Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Poet and Prophet

So saddened to hear of the death of poet and prophet Maya Angelou.  So many of her poems have meant so much to me, from "Phenomenal Woman" to "Still I Rise" to "On the Pulse of Morning" to "A Brave and Startling Truth" to "Amazing Peace."

No words can sum up the beauty and majesty and deep soul of Maya Angelou, except her own. 

Every year on Christmas Eve I've included "Amazing Peace."  It's a poem that's come to mean a great deal to me.  Here's a clip of it, after some interview:


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UUA Surprises! Cool New Principles Version!

Tom Schade has dubbed the rebranding effort of the UUA a #thanklesstask. Yeah, he's right. And I don't want to heap on the criticism.  I believe the UUA is working hard to turn our ship in the right direction, and this is the work that they ought to be doing, and they're getting a lot of flack about it, much of which is unfair.

But...

You know how I've been saying that the UUA has been telling us "more is coming" and the logo was just the "tip of the iceberg" with regards to the branding?  And, at the same time, nobody has published the roadmap of where they're going, and even when you're asking, they won't tell you what it is? And how Dawn Cooley said, "surprised people react poorly"? 

Well...

As reported in Boston Magazine:
Proverb also worked with the UUs to shorten their seven core principles, making them easier to remember, and has suggested putting them into “some sort of acronym form so that they’re easier to pull up quickly in your brain,” Needham says. “We don’t know if that will fly.”
Let me say briefly, that I'm SURE what they meant was not "we've shortened the principles" but "we've created a shorter version of the principles...for marketing purposes."  That's OF COURSE what was meant.  They know that the principles are important and core to you, and they're not really just mucking with them.   

Now...

Um, let me just guess that people are going to be surprised.  And if the UUA logo was conflated with the sacred symbol of the flaming chalice, well then the Principles in the UUA Bylaws are conflated with scripture or creed, even though we'll quickly tell you they aren't a creed.

I hope the reaction will be love, support, excitement, and thanks to the UUA.  They deserve it, because this is really a good idea.  This week I was trying to envision what seven principle banners could look like in our sanctuary, and the wordiness was a big problem, but the kid's version was too simplistic.  An acronymn seems like a good idea, as long as it doesn't spell out something like FRACKER.  (Free and responsible, Respect for the interdependent, Acceptance of one another, Compassion, ummm.... Karmic inherent worth and dignity?, Equity, Right of conscience.)  The other mnemonic devices people have come up with -- pairing them with rainbow colors, using the image of an arch -- have been good, but UUs do love our acronyms

What I'm afraid of is that they're going to get a lot of people upset that they took on this #thanklesstask.  And that the stakeholders are going to be very, well, surprised.  Be prepared -- my prediction is a lot of acting poorly will ensue.

Do you remember the hubbub when a former UUA president said something about how the word "God" should be in the principles?  Or at least that's what people heard.  What was said was more like:

"We have in our Principles an affirmation of our faith which uses not one single piece of religious language. Not one. Not even one word that would be considered traditionally religious. And that is a wonderment to me; I wonder whether this kind of language can adequately capture who we are and what we're about."

People were surprised.  Much debate followed.  Many people said upset things about the UUA.  Humanists felt like they were being pushed out and unwanted.  People felt like the UUA was trying to change the principles, and that wasn't okay with them. 

Some of this was good.  We had a lively conversation in our tradition about "the language of reverence."  But there was no Twitter or Facebook back then.  The conversation happened in individual clusters of people, by e-mail, in our seminaries and other institutions, and on the fledgling blogosphere. And so the whole discussion was more subdued than it might be now. 

UUA, I love you and I think you're doing the right thing -- but when we're asking for the roadmap, even scouring the UUA webpage, the UUA board meeting minutes, the UUA world, and the VUU and blogosphere looking for the signposts (yeah, I have), as well as asking in independent conversations, give it to the stakeholders before Boston Magazine sometimes?  Mmkay?  That's all.  No feelings hurt.  Enough said.  Love ya. 

And don't be surprised that not everybody will love this.  Hopefully I'm wrong and we'll all go, "Wow!  Awesome!" and abandon, for a brief moment, our culture of critique.

Heck, that could happen.  Let's give it a shot, everyone. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stand Like a Fat Superhero

Yesterday, a presentation by a colleague about body movement and its effects on physiology drew my attention to this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy:


The point of her talk is that standing or sitting in "power stances" can not just change how people see you, they can change yourself.  Just two minutes of standing like a superhero can increase your testosterone and decrease your cortisol -- in other words, your stress goes down and your confidence goes up.  People who did two minutes of power poses before interviews were more likely to get the job.

Cuddy doesn't belabor the point, but she starts off interested in this question because of a gendered effect she was seeing of women in business school not participating as much, and therefore not succeeding as much. 


I remember in seminary noticing this effect, although I didn't notice the science behind it.  I remember sitting on the sofa in the Curtis Room at Meadville Lombard, and a male student came and sat next to me.  He sat down immediately into one of Cuddy's power poses -- arms stretched out along the back of the sofa, legs open.  (Almost exactly the pose that's in the upper left of the image above.)  He seemed to own the space that he occupied, and the space that I occupied as well.  Now there's nothing wrong with that, but I remember thinking, "Wow.  You never see a woman spread herself over a space like that."  And, generally, that's pretty true.  My male colleague felt comfortable in a power pose in a public setting, and I did not.  The problem isn't that he did.  Rather, the problem is that women often don't own their space the same way.  And the result is both chicken and egg -- we don't have the increased confidence that would have us taking such stances, but the lack of taking such stances also diminishes confidence.  Putting yourself in a "closed" position decreases your testosterone and increases your cortisol. 

Regarding the "superhero" pose, I remember vividly a time when I struck that pose.  I was auditioning for a play, Captain Fantastic, my junior year in high school.  As part of the audition, we were asked to strike the superhero pose, and I did so.  And the room broke up in laughter.  I attributed it to a size issue.  I wasn't obese, but I was buxom, and that apparently made the superhero stance humorous.  But my learning that day was that I wasn't a superhero, by body type.  I was cast as the school principle instead. (This is not all bad.  Despite not being a superhero, the principle was in every single scene and had more lines than anyone other than the two leads.  So it was a better part.  And it remains my largest theatrical role to date.)

I've thought a lot over the years as I've become a fat person about the way that fat people are shamed by society, and how that makes us alter our stance.  If it's rare to see a woman in a power pose, it's even more rare to see a fat person in one.  We're taught, I think, that we take up so much space already that we must put our body into "closed" positions to minimize the effect, rather than taking up even more space in an "open" position. What I hadn't realized was that the way we alter our stance not only changes how people see us, it alters ourselves, as well.

I thought about this as I heard a report on NPR on the way home from that same collegial meeting yesterday that said fat people don't run as much for public office, and when they do they lose at a high rate -- and for women it's worse than men.  (Couldn't find the NPR link, but here's the same study reported on CBS.)  It wouldn't be surprising if this prejudice also affected other highly public image-conscience jobs, like ministry.  In fields that's are much about authority and power, I wondered what the power stance effect might be, and how that might be relating to weight.  Part of the problem with the politicians not getting elected -- or ministers not getting called -- is probably the public's perception and negative image of fat people.  But we also know that the power stance thing can influence people's performance.  Negative self-image and negative perception by others form a loop where each influences the other, and it can be a downward spiral or an upward spiral. 

There are things other people can do to break the spiral.  After posting about fat shaming last year, I got some push-back.  The fat-shamers believe this: "Fat is bad for you. If I shame you about your fat, you might lose it.  That would be good for you.  If I accept your fat, you won't lose it.  That's bad for you."  The truth is this:  Increase fat acceptance leads to more confident fat people.  Fat people who are more confident will more often take stances that decrease their cortisol.  This, in turn, will decrease their appetite and cravings.  A person who truly cares about the health and well-being of someone will praise, not shame, that person.  And I don't mean just praising weight-loss efforts -- we understand those for the back-handed compliments they are.  I mean praising a person's awesomeness just the way they are.  That's what other people can do. 

And for fat people, this is the little thing we can do to break that spiral, as well.  I believe fat people are often putting themselves into a "closed" position that increases their stress levels and decreases their confidence.  And, not surprisingly, increased cortisol also increases appetite and cravings, and decreases muscle mass.  And it increases depression. Doing the opposite -- adopting the open power stances can reverse the cycle. 

So today, I'm telling myself and fat people everywhere:  you are a superhero.  Stand like one.  For at least two minutes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014-2015 Liturgical Calendar

Every year during July, I take a few days and put together a spreadsheet of the upcoming year's worship services.  I've begun early this year, because of some changes that I'm proposing with my worship committee, so I'm trying to draft an early calendar this spring.  I go through a lot of steps when I'm creating this, and I'm guessing many other ministers do, too.  I don't know of anywhere that posts something that's like what I do, so I thought I would share this year.

My process begins with just listing all the Sundays in the year (easy to do in a spreadsheet -- enter two or three in the column, then drag down for 52 cells and it'll fill it in).  And then I just add in Christmas Eve. 

The next step is more laborious.  I enter all the holidays and recognition days I can think of for the following year.  The rule is that I enter each holiday by the Sunday preceding it, unless it falls on a Sunday.  I use a calendar of world religions at interfaithcalendar.org, and look up the year's secular holidays such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, etc.  I add in some of the awareness months -- a handy list is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commemorative_months.  There are a handful of holidays that are neither national nor religious but liberal sacred days I try to remember, such as Coming Out Day and Earth Day, and I look up the dates for those, or plug them in if they're always the same.  My church recognizes the Season for Nonviolence, so I add that in.  I add in any UU history dates that I'm aware of, particularly Flower Communion.  This year is the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, along with the deaths of UUs James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, so I've made sure to add those in.  And then I try to figure out any dates that UU organizations are particularly promoting.  I don't have many of these yet -- dates aren't up for 2015 30 Days of Love from Standing on the Side of Love (although I've made a guess), or the 2015 Justice Sunday, or if there'll be some sort of UUA Association Sunday or the equivalent.  The UU-UNO usually has a Sunday, but it's on or near United Nations Day, which I mark.  This year I have a few other UU figures' birth or death dates in there, courtesy of a list of holidays much like this one, but shorter and monthly rather than weekly, from Scott Tayler for a group of people who use theme Sundays together. This year I've added to the calendar a remembrance of two individuals connected to our community who were murdered last year.  I've left that in here for this public version, but if you're copying this, you'll probably want to delete that out (see 12/7/14).  You'll also see that holidays and awareness months are slimmer in July -- but also I take July off, so I focus less on that month. 

The next column I work on is a column of my important dates.  I enter the days for General Assembly, Regional Assembly, UUMA Chapter meetings, Ohio River Group, and the MidAmerica Region Board meetings.  This helps me to know what Sundays I might need to schedule off either because I'll be out of town or because I'll be so busy that week that I'll wish I had scheduled the Sunday off. 

Once all that is done, I begin to plan my preaching schedule -- which days I'm on and which days I'm off.  And since our musician plays 2 (or maybe 3 now, with hymn-sharing between Sundays) Sundays per month, I start to figure out which days are most important for him to be there (for example: Ingathering, Easter, Flower Communion), and figure out a proposed schedule for him, that he will then manipulate according to his travel schedule.

The whole calendaring process takes a good chunk of time.  Getting to this point has taken me the better part of two days.  And since the holiday step is so laborious, I thought I would share that, in the hopes that it might save somebody else some work.  Also, if there are holiday, holy day, or remembrance dates you would add on your own calendar, tell me in the comments.




Date
Holidays & Remembrance Days
Conference Schedule
8/3/2014
Art Appreciation Month

8/10/2014
Art Appreciation Month

8/17/2014
Art Appreciation Month

8/24/2014
Art Appreciation Month

8/31/2014
Art Appreciation Month; 9/1: Labor Day

9/7/2014
Hispanic Heritage Month; Suicide Awareness Month;
9/5-6: MidAmerica Board, Starved Rock, IL
9/14/2014
Hispanic Heritage Month; Suicide Awareness Month;

9/21/2014
Hispanic Heritage Month; Suicide Awareness Month; 9/24-26: Rosh Hashanah; 9/22: Mabon, Equinox

9/28/2014
Hispanic Heritage Month, Suicide Awareness Month; 9/22 Peace Corps birthday, 9/29 Cervantes birthday, 9/30 John Murray preaches first sermon in US, 10/4: Yom Kippur; 10/4-7: Eid al Adha

10/5/2014
Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Pastor Appreciation Month; National Book Month; 10/7: Afghan Invasion Anniversary; 10/11: Coming Out Day
10/5-8: HUUMA, Pokagon, IN
10/12/2014
Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Pastor Appreciation Month; National Book Month; 10/13: Columbus Day

10/19/2014
Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Pastor Appreciation Month; National Book Month; 10/23: Divali, 10/24: United Nations Day; 10/25 Pablo Picasso birthday

10/26/2014
Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Pastor Appreciation Month; National Book Month; 10/26: Reformation Day; 10/27 Michael Servatus Dies; 10/31 Anniversary of UU Merger; 10/31 Luther's 95 Theses; 10/31 Halloween; 11/1: All Saints; 11/1: Samhain; 11/2: All Souls

11/2/2014
Adoption Awareness Month, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Alzheimer's Awreness Month, Family Caregivers Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); 11/4: Election Day;

11/9/2014
Adoption Awareness Month, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Alzheimer's Awreness Month, Family Caregivers Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); 11/11: Veteran's Day; 11/9: Carl Sagan's Birthday

11/16/2014
Adoption Awareness Month, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Alzheimer's Awreness Month, Family Caregivers Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); 11/22: National Adoption Day
11/10-13: Ohio River Group, Dayton, OH; 11/14-15: MidAmerica Board, Location TBD
11/23/2014
Adoption Awareness Month, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Alzheimer's Awreness Month, Family Caregivers Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); 11/24: Origin of the Species published; 11/27: Thanksgiving

11/30/2014
Adoption Awareness Month, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Alzheimer's Awreness Month, Family Caregivers Month, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); 12/6: St. Nicholas' Day

12/7/2014
Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month, Seasonal Depression Awareness Month, 12/5: Anniversary of Chris Keith & Isaac Miller's Deaths

12/14/2014
Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month, Seasonal Depression Awareness Month, 12/16-24: Hanukkah, 12/14: Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shootings

12/21/2014
Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month, Seasonal Depression Awareness Month, 12/16-24: Hanukkah; 12/21: Yule, Solstice; 12/25 Christmas

12/24/2014
Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month, Seasonal Depression Awareness Month, 12/16-24: Hanukkah; 12/25 Christmas

12/28/2014
Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month, Seasonal Depression Awareness Month,

1/4/2015
Poverty in America Awareness Month; 1/5: Twelfth Night

1/11/2015
Poverty in America Awareness Month

1/18/2015
Poverty in America Awareness Month; 1/18: Baha'i World Reigion Day; 1/19: MLK Day; 1/21: National Hug Day

1/25/2015
Poverty in America Awareness Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence

2/1/2015
Black History Month; Teen Dating Violence Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/2 Groundhog Day, Imbolc, St. Brigid's Day, Candlemas; 2/7: Charles Dickens' Birthday

2/8/2015
Black History Month; Teen Dating Violence Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/14: Valentine's Day; 2/12: Darwin's Birthday; 2/13 Susan B. Anthony's Birthday

2/15/2015
Black History Month; Teen Dating Violence Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/17: Mardi Gras; 2/18: Ash Wednesday; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 2/19: Chinese New Year

2/22/2015
Black History Month; Teen Dating Violence Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 2/26: 50th anniversary -- murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson

3/1/2015
Women's History Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 3/7: 50th Anniversary -- March from Selma, "Bloody Sunday"

3/8/2015
Women's History Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 3/11: James Reeb Murdered -- 50th Anniversary; 3/12: Lincoln's Birthday; 3/13: Susan B. Anthony's Death; 3/9: 50th anniversary -- 2nd march from Selma "Turnaround Tuesday"

3/15/2015
Women's History Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 3/17: St. Patrick's Day; 3/20: First Day of Spring, Equinox, Ostara; 3/21: Naw Ruz, Nooruz

3/22/2015
Women's History Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 3/21: 3rd March from Selma to Montgomery --50th anniversary; 3/25: Viola Liuzzo murdered -- 50th anniversary

3/29/2015
Women's History Month; 1/30-4/4: Season for Nonviolence; 2/18-4/2: Lent; 3/29: Palm Sunday; 4/1: April Fool's Day; 4/1: Dr. Seuss' birthday; 4/3-11: Passover

4/5/2015
Jazz Appreciation Month; National Poetry Month; Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Child Abuse Prevention Month; Autism Awareness Month; 4/5: Easter; 4/3-11: Passover; 4/7: William Ellery Channing's birthday

4/12/2015
Jazz Appreciation Month; National Poetry Month; Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Child Abuse Prevention Month; Autism Awareness Month; 4/16 Yom Ha'Shoah

4/19/2015
Jazz Appreciation Month; National Poetry Month; Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Child Abuse Prevention Month; Autism Awareness Month; 4/22: Earth Day
4/15-17: HUUMA, Naperville, IL; 4/17-19: MidAmerica Regional Assembly, Naperville, IL
4/26/2015
Jazz Appreciation Month; National Poetry Month; Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Child Abuse Prevention Month; Autism Awareness Month; 4/30: Hosea Ballou's birthday; 5/1: Beltane, May Day; 5/1: International Workers Day

5/3/2015
Jewish Americans Heritage Month; Foster Care Month; 5/5: Cinco de Mayo

5/10/2015
Jewish Americans Heritage Month; Foster Care Month; 5/10: Mother's Day;

5/17/2015
Jewish Americans Heritage Month; Foster Care Month;
5/15-16: MidAmerica Board, Location TBD
5/24/2015
Jewish Americans Heritage Month; Foster Care Month; 5/25 Emerson's birthday; 5/25 Memorial Day; 5/25: Pentecost

5/31/2015
Jewish Americans Heritage Month; Foster Care Month; 6/4: Capek celebrates 1st Flower Communion

6/7/2015
LGBT Pride Month; 6/18-7/17: Ramadan

6/14/2015
LGBT Pride Month; 6/18-7/17: Ramadan

6/21/2015
LGBT Pride Month; 6/18-7/17: Ramadan; 6/21: Father's Day; 6/21: Solstice, Litha; 6/25: Olympia Brown ordained

6/28/2015
LGBT Pride Month; 6/18-7/17: Ramadan; 7/4: Independence Day
6/22-24: Ministry Days, 6/24-28: GA, Portland, OR
7/5/2015
6/18-7/17: Ramadan; 7/18-21: Eid al Fitr

7/12/2015
6/18-7/17: Ramadan; 7/18-21: Eid al Fitr

7/19/2015


7/26/2015
8/1: Lughnasadh

8/2/2015
Art Appreciation Month

Monday, May 12, 2014

Guest Blog: Kairos, Engagement, and Marriage in Little Rock

Guest Blog Entry by the Rev. Jennie Ann Barrington, Interim Minister for The Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas; May 12, 2014

“There is a creative tendency in the universe to produce worthwhile things, and moments come when we can work with it and it can work through us. But the tendency in the universe to produce worthwhile things is by no means omnipotent. (It is not all-powerful; we have to work with it; we have to do our part.) Other forces work against it. This creative principle is everywhere. It is a continuing process. Insofar as you partake of this creative process, you partake of the divine, and that participation is your immortality, reducing the question of whether your individuality survives the death of the body to the estate of irrelevancy. Our true destiny, as co-creators in the universe, is our dignity and our grandeur.” (Alfred North Whitehead)

This weekend I realized I was wrong. I’ve never been enamored of officiating weddings for people who know nothing about the congregation I serve, nor about Unitarian Universalism, but they like the look of our building and grounds, and are under the impression that UU ministers will marry anybody, and the focus of their ceremony seems too much on frills and party favors, rather than on the essence of the marriage, itself. I had even told the board and the Ministry Committee that I would be saying no to requests for weddings from couples who had no relationship to our church. It is true that, when I have been able to do such weddings in the past, that has given a group of people a favorable impression of Unitarian Universalism. But I felt my time serving the UU Church of Little Rock would be better spent on strengthening it as an institution, and caring for its members and friends. This weekend I knew I had to reverse that decision, and be sure that the congregation knew. So I talked with the Church Administrator and the website manager, who then gladly sent out this announcement:

“In light of the recent decision by Judge Chris Piazza of the 6th Circuit Court that the ban on gay marriage in Arkansas is unconstitutional, gay couples were able to obtain marriage licenses for the first time in Eureka Springs on Saturday morning, where 15 marriages were performed.  In anticipation of couples in Pulaski County seeking licenses on Monday morning, our Rev. Jennie will be going to the County Courthouse tomorrow to be available to perform marriages for gay couples. She feels this is an historic event in Arkansas and wishes to be part of this joyful occasion.”

Judge Piazza (Bless his heart!) discerned that Arkansas’ previous prohibitions on gay marriage were wrong, just as the prohibitions against the Lovings’ marriage were wrong. He felt deeply that they needed to be reversed. The end of his ruling is exquisite: “The hatred and fears (against the Lovings) have long since vanished, and (they) lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.”

So Sunday night I drove to the church to create a sample same-gender wedding ceremony and print it out, and picked up everything I thought I’d need, including my credentials to legally officiate marriages in Arkansas. Then I called my colleague, the Rev. Cindy Landrum, in Jackson, Michigan. A similar scenario has recently occurred in her state, and she rose to the occasion. I told her what I had amassed to bring with me, and asked her if I’d forgotten anything. “An ink pen,” she added, helpfully. “Got it,” I said, “I have two!” I did not know how many couples would be there in the morning. The news articles said there would be long lines of people. Cindy said that I might have to do several ceremonies at once, inserting the couples’ names, then sign the licenses all in a row, then do several more ceremonies. I prefer not to do weddings, nor baby blessings, that way. But I was prepared to do whatever would be most helpful. I also asked Cindy how long we might have on Monday before there was a stay. She thought maybe half a day. As it was, after a couple hours, we heard that Judge Piazza refused the stay, so we had all day for the officiating and recording of gay marriages.

The atmosphere was boisterous, celebratory, and amiable. I was given a nametag that said “Officiant” by people with official-looking clipboards. For the first several hours, there were at least fifteen Officiants in addition to me. So we did not have to do “mass weddings;” we were able to give each couple personal attention. Some Officiants were clergy, and some were lay people. I felt that all of us were committed to giving the gay couples the right to be married that they should have had a long time ago. There were writers and photographers from the media all around us, respectfully asking if they could publish our names and pictures. And there were many volunteers and people who had come to cheer us on, offering to take pictures or record the ceremonies on the couples’ phones. Many of them had name tags that said, “I’m an Ally – Free Hugs!” This meant a lot to me because I have been trained to advocate for gay rights, empowered to do so, I would even say charged to do so. But the allies, friends, and family were there because of their deep personal commitment, without any official role to bolster them on. I heard several people say that they have been fighting for this cause for at least twenty-five years. Throughout the day, we all kept spontaneously crying at the realization of the magnitude of the right of gay people to marry in the state of Arkansas. The timing of this wonderful court decision took me by surprise. But the fact that Arkansas is the first Bible Belt state to have legal gay marriages does not surprise me. I have found the people of this state to be christian in the broadest and best sense of the word. When I moved here in July (from Indiana and, before that, from New England) every time I turned around, people were feeding me—delicious food, rich conversation, warm fellowship. I found this astonishing. But, to them, it is simply what they do for someone who is in transition. People here notice when someone is in need, and do what they can to help, to share what they have, to even the playing field. They give people rides, provide home hospitality, and lend a caring ear. So I was not surprised that what I experienced in the rotunda of the courthouse today was an ethos of graciousness. Why on earth shouldn’t gay people be given the same rights of marriage that heterosexual people have?

I first started asking that question back when I was a seminary student in Maine, in the mid-1990s. At that time, I did not have any official role from which to speak up for gay rights. I was a secretary in a small law office in Portland, Maine, and a “temp” at that. The battle my friends and neighbors were fighting then wasn’t even for gay marriage. It was simply to keep discrimination out of the Maine constitution against people who are gay, or perceived to be gay. I went to several “house parties” to learn from the organizers how to most effectively change people’s minds. One afternoon I was walking across a park and a local TV station was asking where people stood on the “No On One” campaign. They asked me, and I said, “I believe people who are gay should have the right to say publicly that the person they love most, and are committed to, is someone of the same gender, and not be discriminated against for that.” The interview was on the news that evening. (I remember I was wearing my black fisherman’s cap.) And I worried that the next morning I would be fired, because I knew that one of the partners in the law firm was a close friend of one of the organizers of the opposition to our campaign.

I was not fired from that law firm. But I still remember feeling, on the one hand, that I had no real power or influence to speak of, yet, on the other hand, I knew I had to speak out in order to be who I really am, in my core values, and also in my network of relationships. The people who came to the courthouse today had been told they were not allowed to ask, “Will you marry us? Legally?” Yet when they heard about Judge Piazza’s ruling, they came to us and asked, and we affirmed and applauded them. I am grateful that today, twenty years after that gay rights campaign in Maine, I now have the influence, credentials, and backing to spend a day at the courthouse of a capital city legalizing gay marriages. I am most grateful to the UU Church of Little Rock for having the resources, decision-making processes, and wherewithal to have brought me here. They were glad and proud about what I did at the courthouse today, and so were the many other people who sent me texts, cheering on me and my couples. There are moments in time when we must dare to claim our “agency” to be a vehicle for what is true and fair and gracious. Alfred North Whitehead said that that agency is divinely-endowed to all people. But it is up to all of us to recognize those moments of kairos, and bravely engage with each other, with systems of power, and with God.

Today I officiated twelve gay weddings. Each couple was unique, and very nice and appreciative. All of them wept. For the sample ceremony I brought with me, I cut out most of the extra words, knowing people would want the briefest of weddings, so they could be recorded before a stay was announced. So what are the essential parts of a wedding when you boil it down? Certainly not the frills and party favors and fancy attire. The couples looked like their most real and comfortable selves, and many came to the courthouse on a break in their work day. But I did say some opening words by way of blessing, including that marriage takes patience and courage. And we took time for the vows, including, “for better, for worse,” and “so long as we both shall live.” Some couples exchanged rings, some did not. But I did say a prayer for each of them. Then a pronouncement, a benediction, the kiss, and the presentation of the newly-married couple. Eight of the couples were women, four of them, men. Two were African American. One drove from Oklahoma. But most of them were from right here in Little Rock. What was the same about all of them is that marriage is really important to them--  important enough to walk into a room full of strangers, several of them with no attendants, worrying that there might be hate-filled protesters blocking their way (for the record, there was only one, and he was shooed away quite early in the day), and risk asking, “Is there someone who will help marry us?” The day has dawned that the majority is saying, “We do.”