the rules that make it easier to be good

I want the handbasket we’re in

to have a picnic lunch

and bread and brie and a checkered tablecloth

that we can spread on lush grass

in a country that isn’t being bombed

and breathe clean air

and invite the neighbors.


I’m feeling a little doubtful at the moment.

but that’s what I want.

But this is that awkward moment when my blog is about pleasure, ostensibly,

and the world is in this handbasket.

and now what?

And yet, as so many of my thoughtful friends are saying, we need to speak

and we need to name what’s happening: about goodness and right living and integrity and kindness…and the rules that make it easier to be good.

Now when I say good, I mean being the people we believe we can be and making the world the one we want to live in.  I do not mean that we all sit quietly with our hands folded.

Right now, that is the opposite of good.

But some people, who are in charge of some of the rules,

believe in a very different kind of good.



When I was in high school I had a choice of two summer camps.

One had more rules.

One had fewer.

I am generally a person who likes to sleep early and eat well and not do drugs or get drunk.  The easiest way to be that person is to live in a place that holds those things as normative.  The rules make it easy to be good by not putting the pressure on your internal system.  The decision can be blamed on the system.  The system decided this, I’m just following the rules.  But of course I decided to be part of the system.

I chose the camp with more rules because it took the pressure off me.  It was a good choice.

I am trying to figure some things out now: which systems am I choosing to be part of, and how much do they leave the decisions to individuals, how much do they have rules that are shaped by the members?  This is the challenge of consensus and democracy: we choose the decisions together.  Democracy in particular is difficult because we aren’t all in agreement.  We can disagree and still be part of the system.  But if you’re part of the system you are going to participate in the results of the decisions until those decisions are changed.  Unless you and your friends can stand up against it.

Change it.

Force the system to move faster.

As adults, we have more choices.  That’s how our culture is set up.  But we make more compromises.  That’s how our culture trains us.

I was just granted final fellowship in the UUA; I got the letter this week.  This is a kind of tenuring, an admission to the more secure level of ministry.  It has been a long process for me.  Ten years, instead of the usual three.  And it was this week.

This week, as the UUA is turning itself inside out, examining its own systemic bias, at least part of it.  But the more we unpack, the more we find: race, gender, class, ability tumble head over heels as they whole thing reorganizes.  This is an earthquake, needed, but intense.

Intensives are coming to the fore.

Our own struggles with biased leadership are being spoken.

I hope we will never be the same.

Many of us have already tagged out and are trying to decide what kind of return makes sense.  Others of us have been on the edges.  I’m choosing to participate but I’m choosing to be a different kind of participant.  Both/and, that’s my signature location.

How do I do that well?

Part of my call is ministry to those who will not ever cross our UU thresholds.  I don’t blame them.  I also think we still have something to offer.  That’s what community ministry is about.  You have to believe in the offerings of the church more than in the systems.

And yet, I yearn to see our power centers welcome truly diverse and intersectionally-aware and -active voices.

Of course I minister from the margins–that’s where this faith locates me.  It’s also a gift I offer. And if I insist on being centered, there’s a risk, there’s damage, there’s pressure to be something else.

If I weren’t an intensive, I don’t think I’d still be here.

But I am.

I have a stack of things that I didn’t feel I could speak up about until I got final fellowship, and it took a lot longer than I expected.  But I’m here now.  And the stack needs to wait.  Because right now what’s happening is that we need more radically inclusive, deliberately intersectional, POC leadership.  More UUA staff and more senior clergy in all kinds of service, and more senior lay staff in all kinds of service.

This sounds like internal UUA business.  Why am I talking about that while the current US administration is making hash of the laws that support our values?

Because in all these cases, it’s the rules that make it easier to be good.


But they do not MAKE us be good.

Morality, ethics, community that holds us accountable: these are what get us to be good.

If we want a more just and equitable world, then we must act like it, regardless of the rules.

We don’t need rules.

We need each other.

And we need to be good.