Sunday, March 29, 2009

Buyer, Sampler or Cell User Beware

When thinking about things like identity theft or having our credit cards usurped, it’s easy to picture some yahoo digging through our trash or hacking into our bank’s computer. BUT be aware of three recent things that have happened to us that can happen to anyone if you aren’t paying attention.

First… if someone sends you a text on your cell phone and it looks like some random advertisement, you need to read it. Evidently, it is legal for companies to text you without your request and say that they are providing you a service without your express consent. Unless you read the entire text and take the specific steps specified at the end of their message, you are considered to have given tacit consent and ordered or at minimum, accepted their offer. They then contact your cell provider and request that their subscription or whatever be attached to your cell phone bill because you have subscribed to their service. The cell phone companies comply and tack on $10.00 ow whatever their fee is to you bill. Evidently this is perfectly legal and our cell phone company claimed that they have to comply with this scheme unless specifically told by their users to block that service. I had them remove that amount from our bill, block that company’s access to our cell phones, and because we don’t text anyway (and get charged each time our friends unwittingly text us), I had them block all incoming text messages from both mine and Deb’s phones. So don’t text Deb or I especially if you are selling snake oil to polish our phone bill.

Second…do not order a free trial of anything, especially if it is acai berry something or other. This “free trial” had been a huge headache, causing Deb to have to cancel her Visa card because this company sold or traded her card number AND expiration date to other companies so that several hundred dollars in various charges showed up on her bill for acai berry juice-never ordered and never received and for other supplements never ordered, never received. To top it off, now other companies are calling on the phone to say they are sending us xxx or yyy and charging it to Visa number zzz with the expiration date of aa/bbbb. The scary thing is that our phone number, name, credit card number and expiration date are all correct in this company’s files, even though we have NEVER had any type of contact or dealings with them at all in any way shape or form. The only thing we can think of is that they bought the information from that berry company. Visa said that a lot of people have had to cancel their cards because of that same acai berry scheme. So, check the purchases on your card statements don’t just look at your minimum due and trust that it is the way it should be. This is an illegal scheme that is really common right now.

Third…a similar scheme is being done by a book company, but not charging our credit cards. Instead, we ordered one book (we did not join a book club), they now randomly ship us books here and there, with an invoice attached. It isn’t a book club, they don’t show up at set intervals. It may be two weeks or three months in between.

I have been accused in the past of being an idealist and a pessimist alternately. Is it too much to ask to not have to jump through loops because unscrupulous companies use legal or illegal loop holes to steal my money or to try to strongarm me into buying something I have no use for?
Buyer (or sampler) Beware!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

God and the Grand Canyon: I am becoming what is being made of me

Written on March 27, 2009

Once again, sorry for the scarcity of postings. I try to be interesting in my posts and all my creativity seems to be going toward school these days. I’ve just hit that eleven week wall, when my brain starts screaming, “ENOUGH ALREADY”! U of M Flint has sixteen week semesters, so I still have to get through five more weeks of learning and of debating religious philosophy with some peers who are either fundamentalist Christian or angry atheists.

The odd thing is that those two seemingly polar opposite categories of people are almost impossible to distinguish from one another unless they state point blank what their position on religion is. For example: they BOTH state that if you are going to believe anything in the bible, you have to believe everything in the bible. They say you can’t pick and choose which scriptures make sense and which don’t. The adamant atheists keep saying that “true” Christians must stone to death anyone who carries sticks on the Sabbath because it says so in the Old Testament. And the fundamentalists argue that you can’t be a “true” Christian unless you believe in original sin. (Never mind that that is not in the bible, it is in the writings of Augustine.)

My point here is that extremism, be it Christian, Jewish, Islamist or Atheist leaves no room for other people on the planet. It’s odd that at the root, each of those traditions are about live and let live, to each his or her own, etc. Extremists, instead, make it about (to stay in cliché mode here) all or nothing, do or die, etc.

As a Unitarian Universalist, not to mention, as an American, I have the luxury of moderation and possibilities. By that I mean that I can be a skeptical deist, believing in a higher power of my own spiritual vision and reasoning, without a government or a spiritual leader dictating what, exactly, I am supposed to believe. I also have confidence to recognize that the divine is not just transformative, but transforming itself. I have no illusions about a god who is without flaw and unchanging as well. Those two characteristics are mutually exclusive, except perhaps when referring to a mountain of rock-which in fact is not unchanging, but constantly changing due to rain splashing down on it, seismic activity, and other forces that, not knowing much about geology, I don’t know anything about. Like the divine, that big lump of rock changes depending upon what angle we view it from. The Grand Canyon looks far different when standing in the rift, looking up than it does standing on the edge looking across or down. The Grand Canyon can also look different if we are examining one square foot of rock or earth within it than it does if we are seeing an aerial view of the entire canyon. And, the scriptural equivalent of looking at the Grand Canyon would include topographical maps and printed photos of select snaps of other people’s points of view, presenting a very different grand canyon than the grand canyon of an Amerindian clan living in its midst long before topo maps and cameras existed. Differing points of view, like differing view of the canyon, can present many differing visions of what a higher power is or may be.

If we are looking through a microscope, higher power may be the amazing process of evolution, occurring through mitosis, meiosis, natural selection, mutation and time. If we are looking between tree branches in a forest, higher power may be the balance of nature including life and death, growth and birth. If we are looking at the Old Testament, higher power may be a jealous god or a god trying to bring structure and order to a people in need. If we are looking at the New Testament, higher power could be found in the person of Jesus, or in the vision of an evolved, peace-loving god that Jesus claimed as the loving father of us all. Or, higher power may simply be in the notion found in many different religions of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

A really interesting thing that I learned in my class is that in the original Hebrew in the old testament, when God identified Godsself to Moses, God used the phrase “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”. According to one of my textbooks, “because ‘Ehyeh asher Ehyeh’ is in the imperfect tense it carries the sense of an action not yet complete. There are several ways the statement might be translated: (1) ‘I am who I am.” (2) ‘I will be what I will be.’ (3) ‘I am not yet who I am not yet.’ (4) ‘I am who I am becoming.” (5) ‘I am becoming who I am.’ (6) ‘I am not yet who I am becoming.”

Looking at the six interpretations for “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh” on page 63 of Intro to World Religions (one of the other students who speaks Hebrew offered even more translations that offered even broader possibilities), there seems to be a much broader possibility of meaning than the way “we” typically (meaning those raised in the Abrahamic traditions) think of God. All but #1 imply that YHVH (god) is yet evolving. Perhaps, YHVH is growing along with the people, becoming what the people need YHVH to be at any given point in human society. Is it possible that we limited humans feel the need for definite answers yes/no right/wrong black/white and therefore have had difficulty absorbing the God in process concept? Why, with all the recent biblical examination and re-translating lately have we not heard about this idea? Has anyone written about what the repercussions would be if we looked at God as in the process of evolving as #2-5 illustrate? How would our world look today if this was the case?

Does anyone else find it kind of presumptuous for certain scholars and rulers (Constantine, Augustine, King James and a couple of Jewish and Muslim scholars who are named in our book but I can’t remember their names and I can’t get to my book just now) to just decide point blank: This document is now complete, despite years of generations of evolving, but now it is the way I say it is because I say it is. (And therefore God is no longer evolving but is static in this snapshot moment that I have chosen and from now on God shall conform to what I say God is whether God really is that way or not.) Amen! ?

How different would this world be if we allowed god and ourselves (in god’s image, or in evolving nature’s image) to be as flexible as “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh” appears?! Would we be in a world free of war and oppression if we were conditioned from the get go with the idea that change, evolution, personal growth, flexibility and compromise are the norm and that power over one another and permanence of any kind (ie: ownership, truth) is illusion? Would science be free to delve into theories without fear of reprisals for upsetting the status quo? Or, would that unbinding freedom of thought and movement create its own type of tyranny where people who crave stability are not welcome, where long-term relationships are portrayed as sick or against the family values of openness and impermanence. Would humanity, as a rule be able to balance between extremes and tread the middle path, or as a whole are we doomed to the do or die lemming mentality?

It would be interesting to be able to transform the world’s translation of “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh” from one of a stagnant all-powerful vengeful rock-like statement to one of fluid and compassionate flexibility; the middle path of balance between a broad aerial view of life in general and a microscopic view of the microcosm of our own finite lives.

“Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”

“I am becoming what I am going to be”…I am becoming what is being made of me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Comment on Another UU Wold Article

An article in the current UU World magazine challenges UUs to insert more spirituality into our churches. (“Imagineers of Soul” by Christine Robinson can be found at I couldn’t agree more, although I must say that I feel spirit moving in our church more than I did when I started attending in 2000.

At that time, I was struggling with living in a segregated city where I felt not only were race relations like something out of a 1950s movie, but where I felt my life was in danger as an out lesbian in a close-minded town. But then I found UUCF, where the world felt sane and balanced again. I felt safe holding Deb’s hand and saw interracial couples where outside those walls I’d seen few. Although the church fed the part of my soul that rallied for social justice and equality, the halls were oddly silent when I listened for the voices of the ancestors and elemental spirits, or when I listened for the voice of Deb’s Jesus. My social and political thirst was satisfied, but my spirit still felt parched.

I joined the worship committee and announced the lack that I felt. My concerns were heard by both the minister at the time and the worship committee. They asked what would help me to fill that hunger. I was offered the opportunity to lead a lay service.

I can’t remember what my first sermon entailed, but I do remember being nervous and apologetic when speaking about God, Goddess, Great Spirit or spirit. It took me a while to lay claim to the UU commitment to honor all paths toward truth. Partly because the language being used at that time was kept not religiously neutral as people seemed to believe it was, but it was spiritually bland. This sounds harsh, but it came to me full force when, during choir rehearsal, members were brainstorming ways in which to erase God from the prayer of Saint Francis. That prayer begins with the words “Lord, make me an instrument of they peace.” I lost it! I took my stand then and there and refused to sing if it was altered because a fear of the L word. I said that if I, a pagan, could embrace that amazing Christian prayer, than other people should just deal wit it. For a house of worship where all are welcome, why wasn’t God welcome? We didn’t sing The Prayer of St. Francis, and I didn’t stay in the choir too much longer.

Things have changed a lot in less than a decade. I think it’s odd that when we got a new minister and he said from the pulpit that he is an atheist. He caught as much backlash for that as St. Francis would have if he stood in the pulpit. Atheist, like God, is a religiously loaded term, despite the fact that outside of the pulpit, many church members claimed the label of atheist and a few identify as Christian.

Our congregation seems to be much more comfortable with a wide range of spiritual expression now. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” has since been heard at least once in our sanctuary. The elemental guardians of the East, South, West and North are regularly invited into our sanctuary and are welcomed. The liturgy of the Big Bang has been celebrated along with Buddhist ethics and humanist affirmations. There still seems to be a tentative void that surrounds Islam and Hindu teachings, I think mostly because no one in our midst has enough experience with those traditions to liven our souls with their theologies. There is also a gaping void in regards to overt Christian thought.

Although most of us were raised in some Christian tradition or other (after all, 84% or so of Americans identify as Christian), there is a pointed deafness to any reference to Jesus or the gospels. A glazed look comes to people’s faces (or downright angry indignation) when a guest speaker reads from scripture or confesses a Christian belief, while a few sit up straighter, lean slightly forward and have sparkles in their eyes because their souls are being fed in a way that they have missed within our walls.

I think that Christina Robinson hits that nail right on the head in her article where she writes about the shame so many of us experienced around our Christian upbringing. “We left those communities because we no longer believed what they taught, and we often left wounded and bewildered by our experiences. If we were led to believe that our inability to believe what we were taught was due to a flaw in our nature, we brought with us a burden of shame.” She goes on to eloquently describe and draw out this phenomena, then gently asserts the need to set that shame and fear aside and open ourselves to being receptive to “spiritual risk-taking.” She offers the possibility of healing using language that rejects the spiritual blandness that so many UUs claim as their adopted native tongue. She suggests attempting an open receptiveness to spiritually charged language (not specifically Christian, but language that sounds like it is related to the religious language of our youth).

Perhaps this is kind of like when LGBT folks embrace the language that once caused us harm when used as weapons: dyke, sissy, queer- to name a few. Those words, like religious language that may have been once used to confine us to a small claustrophobic box of spirituality, can be re-claimed to instead empower and enrich our lives and release our souls to soar free of the cage constructed by any past shaming to conform.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pulpit Primer 101

I am reading the current edition of UU World, the Unitarian Universalist magazine that comes to my mailbox each season. I love that magazine almost as much as I love Mother Earth News.

The Reflections article titled “Serving Dionysus” is ringing a bell with me. The writer, Victoria Weinstein is a Christian who is also an actress and as such has an affinity for Dionysus. “The ‘secrets’ of good liturgy are held mostly by the clergy, who rarely openly discuss with the laity how important technique and craft are to the successful ‘performance’ of it. To refer to worship as a ‘performance’ is to cheapen and defile its sanctity.” Weinstein goes on to say that it really is a performance and preparation is necessary. She compares dedication to God with dedication to the theater. (To read the article, follow this link: )

I loved the article. Although I was never on stage in the theater, I have been a stagehand and costume designer in the long-lost days of my youth. However, when I am doing a sermon or acting as worship associate, I do feel like I am giving a performance.

I was kind of saddened by her assertion that clergy tend to keep secrets about how to pull off a successful worship service. I feel lucky in that sense that our minister is an actor who loves to share his secrets with the rest of us ordinary folks. When he trains new worship associates (and refreshes those of us who are stale old hands), he has us work and “perform” our sample welcomes and offertories. He gives tips and solicits input from those of us who are or appear at ease in the pulpit. And, above all, he askso us how it feels to be speaking our truth to one another, on the spot while we scrutinize and critique ourselves and one another lovingly.

I have been told that I exude “ministerial presence”, whatever that means. I think maybe that is one of the “’secrets’ of good liturgy” that Weinstein mentions. I’m not sure where I got it, but for those who are looking for it in themselves-here are some ideas:

1. Believe in what you say.
2. Take your nervous energy and channel it into enthusiasm for your subject.
3. Preach to the choir-remember that most people will not be rude to you in public.
4. Don’t pretend you didn’t mess up when you did. Everyone messes up, it’s part of this amazing experience of being a human being among humans.
5. Have Fun! Make a fool of yourself on purpose sometimes.
6. Remember-even Obama uses a teleprompter. Feel free to memorize your stuff if you can and want to, but don’t feel embarrassed to use notes, or even a whole script. (I usually type mine in such a way to remind me to emphasize certain areas, or use a highlighter to give myself “performance cues” on how to deliver which parts.
7. Stay flexible. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and being flexible allows you to keep the attitude that “the show must go on”
8. If something moves you, give the congregation the opportunity to be moved by it as well.
9. Make eye contact with as many people as you can. Someone may need your vision. You may need someone’s nod.
10. Talk as if you are having a conversation. Use pauses, volume fluctuations, tempo and vocabulary as if you were telling a good story to a friend. Be melodramatic.
11. Get comfortable with silence. Don’t add noise words like “ah”, “um”, etc. When you are pausing to think, let people know you are thinking with your pause, not floundering in your discomfort of silence.
12. Don’t apologize for things that don’t warrant it. For example: when I first started doing sermons in a largely humanist church, I found myself apologizing for talking about God and spirit. When I listened to the tape, I realized that I need to make no such apologies in a church where all faiths are welcome.
13. Be yourself. You have gifts, words and wisdom that others need and crave.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Planting Memories

Intellectually, I know it’s still winter despite the fact that it’s warm enough to leave my coat in the car instead of on my back. I don’t smell the worms and I still see an occasional lump of dirty snow that was a huge mount not so long ago. I know it’s still winter, early March-not quite time to jump the clocks forward. It’s not even spring equinox yet and I haven’t yet seen a robin (although I have seen a few geese, who knows if they migrated or not).

But…but…the crocuses or daffodils are reaching up with their little arms by my front door. (Yeah, I know- they got frozen solid in that last freeze a few days ago, but I still hope they are alive and not mushy like lettuce stored in the back of the fridge that gets frozen and thawed.) And, it’s supposed to be 62* this weekend! And, I know (I mean I have a possible hunch that the following may be in progress) that it really is spring because everywhere I look there are Resses Peanut Butter Eggs! And, in my household, the surefire way to tell spring is either here or within the next snowstop or two, is that the dogs wouldn’t eat breakfast the other day because Indigo was laying on the floor in front of my bedroom door, gnawing on her freshly caught bunny breakfast and Pippin was afraid to walk past her to get to her bowl. Forget the robins, I have a doggy door! (Of course, robins have been known to come through there as well due to the due diligence of one Cindy Lou Who cat that normally hunts paper.)

And, I’ve got that seed planting itch. I’m beginning to fanaticize about little tomato sprouts looking for a home, seeds no longer orphaned to winter’s cruel plant murder. I’m dreaming about pepper plants digging their roots deep and backhanding (backleafing?) any murderous munching slugs slithering up their stems to munch their little leaves and stems into nubs. (No straw mulch this year!)

I look forward to cutting a phenomenal puffy purple bouquet from my chives that go to seed.

The news the other night said that the number of people planning to garden this year is up by 17% (I think that was the number) due to economic considerations and fear of contamination by e-coli and salmonella, etc. That’s great that people are planning on planting. It’s sad that fear is their motivation.

I garden for those reasons as well. But mostly, I garden because I love it. Digging my hands into black Earth relaxes my mind and exercises my body. Seeing my hands plant tomato seedlings reminds me of watching my mom’s hands plant tomatoes with a lump of horse manure in each hole and “manure tea” for the first in-ground watering. Pinching off live growing herbs and smelling them fresh brings images to my mind of my mom’s narrow nose inhaling scents from the Earth. Biting into the first ripe tomato of August, warm from the vine reminds me of my mom’s childlike excitement at the garden’s first harvest each year. She is there with me in the garden every time I pull a weed or snip a chive. She smiles as she wipes a freshly dug carrot on her ghostly jeans and bites into it-grit and all. I think I loved her best in the garden. It is there where I feel closest to her since she no longer visits my dreams. The smell of fresh bread dough as my hands knead it is a close second in getting me to feel a close proximity to her.

Mom’s birthday is coming up on March 21, the spring equinox (this year equinox may be the 20th, I’m not sure). I always feel joy and melancholy at this time of rebirth. Joy in the feeling of being alive in this magnificent place called Earth and melancholy because I miss being able to celebrate Mom’s, Deb’s and my birthdays together.

Happy early birthday mom, please help keep the slugs away from my plants this year, and take care of my Little Bit, Ashee and Cocoa. Tell them they have to share the carrots and apples with you this time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Contraditory Turns on the Path that is my Mind

I find lately that I am a soul full of contradictions.

Yesterday was an awesome day. Deb and I, along with 10 others went to an anti-racism workshop at the U.U., led by Melanie Morrison. I knew Melanie in a surface type of way back when I lived in Lansing. She and her parents, Elanor and Truman have been fighting the good fight against all kinds of oppression and “isms” for as long as I’ve been alive. They founded the Leaven Center, and now Elanor has retired and Melanie has started a new organization called Allies for Change. She does diversity training like what we did yesterday. Her website is: .

Seeing Melanie yesterday made me miss Lansing. I miss Schuler Books where I worked for over 7 years and where my thirst for information and entertainment was always quenched and where the customers and my co-workers challenged me in ways that made me grow into a better person. I was challenged to recognize that no one should be judged because of their gender (men are not the enemy that I once perceived them to be), religion (Christians are not inherently judgmental or bigoted-many are committed to justice, equality and the human experience just as Jesus was), geographic origin, (New Yorkers don’t intend to be rude, it’s just not a Midwestern cultural dance around what needs to be said) or age (I loved and miss some of my older customers who looked out for me, knowing that my parents weren’t close by to make me stay in line and brought me a human mirror and helped me to see more truly who I am and for that I am a far better person than I ever thought myself capable of being). I miss that place. I miss those people.

Being at that workshop not only reminded me of a home that I loved, it re-enforced to me that I have also come to love Flint and no longer pause before calling it “home.” This often surprises me because I see so much lacking here, but I also see so much potential for transformation toward a healing good. I see people like those in the room at that workshop. I see students and faculty at UM Flint striving and succeeding at building a strong dedicated community of diversity and opportunity and service to others. I see locally owned businesses who, despite the economic devastation, stay here, stay opened and continue to faithfully serve their community. I see some of those same businesses, like Good Beans Café, not just taking people’s money, but actively working to change the world for the better by providing a safe haven for LGBT people, artists and community organizers working for change. I see the Flint Farmers Market with a year-round dedication to providing a quality experience for all who enter their doors, but especially connecting with local residents, farmers and artisans. When I go to the Flint Farmers Market, I can either buy some fine wine or a used sci-fi novel. I can get ice cream, artwork and animal shaped stones, lentils, fresh bread, eggs and cheese from all over the world. And, of course, as I so often say, there is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint where I found shelter from the storms of segregation and homophobia that I felt surrounded with when I first moved to Flint from Lansing.

So, I have been feeling the contradiction of deeply loving two cities- even though I took a vow as a kid to “never become a city girl.”

Another internal contradiction that the workshop awakened for me is the feeling that I deeply love and appreciate my family for instilling in me a thirst for knowledge and justice, and at the same time color blinding me as far as race is concerned. Although I have never felt anything except equal to people of color, I didn’t understand until I left them and began my own life, that race colors pretty much everything in our society, from the schools to the jails to the sidewalks under our feetl. This color-blindness that I have serves me well in the sense that I get to look at other people’s hearts and souls without judging them for their skin color, but while my blindness helps me see beyond the color of others, at the same time, it blinds me to my own white skin. In being blind to my color, I am blind to the benefits of whit privilege that I reap every day without even being aware of it. That blindness to my own privilege, in itself is a form of racism.

Another contradiction that has been flashing on and off in my consciousness, that I touched upon in my last post is that of my deep commitment to bettering the human condition, but my own self-centeredness too often takes over my mind and my mouth that I think I get in my own way sometimes. It’s hard for me to shut up sometimes and listen.