— Can Embarrassment Be a Devotional Practice?

September 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

I wrote professionally for years before jumping online in the mid 1990s. Reading and writing poetry is my only comfort when all else fails. But so often I grope for words in conversations and pull out ones that miss the mark; that leave the wrong impression. They aren’t freudian slips. The synapses in my brain go shopping for the word, get impatient and just pull out something that seemingly comes close to what I mean. I look for contexts of how the words are used and experienced.

And therein lies the rub: how the experience of spoken words is felt can turn into their meaning when in fact, the intent and revelation of  them may be something else.

The word “embarrassment” is one of my groped words. In its origins,  one meaning referred to the state of being vulnerable – typically financial vulnerability. Through the ages, “embarrassment” morphed slowly. It passed through a stage in which it was used to mean the opposite of financial vulnerability: “an embarrassment of riches,” for example, according to my multi-volume hard copy of the Oxford English dictionary.  That phrase lingers today with both negative and positive interpretations.

Today’s meaning though is a state of being in which one causes confusion and brings shame upon oneself  and to make themselves and others disarmingly self-conscious.

It is the latter meaning of the word that has always struck a chord in me. Being uncomfortably self-conscious and being willing to share that, to take risks, is to me a devotional practice that leads to growth of some kind.  I adore Shakespeare’s fools for  this reason.

But, I’ve bumbled along, trying to compliment individuals by praising them for embarrassing themselves! Sometimes I explain what I mean, other times I forget that my strange sensitivity to language is not shared.

To be embarrassed, IMHO, is to be courageous. Why? Because it means that on some level the practitioner understands that vulnerability is not a weakness.

I now know the word I’ve been groping for all these years: Vulnerability. Thanks go to Brene Brown, whom many of you may have watched in Ted talks, or whom have read her #New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead . 

I watched her Ted talks this morning after fumbling with the word “embarrassment” again last week over coffee at the cafe down the street from me on the Cape. For the first time, a friend suspected what I meant and corrected me. In doing so, she introduced me to Brown’s work.

Brown  is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame and in the context of leadership.

Vulnerability, Brown says, is an emotional risk that is “our most accurate measurement of courage.”

So the next time you feel embarrassed or think someone else is embarrassing themselves, think of it as a sacred moment. The expressed vulnerability might really mean you are in the presence of courage.

— What Could Roku Mean to UUs?

September 9, 2013 at 11:16 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 2 Comments

Even though I’ve spent significant time working in the world of SmartTVs and app development for them, I only just now have made the connection between digital ministry and the power of internet delivered TV shows.

Earlier this year, I had  three set-top boxes  — one from Google, a Roku box and an Apple TV one — attached to the back of my HD TV.  The three tiny black boxes look like giant beetles feeding off the internal organs of my Samsung. The difference between Roku and Apple TV is that Apple TV is tied to a viewer’s iTunes account. It’s terrific because its much nicer to watch movies and shows from the iTunes store on a TV monitor than a tablet, iphone or laptop.  Roku, unlike Apple, aggressively seeks out and encourages worldwide developers of TV-like programming.

It’s not easy to find faith-focused content in iTunes. It’s a snap in Roku.

Today, I browsed through several dozen religion-based channels on Roku.  There are several channels for buddhism, Judaism, christianity, hinduism, and islam. I haven’t found one liberal faith though. One of the most powerful benefits of these channels is religious education.

I recently talked about MOOCs (massively open online courses) in this blog and what a boon they’d be to UUism. So too would a SmartTV channel for UUism.  SmartTV penetration in the US has yet to reach critical mass levels. But it will in a few years.  It is nearly at 50% penetration in Europe.

A UU Roku channel could have all kinds of liberal faith programming that would be more compelling than most TV available today.

It’s a pipe dream most likely. However, it’s interesting to watch many of the religion channels on Roku as a practice in faith development.

If you have a wi-fi setup in your house for internet access, you can buy a smartTV (one that connects to the internet) for less than the cost of a tablet.  Add a Roku box for less than $90, and off you go into the universe of free and premium Roku channels. Comparatively, In most parts of the US, cable tv costs significantly more money.

For example, here on Cape Cod, Heather and I are paying nearly $100/mo for basic cable and internet. We don’t watch the cable tv but cannot decouple it from the monthly cost.  So last night, out on my deck, I flipped through Roku channels and watched international news from various parts of the world and sampled a variety of channels.

One other benefit of Roku, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber (those who pay a one-time fee annually to cover postage on shipping for the year) you can play original Amazon TV content.  One guilty pleasure of mine is AmazonTV’s show, “Under the Dome.”

Roku, offers an alternative if you have wi-fi in your home. You won’t get free access to all programming on channels such as HBO, PBS, Disney and other well-known networks, but you will get a good selection.

I added the PBS channel on my smartTV through the Roku box and was able to choose the PBS station affiliate I wanted. WGBH-Boston was available, but I chose the San Francisco affiliate, which had all the same shows as WGBH but also a local show for the Bay area.

Meanwhile, BBC-America, a premium channel in cable TV services, doesn’t have a Roku offer, but AcornTV does, and it provides a number of British shows for free.

I’ve left out a lot about Roku. You can see all the channels it offers — 100s of them — on the company’s website. Many are free and many have a premium subscription fee.

I’m not buying content on Roku right now.  There’s enough to keep me entertained that’s free. I am, however, getting tired of my remote controls, keyboards, phones and tablets littering the coffee table. You can put apps on your various devices that control smartTV surfing. I use my iPad to move about AppleTV because its remote is cumbersome.

— Best Description Yet Explaining Why Productive Volunteers Churn

September 4, 2013 at 11:32 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

A recent post in the Ministry Matters blog states  three reasons why congregations churn through volunteers. I find myself identifying with them.

  1. “Volunteers abhor waste. Churches spend way too much money on overhead (sacred property, old technology, useless programs, and boring worship). Volunteers wonder why they are working so hard to help an organization that is so unproductive.
  2. “Volunteers only work for leaders whose lifestyles they respect. Clergy spend way too much time protecting days off, catering to trivial demands from members, and attending obligatory meetings … and too often fail to actually model the core values of an organization. Compare that to many CEO’s of non-profit organizations who are mission driven, excellent time managers, and only attend meetings that matter to the success of the vision.
  3. “Volunteers expect to celebrate success. Churches spend much of their time explaining failure. They have all kinds of excuses why ministries or missions don’t succeed (usually blaming it on circumstances beyond their control). They rarely throw a party for exceeding the mission goal.”

— A Quilted Nude Portrait & a UU OWL Program for Women 50+

August 20, 2013 at 11:08 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 5 Comments

Measures of Time: Self-Portrait, Annabel Rainbow of Warwickshire, England

Hands down, the best work at a world quilt show show last week was a nude portrait of a 50+ aged woman from Warwickshire, England. Its emotional depth, bravura and moxy ranked right up there with painter Alice Neel’s nude self  portrait at age 80 something. Neel was a well-known master, modern American artist.

In fact, it was better. The hand quilted stitching was a tour de force and the hand embroidered text comments that run all over the figure, including in circles around her nipples, are emotionally raw.

Most of the attendees at the show were 65+ in age but Annabel Rainbow’s “Measures of TIme” was hidden behind black curtains for fear of damaging the random little kid who might be in tow at the show.

I hung around the quilt to chat with many other viewers about the piece. Most were unhappy that show organizers decided to hide it from easy viewing because somebody complained. The quilt reflected the realities of nearly every woman who looked at it, and many of the future implications of aging that younger attendees will experience. It’s life. And it was just too much for the “somebody” who projected their own discomforts into a complaint.

The sign pinned to the black curtain read: “This art quilt depicts nudity. Parents be cautioned.” Cautioned against what?

My Unitarian Universalist eyes read it this way: “All of you adults who are about to enter, here is life stitched as it is. Stop your disassociation and denial and pause to consider this aging woman’s body as an awesome WORK OF ART and a devotional reading!”

I found myself distracted by  ensuing conversations and didn’t think to ask why representatives of the show decided to respond so dramatically to a complaint that obviously didn’t reflect how nearly all show participants felt about the piece. When somebody complains about an image or behavior in a sacred space, it seems to me that individuals responsible for the space may have a knee-jerk response as a way of preventing any conflict. (I am including in this observation complaints and negative observations from congregants to ministers about other individuals.) Where’s the responsible search for truth and meaning? Where’s the “Why?” response? Where’s the effort to ask the artist how she feels about how the show’s handling her work? Where’s the effort to ask other participants how they feel?

The Mancuso (Brothers) Show Management Company, a well-know organizer of the best, most prestigious quilt and antique shows in the country, derives its revenues from a huge population of 50+ year old women. The quilting industry in the US is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Quilt shows are said to generate more revenue than trade shows for the hobbiest fishing industry!

I have wondered how our UU OWL (Our Whole Lives Lifespan Sexuality Education) kids will fill about their bodies as they age. I know that there are many UU women older than 50 who are comfortable in their skin. But I also know that there aren’t.  I also know that there are women 50+ in our pews who aren’t comfortable with their sexuality. One religious professional of the baby boomer generation described herself to me as a “prude.”

I think Annabel Rainbow’s self portrait is a great conversation piece for our congregations. The majority of people sitting in our pews are likely to see aspects of themselves in her quilt. I also think think that OWL education would be great at later stages in life. What do you think?

You can see more of Annabel Rainbow’s work on her website.  Here’s another example of her work, it’s called “Be The Change You Want:”

BeTheChange You Want

If you’d like to see details of the quilt and other works from the New England World Quilt Show, I posted them  on flickr.  The quilts from Japan, the UK and Australia were by far the most interesting.

— Why I’m Not Ready to Say I’m No Longer a UU

August 5, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | 3 Comments

Blogger Stephane Rector, a person who identified as UU but who left the church recently, posted at the end of July a thoughtful blog on why she has left UUism. In “Why I’m Not a Unitarian Universalist,” she says she has been trying to practice community in a UU congregation but that she doesn’t fit in. She has tried very hard to find a place in UUism because she believes in the principles and values. She sought out UU resources in many places, including the Church of the Larger Fellowship, but:

“My history with Unitarian Universalism is filled with much pain and disappointment. I tried to locate a place for myself in my local fellowship, figure out a way that my skills could be of use to the community while challenging me to grow and live up to my values. I joined my local congregation about four years ago, and almost immediately tried to find these opportunities for myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my niche. It turned out that what I have to offer isn’t what the local fellowship needed…

“It finally dawned on me that this didn’t mean I’m defective in anyway, it meant that the church’s needs are different from what I can offer. In other words, they didn’t have a place for me. I needed something different. I needed a church community that I could grow with, one that I would need and it would need me too.”

She turned to an Episcopalian congregation and has been happy there.  I strongly recommend you read what she says in her blog. I don’t know her but her thoughts hit a nerve in me.

I felt I could grow in my home congregation in my first 1.5 years as a UU. But in a blink, everything changed for a variety of reasons. Now four years later, I’ve traveled and worked abroad and in several U.S. cities trying to find a community that is truly open and comfortable with practicing right relationship and radical hospitality.  I have seen how I could contribute to several congregations but it’s clear by their actions that there’s no place that works for me. That’s quite a statement for someone who falls in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum and for one who has been willing in the past to practice great patience.  The workplace still offers me more chances for ministry and devotional practice than organized religion.

So, I still wear my chalice every day  as a movable prayer but also to attract other UUs.  And I’m finding some wonderful new friends this way. Maybe we will fall into an unspoken covenant as we get to know one another.

I’m still a UU. I’m just finding sanctuary outside of a church.

— There Once Was a UU From Nantucket …

July 19, 2013 at 9:21 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

We are fair-weather sailors and when the sun shines and the winds blow, off to Nantucket we go.

Our love for the island is complicated though. Our suspicions from an observation last year are clear now. People of color on Nantucket are discriminated against and pretty blatantly. Nearly all servers, all tourist facing workers are white. Young college kids, migrant workers from Ireland, Eastern Europe and the UK take the jobs that benefit from tips. The people of color busing tables and working difficult jobs behind the scenes are practically invisible.

We attended a service at the Nantucket UU last summer whose theme touched on inequalities in our society. A congregant rose from the pews to remind everyone of the inequalities on their home turf.

Nantucket’s whaling history includes a significant population of people of color, and the present-day situation doesn’t do that history proud – or at least it increasingly seems that way to us.  Next time we go to Nantucket, I will ask to speak to managers of services business where only white people are present. I will ask them whether they’ve considered automatically adding a gratuity to all checks and then diving the centrally collected amounts, per se, among the employees fairly.

Anyway, Nantucket always reminds me of my father who wrote, among other items, limericks for Playboy magazine in the 1950s. Of course they were sexist. But truth  be told, my body of erotic poetry owes its existence to my……father. And NO, you ain’t gonna see any of it here.

But, here’s a nod to my father, who is slipping further down a path of dimentia that began 10 years ago. I love you dad.

There once was a UU from Nantucket

Whose hydrangeas grew in a bucket

She searched for love on the sea,

Inherent worth and dignity

And found it  back home in a pulpit


Meanwhile, the following popped into my head as wishful, faithful thinking. Sing it to the melody of “Oh Happy Day”

“Oh, happy day! Oh, happy daaaaaay!

When Jesus waaaaaashed (when Jesus washed)

When Jesus waaaaashed (when Jesus washed)

He washed my laundry today

Oh happy day! (oh happy day)

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