Sunday, May 29, 2005

Naomi Elizabeth

My fabulous brother David and his wife Mari just had a baby daughter, Naomi Elizabeth. She's beautiful and I'm in love.

You can view incredible pictures here.

24 Hours for Gwen Schedule

At the Unitarian Society

From 9:15 am Saturday June 11 until 9:15 am Sunday June 12
The Great Hall will be open for prayer and meditation, please enter the front Great Hall doors.

The Parlor will be open for quiet conversation, coffee, tea and snacks, printed information about Mitochondrial Disease, and an opportunity to support research efforts.

Saturday June 11, from 9 am - 2 pm
Child Care
will be available in the social room and pre-school classrooms. Please enter by the Side Entrance or Great Hall Front door entrance and take your children directly down unless they are joining you in the Great Hall. Please don't use the Great Hall as a passageway.

Saturday, June 11, 1 pm
Open House with Kim.
Gwen's life, the joys and challenges of their family, and information about Mitochondrial Disease in general and the form of it that Gwen has. Please use the Side Door entrance opposite Memorial Hall.

Saturday, June 11 1:30 pm -- Surprise (don't blow it) birthday cake for Abby in the Social Room.

People have offered to bring cookies etc, for the Parlor, which would be welcome.

Others have offered to contribute financially. If this is a way you would like to help, please contribute at the event, or directly to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation

We are still signing up UU members to host for an hour or two at this event, especially during the overnight hours. Call me to volunteer at 413. five84.1390 ext. 203

We are still signing all members of our larger community to up to keep the flow in the Great Hall. Call or email me to volunteer.

For those of you who haven't heard, the timetable for Gwen's surgery has moved up a little. This week
she will be getting her new temporary tube (called a G-J tube) rather than next month. If this is successful, the more major surgery to put in her permanent J-tube will be in the summer.

Watch here for any updates.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Speaking of Faith: Approaching Prayer

I'm thinking quite a lot about prayer and meditation with the 24 Hours for Gwen coming up. It's something I rarely talk about publically, for it seems such a private expression of my faith.

This is a great program at Speaking of Faith, with essays, music, thoughts and prayer, "Creative and generous approaches to prayer."

Monday, May 23, 2005

24 Hours for Gwen

24 Hours for Gwen
love meditation hope positive intention community vigil

Twenty-four hours of spiritual community,

culminating in the Service of the Living Tradition

9:15 am June 11, 2005 through 9:15 am June 12, 2005

This is a copy of a letter that has gone out to members and friends of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, to friends and family of the Lorimer family, and now, to the broader world. Please join us from wherever you are.

Dear Friends,

We are writing to invite your participation in an event to sustain, nurture, and bring hope to a family within our community.

Many of you know three year old Gwen Lorimer and her family—parents Sue and Kim Lorimer, and big sister Abby. You may be aware of Gwen’s battle since birth with mitochondrial disease .

This summer Gwen will undergo another major surgery to insert a new kind of feeding tube. Gwen’s doctors and family are feeling a lot of hope about this procedure which may be a more successful solution than those previously tried. At the same time, there is concern that if this option fails, the doctors are running short of new approaches.

As a religious community some of us have wondered how we can provide support to the Lorimer family as they face the challenge of a seriously ill child. At this time of hope and anxiety we have decided to join with them by holding a 24 hour vigil for Gwen. The event will be held in the Great Hall for the 24 hours preceding the Service of the Living Tradition. Participants are invited to bring a candle to place on a table at the front of the Great Hall so that the hall will be lit in celebration of Gwen and reflection of our hopes for her. There will be child care available in the Social Room from 9 am – 2 pm on Saturday.

What you can do:

  • Join us in the Great Hall at any time and participate in whatever manner feels right to you—Prayer, meditation, and the sending of healing thoughts and intentions.

  • Join us from wherever in the country or world you are, and participate in whatever manner feels right to you—Prayer, meditation, and the sending of healing thoughts and intentions.
  • Sign up for a shift in the Great Hall —We want to be certain that the Great Hall will be occupied for all of the 24 hours it will be open, signing up will help us ensure that.
  • Sign up for a shift as host. We need hosts to ensure that coffee and tea are kept fresh in the Parlor, to stand by the information table, and at night, to provide a watchful eye so those in the Great Hall remain undisturbed. Please commit to a specific time by signing up on the poster in the Parlor or by calling Cindy at 584-1390 x. 203.
  • Bring a candle to place on the table.
  • Participate in a phone tree to encourage others to participate.— Email me and I will forward your interest to Lynne Marie
In Community,

Lynne Marie W. for the Religious Education Council
and Cindy , Director of Religious Education

When we see Gwen, she looks so healthy!
What is Mitochondrial Disease, anyway?

Mitochondrial Disease is a rare and serious disorder. It is a miracle that Gwen is with us, and every day we are thankful for the gift that is her.

On a cellular level, mitochondrial diseases affect the cell's ability to produce life-sustaining energy, and result from failures of the mitochondria. Mitochondria are specialized compartments present in almost every cell of the body (not red blood cells). Mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90% of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth.

On a whole body level, mito disease basically means that something could go wrong with any organ at any time and at any speed. There is no cure for the dys-function in Gwen’s cells. The disease is progressive although there may be long periods of stability.

In Gwen’s case many different organs are involved but it’s her belly and GI tract that are most affected – she can’t eat food. People with this type of Mito disease need to be fed by a g-tube into the belly, or a central line into the blood system. Because g-tube feeds weren’t successful for Gwen, she gets 100% of her nutrition through her veins. Every day she is connected to “TPN” which runs for 20 hours a day. Unfortunately, as much as TPN has been life-giving, it also causes serious long-term damage to her liver. This summer they are going to do surgery to try a new kind of tube that will feed her a special formula directly into her intestines and minimize the damage to her organs.

It is not possible to predict the course of this disease. For Gwen, one change in her treatment to help her with one problem may have a negative impact on another body system. Because of this, and because this is a disease of the cells themselves, treatment is very challenging. When something goes wrong, it’s rarely a little wrong, and her body reacts with great tumult.

You can get general information about mitochondrial disease by visiting

As Unitarians in community, we choose to journey together. A complex disease like this is one which only a few scientific specialists can begin to understand. But we can stand with Gwen and her family. We can walk with them, and pray and meditate and join them on this journey in a very real way. Our thoughts, prayers, and positive intentions can be directed toward Gwen’s cells, her organs, her quality of life, and her family.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Why YOU should participate in our children's R.E.

"Hay in the barn is like money in the bank. It’s got to be done, and it’ll for sure feed the cows; but knowledge opens to a treasure of possibilities that extend way past this winter." My Dad

I grew up on a small, self-sustaining survivalist farm cut out of the harsh rocky Northern Adirondack Mountains. My kind and gentle Christian fundamentalist mother and pragmatic agnostic father had in common the belief that the world could go all to heck any time now. At that time my mom believed the prophesied End Times were upon us; my dad harbored memories of the Great Depression, and fear that such an event could once again freeze commerce and paralyze the country.

Both my parents came from small back-yard farmer families who for centuries in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts tilled small bits of land and raised chickens as a guarantee against abject poverty. My dad was an incredible man of great vision and imagination and a work ethic that still hasn’t quit. During the early years, there were summers of bad growing weather, and winters of 47 Ways to make tomatoes, beans, and eggs. Even before my mom discovered feminism, dad had me doing “boy things:” driving the tractor, birthing calves, learning how to fix the baler or the WWII 1-ton Ford with the straight 8. He’d talk to me about cause and effect while he explained that a carburetor needed only three things: air, fire, and fuel. If I could figure out which it had, I could figure out what wasn’t working, and fix it. Then he’d move on to a discussion of driving safety, or the three branches of government, or math. They all boiled down to causes and effects, he said, and it was knowledge, not simply belief, that allowed one to determine what was going on in the world.

Consistent through my life has been Dad’s core belief in and commitment to education, in the importance of experience, hands-on learning, and inquiry as the best way to learn and grow, as the only way to create new possibilities that could extend beyond what already existed. While my fundamentalist religion and rural educational system limited my worldview, my dad was helping me learn to question and challenge and risk. Later, reading bell hooks, I heard my dad in her words. "Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so
that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions. I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions--a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom." (Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York and London: Routledge, 1994, p. 12)

It was the instinctive combination of knowledge and hands-on practical experience of putting questions and experiences to work that allowed me the space to explore and question, and yes, transgress boundaries and preconceived notions of how the world worked. It is the creation of that space that we try to replicate in our religious education program for children and youth. We work to create a space in which all of our children can stretch and explore according to their own questions, and their own types of intelligence and learning style that we make a safe and sacred environment in which children can explore the biggest questions – Who am I? Who am I in this community? Why am I me and not someone else? What do I believe about life and love and the sacred?

These are not questions to ask lightly, or to ponder philosophically in a room of strangers, or an impersonal blog, but the work of community that I invite you to join as a teacher, mentor, or youth advisor. You may not be able to show a teen how to take a carburetor apart and then use it as a metaphor for government, but I’m sure you have another skill to use as touchstone for imagining. Perhaps you know music, or art, or building, or even haying. Unitarian Universalist curricula is written in a way that helps us to explore ideas and questions and religious with hands-on activities.

I believe that a desire and interest in hands-on experiential learning is more important than knowledge of world religions or philosophy or even Unitarian history. You can play catch-up for content, it's the talents you bring to the table that our children are waiting for. Join our younger students, digging your hands deep down in the dirt to explore the seeds that we are growing in community. As our youngest say when they light the chalice: We are Unitarian Universalists – With minds that think, and hearts that love, and hands that are ready to serve.

Please volunteer to teach, to mentor, to advise; to dig deep and explore in your congregation, be it Unitarian Universalist, or another liberal religious faith path. Call your Director of Religious Education to discuss opportunities that will be worth more than putting the hay in the barn for just one winter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On Child Safety in our Congregations

I received a phone call a couple of weeks ago from a mom who was concerned because there was only one teacher in her daughter’s class.

She asked, “Isn’t it the policy that there have to be two adults in each class?”

“Sort-of,” I replied. “Our policy can be called the ‘two sets of eyes’ policy. The policy is that we must have two adults with any class that leaves the building, and we strongly desire two adults with each class inside our building. Since your daughter’s class meets in this building, it is challenging in terms of classroom management, but permissible, to have a single adult lead class in this building, because there is a window in the door, and I peek in regularly.” This policy is typical for religious institutions nationwide.

This was just one week after another parent expressed frustration that his child’s class had to meet at a table placed in the hallway of the R.E. area, because with only one teacher present they couldn’t travel to their classroom across the street. One responsible adult is generally plenty to run a class of 3 or 4 children, and the policy implementation seemed to this parent to be punitive rather than supportive. He's a great guy, an involved father of one of these 4 kids, and I personally trust him. But while my intuition may answer personal questions, it cannot ever answer institutional ones. Intuition will never answer the question, "How do you know our children are safe?" What am I going to say, "Because I think they are?"

Many of us have spent our lifetime using a kind of intuition about people in order to decide when we are and when we are not safe; when someone else is, or is not, a threat. We value our children and their safety, but it is a sad truth that we cannot tell who is and who is not safe, and our intuition has not always worked. Paraphrasing Audre Lorde, “Your intuition will not protect you.” Because of this, the UUA, local Safe Congregations and Safe Kids Task Forces and RE Committees have created policies to maximize safety and minimize risk to our children and youth.

UUs, believing in the inherent goodness and worth and dignity of humans, approach our relationships in our congregations with a wonderful unconditional positive regard. This, I believe, is part of what makes us such an incredible religious movement. It is this belief in goodness and trust of one another which while challenging, is core to our commitment to this faith journey we take together. It is this centrality of a community of worthwhile individuals which makes our congregations, and our religious education (writ large) a truly liberal religious vision of promise.

I am not always as articulate about this subject as I wish to be, for there is really no good way to say what sounds to some like,
“I trust everyone here,
....and now I am going to implement policies that seem to say otherwise.”

I want my congregation to be a sacred and safe space. I want our congregation to be a harbor in a wild chaos of unpredictability outside, and sometimes it seems to parents, and other congregants that by simply mentioning the possibility of some of that unpredictability entering our doors is like bringing it in.

It has been too often these past years that I am reminded of why we must struggle with this discomfort. Many of us have known victims of domestic violence or child abuse in our towns, cities, and congregations. Many of our families in our congregations are families of choice that include foster children and friends'-children and kin-children who had previously experienced interpersonal violence and abuse. Many in our congregation actively work professionally and as volunteers to end/heal violence on an international, national, and interpersonal level.

It is still only a few years ago that a man in the Brattleboro UU was shot by police in the sanctuary while brandishing a knife. Four months ago a beloved past Board President of a nice Lutheran Church in Kansas City was arrested for being a serial killer. This summer will be the 3 year anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Runnion, a little girl I held and rocked when she was a baby. I vividly remember an August afternoon when I looked into the depth of her infant eyes and told her mom Erin that Samantha was an old soul, born to gift us all.
(Yesterday a jury sentenced Samantha’s kidnapper/rapist/murderer to death. More about that another time at crankycindy.)

Then an escaped murderer from Boston was re-captured in the office of the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago. Described variously as a poet, an anti-war, pro-labor activist; he had been somewhat active in their congregation. Third Unitarian’s DRE was Eliza Galaher, who is serving there while she’s in Seminary at Meadville-Lombard. She previously served as our Youth Director here at USNF, and just yesterday our congregation voted to put her forward for the Ministry.

These events and injuries happen not seven degrees of separation from us, but one or two. Our Safe Kids policies means that, g-d forbid, (I find myself knocking on wood and wishing I could cross myself or make a magic symbol in the air to ward off even the idea) should we have among our friends and trusted congregation someone whose choices might intentionally or unintentionally injure others, we will know that we minimized any opportunity for them to act in a manner that could negatively impact our children. Our Safe Kids policies mean that I don’t have to rely on my incredibly imperfect intuition to decide what grown-ups can take children away from the building alone and which can’t, it simply isn’t done.

We have a two fold challenge in our congregations. We need adults to understand the two-adult rule and cooperate in enforcing it, especially regarding leaving the building or taking children to a private area within it. This will lead the children to expect this as the supportive norm that allows them to experience their community as safe.

Our other challenge is not having enough adults to allow us to fully support our children. When we struggle to find adults to teach and join them in their exploration – to talk or do art or music or games, I believe our children notice. They notice when they are required to have class in the middle of the hallway, and while they are kept physically safe because of that, I wonder how this impacts them emotionally. I know that they notice when we don’t know who their teacher will be next week or next quarter, and I know some wonder why their class is so often lacking an adult presence, and gets a teacher at the last minute, or when the parents have to take turns each week to cover the class. This cannot be knowledge that makes them feel safe or part of a sacred community.

When we are able to provide two adults in each classroom, we keep them physically and emotionally safe and supported. This creates the sacred environment in which they can grow spiritually and be open to liberal religious ideas.

This isn't a rhetorical essay, or administrative navel gazing about the theory and practice of safe congregations work, it's a call to arms. When's the last time you played with music and crayons and little scissors? When's the last time you re-examined the Jesus stories in light of what historians now know, or explored the Rainbow Path of our Principles, or learned about our UU heroes and heroines?

Go. Now. Find the DRE of your congregation and say, "I want to contribute to creating the sacred space that is religious education and faith development. I want to teach, or sing with them, or listen carefully while they re-tell ancient stories, or fill whatever need you have. I want to offer myself up to help out. What can I do?"

Seriously. Go. Now.