Thursday, November 14, 2013


Please consider voting for this fine young man.

Yes, he's my son. He's an adventurer and will soon be a biologist. He has a passion for telling the story of the arctic.

If he gets to go on this fabulous dog-sledding trip and travel from the coastal lands of Norway through the highlands of Sweden, it's likely he'll be treading on lands that our ancestors traveled.

How cool is that?

Voting through Facebook, go here

Thanks. xo

Friday, June 28, 2013

DOMA, VRA, #StandWithWendy and Me

What a victory! DOMA ended! Prop 8 not upheld! True marriage equality feels closer than ever!

I am happy. My marriage, at least legally, has been simple and easy. But I feel an acute kinship with the folks fighting for their right to marry and be recognized nationally; 50 years ago my interracial marriage would have been illegal in some states. I hope, like Loving vs. Virginia, that we will soon have a sweeping ruling that implements marriage equity for all.

Yet, I feel unease hovering below the joy.

The Supreme Court acted making the Voting Rights Act impossible to enforce. And while Texas Senator Wendy Davis lit a fire under many women's rights advocates, the ugly maneuvering behind the scenes, which might have worked had thousands of us not watched exactly what happened on the floor of the senate while cheering along on Twitter, proved again that many, many powerful white men think that they have a right to hold power over the rest of us.

And I worry.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton put their work for the rights of women on hold to fight for abolition. The common thought was "first abolition, then women's rights" but after slavery ended, the movement scattered. Some prominent abolitionists joined the Boston based American Woman's Suffrage Association, but the National Woman's Suffrage Association, the one Stanton and Anthony led that fought for an amendment to the constitution had very little support from the powerful white males who had worked for abolition. One hundred years later, during the Civil Rights Movement men discounted the oppression of women; the word "sex" was added to the Civil Rights Act at the very last moment, almost accidentally, by Senator Howard Smith (D-VA) but surely at the behest of Alice Paul, the author of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women are still disadvantaged on the tenure track, in equal pay, in business, and in politics. And white men in power constantly seek to regulate our health with the hidden agenda of regulating our sexuality. 

Women are taught to work through proper channels, to follow the rules; not to draw attention to ourselves unless it is by achieving the "perfect" hair or "summer legs" or "lips he'll want to kiss".

I am sick of it.

No, it's not time to let someone else go first. I was here in this god forsaken line for equality and dammit, it is MY TURN. It should have happened in 1920 when my grandmother voted in the first national election women were allowed to vote in, it should have happened for my mother during my childhood when we chose not to travel to states in the south that refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. If I have to wait for my granddaughters to have legally protected equal rights, I will be mad as hell.

Can you imagine the power to change the world and bend that arc toward justice if women had power and money? If women had support for parental leave that almost every other country has? If women earned on par with men, just think about the donations that could be made to elections, campaigns and work for justice. If women held power in corporations and politics at par with men, imagine how policy could be influenced.

Yes, I am happy that marriage equity has passed another legal hurdle. I really am.. It means the world to me that people I love can get married and those rights, at least nationally, will be uniform.

But let us not forget that half the population, more when you consider the sad and sorry state of gender rights beyond the binary, lack legal protection. We need equal rights for all people. Pretending that men, and in particular powerful, wealthy, well educated white men, do not have a profound advantage over the rest of us perpetuates injustice and limits our inherent right for freedom and equity for all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Part Four: Proper Care and Feeding of Your Religious Educator

It has been nearly a full year since I left my position as a religious educator. I think because I left quite publicly and with a loving leaving, over the past many months I've been the confidential confidant of more than half a dozen folks who were exploring leaving their positions as religious educators. A number of these fine folks were credentialed, long-term, dedicated folks who held leadership positions and loved, loved, loved what they did.

What happens? Why do we as a whole UU-beast have such a high rate of turn over for the folks who bring to life our ministry for children and youth? And what on earth can be done to change it?

Well--I don't really know. Maybe someone knows the whole answer and just selfishly sits on that answer, cackling with mirth because the rest of us are stumbling around trying to sort it all out. But my hunch is that it's a complicated answer.

I watched the VUU again today, and again felt like I was eavesdropping on a minster's meeting--this time about parenting and ministry. This balance of family (or self) and work is also very difficult for religious educators, and for me it was the reason I left. I don't regret it for a second--while I MISS the work, I am so desperately grateful I had this year of evenings and weekends to be present with my kids. TWO of them are moving away next year, making this year absolutely precious.

When compared with the challenges for ministers with families, religious educators have the added difficulty of two things: 1--doing work that has traditionally been "women's work" with the expectation of lower pay, more responsibilities and a smiling happy-to-have-the work expectation of attitude on the part of SOME congregations and 2--Very few congregations expect the minister to work every Sunday, but most expect the Religious Educator to do so. That's like turning the toaster oven on broil and walking away. Family time doesn't mix well into that burned up mess of pizza rolls and religious education.

I know there's a fuss about metrics and growth and mission and vision and leadership in the big picture UU stuff right now. I don't know what to do about that, either. But we could remember that these are people who do the work, and people who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. And we could remember that our professional ministers are not the only leaders in the game--I tell you the secret, ugly truth--people will stay through mediocre sermons for great religious education for their kids, but they will not stay for great sermons if the programming for their children is sub-standard. (Again, not the situation at the church I worked for-I saw at least three standing ovations for sermons from that minister over the years.) There's more to look at here.

For the regular Jo in the regular church dealing not with huge metrics and consultants, but with the daily stuff of running a church, maybe for that Jo I do have a little advice. It's not all brand new, but it all still applies. Start here: Proper Care and Feeding of Your Religious Educator, then go here to Part 2 and then to Part 3. I should write one called "after the letter of resignation" because that's a tough one, too. But this is a place to start. Don't be one of the churches who says "gee, we thought everything was going well" it may very well be your religious educator that I've been chatting with since January. The resignation letter may be half composed in the computer.

Go see if you can make it better. Search committees are hard to fill, and good religious educators are hard to find. Pay a living wage, give time off, support professional development. And hey all you big-wigs, remember that ministers and metrics and end statements are not the only reason churches and institutions thrive or fail. Start with people, end with people and take care of the people in between. It's not the big answer, but it's a place to start.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Generation and Leadership--And how Boomers ruined the 80s

I just watched another round table video discussion between UU ministers and soon to be ministers on the VUU, and while I think the video gremlins finally caught up to the fine folks from the Church of the Larger Fellowship, I enjoyed the discussion.

The most important information, in my mind, came in a comment on the youtube comment stream from UU World editor, Chris Walton. There was a comment from Rev. Hank Pierce (from Hot Stove UU Media Megapersonality fame) about the ages of the UUA moderators. I think in response to that comment, Chris posted this:

The last four UUA presidents were born in 1949, 1947, 1946, and 1946.

This is amazing. The last four UUA presidents were all baby boomers. I felt a heavy nagging when Laurel Hallman didn't win that we may never, ever have anything but male presidents. But the generational piece was not on my radar. I'm a Gen Xer who is very aware that I live in the shadow of the boomers. I feel like we come along and have to undo everything. I especially blame baby boomers for the entirety of the 80s: fashion, music and gross financial excessive exuberance. 

Not that there's blame to be had here. But maybe a slightly younger moderator would make a difference. You can never escape your birth order or your generation, they simply form who you are in many ways. 

Who knows, it's a complicated time and a complicated system. And, even for Joe girl-in-the-pew, interesting.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Evolution and Coffee Hour

I believe in evolution, not just the apes to man, Galapagos Island variety, but the personal mind-body-spirit kind, too. And I think I just noticed a giant leap in my own mind-body-spirit evolution.

For a few years I worked in the trenches of my faith, and I loved it. I loved knowing who was who and hearing about what was going on and understanding the scuttle about why or why not this or that was doing something or other.

But no more. As I turn on the curve of my year away from church after leaving the job and really begin to think of myself as the middle aged woman in the back pew wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sneaking out early to be ready to serve the coffee, I realize that I've changed. I'm no longer church staff, no longer an insider and I really no longer care about the intricacies of the settlement process of ministers or the debate between the efficacy of one seminary or the other.

Today I watched a very cool thing, technologically. It was a panel discussion live on YouTube hosted by some great, caring people who run a non-bricks and mortar church. The panelists were passionate and very knowledgeable--all ministers with one seminarian, I believe. They seemed to have closely held beliefs and opinions about how ministers get to churches, and what the ins and outs of that are. There was a time when I'd have been very interested, but no more. It was great for lots of people, but I'm just not there anymore.

I want to see my friends and be a part of a community who cares about one another and does a little good on the planet. That's enough. No, actually that's huge! I'm sure there was a time when I would have considered that to be downright heresy. Faith is about grand, lofty goals! Transformation! Transcendence!

Sure. That's fine, if that's what you're into.

Not me. I think I've evolved. And this is just where I'm supposed to be.


(Update-- 4/12/13)
I had no intention of disparaging the new VUU show from the Church of the Larger Fellowship. I think the show format is a fabulous concept with great technology that was in all likelihood for many members of CLF was just exactly what they needed and wanted to see. This blog post was intended to be a personal reflection on my own experience of transition out of church work. I don't think my church (CLF) could or should provide programming that only interests me. We are a vast and varied community with many vast and varied interests. I wish Rev. Meg and Rev. Joanna all the best of luck for a successful run, and hope that my musings will not be taken as a negative review of the show.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So the Love can Grow

I worked for a wonderful little church for seven years. Well, it wasn't so little after a while, but still, you could at least know just about everyone at least a little bit. When I left, I promised to stay completely away for a full year to give the new staff member space. In my mind it was the most supportive thing I could do--just get the heck out of the way, I worked with children and youth programs and I knew the families needed to turn to the new person when times were tough or life sat down hard on their family.  Advice was different from different corners; my professional guidelines don't explicitly say you have to leave-- just stay out of leadership for two years, other friends in the biz said stay away for three years. Someone heard six months was enough. I thought a year would be enough but we could reassess at about the year mark to see if more time away was needed.

But who knew life would do this? That my dad would get sick? That church members who feel like family to us would die? That I'd want nothing more than to sit in a pew and sing the hymns I've been singing since childhood and just be.

I should have found another church. But it's not that easy. I can't usually just slip in the back and sit down, I know people at all the local churches in my denomination. Maybe I could go to another faith, I drove by a Quaker meeting house the other day and while that's a good fit for me theologically, they wouldn't have the rituals that I find so comforting. I regularly attend an online service from the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and it offers a great alternative to a bricks and mortar church.

But I'm a person who loves the smell of a church kitchen. And I love that watery coffee that only perks in those huge urns. And stale cookies. I love the cookies that no one at home was going to eat, so someone brought them to church for coffee hour. And yes, I'm totally serious. I feel the spirit move in the service and with the music and the moments of complete silence except for baby noise, but the place where I feel the spirit the strongest is over a steaming sink full of dirty dishes. It's the real connections with real people.  This is part of the reason I couldn't work for a church any longer, as much as I loved making church happen for other folks, I missed having it happen for me.

There's nothing to be done. I knew what I was getting into when I took the job. I knew what I was getting into when I left. It's just sad.

Part of living a life of gratitude and happiness is honoring the sadness. It's what makes the soil of the soul rich so that the love can grow.
photo (31)

Cross posted to The Natural Happy Store

Friday, March 29, 2013

No Fahs Lecture at GA?!

When I was a brand new Religious Educator, I think it was something like 10 days into the job, I was lucky enough to attend the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Congregations in Fort Worth, Texas. I could swear to you that some guiding hand was leading me around there, although I don't believe in any sort of spirit like that, really. Well, maybe kind of. Because everyone I sat next to happened to be a Religious Educator. No kidding. Each of those kind souls carefully looked over my curriculum plan for the year with me, and they gently gave me advice and information. The now Rev. Jeff Liebmann finally made fun of me for being a "curriculum geek" and spending every free moment at the UUCARDS booth in the exhibit hall.

It was wonderful.

I'll admit that I didn't know which sessions I was attending half the time, I kind of picked one and went to it. But as the years progressed and I continued to attend GA, I learned that it was vital to my professional development and my personal education to always attend the sessions sponsored by my professional organization, the Liberal Religious Educators Association. The most important session was always the Sophia Lyon Fahs Lecture. It was a piece of our history as Religious Educators, and it always, always came home to the congregation I served. When Bill Doherty spoke on home grown religion, we became the first congregation west of the Mississippi to test his Sources Supper. When Dr. Mark Hicks spoke about Religious Education for People of Color I added an entire component about race to our teacher training and continuing ed modules. This was real support for enriching the work I was doing.

When I left the work of religious education I continued to pay dues to LREDA because I strongly believe in the work of the organization. So this morning when I got an email from LREDA I didn't think much of it, we're always getting updates, good information and newsletters. But this news was most unwelcome and unexpected. Of course I no longer serve on the LREDA board so all I know is what I read:

"Dear colleagues,

It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that neither the Sophia Lyon Fahs Lecture nor the LREDA-sponsored workshop were selected by the General Assembly Program Development Group for inclusion in this year’s General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky."

WHAT? The Fahs Lecture has a history dating back to 1974. It's one of the most effective outreach events for topics that LREDA feels it is important to get into the discourse of informed and active Unitarian Universalists. And it didn't make the cut? I am certain that the other LREDA-sponsored workshop would be equally as important to the depth of learning at GA.  

I'm furious. I have no idea what happened, but I feel quite strongly that it needs to be remedied immediately. I call on the General Assembly Program Development Group to find a way to bring the Fahs lecture to the people who need it, and remember to book a large room--it is often attended by hundreds of GA attendees. 

And please, someone tell me what on earth happened to allow the Fahs lecture, at least, to be left out of the schedule of workshops. I'm listening, or trying to around my anger and disappointment.