Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life”

Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees.

My profession and vocation requires that I spend more than the usual amount of time inside the church. While most church goers spend maybe a couple to a few hours a week actually in the church, let’s just say I log a lot more hours than that. There’s so much to the life of a congregation that goes on behind the scenes. I often fantasize about a reality TV show revealing the secret life of churches. It’s not quite what the Vicar of Dibley would have you all believe.

When I was in seminary, no one told me how much I would need to know about the mechanical systems that keep a church building cool or warm, lighted, internet connected — not to mention what it takes to keep the water running and the toilets flushing. Then there’s all the city codes, permits, and inspections. In old buildings, when something breaks, the fix is never quick, cheap, or easy.

I offer to you, dear readers, a look behind the scenes, a chance to see what your minister, church staff, and a handful of brave volunteers get to see on a regular basis.

I’ll start with what it takes to troubleshoot internet and telephone connectivity.

The first step is to find this . . . .


because it’s where you’ll find this . . .


and this.


One weekday morning we all arrived at church only to discover that the phone system was completely dead. After some diligent detective work, the problem was found. Someone had flipped this . . .


which couldn’t have been done accidentally. Let’s just say that it’s not in plain sight.

When it comes time to turn on heat or air conditioning, the first step is to gather all the keys you’ll need to unlock this . . .


and everything else that’s under lock and key.

This is what’s known as “the chiller.” It’s a dinosaur. They don’t make these anymore. It’s like a gigantic evaporative cooler. The good news is that it’s more energy efficient than a fancy new air conditioner would be.


The bad news is that the other side looks like this . . .


and this.


Yes, that’s rust and hard-water buildup.  But,wait, there’s more!  If you unlock the door to the “furnace” room, you’ll see this . . .


and this — the instructions for turning things on and off.


And, you’re not done yet! Now you have to lock everything back up, go back into the sanctuary, and flip this . . .


and then adjust this.


I think I saw a picture of this circulating on Facebook with the caption, “Re-post if you remember what this is.”

This week we got some bad news from the backflow inspector. I bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing as a backflow inspector. His email said, and I quote, “The minimum you can do to make the existing assembly work, is replace the shut off valves. You would probably want to hire a plumber to perform that
task. The existing galvanized piping looks suspiciously rotten.”

This is all to say that we need a plumber who will have to deal with this.


And that, my friends, is the first installment of The Secret Life of Churches.

I may need to head back to seminary now. I think I need a course or two in prayer.

“There is nothing perfect . . . only life” Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees


The old woman in my dream holds a threaded bobbin in her hand. Reaching out to me, she asks, “Do you have a device like this?” Before her hand reaches mine, I awaken with a start, hyper-aware that the day ahead holds change.

One of my spiritual practices is to write a daily haiku. Truth is that I’m not as faithful to the practice as I aspire to be. This day, however, the seventeen- syllable poem virtually jumps from my pen and onto the page.

a patchwork day ahead

scraps of life pieced together

stitched to make a whole


The stacks, piles, and collections on my desk must be cleared in order to receive an unexpected gift of a larger, more functional desk. (Thank you, Pamela Powers-Hannley!) I could easily clear the old desk by putting everything into boxes. Instead, I seize the opportunity to master the clutter and reclaim my space.

Between meetings, phone calls, and emails, I sort through papers: minutes, agendas, reports, letters, and cards. It’s like a labyrinth journey through the shared life of the congregation I’ve grown to love more deeply than I ever imagined possible. Hopes, dreams, ambitious plans, successes, failures, frustrations, disappointments – it’s all there – a colorful patchwork of light and dark, sunshine and shadow. Together, it all makes for a real life, a whole life that is woven fine with both joy and sorrow.

I arrive back at home after a long, full day to a front hallway filled with boxes that had come in the mail. They’re from my 87-year old mother who recently moved into an assisted living facility. Though tired to the bone, curiosity gets the better of me and I open one of the boxes.

My heart sinks a little. More of the same, I think, more stuff to be sorted. I work my way through my hospital birth certificate, a page from my baby book, my baptismal certificate, two Bibles, ration books from World War II, an assortment of hand-embellished linens, a Shirley Temple dress, a blue and white plate from Norway dated 1970, more linens, and finally, the item that brings me to tears: the flower garden quilt made by my great-grandmother, the patchwork quilt I slept under as a child.

At the church, we’ve begun a conversation about our vision for the future. The future exists in relationship to the past. The past is always with us. It has a strong allure and its artifacts are always tinted with nostalgia. We can choose to repeat its familiar patterns if our intent is to replicate the past: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Or we can choose to build on the past with the intent to transcend its limitations.


My day finally ends. I lay down to sleep with the image of the old woman of my dream in mind. The device she holds is the one that stitches the thread of past, present, and future together into one whole piece. Isn’t this what we do in religious community?

O God of our beautiful and too often troubled world:

We come in this season of Advent, a season when winter’s darkness deepens over us, a season of waiting for the light to returnIMG_2209, a season of preparing our hearts for a new birth.

We come in this season with the memory of a Thanksgiving just past, a memory marred by the news from Ferguson, Missouri, news that our human family is broken and divided along lines of race and class, power and privilege.

Our prayers go out to the family of Mike Brown as they grieve their profound loss under the glare of the public eye.

Our prayers go out to the community of Ferguson as they struggle to express their deep rage, the riotous rage of a few that could not be contained by the peaceful protests of the masses. Our prayers are with them as they do the hard work of rebuilding.

Our prayers go out to Darren Wilson, a man whose life has been changed forever, living with the burden of knowing that he ended the life of another human being.

Our prayers go out to law enforcement officers whose work is often hard and lonely. Our prayers go out to them knowing they are caught in systems designed to uphold the status quo, even when the status quo is unjust, systems that rely too heavily on military tactics and the use of deadly force, systems that use incarceration and deadly force disproportionately against people of color. Our prayer is that law enforcement agencies heed the call to reform and transform their practices and policies.

May these dark days be an invitation to examine our own souls. We know that we are conditioned by nature and nurture to seek out the company of those who look like us and to turn away from those who are different. Help us to understand that the roots of racism run through human hearts, including our own.

May we find the courage to speak the truth of our own fear that it may not harden into hate. May we be given the humility to name whatever privilege we may possess, now matter how small or great our privilege may be. May we be granted the wisdom to claim whatever power we may possess and use it not to harm but to heal.

O God of our growing and changing world, may this season of darkness be a fruitful time of gestation, waiting and preparing for the birth of a new way of life, a life filled with peace and justice for everyone.

In the name of all that is holy, we pray.



Last night I posted the following to my facebook page:

I voted. I don’t have the heart to watch election returns. Tomorrow will be what it will be. No matter the outcome(s) I do have the heart to keep on loving the hell out of this world.

Today the results are in and my outlook hasn’t changed. My job is still the same: to love the hell out of the world. More than a hip sound bite, it’s a profound and important theological statement.

To love the hell out of the world means that we must acknowledge that there is hell in the world, places of torment and suffering. The damned are placed in hell because of who they are or by circumstances largely beyond their control, placed in hell by virtue of the color of their skin or country of origin or gender identity or sexual orientation or by virtue of having the misfortune to be born poor with all the cards stacked against them.

Others are chosen, pre-ordained, if you will, for lives of wealth and privilege that isn’t earned but is given by the sheer accident of being born into it.

My faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism has long rejected theologies that divide humanity into the saved and the damned, in this life or the next. When these rejected theologies become manifest in our world, we are called to speak and act with the moral authority of our religious convictions. To remain silent is to cede moral ground to narrow religious views that define morality only in terms of sexuality and reproduction.

The demonic forces of greed, fear, and duplicity create the hell in the world – out and out lies designed to manipulate us into selling our souls in order to feel safe and secure.

To love the hell out of the world means that we need to find our strong and brave heart. The word courage comes from the Latin, cor, meaning heart. We need to find our courageous heart, the same heart that gets us through illness, chemotherapy, and surgery, the same heart that gets us through death, divorce, and loss of a job.

No elected official or political party can save us. Democracy takes the work of the people. Our work doesn’t end on Election Day. We need the courage of our convictions to speak out and name the evils present in our world today: mass incarceration, glorification of militarization and violence, subjugation of women, ecological destruction, racial discrimination and profiling, marginalization of sexual minorities, neglecting the basic needs of children, gross income inequality – to name just a few.

We need the heart to stay together and not let ourselves become polarized by issues or by political parties. We know the forces that create hell can’t also remove it. Fear, hatred, and division can only be countered by love. And this takes courage.

We need each other if we are to remain strong hearted for the work ahead. Bending the arc of the universe toward justice takes strength. Strong is what we make each other.

Will you join me in loving the hell out of the world?

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.