From the Stories of Our Living

There’s a lot to like in the hymn “The Fire of Commitment.” I won’t speculate on what all Mary Katherine Morn and Jason Shelton, who penned the lyrics, wanted their words to say. I’m sure it’s a lot broader than my interpretation of the small part that gives the hymn a very special meaning for me, and usually leaves me with tears in my eyes when we sing it: “From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free, Calling pilgrims still to witness to a life of liberty.” Many, if not most of you, know the rudiments of my story. I’m a survivor. Briefly, my father sexually abused me in several ways from the time I was four or maybe five years old until my parents divorced and he moved out when I was twelve. There was also emotional and physical abuse, and the effects of his alcoholism and womanizing affected our family dynamics as well. Working through that part of my life story with a compassionate, caring and competent listener who had a seemingly endless capacity to walk beside me into the scary, shaming, grieving places of my life made healing possible. As we tell our stories in an open, nonjudgmental space, new possibilities emerge, which can translate into a life far different than we had imagined possible. As we tell our stories, we piece together our wholeness, bringing together those parts of ourselves that have been shattered and split off by the external circumstances of our lives, or those
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Welcome! Holding Space for Others

When I was serving as an on-call hospital chaplain, I was often called on to simply “hold space” for a patient, family members, or a staff person. In many ways, offering spacious, compassionate presence is of the essence of chaplaincy, of pastoral care, of the work of our lay pastoral associates. Frequently, there is “nothing else” we can do, but in that moment, it is everything that is truly needful. I remember particularly one late-night call into the emergency department. The woman was young, probably early twenties. She was there alone. She had awakened to find her small baby dead from what was likely SIDS. When I arrived, she was sitting on the gurney holding her baby and sobbing, her heart cracked open. I introduced myself quietly and expressed my sorrow for the death of her baby. None of which she even heard. The small room was far too full of grief for there to be any room for words. I sat behind her on the gurney and held her while she held her baby. Her sobs vibrated through my own body. I don’t remember how long we sat there. Eventually, she was ready to leave, and I walked her to the door. I could not take away her pain; I could not make the unthinkable right. But I could be with her, alongside her, and that was enough. In part, I learned to do this as an aspect of my professional training. But I have learned the most from the people
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Looking Back, Looking Forward

It’s been quite a year! We saw a new US president elected, a president who is trying to redefine what this nation is and what the presidency is. We discussed, discussed some more, and discussed yet again the prospect of having two services here at UUCM, and voted to try it for a year. Those strike me as the two major things that have occurred from a national and a congregational perspective. There have, of course, been others as well. I, for one, feel like I’m still catching my breath. I want to look back at my columns from 2016-17 as a way of gathering up the past and reflecting on where that past may lead us in the coming year, and what gifts it might offer. Appropriately for what was to come, we began the church with our September theme, change. And there certainly have been changes. Nonetheless, there are constants as well. As one of our long-term members said to me recently, “This is the most wonderful congregation!” That’s a constant for me. As I concluded my September column, it’s both, change and constancy. “The wind of change forever blown across the tumult of our way” (hymn # 183), and “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within. And we will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will” (hymn #1020). In October, I tried to sort out true humility from false. True humility serves us well through change.
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Connect

“Uh-oh! The delivery person left my picnic table in the front yard!” Kristen Schnell, of Austin, Texas, had certainly meant for it to be delivered to her back yard where her family planned to use it. Nevertheless, there it sat. Then she had an idea. What if she left it where the delivery person put it? What if her family moved some of their usually-indoor activities like homework, reading, and just hanging out from inside the house to their front yard? She painted the table a brilliant turquoise and later on sat down at her table. A neighbor whom she had not met, despite living three houses apart, stopped by. Her turquoise table became more and more a focus for neighborhood gatherings. Eventually, she founded theturquoisetable.com with the goal of enabling more people to connect in this easy, casual way. She’s also written a book, The Turquoise Table. I recently read the account of her venture in the June issue of Good Housekeeping. Like Schnell, I remember growing up in a neighborhood in which residents were “front yard people” who routinely spent time outdoors, in their front yards, where everyday interactions with neighbors and friends happened easily. As time has gone on, we’re become both “indoor people” and “back yard people.” Those of us who spend time outdoors are more likely to sit on our back patio or deck, or play in our back yards, than in the front. Older houses were usually or often built with large, sweeping front
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Simple Practices for Tough Times

These have been and are tough, trying times. On an international level, need we say more than “North Korea” and “Syria”? Nationally, to name but a few things, there is the refugee/immigrant crisis, climate change, changes that make people uneasy (with good reason) about their health care coverage, threats to LGBTQI rights, and this list could go on at length. Locally, we’re impacted by everything that happens on the global and national levels, to which we can add the Muncie Public Schools situation and the FBI carrying files out of City Hall. Our own beloved community hasn’t been immune to conflict, either, with tensions evident regarding the proposal to move to two services and concerns recently lifted up by our secular humanists. Denominationally, we’ve seen the resignation of a President and increased concern over how well we’re dealing with racism at the highest levels of staffing. Individually, too, hard times inevitably arise. It’s vitally important to do what we can and what we feel called to do to help take care of the myriad challenges we face. It’s equally crucial to take care of ourselves in such times (as in all times). Self-care means care of ourselves as whole persons. That includes caring for that deepest core of our being, where we find and/or make meaning and value, the dimension that some people call “soul.” Most of us don’t have the time or the flexibility in our schedules for a lengthy retreat, and many of us also don’t have the desire for that
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Ambiguity and Paradox, Mystery and Language

In my previous role as a hospital chaplain here in Muncie, I was with a family gathered at the bedside of a dying family member, keeping vigil as families do at that point. The conversation and associated emotional tenor changed back and forth, sometimes quite rapidly, between sadness, grief and mourning their loved one’s impending death, and laughter, sometimes deep belly laughs, as they brought to mind humorous anecdotes from his life. At one point, one of the daughters looked at me and said something to the effect that “You must think we’re nuts by now with all these conflicting emotions.” I assured her that I thought nothing of the sort, that what they were experiencing was quite common and indeed healthy. Another example, closer to home for me: My late husband’s death was one of the most crushing blows life has dealt me. However, it also made it possible for me to be a part of this wonderful community of faith and connection, and to be in ministry, both deeply meaningful aspects of my life now. When I think about ambiguity and paradox, I immediately think of mystery as well. Both ambiguity and paradox invite us to step out of our certainties and the comfort they may provide into the unknown. They ask us to look at what we do not know, rather than what we do know. Both call us to hold the tension of (seeming) opposites and not rush to choose one over the other. Both ambiguity and paradox,
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Identity, Names, and Stories

My relationship with my own name, or, more accurately names, is something of a saga. It mirrors the relationship between name, identity, and story as it has played out in my own life. It’s a story I’ve not told often. I hope it encourages you to reflect on story, change and continuity in your own life. In the beginning (don’t all good stories start this way?), I was born Julia Kay Sheridan. Sheridan, of course, was my father’s name; in the 1940s, what else would it have been? The whole process of naming kids was pretty automatic. When I married (at the tender age of 19, but that’s another story), I never gave a thought to doing anything other than taking on my new husband’s name: Kinschner. In my mind, we women were still properly identified with our husbands, and adopting his name legally embodied that identification for all the world to see. It never occurred to me to do otherwise. It was the 1960s, but I was stuck in the 50s alongside June Cleaver. Fast-forward through several years of marriage, one child, the rest of college and then seminary, and the (very) faint rumblings of greater consciousness. Oh, and graduate school. When my first husband and I divorced during my graduate school years, I kept his name, in part because it seemed easier if my daughter and I had the same last name. But then he remarried, a lovely woman who was the new Mrs. Kinschner. That felt odd to me,
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Commitment to Humanity: Now More than Ever

Many of us continue to feel frightened and vulnerable in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. We’re fearful for the values we hold dear, the vulnerable populations we are committed to protect, what shape our own lives may take, and for the future of our nation itself. There is reason to feel that way: Muslims, people of color, women, the entire LGBTQ community, immigrants (particularly but not exclusively Middle Easterners and Mexicans), those who “look Middle Eastern,” are all threatened based on who they are rather than on anything they might have done. Now more than ever, we need to stand together against the forces that seek to divide us. All of us—each and every one of us—stands to lose if the forces of exclusion, oppression, and division prevail. Humanism and religion are fundamentally in accord on this basic point. Many people equate humanism with either secularism or atheism. While some humanists are either secularists or atheists, not all are. Some humanists are anti-religious, but not all are. Humanism is a thread that has been woven into the fabric of religion for centuries, and continues to be. Christian humanism was born in the Renaissance. Today there are vibrant humanistic emphases in most of humankind’s religious and spiritual traditions. It’s worth reviewing both our Sources and our Principles in this context, since for many of us in our beloved community, neither remains in the forefront of our minds a lot of the time [I’m including myself here.]  
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Metaphors of Power

I have a problem with the concept of power. When I think of power, I think first of power exercised over vulnerable individuals and populations. It seems that “power” too often means power over, the power to intimidate, to bully, to take advantage, in short, to hurt and to harm. What immediately comes to my mind is the power of child abusers over their victims, legislatures denying basic human rights to LGBTQ persons, of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un using the threat of nuclear missiles to bully South Korea and attempt to bully the rest of the world, of government officials wielding hateful power over immigrants and native peoples and promising to cut services that have enhanced the quality of life for many people. And the list goes on. I know there are other metaphors of power out there. So, in a sense, this column is an attempt to call to my own mind some of those more life-giving, more spiritually healthy metaphors. I invite you to come along with me, to read these slowly and thoughtfully, and to reflect on how they might inform your own relationship to power. Does any of them hold the potential to help heal whatever wounds you may carry from having been the victim of abusive power? And if you are not wounded individually, consider that you may be an ally or member of a group that is being singled out. The metaphors that are most meaningful to me often come from the natural world:

Belonging in a BSU Stairwell

I’d met a friend on campus for lunch. I’d parked in the Emens Auditorium parking structure because it was close to where we were meeting. My emeriti faculty hangtag doesn’t allow me to park there unless I park as a visitor. On this crowded day, that meant parking on the very top deck. When I was ready to leave, that, in turn, meant walking up four flights of stairs. I later learned that there is an elevator, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve been moving quite slowly and with great difficulty of late due to a worse than usual time with chronic hip and leg problems. As I began to make my way up the stairs one slow step at a time, I became aware of a young woman behind me. I turned and smiled at her, and invited her to go around me. What happened next surprised me. She declined, willingly keeping pace with my slowness. We had an absolutely delightful conversation all the way up the stairs, and parted with warm wishes and smiling hearts when we reached the top. We both belonged in that brief encounter. I’ve been thinking a lot about what being able-bodied, or not, means in our culture. Rich Harris, who worked with what I believe was then called “disabled student development” before his retirement from Ball State, often said that we are all “TABS,” his acronym for “temporarily able-bodied.” I’ve clearly lost my TAB status, and that’s had me reflecting on the
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