me, filling my dash is about finding who I am and examining how I live my life – it is about finding the spirit within myself, and how I share that spirit with others. Lois W., co-founder of Al-Anon, defines Spirituality as “living a life that has deeper meaning than the search for daily necessities.” I strive to live a spiritual life, a life that has meaning – that will leave an imprint on those whose lives I touch.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for a woman who was retiring from my school after 40 years of work. It coincided with her 75th birthday, so the event was truly a celebration of her life. Current and former colleagues, students and administrators spoke fondly of the dedication she had shown the school and the love they felt for her. They told funny stories about things that had happened over the years. They spoke of her faith and her spunk, of her laughter and her hugs. We were surprised to learn that she had taken up the piano in her 60’s. And that she planned to travel now that she was retired. And you might be surprised to learn that she was not a teacher, not an administrator, not even an office staff member. She was on the housekeeping staff – she spent 40 years helping to set up for receptions, cleaning up afterwards, keeping the halls and the classrooms neat and tidy, and generally taking care of all those who passed through them. But through it all, her life – her dash – touched many people. And how wonderful it was for her to hear that celebrated while she was still there to receive that gift.

I have been teaching for 26 years, and can only hope that I have touched a few students and colleagues along the way. I counted up the other day – give or take a few dozen, I have taught almost 1600 students. One of those former students was at the celebration for this woman, and how heartwarming it was to have her come over to me to give me a hug and let me know she had fond memories of my class. If there is someone in your life whose dash has touched you in some way, I hope you can find a way to say thank you, to let them know that their life had an impact on you. And perhaps one day, someone will come up to you and say thanks. Thanks for being an inspiration. Thanks for being a role model. Thanks for helping me through a tough time. Thanks for being there when I needed a friend. Thanks for being you.

I am ready. Are you?

Today, Neshoba Church celebrated our 20th anniversary.  The actual anniversary happened in January.  Or maybe March.  It depends on what you count as the beginning.  The 1st service was held in January of 1992.  The charter, officially designating us as a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in North America  (also known as the UUA), was signed in March of 1992.  The reason we celebrated in April this year was due to scheduling issues.  The church’s first minister, Rev. Jean Rowe, who retired to North Carolina 7 years ago, was going to be in town this weekend, officiating at a wedding for a Neshoba family, so it made sense to tie the church’s celebration to the date that was convenient for her.

Because we are in transition, and don’t have a settled minister yet, our minister emerita was asked to lead the service.  A long-time member, Anthony Culver, helped plan the details, and Rev. Jean gave a lovely sermon that helped paint a picture of Neshoba’s past while reminding us that we need to continue working on a vision for the future.  Members of the youth group helped with parts of the service, making it truly multi-generational.

Jean spoke of three charges she gave the congregation at that very first service 2 decades ago. What she told them then holds true today as well.  First, we need to remember to hold each other with “care-full” compassion.  We are a family, and as such are bonded together, for better or worse, so we need to care for each other as we learn and grow.

Secondly, we need to heed the words of hymn #311 – Let it be a dance by Ric Masten.

Let it be a dance we do.
May I have this dance with you?
Through the good times
And the bad times, too,
Let it be a dance.

Let a dancing song be heard.
Play the music say the words,
Fill the sky with sailing birds.
Let it be a dance.
Learn to follow, learn to lead,
Feel the rhythm, fill the need.
To reap the harvest, plant the seed.
And let it be a dance.

Everybody turn and spin,
Let your body learn to bend,
and, like a willow with the wind,
Let it be a dance.

A child is born, the old must die,
A time for joy, a time to cry.
Take it as it passes by.
And let it be a dance.

 Morning star comes out at night,
Without the dark there is no light.
If nothing’s wrong, then nothing’s right.
Let it be a dance.
Let the sun shine, let it rain,
Share the laughter, bare the pain,
And round and round we go again.
Let it be a dance.

Together, we should always let our church life be like a dance – joyful and full of purpose – through the good times and the bad times too.

The third charge was to allow ourselves to occasionally step back from leadership roles, trust in each other, and go along for the ride.  As the line in the hymn says, we need to “learn to follow, learn to lead, / feel the rhythm, fill the need.”  There are times when we need to step up and take on responsibility for various aspects of the church and there are other times where we need to trust in the leadership of our fellow Neshobans.  Let others be the guide while we just help paddle the boat.

Hearing about the beginning of Neshoba has renewed my commitment to this special place.  The people who started Neshoba had a dream.  They worked hard to plan and build and grow from a seed planted 20 years ago into the community we are today. On this Earth Day weekend, it seems appropriate to continue that metaphor.  The roots of the church are strong, and the body is growing.  We need to feed the soul of the church, prune her branches where necessary to remain healthy, and protect her from the storms of life that threaten to do damage.  With care, she will continue to grow strong and stable and will shelter generations to come.

20 years into our story, we are at a crossroads, getting ready to bring in a new minister.  There are exciting opportunities ahead of us. We need to continue to work hard to achieve the vision the founding members set forth.  I am ready.  Are you?

3 lessons

I have heard the same message 3 times, from 3 different sources, this week.  I think I am supposed to be paying attention.

Samhain (pronounced sau’-in) was this week.  In more mainstream circles, it is known as Halloween, but it began as Samhain many years ago – a yearly marking of the turning of the seasons, often celebrated by those who identify as Pagan.

The Sunday service at my church was about this annual festival, at which the Celtic people celebrated the harvest and honored the souls of their departed, loved ones.

click for source

We were reminded in the service that we are a product of all those who have touched our lives, living or dead, friend or foe, intimate or acquaintance.  We are even a product of those ancestors we haven’t met – the many people who knew and loved the ones who knew and loved us.

Sunday evening, a friend posted a quote on Facebook:

Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming. Not a single interaction with a single person is left out of the process of your becoming.

Many assume that only pleasing relationships have value, but that is not the case. Your awareness of an unwanted situation evokes from you a clear Vibrational request for something different. And so, even those uncomfortable interactions with others form the Vibrational basis of your expansion.

People often believe that the value of interacting with others is mostly about combining talents and actions in order to accomplish the things that need to be done in a society, but your interaction is much more important than that. You are helping one another define the attributes of your individual and collective expansion. In other words, even the briefest of encounters with another person is actually contributing to your expansion as an Eternal Being.

I really like the first line of this quote.  “Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming.”  The idea that we are shaped by those who are in our past is not unfamiliar, but the idea that we are continuing to become the people we are going to be helps me realize that we are all a work in progress.  We are still being shaped – not only by the people in our lives now, but by the interactions we have experienced throughout our lives.

November 1st is All Saints Day in the Christian church.  I teach at an Episcopal school and we had a Eucharist service yesterday.  We sang a hymn I have always loved – “I sing a song of the saints of God”.  It is about finding “saints” not only in ages past, but in everyday life.  The homily from our chaplain was also about people in our lives, what the Old Testament refers to as our “cloud of witnesses”.   She reminded us that we all have people who are in our cloud – those whose lives had some influence over who we have become, both living and gone.  The image of a white fluffy cloud in a blue sky is a metaphor for those who have had a positive influence, those who have lifted us up and helped us grow.  She also used the image of the storm cloud, heavy and dark, to represent those people and situations that bring us down.  She asked us to remember, when faced with the dark clouds of life, the challenges and obstacles that get in our way, that we always have that other cloud with us and to hold the light of those who love us in our hearts.

I have been touched and shaped by so many people – family members, close friends, acquaintances, even strangers.   Some of these interactions have been positive, others negative, but they are all a part of who I am and who I am becoming.  For those in my “cloud”, I am grateful.  They help lift me up when I am down, bringing light to the darkness.

Hearing this message 3 times over in the course of 3 days can’t be coincidence.  I think I need to pay attention to it.  I need to remember those who have played a part in my life, being grateful for what they have taught me – what to do and what not to do.  I need to remember that I am playing a part in others’ lives, and can only hope they are paying attention too.  My wish for all of us is that we all be surrounded by our own personal “cloud of witnesses”, finding peace in the turmoil of life.

Proud to be a part of history

Last Tuesday, October 11, was National Coming Out Day (NCOD) – a day for members of the LGBT community to take a brave step out of the closet and share their authentic selves with the world around them.

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This past Saturday was Pride Day for the Memphis & Mid-South area.  It used to be held in June, but was moved to October last year to coincide with – or at least be close to – NCOD.  I think the cooler weather also may have played a role in the date change!

For years, the festival and parade was held in a part of town known for its liberal-minded residents and its large gay and lesbian population.  This year, we came out of the “mid-town” closet.  For the first time ever , the festival was moved to a park in downtown and the parade marched up one of the most famous streets in Memphis, if not in the whole country – Beale Street.

Our church's parade contingent

The whole event felt historic – we had more vendors and organizations with booths in the park, more groups and people marching in the parade, and more spectators than ever before.

There were two 100′ rainbow flags, carried by members of faith communities and by members of youth- centered groups such as GSAs from schools and a support group known as MAGY – Memphis Area Gay Youth.

My small church, with just over 100 adult members, turned out 40 adults and 11 children to help set up our booth, hand out information, walk in the parade, and/or break down our display.

Me and our minister at our festival booth

The response from the public lining the sidelines of the parade was tremendous!  Applause, cheers, flag waving, and affirming signs greeted us as we turned the corner from 2nd street onto the cobblestones of Beale.

There is really no way to describe the feelings I experienced that day.  The beautiful weather, the friendly faces, and the party atmosphere made it one of the most memorable days of my life.  It gave me hope that, step by step, moment by moment, one person at a time, we are changing the world.  The time is now.  We are out of the closet.  We are who we are, and we aren’t ashamed to let the world know.  Be proud of who you are… that is what Pride Day is all about!