Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dear Neighbors, Happy Halloween, Don't let me in your house

Last night, Sam the Cat whined so long outside a neighbors' house that they let him in. Sam had to write a letter to the neighborhood explaining why it's really best not to do this.

Sam the Cat

Dear Neighbors,
Happy Halloween.

Thank goodness for this holiday, I can communicate briefly in human talk. My people rescued me from a New Jersey Turnpike truck stop a long time ago, and as a result of breathing all those fumes, I have severe learning disabilities.

My people take really good care of me. They take me to the Dr. and feed me and pet me. I’m a great mouser, rabbiter, and birder so you should probably hide your children (not really, but hide your hamster). I free feed all the cat crunchies I want, and never get fleas. Somehow, I make friends with the skunks.

I like your porch. Well, really, I like every porch in the world. They were invented just for me, ya know. Porches are perches for me to look for critters to catch when I’m not sleeping. I love being outdoors, and stay out as much as I can. When I’m not on someone’s porch, or in my house, I’m sleeping in the nice warm dry nest I have under the back porch of my house. In the cold winter, there’s a heating pad in a back porch nest for me to sleep in if I don’t come when I’m called at night.

Years ago my people kept me inside because it didn’t seem safe for me to go out, with my not being smart and all. But I wasn’t happy. I was depressed and I’d sit at the window for hours on end with my nose against it – actually against it until there was catnose schmutz and drool all over it. So now they let me out. Even though my life is likely to be shorter, it’ll be better. It’s what they would want for themselves.

See, here’s the most challenging thing for me, and for those around me-- I’m a cat of very little brain. The most confusing thing for me is doors. I don’t understand doors. In 8 years, I haven’t learned that what’s on the other side of any door last time, is there this time too. I cry to go in and out. My parents have tried many times to teach me that in and out don’t change a whole lot, but I just don’t get it. I go out through a door, turn around, and Hey! There’s a door there! I wonder what’s on the Other Side of it? Are my people still there? Are my food and water bowls still there? Is the cat box still in that room with the nice water bowl? I just have to find out. Once I went in and out 21 times in an hour. (My people were bored, so they experimented.)

I cry a terrible meow, you’ve probably heard it. You’d think I was dying. I only have that one meow, whether I am happily chasing a frog, or trying to get someone to wake up and let me in at midnight. But I’m not dying, and I’ll stop if no one answers me, but if you weaken and let me in your house you’ll be done for. Because then I’ll find out that that differently colored spot on your house really is a door, and I’ll always be asking to be let in.

I promise, I’m ok. If I cry so much outside your small child’s room that he or she is going to cry too, please feel free to call my moms at xxxxxxx (7 am – 10 pm) and ask them to come and get me. Throwing a ball at me will make me go home, but I hope I never bother you that much.

Sam, with the assistance of Cindy and Rebecca

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Don't want to learn about EX-gays by paying to go to their conference?

Go to this event instead. I admit that it is an odd, perhaps even a sick hobby for me to study the Christian/Theocratic Right and as such anti-gay/ex-gay events are fun and exciting for me. (see Because I was raised a Christian Fundamentalist and graduated from a Baptist College, my experience brings a particular perspective to the scholarship. But mine was a relatively progressive Baptist college, whereas Marc Adams attended Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's own bastion of intellectual curiosity.

There is an event I want to recommend to all in Eastern/Central Massachusetts, So. VT/NH, and CT UUs. Marc has been a UU for the past 6 years, and he writes, speaks, and works reaching out to kids at religious colleges. I could have used him 20-25 years ago.

Educational Event Preacher's Son

Sponsored by RCFM and Greater Boston P-FLAG

Marc Adams, author of The Preacher's Son, will share his experiences as a student at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, his attempts to become "ex-gay" and finally coming to terms with being gay and coming out to his fundamentalist Christian family. This is an opportunity to learn more about the ex-gay movement.

Marc Adams’ autobiography, The Preacher’s Son, was awarded the Silver Pen Award and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Marc is also the founder of HeartStrong, a non-profit educational organization for GBLT students of religious schools, colleges and universities.

Wednesday, October 26, 7:00 PM

Grace Episcopal Church

76 Eldridge Street, Newton Corner, MA 02458.


Free Admission

Open seating

Monday, October 17, 2005

This makes me feel bedder about my spelin'

My mom sent me this, it's been floating around the internet.

Can you read this? Srmat poelpe can.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

I feele so mush bedder now.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Paper vs. Electronic Newsletters --A Really Big Opinion

Let me be clear. There's lots to commend going electronic, but I think that it's technologist and classist for our congregations to go to all electronic communications.
Sure, it saves trees, time, and postage.

It also assumes that everyone has a computer and can get online regularly, leaving out the anti-technology folks, many of our the elderly and less - abled, the working poor, and, dare I say it, the parents who can hardly get their kids off the computer. A friend of mine said just Friday that she never gets a turn on the computer between her kids and her partner.

Also, it assumes that everyone actually reads their email. A teacher in RE told me last week that she only checks her email every week or so, so I'd better not communicate with her that way.

Also, it assumes that it's the adults who read the newsletter and not the kids, who rarely have access to mom or dad's email accounts.

and finally, except for people like my friend Michelle who have a laptop and wifi, you can't read an email or web site posted newsletter in the bathroom.

My new Scanner

You computer geek people probably think I mean one of those machines that takes a picture of a document and puts it in your computer. Nope. I'm an A/V geek. I mean one of those radios that allows you to listen to the fire department and DPW and see if they talk about why your basement is flooding.

My honey came home today with a brand new hand held scanner with so many features it took me 45 minutes just to figure out how to put in the basic frequencies. She called it my birthday christmas pumping the basement all day present. She handed it to me with headphones. It must be true love.

I come from a long line of scanner people. My mom and dad are, and one set of grandparents were scanner people. I could tell you about my brother's Ham radio set up and how you can use the computer now to transmit, but it's all very complicated and over my head, so I actually can't explain it. Plus, probably not so interesting for you.

I like being able to hear the fire station blow, turn on my scanner, and know what happened. It's the busybody in me. I don't actually tell anyone what I hear, that'd require more conversation than I have in any given day, and conversation makes me tired.

Last night several basements in Easthampton were pumped out by the fire department. See, probably not so interesting for you.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Vroomfondel, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Religious Education

Each morning when I turn on my computer, I hear a clip from the BBC audio of 'Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy', Vroomfondel shouts at me, “We demand guaranteed, rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.” It reminds me what my job isn’t.

Vroomfondel is one of two philosophers who are concerned that the great computer Deep Thought will be able to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, leaving them with nothing to do. His response to his concerns is to make demands. He demands admission to the room, then demands solid facts, then the total absence of solid facts, finally settling on the idea that it’s the demarcation (of job responsibilities between computers and philosophers) that is the problem.

"You just let the machines get on with the adding up," warned [the other philosopher], "and we'll take care of the eternal verities thank you very much. … Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we're straight out of a job aren't we? I mean what's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives us his bleeding phone number the next morning?"

"That's right!" shouted Vroomfondel, "we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!"

Unitarian Universalism is a faith tradition that utilizes many different maps along our journey. We utilize many different sources of wisdom – Hebrew scripture and Jewish history and tradition and Christian scripture and tradition (from which our own roots sprang), the wisdom of world religions, science, humanism, native and earth based traditions; our own direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder, and the example of prophetic men and women.

This year, October has brought a confluence of sacred moments from many religious traditions. In the midst of religious conflict and violence, some of the spiritual traditions we look to for wisdom share a connection that will happen for the next two years, then not again for thirty.

The sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei, which includes the High Holy Days and Sukkot, both began in early October. October 2 was Worldwide (Protestant/ Orthodox) Communion Sunday and Gandhi's birthday, and October 4 was the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (Roman Catholic).

One of the challenges of Unitarian Universalism is that while we pull truths from various traditions and spiritual paths, it is very hard to avoid getting caught up in defining ourselves by the bits of doctrine, creed, or belief we don’t hold. Defining ourselves in the negative. When we do this, we miss the values and principles we share in common. We miss the moments of sacred connection that exists within and among different faith traditions, including ours, when we focus on what isn’t rather than what is.

Also on my computer is taped a small paper with an instruction I try to keep in the front of my mind to remind me what I intend to do, to describe my intention for living. If it could be said that I meditate, this would be what I meditate upon.

“I am determined to cultivate only thoughts that increase trust and love, to use my hands to perform only deeds that build community, and to speak only words of harmony and aid.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Opportunities for sacred community is what brings us here, together. Sometimes we call the most immediate draw “the music,” sometimes we call it “the religious education program,” or “the sermons,” sometimes we call it “shared values.” But the bottom line, if we listen to one another closely enough, is that we come here for sacred community. To find the G-dness in one another and between us. To find the moments of holy sharing.

Our RE kids share sacred community as they explore different ways various faith traditions express the sacred. Our 2nd and 3rd graders are studying Judaism this month, in an age appropriate way, by exploring the meaning of sacred holidays.

Celebrating Sukkot, by Nick H. and Isabelle H.

Sukkot is a Harvest celebration for Jewish people. We learned that you have a big feast with a lot of good stuff, like bread called Challah, lemon bread, and cookies. You make a bouquet of dried flowers called a lulav, which you hold in your right hand, and you hold a lemon in your left hand, and you say a blessing, and wish everyone Shalom, which means peace. You also take sliced and cored apples and hang them on a string to dry.

Our 7th graders are also studying Judaism this last month. They attended a Rosh Hashana celebration and services at the Jewish Community of Amherst. They’re talking about the idea that G-d chose a special group to be G-d’s people and formed a covenant with them, that G-d would behave in certain ways and the people would behave in certain ways.

Our 4th and 5th graders are learning about the historical Jesus– the Jewish Jesus who was a man of his time and community as we can understand it from science and archeology. K/1 is working on being friends with one another and exploring what does it mean to be friends, the 6th graders are getting creative, building and making stuff together, and the COAers are working that same thing out with one another all over again – What does it mean to be a community of seekers?

These groups all find moments of sacred community together as they share and work together in our RE classes. As they grow and develop intellectually, the questions change, but the journey remains the same. We don’t demand “guaranteed, rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.” We don’t make any proscriptive demands of creed or belief, positive or negative. We don’t demand at all. Our covenant together is descriptive. We describe how we will be together on this journey of exploration – that “we will use our hands to perform only deeds that build community, and to speak only words of harmony and aid.”

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Drive by smiling

I drive to work every weekday morning past UUs who are standing with their kids on the street waiting for the school bus. There's about 4 families in all, depending on exactly what time I cruise by. It's become a regular smile and wave for me, and a really cool way to start the day. That recriprocal smile and wave with people I serve, by people I respect and care for, that's really cool.

I thought I'd mention this given the crankiness of yesterdays' happy post.

What makes these four families different than those alluded to yesterday?

These too are people who have big opinions about their child's religious education program. The difference for us religious professionals is that these happen to be people who participate fully in making the program work, so their concerns and upsets come from a place of participatory responsibility, not a place of expecting to utilize a service provided by someone else.

I think that 90% of my RE families now are in this incredible category. Involved, interested, participatory, sharing of responsibility and care.

What did Kissinger say about politics? 90% of the politicians ruin it for the other 10%.

For me, the opposite is true. 90% make it possible for me to work lovingly and patiently with the other 10%.

I love it that I can drive by my congregants and smile and wave. Other jobs I have had in my life have not had this type of percentage.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

They want a party - a panacea of all of life's ills when they show up

I'm sitting here with a colleague. I like her. We were discussing congregants who have great opinions about what should happen in RE, only attend 50% of the time, and are upset that their kids say "it's boring."

My colleague said "They want a party - a panacea of all of life's ills when they show up."

It was just a lovely moment I wanted to share.

Probably should have shared it on CrankyCindy though.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Water Water Everywhere and What do DRE's do on Sunday, anyway?

Saturday night we returned from Connecticut, where we'd spent 36 glorious hours with the grandchildren and Beloved's daughter. The whole time we were there, I occasionally pondered, "wonder if there's water in our basement." Mic ran a marathon in the deluge that was the east coast while Scott and Jacob ran around trying to find her, and we stayed home w/ Cameron.

We got home Saturday night at 7 pm. Water in the corner, water in the middle, water in the bottom of three boxes of books I'd lazily not put back up on the pallets after I'd torn the pile apart a couple of weeks ago.

Time to put the sump pump on. We don't have a Sump, just a pump, so when there's water, we manually turn it on and run the hose to the drain. But nope. wouldn't go. cleaned it, tried another hose. by 11:30 I gave up, prayed there'd be no more water, and picked everything off the floor, went to bed for a few hours.

7:30, woke up to a clock flashing that blink that says, "Nah Nah, the electricity went off. Nah Nah, you're totally screwed."

Leapt out of bed, threw on the working in the rain because there's a booksale today for the Coming of Age Class clothes rather than my Sunday clothes, got to church just before the booksale setter uppers...

Hey you non-DRE types. Ever wonder what that Tasmanian Devil of a DRE is doing on Sunday morning?
This is a program w/ 180 kids in two services, but the workload is similar for smaller congregations.

  • made posters and sign up sheets for the 7th grade parents about how they needed to drive and chaperone
  • talked to a parent who was indicating that although custody was challenging, they were committed to helping their kids have a good consistent RE Experience
  • put all the toys from the Pre-school 3 year old room into the dishwasher in case Gwen came
  • found a substitute for a classroom teacher, gathered the lesson, book, and art materials they'd need
  • talked to 2 new parents, gave registration forms
  • talked to the pre-school teachers about a new pay structure
  • made, xeroxed, and cut postcards to hand out in classes about the New[er] family Potluck on Friday
  • made, xeroxed, and cut postcards for the 7th grade class pointing out that the trip to Services at the Jewish Community of Amherst was coincidentally preceeded by a potluck
  • saw Gwen, Abby, Kim and Sue all together in church for the first time since June!
  • explained to someone that yes, perhaps anti-bacterial hand washes weren't good in the long run, but in the short run, this practice keeps Gwen from getting sick just because someone's 3 year old Didn't Wash Their Hands.
  • checked out our alternate classroom site to double check the promised "second keypad" our entrance code would work for (because last week there was unexpected construction blocking the door with the keypad we used to access the building)-- discovered that it wasn't a keypad but a directory.
  • made a back up plan for those three classes to squeeze into my office and the RE office and the empty COA room (they being on the portico trying to sell books in the rain)
  • since these classes were in our building instead of the other one, arranged for 4 classes to share the TV/VCR (instead of the previous 2)
  • found the markers that mark on cloth, which someone had put on the fuzzy-things shelf in the art closet instead of the writes-on-things shelf
  • moved the [moveable] wall separating the Burleigh Room from the Toddler room, set up the furniture in this larger room for our 19 seventh graders
  • stopped a child who was demonstrating his match lighting skills and telling me what lousy matches I'd bought
  • directed a man who was looking for an AA meeting to the church where that meeting is on Sundays
  • explained to another man that we provide financial help at the Help Fund committee on Wednesday afternoons, and no, the minister couldn't take a minute out of the service to talk to him
  • talked with a parent who demanded to know if their kids were ever going to get a real classroom, explained that they had a real classroom, in the alternative site, listened as she said that they weren't ever in it, wanted to say, "yes they were, but you didn't come those two weeks," instead said, "The groups were in the alternative site the first two weeks, but then construction I hadn't been notified of interfered with their being able to get in last week, and this week the alternate entrance they told me existed, didn't. Next week they will be back over there." ignored the hrumphing noise she made as she turned away.
  • talked to a parent who joined this year so her daughter could have a Coming of Age experience (alternative to Bat Mitzvah) who wanted to know about how mentors worked, and who were her choices
  • talked to two other parents of COAer's about their mentor choices and next weeks' Mentor Training and Matching Ceremony and Parent meeting
  • talked to a parent who is having a really challenging life, and figured out how she could use her skills and talents best for our program
  • sent an email to the pre-school teachers reminding them that I'd just asked them to check their calendars to see if they could them to work on Friday during the potluck
  • made a timeline of religious history for the 7th grade class that I'd forgotten to do during the week
  • made and wore a silly hat-sign begging people to please buy books and take them away
  • explained three times that both printers in the RE area were broken or malfunctioning, and that was why they had to go to the upstairs printer to retrieve what they'd just asked me to print out
  • told two people that from now on there was a blank permission slip on the internet if they lost theirs
  • explained to a parent that information she didn't know had been sent out by mail, email and discussed at the parent meeting.
  • was greeted by many people I like and care for
  • was hugged twice by kids
  • was serenaded by one class
  • sent one toddler escapee back into her room
  • was told, in no uncertain terms, by one child that she wasn't going apple picking, they were going to a farm that had apple trees, but that the picking part remained to be seen.
All in all, not bad. I was home by 1:30.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Gwen went home with her moms and sister!

She went home yesterday, with a bzillion tubes and medicines and things, but she's HOME!!! Kim and Sue are exhausted and happy.

There was a great article in the Boston Globe (southern edition) about a family in Carver MA that has 5 kids and a mom w/ Mitochondrial Disease, and an amazing dad. It's an incredibly thorough look at this devastating disease.


The illness that binds them is as unpredictable as their lives. Not only does it affect each victim in a different way, but available diagnostic tests -- muscle biopsy, blood, and genetic tests -- don't always confirm the disease, making it hard to identify. Indeed, the Thorells' tests remain inconclusive, although doctors say that mitochondrial disease is clearly the family's ''working diagnosis."

A combination of three or more symptoms (muscle weakness, exercise intolerance, hearing impairment, seizures, learning disabilities, cataracts, heart defects, diabetes, stunted growth) in one person strongly points to the illness, especially when the symptoms involve more than one organ system, according to medical literature.

The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation estimates that between 1 in 2,000 and 1 in 5,000 children born in the United States each year will develop mitochondrial diseases. Half this group will become symptomatic before age 5, and 80 percent of those will die by 20, according to foundation estimates. Because so few physicians and research centers properly diagnose the disease, the foundation believes it is grossly under-diagnosed.

The illness is so misunderstood that Donna, in the early stages, wouldn't go to appointments without the backup of her husband for fear doctors would not believe her. She home-schools her children because, she said, school officials have not understood the physical fallout of the illness and how it affects classroom performance. She has grown weary of people (including close relatives) who tell her that perhaps it's all imaginary.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Yesterday in Massachusetts Ministers and Priests preached against gay marriage

and petitions were available outside to get "one man, one woman only" marriage on the ballot. Because of course, America has such a good track record of protecting civil rights by vote.

I am reminded of 20 years ago when my grandmother attended her last Nazarene Church service near Plymouth Mass. The minister mentioned that there was a petition on the back table to "ban homosexuals from teaching in public schools."

I was a 5th grade teacher at that time, and my grandmother was proud of me. She poked at my grandfather to get up, and she walked out, never to return.

What's so amazing is that my Nana cared a great deal what people thought of her. She was the neighborhood busybody, and could probably have put some of the busybodies on Wisteria Lane to shame. A few years before, she was one of those people who talked about the "blacks, jews, and homosexuals." (My brother and I had hid behind a couch when we were children and counted the number of prejudiced, racist, and anti-semitic things she said one Saturday afternoon. I still have the little notebook I checked them off on -- Harriet the Spy style.) Her world changed when I came out, and she changed with it. Her growing awareness of predjudice against lgbt people increased her (self) awareness of racism and anti-semitism. It doesn't always work like that, and I was proud of her.

Yesterday people had petitions outside houses of worship. I wonder how many grandmothers left their faith communities.