Thursday, April 30, 2015

Let it Be a Dance

Serious, strange,or silly?  In the original 1984 movie Footloose we journeyed with a rebellious teen who moved to a small town where rock music and dancing were banned. The movie portrays the timeless struggle between innocent pleasure and rigid morality. I offer you this as a segue into one of the most interesting things I've heard during coffee hour since I arrived in the summer of 2013.

YOUR MINISTER HAS BANNED DANCING IN OUR SERVICES!  Serious, strange, or silly?  Silly. Tis' silly but allows me to reiterate some things I'm quite serious about. I stated during a Teaching Thursday program weeks ago that I preferred, my personal preference, services where there is no dancing. It's a remnant of my Catholic upbringing. I congratulate service leaders who include such things in worship. I don't have the chutzpah!

Why am I entertaining and acknowledging this silliness?  It is because I'm serious about not letting silly become something that divides us. It is because, as you learned at the Teaching Thursday where I answered questions, I am an open book and believe things should be named before they become larger. It is because I need you to know that I am OK, I'm here, and am staying here at the will of the Board and Congregation. Silliness will never turn my love for you, even when I'm the one causing the silliness! I won't let that happen to us. 

My personal preferences influence decisions, but I never will -- nor should I be -- afforded the ultimate say about many things, especially dancing in the sanctuary!  My personal preferences should never be turned into edicts. This Congregation has had some experiences with that type of ministry.  I assure you it's not mine.

The expression of our faith takes many forms and our worship is richer for it. Will you see the Dance of Seven Veils during my services? No. But you will come back next week and find poetry, art, and dance offered by another service leader, like yesterday when the youth danced with members of the assembled Congregation. Isn't that wonderful?

The minister is never the single source of transcendence and inspiration. This is our beautiful tradition; innovative worship and a polity that gives the minister the role to guide not rule. I honor both. Join me in singing hymn #311 Let It Be a Dance.

In faith, Rev CJ

Individuality or Greater Community?

I'm sitting in my favorite spot in a tiny French restaurant. In front of me are two patrons speaking Parisian French. I understand a few words, very few, having a French Canadian grandmother. Beside me are two 50-something women who are obvious colleagues. I overhear religious language, so naturally my interest peaks. They were leaders of the local Catholic diocese responsible for a group of Catholic churches in the area.

Between my cafe au lait and salade de la Constance, I was privy to venomous conversation. Worse than my eavesdropping was my discovery that parishes were being pitted against one another, receiving the news that they are not good enough because their Holy Thursday was not up to snuff, not as good as that of the church across town, personal attacks on leaders, all brought together with the ugly bow of insular thinking. Clearly it was a strategy based on competitiveness used to help the individual parish churches become bigger, better, and -- let's face it -- more lucrative. These churches are encouraged to operate alone and to try to create separate lands versus agreeing to meet to walk together as in Amos 3:3.  Honestly, before we explore what that might mean for us and how we shape our collective congregational life, let us put down the stones.

The flu has visited me three times in the last year. I've been thinking about how many times I introduce myself each day and how many handshakes that involves and how this likely leads to three bouts of the flu. I’ve done intense and intellectual work related to the underbelly of the friendly handshake and luckily, the sake of our ministry, have considered how all of this handshaking brings many innovative and progressive voices and ideas into my life and the lives of those I serve in the sometimes complicated Deep South. Outstretched hand to outstretched hand, walking together in collaboration, fellowship, and the faith that will save us and mostly hands outside of my UU catchment area.

Last week I sat in the sanctuary of our Orlando congregation and witnessed our district's decision to support the move toward regionalization. I arrived in Florida from ministry in the north engaging ministry within the Southern Region and all that piloting the regionalization model entailed. I was fascinated and relieved. It made sense to me. Now do I not only have an eternal tan but an appreciation for how regional living is less knotty, individualistic, and more informed about the realities of who and how we need to be to be effectual in our UU evangelization. It’s the South y’all. Embrace the word.

Our reality is that we can no longer change the world by acting in small decentralized bands. This is why interfaith work is so important to us today. None of us can do it alone. Not individual, not congregation, not district, not region, not denomination. We are required to structure ourselves and work together in new ways with new people. Our influence is strengthened by regionalization and all it has to offer. Simply consider the oddly colored yellow tee shirt phenomenon.

Consider our Universalist history to understand decentralization. I often hear new and potential members being told the story of the Unitarians and Universalists merging because they had theology in common. That's not the whole truth. Yes, both shared some theological and social commonalities, but Unitarianism was better organized and privileged and Universalism was dying because of their decentralized structure of many independent conferences. Universalism was unsuccessful in making an increased impact and couldn't financially, and otherwise, afford to be insular in their work. Each conference committed to the same mission, but was ineffective in the strength of witness, growth, efficiencies and the responsible use of resources and their people. History repeats itself.

How shall we live together? Should we expect to forsake the faith the world needs for the sake of holding on to a faith that is easily reduced to fervent individuality trumping covenant? No, we are greater than that. We can no longer afford the illusion that we do not operate in vacuums, though we easily convince ourselves otherwise. All roads of holding individuality, conscious or not, over greater community lead us to insignificant places. Regionalization requires us to reroute, just as the Universalists wisely did. Let us remind ourselves of the wisdom of the great innovators and community builders crafting a timeless covenant that could serve us today as it did centuries ago. Let us continue building and stretching, gaining a deeper understanding of the realities of growing our faith that require us to think, live, and support one another differently. Let us hold one another in care as we navigate change, difference, and unknown yet faithful paths.

In faith, the Reverend CJ McGregor

Individuality or Greater Community?, by the Rev. CJ McGregor, a column appearing in Ministry Matters at the the Northeast Breeze (the UU FL Northeast Cluster blog), May 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From the SAC Newsletter, April 2015

I'm deeply disturbed by the blinders that are put on to avoid the realities of social and environmental issues of our state and country. Poverty, lack of health care and emergency services, sea levels rising, Christian fundamentalism controlling taxpayer dollars, women's health put at risk, low wages, no work, the super wealthy getting fatter, and on and on.

Surely our leaders don't really think that poor mothers simply need to pull their lives together, a child is better left in the system instead of being loved by same-gendered parents, to receive public benefits you need to sacrifice privacy, that the world's top scientists are simply stupid and histrionic, that poor communities create and perpetuate their circumstances, and religion and government are bedfellows. Surely stripped down to basic humanness they see and feel and mourn and weep.

I wonder. I believe basic humanness, the fact that you are born into the world, gives us all worth. However, when we decide to be blind to pain, suffering, impending disaster and injustice, our personal equity decreases. We are no longer maintaining or building value.

I'm struggling today to understand the gross lack of morality, ethics, and decency. It is becoming clearer that if our cries fall on those ears, we are spinning our wheels. An adaptive response can only change an adaptive challenge. To adapt, feelings, values, and behaviors need to change. The fundamental adaptive challenge for us is to change our response to this terrible numb and unaware leadership. Hold them accountable. Publicly question them. Publicly write about them. Write to them. Visit them. Oppose them at every turn. Support and vote for a better them.

Our time and resources are best spent by removing these despicable human walls. Show up. Reach out. Use your voice. The alternative is not an option for those of us building a world we dream of.

Blessings, CJ

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 2015

I have a dear friend who teaches in an elementary school by day and an adult education school by night. In both instances she is teaching English as a second language. We were recently in conversation about the practicalities of transcription in linguistics. That is, not studying the theory of, but actually doing the work of converting human speech into written text. Listening, writing what you are hearing, and listening even more. 

I remembered that conversation and the wisdom of transcription after our most recent annual meeting. Though my spoken words weren't being transcribed, they were being reflected back to me verbally. Advice given for phonetic transcription is to listen to yourself out loud before deciding on pronunciation. Members of our Congregation were reflecting back some of my words amidst a hard conversation.

When the words left my lips I was confident they were the words I wanted to use and the words that would be most helpful. That was until a member said them back to me or, in the case of transcription, said them out loud and I discovered how they sounded. I think the member even shared how these words were being perceived. For example, in explaining a decision I had made I said that I made the decision to protect and keep safe the Congregation. I hadn't heard how those words were perceived in the moment, but am clear today how they were perceived as I listened to them.

When speaking of someone we all love it isn't a good idea to imply that they are unsafe or harmful. Perhaps that is how I perceive that person's behaviors, but that's not what I discovered I said when I listened. I embarrassingly implied I thought that of the person whom I truly care for just as our members. I screwed up.

There I was, hearing my words out loud as if for the first time, and having been given the opportunity to check them. 


If we are to move from our understanding of our words to the understanding of how others are receiving and perceiving our words, we are required to listen.  Though I wouldn't have changed the ideas behind my words, I realized the words I was using weren't helpful. Thank you to the member willing to help me understand this.

I've lived steeped in vulnerability for the past few weeks. Not a place to vacation, but day trips have served me well. I shared emotionality with the Congregation recently. I fought back tears while sharing from the pulpit words of meditation that are very meaningful to me and were apropos given some challenges in our Congregational life. I felt emotional because I was deeply listening to the words and was moved.

Let us truly listen and be willing to stand in the vulnerable and emotional places. Let us remember we are not above hearing our words for the first time and realizing when they've taken on unintended power. Let us recognize that our imperfection becomes beautiful when we learn from one another and accept that we too are teachers of a second language. The language of vulnerability, humility, truth, apology, and strength in weakness.

Grateful to each of you, Rev. CJ