April 2014

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Question: Addiction Issues

BACKGROUND: Each year at church (near April Fool's day) I give a "Question Box" service, in which the sermon is comprised of questions from people in the congregation.  They each get a slip of paper, and anyone may write down any question they want.  Those questions are passed forward right before the sermon portion, and (though I reserve the right to *not* answer any question) the "sermon" consists of me simply answering as many of those questions as possible (and my past three interns have also said "yes" to joining me as well!). Unfortunately, each year there are also questions that go unanswered, simply for lack of time.  This year I gave my Question Box service on March 30 and let people know I would answer the remaining questions on my Blog.  So here goes!

Here is the first question I was not able to answer during the service:
As someone who struggles with addiction issues, I really appreciate the compassionate nature they are approached in the service.  What inspires you to intentionally name addiction issues alongside other struggles like cancer during Life Passages in the service?

My answer: 
In my experience I have not seen addiction as "those who are addicted" versus "those who are healthy."  In my experience it is more of a continuum from those of us with "addictive tendencies" to those of us with full-blown addictions.

In broad strokes, any addiction numbs us to our everyday desires, responsibilities, relationships and goals.  Standard addictions include addictions to alcohol, drugs, and sex.  All addictions require both challenge and compassion if someone wants to address the issues well, and one advantage now, when addiction is recognized, is that a variety of treatments are available.

But most other people in the world - maybe all of us? - have some form of "addictive tendencies" too.  These don't have to come in the form of excessive drugs or alcohol.  An addictive tendency is anything that turns us away from something challenging or difficult (like a job or relationship issue) and lures us toward something easier and more comfortable (like playing dozens of games of solitaire or Angry Birds on the computer).

By doing that "something" which is easier and more comfortable, it numbs us to the real thing we need to do - or to the behavior that will allow our deep brilliance to shine through.  An addictive tendency may even include things we would normally consider "healthy" if it takes our focus away from a responsibility or a relationship.  For example, when a relationship gets difficult, it may be easier and more comfortable to just work longer hours, or obsessively clean the house, or go out for one five-mile run after another.

For me, addressing addiction intersects with faith, religion and spirituality because it deals with the quality of intention and transformation we want in our lives.  Confronting addiction and addictive tendencies is also one of the most challenging experiences in our lives. And it's not like getting over the chicken pox where you'll never have the illness again - addiction and addictive tendencies are ongoing and last our entire lives. Addressing them not only takes a sincere desire from each of us, but also takes ongoing support, resources, challenge and compassion. 

I see great parallels and intersections between faith and recovery.  Each require a desire to live a different kind of life, a deeper more authentic life, a life that uncovers and displays our inherent brilliance. Each takes consistent faithful practice. Each are challenging because they keep us focused on what is most important each day at each moment. And when practiced well, each provide lives - and even communities - of profound transformation.

In addition, speaking "addiction" in the worship service also has to do with taking secrets out of their hidden places and naming them.  Even the act of naming an issue as "addiction" is a profound act on the road of recovery.

So when I specifically mention addiction in my Sunday morning prayer during worship, I am naming my own addictive shadows and tendencies, and I am holding in my heart the people in our congregation I know are struggling, and I am holding with care and compassion the struggles that any visitor may bring.  For me, naming addiction in the prayer is about offering hospitality and compassion, bringing secrets into the open, naming addiction not as something only "other" people experience, but something that is part of our community and part of the people we love.

I don't have any full-blown addictions, but at times in my life I've struggled mightily with addictive tendencies that have derailed my dreams and desires...and not only do I imagine what others go through, some of them have come to talk to me about it.  So in my prayers, I want to remember them - remember us - and offer a reminder that we are all welcome here, and not only the parts of us that are "good," but that people are welcome here with our whole, imperfect, entire brilliant selves.

Chief Seattle and Interconnection

Here is my newsletter column from the April 2014 church newsletter:

A famous and beautiful piece of writing attributed to Chief Seattle in a speech to a delegation of white politicians and military people in the early 19th Century includes these words:

“This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.  All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.  Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Beautiful, yes.  Accurate, no.  Chief Seattle, an Anglicization of “See-ahth” or “Si’ahl,” was a Duwamish chief known for bravery and leadership.  He was also a great orator.  This speech appears in the 1991 “Earth Prayers from Around the World,” has been made into children’s books, pieces of music (one of which, “This we Know,” with music by Ron Jeffers, was sung by a women’s chorus at my dad’s memorial service in 1991), and even appears as Reading #550 in our own UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition.  Surprisingly though, this piece was actually written by Ted Perry as part of the script for a little known 1971 movie called Home.

Our human lives, and our relationship to all things, are sometimes intertwined and interconnected even in ways we may wish they were not.  It is ironic that a piece about connections to nature is just another form of misappropriation by a white author in the 1970s who wanted to use a long dead Native American to further the motives of an environmental movement.  And yet, these forms of connection – both honest and clear, as well as muddled and misguided – are part of what comprises the messy soup of human race relations that require our attention and deepest intention of goodwill.

Though the history of this piece is inaccurate, the sentiment is valuable.  We do hear similar sayings from authentically documented Native teachings.  And in his scientific work, the biochemist Mahlon Hoagland describes one biological pattern as: “Life is interconnected and interdependent.”  In fact, including both Easter and Earth Day, this is the theme for the month of April.  Of this pattern Mahlon Hoagland says:

“Ultimately, everything in the [coral] reef connects with everything else.  The survival of the reef shark is closely tied to the survival of the coral polyp, even though the two may have no contact and certainly no awareness of each other.  What survives and evolves are patterns of organization…Any successful change of strategy by one organism will create a ripple of adjustments in the reef community.  Called coevolution, this is the kind of creative force at work everywhere life has taken hold.”

One truth about being interconnected and coevolving – among humans, plants, or animals – is that we need each other.  Different species bump into each other, and we may be either predators or grazers, but ultimately we cannot exist without the value the other being brings to the table.  For the month of April, a month of rebirth, let’s consider what value each one of us brings to the table of life.

Moving in Faith,


Appearing as a Guest on The VUU - December 26, 2013

This past week I had a wonderful experience as a guest on "The VUU," a weekly online video broadcast conducted and hosted by the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), the real and virtual UU congregation of our association (the CLF began decades ago as outreach to UU people in remote areas and to UU people in prison - including providing all kinds of written materials and religious education materials - and the with the rise of the digital age, they have grown exponentially; though they don't have a "bricks and mortar" church, they are the largest congregation in our association).  The Rev. Meg Riley is the minister of the CLF, and hosts/emcees the weekly "VUU."

The reason I'm on this episode is that they recently found out about my sleeping out with IOCP each year, and wanted me to come on the show and talk about it with the other regulars.  So for the first half hour (with a lot of interjections from others talking as well!), I talk about Interfaith Outreach, social justice in general, issues addressing homelessness and BGLTQ in particular, and the flowing conversation covers topics of food stamps, the working poor, health care, etc.  The second half hour is focused on the Rev. Jake Morrill in Tennessee, who recently conducted a "reverse offering" at his church).

I admit it - I don't think I present very well on video.  I like writing and creating and giving sermons, and I've been on stage, and I'm fine singing in front of people.  But I get nervous and more unsure of myself when I have to be spontaneous and off-the-cuff with a recording or with video.  But Meg Riley and the Rev. Joanne Fontaine Crawford, and all the others made me feel very welcome.  And since it wasn't Fox News, it was a very friendly crowd, so I felt much more comfortable. All in all, it ended up being a very fun time, and I am grateful to the CLF team for having me on as a guest.

If you want to watch the video, I've included a link to it below.  If you want to watch past episodes of The VUU you can scroll through the episodes on the right hand side bar, and you can catch the online show live (without me!) each Thursday at 11:00 am Eastern time.

Now, if you want to watch, here it is:

Hope your Christmas was merry, and may you have a Happy New Year,


Collars, Compassion and Calling

I've worn my stole and, more recently, a clergy collar to social justice events and rallies, particularly here in Minnesota for the past several years as we rallied for same-sex marriage equality. And though I'm not sure how others perceived me, I definitely noticed a difference inside me about how I moved through the public world as I wore those pieces of professional attire - I felt more vulnerable, more scared, more true to my calling, and more powerful all at the same time.

I want to share with you this piece of writing (here and below) which is, for me, an incredibly moving blog post written by my Unitarian Universalist colleague Joanna Fontaine Crawford, about wearing the collar AND a rainbow flag as a spiritual spiritual practice one day each week.  The wearing of a collar is something that triggers a variety of responses both inside and outside Unitarian Universalism.  Over the past several years, both here in Minnesota as well as at social witness events at our annual General Assembly, I've noticed not just an acceptance, but actually an appreciation from UU people who see their UU ministers wearing a collar at social justice rallies.

But what about wearing a collar on "regular" or "mundane" days of running errands or hanging out at a coffee shop?

Ever since I was ordained at this congregation, the UU Church of Minnetonka, in March 2008, I've worn a robe when I preach on Sunday mornings...which a few years earlier in seminary is something I never thought I'd do.  I know some people in UU circles are put off by a robe, and even more so by a clergy collar, because of the negative associations they have with previous experiences with more conservative clergy.  I don't wear the robe to be on a power trip or because I have some concept that my words on a Sunday morning are the only way to see the world or the "right" way to see the world.  I wear the robe and the stole because they are, first, simply the uniform of my profession, and second, because they are reminders of the larger faith and tradition which, only for a time, I represent.

Putting on the robe, and draping the stole around my neck each Sunday before I leave my office to walk into the pulpit, is a reminder to me of humility.  It is a piece of theater that carries great meaning. The stole, as light as it is, is a representation of the joys, pain, expectations, frustrations and aspirations of the people we ministers serve - the ministers who are colleagues in our own UU faith tradition, those who were in Unitarianism and Universalism separately for hundreds of years, and ministers, clergy, and holy men and women from many faiths throughout time whose calling and mission is to dedicate their lives to service and spiritual depth.

Each age and each faith and each time has it's callings and it's needs. Some needs shake entire cultures to their foundations. I think of the foundings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other faiths, as well as religious and political events that resonate through time like the Council of Nicaea, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation.

And some needs are smaller and more intimate, and no less earth shattering for a single person, like saying "God doesn't hate you for being gay.  You are loved."

There *is* a local coffee shop I go to every Thursday for my "writing and study" day...but I've never worn my collar or stole *just* for *those* mundane days. For the past seven years I've served this church I've worn a robe when I preach - which is something I never thought I'd do - maybe I'll start wearing a collar to the coffee shop on "mundane" days too? 

Thank you, Joanna, for this very powerful blog post and the inspiration of your personal practice.

Moving in Faith,

To read Joanna Fontaine Crawford's moving blog post on the spiritual practice of wearing her collar in her neighborhood one day each week, go here, to: Boots and Blessings

December 2013 Newsletter Column

It has been far too long since I've written a blog post.  This has been a long year, beginning with the death of my mom, and then continuing with a variety of transitions and challenges that absorbed much of my time, attention and focus.  But now, as we approach the holidays, and as a few more things are falling into place, I'm feeling ready to move back into writing and maintaining this blog. For that small group of you who may have followed my blog previously, I apologize for my lengthy absence. To those who never did, or for whom reading this is new, then my absence won't have been an issue to begin with!

So - for my first entry back into this world of online writing, I'm going to do something easy and just post the column I wrote for the December 2013 church newsletter.  I look forward to writing more soon.


Moving in Faith

Once again we come to the end of the calendar year, moving through the holiday season with feelings that range from joy or dread to eagerness, resignation, awe, frenzy, delight and excitement.  As we come full circle, this season often calls us to remembrance, ritual and reverence.  It is a season that brings the rituals of tree-trimming, candle-lighting, cookie-making, gift-giving and well-wishing.  It is a time that invites us to recall our lives a year ago, and encourages us to wonder what our life will be like a year from now.

Our worship theme for December, using the lens of biology, is that “Life Works in Cycles.” Mahlon Hoagland, the biochemist who describes sixteen patterns of life, says “Life loves loops.  Most biological processes…wind up back where they started.  The circulation of blood, the beat of the heart, the nervous system’s sensing and responding, menstruation, migration…the cycle of birth and death – all have the habit of looping back for a new start.  Loops tame uncontrolled events.  One-way processes, given sufficient energy and materials, tend to ‘run away,’ to go faster and faster unless they are inhibited or restrained.”

Hoagland goes on to use the example of a steam engine and the governor (a device that monitors and controls the steam input) as a system that self-corrects, and that when such self-generated restraints occur in small steps, the overall system appears to maintain itself in a steady state.

In poetic terms, local musician Peter Mayer says something similar in his song, One More Circle: 

We have raised our fists in anger and we've tried
To work it out
That we need each other, we cannot deny
There is no doubt

So let us weave another dream in outer space…
On this planet home that holds our human race
We still are learning, but all in all

I’d say this year in flight together has been fun
What say we make one more circle around the sun?

It may not be that we can quite say this past year has been “fun.”  It has been a challenging year for many of us, personally and in church.  A year ago we finally received our reimbursement settlement funds from our lawsuit with the city – but that brought on a huge reality check: that we would actually have to construct the building the congregation dreamed about as far back as 2005.  We also went through membership changes, and we continued working through governance changes…and each issue brought up new challenges about our direction and purpose and ability to work together.

And yet, without question, I remain firmly convinced “that we need each other, we cannot deny.”  Like the governor on a steam engine, we need each other, and clearly understood structures, to tame uncontrolled events.  With compassion and the sense that “we still are learning,” we build strong relationships and the beloved community with feedback loops and honesty.  When that occurs, when we move from feeling like struggling isolated individuals to feeling like partners working together, then “all in all” it does begin to feel fun.

Loops tame uncontrolled events.  This season, as we engage one another, as we gather with family, and as we strive to live our faith in the world, may we remember our path around the sun.  May our annual planetary circular journey be a meditation for us, reminding us of the patterns and rituals in our lives that are most important and meaningful, and reminding us of our deepest reasons for being together. 

Moving in Faith,


Ann Reed Concert - January 26, 2013

What a beautiful concert tonight in our sanctuary from Ann Reed! It was a full house for great music.  For any of you who don't know her, or weren't there tonight, check out her website to learn more.

Unfortunately, my wife Heidi was sick tonight and stayed home, but Verlyn, my father-in-law (Heidi's dad) went with me.  We have a kinship through many things, and one of them is folk music.  It was great to sit with him tonight and enjoy the music.

Of course other people had their own experience tonight.  As for myself, I traveled to many places.  Ann Reed took me to the State Fair, to northern Minneota, to election night, and to a women's music festival in Michigan.  And, inspired by those travels, I came home with four of her CDs!  (She actually gave me one of them - "Heroes: A Celebration of Women Who Changed History and Changed Our Lives" - because I spoke with her before the concert about how I used to work with foster teenagers on work projects in Idaho in the early 1990s, and around the campfire I would sing to them Ann Reed's song, "Heroes")

I also traveled to a few other places she didn't intend, but probably would not be surprised about if she heard.  My mom was also a UU minister, and served the congregation in Davenport, Iowa, from 1988-2000.  She was also a big Ann Reed fan.  And she died just a month ago, on December 28.  So tonight, with the help of Ann Reed's music, I also visited with my mom for a while.  And I visited with many people in Davenport, including the all-female choir, Hersong, which my mom also loved.  In fact, in one of the sympathy cards I received from a woman in the Davenport congregation, she wrote about how she remembered my mom spontaneously (and my mom was NOT usually spontaneous!) getting up in the middle of the song, "Big-Legged Woman" and dancing down the aisle! (and my mom was also NOT a dancer!).

My mom was, in some ways, a complicated woman.  And, in some ways, I have very mixed feelings about her.  But I loved hearing about how tickled someone was about one of my mom's small acts of spontaneity.  And I loved thinking more again about the people in Davenport. Yes, there were ways my mom did not see me, or did not relate to me in ways I needed and found valuable, but there are many other ways she was definitely one of Ann Reed's "Heroes" to me.

And all of this caused me to circle 'round and think about the people at UUCM.

I sometimes wonder how you at UUCM see me.  I wonder if you think I am more rigid like my mother, or if you feel I am more easy-going, like I like to see myself. Or something else.  In any case, though, tonight's concert also got me thinking about how much I love UUCM and the people who are here.  I began again to feel - as I often do - a sense of warmth about this congregation, radiating outward from where I sat to include everyone in the church.  And I realized, without bashfulness or chagrin, it was a feeling of love. 

I felt a sense of priviledge - that I get to be here, I get to be the minister of this congregation in this time. I felt a sense of wonder - of how many people it takes to arrange, plan, set up, and take down beautiful events like this (THANK YOU Bill Tregaskis and Joyce Lyons!), and how wonderful and rare it is to have a few moments to sit together, basking in that moment of beauty.  And I felt love. I felt this great big encompassing love.  I love being here. I love that I've been here for five and a half years, and I love that it looks like I'll be here for many years to come...and I love that we continue to be in relationship, day after day, week after week, year after year.

What an amazing concert, that it could take one person to so many places!

Obituary for Charlotte Justice Saleska

There is always too much to say.  Always more than can be written in a simple obituary.  Every time a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association dies, though, I get a notice about their death, with a more extensive obituary than can usually be included in the local paper or website.  The UUA obituary always begins with the phrase, "The Ministries and Faith Development Staff offers our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Reverend...."  This time, the obituary is for my mom, the Reverend Charlotte Justice Saleska.  Though there will always be more to say, and though I'll say more and process more in the days and months to come - here, for now, is the UUA obituary for my mom.  Much of it - particularly the factual pieces - was written by UUA staff, but I also added some personal notes and memories for this blog post.

- Kent Hemmen Saleska



The Ministries and Faith Development staff offers our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Rev. Charlotte Justice Saleska who, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003, died on December 28, 2012. She was 77 years old.

Rev. Saleska was born in Marion, IN on August 16, 1935 to Olive (Heel) and E.E. Justice. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Taylor University in 1957. She then went on to attain a Master of Arts from Hunter College in 1964. Finally, in 1988, she earned both a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a Master of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School.  As a student at Meadville Lombard, she helped create and implement the first women’s studies course at the seminary, and led a call for the school to hire female professors to the all-male faculty.

Rev. Saleska was ordained on June 6, 1988. She was first called to serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities in Davenport, IA (and was the first and only female settled minister there) from 1988-2000. She then went on to serve as interim minister at the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau, WI from 2000-2001. She also served as interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, FL from 2001-2002. In 2000, she was bestowed with the honor of Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities.

Rev. Saleska brought her diverse background to her work as a minister. She was a social worker at Head Start Families in Milwaukee, WI from 1968-1975. From 1975-1980, she was the sole coordinator of the Inter-Urban Health Careers program affiliated with several Milwaukee area school districts. While her husband, the Rev. Charles Saleska, was serving the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, FL, she served as the Fellowship’s Director of Religious Education from 1983-1985. During that time she also taught high school honors English literature to juniors and seniors, first at Dixie County High School near the Gulf of Mexico, and then at Alachua County High School.  When her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1983, her women’s group encouraged her to follow her call to ministry, and in 1985, at the age of 50, she entered Meadville Lombard.

During her tenure at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, she formed the Interfaith Theological Symposiums with Edwards Congregational United Church of Christ and Temple Emanuel, both also located in Davenport, IA. Conveying a strong interest in social issues, Rev. Saleska worked at length with women's issues groups and abortion rights groups, and worked diligently as part of an interfaith clergy group to bring a Planned Parenthood clinic to the Quad Cities.  Rev. Saleska also helped guide the church on a building expansion project that, for the first time, created more classroom space and meeting space for the congregation.

Rev. Saleska was a passionate advocate for women’s issues, and for claiming and reclaiming the story and role of women in religion and in human society.  Her passion originated in the home as she guided and taught her two sons to respect, speak out, and feel compassion for women and women’s issues; and expanded later to include her engagement in seminary, social justice, and ministry.  She also loved deep discussions of any kind, especially book discussion groups and movie discussions.  Because of her background in English literature and her love for Shakespeare, she was able to quickly recall and expound on literary references, metaphors and poems, and gave voice to them in her sermons and discussions.  Arising from her childhood on an Indiana farm, she loved to garden in her younger adult years, and in later years her house was full of green and growing plants of many kinds and varieties.  Rev. Saleska also loved to travel, and during her years of ministry she took trips to Transylvania, Germany, France, and Italy – and when she could, she also traveled to Chicago and New York to visit friends and attend the theater.  One of her favorite activities before and after retirement was to drive to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to meet her sister Carol and Carol’s husband Dave to attend Shakespeare plays by the American Players Theater.

Rev. Saleska is survived by her sisters, Carol Jones and Carmen Wilks; brothers, Warren Justice and Sam Justice; son, Scott Saleska, his wife, Kirsten Engel and their daughter, Helene; son, Kent Saleska, his wife, Heidi Saleska, and their children, Parker and Mirek.  Her husband, the Rev. Charles Saleska, died at age 55 in February 1991.


At this point, we are hoping to have a memorial service for my mom sometime in March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up for the first 14 years of my life, and where my family has long-time roots.  That planning, though, has yet to be finalized, depending on the availability of the church we want to use, and on the availability of the minister we get to officiate.

So much to plan.  So much to remember.  So much sadness and so much to celebrate.

Getting the Call about Mom

It was a call I'd been expecting for a couple years.  It's just that it didn't happen the way I thought it would.

The weekend after Christmas, my family and I planned to visit our extended family and friends who live in the Milwaukee area.  My son Parker had a mini-theater camp at Stages Theater in Hopkins on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, and we planned to leave after his class on Friday.  So Friday morning, Heidi and I were running around the house trying to get packed, I was hurriedly completing a few emails for church, and we pretended to clean a little at the same time, since my brother and his family would be visiting for a few days over New Year's as soon as we returned.

My cell phone rang - a call from Arizona.  I assumed it was my brother.  Instead it was from my mom's Alzheimer's Senior Living unit where she lived.

"Mr. Saleska?"

"Yes. This is me."

"Mr. Saleska, I'm calling to let you know that your mother passed away at 8:15 this morning.  I am so sorry for your loss."

The changing of gears at that moment is like ramming the gear handle into first gear without the use of a clutch.  A travel schedule to keep, and miles to go before we sleep, and yet the need for a breath, to learn a little more of what happened, to hear details as though that will help with the emotion, and to hang up trying to figure out what to say and do next.

During the call Heidi came over and I mouthed the words to her about my mom, and she started to cry too and gave me a hug.

Later, I sat on the floor and called over Mirek, my three year old, to tell her what had happened.

"Do you remember Grandma Charlotte?" I asked.  It was 13 months ago, over Thanksgiving 2011 when we last saw her in Arizona.

"Yes," she said and nodded.

"Well, I just got a call telling me that Grandma Charlotte died this morning."

Mirek brightened up a little. "You mean that place where we ran around?  And where we played on the floor in the corner?"

"Yes, that's the place where my mom lived."

"And then you fed her and gave her juice!" Mirek said with enthusiasm.

"Yes. You remember that, huh?  Yes.  That was the place.  And they called me this morning to tell me that Grandma Charlotte died."

"Is that why you are crying?"

"Yes, that is why I am crying."

I gave Mirek a big hug and rocked back and forth on the floor as she played with a little toy in her hands.  "I love you, Mirek."

"I love you, too, Daddy."

We got up, and I gave Heidi a hug, and the rest of the morning was spent a little in a daze.  We had suitcases to pack, more people to call, more emails to send.


My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in November 2003, when she was 68. In 2008 we moved her from her retirement living center in Milwaukee down to an Alzheimer's care unit in Tucson, Arizona, where my brother lives.  Three years ago she was still talking and mobile, even though she didn't always know who we were.  And I even got some nice photos of her holding Mirek at eight months old, and Parker at three years old.

We saw her again at Thanksgiving 2011, and she had changed drastically.  She was in her bed every time we visited except for the last day, when we arrived to see her sitting up, but slumped over a bit in the central communal room of the cottage. That's the visit where I sat knee-to-knee with her and fed her lunch while the kids played with toys in the corner.

I thought she'd only live a few months more at that time.  That's why I had planned for the Mother's Day service at UUCM in May 2012 to be a bit of a tribute to her, using a large portion of a sermon she gave years ago about her growing up years in Indiana.  But she lived on for another year.

The good part about this news of my mother's death was that our travel plans to Milwaukee included a visit with one of my mom's sisters, and one of my dad's sisters, and a long-time family friend.  It was good to be with family that weekend, with people who knew my mom for all or most of her life, and me for all my life. Even when we weren't talking specifically about my mom, it was so good just to be held in the visit with that longtime familiarity and love: sitting at my Aunt Carol and Uncle Dave's kitchen table with a glass of wine, talking all night just like my mom and dad used to do with them; sitting around the living room at my Aunt Dorene's place, grazing on Christmas cookies of all shapes and colors all afternoon while we talked and my children played with the same old Legos and blocks I had played with when I was six and eight and ten; and then sledding with our good friend Kermit and his family, a man who grew up with my brother and me as one of the "kids" in our liberal American Baptist Church youth group.  

One of the best memories I have of my mom is of her reading to our family. Back in the "old days" when I was a kid, when we didn't have air conditioning or video games or cell phones (and back when I had to walk barefoot to school in the snow uphill - both ways), I especially remember a family road trip out to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.  On the way, in the heat of the summer with the windows of the Buick Skylark rolled down and the wing windows angled in for maximum air flow, my mom read us a biography of Wild Bill Hickok.

My mom brought that old story to life. Wild Bill Hickok began his adventures in Lockport, Illinois, where my cousins lived - so I knew that place well. And then as we travelled west, we stopped at various historic markers that mentioned his life, and then we visited Deadwood, South Dakota, where he died and was buried. It was amazing, in one trip, to first learn about the life span of a man, and then to actually know and see the roads and towns where he lived, travelled and died. A book had never felt so alive to me before.

I remember my mom, sitting in the front passenger seat turned sideways, and reading the story to my dad in the driver's seat, and to my brother and me in the back seat.  I remember that she had to read loud to be heard over the rush of incoming wind, and occasionally stopping to pour some coffee from the thermos at her feet into a cup to water her throat.  And sometimes, even though we would plead for her to "Read! Read!" when she paused, she'd have to stop to rest her voice so she wouldn't go hoarse.  And then we'd have to settle for playing road bingo or finding the alphabet on road signs.

Last weekend, on my family's trip to Milwaukee and back, I sat in the front passenger seat.  Heidi gets motion sickness when she reads in a moving car, so when we travel, I'm often the one in the passenger seat.  Our family was in the middle of the second "Little House" book.  So I picked up "Little House on the Prairie," turned sideways in the front seat, and through the hours, I read chapter after chapter of Laura's adventures on the Kansas plain.  This time, though, the car windows were rolled up and the heat was on, so I didn't have to tear up my throat.  Every time I paused, though, even for a drink of my Diet Coke, the kids would get impatient and shout, "Read! Read!"

Thank you for the gift, mom.  Despite our difficulties and so many challenges together, thank you for so many gifts.  It was good to have you on our trip again.

Set in Stone - by Victoria Safford

Here's a good reading for the end of the year, from the Reverend Victoria Safford (I also posted this on the UUCM Facebook page as well):

By Victoria Safford
From Walking Toward Morning

In a cemetery once, an old one in New England, I found a strangely soothing epitaph.  The name of the deceased and her dates had been scoured away by wind and rain, but there was a carving of a tree with roots and branches…and among them the words, “She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.”  At first this seemed to me a little meager, a little stingy on the part of her survivors, but I wrote it down and have thought about it since, and now I can’t imagine a more proud or satisfying legacy.

“She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.”

Every day I stand in danger of being struck by lightning and having the obituary in the local paper say, for all the world to see, “She attended frantically and ineffectually to a great many unimportant, meaningless details.”

How do you want your obituary to read?

“He got all the dishes washed and dried before playing with his children in the evening.”

“She balanced her checkbook with meticulous precision and never missed a day of work – missed a lot of sunsets, missed a lot of love, missed a lot of risk, missed a lot – but her money was in order.”

“She answered all her calls, all her email, all her voice mail, but along the way she forgot to answer the call to service and compassion, and forgiveness, first and foremost of herself.”

“He gave and forgave sparingly, without radical intention, without passion or conviction.”

“She could not, or would not, hear the calling of her heart.”

How will it read, how does it read, and if you had to name a few worthy things to which you attend well and faithfully, what, I wonder, would they be?

Moving Forward - Finally? Finally!

I am not quite stunned, but I'm also feeling as though I should pinch myself to make sure this is real.

I write this upon my return from the Wayzata City Council meeting this evening. Tonight, according to the settlement we agreed to with the city in Federal Court a year ago (and then subsequently took 10 months to hash out details), the City of Wayzata officially approved our PUD (planned unit development) application, which will allow us to build our new church at 2030 Wayzata Blvd!

Two and a half years after we filed suit against the city in Federal Court, four years after the city's denial of our request for rezoning in 2008, five years since we had our "Phase I" capital campaign, and seven years (before my time here) since UUCM put together the Relocation Task Force to look at potential locations for a potential new building, we no longer have to wait for the next congregational vote, or the next legal development, or the next round of negotiations, or the next application process.  With the city's approval tonight that fulfilled the terms of our legal settlement, we as a congregation will be able to move forward, under our own steam!  This means we can begin working together as a congregation to make our dreams a reality!

It has been a long and exhausting road.  Though I can hardly believe it, this is real!

I want to give a great big THANK YOU to our legal team.  First I want to thank Sam Diehl, our attorney from Gray, Plant, Mooty in Minneapolis, who has been working tirelessly for us on a pro bono/contingency basis for us for the past three years - and even missed his daughter's Christmas concert tonight (among many family events he missed over the past three years).  He has put hundreds and hundreds of hours into this case for us (as well as others at his law firm), and has impressed our legal team and me.  I also want to thank the members of the legal team from our church, the people who have worked diligently with Sam, and with the UUCM Board every step of the way to communicate and ensure our best interests: Bob and Christy Dachelet, Bill McKnight, Kate Flom, and Alison Albrecht.  The next time any of you from our congregation see any of these folks, please be sure to give them a huge THANK YOU, too!

Through the Board's delegation, I will be organizing various groups over the coming months to work on this new building project.  If you, or anyone you know in the church is interested in participating, please be sure to let me know.

There are MANY things to consider as we move forward, so please bring your eagerness, excitement, AND patience!  I am in close communication with Wynne Yelland, our lead architect from LOCUS Architects, and I am consulting with other UU ministers and members, particularly locally at White Bear and Unity in St. Paul, to learn from their wisdom during their construction projects, about how best we can move forward. We will likely not have the next phase of our capital campaign for at least a year, because we need time to celebrate first - and then lay a foundation of dreaming, visioning, planning and organizing.

I will be in communication about more details soon (probably in January), but for now, I wanted to share this joyful news that we will finally be able to move forward with our dream of building a new church, a church that not only meets our congregation's needs, but serves the community as well!

Moving in Faith,

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