Not that he’s asking, but here’s what I would like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to do in response to the current domestic abuse scandal:

1. Call a meeting of owners, general managers, and head coaches with the sole purpose of crafting a code of professional conduct for players on and off the field. Whether they recognize it or not, whether they like it or not, these players are looked up to as leaders in the community, especially by young men. Like it or not, they should be held to a higher standard of behavior. Heaven knows they are paid enough to do so.

2. Upon return from said meeting, owners, general mangers. and coaches call team meetings to inform players of their expectations of behavior on and off the field.

3. Adopt disciplinary measures that are restorative rather than punitive, ie: mandatory counseling for players involved in domestic abuse cases, with close monitoring by the team and the courts. Commit to the discipline of the firm and consistent application of corrective measures. No exemptions for money making all stars.

4. Make domestic violence training a mandatory part of training camp so that players understand the cycle of violence and their role in either perpetrating or interrupting the cycle.

5. Be accountable to victims of domestic abuse. Listen to their stories. Do not blame them for the abuse they suffer. Protect them. Support them in their journey of healing. Be ready to write checks as needed. Therapy is expensive.

6. Pledge to take better care of NFL players: physically, emotionally, and spiritually—for the long term, even after they’ve been put out to pasture.

7. Call on the better angels of your owners, managers, coaches, and players that they may be leaders in bringing an end to the abuse of women and children in their most intimate relationships.

Too often in life, we are confronted with final goodbyes. People we love die, leaving us with the unavoidable glimpse of our own mortality. Yesterday, a beloved member of the congregation I serve said his final goodbye, and died. I offer the following in memory of Terry Sheridan.

At journey’s end
where death’s grip
waits just around the bend,
there is a temple
built of simple green pine
and adorned
with aspens shimmering gold.
Nature’s chorus rises there.
In forest cathedral –
a cricket choir
frog quartet
wood thrush solo
wind droning a sacred chant
river singing above the line –
voices of kindred spirits
calling – humming – buzzing
Earth’s final anthem
life’s ecstatic love song.

At Eden’s gate
where fragrant fields of lavender
bow their purple heads
pungent with eternity’s power
sweet memory of home –
a shadowed crossing
of that fated doom
when angel’s heated breath
commands a certain yield
with wrestler’s iron hold
even Jacob could not escape.
Within that fierce embrace
let me taste
the fruit of my brief existence –
heaven’s divine harvest.

Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Nameless One of Many Names, whom I humbly dare to name as God –

O, God of our mixed up and tragic world: hear our prayer. The pain of the world is too much with us. We seek to understand the invisible and silent suffering of those, who like Robin Williams and countless others, find life unbearable. Help us to remember that everyone we meet may be carrying a burden we cannot see. When oceans of tears are not enough to wash away our sorrow, comfort us with the sweet balm of forgiveness. When the fog of confusion will not lift, guide us in the ways of reason and compassion.

O, God of our torn and broken world: hear our lamentation. When volcanoes of rage are not enough to stop the gunning down of young black men by police who are caught in systems of militarization and unconscious racism, direct the fires of our passion into actions that heal, not harm. When we are frozen by fear, warm our weary bones with the courage of our convictions.

O, God of our warring and fractious world: hear our plea. Help us to feel the common humanity of our global brothers and sisters — siblings who live in the ominous shadow of warfare. When religious minorities are persecuted harshly, embolden us as kindred spirits to stand firmly with them on the side of love.

O, God of our fragile and beautiful world: hear our hope. Awaken us to the miracle of life. Open our hearts to the wonders and mysteries of our eternal universe. Shake us from our unthinking habits of mindless consumption. Remind us to touch the earth with thanksgiving and reverence.

O, God of our compassionate hearts: hear our intention. In our time of shared silence, may we be filled with loving kindness.

I awaken with a startle.

A bad dream.

What was it?

A thousand children.

In Nogales.

Sad and tired.

Far from home.

Living in a warehouse.

Waiting to be processed.

A nightmare.

I tell myself: paperwork is processed.

Meat products are processed.

Not children.

I go back to sleep.

Wondering what it means.

Only to awaken again.

Frightened children.

Lonely children.

Crying children.

This is not a dream.

A living nightmare.

When will we awaken?

Decide to create a new reality?

Realize that we are all interconnected?

Know that what we do unto the least of these we do unto ourselves?Image

A Mother’s Day Blessing
by Rev. Diane Dowgiert, for May 11, 2014

Blessed are the mothers who birthed us, fed us, bathed us, clothed us, worried over us, and nurtured us.

Blessed are the married mothers, the single mothers, the divorced mothers, the stepmothers, the foster mothers, and the grandmothers.

Blessed are the mothers who are deceased.

Blessed are the young mothers, the immigrant mothers, the trans mothers, and the lesbian mothers.

Blessed are the mothers who are poor, the mothers who are homeless, the mothers who are incarcerated, and the mothers who’ve been deported.

Blessed are the mothers whose babies and children have died before their time.

Blessed are the mothers who gave their babies to be adopted and the mothers (and fathers) who adopted them.

Blessed are the mothers who balance the demands of jobs and careers with the demands of raising children.

Blessed are the mothers who sacrifice careers in order to raise their children.

Blessed are the women who yearn to be mothers but cannot and the women who choose not to become mothers.

Blessed are the men who gladly take on the tasks of mothering.

Blessed are the mothers whose children are estranged.

Blessed are the mothers who for all their faults and failures are doing the very best that they can.

Blessed are all the mothers of the world and all those who mother with love and justice, for they may lead us into peace.

Amen

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IMG_2835As I write, the Supreme Court is taking up the question of whether or not corporations can exercise freedom of religion, a freedom granted by the first amendment to the constitution. The issue at hand has to do with the mandate for health insurance plans to include reproductive health benefits for women, that is, access to contraception in all its various forms.

The larger debate evokes deep emotional responses about a woman’s right to exercise autonomy over her own body and different understandings/beliefs about when it is that life begins. There isn’t a universal religious understanding of the fundamental question of the exact moment that human life begins.

I answered the question for myself during my Clinical Pastoral Education training, a hospital chaplaincy. I was assigned to two hospital units: labor and delivery and neo-natal intensive care.

When I got the assignment to labor and delivery, I had romantic visions of being witness to the miracle of birth – blessing babies as they took their first breaths, surrounded by happy families and loving parents. It didn’t happen that way. Instead, I was called when things didn’t go well, when babies were born before their time. Some made their way to the neo-natal unit and were given another chance at life. Others simply came too soon, without sufficient development of the body systems needed for survival outside the womb.

The most tragic was the pregnancy carried to full term and a baby that didn’t survive the birth process. I held the lifeless baby in my arms and wept with the family, fervently wishing that I had the answer to their ragged question. Why, oh why?

Later that same week, I was asked to perform a baptism. I have my own beliefs about baptism. It’s not about the washing away of sin. It’s about blessing and welcoming new life. It’s about dedication and being the village it takes to raise a child.

Once again, I held a lifeless body in my arms, pouring holy water over the precious head of an undeveloped fetus, born four months too soon. The ritual I performed was not for me, but for the bewildered parents trying to make sense of their loss.

I can’t say for sure when human life begins. It’s a mystery. There’s a threshold of viability, when human life can sustain itself beyond the womb. There are always two lives at stake. Who’s to say which is more valuable? It’s a question that can only be answered between a woman and her conscience – her god. Reproductive decisions are best made between a woman, her trusted partner (emphasis on trusted) and her doctor. There’s no room for an employer in these personal decisions.

Persons, human persons, are made of flesh and bones and blood. Corporations are not. They exist on paper. Human persons light candles, pray, meditate, and engage in the practices, traditions, and principles of religious community.

May our prayers be with the Supreme Court as they make this momentous decision.

IMG_2987The church is an institution unlike any other in society. It asks us to look higher. The church exists for a transcendent and holy purpose, to grow souls and transform lives within its walls and beyond. Fulfillment of this purpose is the one and only true measure of success.

For as long as I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist, I’ve partaken in the yearly ritual of reporting numbers. How many members have signed the book? How many dollars have been pledged? How many attend on Sunday morning? How many are enrolled in religious education? How many new programs did we start? How many weddings? How many memorials?

Some years the numbers go up. Some years the numbers go down or stay flat. When they go up, we celebrate. We pat ourselves on the back. We feel good about ourselves. When they go down or stay flat, we worry. We wring our hands. We wonder what we’re doing wrong. Soon as the numbers are in, we’re on to the next year, with strategic plans in hand, hoping next year’s numbers will look better.

Somewhere between up and down, celebration and worry, self-congratulation and self-flagellation, there is ministry. Though the numbers may tell us something about ourselves and how we’re doing, the numbers alone can never convey a full sense of who we are and the difference we make in the world.

It’s easy to describe and quantify what we do, harder so the effects of what we do. What are we achieving, really? Are individual lives being transformed and made better by what we do? Are we becoming a cohesive, caring, compassionate, and active community with the collective wisdom and power to positively affect our local community? Are we creating an enduring legacy for those yet to come?

What might change if we spent time asking these questions instead of simply counting numbers?

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