Category Archives: Photos

REPOST–Cabaret Church: Could this be Cabaret Church?

(The Amanda Palmer House Party Experience)

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by T Palmer

People often ask me how I ended up being a minister— which is a long story, but always begins the same way–I was fascinated by the whole idea of church. I loved that there was a place we went to be inspired to become better people. I was intrigued by the sense that being human is a kind of project that we can work on together. This started when I was very young, maybe four or five years old, yet last night at the splendid Chicago house party, when it was Amanda Palmer asking the question, that fascination is still where my answer began.

But before I get to that, I have to admit that the night did not begin as I hoped. If you know anything about me, you already know that means we were late. I hate being late. In spite of the fact that I woke up at 4 a.m. feeling like it was Christmas morning, and we fretted and timed everything  in order to arrive right on time and before Amanda, a number of things (including Chicago traffic) conspired to make us almost an hour late.

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by T Palmer
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by T Palmer

Even so, we were greeted by our gracious hosts and given directions about how things would work. People were already spray painting on a giant canvas and filling their plates from an enormous table, and I hurried through the crowd to add our food the the potluck.  I was frazzled and rushing; not at all how I wanted to be.

As I was trying to navigate the crowd, I saw Amanda and she looked up and broke into a big smile. I was unprepared  to be recognized. I had been carefully managing my expectations and practicing casually telling her my twitter handle and explaining who I was. To be suddenly face-to-face with her and to be known was a complete surprise. I managed to give her a startled look and a freaked-out smile and scurry away.

After getting my bearings and taking care of the required details, I worked my way back to  the food. As I stepped into the garage (where the feast was laid) there was Amanda. She smiled and said something like, “Hi! I want to sit my ass down next to you and talk.” I sputtered out, “Okay, that would be great,” and added, “Give me a couple of minutes to get through…this…” My words trailed off.  How does one name the profoundly strange combination of anxiety and joy that makes your entire vocabulary disappear? Luckily, she seemed to understand.

After we got our food, we found a place to sit in the grass and talk. I told her a little story about the last time we’d met and how I forgot to look at anything but my shoes. That led to a moment of intentional eye contact. And then, amazingly, it wasn’t awkward any more. That’s when she asked me how I became a minister. Or did she ask how I became me?

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by T Palmer
wAFP by Carl F
by Carl Frederick

All I know is that I unwound the  strands of my story, laying them out in rows, trying not to leave too many  dangling or  tangled. Amanda listened and  I felt a genuine connection, not to Amanda-Palmer-the-rock-star, but to Amanda-Palmer-the-human-being.  For those few minutes not one person interrupted us–not with words or bodies or impatient eyes–and I felt like we were inside the fairy circle in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, protected by old magic. (Ocean is the most recent  book by Neil Gaiman, who is married to Amanda, and it is a book I already cherish. A post about that will happen when I can find the words.)

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by T Palmer

When it was time to move on, I ended up with the task of keeping Amanda’s kimono from harm, which somehow felt important. (It was the very same kimono featured in her recent musical retort to the British tabloid The Daily Mail.) Later, when she needed the kimono for photos, she asked me to hold her phone and take some pictures. That led to me becoming the “official” cell phone photographer, trying to capture candid moments happening before, after, and around each person’s formal picture with Amanda. I had great fun balancing two, three, and sometimes four cell phones, trying to catch the sweet, poignant, and happy moments of connection between Amanda and her fans.

Watching those connections allowed me to notice and observe the spirit of the night, quietly and beautifully shaped and guided by Amanda: a transcendent mix of art, conversation, hugs, tears, and courage.  In a recent blog post Amanda wrote about the power of  the house parties and the atmosphere of pure connection that pervades them. Last night, fifty strangers chose trust over fear and created something real together. What we created was the very thing that fascinated me as a child and started me dreaming and writing, curating and creating Cabaret Church. 

Even now, long past childhood, I am fascinated by the possibilities of the human project I first saw in church. I still long for a community where people support and challenge each other to break free from a culture that wants us to exhaust and anesthetize ourselves with conformity and consumerism. I’m still determined to spend my life trying to create and support spaces where people can grow and become more authentic, courageous, and kind. I saw that happen last night, around and within me.

There’s a lot to be learned from these amazing gatherings that could help make church more relevant, meaningful, and fun. And there are and will always be things we can learn from old spiritual wisdom, tradition and practice.  As Amanda told me last night, “We suffer from the separation of church and art.” Maybe it’s time for a reunion.

Special thanks to Andy, Siouxi, Dave, Kate, Amanda and all the other wonderful people who made last night possible.

SERMON: "The Integrity of Pride"

utah pride logo

Opening Words
Rev. Walter Royal Jones Jr.

Mindful of truth every exceeding our knowledge
And community ever exceeding our practice,
Reverently we covenant together,
Beginning with ourselves as we are,
To share the strength of integrity
And the heritage of the spirit
In the unending quest for wisdom and love.

Meditation
Spirit of Life, Source of Beauty, Great Mystery,
On this beautiful morning we give thanks.

We give thanks for this precious day. We know each day is important.  Help us meet this day with reverence, with joy, with intention.  Help us use it to its fullest, to meet whatever life has brought our way.

If life has brought grief, help us grieve well. Help us acknowledge the depth of our sorrow and not hide from its tenderness.  For we know that we grieve when we have loved.  We grieve when we have allowed ourselves to hope.  We grieve when something precious has been lost to us. Help us grieve honestly, moving through our sorrow to healing.

If life has brought us joy, help us celebrate well.  Help us stop and notice the blessings we have been given and acknowledge all those who have helped make them possible.  Help gratitude grow our spirits and teach us to be generous in return.  Help us celebrate honestly and graciously, knowing that joy is a gift.

If life has brought us confusion, help us learn well.  Help us sort through the tangled threads that seem an unfathomable knot.  Help us make peace with mystery, while seeking wisdom.  Help us let go of fear, nurturing the seeds of faith that lie in every confusing time.  Help us remember that seeking can, in itself, be an answer.

If life has brought us boredom, help us break out of the illusion of smallness.  Expand our minds and spirits until we can imagine a thousand ways to be kind, a thousand things we can do to make life better, for ourselves or someone else.  Help us be daring as we decide what to do with this day.

If life has brought us too much to do, too much to hold, too much to manage, help us find a spirit of calm amidst it all.  Help us remember to nurture peace of mind as well as peace in our homes and in the world.  Remind us to slow down, center ourselves, and be present to what really matters.

On this beautiful morning, we take time to give thanks.  We know that today is important. Help us meet it with reverence, with joy, with intention.  Help us use today to its fullest.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

Reading
from “Gaiety of Soul” an interview with James Broughton

Wherever I hurt, wherever I tingle, whenever I weep, whenever I guffaw, my soul is humming.  It flexes with my desires and responses, my longing and my ailing.  It operates in my heart, my deep guts, and my genitals.  My soul entangles me in fantasies and surprising emotions.  It is the playground of my instincts.  Denials cripple it, denunciations squinch it… It does not want to play safe, to be insured, or think twice. It wants to plunge, to risk all, and live it out…Don’t make Adam’s mistake.  Choose joy, not reason.

“Those who see any difference between the soul and the body have neither,” said Oscar Wilde.  The soul expresses itself throughout the body, in its members, organs, nerves, and cells, in all actions of desire and daring… whenever you ache and wherever you soar. Every nook and cranny of yourself can flutter and stretch, exude and hum, in experiencing the pleasures and pains of being alive. The body is a holy place of romp and renewal.  It is not the shameful sewer that orthodox religions insist upon.  Novalis said, “There is only one temple in the world, and that is the human body.” From your tiptoe to your topknot , you are throbblingly alive in the dance of the diving mystery…We are each of us a whole universe right here and now; we are each a Godbody.

Gaiety has no gender barriers.  Isn’t joyfulness available to all?  I do not condone heterophobia any more than I do other prejudices. I am uncomfortable with the dichotomy of Them against Us.  I believe in the potential redemption of all…souls.  Look for all that is beautiful in [people,] despite appearances to the contrary.  Look for the radiance behind the mask of every face.  Though you may not want to believe it, every other human being is as divine as you are.

Sermon

As is often true on Gay Pride Sunday, we are small in numbers here at the church today. Many of our members, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight are downtown marching in the gay pride parade.  Every other year, I march too.  But this is my year to be here and to preach about the topic of Pride and specifically, to preach about why we, as Unitarian Universalists, have supported Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender rights and Pride for so long.

This year we’ve borrowed the concept of Pride as the focus for our entire month.  Last week I talked a little bit about pride and about how it can be a positive thing in anyone’s life.  Today, I want to talk more specifically about Pride as a powerful political and personal tool.  I want to explore with you what we have to learn from Gay pride.

Most of us have felt the power of shame in our lives.  Shame and violence are the two most powerful tools of social control that exist in human communities.  They are used to keep us all in line, to keep us quiet, to batter our self-esteem and defeat our sense of strength.  Usually, shame comes first and usually it is enough to keep us in line.  Little boys who are sensitive, tender-hearted, and creative are usually the first to feel the powerful effects of shaming.  It may begin subtly, but very quickly boys—all boys—learn that if they cry or laugh too much, or if they prefer nurturing play to competition, or if they are more compassionate than tough—they will feel the power and pain of shame.

Girls, of course, feel it too—though there is a bit more room in our society for the tomboy.  Still, if a girl doesn’t care about how she looks, or if she wants to rebuild an engine instead of becoming a cheerleader, or if she prefers robots or fishing to Disney princesses—she too will quickly learn the power and pain of shame.

And let’s not forget the kids who don’t fit the gender dichotomy at all.  They ones who can’t jam themselves neatly into a gender box—they feel the power and pain of shame every day, and sadly, most often their parents are counseled, even urged, to be the first to shame their kids into gender conformity.

Shame is everywhere if you are gay.  Walking down the street every day, I hear kids say to one another, “That is so gay.”  They don’t mean happy.  They mean “stupid” or “unattractive” or “embarrassing” or “unacceptable.” In popular culture, “That’s so gay” is the ultimate insult.  But shame is not always that blatant.  As we get older, we tend to be a little more subtle.  So my adult friends don’t say, “That’s so gay.”

Instead, they wonder why gay people have to so obvious—so “in your face”—about being gay.  They wonder why we can’t just be quiet about it. I mean, why do we need a parade and t-shirts and to talk about our lives and experience all the time?

Rev. Mark Belletini was one of the first openly gay UU ministers. When he graduated from seminary, he had a very hard time finding a congregation that could see him for the amazing minister he was and is instead of just seeing—and fearing—him as a gay man.  Later, when he had found a place where he could minister, he wrote this:

Gay and Lesbian Studies 101

And so one of the members
of the search committee asks me
“But why do you people?”
he really said that, “you people”
“have to talk about it?”
Right.
Well, because:
Because if I feel in love,
You know, with sonnets and everything,
and wanted to name all the stars of heaven
one at a time with a goofy smile on my face
I’d love to be able to.
Because, if I didn’t fall in love,
I’d like to grouse a bit,
or work up a bitter Theory
to explain it.
Because, if my lover got run over
by a drunk driver
(it happens, you know,
remember blue-eyed Stewart?)
I’d like to be able to take a few days off work
to cry and stuff, OK?
Because, if my partner-in-life
whom I can’t really legally marry because
it upsets someone’s stomach or something
suddenly developed an infection
and got Job’s sores all over this body
And had to go to the hospital
(you know, just like my friend Stephen)
I’d like to take him there
and hold his hand for a few days
and still get paid on family emergency leave
so I could eat food and pay rent and all….
Because lying all the time is still wrong, isn’t it?
Oh, and because,
whether you believe it or not,
my life is just as important to me
as yours is to you.

Shame is a powerful way to keep people silent and isolated.  When someone like Mark speaks, it interrupts that.  When thousands of someones march under rainbow colored balloons right down the main streets of Salt Lake City, it helps break through the layers of shame that try so hard to suffocate the spirit.

That is why I know we can all learn something important from Gay Pride: because shame is not reserved in our culture for people who are gay.  Shame is let loose on every one of us any time we are a little bit “queer”—any time we stop hiding the fact that we’re different in some way from the norms that surround us.  The message of shame is always “you’d better not let anyone know.”  Shame cuts a person off from some part of themselves. Shame convinces us that we have to hide and hold back and never let anyone know that we aren’t just like the Joneses and everyone else.  And that hiding and holding back—and especially the deep sense of inadequacy that grows from them—damages the human spirit.

I’m going to say that again, because I think it is vitally important.  Shame damages the human spirit.  It attacks people at the deepest part of their being and convinces them that they are not worthy, not important, not good enough, not acceptable as they are.  And that is in direct contradiction to what we, as Unitarian Universalists, hold to be true.  Shame does not believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  In fact, shame destroys that dignity.

That is why we all have something to learn from gay pride.  That’s why we should listen closely to anyone who has found the strength to stand up and claim their dignity in the face of shame.
Because what pride is about—Gay pride or any kind of healthy pride—is integrity.  Integrity that puts all the pieces of a life back together again and says, “All that I am is okay.”  One of my colleagues, Rev. Keith Kron, preaches a sermon that begins by describing the double life he had to lead as a gay public school teacher.  Then, toward the end of the sermon, he blesses the listeners by wishing them one life—a single, integrated life of integrity.

When someone like James Broughton breaks through shame to write the words we heard in our reading, we should listen.  Because when he moved from shame to pride, he didn’t stop there. He didn’t just say, “I’m proud, now get out of my way.”  He came to understand one of the great spiritual lessons.  He realized that every person is divine, every person is a whole universe right here and now, every person matters and is holy.  He learned the lesson of integrity and compassion—lessons interwoven and revealed in the journey from shame to pride.

Rev. William Sinkford, president of our Association, who was here with us just a few weeks ago to celebrate, says this:

We know from our own experience the many blessings that gay and lesbian people bring to our communities and congregations. We know from our lived experience in religious community that differences of faith, of race and of sexual orientation need not divide us, that diversity within the human family can be a blessing and not a curse. Unitarian Universalists affirm that it is the presence of love and commitment that we value. For Unitarian Universalists, it is homophobia that is the sin, not homosexuality.

It is the presence of love that we value—and the presence of pride that allows people to love themselves and love others with integrity and honesty. This is what we have in common with every single person who is marching downtown this morning, marching for integrity, for love, and for pride.  May we join them in spirit and in the struggle to make a place for more love in our communities.

In the words of Rev. Kendyll Gibbons:

There comes a time—to break the silence.
There comes a time—to move beyond the fear.
There comes a time—to speak one’s truth, even if it will not be welcome.
There comes a time—to call into question what has gone before;
To resist the weight of the past.
There comes a time—for the singing of a new song,
For a different way of being,
For the claiming of power.
There comes a time—when the truth shall at last make us free.
One day, blessedly, the practiced lie dies on our lips,
And the truth becomes more precious than the same, and the pretending ends.
There comes a time—when somehow courage finds us, or we find courage,
And we dare to know who we are, and what we love.
There comes a time—when friends are there,
Holding us so gently in their love
That all at once the impossible is possible,
And we cross over to the other side of whatever bondage held us.
There comes a time—when the truth at last makes us free,
And in that moment is the salvation of the world.

May it be so. May we be the ones who make it so.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

Closing Words
By Rev. Frederick E. Gillis

May the love that overcomes all differences,
that heals all wounds,
that puts to flight all fears,
that reconciles all who are separated,
Be in us and among us
now and always. Amen.

It wasn't me…really

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The photo is blurry, I know, but Cedric swears he had nothing to do with the toilet paper all over the house. See how much he’s grown? His adult coat is coming in and his puppy baby teeth are falling out. Oh…and his middle name should be “Trouble.”

Making Friends

He is starting to make friends with the cats…sort of. This is a pretty good picture of Tucker’s attitude about the whole puppy thing. But they are actually touching. And that’s Tucker’s “alpha cat”spot on the back of the couch.