Monday, July 6, 2009


“What are you waiting for?”

The question surprised me, because I knew he didn’t like tattoos.

I hesitated. “I should finish Divinity School first.”


I couldn’t come up with an answer.

“Tell me what the tattoo means to you.”

I lit up. “Well, it’s going to be right here,” I said pointing to the fleshy part of my right forearm. “It will be a chalice, which will hold me accountable every time I hold out my hand to friend or stranger, that I will act in a way honoring our principles, our faith tradition, our religious community.”

He grinned. “Uh-huh. And tell me again why you’re waiting?”

I got it. I was already doing that. I was already inviting people to church while waiting in line at the grocery store. I was already doing works of justice to live out Unitarian Universalism and intentionally, publicly wearing a chalice. Why was I waiting?

“Honestly, Love, seminary will make you no more a minister than you are now. I think if you want it, you should go get it now.”

I called around to find a tattoo parlor open on a Sunday morning. This would be my alternative worship. I finally found one down by Fort Lewis Army Base. I called and made my appointment. The person who answered the phone identified himself as Cam the Sailor Man. I told him I was studying to be a minister and wanted to get my religious symbol tattooed on my arm. If I brought in a necklace of a chalice, could he create a tattoo from that?

“Oh, yeah. Cool! Come on in.”

I was greeted by a tall, weathered man in a kilt, combat boots, and a tattered gray t-shirt. He wore a long gray pony-tail and brown, stained grin. He was beautiful. I don’t know what possessed me but rather than shake his extended hand, I hugged him. He smelled like cigarette smoke. With the embrace he released a big bellow of a laugh. “Oh, that’s how it’s going to be? You’ve come to the right place.”

Once the design was created and applied to my arm with carbon paper I was ready for the ink. I don’t do needles well. I was obviously nervous and flushed. Cam put me at ease. “Okay, I’m going to put your chalice on your body, and while I’m doing this, you tell me about your religion and we’ll let all that goodness go into the ink.”

I told Cam The Sailor Man about the intention behind the placement of the chalice. I told him of my dream of planting churches all over the Pacific Northwest. Of congregations of people alive and awake in the world healing their communities. Of people living fully into their human potential. Courageous choices steeped in love, courage, and joy. Of the holy being reflected in our theological diversity and that religious community holding each other accountable to stretch and grow. While I talked he concentrated on my arm, periodically wiping away the beads of blood that appeared along the lines.

A group of men came in mid-chalice. They were in their early 20s, I guessed. They were boisterous and loud. Cam the Sailor Man gave a deep sigh and hollered over to them, “Hey quiet down!”

That didn’t seem to deter their noisy enthusiasm.

“Hey! You! Shut the hell up or get out. We’re worshipping over here. If you can’t respectfully keep the quiet, I’m not doing your ink.”

They looked at each other with amusement and fell silent. They respectfully looked at the books of tattoo designs while waiting their turn.

Once the tattoo was complete Cam The Sailor Man wiped it clean and admired it.

“I think this is the most important tattoo I ever inked. Thanks for coming in.” He took my hands in his and we sat in silence for a while. He broke our gaze with “Amen.”

And I went back out into the Sunday morning sunshine ready to shake hands and spread the Good News.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Pathway is Open

You need to know that I’m known to be directionally challenged and have spent much of my time in Portland either lost of misplaced. Being of a curious nature, I usually don’t mind, unless I know someone is waiting for me at the end of my intended destination.

I was very pleased to find out that my Tacoma YMCA membership is honored in Portland. I found the Portland area YMCA’s and discovered one in our area. I Googled the map and off I went… only to find that the particular YMCA I had been looking for was not a gym, but rather an office.

My second try was more fruitful. This time my challenge wasn’t in finding the actual gym, but rather finding my way around the gym once inside. The customs were just a little different, which through me off. I handed over my card to be scanned and was handed a key to a locker. The desk attendant and I stood blinking at each other before I finally asked if he had handed my card back to me (which is the custom at Tacoma YMCAs.) “No. I give it back to you when you give me back the locker key.” “Oh! Right! Of course.”

And I turned to take in the maze of equipment. I scanned for a logical path to a locker room. I turned back to the desk attendant and held up the locker key, “where might this key be useful?” I smiled trying to make an ally. “Down the stairs. Take a right, an immediate right, and then a left.” Being mildly dyslexic, I dutifully went down the stairs, turned left, got flustered and walked into a supply closet. And then back-tracked a number of times until I found the word “women.”

Once in work-out clothes I calmed down and made a bee-line for the stationary bikes. Head-phones on. Fresh Air playing. I easily slipped into my zone. Once my sweat broke I looked up to take in a bit of my surroundings. The people around me looked a lot like the people usually around me in Tacoma.

There was one man who caught my attention. He was on the Elliptical (and anyone who can master that beast without falling off earns points in my book – that machine hates me. Yes, it’s personal.) This man was almost dancing as his upper torso swayed back and forth as if he was listening to soulful R&B. One of my little amusements in life is to imagine what is playing on other people’s iPods or music thingies. But this man didn’t have ear-buds in his ears, and there was no Muzak streaming into the gym. I wondered if there was music in his head like I sometimes make up in my own imaginary life soundtrack.

I went back to finishing the time on my bike and went over to the weights. I was still engrossed in my podcast and working on my triceps when the man from the Elliptical caught my attention. He was shuffling through the muddle of weight machines with a white cane and saying something. He looked troubled or confused. No one else was around him. I stopped mid-crunch and pulled my ear-buds out. Not being able to make out what he was saying, but sensing that he was upset, I walked over and softly asked if he would like some help.

“These things are everywhere!” he said in a low, but distressed voice.

“Yes. The weight machines are very close together. May I help you go where you want to go?”

“No! Just tell me that the pathway is closed.” I didn’t understand his request and went on trying to be helpful.

“Yes. These weight machines are a maze. But I’m happy to help you get where you want to go. Where do you want to go?”

“I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me the pathway is closed.” He said through clenched teeth and started rocking back and forth.

“You can probably tell by my voice that I am at your… (think quickly) left. If you want to reach out I can guide you. But you don’t have to, of course.”

He repeated himself rocking, “I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me the pathway is closed.”

“I can’t do that, because I don’t believe that. I think the pathway has obstacles that you can’t see. But I can see right now and I’m here next to you and you can use my eyes.”

He put his hands over his ears. “The pathway is closed. That is the truth.”

“It’s frustrating, isn’t it?”

“Yes! The pathway is closed.” He almost shouted.

I made my voice as calm as I could. “Brother, what would you like to do right now?”

“I’m going to stay right here.”

“May I stand next to you?”

“I’m going to stay here all night, because the pathway is closed.”

“I have nowhere else to be than right here. I’m standing right next to you.”

We stood in silence for a while. I just stood by him. By this time the desk attendant came over. He stood about three feet away with his hands up as if he were guarding someone in basketball. I found his reaction strange. I motioned to him that everything was okay. After a couple minutes of rocking the man I stood with had edged out of the maze and was standing almost in front of the hallway.

Keeping my voice calm, “Brother, in the time that we have stood together you have taken yourself out of the weight machine obstacles and you are now about 10 feet from the front door. The pathway is open.”

“No! The pathway is closed. That is the truth.”

“You freed yourself. The pathway is open. You can walk forward and find the door.”

“You don’t like my truth.”

“That truth is not who I am. It doesn’t work for me.”

We stood together in silence for a bit longer. And then he slowly moved forward using his cane. I walked over to the stretch out area, sat on one of those huge exercise balls and slid back until my hands and feet were both on the ground making a bridge. “My pathway is open and upside down.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This I Believe

I believe we are each powerful beyond our imaginings.

I believe in using our power for benevolence in collaboration with this Spirit of Life and Love that breaths into the Universe.

And while I don’t believe in an anthropomorphized or anthropopathized God or a triune God, I’m totally okay with and grateful that that concept and relationship with God works for others. I believe in translating religious terms within a spirit of “best possible motivation” and for “best possible understanding” in authentic religious and theological dialogue. I am careful to try to not misappropriate or mislead. For me personally I believe and trust in a Universe that sustains me. And I believe I am most powerful when I free-fall back in full surrender, to its universal oneness.

I believe we are born from and into original goodness. And because of that there is a just imperative for religious communities and individuals to eradicate social and spiritual barriers and oppressors of our emerging wholeness. I believe that by doing so brings us closer to God. Closer to more fully knowing God reflected in each others’ eyes, in our outstretched hands, in our life stories. I believe we are walking, dancing holographic mirrors of God for each other and that is our salvation. It becomes a spiritual practice, perhaps even a sacrament, to be radically open and responsive to the transformative opportunities that we offer each other through our theological diversity and experience of the divine and holy.

I believe sin is anything which takes away from or breaks our relationship from God and our wholeness. This includes the self-righteous notion that we have The One True Answer. This includes the self-deprecating thoughts and media messages that we aren’t good enough or worthy of love and connection. Evil is choosing deadness, pain, inflicting misery and power-over. I believe that some sin and evil is humanly irreparable and/ or unforgivable. And sometimes people need to be removed from beloved community/ religious community or even society. But I do believe in unconditional love and I do believe in grace. I’m not sure I fully understand them, but what I do grasp drops me to my knees in utter amazement. Sin, evil, love, grace are all complicated and intertwined. God is in our response.

I believe we are bodily made from star dust and physically return through the earth like nurse logs to nourish generations to come. I believe that as we socially we come from community and are woven into community we achieve a humane immortality as our lessons and love continue in the living community. I believe our soul comes out of the Spirit of Life, remains connected to the Spirit of Life and returns. Every single one of us. Regardless of how we lived our lives. I believe our human brains and current science do not at this point in time and evolution have the capacity or tools to begin to know and understand this phenomena we name God.

I believe that my most holy mission and purpose is to be a mother. I believe God gave me my husband Alex as a helpmate, a co-parent and a teacher of love and trust.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister all these things I believe while they hold my center strong, do not play center stage. My role is to coach, witness, mid-wife, cheerlead, plant, tend, unattached, and then if I am very lucky gasp in awe, “look at them go!”

I regularly play hide and seek with God and find Spirit in folk art, wonder, uncontrollable laughter, singing in a choir, meditating in a group, gratitude, crying in the struggle, church potlucks, trying again and the welcoming of my dog.

I believe God is not the answer. I believe God is in the questions, the searching, the stretching.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Young Adult Ministry

Young Adults and Campus Ministry on my mind…

Where are your Bridgers? Where are they going? Please either alert the church in their new town that they are coming or alert me and I’ll make the connection. Please encourage youth and young adults to register on and keep their contact information current. You may find young adults in your area through this continent-wide database.

If you receive an alert that a young adult has moved to your area, please contact then to welcome them and see how your community can help with the transition (rides to church, invitation to church events, connection to other young adults in your area, a mentor family…)

Homecoming Events – it’s not too early to get a Thanksgiving Weekend homecoming event on your church calendar and start spreading the word. Planning a Welcome Home social event is a great way to let your “grown up youth” know that you’re still interested in their grand life adventures. Perhaps a “where are they now?” bulletin board for Thanksgiving Sunday so the entire congregation can enjoy and support their news.

On a personal note…

I was a college student in the late 80s in Bowling Green, Ohio. I was part of a group of students that strongly believed that it would be a religion that saved the world. One based on the support of our individual spiritual journeys and demanded that we put our faith into action to make the world a better place. We wrestled with how a religion could guide our burning young adult questions: Who am I in the Universe? How can I truly know right from wrong? What is the purpose of life? (Are you nodding your head as you remember your own young adult experience?)

A professor kindly put her arm around me and told me she’d pick me up for church on Sunday. She took me to a little church that met in the town hall with awful acoustics and uncomfortable aluminum chairs. I didn’t quite connect with the congregation of perceived “gray-hairs” (insert chuckle here, as my hair is now graying) but I fell in love with their religion. For once I didn’t feel alone! We didn’t need to invent this new religion! It was already here!

I didn’t go to the Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation every Sunday. Sometimes a college student just needs to sleep in. And a ride to church was necessary, but I didn’t want to bug my professor every time (what I wouldn’t have given for an organized pick up! Hint-hint…) I felt bad about not having much money, but no one ever asked me pledge or sign a book or get involved… and you know, I would have. I probably would have done just about anything for that little church (hint-hint.)

They truly won me over when during finals week I received a care package from them. It wasn’t anything elaborate. Probably something like microwave popcorn, m&ms, the comics’ page from the newspaper, some Unitarian Universalist inspiration quotes, and a handwritten anonymous note from someone at the church telling me that they were thinking of me during finals. Blew me away!

Well, both the Maumee Valley UUC and I have grown up and moved on. They have over 100 members and their own building now. I moved to Tacoma after graduation and went searching for a Unitarian Universalist Church before I even went looking for an apartment. And the rest is history…

There are young adults in need of your community. If you have a college or university within the reach of your congregation, you have an excellent starting place. If you would like guidance as to how to reach out, here are some good starting resources:

10 Easy Things You and Your Congregation Can Do To Support Campus Ministry

Rev. Cynthia L. G. Kane, USN

April 2001 (when she was the Director of CampUUs for the Joseph Priestly District)

1. Send names and contact information of graduating high school and current college students to the UUA Young Adult/Campus Ministry Office.

2. Contact the Minister of the local congregation where college students from your congregation are attending. And/or contact the Chaplain or Dean at the local college/university, and provide them with information about your congregation and Unitarian Universalism.

3. List in the congregational directory of members and friends the names and contact information of the students at the local college/university and the college students from your congregation.

4. Send the congregational newsletter to the students at the local college/university and the college students from your congregation.

5. At the beginning of each semester (September and January), create HUUGS (Hearty Unitarian Universalist Greetings) baskets for the students at the local college/university and the college students from your congregation.

6. Host Campus Ministry Sunday (odd years, the 1st Sunday after Columbus/Discoverer's Day).

7. At mid-term and final exam times (October, December, March, and May), send care packages to college students. If in a campus-congregation partnership, host an off-campus “chill-out” event or a special vespers service of silence, reflection, and meditation.

8. During the winter holidays (e.g., Christmas Eve service) and other times when college students are away from school and returning home (May-August), make a special welcome back to them during the Sunday worship service. Also at these times, host a special reunion event for returning students . . . perhaps in partnership with the youth group . . . or with another nearby congregation.

9. Throughout the year, drop an occasional card or email to the students at the local college/university and the college students from your congregation . . . just to say hello, they are remembered, their absence is felt, and to let you know you are thinking about them and wishing them well.

10. As a graduating gift for high school seniors, give them a membership to the Church of the Larger Fellowship and subscription to the World magazine.

Still have questions or a suggestion? Give me a call: 253-572-7693. Or email me:

In faith, Tandi

Juneau Observations

1. Juneau has ravens like the Lower 48 has crows. The ravens run down-town Juneau. They are huge and opinionated. I was walking down the street wondering what would have happened to Christianity had Jesus not lived and taught in Persia, but rather Alaska. As I was pondering this, an audacious raven came down and gave me a sermon-full of her take. She was both hilarious and prophetic.

2. Of all the computers I have borrowed here each and every one of them use the weather page as their internet start-up page.

3. If you face the mountains, and you can still your mind long enough to breath through your eyes, the mountain goats come into focus. They dot the mountainside, but remain invisible to the busy, searching mind.

4. Residents of Juneau refer to the Mendanhall Glacier as “our glacier.”

5. They also refer to Governor Palin as “our Sarah,” but for different reasons and with different inflections and facial expressions.

6. If you want to quiet a dinner party, look out the window and ask in what part of Juneau Governor Palin lives. (She lives in Wasilla and is trying to move the state capitol out of Juneau.)

7. Of all the homes I have been invited that are built on a hill, the mail living quarters are the top story with bedrooms below.

8. Of all the homes I have been invited there is a big tray inside the front door for snow boots. And often baskets of big fluffy socks and slippers to don while you visit.

9. Cramp-ons fit running shoes. I saw them.

10. This is the first time in a long time that I have full lung capacity. The air is so clean and oxygenated. My mind is calm and clear.

11. The Silverbow Bagel coffee-shop serves bagels and Alaskan lox. New York has nothing on this lox!

12. I have developed a swagger in my big snow boots. Fortunately as my attitude gets intolerable, the ice humbles me and forces me to stop swaggering.

Three words to describe Juneau Unitarian Universalists: scrappy, interdependent, (radically) authentic


Falling Man, Connected Man

My host Bev Haywood and I were coming home from the JUUF book club. Just as we were pulling in to her garage, a man walking his dog twisted and fell on the ice. I jumped out of the car to assist. A neighbor also saw and quickly brought out a cushion to get him off the ice while we assessed the situation.

The three of us managed to gingerly get him into our car along with his dog, Earl, the sweet, black lab. Earl is dropped off at Pete’s house and his wallet is picked up. Off we go to the Emergency Room. On the way, Pete shares that he is part of the Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Anchorage. What are the odds?

Bev stays with him the whole time. Broken leg just above the ankle. Tucks him in at home. In the morning we go into UU mode and tend to his needs. That’s what Unitarian Universalists do. He’s in good hands.

Advisors on the Bus

I enjoy the ease of public transportation. And the education.

“You aren’t from Juneau, are you? I don’t recognize you.”

“No, I’m in town to do some work with the Unitarian Universalist church.”

He goes off on a tirade about how churches should pay taxes and earn their keep, because they do anything for the people. I respond that I didn’t know about the Juneau UU church, but that the Anchorage church voluntarily pays their taxes. He looks surprised and continues to assess me.

“If you were King of the Universe, what would you have the churches do?” And I reach in my bag for a pen and paper.

The rest of the trip is filled with fantastic suggestions. Riders around us get off the bus and new people get on and join the conversation.

  • Free legal advocacy
  • Mail-boxes for homeless folks
  • Adult foster care
  • Larger shelter
  • Free counseling for homeless men
  • Mentors for people newly homeless
  • Classes for newly homeless on how to be homeless
  • Micro-lending for newly jobless
  • Budgeting classes
  • Parenting classes so people don’t lose their kids to foster care
  • Parenting classes for teen parents
  • Parenting classes for grandparents raising their grandkids
  • Transportation for elders going to medical appointments
  • Programs to understand new law changes
  • More buses during tourist season, because they take over the buses
  • Family services
  • Affordable drug and alcohol rehabilitation
  • More severe punishment for hate crimes
  • Training for police about cultural differences
  • Training for churches to welcome ex-offenders

When it is my stop I offer my card and extend my hand. “Thank you for this most valuable information. I will see that the churches get this. I’ll see what I can do to work on these programs. I’d love to see you at church on Sunday. 11:00. 5th and Main.”

He didn’t come to church. And I wondered if he would be welcome. If he would feel comfortable. We’ve got work to do. I’ve got more busses to ride.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Every Pastor Should Know About Sunday School

What Every Pastor Should Know About Sunday School

By Elmer L. Towns and Stan Toler

This book recently caught my eye. While I don’t think it’s spectacular enough to run out and buy it, I did find the Table of Contents provocative. The Table of Contents lends itself to an exercise between the Minister, Director/Coordinator of Religious Education, and/or the Religious Education Committee. Get together over tea and for each of the 19 chapters, come up with three ways your congregation’s religious exploration program takes advantage of this aspect. What part does the minister play? The DRE? The REC? The teachers? Others? If you have trouble coming up with examples, perhaps it’s time to look at that aspect and use its gifts more fully. Which aspects are your strengths? Celebrate those!


Table of Contents:

Sunday School will…

  1. Help you reach the lost.
  2. Will give you extra doors into the church.
  3. Will boost (Unitarian Universalist) knowledge.
  4. Will help you minister to all ages.
  5. Will help you meet needs. (If you solve peoples’ problems, they return.)
  6. Will produce leaders in your church.
  7. Will provide role models.
  8. Will turn spectators into workers.
  9. Will provide prayer intercessors (bind community together.)
  10. Will provide teaching evangelism. (deepen Unitarian Universalist identity and commitment)
  11. Will provide instant follow-up for new converts.
  12. Will provide a friendship network.
  13. Will provide life coaching.
  14. Will teach churchmanship.
  15. Will make use of all spiritual gifts.
  16. Will provide spiritual care.
  17. Will teach faithfulness.
  18. Will build character.
  19. Activates friendship evangelism.

Friday, December 19, 2008


One year our youth group decided that as part of their church community service, they would each take turns greeting on Sunday morning. It was refreshing to see new and especially younger faces.

One person, however, took exception. Michaela. She put her hands on her hips and said, “How come they get to do that? No one asked me. How come I don’t get to greet?” Not waiting for someone to invite her, Michaela appointed herself the official child-greeter.

I find most Unitarian Universalist congregations have a Michaela, too. Our Michaela was 6 at the time. Just a little peanut of a girl. Very articulate. Very opinionated. With a wild streak of initiative.

She taught me that it’s never to early to develop our leaders. She turned out to be one of the best greeters we ever had. She knew all the members, especially the children. If someone was new, she’s spot them right away, and often ignoring the parents would grab them by the hand, “Hi, I’m Michaela. This is your first time, so I’ll show you around. You’re in third grade? Oh, good. You’re in Ms. Christine’s class and they’re telling Bible Stories. I’ll show you where to go when they sing us out. Come sit by me. Where do you go to school? Uh-hm. Do you prefer dogs or cats? Up here we sit on the chairs. We can’t stand on them with our shoes. Bob just bought them and they’re new. But once you go downstairs we can lay on the floor. Do you prefer cookies or crackers? We have both here. I’ll show you.”

Rather than say, “oh that’s so cute…” our wise Director of Religious Education helped our Membership Chair work with Michaela as a committee member. We are all spiritual peers of varying chronological, experiential, and development stages on our journies, right? The Membership Chair regularly met with Michaela after services to get the scoop on the new families. Michaela worked with the DRE to make sure families got the registration forms and knew where to turn them in. I learned a lot from Michaela’s example.

Religious Education is community-owned and multi-layered. Leadership development is important Religious Education.