Wonderful Fulfillment

Hello, Cookies,
PeaceBang is a very happy minister right now. Kind of sickeningly happy, actually. So grateful to God for all her blessings, or in less traditional language, FREAKING PSYCHED about the wonderful energy, spirit and inspiration of our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly.

In all seriousness, I have been hollering the same message for fifteen years. When I started hollering I was regarded as an obnoxious kid who didn’t know any better. Then I became part of a small obnoxious group of kids who obviously didn’t know any better. Then I evolved into a mature minister who was still regarded as obnoxious by many but appreciated by enough that I dared to keep hollering. I felt God was with me, so being considered obnoxious and disliked by people I didn’t much respect in the first place didn’t bother me.

I kept at it. I was called to a beautiful congregation that I loved serving, but in a lonely and isolated enough location that God had lots of quiet time to whisper in my ear, and I had enough time and space to hammer out on-line manifesto after manifesto at the desk I’m sitting at right now, in my little Kermit Green study.

Eventually, I established an extended virtual community. That’s where you came in. And as the years went by, I became more and more nurtured by that community that augmented the positive, joyful experience of parish ministry I was having with my local community. The hurt I had about being rejected and even reviled within my larger denomination became less and less. I started meeting other Unitarian Universalists and lay and ordained people from other faith traditions who felt as I did. I made a broader kinship circle of friends in the Spirit. I went back to school and got to study more, and to teach in my seminary. Eventually the very same community that had previously told me to shut up and/or please leave the denomination began to invite me to speak, and to teach them. I got happier, healthier and more resilient. I ended dysfunctional relationships. I found better ones. I gave myself over to full immersion in the life of faith, spending much more time in prayer than I had ever allowed myself before. I stopped worrying about what I don’t do well and started partnering with people who do those things well, so I wouldn’t have to try to do them badly. I listened to the voice of the holy more and more, and began to actually, really, trust it.

But most very year I would go to my General Assembly and limp away feeling depressed, discouraged and depleted. Sure, there were some good moments and it was always great to see friends and colleagues, but the overall culture of our movement seemed to me so extraordinarily dysfunctional I began to believe that I might be the last generation of clergy to serve in parish ministry as we now know it.

And you know what? That actually turned out to be the case, but not in a tragic way. It’s really sad that God doesn’t seem to be that invested in real estate, and that we may not be able to afford our beautiful historic buildings for another generation. But that won’t be the end. Church life is changing and — miraculously enough — the Unitarian Universalist Association seems to be AWARE OF THAT! and ready to address the change not with strategies for growth and rescue, but with strategies for mission, giving ourselves over to the work we find in the world, and not putting our energy into the obviously and rapidly dying “attractional model.”

I attended a fantastic workshop this past week at GA where they showed this little video on the missional church model. Use it. I have been committed to this model for a long time but not known how to guide a congregation to understand or embrace it. Now I’m getting clearer and ready to introduce these ideas to a new congregation. It is a good time for my transition to a new church.

So much good is happening in my denomination! So much less terminal uniqueness. So much more humility, sense of humor, and agreement that we are going to stop being hijacked by the nay-sayers, the perma-victims and their false idols. The beauty of the social media revolution is that all of us have instant ways to share what’s going on where we are with each other, and therefore to identify patterns in paralyzing behaviors. There is far more transparency than ever before.

It was a joy to meet so many of you face to face at GA. I always do get shy when someone says, “Oh my gosh, you’re PeaceBang!” but I’m getting better at it. Because I’m just very happy to meet you and hug you and talk with you or have coffee with you and encourage you as you have encouraged me.


I will TRY to check in more later, but I gotta tell you that I am closing on my first house on Friday. For the next month or so I will be in the throes of re-location, driving to my new home an hour north of where I am now, supervising California Closets and painters and contractors before the move date of July 21. I will be packing an incredibly cluttered 4-bedroom parsonage and continuing to give lots of things away, and all that will take a lot of time and attention.

If you have been reading me for any number of years and been ministered to by my work online (or in person), I encourage you to make a financial gift through Pay Pal by clicking the “Make a Gift” button at the top of the blog. I just think it would be really neat to have your energy and life force in the very walls surrounding me as I set up la Casa de PeaceBang in the coming weeks. If you’re looking for a symbolic amount, $38 buys a gallon of paint!


It Takes A Village: Super Duper Thanks To Mom + Dad Pigeon In Iowa

Babies, Mother PB is HERE. She is just in the midst of buying a house, which requires many thousands of documents, large buckets of money and soon I’m sure they’ll be coming with syringes to collect my blood.

In the midst of all that, and saying farewell to a beautiful congregation of ten years, I skipped off to the corn fields of Iowa last weekend to spend a whirlwind day with the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ. I flew in, led two workshops, had some great conversations, flew home, and boy are my arms tired! *rimshot*

Something so wonderful happened out there. Yes, I saw a man in overalls, a bow tie and a sports jacket, but there was something even more wonderful than that (and please, don’t try that fashion combo unless you live in Iowa). The wonderful thing is how the BTFM community saved my hide when I got into Techno Trouble as a presenter.

Here’s how it happened. I got to my room at Iowa State University where the projector was set up so I could show my PowerPoint presentations, but none of my Mac adapters worked to hook me up to the projector. After a few minutes of futile fiddling, I began to feel a mild panic. A Tech Guy showed up with his adapter, which also did not work. People were filing into the room, and my panic mounted.

“Are you the real PeaceBang?” I hear. It turns out that a lovely couple attending the workshop are the parents of one of you long-time BTFM pigeons, and we get to chatting and stuff, and it’s so nice to meet them. It really is. They turn out to be not only lovely people but the Saviors of my presentation because they have a PC laptop out in their car that Daddy Pigeon goes out to get.

The plan is for me to e-mail him my PowerPoint presentations so we can show them from his PC. I start my presentation, grateful unto the LORD that the first section is a lecture off of outlines. Papa Pigeon fiddles at the desk behind me and tries to get the PowerPoint up and running. Problem: my e-mails to him haven’t gone through.

I don’t want the participants to see me sweat, so I keep tap dancing with my presentation, trying not to stop the whole thing cold to sit down and cry. What am I going to do if there’s no projector? And by the way, Iowa State University, maybe you could arrange it so that Mac users are able to present at your fine, world-class institution of higher learning? Just a thought?

At the point at which I am at wit’s end and looking like this,


Papa Pigeons says, “I have a thumb drive. Save your PowerPoints on there and I’ll upload it.”

I hear angels singing glorious hymns of praise and without missing a beat while I’m still tap dancing about social media and ministry (did you ever see that scene in “Chicago” where Richard Gere tap dances through his courtroom defense of Roxie Hart? It was like that), I save the presentations off my MacBook Pro, hand them off to Daddy Pigeon, and keep going while he lickety-split saves the data on his computer.

At the very second at which I need the images from my PowerPoint to show up, they do. The presentation comes in at pretty much exactly 1.5 hours and we upload the next one, which also goes beautifully and comes in at 1.5 hours.

And that, my friends, is how social media can connect us and saves our lives. Sometimes in spiritual ways. Sometimes in emotional ways. And sometimes in the form of your mom and dad who become the actual, technical saviors of an important professional commitment that I could not have met without them.

Let the people say AMEN.

The moral of the story is, dumplings, always make sure to either make sure you bring all the possible technological equipment you might possibly need to assure a smooth visual presentation or try to arrange it so that someone’s awesome mom and dad are there to save your ever-loving derriere.

Comment of the Day

This from the Rev. Jeff Liebmann of Michigan. My responses are in brackets.

PB, I think what you do, and have helped me and other ministers to do as well, is to be more fully authentic as human beings by using the internet and social media tools. Here is very conservative Midland Michigan, I was recently asked to become a contributing writer to the Midland Daily News online blog – http://www.ourmidland.com/users/profile/uurevjeff/. I have already been called numerous unkind names, been told I should go live in Communist Russia, and had my faith ridiculed mercilessly. [OUCH. Honey dear, that’s rough. It’s so hard to stick our necks out, but I promise you that it will actually get easier and then eventually downright entertaining to get these kinds of remarks. It just gets actually kind of fascinating. You keep at it and in some miraculous way God spares you from taking it personally any longer. Occasionally you get a difficult criticism that hurts because it’s spot-on, but those are also wonderful in their own way because they wake you up. Most of it is just doctrinal crap, fear and ignorance. – PB]

Each attack hurts me — deeply. [I have total confidence that there will come a time that each attack will NOT hurt you. – PB] And each time I must resist the urge to quickly respond, either in self-defense or even in counterattack. The urge is powerful. [Yes, it is. And if you’re developed an on-line persona that is not sassy and counter-attacky, which is how I started with PeaceBang (and then evolved a bit, I hope!), you really must resist those urges. The question is, how much? What a difficult terrain to navigate: wanting to be interesting, snappy enough to keep folks reading, and strong, but not combative. It’s very interesting to me to see how clergy columnists find their voices. Some are just so warm and smart and good AND snappy. Most, to me, are just blerghy. Stuffed shirt, over-earnest pomposity. – PB]

But I feel that we clergy must be the role models — not doormats, but examples of how to speak truth openly and fearlessly. [And maybe with some humor? I’m a big fan of humor!- PB] We must help the ship of this society redirect its course to one of civility and compassion and challenge the current dominance of this culture of anger, violence, and intolerance.

When my feelings get stomped, I just remember all of those who came before me who took far worse abuse so I could have the honor of being a minister. [ME too! And I remember all the sassypants women who were tortured and even murdered for being “scolds” or uppity. That’s why I will never stop referring to myself as a Witch. – PB] And I remember that for every bully who, lacking facts and argument to make their case try to use intimidation to silence me, there are dozens of lurkers taking it all in. [Yes, there are. Many more eyes are upon you than you realize. I used to get freaked out by that but there’s so much content out there on the interwebs now, I take it all in stride. – PB] There are so many people out there looking for hope, praying for a sign that we can make this asylum we live in a better place. I blog for them. [ME TOO. Everyone else can go pee up a rope, as an old teacher of mine used to say. – PB]

Keep up your good work — you are a great inspiration. [Thanks for letting me know that, brother. Hope to see you in person at something soon. Kiss of peace, PB]

PeaceBang’s Guide To Surviving Cyber & Techno Life

Dear Rev., can I be your FRIEND on FACEBOOK?

How about on MySpace? How about it?

Darling pigeons,

We live in complex times. Part of our work is ancient and resonates with the practices of far bygone eras: we dress in vestments based on pre-Christian Roman garb, we spend hours of study poring over texts written thousands of years ago, we ascend a pulpit on Sunday mornings as has been done for many hundreds of years and preach in a way that hasn’t changed all that much over all that time. We visit the sick, we bury the dead, we pronounce words that render people in love “husband and wife” or “married partners for life,” we pour water over the fresh little heads of babies to bless and welcome them into the world. None of that is very high tech, and it certainly isn’t anything new under the sun.

And yet we also organize meetings and keep in touch with parishioners over e-mail, participate in conference calls, become as i-Phone or Blackberry-obsessed as any other tech-addled individual, constantly look to our cell phones for evidence that we are needed and important, and grocery shop with our beepers on. We typically own computers and digital cameras and i-Pods and other gadgets that both enslave us and join us to the world we live in. And that includes social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

So what to do when congregants ask to be your friend on Facebook or MySpace or start reading your personal blog or sending you Instant Messages when you’re online?

Be flattered and welcome them!

If you don’t have a compartmentalized life and personality and have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of? That your congregants might happen to see a funny, irreverent or slightly personal exchange between yourself and a friend? That your profile picture is too informal and shows you smiling more broadly than your sense of ministerial decorum allows? That people might figure out that you’re a multi-layered, complicated person who is a responsible professional and servant of the Church who also enjoys a martini now and then, is hoping to visit your pal New York City soon, likes to share silly YouTube videos about cats or aging Broadway divas, just had a terrible blind date and loves the Red Sox? Hurrah for such revelations, say I!

Express yourself
yea let it all hang out
Express yourself
Ain’t nothin’ to worr’ about…

Thank you, Black Eyed Peas!

If religious life is going to seem inviting and relevant to more people in the 21st century, religious leaders must be more concerned with authenticity and availability than with maintaining the mantle of piety that was expected of clergy in the 19th century. That is OV-AH.

Let’s not sniffle about the so-called end of privacy. None of us has had any privacy for years now and never will again. If someone has it in for you and wants to find ammunition to shoot you down with, they are free to scour the internet for every word you’ve ever written and every word ever written about you and use those words against you. Are you going to worry so much about that that you fail to enjoy the benefits of all this new technology? Your enemies can also scour every word of every sermon you’ve ever published to find objectionable content, stake out your parsonage and watch who comes and goes, and follow you to the gym, the post office and the grocery store to keep track of your whereabouts and use that against you if they so choose. They can go to every meeting you attend to question your every bit of counsel and leadership. They can obtain e-mail addresses of parishioners and start a campaign against you. They can send letters through snail mail. They can haunt your MySpace or Facebook page and take copious notes on your sarcastic repartee with distant friends.

And you can live in fear that someone might choose to do that, or you can be the free human being God made you and write, communicate, speak and preach according to your true personality and from the passion of your convictions.

How do you want to live?

All that said, let’s not be naive.

1. Yes Virginia, prospective employers will absolutely use the internet to obtain information about you. Wouldn’t you?
Don’t have a nervous break-down, just be savvy about that fact. Thank God we haven’t entirely given up on the in-person interview. If you’re active on-line and that makes your prospective employers or parishioners nervous or disapproving, aren’t you glad you know about that incompatibility up front and can discuss it? Be honest. If you have nothing to be ashamed of, don’t be ashamed.
I mean, you didn’t post photographs of you drunk and dancing in the limbo contest on your Facebook pages, did you? Dummy! If you did and you forgot about it, tell the search committee the truth: you were on vacation, you had had a lot of sun and two rum drinks, and thank them for reminding you that those awful photos are still on the site.

2. If you’re single and belong to on-line dating sites, good for you. It’s one of the legitimate ways to meet people outside your church. However, keep your profile and your photos appropriate, please. There should not be photographs of my minister in a Speedo anywhere on the internet, nor should any clergypeople advertise themselves as just looking for sex on any sites. Creepy. Especially if they’re married. Don’t think no one will find out. Sexual ethics aren’t techno-flexible; just because you think you’re anonymous doesn’t mean what you’re doing is okay — even if you never do get found out.

3. More than one ministry has been destroyed because of on-line pornography found on clergy computers. ‘Nuff said.

4. You are under no obligation to respond to every or any Instant Message that comes through from a parishioner, or from anyone. In fact, I recommend turning the bloody thing off; aren’t you trying to get work done? I once made the mistake of responding to an IM from a few Unitarian Universalist youth late at night. I was a Youth Minister at the time, so I thought I’d be “cool” and say a quick hello when the kids’ names popped up on my screen. To my friendly greeting and explanation that I had just come home from a dinner party, one surly youth (NOT one of my own congregation’s kids, I’m glad to say… in fact, he was the son of one of my local colleagues!) wrote,
“Get drunk?”
To which I wrote: “No, and that question was not appreciated.”
Next on my screen he offered,
“Get laid?”

Of course I let his mother know of his on-line conduct, and it was all a mess (she was of the permissive, “kids will be kids” persuasion of parent, and I was of the “Your kid is totally out of line and I would like to hear an apology from him” persuasion.)

Avoid it. Instant messaging is no way to carry on a conversation with anyone except the dearest of friends.

5. Even if your parishioners never mention your personal blog, don’t assume they aren’t aware of it and aren’t reading it. Simply this: do not blog if you don’t sincerely believe that blogging is a worthy means by which to share your ideals, ideas and ministry with the wider world. If you have a secret blog or blogging identity through which you express a shadow side of your personality or opinions that are at odds with your public persona , destroy it immediately and stick to old-fashioned journaling. And get a therapist to work out your anger with. The internet is no place to do that. Which leads to…

6. Be the same person you are on-line that you are off-line. Yes, PeaceBang is an outrageous and exaggerated version of a few aspects of myself, but she is still Victoria Weinstein. She’s kind of a Victoria Weinstein cartoon, you might say, but she doesn’t ever write anything on-line that Victoria Weinstein wouldn’t be willing and happy to explain, converse about or defend face to face. You do the same. If you can’t stand behind it, don’t write it. If you published something online a long time ago and have changed your mind or repented of your tone since then, be prepared to say so to anyone who asks.

7. Don’t get sucked into non-productive uses of technology. Monitor your time spent on social networking sites, blogging and noodling on your Blackberry. It’s all too easy to persuade ourselves that we’re doing something worthwhile with our gadgets when we’re simply staving off loneliness or isolation, avoiding other forms of self-care, or just procrastinating. For instance, because I can post-date my blog entries, you’d never know that what you’re reading today, in September, was written at 9 pm on August 11, a study leave day for me.

8. Never e-mail when a phone call would be more appropriate, and it almost always is. Use e-mail sparingly: to coordinate meetings, to check and discuss agendas, to send out reminders, that sort of thing.

9. Leave your cell phone off sometimes, for God’s sake. This includes during collegial gatherings. It is SO disrespectful to be interrupted by someone answering a phone call or see people fiddling with their Blackberries or text-messaging during ministerial gatherings when they would never be that rude on a pastoral visit (or I hope they wouldn’t!). Unless a death is impending, you shouldn’t answer — or even check — your phone. We all need to get over ourselves. If you must answer a call (don’t you have voice mail, and isn’t that what it’s for??), step out of the room at least, and carefully time your re-entrance so that it comes at an unintrusive moment. How can we preach on civility and model it so poorly with one another?

10. If all this techie social networking/blogging/podcasting stuff isn’t for you, don’t participate in it. And no apologies. You’ll just make yourself miserable.

Questions? Comments? What have I left out? I didn’t mention anything about Second Life or other alternative cyber-worlds because I’ve never had any experience with them. Would someone care to do a guest column on that subject?

nun at computer