A Rose in the Wintertime

And I’ll bring you hope
When hope is hard to find,
And I’ll bring a song of love
And a rose in the wintertime

I have to admit that has never been one of my favorite hymns. The melody is simple, almost sing-song, far perkier than I usually feel at this time of the year. And I flinch at the image of a perfect rose – grown somewhere far away under who knows what kind of labor and environmental conditions and imported for out-of-season retail sale – as a midwinter expression of love and beauty. If there must be flowers, I prefer them local and home grown, thanks.

But it is February and not very much is growing here this time of year.

Here in central Maine we have had five or six accumulating snowstorms – at least three of them over eight inches – in the last three weeks. Two storms the last week I was in Chicago left at least two feet of fresh snow on the ground and it’s kept coming, one storm after the next, since I’ve been back. And we have more coming this weekend, another coastal storm that is forecast to dump a foot or more here and twice that downeast. Not sure what Boston is getting this time around, but they bore the brunt of the last storm that only gave us a glancing blow, so I will forgive them if they get off easy this time.

I shoveled the back roof on Thursday. Understand that I did not grow up in snow country and “shovel the roof” is a phrase that makes no sense in my native vocabulary. Nevertheless, Thursday morning I was out on the back roof, the part over the kitchen extension and the sun porch, in my pajamas, shoveling snow off the roof in preparation for the next load to arrive. Okay, I had my coat and boots on in addition to my pajamas, scooting along the roof on my backside pushing snow off it with the shovel. The roof in question is just steep enough and just high enough, and I am just clumsy enough, that standing up there when it’s full of ice does not seem like a good idea. I may be arguably crazy, but I’m not stupid. Continue reading

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Home again

“Wherever I have been, I am back,” Gandalf replied. That may not be an exact quote. My tattered, brittle paperback copy of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is not where I remember leaving it for the last several years – I think I must have attempted to clean house before I left town last month, and this is what happens when I do things like that. Anyway, I am back in Maine, back on the blog – at least for the time being. It has been a long, rich, full few weeks. Experiences and studies layer onto each other like a formational seven-layer taco dip extravaganza with extra guacamole. I spent a lot of time in my Liberal Theology class processing ideas I picked up during the Multicultural Congregations class I took back in November, and then a big chunk of my Digital Media in Ministry class was tangled up in ideas left over from Liberal Theology. This is not a bad thing, actually, though sometimes it makes getting done the particular work for a particular class somewhat complicated and confusing. But in the end, all the bits and pieces are interconnected, a whole beyond the sum of its component parts, and if where to start is important so is which way to go and what to do with all the things as we get them. Continue reading

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Notes from Chicago

I’ve been here a week. It would have been a week yesterday, but I spent last Thursday in transit, connecting flights cancelled, and standby to Chicago the next morning on a different airplane than my checked luggage with which I didn’t reconnect until the next day.

It happens to somebody every time. At least I have learned to pack my prescriptions and pajamas and a change or so of clothes in my carry on luggage.

I’m staying with classmates in an apartment this time, instead of the hostel – feeding my need for some silence and solitude and sanity. We are in a high-rise and the view is beautiful. It is warm tonight – well, warm for Chicago in January; it might be near or even above freezing – and not snowing, and the streets below are crawling with late traffic, red tail lights and white head lights, orange street lamps, green traffic signals and the occasional flashing blue police police car. I could go out, but being right here is pretty good – even if the formerly-Sears tower still looks kind of like the gate to Mordor, glistening black with up-lit white horns on top.

I had not ever paid attention to the sculpture installation at the south end of Grant Park, but I am walking past it every day now, and for the life of me I think it looks like a bunch of giant iron pantyhose. I forgot my camera, or I’d take a picture.

I am so grateful for this itinerant community. I will be traveling elsewhere next week, and then back to Chicago at the end of the month, before returning to my usual haunts. We are scattered, but connected: beads of dew glistening on a spider’s web.

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Drive-by posting

Oh, looky. It’s January. The temps are in the singles, the wind chill is minus DO NOT WANT THAT, and I’m gathering my odds and ends to travel to Chicago again for winter intensives.

I got nothin’ left for blogging right now, folks, and will probably be sparse through the end of the month. As I used to write back in my pre-seminary days, when I’d fall off of hobby groups and mailing lists periodically, I’m not dead yet, just fell off the internet for a bit.

Behind the fold: a piece I wrote for my home congregation. This month’s theme is “Transformation.” Continue reading

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Year in Review: 2014

In the middle of things. Still. Always.

I was tempted not to write a “year in review” this year, because it’s been challenging and many of the things that came up are as yet unresolved and uncertain.

My car spent most of last January in the body shop after an encounter with a patch of ice last New Year’s Eve. And I spent most of the month in Chicago for my first winter intensives. Three weeks of full-time, full-tilt immersion in academic and spiritual community. Intensives are… intense.

In February I preached outside my home congregation for the first time, at a wonderful little lay led church in rural Maine.

March was busy with preparation for spring intensives and waiting for the end of winter.

In retrospect it must have been about April that I started into the reflective process that intensified over the summer in a major way. Some thoughts around Easter turned into a series of reflections on my thorny, tangled relationship with Christianity.

At the beginning of May I had the privilege of leading music at the ordination of the Reverend Sharon Piantedosi, who served last year as intern in my home congregation. Then I preached two Sundays in a row and started CPE at the end of the month.

I was pretty silent on the blog in June save for a quick post responding to a news story about a disfigured kid and dishonest adults. It wasn’t until the end of July that I posted about withdrawing from CPE and reconfiguring my program of study to make time and space for the personal healing and growth work that was necessary.

Minister’s orders, before she left on vacation: Go. Do the things that feed your soul. Do them now.

Yes, ma’am. So, I spent most of the summer making goofy art – painting, making beaded wire jewelry, braiding a rag rug – but I didn’t blog about that. From that inner work – which is ongoing – came a reflection on trust in August.

I returned to my studies in September – academic only, no praxis classes this year – but took time away to attend the People’s Climate March in New York City with a bus full of folks from southern and central Maine organized by the Maine UU State Advocacy Network. And it didn’t make it onto the blog, but my teaching congregation dedicated their gorgeous new accessible church building just after Labor Day.

October was a tough month for inner work, dominated by the deaths of two ministers associated with my home congregation: the Reverend Lee Devoe and the Reverend Bill DeWolfe.

November began with a reflection on the complexities of the formation process, posted the day before I drove six hours through a snowstorm to attend Rev Lee’s memorial service. The next day I drove three hours back to the airport and flew to Oklahoma for a six-day intensive class in Multicultural Congregations and Faith Formation (offered by my seminary in conjunction with All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa.) Rich, full, intense – as intensives always are. I wanted to blog about that, but I am still processing. The world has been like drinking from a fire hose lately. I tried, a little bit, to touch on the intersection of these things in the context of the ongoing demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism here.

And so it is December again, already. I was late to the conversation with a response to the Anonymous Seminarian conversation – I’d elected to prioritize meeting a couple of deadlines instead of blogging on that earlier. The rest of the month has been full of family holiday gatherings and a couple of personal setbacks, and I am cycling between continuing to prepare for January intensives and making more amateur art.

Linearity is overrated anyway. I am in the middle of at least three books for my upcoming theology class, reading one chapter from each at a time. They feed on each other in interesting ways. I liked the way they were playing with the texts for my other classes, too, this fall. I am starting to feel the motivation that comes with looming deadlines. I need to finish some drafts of written things, soon.

When it’s time. Today it was time to start – but not finish – a painting in the basement studio, and to compile this blog post. It is – as I commented on facebook earlier today – rather like preparing a multi-course meal: stir this, season that, start one thing then attend to another, in the hope that everything will turn out just right, just when it is needed: neither half-raw nor wilted from over-cooking.

I don’t know what’s cooking in my soul, but it smells delicious, and I look forward to the table.

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The Mystery of the Season

One of the down sides to becoming a professional church person is that your opportunities for Saturday night parties become extremely limited. Last weekend I took advantage of one, while I still have the chance – my brother-in-law’s annual gathering of the younger generation of friends and family. It’s a gathering full of tradition and ritual – food, drink, and a Yankee Swap that can get downright vicious – and one of the more recent additions to the roster is the Reading of the Newsletters.

This year we had a new newsletter, in addition to the annual missive from the apocalyptically evangelical wing of the extended family exhorting us all to repent our sinful ways and praise the God of their preference. Chuck and Vicky wrote to Spouse’s brother at my parents-in-law’s address, a rambling newsy letter full of minor medical complaints and tales of their travels, ending with good wishes for the holidays and the new year.

None of us have any idea who Chuck and Vicky are.

I mean, no clue whatsoever.

If they’re part of the extended family, it’s the kind of extension that got lost in the back shed generations ago. We figure maybe they could be people who know Spouse or my brother-in-law through scouting: both of them meet lots of people and they are both lousy with remembering names. Or maybe these are folks who fished up an address on the internet and are trying to write to the other family in town that shares my in-laws’ last name.

We have no idea.

But it was a good party, and at the end of the Reading of the Newsletter, we raised a glass to Chuck and Vicky, whoever they are, wherever they are, and wished them the very best of holidays.

And so I wish for you, reader, whoever you are and wherever you are. Whatever you are celebrating this season, may it be warm and beautiful.

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Sing Like a Canary

The world moves quicker than I do, these days. Juggling all the things is not my greatest strength, and as time-sensitive as blogging can be, it takes a back burner to other kinds of deadlines.

Just over a week ago – Friday night and Saturday morning, just after (US) Thanksgiving – Tom Schade published a two part essay authored by an anonymous UU seminarian, which has been the subject of considerable conversation in various corners of the UU blogosphere, including lots of places on FaceBook that I am aware of and probably exponentially more that I’m not. An unsettling portion of that conversation has centered around the anonymity of the essay rather than the issues raised therein.

I’ve been on the internet a very long time, and I don’t quite understand needing to know someone’s real-world personal identity in order to consider their remarks, but if you are someone who needs to have the name of a real live UU seminarian to discuss these issues with, hi, I’m Claire and I go to seminary. I did not write the anonymous essay, nor do I know the identity of its author, whom I assume to be a peer colleague who moves in the same online circles I do. I am willing to talk about most of the issues Anonymous raises for consideration because they are familiar conversational territory and so is the anxiety that seems to fuel them. Continue reading

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