Unsuspectingly, I made a phone call in 1975 that would be critical to how my life would unfold. After spending a summer wandering Europe, I arrived back in NYC and called my mother. She said, “Concordia’s holding a place for you. Do you want to go?”
“What and where is Concordia?” I asked. (It is a small liberal arts college in northern Minnesota.) After exploring how this had come about, I asked when they had to know. My mother told me that classes had already started and they needed to know now. I decided to sleep on it. The next morning, I called home and said I would go.
A lot of factors contributed to this decision. I had no plans for what would come next in my life. The relationship I had with my summer traveling companion had left me feeling disconnected and alone. I had some fuzzy idea that I wanted to study theatre, and it turned out it was my home community theatre director who had negotiated with the college to hold a spot for me. Any other choice in that moment would have taken my life in a completely different direction.
I’m a student of, though not a scholar of, process theology. I won’t burden you here with its philosophical roots (though they’re fascinating). There are many lenses through which to view process theology, but I offer this simple way to understand its basic tenets.
1. All-that-is is in a constant state of change, so much so that nothing is ever in a state of permanence.
2. How something changes is affected by its journey through time and space.
3. An entity is affected by both its own past and everything that it encounters in the current moment.
4. An entity is also affected, even guided, by what it determines to be of utmost worth. Some describe it as the ‘lure’ of god, or love, or beauty.
We are changed by our relationships, chosen or unchosen…to our dreams, to our mentors, to our friends, to this moment in time. What shall we make of that?
Here if you need me,
Past Stone Soup Columns
As we begin another ‘church year’, we are surrounded by crises. All over the globe, extreme weather events are wreaking havoc and the recent U.N. climate change report sounds a ‘code red for humanity’. The Taliban is taking over multiple districts in Afghanistan. A 4th wave of the COVID pandemic is rolling across many countries. Haiti has suffered another devastating earthquake. And our increasing focus on racial justice is opening wounds and unveiling painful histories that the dominate culture had long swept under the proverbial rug.
What does it mean to embrace possibility in the face of all of this?
The following words from our friends at Soul Matters focus on the hopeful. Step into the hard places, they say, but don’t do it alone. Together, they suggest, we can sing out ‘why not’!
As for me, right now I want to acknowledge our exhaustion…our pain…our sense of being lost somewhere between what we thought to be ‘normal’ and what is ‘now.’ I don’t disagree with the advice that Soul Matters offers in our theme packet, but it’s also not helpful to ignore the pain. We might need to wallow there until we are all worn out.
There was a beautiful story told in the Sunday service during General Assembly in June. It was about a child who wailed after hearing the “On Top of Spaghetti” song…you know, where the meatball gets lost, and rolls off into the dangerous unknown. That little boy wanted to hear the song again and again, and cried again and again, until he was all cried out.
I think sometimes possibilities can’t become apparent, and we can’t embrace them, until we are all cried out. And you know what? Among and between us, we have as many shoulders to cry on as we have eyes to cry out. Don’t be afraid to lean into one another until you’re all cried out. Then…then…we can embrace possibilities. Beloved community is a whole that has life-giving properties that each person does not have alone.
Here if you need me,
You have coveted tickets to a performance that you’re very excited about. The day finally arrives, and you enter the auditorium with great anticipation. There’s a buzz in the room that resonates with your heartbeat…almost a throbbing. At the appointed hour, the house lights dim, the room settles into breathless silence, and the curtain opens. And then…
What? As any theatre person knows, anything could happen. That’s the beauty of live theatre. Let’s use this experience to think about what might happen as we enter this particular fall.
1. This is the least likely of all possibilities, but maybe the ‘show’ will be exactly the one for which we’ve had season tickets for years. School starts as usual, people go back to their ‘normal’ schedules, our Sunday services and programming all happen in person. UFP teams begin to meet again…to plan programming and to tend to all the details that has made UFP a showstopper!
2. Or, it could be the show we expected, but the shine has worn off…that is, the storyline is choppier than we remember, the actors forget their lines, the stage setting is shabby and worn. So disappointing! Clearly everyone is trying valiantly to replicate the shows of the past, but it’s impossible. There’s little spirit or energy, and by intermission, half of the audience has left.
3. Or, it could be a show we don’t recognize, maybe even in a language we don’t understand, and we check our tickets to be sure we came on the right day. It’s not the story or the music we came to hear, and we feel completely disoriented. Will we stay for the whole show?
4. Or…Here’s the possibility I’d like to embrace: that this fall will be the opening of a story that we create together…one that helps to build the world of love and justice we dream to be possible. Imagine that! Really. Can you imagine that?
To put on this ‘show’ requires a full crew of stagehands, designers, artists, actors, promoters, and organizers. YOU are needed. Whether we are meeting in person, or online, or some combination of that, UFP is definitely a community production where there’s no separation between performer and audience. Everyone has a role to play.
For example, over this last 18 months, Sherry Hambly has played a significant role on our tech crew, making it possible for us to offer an on-line community gathering each week. Here’s what she’s said of that experience:
I signed on to be a UFP tech volunteer because I believe members of a community need to
give what they can when they can to make the community strong, especially during difficult
times. It was obvious from the start that the Sunday Zoom services were an important way for
our community to feel connected. I also like tech and thought it would be neat to learn bout
As a techie, the experience allowed me to learn more about this new-fangled app called Zoom,
and it improved my video editing skills. But more importantly, I always enjoyed the whole
experience of a Sunday service right from the pre-chat to the production of the service and
ending with a debrief. There was a real sense of comradery during this time.
I liked that there was no such thing as a mistake – your best was good enough. If something
went amiss, you just moved on to the next thing to be done.
But most of all I was very humbled by the gratitude that was spontaneously and regularly
expressed to the tech team by many different people who attended these services. The digital
services are so very important in keeping us all connected, and feeling safe in a way, during
these difficult times, and people appreciate it greatly. And I am forever grateful that I could
help in some small way.
Wouldn’t you LOVE to have an experience like Sherry’s? Maybe it’s not in a tech role, although we could sure use you there! There are lots of different ways you can be part of ‘putting on the show’ at the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough.
Please speak to me about the role you’d like to play! YOU are needed! That’s the beauty of life!
Now, go think on that as you enjoy the last few weeks of summer. Then, let me know what you decide!
See you soon,
July 8, 2021
Don’t we just want to be together again?
This past Sunday, we did our first trial run at being back in the sanctuary. It was a huge step for several reasons. And it was our first experiment with a dual-platform service with a few in the sanctuary and everyone else at home. Which means it was the first time most of the dozen (tech helpers) present had been in the building in well over a year, and the first time to be with other UFPers in person.
It was our first foray into practicing safety protocols to meet public health guidelines. You might not have seen it on camera, but we were masked when not speaking, and were doing our best to maintain safe physical distancing.
On top of that, it was the first of our summer worship services as part of a consortium of five UU congregations in Southern Ontario.
It was heartwarming. It was exciting. It was a success. And it wasn’t perfect. It was just a baby step, really.
There were indeed technical glitches. We can probably resolve most of those with the right equipment and training. But there were also safety protocol glitches. In our excitement, some forgot to use sanitizer as/where directed. The online pre-screening tool didn’t work perfectly. And, we hadn’t considered how masks would interfere with headset microphones. We can resolve these things too, but it’s going to take all of us.
We are exploring the possibilities for some small outdoor gatherings later this summer and into the fall. We are also going to run another test for the August 1 service. But, it will take all of us putting safety first to create conditions that make our shared space and our in-person gatherings as safe as possible for all who want to gather in that way. It can’t be about what works best for the tech equipment, and it can’t be about our individual risk decisions. Everything we do needs to be about keeping those around us safe…in the interest of our beloved community.
We have a crackerjack team helping us sort through the ever-changing guidelines and advising the Board on what we can do when. I am so grateful to Heather Ballarin (chair), Guy Hanchet, Heather-Lynn Fraser, Steph Wildheart, and Rosana Salvaterra. Kudos!!
I really really really want us to be able to gather in person again soon. And I believe it’s very important that we continue to offer quality ways for folks to take part from a distance. For this to happen, it’s going to take all of us, keeping safety first, listening and attending to protocols, before we are able to walk into each other’s arms again.
When that day comes, won’t it feel good!?!?
For now, enjoy the great outdoors!
On June 7, we turned our service over to Elder Shirley Williams, and I didn’t share what I had intended to share that morning. So, here it is:
In my (last) blog post about play, I revealed that I’m no good at it, at least not as an adult. Though I spent countless days in free-style play when growing up in South Dakota… alongside a creek and amidst corn fields and swaying wheat…somewhere along the line, I lost my ability to play in that way. So, I begin this short reflection, as we enter into June’s theme of play, by admitting to, and embracing, my beginner’s mind. I’ve forgotten how to play. And I want to re-learn.
So, I toddled off to do some research…that’s the grown up thing to do, right? For example, our Non-Fiction Bookclub is reading Diane Ackerman’s book called Deep Play, and I love the definition by Johan Huizinga found there: “Play is an activity which proceeds … outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action.”
Rapture. Enthusiasm. Outside the limits of necessity. Sacred. Festive. I mean, I would LOVE to engage in this kind of play!
But this week, I worried that we should not proceed with this theme right now (in the wake of the graves discovered in Kamloops). I didn’t want it to seem that we were being frivolous, or ignoring the tragic realities of our past. We can’t just stick our fingers in our ears and cover our eyes, and go off frolicking…that’s for darn sure.
But instead, I decided to stick with it, and went looking specifically for how play might serve us. I wondered if it might have some kind of healing or redemptive qualities.
And here’s a short list of some of what I found:
- Play leads to creating something new out of what exists.
- Play takes us beyond ourselves … allowing us to be something other than we are.
Without play, we continue to be stuck in old worlds. In play, we pretend new worlds into being.
- Play allows our minds and bodies to feel better, and this helps us to heal better.
- Play disarms us, and makes our edges and barriers more malleable, allowing us to connect more deeply.
- Play is restorative to our spirit and is necessary at any age.
- Play is not about any one activity, but rather is a state of being.
Do you hear all the possibility in that list? I sure do. Play opens up possibilities… of becoming something new… of new ways of being… of imagining new worlds… of restoring a strong enough spirit to go out into the world to continue to fight for justice.
I’m sure, of course, that play can be a way to avoid reality, or to preoccupy oneself with pleasure. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of play espoused by development consultant Emeka Nnadi who uses this equation: T= RI to the power of P. That is, transformation (T) equals reality (R) times the impossible (I) to the power of play. Play catapults the mix of reality and imagination into transformation.
We know the reality today. We know that Canada must face both it’s past and current crimes against Indigenous peoples. And, we can also imagine a world of peace and unity where every person’s worth is honoured and respected. So how can we play on this field, in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap between reality and possibility?
I think an answer is, just do it. Play. Go into that place of sacred space beyond time and space, embrace the spirit of play with enthusiasm, and imagine what could be. Don’t make it a job or a project. The ends are not the point of play. Simply play. And trust that something new will emerge.
I first thought of a kind of foosball table setup, with our past playing against our desired future… but then I got uncomfortable with opposing teams and potentially aggressive competition. So, I began to imagine the past and present being loosed from the bars and expectations, and the players interacting, and getting to know one another. Switching teams, playing in the mud together.
Or I can think of the past as an old dusty heavy storybook that has clawing connections to white identity and power, and I start to think about tearing out the pages, which then become light and feathery and flutter off into the world as healing balms, or maybe monetary restitutions.
Or I can imagine taking my little avatar self into some alternative reality and experiment with different kinds of relationships…different feelings…different ways of living on the earth…different ways of sharing and honouring resources.
Or what if we got together and did some role play, with some of us carrying the pain…in its many manifestations, some of us playing the stuck places, and some of us playing healers. Where would that little drama take us? Who knows? Imagine.
Or what if I simply took the time to play with someone who has first hand knowledge of the generational trauma of residential school…we could play music, or cards, or whatever we chose. We could laugh, and sing, and dance together. I can imagine borders dissolving…and healing…
What can you imagine? What is possible in the transformative space of play?
All work and seriousness and no play makes us dull. Keeps us stuck. Play is a birthright, something that each child, and adult, is a rightful heir to. Maybe we can’t play all the time, but when we do, something new is bound to emerge.
So let’s play!
So be it.