January 2013

The Heart of Dixie

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Located in Alabama, near the home of the Civil Rights Institute, is the beautiful mountain crested sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, a church with a proud history of uncountable contributions to the promotion of racial equality in the South.  Nestled in the woods, it is surrounded by patios with full gardens and a scrolled gateway, welcoming even in the stark of winter.

Photo credit: www.uucbham.org
Photo credit: http://www.uucbham.org

On my visit,  the Rev. Lone J. Broussard spoke about “Our Blue Boat Home.”  Although the song of the same name (by folk singer Peter Mayer) is familiar to most Unitarians, Rev. Broussard stressed the need for our faith to overcome our “compassion fatigue” as related to the ongoing issues of global warming, and to humankind’s limitless reaping of the earth’s bounty without regard to her future.  While requesting such a task, she also explained how the possibility of self-sufficiency has been achieved by many, including the Danish Isle of Samsø, a model for eco-friendly living as well as progressive example to us all.

Metaphorically speaking, she went on to describe the “elephant in the room” that sits and makes himself at home, eventually wandering off when ignored, well expressing our own convictions as they come and go with whatever happens to be the ‘popular’ cause of the day.  Yes we need improved gun regulations, and yes we need to be concerned with equal rights, and yes we need an end to war–but what are these issues without a home for humankind and the abundance of life that we share our earth with?

In ending, Rev. Broussard asked the old question, “How do you eat an elephant?”  (Of course, the answer is one bite at a time!)  However, I would love to now ask that we all invite Mr. and Ms. Elephant into our homes for tea, questioning them in detail, inquiring, drilling and finding our compassion once again within their stories.

To learn more about the UUC of Birmingham: http://www.uucbham.org/

For information on the Isle of Samsø: http://www.visitsamsoe.dk/en/

Peter Mayer’s website: http://www.petermayer.net/news/

To hear Peter Mayer’s “Blue Boat Home”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZUM0JhLvc&list=PLD5C3A9F3B5204E83

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U.S. Space and Rocket Center

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Davidson Center

What fun!  Here, on a cold, rainy day, at the home of Space Camp and “Rocket City,” (Huntsville) Alabama, Austin and I enjoyed a full day of continuous interactive learning at the “Math Alive” exhibit presented by Raytheon, and at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.  Though not cheap, costing us $41.oo (with discounted purchase at Redstone Arsenal ITR) for admission and one IMAX movie, this was the best math learning experience that Austin has ever had.  Even he stated as we left that he “didn’t once get bored.”  An impressive statement if you know Austin well!

Rocket inside museum
Rocket inside museum

Favorites were the IMAX presentation, “Magnificent Desolation,” about the surface of the moon and the astronauts’ advantages and difficulties getting around and working while on the surface, also, even though very difficult, the F-18 Flight Simulator was a fun test on patience and multitasking.  There is even a full size Apache simulator but it comes with a 13-year-old AND 5′ tall requirement in order to be able to operate it but Austin is neither quite yet.

Electronic mirror
Electronic mirror
Designing a skateboard
Designing and testing a skateboard
Piloting F-18 Flight Simulator
Piloting F-18 Flight Simulator

Unfortunately for us, the campus was so large and with so many interactive stations that we couldn’t get to them all, and with the rain on us we spent very little time outside at the numerous displays.  But what could be a better problem than having so many learning opportunities at one site that as hard as you tried, you couldn’t get to them all?  In the end, we both agreed that if ever back in Huntsville, this will again be a must visit!

Inside shuttle
Inside shuttle
Music as math
Math as music and music as math
Inside workings of rocket
Inside workings of rocket

The Magnolia State

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Sanctuary art at UU, Photo credit: www.uuoxford.co
Sanctuary art at UUCO, Photo credit: www.uuoxford.com

Mississippi is a land of hospitality, history and unlimited beauty, and there was no shortage of that true southern hospitality as we arrived to the home of Ole Miss in Oxford (University), Mississippi.  With weekend parking and electric hookups provided by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Austin and I were able to get comfortable and even disconnect the Jeep to do some more personal tourism in the area.

A young community by Unitarian standards (formally joined the UUA in 1997), this lay led congregation is overwhelmingly representative of our seven principles while ready and eager for the growth it is destined to receive.  On this Sunday, guest minister, the Rev. Fred L. Hammond (The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, Alabama) presented “Violence in America,” focusing on the existence of micro-aggressions within society.  Rev. Hammond expressed the need for the recognition and reevaluation of our own roles as UUs in the presentation and acceptance of micro-aggressions in our communities and in our governments as these apply to social justice needs and improved gun ownership legislation with mental health provisions.

After the service was an amazing “potluck,” (a term not fitting the cloth napkins, table coverings, and dinnerware!)  Also not fitting the term was the fabulous diversity of food for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike.  I can honestly say that I have never attended such a thoughtful potluck gathering–and amongst such wonderful people–before this day.

Welcoming chalice, Photo credit: www.uua.org
Welcoming chalice, Photo credit: http://www.uua.org

Not to be outdone, Rev. Hammond came back after our meal and presented an eye-opening workshop on Heterosexism, including revealing unethical and even unenforceable laws within the state of Mississippi that limit and undermine the education of Mississippi’s youth about the LGBTIA community (sexual minorities) within society.  And, although already a diverse and open community, the UUC of Oxford is currently working towards the formality of becoming a UUA recognized “Welcoming Congregation,” arranging the workshop as a part of their venture.

For information on attending the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, visit: http://www.uuoxford.com

For a wonderful sampling of Rev. Hammond’s thoughts, visit his blog “A Unitarian Universalist Minister in the South”: http://serenityhome.wordpress.com/

To better understand the requirements for becoming a Welcoming congregation, visit: http://www.uua.org/lgbtq/index.shtml

I’m going to Jackson

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That’s Jackson, Mississippi, in beautiful 76 degree weather!  Another day free so each of a chose our want-to place in the State Capital.  I got a visit to the home of Nobel Prize winning author Eudora Welty and Austin chose the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Although I actually got some beautiful shots of fresh blooming camellias in the Welty gardens, my new camera and I have not yet come to an understanding of operations.  Meaning, I don’t know what I did but I do know that I can’t find those pictures on it now!

We do have a few cool photos to share from Austin’s destination though!

A true two-headed snake
A true two-headed snake
Trying to lift off
Trying to lift off
Baby alligator
Baby alligator
Gotta' love that fish face
Gotta’ love that fish face
Austin being froggy
Austin being froggy

Our day ended with a wonderful dinner at Petra’s Greek and Mediterranean Grill on Old Canton Road in Jackson.  The restaurant serves authentic Greek, Mediterranean and Lebanese food and the hummus was to die for!

Mr. Duck attacks!

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And he's out of the water
And he’s out of the water
Heading for us
Heading for us
Getting closer
Getting closer
Almost on us
Almost on us
Still running
Still running
Evil eye and feather's rustled
Evil eye and feather’s rustled
Stopped to pose
Stopping for a pose
Turning for Austin
Turning for Austin
One last warning from the water
One last warning from the water
The family
The family

Our fishing outing on the bank had a bit of a twist to it today–

Thanks Mr. Duck for the great pictures!

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Gator Country

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Last weekend while leaving our home state of Texas, Austin and I made one last had-to stop in Beaumont.  Owned by conservationist Gary Saurage, Gator Country is an alligator rescue facility in the East Texas bayou country.  With over 300 live alligators, plus many other reptiles and animals, the facility is touted as the “premier alligator wildlife park in Texas.”  Saurage has been featured on CMT, Animal Planet, Bravo and A&E, as well as international documentaries.  Currently he can be seen guest starring with Billy the Exterminator on A&E.

While there we enjoyed the ability to touch and pet alligators, tortoises, a raccoon, and a large albino boa named Banana.  And although the facility is on winter schedule, Gary himself joined in our group and made sure our experience was both exciting and educational.

This is a great stop for kids of all ages.  There is a full playground for the children to let loose, and activities for adults and children including fun interactive educational shows.

For more information on visiting Gator Country: http://gatorrescue.com/

The Pelican State

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There’s something about being in the Deep South for such an important national holiday as the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.  Fortunately for me, the service at The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was one of progress, enlightenment and growth amongst adversity.

The sermon centered on a scene from “In the Heat of the Night,” in which Chief Gillespie (Carroll O’Conner) finds himself struggling with his own institutionalized racial discrimination.  Walking into his office, Gillespie finds his newly appointed African American Chief of Detectives, Virgil Tibbs (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.)  hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture.  Innocent enough until he realizes that the picture Tibbs is hanging is that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  After suggesting that Tibbs replace it with something ‘more personal’ like a ‘desktop photo’ that can be whisked away into a drawer, he in turn finds himself attempting to defend a much larger portrait above his own desk (which appeared to be a portrait of General Robert E. Lee), only finding within himself the response, “It came with the office.”  A small scene, but such a powerful testament to those that practice life by keeping the status quo regardless of how those practices affect the lives of others.

The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge with proud display of its symbolic circular window

The sermon was not just one of history, but of the difficulties of overcoming racial degradation in modern America.  As the Rev. Steve J. Crump, Senior Minister, expressed the pride of sharing the second inauguration day of President Obama–a monumental event in modern history–he also shared the struggles of today’s Baton Rouge, a city with a higher murder rate than Chicago and only second to Atlanta for HIV cases.  A city where the average age of those murdered is at a mere 26-years-old, and of those committing the murders at an even younger 22-years-old.

Although laced with the importance of our continuing fight, the service also celebrated modern progression and reminded all Unitarians of our own role in the advancement of social justice and racial equality.  There were beautiful voices raised by the church’s own Marie Flowers and Seynabou Diack, and a poignant dance presentation by the LSU MLK Dance Ensemble.  All framed by the sanctuary’s large circle window inspired by an Edwin Markham poem stating, “They drew a circle and shut me out,  A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.  But love and I had the wit to win,  We drew a circle and took them in.”  So perfect an homage to this church and the wonderful members and staff that I had the privilege of meeting!

For more information on attending The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge: http://www.unitarianchurchbr.com/

To enjoy the works of Edwin Markham, visit: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/edwin-markham

Link to a previous performance by the LSU MLK Dance Ensemble at the Unitarian Church, 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36TmQ51eCCU

The Lone Star State

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Texas!   Back to my home state but still so far from home!  Today Austin and I attended the First Unitarian Church of Dallas in none other than the Lone Star State.  Although the church community began there over 100 years ago, the current Frank Lloyd Wright-esque sanctuary is an homage to fluid space and shared community.  The architect, Harwell Hamilton Harris, truly designed what he described as “a clearing in the forest,” all completed with a dominant burning chalice guiding attendees to the peace within the space.

Led by Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, today’s service was one honoring the church’s “UU of the Year” for service and deeds completed within the church community (and in the greater Dallas community at-large), followed by a sermon titled, “Too Christian, Not Christian Enough.”  Dr. Kanter well expressed the historical ties to Unitarianism, but also to those that led to the path of his suggested true labeling as a “Free Church.”  One that is neither too Christian, nor Christian enough, in that so it is perfectly balanced without confines to secular and non-secular labeling alike.  A place where Christians and Atheists commingle in celebration of diversity and compassion.  A place where all whom support and commit to the seven UU Principles can live, learn, and love without judgment or inequity.

First Unitarian Church of Dallas Sanctuary(Photo from www.dallasuu.org)
First Unitarian Church of Dallas Sanctuary
(Photo from http://www.dallasuu.org)

Stirring the passion was music provided by “emma’s revolution,” a fun and modernly folksy duo of Sandy O. and Pat Humphries.  Austin and I both especially loved their song, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” written in response to reactions to the attacks on 9/11.

If you live in the Dallas area and would like to attend First Unitarian, you can find information about their services and events at www.dallasuu.org.  Be sure to take time to explore the campus and have coffee with the UUs attending there.  They will be glad to welcome you!

From the First Unitarian website, “As the largest liberal religious congregation in Dallas and one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the country, our history lives on today. We remain a progressive oasis in Dallas; a harbor for lost and wandering people without a compass for their religious natures; a place to read, discuss and move against tyrannies of the mind, heart and body; a treasure of wisdom and strength for our children; a community within which to weather the difficult times and celebrate the joyous times of life; and a voice of reason and challenge in an increasingly conservative religious landscape.”

Our lava bed backyard tonight!

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Our campsite view!  Valley of Fires National Park, New Mexico
Our campsite view! Valley of Fires National Park, New Mexico