Friday, October 5, 2007

Ministers and Film Directors

Watching a documentary on film maker George Romero last night, the thought came to me that, in many ways, movie directors can be a lot like ministers. All of the cast and crew of Romero's production companies praise him: his willingness to listen to any and all ideas from anyone; the way he empowers actors to interpret their roles; and especially his creation of a family atmosphere on the set.

I particularly identify with Romero as an artist. For most of his films, Romero has overseen the creative process from start to finish. He writes the scripts, directs the filming, and then personally edits the final cuts. He even takes part in distribution negotiations, where oftentimes changes can be imposed on a film. I respect Romero's commitment to creating an artistic vision and then fighting passionately for its unspoiled completion.

For instance, distributors wanted to cut a lot of footage from Dawn of the Dead that Romero saw as crucial to the film. So, he and his partners rented a New York theatre for a night and ran their own screening of the film. With a single one-inch ad in the New York Times, the movie showed to a packed house. A distributor who came to see the movie signed a deal on the spot to distribute the film without changes.

I see my ministry much like Romero directs movies. I work to create a vision of ministry and work from start to finish to see that vision realized. But, it's not just my vision. A successful ministry empowers all congregants to contribute and own their religious community. Together, they can resist outside forces to compromise their beliefs or limit their actions.

Lastly, Romero makes horror movies and he definitely wants to scare you. But, every one of his movies also has a very up front socio-political message. Dawn of the Dead, for instance, is a commentary on the corruption of commercialization and how we can become trapped in the pursuit of "things" to the detriment of what really matters in life. My ministry will seek to inspire and motivate. But, underneath that will always lie a core of relevance to social justice and equality, and imperative to bring our religious convictions to action.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Returning home from the gym last night, I made myself some dinner and sat down to do my homework. I watched George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Really. Actually, this is the second time I watched the movie this week, since I listened to the DVD audio commentary the other night.

Now, you may ask, how in the world is this homework? I am taking a class in Religious Humanism at Meadville Lombard Theological School this coming January. My final project is about Religious Humanist Themes in the Films of George A. Romero. I love being in seminary!

It's actually not all that far-fetched. Romero's films (both the living dead series and his other horror films) are filled with socio-political content and observations on humanity that reflect a humanist perspective. For instance, Romero deconstructs every "monster," removing all supernaturalism. His zombies, vampires, witches, etc. are all products of our modern scientific world. Second, his films frequently deal with morality and the impact of circumstances on people's moral decisions. But, most important, his films always address the importance of community, communication, and altruism in the successful survival of humanity. When the monster wins in a Romero movie, it isn't because the monster is more powerful - it's because the people couldn't stop fighting amongst themselves long enough to battle a common enemy.

So, I am watching each movie twice, once to listen to the audio commentary (they are actually fairly boring) and the second time to glean good material to cite in my paper. Of course, I have already seen all of his movies (some many times). It is great, though, to have an excuse to indulge once more in this guilty pleasure. I am doing my homework...honest!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I find it difficult explaining who I am in 25 words or less, particularly about religion. As a minister, however, I know that I must develop good "elevator speeches" to answer those small questions like, "What do Unitarian Universalists believe?" That said, what are my labels?

Atheist - For many years, I resisted calling myself an atheist because of the stigma American society places on the word. I hemmed and hawed with agnostic and even nontheist. But, emboldened by other groups who have reclaimed pejorative words, I think it is time that we atheists embrace our moniker. Ironically, I fully embraced the term after a phone conversation. The person was explaining to me how he would structure an experiment to prove the existence of God. After hanging up, I thought for a long time about what proof I would be willing to accept of God -- burning bush, eclipse, parting seas, voice from the skies. I found that I could imagine nothing that would convince me that the cause was exclusively due to the presence of God. At that moment, I knew that I had ceased to be an agnostic.

Humanist - This poor word has so many meanings, that its use demands explanation. My first exposure to humanism was the Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973.
Although a third version has since been written, my preference is for the second for a number of reasons. It is more explicit about nontheism. In fact, it is more explicit about most of the key points of humanism. And, there is less naturalistic humanism, a point of view I have some difficulty embracing. I find the distinction between secular and religious humanism divisive and unimportant since I do not see support of religious institutions as problematic. In fact, I embrace a term coined by Professor David Bumbaugh from the Meadville Lombard Theological School of "high church humanist."

Now the big one.

Minister - Honestly, I consider myself a minister already. I have yet to complete the Master's of Divinity coursework or the field education requirements. I have yet to go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee or become ordained. But, I believe that "minister" is truly a way of living and not merely an occupation. Those requirements are the gates through which one must pass to work as a minister. I think that living one's life as ministry is all that is required to be a minister. My call to live my life as ministry has been growing for nearly 15 years, as a religious educator and as a youth advisor. Now, as I preach and counsel, officiate at rites of passage, and am just generally present, I consider myself a minister.

Are you doing ministry right now? Maybe you have for years, but just hesitated to use the term. I think that one knows if they are a minister or not. Earning the professional credential is worthy if one has the financial resources and the time. Becoming fellowshipped is something I look forward to. But, I do not view it as defining of who I am.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

So, why a blog? (reason #3)

My ministry for many years served Unitarian Universalist youth. When was created (a web community of UU youth and young adults) I joined. I even began a journal, which was the first time I ever attempted such a record in my life. My primary motivation was to share with youth and young adults my progress into the formal ministry, in part to give back to the community that had given me so much over the years.

Even though I had been a committed youth advisor for many years, however, I always felt like a bit of a lurker on the site. Once I got more involved in student activities at Meadville Lombard Theological School, my journal entries declined and I drifted away from FUUSE.

With a blog, though, I see the importance of that original purpose returning. I know that there are people out there who think, from time to time, about what it is like to be a minister. As public figures, I believe that ministers owe it to congregants and any interested parties to share their personal spiritual journeys and help people chart their own paths through life.

My decision to pursue fellowship with Unitarian Universalist ministers was not an easy one and I have paid a price for that decision. But, I don't regret my decision for one second. If the notion of being a UU minister has crossed your mind, perhaps my thoughts can be of some help as you reflect on your decision.

So, why a blog? (reason #2)

In the past year, I have performed about a dozen weddings and unions. Surprising me have been the number of couples who met online. With the maturation of the internet as a communication device and the advent of MySpace and similar sites, bulletin boards, and blogs, the web is clearly a prevalent form of human interaction in our society today. To ignore it would be as foolish as ignoring the telephone.

I have had a personal computer since the Commodore Vic-20 and have tried to keep pace with the insane pace of technological advances in the past few decades. I will admit to being a little slow on certain things, but I think I do a fairly good job at least at keeping literate. I have participated in email discussion groups and the odd board or two, but now I think it is time to enter the blogosphere.

In part, I see this blog as an extension of reason #1. As I develop my ministry more fully, I not only need to reflect, but also interact with others. I want to share my reflections and listen to what others have to say, whether it is part of their shared voyage, or their observations and critiques. A blog is an especially important tool for someone like me, who tends to be somewhat intimidating in conversation. I do try to be courteous, but sometimes, I can be somewhat strident in expressing myself. So, a blog is an equalizer, forcing me to articulate my thoughts clearly and enabling others to respond on a level playing field.

Welcome to the conversation.

So, why a blog? (reason #1)

As a seminarian, one hears over and over the importance of reflection and the "discernment" process. When I interviewed for admission into Meadville Lombard Theological School, I was asked, "What do you do when you just want to 'be'? Frankly, I thought that this was a stupid question and I had no answer for it. You see, I could not separate in my own mind times when I wasn't 'being' from times when I was.

After two years, I still think it is a silly question (at least for someone in their 50's with significant life experience). But, now I believe I have an answer. It may not be an answer that someone making an admissions decision likes to hear. It is, however, a truthful answer. When I want to 'be,' I let my muse free to bring together ideas in my head that have entered in the recent past. I allow the powers of synchronicity in the world the freedom to mate one idea to another to create new ideas or insights.

Sometimes, my 'being' is idle daydreaming. Other times, it is a cauldron of bubbling words and thoughts out of which may coalesce a single crystal shard of an idea. And, still other times, my entire life switches lanes and proceeds in slightly new directions.

So, why a blog? Mostly because it is hard to articulate my form of 'being' to those who will evaluate my progress toward becoming a formed minister. A blog is one way to demonstrate tangibly my acts of reflection to folks comfortable with writing poetry, drumming, or meditating under a shady tree in a pastoral grove. I'm way too obsessive compulsive for those forms of reflection. But, as a child of the computer, blogging seems a natural form of journaling my progress.

If you, too, are on a journey in life, then maybe my reflections will sound familiar. Perhaps we can share our thoughts as we speed along the highway.

Monday, October 1, 2007


No, not the snack crackers. Combos as in combinations. Combos are a recurring theme in my life. I firmly believe that everyone possesses talents and that few of us ever really get the chance to hone those talents to their maximum potential. It took many years, but I eventually realized that I had a talent for combining ideas in unique ways. I always had a gift for making connections or recognizing similar threads in different concepts.

Also, I have always had a fondness for those old-fashioned stores that provided two wildly different products or services. Like hardware stores with post offices in them. Or those gas stations down south that serve fantastic ribs in the back. That's why my blog depicts two major themes.

Of course, the key to a successful combo is that the product of the combination must exceed the sum of the separate components. Whether my muse kennel and pizzatorium will succeed as a combo remains to be seen. If you are reading this, then it has already succeeded on a very basic level. It piqued your curiosity. Now that I have your attention, I hope that my combo will plant seeds of ideas and nurture them into maturity.

My muse

So, I have this muse. I have not named it. Nor do I have any cute depictions of its appearance. I only know that it is untamed, and perhaps untamable. But, sometimes, it appears when I least expect and I find myself fumbling for paper and pencil in the dark of my bedroom, or up at 3:00 a.m. typing on a keyboard.

My goal is not really to control my muse, as I sense that to be a fool's errand. I would, however, appreciate it if my muse kept more regular hours. Nonetheless, I love my muse and wish to keep it happy and well fed.

In part, that is one reason for this blog. You see, I believe that a well-fed muse is a happy muse. And a happy muse keeps churning out new ideas and inspirations, which is a must for a minister.

Why a pizzatorium? Well, pizzeria, pizza parlor, and pizza palace are all rather common names. Pizzatorium possesses just that hint of authority - sort of like calling a podium a pulpit. And, given the choice of only one type of food on a desert island (or however else you would like to phrase the question), I would choose pizza (specifically Mineo's Pizza, from here in Pittsburgh).

So, if you have a muse that keeps you up all hours, despair not. Like teenagers, it is their job to push your buttons and challenge your paradigms. Embrace your muse.

And feed it regularly.

So it begins

I am uujeff, and this is my muse kennel and pizzatorium. Why? Because I love my muse and I love pizza. And since I desperately want to learn how to work with my muse more effectively, what better way than to create a home for it that it can share with others, and to feed all of the muses the food of the

Over the coming days and beyond, I will share more about who I am and where my muse is leading me in my life. For now, let me provide this brief tidbit. I am enrolled in the Modified Residency Program at the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, seeking to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.

In part, I have created this blog to explore the nature of reflection and discernment -- two words I am coming to grips with in the process of becoming a minister. If you kind readers bear with me, perhaps you too can benefit from my journey and even come along for a walk or two.

So, stay tuned.