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Going to The Mountain

I had been thinking of the story about the Prophet Mohammed asking the mountain to come to him, as Councilors began discussing details of their trip to The Mountain Retreat Center over Labor Day Holiday. It was our annual retreat and vision quest that would take us on a two day road trip through Nashville and on to the mountains of Western North Carolina for the weekend and then bring us back home by the same two day route. The drive would include an overnight stop in Nashville going and coming.

We visited Diana's bucket list check off, Vanderbilt University's Parthenon which housed a twenty five foot stature of the Goddess Athena, holding the six foot statue of Nike in her hand. Built during the Nashville, Tennessee exposition in the late 1800's, the sight was a jaw dropper. Didn't know Nike was a goddess. She was in Athena's hand because she was to place the Goddess' head dress on her head. Can't remember what Nike was the goddess of, but joked that she must be the goddess of "just do it."

The last leg of our trip to the Nantahala National Forest where The Mountain is situated atop Little Scaly Mountain was through winding roadways and hairpin turns up the retreat center's private one way drive, that let us have a preview of how the Mountain would turn us back on ourselves.

We arrived in time for happy hour before dinner, wine and popcorn with a Jewish folk dance group on their annual retreat who would share their braided Challah loaf with us during their Friday Sabbath feast. They were full of energy and endorphins from their vigorous exercise and happy romping that led me to believe that this weekend would be no ordinary experience.

Our mentor for the weekend, a volunteer named Harriet, who had given up her home along the Hudson River in New York State to travel, volunteer, be part of this scene and many others in what seemed a courageous life of foot loose and fancy free travel with everything she owned in her car. She began volunteering at the Mountain with its elder hostile beginnings. Now seasonal resident naturalist, mountain dulcimer aficionado and talkative happy hour host she arranged for our first evening activity--Instruction about and demonstration of mountain dulcimer and incidentally, Little Scaly's black bear population.

Nodding and eyes closing after our long trip from Nashville, Diana and I listened to dulcimer music and bear stories. On the walk to our cabin and in anticipation of a great night's sleep we followed the small flash lit path to cabin three. Claire and Debbie were in cabin two, a little farther down the darken path. They and our cabin mate, Cathy, had opted for early sleep and were safely tucked in their beds. Couldn't help but think of the bear stories and admonitions about throwing even biodegradable food anywhere but in building bins, made me think of the terrifying stories of grizzlies that I had heard in Alaska last year. It also reminded me of childhood story of Three Bears and Goldilocks search for "just right."

On the walk to our cabin we looked for our dim pathway lights that led us to the front door of our cabin. Now, where was the switch to turn them off so we could save electricity in the Mountain Retreat Center tradition? Diana went outside to look for the switch and ran back squealing. Visions of bears in my head, I squealed too and we both hit it for the cabin door. A spider, you say? The size of a Buick? Okay at least it wasn't a black bear. I'm laughing in this kind of "I can't stop laughing way". I do it when I am nervous or uncomfortable. I'm beginning to recognize that my fears in this high, dark, unknown, place, are fueled by childish fears of the dark,the night time walk to aunt Dorie's outhouse when I was a grade school visitor, the Goldilocks story and Harriet's tales about people who "invite the bears" by dropping banana peels and such.

The wind howled, the cabin responded with moans and groans, acorns from the Dwarf White Oaks dropped to the cabin roof, frequently rolling down hill. Cicada sent their anticipation into the night air at a deafening pitch. Bears were searching for berries, but banana peels would do. No sleep for me tonight.

Pema Chodron, Principal teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia recommends we go to places that scare us. Not just to confront fears -- but to become comfortable with our uncertainly. I am humbled and opened and a little scared that first night at the Mountain, but now The Mountain comes to me offering acorns and spiders and black bears and mystery of night and nature.

Finally light broke to the east and I arose to meditate and read, watch the sunrise across the Mountains and Blue Valley below. During the day the view was all trees and green, a lake in the distance and more mountains to the horizon. There was no evident sign of civilization, but we were told that Clemson, South Carolina lay beyond the farthest range. At night the populated areas were lit but not enough to drown the message of the Milky Way.

The deck situated by our meeting room in the Great Hall, revealed the mountain's wonders to us as well -- a soaring hawk, seen from above his flight; the clear night sky that gave a glimpse of the Milky Way and a shooting star; an apple tree laden with ripe apples that we sampled in an apple crisp on our first night at dinner; an undergrowth of 20 foot Flame Rhododendrons; Spanish moss hanging from bonsai shaped 200 year old White Oak trees and jewel weed beside sun dappled paths. There was reminder after reminder that the Mountain is about peace and diversity and welcome. No longer just for elder hostile, now The Mountain trains young people and others about moving out into the world with grace and peaceful purpose.

Everywhere there was wonder and the mystery of the unexpected: Glittery mica laden stone out cropping at the retreat center, flat enough for a couple of benches. It was called "meditation rock." The clever uphill walk made me feel like I exercised three times every day on my trip up the Mountain to the dining hall. There was a Fall Art Fair in Highlands and visits to quaint shops to buy gifts for loved ones back home. Excellent Retreat Center vegetarian food and a gourmet lunch at Wild Thyme made the time a food success for me. The hike down to Dry Falls, not really dry, but bringing cold mountain water to the land below had a path that led us behind the careening falls, where we felt the mist of water on our faces, and saw the wonder of moss and fern and giant Carolina Fir hanging from the same mica laden rock.

On the way home my companions and I discussed how we could serve the women in our organization and spread the word of joy and hope and service to a needy world. Now back home I have time to let it sink in and feel gratitude to all these mysteries, adventures and fears, and to my traveling companions who made the trip about friendship, sharing and a purpose larger than our own.

There comes a time when the bubble of ego is popped and you can't get the ground back for an extended period of time. Those times, when you absolutely cannot get it back together, are the most rich and powerful times in our lives.  -- from Shambhala Mountain Center's Learning to Stay, 2003

90 Years and Still Counting

I opened the e-mail press release from NOW with some degree of pride on August 26th [2010] the anniversary of the date 90 years ago when women finally won the right to vote. It made me think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent most of her adult life working for a woman's right to vote. She didn't live to see or experience women voting yet she continued to travel and work, speak on the issue for a full three fourths of her life.

Kids opening their history books as school starts this fall will actually be able to read that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was signed into law 90 years ago. Still I don't think, however even some of the most savvy will understand what women had to do to win this simple and fundamental right and how much more must be done to truly secure equality.

I know. Women have come so far. Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hillary Clinton came closer than any woman in history to winning her party's nomination for president; there are three sitting female US Supreme Court judges. Progress is too often clouded by the fact that women are still not equal, constitutionally. Opposition to the ERA continues. According to NOW President Terry O'Neill, "When history books and media celebrate women's successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality. In spite of these milestones women are astoundingly denied guaranteed equal protection under the law, which all men enjoy thanks to the 14th Amendment. The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statutes prohibiting it have no Constitutional foundation. It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment."

Opposition to the ERA has been consistent and vehement since it was first drafted by suffragist, Alice Paul introduced it in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment, by providing the Constitutional equality for women. In 1972 the ERA was passed by Congress, but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. That is just three states short. I am ashamed to say that Illinois is one of those states.

Every year since 1982 the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. It never gets out of committee in Illinois. Seems there is always something pressing and more important to occupy our leaders' minds and ours. I hate to whine, but when will women get their turn? We're sorry to bother you, but we've been waiting since 1923. We've been good. Well maybe we were a little mouthy at times. I know. We burned a few bras back in 1960s, and raised some hell in the 1970s but otherwise we have been pretty agreeable. And if not that, we've been patient and hopeful.

As I toured Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL) recently with friend and fellow Connection Councilor and her grandchildren, I was privy to her whisperings in her three grand children's ears, when we watched the ticker of deaths during the Civil war go higher and higher, and viewed an actual uniform worn by a young soldier no older that her grandsons. Janice, a beautiful woman of color, who is raising her two grandsons and granddaughter whispered, "This is why we must never take our right to vote for granted."

Now when Louisville, Kentucky friend, MJ, sent a beautiful reminder of what Alice Paul and others of the latter and more radical suffragist movement had done in front of the Wilson White House to raise a stink with their protests and placards I was again inspired to speak up about the deficiency that still exists. Eventually in 1920 a vote in Congress gave women the right to vote but we are not equal yet.

If you have forgotten or don't know the history watch the video "Iron Jawed Angels" for a little booster shot. Like Janice said to her grandchildren that day at the Lincoln museum, "We must never take the vote for granted." At a time when the world is recognizing the brutality visited on women all around the world how can American feminists loose heart? We are only three states away from ratification of the ERA?

Vote, vote, vote and elect those who care about equality. We are 38 years into a fifty year cycle since the 2nd wave feminism. I am told that these things "flare up" every fifty years. If we don't lose the faith and keep working, this could be our time. I, unlike my idol, Stanton, could live to see it.

Rev Peter Morales: Let's Get Busy!

Unitarian Universalists were out in great numbers in Minneapolis, Minnesota in late June to meet, learn and celebrate being UU at the Annual General Assembly. It is where action issues of import to UUs are discussed, voted on in the several plenary sessions; workshops on many subjects of importance to congregations and leaders are presented; and long standing traditions are carried out. Of note: the opening banner parade of congregations begins the festivities.

Randy and I arrived in the city on Friday the 25th two days after the actual opening. We were a bit shell shocked because of the giant storm that passed through the Minneapolis area as we were negotiating the last few miles of freeway that would lead to our hotel. Quarter-size hail, winds, and blowing rain pummeled Randy as he dashed from the car to the hotel lobby. Then we parked in the underground bunker of a garage and went up the hotel elevator to our room. Sweet, never got wet or pummeled. We ordered a pizza as we frequently do on our first night, tired from driving and were pleasantly surprised that it had "veggie sausage" on it.

Okay so we weren't actually registered for the GA -- but we had arrived and meant to get in, as we had a few years ago when we vacationed in Boston the same year the General Assembly was there.

Our judgment of the sophistication and forward thinking of a city centers on the availability of vegetarian food, independent bookstores, music scene, and diversity of political ideas. Not only would we check out the GA but Minneapolis, We weren't disappointed as we saw Minneapolis' 30th Annual Gay pride parade, sampled the best of their food offerings, visited the anarchist bookstore and met Peter Mayer, UU musician.

We had no problem walking into the vendor's room in Boston, but this year we had to wait until Sunday, when the vending area, as well as the Sunday service is open to the public. There were some 3400 people at service to sing with the choir, participate in the ritual and hear the newly elected UUA president Rev. Peter Morales speak. Here are a couple of quotes from Morales that I wrote in my little notebook: We must explore "letting go of past successes; pay attention to and let go of what no longer serves us" and "reach out in love," because "that is what love does." (More Morales quotes.)

Where could I begin? I guess that was up to me. I am really about living up to our ideals of plurality and like Rev. Shirley Ranck says in her Statement of Feminist Thealogy, "It is our faith's greatest ideal and challenge." We have been seeking racial diversity and religious and cultural diversity for a long time, but sometimes we don't do so well in living up to the challenges of recognizing that "everyone is hungry for love and connection" and "that love reaches out" with enthusiastic welcome.

Walking through the vending area gives one an idea of where so many UUs are working: GLBT, Christian, feminist, polyamorous booths: every earth mother and father bumper sticker, button or tee shirt; jewelry, books galore, massage therapists, the UUSC, petitions to sign, Buddhist UUs and witches and wiccans to commune with. I bought our grandson a colorful stuffed dragon and me, a autographed CD by Peter Mayer -- one of my favorite recently discovered (by me) singer-songwriters whose performance I had missed on Wednesday night. He wrote the words for "Blue Boat Home" in the new UU hymnal supplement. But the song that I listened to at least a hundred times when I discovered it on YouTube was "(Everything is) Holy Now." It seems that love might think that.

As we were leaving the vending area for our hotel to pack our belongings to go, we went past our minister's booth a final time. He was working to raise money to cover his trip with various wares including: mugs and ALUUC tees, a poster of famous UU's that you could actually put your own photo on, Mike Haynes' wonderful handmade native American flutes and Bonnie Ettinger's melodic piano CD's. Both Mike and Bonnie are members of our Springfield congregation. As we passed, "The Old Rugged Cross" played as only Bonnie could play it. We observed as a middle-aged woman wandered up to Rev. Martin's booth and said, "That is the kind of stuff I became a UU to get away from." Martin -- ever patient and reaching out in love -- said quietly, "It's in the (UU) hymnal." Didn't know that; it should be because we are UU, "standing on the side of love."

Church Life at Prairie UU

It is always so fulfilling and revealing when the Connection Council visits various congregations at quarterly meeting time. It is also one of the lures for me to volunteer with the Connection.

On a weekend visit to the smallish and third congregation in the Madison area I am full of admiration. Madison, bastion of forward thinking, mostly liberal politics supports the largest congregation in the UUA, I am told. That would be First UU Society, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed meeting house has close to 2000 members. (Unofficial guess)

We wanted to visit Prairie, though, because an established connection and welcoming attitude. I met Dorothy and took a liking to her at 2009's District Assembly when we both served as volunteers on the media team. (Another edge pusher for me.) Thanks to Dorothy and other members, we had the Prairie experience of genuine hospitality in this little but mighty congregation.

I must say I am so impressed with this little fellowship. Though they have been established for around 50 years their membership stands around 100. They have a consulting minister who with members decide together what worship, programs and facility looks like. The front lawn aptly showed late spring growth of prairie grasses and flowers, the kitchen sported recycle bins and neatly named drawers and cabinet doors, the RE area brightly colored banners, drawings of what it meant to be UU. Age group rooms were oddly familiar as others I had seen but with a special twist only an active, live RE program can express.

Wanting to try the special flavors of Madison with a trip to the Saturday morning farmer's market that circles the Capitol building and demands one way traffic, we opted to meet for business after lunch down town on Saturday. It's okay. We were given a key to the church. Plenty of time for wandering and adventuring: bicycle lanes and respect everywhere...Organic this and that...bakers and makers of every kind of earth mother treat in the market and craft booths on perimeter.

Connection Business meeting completed with preparation for a Margaret Fuller Conversation with the women of Prairie in the evening. We had time to catch the Saturday afternoon service at First Society, a flower communion. Then a quick "look see" at the congregation's new digs. It is a beautiful and green and is so "Wright-looking" in compliment to the Frank Lloyd Wright meeting house design.

Saturday evening had us back at Prairie for a Margaret Fuller conversation salon on the eve of the anniversary of fore mother, Margaret Fuller's, 200th birth. Sunday morning we joined the congregation for service, a special speaker, Margaret Fuller, aka Robin Proud, who compared concerns and joys of both Margaret's time and ours with the use of actual Fuller quotes and some from the UU World about issues still concerning us 200 years later.

Prairie is so blessed with not only theatrical talent, but musical talent as well. A new song, inspired by Margaret Fuller's words, had people in the congregation humming along with the intro, even though they had never heard it before. My mouth dropped as UU hymns were sung out in a place dedicated to its music programs. Congregational hymns were sung in a way that didn't seem to matter if one hit a sour note once in a while. (BTW: I didn't hear one off note!) Discussion after the speaker was full of questions about Margaret Fuller, her life and work, and then came Joys and Concerns. The microphone was handed off to one person after another, with good humored jousting and serious questions and even tears -- a sure sign of loving acceptance, a place where one finds one's friends.