May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Sermon: An Engine Composed of Generations

An Engine Composed of Generations
Delivered on May 26, 2013 for First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh

Tomorrow is memorial day -- again. When I was young, I was taught that this was a time to remember those who had passed on before us – at the time, I thought that meant great grandparents and ancestors previous to them whom I'd never met. Frequently, while visiting my grandparents in Western Wisconsin, we would drive to the cemetery adjacent to the Rush River Lutheran Church and visit the graves of some of those ancestors I'd never met. Now my grandparents are buried there as well.

Over time, I've come to realize memorial day began as a patriotic holiday, originally created in 1866 just after the Civil War. It is a time for remembering our soldiers who have died serving our nation in any of its many wars.

During my internship at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, the worship group decided to offer a litany of names and ages of the US soldiers who had died in the last year as a result of war. SO MANY of them were 18, 19, 20, 21 years old! These are just past the age of what we call “bridging” (which our congregation will celebrate next weekend). I don't want to imagine losing our young people in such a way – in bloody conflict. If you have, or know somebody who has, for this, we grieve, and deeply.

In our own hymnal, there is a reading, The Young Dead Soldiers, #583, which so harrowingly names this loss, and the unknown meaning of the loss – waiting for us to complete that meaning. “We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.”

They died for their cause. But martyrdom is not the only way, and I reject the idea that being an adult of any age makes one somehow ready to enjoin in a war. If you know me, you know I stand for peace – from the core of my being I pray every day for an end to wars, and an end to needless deaths of soldiers and civilians of all ages. So, whether you give your last breath for something, or whether you dedicate decades of your breathing to something, each represents a commitment to bending the universe's arc toward justice. That arc doesn't bend on its own, and surely not automatically. With every hummingbird that steps up, and every elephant, every monkey, every human with a voice, we tug at that arc together – our attention impelling it toward that which we call justice.

As this congregation's outgoing campus ministry coordinator and social action coordinator, I desire for the elders in this congregation to work continually to more deeply embrace and include the younger generations. So many of the young among us (in our congregation and in society at large) are older than those who have died for our country. If people of that young age are ready for such a task, surely those of such an age among us are fit for the task of full inclusion in our democracies. If our culture needs to change to be inclusive in a multi-cultural sense, with respect to diversity of ages, then that is the work before us. Not because of duty to some ideal, or because of a quota to meet. But because of our practice of unconditional loving acceptance and recognition of the first-principle inherent worth and dignity within each of us.

In an instrumental sense, I call for this because it makes our community whole. Because with all generations engaged, we will have an engine. And I know off the bat it will be an imperfect engine, but it can be an engine that moves us forward, which on its own would speak volumes. This engine would push from behind, and pull from the front. My understanding is that the youngest among us (my 4 year-old son Henry included) know what they want. Henry knows what he wants so very clearly, in such a way that he leans in full-force heart, body, and soul (and occasionally, lungs) to try and satisfy that desire. My conversations with him about id, superego and ego, never venture very far past the Id. Superego gets magically transformed into “Super-Eagle,” and we have gone from the world of reflection and examination into an entirely different world of imagination. It's wonderful. And it's id. He knows his drives, but does not know the complex context that his drives are rooted in, or the ramifications of carrying through on those drives. 

In a classical sense, the younger generations know their drives. Meanwhile, the older generation knows the contexts in their complexity, and would offer its wisdom based on history, while the middle generation could work collaboratively with everyone to create and execute a plan balancing the drives of the younger with the cautions of the elder.

I don't believe that such a classical model holds up entirely, because it's based on categorical thinking. There are young people who have learned history, and attend well to that learning. There are certainly older people who are in touch with their drives, and some whom wisdom has somehow eluded. In other words, youth does not make one naïve or unlearned, and age need not make one wise, or even experienced.

An excellent example of a young adult who stepped up, perhaps one of our most famous living UU's in fact, is Zach Wahls, the Eagle Scout raised by two moms, who has not waited until some later stage of development to engage with the world. As a result of the work he has been a part of, this week we have the very good news that the Boy Scouts of America have ended their ban on openly gay scouts – a huge victory for gay youth! This is “shoulder-to-the-wheel” kind of stuff, which I believe we do well to encourage. Young people (within UU and beyond) tend to have great energy for justice and a strong sense of justice, and those in every generation can realize a win-win scenario through multi-generational collaborative efforts.

However, as with many religious groups, Unitarian Universalist churches have tended to lose people while they're in their 20's, and I believe it diminishes our drive somewhat, and consequently diminishes the strength of our movement. This loss need not be the case. We can open this congregation further to become more young-adult friendly, perhaps even to the point of being young-adult centered. Or better, since often a both/and understanding is richer than an either/or understanding, we could develop a multi-culture with a strong core of young adult culture.

I have seen our congregation's younger population grow, even over the last two years. And I want to be clear on one thing, lest I be misunderstood. It would be a very big mistake for me to preach here to the older generation only, and I do not want my words interpreted as such. If I were preaching about how “we” need to be more attractive to “them” these words would be marginalizing at the same time as I'm trying to be inviting. Throughout, I have been attempting to speak agnostic of generations, because my hope is to speak to the larger “us.” This work of inclusion and balance – this movement toward wholeness – requires all to feel welcome, and all to be in discourse.

This next minute or so I will dedicate to the older generation, as I see a tendency which I believe hinders our efforts at wholeness and inclusion. The perils of coffee hour conversations! Some of you younger folks may have experienced this. The issue of age-related social faux pas was important enough for Carey MacDonald – along with the UUA office of Young Adult Ministries – to create a flyer called “Coffee Hour Caution” advising churchgoers on ways that they're lousing things up in conversations, and some good ways to be warm and gracious without inserting their feet in their mouth. I've printed up several of these sheets to share if you're interested – some are here in the sanctuary, and some will be downstairs. As one young adult commented, “It [the flyer] might be a little tongue-in-cheek, but it needs to be said.” Here are just a few things it recommends avoiding – “How old are you?” “Have you met our other young adult?” or “We need more young people!” Upon a little reflection, it's clear to see how these can be experienced as “othering” and would not be received as a hospitable welcome. Lest we start walking on eggshells, there aren't magic words, other than the words you would say to somebody you're initially meeting for whom age is unimportant: “Can I introduce you to my friend?” or “What did you think of the service?” The magic attitude for anyone, regardless of age, is to: Introduce yourself • Make friends • Be interested • Reach out • and Respect boundaries.

Now, to those who identify as part of the younger generation, and to those newly joined, this wholeness won't work without you. Expect inclusion, and be ready to speak up for what you want. The minute you sign the membership book, or even the minute you start to participate, your voice ought to have an equitable place in the discourse of this community. It's not necessary to be steeped in UU culture to have a sharable opinion. In some cases, you may find it beneficial to learn our ways, and in other cases, it may very well help for our ways to be instructed by your ways. If I were not leaving in a month, I would do my best to make sure we (the all-inclusive “we”) make room for you, wherever you're coming from, however long you've been in this congregation, or on this planet.

Now, opening to make space for all to feel welcome is one thing, and knowing ourselves is another. Here's the take-home multi-generational pastoral part. Where are you in the arc of your life, and how do your feelings about it affect your connections with others? How well do you connect with yourself at other life stages, either in the past or the future? Sometimes, even in myself and perhaps among some who've cycled around the sun a few times more than me, I feel a bit of envy toward the younger generation, for your energy that seems to recover more easily from exhaustion, and that hasn't gone stale. And occasionally there is envy for the youthful insights unhindered by experiences which too often serve to narrow our perspectives. And to the older generation, those younger among us may feel envy, toward you for being settled financially or socially, and knowing who you are. For accomplishments that have succeeded, and for your attempted accomplishments that instead have rewarded you with “wisdom.”

Even if that envy were admiration, I don't see it as particularly helpful or connective, however. To know the arc of our lives, we are called to take a step back, and be compassionate with ourselves. We have each been a younger version of our self. That young person was you. With any luck, (or for the theists here, God willing or Insha'Allah), you will progress along your arc and become an older version of yourself. As we come to terms with ourselves at different ages in the span of our lives, hand-in-hand we can develop stronger more authentic connection with others. The corollary – as we connect with others across generations, we have a greater opportunity to find ourselves along our own personal arc.

Ultimately, we are all made of stars. This star matter we have been fortunate enough to inherit, and imbue with the spirit that resides within and beyond ourselves. This star matter has cycled through humanity for countless millennia. Through that matter, and the processes it provides a vehicle for, we are deeply connected to our Earth and to each other. The wisdom and drives of our long-dead ancestors call to us. The desires and understandings of our future descendents call to us. Let us make room for the voices of all drives and wisdom, including our own. Let us tune and start the engine we are, and race to answer the call. Blessed be, and amen.
Please join with me in singing our next hymn, Building Bridges, #1023 in your teal hymnal.

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The Future is Glasscasting

I predict "glasscasting" is going to be a big new word for 2014-15. And it will only be done by glassholes.

I also predict that "glasshole" will take on a different meaning that actually matches its function --> a virtual transparent portal to another part of the world. I really like the idea of this device but goodness gracious its still mighty ugly. Looking forward to the third wave of development when the camera is just a dot where the bows meet the frame, and the image is just projected onto the periphery of "regular" glasses. I also believe it should be paired with proprioceptive gloves as controllers.

And there's a lot of social preparation that needs to be done here, not the least among them opening this world to EVERYBODY regardless of financial affluence. As the tech gets down below $100 for the device and >$2 for an hour of streaming, this will be a real game-changer.

This could be a great vehicle for creating ultra-transparency, and becoming comfortable with exposing oneself to vulnerabilities. To be receptive, society's morality is going to need to make room for accepting the real ways people live their lives. Either that, or glass users are going to need to mind their p's and q's, at least for a while until the really rowdy people get them.

These will also make excellent vehicles for policing the police. If governments or other entities declare an area or event non-transparent, most everyone will assume they're either actually working on something secret, or are up to no good, though sometimes individuals just want their privacy. "Officer, you should be aware that I'm glasscasting." "I'm sorry, you're going to need to shut that off, because this is a transparency-free social interaction. The law gives me the freedom to beat you with a club without it being documented."

Another great benefit of these is that they're likely to be more Earth-friendly, in that they will use a lot less resources than a laptop or iPad, and orders of magnitude less than a dinosaur beige box with a CRT and a 2 pound plastic keyboard.

I'm looking forward to being able to go on walks with distant friends and be in two places at the same time. I'm looking forward to meetings like Google hangouts, but even better. God I love meetings. And virtual geocaching, and graffiti in augmented reality. And being able to "remember" everybody's name even when they don't wear their nametags at church. And I look forward to being able to vicariously fly live with base-jumpers in flying squirrel suits.

AND I want to be able to turn this off. I could see being "on" all or much of the time to be exhausting.

here's to a peaceful world where we're all deeply and authentically connected.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Previous Rain

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Eleanor Roosevelt on gaining courage


Albert Schweitzer on Expectations

Friday, May 17, 2013


Continuum From Media Skills in Public Ministry

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Banjo in 3/4 Time....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013



Saturday, May 4, 2013


Spinning on fun carpet at Gymkhana

Blessings and gratitude,

Pls excuse shorthand txt. This msg sent by mobile phone.

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