Happy Clappy Joy Joy Nope

Hey gang.
A hard week for those who loved and admired Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche community. Another blow in this era of disturbing revelations (although is there really any other kind of era?).

A word to pastors having a hard time with this:

First of all, don’t preach or practice cheap grace, rushed reconcilings and coercive forgiveness. To do so is bad pastoring. Such recommendations are based in shallow theology and perpetuate systems of silencing and oppression.

You are not required to stay positive and hopeful at all times.

There’s a reason the Holy Scriptures don’t hide the sight of Jesus crying over Jerusalem from us. You get to cry over Jerusalem, too.

Don’t let the American idols of perpetual happiness and self-improvement cloud your faith and your integrity of soul.

It may make your people uncomfortable to hear you express your pain, but they are acquainted with the psalms and the prophets, it won’t bother them. Help them build a tolerance for rage and sorrow that the wider culture avoids by any means necessary; many of those means being damaging and addicting.

Your people should be engaged in spiritual practice by which they can be in deep encounter with the love and mystery and even the absence of God themselves. Your feelings and affect (which you do need to manage to a certain degree so as to remain appropriate, functional, present and faithful) should not be the barometer of whether or not your community is doing well. If you and your congregation are so focused on your emotions that it causes people to go into a fix-it panic when you express discouragement or even despair with the world as it is, remind yourself and them that you are not the Faith-Haver-In-Chief. You are there to model faithfulness, to preach the gospel as best you can with an assist from the Holy Spirit, and to facilitate your people’s own spiritual practices and growth.

Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to tell him jokes, keep him happy, distract him or protect him the night he was taken into custody. He just asked them to stay awake with him. Staying awake is hard. Remember how badly the disciples screwed it up.

We approach Lent together. From what things, ideas, products, behaviors, beliefs will you abstain in order to enter into a more intimate relationship with the God who called you to this work?

I have been on sabbatical since November 10th and am beginning to truly understand and respect, through many many hours of reflection and recognition, how demanding the work of ministry has been in this last decade.

You are not responsible for the emotional tenor of your community. You are not required to bring joy and hope every day. This is not a show in which you are the star. This is a pilgrim journey and when the path leads up a steep hill, you are allowed to wipe the sweat from your brow, stumble on the loose rocks and stop for a breather just like everyone else.

Much love and strength to you, and also lots of pancakes on Tuesday. xoxo PB

Showing Up For Reproductive Rights: Halo Of Praise

Good God, these are important times to show up looking sharp, polished and ready to speak truth to power. Here is the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh speaking at a #StopTheBans rally in San Diego last Saturday, sponsored by people connected to the Women’s March. Rev. Sarah was one of about twelve speakers and she was one of two faith leaders.

Please click to enlarge the photos and we’ll see what works here.

My first impression is one of strength. Sarah’s architectural glasses make a strong statement: they are mature and stylish. Every one of us who wears specs should have a no-nonsense pair that we can bring out for occasions like this when our fun-wacky-I’m-a-colorful-personality cat eyes and sparkly purple don’t lend enough gravitas. With specs available now for less than $100 I am going to stick to my gubs* on this. It is too easy to be dismissed as a Crazy Cat Lady by our ideological enemies (and even plenty of friends who have immediate associations of cat eye glasses with archetypes of eccentric ladies). Don’t give anyone easy ways to discount your presence and message.

Sarah has smoothed her very curly hair back from her face (THANK YOU) and her passionate facial expressions, strong stance and emphatic gesticulation all undergird her spoken word.
USE YOUR WHOLE SELF in delivering your message!!! From your podium, from your wheelchair, from your seat behind a table or standing at a pulpit, never ever ever think that your work of preparation is complete when you print out the paper or upload your doc to your iPad. Imagine yourself delivering your statement. REHEARSE it. Bring your body into it. You are not just a talking head!

Sarah has naturally bold brows but many of us don’t, and I want you to notice how much they do to frame her face and convey her expressions. Fill in your brows! They’re so helpful in communicating your emotions to the back of the house.

Hands: Sarah is using hers, and she has a clean manicure. It matters. Make sure you get rid of the chipped polish or the Hello Kitty or Wonder Woman Band-Aid.

Now: attire. This is the simple, tailored, really great black suit I have urged all of you to make sure you have in . your closet ready to go for occasions like this. This is why: when legislators succeed in stripping women of their reproductive rights and we know exactly what kind of horrible consequences that will have, and we know that some of those consequences involve death, WE ARE AT A FUNERAL. We must communicate with our attire that we understand where these right wing machinations are leading (and have already led). This is not an occasion for floral skirts or cute dresses or (shudder) slogan Tshirts. This is a time of utmost formality and severity. Sarah has dark hair and so I love her choice of the royal blue clericals. Black would have gotten lost, and the rich blue looks beautiful andworks with her coloring. I often see clergy wearing colorful clerics that seem to be chosen strictly because that person likes that shade of Crayola, and their face is entirely washed out or upstaged by the hue. The color of your clericals should be strategic and work for the occasion, for your clerical status (don’t wear purple clericals in an ecumenical setting if you’re not a bishop), and with your hair and complexion.

Although I go back and forth about her wearing all of those buttons and badges, one thing I did like a lot was the way Sarah has arranged them in a manner that echoes military decorations, which I am sure wasn’t intentional but was immediately effective. I thought, “Oooh, she’s addressing the troops for battle!” I was ready to fight.

Now: image management. If someone takes a bunch of photos of you at a rally and you have the opportunity to choose one or two to share publicly or use on the website or whatnot, choose the strong images. This is the only one of the terrific batch Sarah’s husband took where she looks pulled back and tentative:

You manage your own public image. Scrutinize what goes out whenever possible and only approve the best!

I do not comment on content but I thought some of you might wonder what Sarah said. Here is the full text. We may all be called upon to craft statements like this in coming days. Be prepared.

*I knew if I said “stick to my guns,” some tiresome scold would tell me they were offended that I used militaristic imagery so I did an end run around you, Tiresome Scold! Are football references okay or would you like to further strip language of interesting metaphors?”

Good morning. I’m Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh and I’m here as a minister, a woman, a mother, a feminist, and an advocate for justice.

Why am I up here? Because I represent a religious denomination that is unequivocally pro-woman, pro-transgender people, pro-sexuality education, pro-contraception and pro-choice. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, and we have been advocating for safe, legal abortion since long before Roe vs. Wade.

Here’s something that may surprise you: most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. I’ll say that again. Most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. And you know something? We are pro-choice because our morality compels us so.

Mine starts here: Life is sacred. Your life is sacred. Adrian’s life is sacred. The lives of the children and families waiting to cross that border [point south] are sacred. The lives of the people in Iran and Venezuela, Israel/Palestine, and Yemen are sacred.

The lives of the person, or the couple, facing a difficult reproductive decision: their lives are sacred. And because their lives are sacred, we are called to do all we can to protect their life and their well-being. The lives of the born. The lives of the living. They matter profoundly! The lives of people who have a conscience, who are struggling with their conscience to figure out what to do with a pregnancy. They are sacred! We owe it to them to offer honest, scientifically-accurate information about the choices they can make. We owe it to them to offer excellent pre-natal care, paid family leave, and affordable child care should they choose to carry a pregnancy, and we owe it to them to offer safe, legal abortion services should they choose not to carry a pregnancy. We owe it to them to uphold their rights, their dignity, and their own responsibility to guide their lives.

Abortion is a moral choice because, as clergy of many faiths said together in a 2005 open letter, we best uphold the sanctity of human life by assuring that life is not created carelessly. “It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman [person with a uterus] should be coerced to carry a pregnancy….”

And it’s about so much more than abortion. It’s ultimately about justice.

The reproductive justice I support “envisions the liberation of people of all genders, sexual orientations, abilities, gender identities, ages, classes, and cultural and racial identities.” Reproductive justice is rooted in the experience of women of color, who recognize that “liberation requires not only accurate information about sexuality and reproduction and control of personal reproductive decisions, but also living wages, safe and supported housing, high quality and comprehensive medical and reproductive health care, access to voting and the political process, affordable legal representation, fair immigration policies, paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and the absence of individual and institutional violence.” (Unitarian Universalist Association Statement of Conscience, 2015) That’s morality!

I want to lead you in a chant. I say, “What’s Really Moral?” You say, “Reproductive JUSTICE!”

What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!

Rooted in my religious commitment to love my neighbor, work for justice, and care for those in need, I, and the many, many faith leaders who are with us, commit to fighting these harmful bans. May love and justice win!

A Halo of Praise and a deep thanks to my dear colleague, the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspraugh for her work, her witness and her fabulosity.

Directing Worship and Flubs


I am SO not set. Today was the Children’s Pageant and I have been obsessing about the service on the 23rd and Christmas Eve (we don’t have a Christmas Day service). Then, a mere few days off and we bang right into the New Year’s Eve service! Not exactly, but almost. OMG WHAT TO DO?

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about!
I want to talk about what to do when you mess up worship.
I also want to talk about the fact that you’re a theatrical director, did you know that?
Yea, I’ll talk about that, too. Comment! Weigh in! Tell me if you learned anything!

Power Lady Jackets

Oh wow, I just re-discovered this article sent to me by most astute pigeon, Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, from June of 2016. Fashion writer Robin Givhan analyzes the new classic by designer Nina McLemore which is being seen all over Washington, DC.

What interests me is not only the design details of the jacket (classic but tailored in a way to intentionally communicate power: standing collar, long, bold line) but how clergy can look to women in the political realm to consider our own ideas of public image. As spiritual and creative leaders we have a lot more leeway than someone in elected office does to individualize our attire, but we should ask ourselves before we leave the house, “would I dress this way to make a statement to America about an important moral issue?”

If not, then you’re not ready to make a statement to your congregation about an important moral issue.

If someone running for office or in public office wouldn’t wear what you’re wearing in order to address her constituents, why are we any different? Are you a friend stopping by for lunch? Are you family – perhaps comfy grandma? Are you a camp counselor? Do you not seek to represent a divine grace, beauty and power that is beyond yet within us all, and within us collectively? Do you not seek to influence? If not, why not?

We need to know who we are trying to be, called to me, and needed to be. Sometimes, yes, we’re a warm sister or grandmother comforter. Sometimes we are a gardener. Sometimes we are a kindergarten teacher. But often we are an important leader but show up dressed to be a camp counselor. There is such terrible and unnecessary dissonance when that happens. It will not be spoken but it will be there and it will have consequences.

Know who you are. Dress to lead.

Janet Yellen in a McLemore jacket


How are you all doing? Coping?

I am doing a lot better than I was last week, which was horrible. I was so angry and hurt and worried about everyone who was being enraged and re-traumatized by the despicable spectacle of Ultimate Frathole Brett Kavenaugh and his disgusting enablers, I had to fight to maintain my focus and some measure of equilibrium.
These are furious times.

I attended a clergy gathering last week and was greeted by someone I know professionally, who drew me against my will into a hug. She is much taller than I am and I wound up kind of stuffed into her armpit for a moment. It was not a terrible ordeal, just an awkward situation made awful by the fact that I was in NO MOOD to be touched by anyone without my explicit consent.

Which is why I say particularly now: let us try not to touch people with the presumption that they want to be touched. Consider whether even holding hands or touching on the arm or shoulder is really welcome. If you’re not absolutely certain, ask. I often kiss parishioners during pastoral calls — we’re kissing and hugging people but even if I’ve kissed someone many times, I’m going to check to see that we’re still good smooching. Also, I need to check in with myself to make sure I don’t exchange hugs and kisses when I’m not feeling like being so intimate. In the past, I have only given careful thought to touch when I’m sick or visiting somone else who is germy. Now, I am refreshing my awareness that we have to keep getting consent to touch in relationships; we can not presume that someone who welcomed hugs last year wants to keep giving and receiving them this year.

DO NOT HUG PEOPLE AUTOMATICALLY. It is not your privilege, it is not your right, and it’s NOT FRIENDLY. It can feel like dominance, it can feel creepy, and it can feel like a violation. DO NOT come up behind people and hug them. Do NOT wrap anyone in your arms unless they hold out their arms to you. Even what you think of as a friendly one-armed embrace is still not okay. As we saw at Queen Aretha’s homegoing service, pulling someone into you throws them off kilter and creates a literal power imbalance.

Make sure your embraces are enthusiastically welcome. If not, mitts off.