Truth and Meaning: Who’s Next?

When my daughter was in her early teens, she went trick or treating with a couple of friends. Our town had a strict 6 to 8 p.m. curfew on Halloween, which was signaled by a siren from the Borough’s Fire Department. At 8:20, a police car pulled into my driveway and two police officers escorted my daughter to the door. They respectfully told me that my daughter was on the street after the curfew and had broken the rule.
I thanked them and, after they left, listened to my daughter’s indignant rant about her treatment. She said that she and her friends were just walking back home and that the police had no right to treat them like criminals. I told her that she knew the rule, had broken it, and been caught. End of discussion.
Today, however, I cannot help but think about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless other young black men being murdered on our streets by the police and their agents. What if my white daughter had been a black boy wearing a mask, maybe carrying a plastic sword? Would she have been treated with the same respect? Would she have been handcuffed, arrested, even shot? Would the police have arrived to drive me down to the morgue? Maybe not, but I am no longer as certain as I used to be.
Racism is alive, well and thriving in America today. Anyone who refutes that statement is ignoring the facts and rationalizing our history of racial violence and oppression, and the ongoing impact of poverty and privilege in this country. Racism must not be ignored. And racism cannot be conquered by the feeble efforts of politicians and officials looking to find excuses to justify these preventable and horrific tragedies.
Racism must be looked at straight in the eye. We must confront racism at every corner and label it for what it is — ignorant, unjust and unacceptable. As Americans, we have a duty as citizens to seek equal justice for all. And White Americans have a special duty to imagine their world if their skin was brown. Why should any American be treated differently by anyone, especially the police, simply because of their skin color?
Would Michael Brown have been killed if he was White? Would George Zimmerman have been acquitted if Trayvon Martin had been white? We will never know. But how many more times must this happen before we know the answer to those questions? Who has to die next until we are all convinced that racism must be exterminated if America has any hope of being the paragon of freedom and justice it purports to be?

More on Our Immigration Hypocrisy

The current crisis of children refugees flooding into America raises several interesting moral questions for this nation. Unless you are a descendant of our Native Peoples, you were once an immigrant to this land yourself. Where would you be now if your ancestors faced the hate now associated with those trying to immigrate into the United States and the incredible cost and bureaucracy of becoming a citizen?

But let’s put together a couple of interesting facts. The Center for Reproductive Rights regularly updates the list of countries and their laws regarding abortion. As of 2013, 61 countries (39 percent of the world’s population) live in countries where abortion is allowed without restriction regarding the reason. However, while the United States is included in this group, we know that reproductive justice is under assault in every state, while funding for poor families, health insurance and education is being cut.
In another 13 countries (23 percent of the population) abortion is legal on socioeconomic grounds and to preserve the life of the mother. Another 59 countries (14 percent of the population) only allow abortion to preserve the mother’s life, sometimes including not just her physical but also her mental health.
That means in 66 countries (just over one-quarter of people in the world) abortion is prohibited completely, or only allowed in cases where the woman’s physical life is threatened.
The children fleeing into our nation for refuge come largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Do you care to guess which of the above groups all three of these countries fall into? In Guatemala, abortion is only permitted to preserve the life of the woman. In El Salvador and Nicaragua, there are no exceptions granted to permit a woman to choose an abortion. Not to save her life. Not because of rape or incest. None.
So, if you consider yourself “pro-life,” where do you stand regarding these children pleading for your help? You believe that their mothers had no right to prevent their birth. And now these children are running away from almost certain torture and murder, begging for sanctuary from a country that promotes its morality across the globe. If you call yourself “pro-life” and are protesting protecting these children, then you should seriously re-evaluate your principles.
And let’s not forget who put these children in danger in the first place. Since 1946, the School of the Americas (ironically renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001) located at Fort Benning, Ga., has trained over 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.
These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into becoming refugees by those trained by the SOA. In all, the School of the Americas has produced a combined 329 graduates from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
So, the America we live in is the world’s paragon of freedom, liberty and justice. Our America also sells arms throughout the world — sometimes to both sides in a conflict. Our America also invades countries illegally when we have an interest in the region’s resources, but leave “unimportant” people to fend for themselves. And even when we were directly complicit in creating the instability, our America balks at helping the victims of our long history of covert interference.
I love my country. But I do not love everything our country does. I do not support our blithe ignorance of the needs of brave veterans, many of whom suffer physical and mental damage from their combat experiences. I do not support our protracted, unfounded and irrational efforts to withhold rights and benefits from people based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I do not support the increasing militarization of our police resulting in tragedies like the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And I especially do not support our worship of war, our arrogant and righteous attitude that our culture is inherently superior and our misguided priorities that treat corporations like people, and our people like expendable commodities.

Truth and Meaning: What Can We Do About Depression?

We are all struggling to understand the apparent suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams. How could someone with his talents and resources fail to cope with depression so much that he would take his own life? What can we do to fight this terrible illness before it takes the life of someone we know? The fact is that people who suffer from depression kill themselves every day. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Statistics estimate that around 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, or roughly one person every 15 minutes.
How is this possible? It is possible because those of us lucky enough to not suffer from this terrible disease do not understand it. According to Mental Health America, clinical depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting more than 19 million Americans each year. Depression can complicate other medical conditions, and can even be serious enough to lead to suicide. Depression can occur to anyone, at any age, and to people of any race or ethnic group. Depression is never a “normal” part of life, no matter what your age, gender or health situation.
Unfortunately, although about 70 percent of individuals with depression have a full remission of the disorder with effective treatment, fewer than half of those suffering from this illness seek treatment. Too many people resist treatment because they believe depression isn’t serious, that they can treat it themselves or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.
Symptoms of Clinical Depression:
  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Sleeping too much or too little, middle of the night or early morning waking
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment (such as chronic pain or digestive disorders)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
If you have five or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more, you could have clinical depression and should see your doctor or a qualified mental health professional for help.
 
Many things can contribute to clinical depression.
 
Biological: People with depression typically have too little or too much of certain brain chemicals, called “neurotransmitters.” Changes in these brain chemicals may cause or contribute to clinical depression.
 
Cognitive: People with negative thinking patterns and low self-esteem are more likely to develop clinical depression.
 
Gender: Women experience clinical depression at a rate that is nearly twice that of men. While the reasons for this are still unclear, they may include the hormonal changes women go through during menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Other reasons may include the stress caused by the multiple responsibilities that women have.
 
Co-occurrence: Clinical depression is more likely to occur along with certain illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and hormonal disorders.
 
Medications: Side effects of some medications can bring about depression.
 
Genetic: A family history of clinical depression increases the risk for developing the illness.
 
Situational: Difficult life events, including divorce, financial problems or the death of a loved one can contribute to clinical depression.
 
If you or someone you know is hurting, there is help. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. Anyone can also reach them online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Talk to someone — it can save a life. We MUST conquer the stigma that society places on all those who suffer from mental illness. So don’t wait — do it now.

Truth and Meaning: Our Immigration Hypocrisy

Use your imagination for a second. Let’s say that a radical conservative movement swept through Eastern Canada and took over control of the government. This movement does not just want French separatism, but to convert all of Canada to a French-speaking nation. In time, English-speaking Canadians start losing rights and are subjected to oppressive laws. Eventually, this regime starts imprisoning and physically attacking the pro-English advocates.

Suddenly thousands of white, English-speaking children start crossing the borders of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana. Fearful parents are sending their children away from possible harm by a violent government to a land that promotes freedom, equality and liberty.

Here is the question. If you support the protesters now yelling and screaming at Central American children fleeing murderous regimes, would you show up at the Canadian border with your guns in hand? In exactly the same situation, except that the children are white and speak English as their native language, would your reaction be the same? If it is taking a few seconds to consider your answer, then you have already answered the question. You are a racist.

A child is a child, whether their skin is white, brown or black, and the United States has the resources to protect children being threatened. In fact, the United States has an OBLIGATION to protect these children. Who do you think sold the tyrants in Central America their weapons? Who do you think trained these thugs in methods of torture and intimidation at the infamous School of the Americas? We did.

The United States has a responsibility for creating the unstable governments in Central America by being the world’s second largest arms dealer — only slightly behind Russia and far ahead of number three China — and through the actions of our “intelligence” community to interfere with other nations’ development. And now, the fruit of our efforts has come home to roost. When you sew violence and political corruption, whether you think your intentions were good or not, then you should be prepared to accept the consequences. Well, those consequences are showing up at our doorstep. And if we turn them away, then America stands for nothing but greed, arrogance and hypocrisy.

Letting Go of Religion

We spend our whole lives letting go. We let go of things, places, people and ideas. Sometimes letting go is easy — we make a gift to give to a friend, we leave one job for a better one, we pack our belongings and move into a new home.

Other times, letting go can be challenging — we end a relationship with a loved one, we lose an heirloom, a favorite store closes its doors. Sometimes, letting go can be traumatic. A thief steals a car or valuable property. A fire destroys your home. A cherished love one dies. But, perhaps most traumatic of all is letting go of ideas.

From birth, we are blank slates, constantly written upon by parents, siblings, teachers and perfect strangers. Every scribble enters our mind and gets categorized into our identities, our sense of self, and our moral compass. And when we enter our teen years, we naturally begin to question whether or not that developed identity indeed reflects who we really are. We begin to question the easy dichotomies of Western thinking: good/evil; rich/poor; liberal/conservative; male/female; believer/non-believer.

The regressive mind will resist these questions, falling back on stock answers and dogmatic teachings learned throughout childhood. They will refuse to let go of comfort, privilege and even irrational beliefs that give them satisfaction.

Others will explore, willing to consider letting go of ideas, but the quest is a perilous one and not without its dangers. The act of questioning alone may cause us to let go of seeming truths and of self-obvious paradigms. These explorers may fall into a valley of doubt; they may climb a mountain rejecting everything and become hardened skeptics; or they may simply become lost and hopeless facing a foggy world they cannot change and are doomed to endure. But, those who make the quest along the valleys, over the mountains and through the fog emerge as seekers.

And the seeker is prepared to develop a progressive mind. And it is the progressive mind that is best suited to keep ideas that make sense and to let go of those that do not. The progressive mind thinks beyond its own happiness and comfort and concerns itself with the common good. The progressive mind lets go of asking “Why?” in favor of asking “Why not?”

As a minister, my expertise is religion. Young progressive minds often let go of religion once they find that their Sunday School stories don’t match the world’s reality. Young progressive minds often let go of religion when it makes irrational demands, rejects people who think differently and disempowers women, LGBTQ folk and other oppressed people.

But, letting go doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition, either. I can let go of a label without completely erasing all that comes with that label. The choice is not between being Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or not. The question is whether there is truth and meaning to be found in any religion — perhaps in all religions — as you continually reshape your identity.

Sometimes, we rationalize letting go as an irretrievable loss. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even if you feel betrayed by your religious upbringing, I believe that there is value in religion for the young progressive mind. For me, of course, Unitarian Universalism is one such religion. We support same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, environmentalism and most other progressive causes. I am a religious atheist and mystical humanist, serving a congregation with a wide range of opinions and beliefs.

So, as you let go of ideas, as you question the teachings of your youth, always leave the door open to keep the pieces of the past that make sense. The progressive mind never closes any door completely.

I’m Back

I haven’t posted to this blog for many weeks.  My absence has not been for lack of desire to communicate with you, dear reader.  Rather, I have been wandering – wandering in my mind for words worth writing, for messages worth reading, for feelings worth expressing.

When I wander, I allow life to speak to me.  I open myself to whatever the universe is saying and then I seek meaning in the messages.  I envy those who can sit in lotus poses and meditate for hours on end to access the voices of the cosmos.  I fear that my puppy mind has long grown past the point of such discipline.  So, I search for sustenance by random grazing.  My process is wholly unpredictable, even chaotic.  But, when my beautiful muse speaks to me, she injects me with an understanding beyond all knowing and a joy no drug can match.

Last Friday, I took a day off and drove to Frankenmuth, a little tourist town of quirky shops and manufactured cuteness.  I strolled through an enormous bead shop, admired faerie art, turned a music store clerk onto European goth rock, and sped through a soul-sucking Christmas store.  My only purchases were a bag of specialty popcorn and some random candy from bygone days.  I bought them thinking that I would savor them over the coming weeks, enjoying the occasional taste of toffee and sugar.

But, last night, I sat in my living room resting, flipping among the cable channels mindlessly.  Beside me was the now empty bag of popcorn and a few remaining pieces of the candy.  In just a few days, I had not been able to resist the repeated narcotic allure of the promise of instant gratification.  Whether I had actually enjoyed the consumption had no meaning – I had simply wanted to consume and could not resist the urge.

This morning, I was besieged by a wave of synchronous voices – a Facebook link to an article about why our young people are leaving churches in waves; a heart-wrenching biography of a young woman struggling to survive economically without selling her soul or losing her way; and a finely crafted essay on capitalism calling for us to seek a new model for living and being together as humans.

For the past few years, I have traveled this road largely alone.  Oh, I have friends – dear and treasured friends – many of whom are treading similar paths.  But I have lived alone within a sea of humanity.  I have preached of love, of the agape of religious community.  I have spoken promoting pacifism and nonviolence, of how we must learn to love ourselves and others equally.  And when the Occupy Wall Street movement began, I jumped at the opportunity to try to shape all of that frustration and anger into a constructive and positive force for change.

But, the pull of my old life is hard.  Financial debt constantly reminds me of the need to seek monetary compensation for my labor, even though I would gladly do this work for free.  The privileges earned only through the circumstances of my birth tempt me with their serene siren song of comfort.  And I mourn the loss of my family elders, my first mentors, now all dead and kept alive only in my memories.

I know in my mind that we must change – that my old life is not sustainable.  I know that I cannot, as they say, only talk the talk.  I must walk the walk.  I am trying, dear friends, oh I am trying.  But resisting that candy takes so much effort.  Taking risks and having the courage to reach out, to be vulnerable, frightens me.  And, in allowing myself to be vulnerable, do I risk losing my capacity to lead, to help effect the changes I deem necessary in our society?

In recent months, I have watched helplessly as people lost hope in causes.  I have struggled as comrades, consumed by doubts and fears, dropped out of activities and organizations.  Perhaps such attrition, while regrettable, is inevitable.  But, is the flame of our hope flickering on the verge of evanescence?

As we emerge from winter, thankfully a gentle and easy winter, perhaps the time for a new dawn has come.  Maybe this time, we will subvert the dominant paradigm.  Can we build a new Racovia, a new Hopedale?  Can we envision and bring about a new model of being together as humans?

I do so fervently hope so.  And I invite you to join me in the journey.

Life’s Little Steps

This past week provided a number of very interesting milestones in my life.  Each, in their own way, reminded me of how life moves on in relentless small changes and realizations.

I took my first week of vacation since arriving in Midland this past August.  I have found it challenging to force myself to take days off and to get away from my work.  I love doing ministry and the temptation to constantly reflect, write, or tinker with even mudane tasks is great.  But, I flew to Jacksonville to visit my daughter Ashley, her husband Kevin and my new granddaughter, Caitlin Elizabeth.
After 20-odd years, I had forgotten the crying, the endless string of feedings, and the cumbersome travel equipment.  But, my week with Caity also reminded me of the tiny steps we take every day as we learn and grow.  I watched her gaining control of her visual focus, searching out faces and voices.  I got to see many smiles of gleeful recognition.  And, as the video shows, she has just begun that first phase of controlling her body that starts with rolling over and holding your head up high.
I had promised myself that I would take an actual vacation over Thanksgiving.  Other than checking emails, I shocked myself by doing just that.  I refrained from writing, managing calendar events, or contemplating future sermons.  And I returned home much refreshed and ready to jump into the busy December holiday season.
I also returned home to a phone message about the delivery of my new CPAP machine.  After my cardiologist suggested a sleep test two months ago, the results determined (to my complete surprise) that I apparently have rather severe sleep apnea.  Last night was my first wearing the manageable, yet still cumbersome gear while sleeping.  It took several attempts to get all of the straps and hoses into their proper places (I think!) and I managed to sleep fairly well through the night.  Needless to say, though, I felt completely like Caity performing her first rollover, or reaching out in an effort to clasp a toy.
Our lives are never finished products.  When you take time to consider the challenges, the little steps from one age very much resemble those we take in every phase of growing and learning

Simple Joys of Days Long Gone

Thoreau I ain’t.  But I do like the occasional walk through the woods…along an established trail…of a known and manageable distance…as long as the bugs aren’t too annoying.  I am far more inclined toward B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two than its namesake original.

But I can appreciate nature as well as the next urbanite, so I sauntered off into the untamed wilderness of the Potawatoni State Park forest for a 1.7 mile adventure.  The first surprise was the enormous racket.  From the incessant chip-chip-chip of quite possibly thousands of chipmunks to the munch-crunch of squirrels rotating acorns in their dainty paws, to the blaring warnings of geese aimed at flying interlopers, a cacophony of sounds surrounded me.  Not the least alarming was the occasional thud of a heavy-husked black walnut pummeling its way through the branches.

I wandered up and around the toboggan run, down past a playground and into the Nature Center.  Inside I found a nice collection of turtles (sadly they were missing my favorite spiny softshells from my recently departed Youghiogheny River walks) and a wonderful viewing window displaying a bird feeding station just outside.  Flittering all among the dozen or so stations were sparrows and finches, woodpeckers and nuthatches, and of course the perennial mourning doves.

I continued on down a now less thoroughly paved path back toward the Inn.  I am always amazed at how our minds over time are so apt at categorizing sensory inputs.  I recognized every creature as I spied or heard it rustling through leaves or announcing its presence as I approached. 

Suddenly, I spotted out of the far side of my vision an unusual hopping motion.  I stopped and turned, hoping to determine more accurately its location and cause.  After I few seconds, I saw the hop again and spied a toad.  I imagine it was your basic American Toad, living across lots of states.  I found myself instantly whisked back through time to my childhood, when such finds seemed endlessly plentiful and tirelessly exciting.  I honestly could not remember the last time I saw a toad, but I distinctly recalled the joy I experienced when I discovered them as a child.  I fondly reclaimed memories from deep in my mind’s archive of holding their warty, cold bodies in my hand.

I wondered if everyone, no matter how challenging, stressful, or simply awful their youth has similar memories – simple delights that bring smiles to faces and carry away concerns and fears.  I certainly hope so.  I fervently hope that everyone has some trigger back to a time in their lives that was relatively free of cares and scares, of anguish and pain, of loss and betrayal.  I hope you can take a moment today – perhaps even every day – to saunter someplace in your mind where a toad sits waiting for your curious finger to stroke its smooth, bumpy skin.

Does It Get Better?

The It Gets Better Project specifically addresses the question many LGBTQ youth have when they experience bullying and discrimination.  Does this ever get better?

You don’t have to be LGBTQ to ask that question.  You may find yourself in a job that seems to be going nowhere.  Your relationship with parents, children, or significant others may be mired in seemingly endless cycles of misunderstanding and hurt.  There may never seem to be enough money, no matter how hard you save or cut expenses.  It may seem that only destructive behaviors are able to alleviate the stress of your everyday life.

Does it ever get better?

The simple answer is yes, usually things do get better.  But, the complicated answer is that we are human beings – flawed and imperfect.  We live in a world that is unpredictable, filled with random noise and chaos.  And anyone who tells you that life is fair is trying to sell you something.

Does it always get better?  No.  Does it get better and always stay better?  Probably not.  Given the reality of life, then, you may ask yourself, “Why bother?”  You should bother for one simple reason.

TANSTAAFL.  Readers of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein know this acronym.  TANSTAAFL means, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  In other words, the only things worth having in life only come to us through hard work and sacrifice.

Can we go through life without risk, without taking a chance?  Sure.  And in America, one can quite possibly live a perfectly satisfying and safe life without taking that leap of faith, without jumping off that cliff.  But, you won’t achieve the really great things, the “wow factor” in life without commitment, sweat, and compromise.

And compromise is a big one.  By compromise, I don’t mean selling your soul or abandoning your principles.  Compromise means negotiating and constantly renegotiating our covenants with each other – what we promise to others and how we will treat each other.  And in order to compromise effectively, you must identify what matters most to you in life, the things that are non-negotiable.  Everything else is on the table, because in the end, the rest really doesn’t matter as we pursue our goals.

The rest doesn’t matter because all of the really important goals involve other people.  I can’t be the best at my profession without clients for my services.  I can’t be an effective parent, child, or sibling without family and committed partners to make the journey with me.  Unless I seek the life of an ascetic, I cannot be truly happy alone, and no drug can give me that happiness.

Identify priorities, work hard, and compromise.  They will not guarantee success, but they will certainly improve the likelihood that you will achieve your goals, and will certainly make the effort more fulfilling.

A Call to Ministry with Youth

People often ask ministers about their call to this work, this life of ministry.  The seed of my call was working with our teenage youth.  I taught junior and senior high religious education classes in my church, wrote curricula, attended youth conferences and trainings, helped develop youth leaders through district and continental events and organizations, and simply listened.  As a youth advisor, I met amazing people, many of whom I now see as congregational and denominational leaders, workers for justice, even other ministers.

When I entered seminary, I had to leave my youth work behind so that I could expand my base of experience and knowledge.  A major element of the discernment process involves finding the direction of one’s ministry.  Some people find their path in chaplaincy.  Others find attraction in community ministry and lives of public service.  Of course, many aspiring ministers pursue a dream of parish ministry, eventually serving as the spiritual leader of a congregation and speaking from our free pulpit with the prophetic voice spoken by generations of courageous forebears.

I now enter my first settled position, having been called to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland, Michigan.  Unexpectedly, I find the cosmos wending full circle on one element of my ministry, calling me back to youth work.  My new congregation stands poised to expand its outreach into the community, and I have every reason to believe that many new faces will cross our threshold in the coming years.  In particular, I hope to build a lifelong learning ministry that attracts many children, youth, young adults, their families and friends.

New ministers face many demands and choosing where to devote their time and energy presents a daunting challenge.  I have decided that among my commitments will be providing my leadership and energy to the Youth Group.  And, beyond a broader emphasis on addressing the needs of young adults – be they students, single, young parents, mobile professionals – I hope to specifically focus on ensuring that youth and young adults in those tumultuous years know that they are loved, that this congregation cares about their spiritual development, and that we invite their active engagement.

Every year at General Assembly, I listen to the recounted history of the struggles of the Unitarian Universalist Association with anti-racism and anti-oppression.  I cannot count the times I have read about and heard accounts of infamous events and actions in recent decades during which we learned in painful ways the hurt felt by people of color in our movement.  The Unitarian Universalist Association continues to travel toward wholeness and must never forget its legacy of effort and growth.

We also possess a checkered past with regard to our youth ministries.  One does not minister with youth long before hearing about past betrayal: the abdication of adult participation in the late 1960’s and 1970’s; the dismantling of Liberal Religious Youth in the early 1980’s; and the recent refocusing of efforts away from the directions taken by Young Religious Unitarian Universalists in the past 30 years.

At the Synergy Bridging ceremony at General Assembly in Charlotte on June 24, 2011, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward spoke of this most recent bend in the historical road of youth ministry.  Her passionate words resonated with a visceral pain, much like the hurt I have heard for years from LRYers.  As a long-time youth advisor, I shared Betty Jeanne’s emotions, and I felt that tightening in my chest of loss; that pang of grief for a life ended prematurely.

Our denomination has what can only be considered in my opinion a shocking record of failure to retain Unitarian Universalists as active congregational participants from youth into young adulthood.  I have often heard estimates that 90% of our youth leave our churches as they bridge into young adulthood.  Many never return.

I am enraged by this statistic.  I seethe with fury that we, as a denomination, too often accept this effect as expected, even normal.  I never want to lose any member of our churches for any reason.  But to accept the loss of so many talented, loving, and dedicated people – most of whom were born and raised in our movement – without massive outcry and response i s appalling and unconscionable.

So, I am rededicating my effort to minister with youth.  In my congregation, through denominational effort, through distance outreach and social networking, I will do whatever I can to minister with our youth.  And, I call on each and every Unitarian Universalist minister to increase their commitment to this important ministry and to heal this history of disappointment and neglect.  Meet with your youth groups. Help them learn more about worship and spiritual growth.  Work with them on service projects.  Dance, sing, and act; dream and envision; teach and be taught; empower them to lead.  Be their ally.  Sit with your youth in person and in spirit and guide them toward a lifelong love of our religion, commitment to our principles, and fellowship in our congregations.