Monthly Archives: July 2008


I had an hour to kill in the middle of the day, so I parked at the old rifle range, and walked up the abandoned railroad bed to White Pond. The air was thick with humidity, and everything looked incredibly green from all the rain that’s fallen in July. Cicadas buzzed. A few birds braved the heat of the day. I passed through swamps caused by beaver dams. In places, the railroad bed was almost overgrown and only a thin path led through exuberant green shrubs and grass and poison ivy. Brilliant green leaves brushed against me from head to toe on both sides. At one point I noticed where a stand of white pines had dropped enough needles and shed enough shade to kill off most of the undergrowth; aside from that, I didn’t think of much of anything at all. Once the swamp ended and the woods began, the undergrowth mostly disappeared.

On the way back from White Pond, a Golden Labrador Retriever lay panting at the side of the trail, attended by a white-haired woman.

“That dog has the right idea,” I said. “It’s too hot to walk.”

“He’s gone lame,” said the woman. She had an English accent.

“What, does he have something in his paw?” I said.

“He walks a few yards, and then he stops and lies down,” she said. “My friend has gone to get the car.”

“He’s hot, too,” I said, watching him pant. “It’s very humid.”

“It is clammy,” she said. “I’ve just come over from England last night. We’ve been having some of the same weather over there.”

We chatted a bit, and then I said, “I’ try to carry him up to the road for you, but I think he’s a bit heavy for me.”

She laughed. “Oh, I didn’t expect you to offer to carry him up. He’ll be fine.”

Of the whole hour-long walk I took, most of what I can tell you about is that three-minute conversation. Aside from that, there are only general impressions of walking hard, sweat, gentle heat, damp air, greenness, small animals in the underbrush, flies, smell of grass and leaves — but there wasn’t much to be said about such basic physical impressions.

More on TVUUC

The following information resources about the shootings at the Tennessee Valley UU Church cOme from Deb Weiner, the Director of Electronic Communications at the Unitarian Universalist Association. Deb writes:

Friends, information on Unitarian Universalist Association response to this tragedy can be found here. A new document, Making Meaning After Disaster, by Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, has been linked from this page. It can be directly accessed here.

Additional resources… as well as prayers from international and interfaith communities, will be available soon. The UUA website pages will be updated regularly.

And the following notice comes from the board of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA):

As educators, we are aware of our responsibility to aid in efforts to understand, or at least survive such an incident as emotionally intact as possible. Questions may arise in your own communities around issues of safety, or crisis management. Two books may be useful to have on hand: Trauma in the Lives of Children, by Kendall Johnson; and Children and Trauma, by Cynthia Monahon. Also, A Terrible Thing Happened, by Margaret M. Holmes addresses the need for children to find a place to speak about their experiences. An additional resource for your adult communities is available here.

Finally, Philocrites, a journalist by profession, has the best blog coverage of the shootings, especially: links to first-hand accountsmore info on the UUA Web site — links to news reports here, here, here.

Same sex marriage news

Yesterday, the Marriage Equality Coalition of Massachusetts reported:

“By a vote of 118 to 35, Massachusetts House passed legislation this afternoon repealing the 1913 law, which prevents out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying here if they could not marry in their home state. The legislation was passed by the Senate earlier this month and is expected to be signed by Governor Patrick in short order…. Once the bill is signed, we’ll be in touch with more information about what this means for same-sex couples in other states — including when the law goes into effect.”

Ultimately, this might mean that any same sex couple who wished could get legally married here in Massachusetts. Of course, it would remain an open question whether other states or the federal government would recognize all legal rights that should be accorded to such marriages, and we should probably expect the resultant litigation to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

But when the new law does go into effect, I hereby offer to officiate at weddings for any out-of-state same-sex couple for free.


I pulled the car up to the beginning of the car wash. “Could I have the Ruby Red?” I said, handing the young man with the reddish hair ten dollars plus a tip. The guy on the other side of the car started wiping down the roof with soapy water and a brush. “Hey, did you guys find a license plate here?”

“Sure,” he said. “Which one you looking for? We got lots of ’em in there,” nodding his head towards the car wash office.

“The same as the one on the back of this car,” I said.

He started sloshing soapy water on the hood of the car. “Come back around when you get through,” he said. “I’ll take a look for you.”

I rolled up the windows, put it in neutral, and the car lurched into the rotating brushes and through the spray and then out through the big blowers that dry off the car. When I walked back around, both men were standing under a tree. There was my license plate sitting on the picnic table under the tree. My relief must have showed on my face, and both guys grinned at me.

The second guy, the guy wearing a Harley t-shirt and with his hair in a long queue down his back, said, “It was under about four others. Actually, it was the fourth one down when we found it. We got a lot of license plates. Tell all your friends to come down and check.”

Horrible news…

Yesterday, James Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee, went into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) and opened fire, killing two people and wounding six others. He left a letter saying he hated TVUUC for its liberal views, and for its support for gays and lesbians. And apparently his ex-wife, who had a restraining order out against him because of his violence, was affiliated with TVUUC as well.

“We’ve been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers,” said Rev. Chris Buice (pronounced “bice”), the minister at TVUUC. If you pray, here’s some people to pray for: the families and friends of the people who died; the families and friends of the people who were wounded; everyone who was in the church at the time of the shooting; especially the kids who were putting on a play when Adkisson started shooting; people who weren’t in the building yesterday but who are associated with the church; the entire GLBTQ community of the greater Knoxville area; anyone in the Knoxville area who has liberal views; and don’t forget to pray for the family of James Adkisson. And try to pray for Adkisson himself, because he has damaged his humanity by this act, and he will find it very difficult to fully redeem his humanity.

I don’t pray, but I have been thinking about all these people. I’m a minister, so I have been thinking in particular Rev. Chris Buice — I imagine that Chris is trying to deal with his own shock and horror, while he has to appear at press conferences and minister to others. And I have been thinking about Greg McKendry, the usher who apparently lost his life when he tackled Adkisson when the shooting began, thus keeping Adkisson from shooting more people — ushers are some of my favorite volunteers in churches, and now through his bravery Greg McKendry has become one of my heroes.

And let’s acknowledge that this shooting has made me feel a little more vulnerable. The headline from the Associated Press article — “Police: Man shot churchgoers over liberal views” — sounds like a battle report from the front lines of the culture wars. R. J. Eskow, writing on the Huffington Post Web site six hours ago, points to the conservative hate mongers who have indeed advocated violence against liberals:

Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians.

Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them “traitors” and suggests you speak to them “with a baseball bat”? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?

If you ask me, it was all of the above.

You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News. Link.

Whether or not you agree with Eskow’s words, it’s a reminder not to slip into hate as we try to make sense out of these shootings. I’m falling back on my Universalist theology. Classic Universalist theology said that all human beings will be saved and go to heaven — which in today’s Universalist theology might be stated this way: every human being is of value and is ultimately redeemable. OK, maybe only God (or whatever you want to call that which is larger than our selves) can redeem James Adkisson, but ultimately he is redeemable.

The good people of TVUUC, according to their Web site, are holding a candlelight vigil right about now. Keep them in your thoughts….

More on the Web: So far, the most complete news coverage is on the Web site of the Knoxville News Sentinel. They have video coverage too, including Rev. Chris Buice, minister of TVUUC, speaking at a press conference. The most recent story at this point (with links to previous stories) is here.

The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association has released a statement on the shootings here.

Email: curse or blessing?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a love/hate relationship with email. Actually, I mostly hate email. But that may change….

Carol, my partner, found a great book on using email. Starting with the idea that many of us are being overwhelmed with “info-glut,” the authors of The Hamster Revolution: How To Manage Email Before It Manages You contend that we have to give serious consideration to how we use email. They say that much of the time, we use email when we should be using some other communication method, and that too often we write confusing email messages. The authors give good, practical advice about writing email messages (e.g., use bullet points instead of a long-winded narrative). They give clear guidelines about how to use other forms of communication (e.g., using IM when you need immediate feedback, etc.).

I’m still reading the book, but it’s got enough good tips in it that I wanted to let you know about it right away. You can find out more about the book on their Web site:

Where is this from…

OK, all you English professors and poetry fans, I’m looking for a source for the following poem by Langston Hughes — when and where was it first published?

The ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond and jade,
Sit silently on their temple shelves
While the people
Are afraid.
Yet the ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Are only silly puppet gods
That the people themselves
Have made.

I found the poem here, but they provide no bibliographic information. It’s not in my copy of . Any ideas where it came from?


I just finished with a wedding rehearsal. As a minister, I think wedding rehearsals are a blast — much more fun than the actual wedding. People at a wedding rehearsal tend to be more relaxed and laid back, whereas most everyone gets at least a little bit tense at the actual wedding ceremony. Tonight’s wedding rehearsal was delightfully relaxed; I actually got time to chat with many of the people in the wedding party, and if I knew both Spanish and ASL in addition to English I would have had time to talk to most of the people in the wedding party.

Tomorrow, the actual wedding ceremony will go by in a blur; the only time I’ll get to talk with the bride and groom or anyone in the wedding party is when I tell them where to stand or what to do. Nope, wedding rehearsals are much more fun for ministers than the actual wedding.

Rest area

I was getting my coffee, waiting for my fries to come up, and listening to what the woman behind the counter was saying to to the woman wearing the headset.

“Power’s out in my part of Bridgewater,” she said. “My kids called when I was on break, they can’t get the stove working.”

The tall man in the Teamsters t-shirt said, “Power’s out in the prison.”

“What?” said the woman wearing the headset.

“Power’s out in Bridgewater State Prison,” came the reply. “That’s a place you don’t want the power to go out.”

My fries came. I ate them, drank the coffee, went down to the men’s room to wash my hands. Some guy was standing in the middle of the rest room putting on his pants. He looked up at me and laughed, a little bit embarrassed. “Sorry,” he said. I resisted telling him that next time he should change in one of the stalls.

I walked out of the building. It was still raining, there was still a lot of lightning. I sat in the car, hoping it would taper off. A bunch of teenagers came out of the building, hesitated, then ran for the minivan next to my car. Suddenly all the lights in the rest area went out.

Time to get back on the road.