Distance

One thing we’re told when preparing to preach is that you have to maintain an appropriate emotional distance between yourself and your subject.  You don’t want to be too distant, because if you don’t care about your topic, why should your congregation care?  But if you speak about something that you are too close to, your vision is compromised, or if it is an event or a trip that happened too recently, you might not have had enough time to fully process everything.  So wait, we are told, until you have the proper distance before you bring it up in the pulpit.

It’s good advice.  And being a student, my pulpit time is rather limited.  So when I am offered a chance to preach, it’s not too difficult for me to find topics where I can keep an appropriate distance.

Yet here I have this blog.  In a sense, this is my pulpit, and you, dear reader, are my congregation.  At the same time, this blog functions as something of a personal journal for me, and you are the friends I invite to read along.  On the one hand, I want to keep an appropriate distance; on the other hand, I want to present my thoughts and feelings to you, fresh from the world in which they were created.

That is the main reason I started this blog last summer.  I wanted you to be able to come along on my journey, to experience my travels with me, whether they took place on the other side of the world or in my own living room.  I endeavor to do you the service of not serving anything completely raw; to use the Emersonian phrase, I pass it first through the fire of thought.  There have been some entries where an immediate, unprocessed update was more powerful than if I had waited; and there have been other entries that weren’t posted until weeks after I had originally drafted them.

My point is that distance is a tricky thing.

When I was blogging from Chiapas, Mexico last June, I spent every moment of free time writing.  When I wasn’t near my computer (which I kept hidden in our hotel room), I carried around a journal and had a pencil tucked behind my ear, ready to jot down notes or transcribe an entire presentation for future reference.  I stayed up well past bedtime trying to get everything written.

Everyone assured me that I didn’t have to be working so hard to get everything written; there was no requirement asking me to do so.  It wasn’t even part of my grade for the class.  But my response was this: “I want to get everything written down while I still have the language that’s available to me here.”  Sitting in a cafe, surrounded by people who didn’t speak my language, whose skin and hair did not look like mine, whose money had a stranger’s face on it, whose food tasted different, and whose landscape was foreign to anything I’d seen before—that was where I stayed until the blog was finished.  I used the words that my context provided for me, and I think my writing was stronger for it.

Then in July and August, I roadtripped to Phoenix and back.  I posted every day to this blog, mainly to let concerned friends and family know that I was alive and hadn’t been kidnapped by a psychopath while I filled up my gas tank.  It started out with entries that sounded mostly like travel writing (I saw a rainbow and some prairie dogs/Cows here aren’t like cows in Wisconsin/Did you know Utah is pretty? etc.).

Then I arrived in Phoenix, and entries took on a much more immediate political bent.  I posted daily at that point to give updates on the protests and my reaction to having spent the night in jail.  I had no distance between what I was feeling and what I was writing here at that point.  I remember being a little frustrated, even, that I couldn’t get out of my own head long enough to process and post updates about what was happening with other people in the protests—I could only see what was happening to me.  That was fine for a personal blog, but that’s exactly what we are told to avoid when preaching from the pulpit.

My trip to the Philippines wasn’t like any of my previous experiences, specifically when it came to blogging.  Simply put, there was no opportunity to blog.  I tried to give it the attention and dedication that I had practiced during my Chiapas trip, but everything just kept slipping through my fingers.  Even my ability to take notes by hand was made difficult by language barriers.  I worried that I was failing myself by not blogging, that I would get home and remember nothing, that my friends and readers back home would not have a chance to hear the stories that were so important to the people who shared them with us.

I worried about the distance.

Now I sit in my living room, listening to the electric hum of my refrigerator and the background silence of a dry winter night, trying to take my mind back to the sun and the rain and the sand and the noise and the crowds and the food of just two weeks ago.  It seems so very far away.  So distant.

Even so, it is there.  Like a quiet song in my heart, I can hear the words that want to be used, and I wonder if, perhaps, this distance has allowed me to process my experiences into something stronger.  I plan to write those words for you, dear reader.  And I invite you, once again, to come along on this retrospective journey as I attempt to close that distance.

-lm

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About Leaping Loon

I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving our congregation in Elgin, Illinois. While I am determined to embrace my propensity to wander, it oftentimes takes a leap of faith to do so. My life's motto seems to be: "Leap, and the net will appear." True to my spirit, and following Love's call, I must simply free myself to go. Where will I end up? Let's find out. Welcome to my journey!
This entry was posted in 2011 Philippines, Trips. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Distance

  1. You’re right. This was not your Chiapas trip. Maybe the universe was telling you that you needed to try on the experience of tempering the immediacy of your experiences with time and space. Digestion is something not taken for granted upon returning from the Philippines. Look at this as the opportunity to digest everything you gulped down a little bit so that you can share some of the heartburn that remains after the initial textures and tastes have cleared your palate.

    • Leaping Loon says:

      I think you’re onto something there, Jayne. As matters conspired, it seems that we were destined to hold onto things in the Philippines a bit longer than we might have preferred to, sometimes to the point where we were made very uncomfortable. And upon returning home, it is likely that no one would have wanted what I was capable of producing. A bit of time was needed to get things back on track so that I can be productive and share in a healthy way.

  2. “Yet here I have this blog. In a sense, this is my pulpit, and you, dear reader, are my congregation.”

    You are quite right about that Leaping Loon.

    Unfortunately the UUMA and MFC have yet to learn that a U*U minister’s blog, even if written and published under a pseudonym, is in fact a very public extension of their pulpit.

    Believe it or not the UUA and MFC made a ruling to the effect that Unitarian*Universalist ministers can post any opinion whatsoever that they chose to post to the internet, no matter [what it says]. As far as I am concerned, this highly questionable UUA-MFC ruling makes a total mockery of the letter and the spirit of the UUMA Guidelines, to say nothing the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.

    I dare say that the UUA and MFC would be very well advised to change their minds about that dubious ruling but, when I asked UUA President Peter Morales to take steps to ensure that the UUA responsibly reviewed that and other questionable UUA-MFC rulings he bluntly refused to do so, saying –

    “We are not going to reopen something that is years and years and years old.”

    Apparently President Peter Morales has little or no intention of [acting on my request].

    • Leaping Loon says:

      Mr. Avenger, thank you for your thoughts. You raise a good point, namely that it is good for all ministers—regardless of denominational affiliation—to remain aware that their words on their personal blog will carry the weight of their pulpit. While I recognize that their freedom of opinion upsets you, please keep in mind that censoring their own ministers would make the UUA/UUMA guilty of violating those ministers’ First Amendment right to free speech, and furthermore would compromise our denomination’s commitment to supporting the free pulpit. One of the risks of taking that stand is that sometimes a minister might write something that doesn’t go over well to some audiences. But the price of taking that freedom away would be much higher. I would also note that those Seven Principles you called upon include the congregations’ covenant to “affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” One of the difficulties with this is that we will not always come to the same conclusions, and that can cause frustration, hurt, and even feelings of betrayal. But it is what we have committed ourselves to.

      You might also notice, sir, that I have edited your above comment. I endeavored to keep your message the same, but I felt the need to delete some of your more inflammatory segments, as per my warning on my “About” page. As always, you are welcome to continue posting, but I ask that you make more of an effort to refrain from using language that will attack or offend my readership, including my fellow ministers and President Morales.

      -lm

      • Actually Leaping Loon, what you have done is *censor* my comment. . . thus contradicting some of the statements that you made regarding freedom of speech in your response to my comment, and compromising other people’s ability to engage in a genuinely free and responsible search for the truth and meaning of what I said in my original uncensored comment.

        Am I wrong?

        :I ask that you make more of an effort to refrain from using language that will attack or offend my readership, including my fellow ministers and President Morales.

        Excuse me Leaping Loon, but U*U ministers are expressly allowed by the UUA and MFC to say things that intolerantly and-or abusively attack and offend me and any number of other people. Why do U*U ministers get to have more freedom of speech than I do?

        That being said. . . Is it really an “attack” on UUA President Morales and other U*U ministers to assert that, based on the available evidence, Rev. Morales would seem not to be terribly interested in “standing on the side of love” for victims of intolerant and abusive U*U ministers”? Why is it verbotten to speak freely and openly here about Unitarian*Universalist ministers who are in fact either intolerant or abusive, or indeed both intolerant AND abusive?

        I thought that one of the prime purpose of the UUA’s ‘Standing On The Side Of Love’ campaign was to speak out against “bigotry and intolerance”. Why do you try to censor my speaking out against the “bigotry and intolerance” of *some* intolerant and abusive U*U ministers Leaping Loon?

      • Leaping Loon says:

        Actually, Mr. Avenger, what I did is hold you accountable for following the rules, which not only are clearly stated on my “About” page, but of which I also went out of my way to remind you several times. I reserved the right to make your opinions more palatable (read: less offensive) to potential readers.

        Furthermore, I am growing tired of your hypocrisy. You are angry that, from your vantage point, ministers are “expressly allowed…to say things that intolerantly and/or abusively attack and offend me and any number of other people.” And yet you turn around and do the exact same thing, and to top it off, you expect all of us to just roll over and take it. Knock it off.

        And finally, as we already established, this is my pulpit. Not yours. You have your own blog where you can attack and accuse people of any number of things to your heart’s content. If you post here, you have to follow my rules. And the only rule I have is that you have to speak in love, which you are not doing.

        Here is your last warning:

        If you cannot find a way to phrase your reflections and opinions in a respectful way—which is to say, phrase them in such a way that you recognize not everyone agrees with you, and that you do not hold the sole key to Truth—I am going to edit every single one of your future comments to read “I love fluffy bunnies.” I genuinely hope you prove such an action unnecessary.

        -lm

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