Saturday, February 27, 2016

Celebrations of Life

Death is a part of life, they always say. From the moment we are born, we are aging toward our eventual mortality.

Some die young, only living a few moments. None of us know when tragedy could strike - a wrong turn made by a distracted, drowsy, or drunk driver . . . an illness that takes a loved one unexpectedly . . . a disease that tears a family's life apart slowly, eroding lives over time. But no matter the clich├ęs we hear or read, and despite the inevitability of death, we always mourn, we are always caught unaware, we always grieve, it is always a tragedy. The commonplace nature of death doesn't relieve our pain. Does anything relieve our pain, the pain of death, the pain of life, the pain of being human?

Well, of course! Many things. Sunrises and sunsets. Holding hands. Fresh, healing foods. Water. But since these things are in our daily lives, all around us, they are actually as commonplace as death. When we are hit by the close, personal implications of losing someone we love, they can be difficult to see. Everything can be . . . all the many people still around us that we love . . . hope . . . meaning . . . purpose. It takes us a while to grieve, to move through the thick clouds of grief, to heal, to begin to see beautiful things clearly again. And when we have lost loved ones to death, especially under unexpected or particularly harsh, confusing, or inexplicable circumstances, even when we do see a sunrise again, we imagine the person we miss there with us, and that pain of knowing they are not here does forever tint our glasses. It doesn't taint our experiences, always negatively, forever. But it does color them, give our lives a new, different hue. We see things differently, because our lives are different without them. We are changed.

These relationships that change us, all these relationships we hold dear, all these people we love and who love us deeply - these are what we celebrate when we celebrate a life. Every life lived deserves celebration. As a humanist, I sincerely believe that every single life lived had moments of love, meaning, and purpose. Every one of us shares the common experience of being human, of living and loving as the human creatures we are. No matter our age, there are pieces of life we can relate to, remember, that resonate with us.

As a Certified Humanist Minister, I have officiated at the Celebration of Life service of one person in the past five years - as a young minister, I expect that I will have more opportunities to provide this service to families the older I become myself. Generally, when families lose loved ones, they turn to familiar sources for comfort and healing. Religious leaders are commonly first responders in times of crisis and loss. I hope that as the years go by, more humanist families in Vermont and surrounding states will get to know me, through my involvement in the local community, and will know that they can turn to me to guide their families through times of sorrow as well as times of joy!

If you are a humanist, I'd like to share with you what I will offer as a Minister to your family in their time of need. The key here is, that often the religious perspectives of the individual who has died matter less to those planning a service than the religious perspectives of those who are grieving the loss. It can be difficult for some family members and friends who knew the person intimately, and shared their religious or non-religious convictions, to see them memorialized in a way that would not have resonated with them when they were living.

If you are a religious family member grieving the loss of a humanist or atheist loved one, please know that I will never discount or denigrate your world view, beliefs, and values - I will always strive to respectfully help you through your grieving process in exactly the way that is most beneficial to you, while honoring the desires and beliefs of your son/daughter, spouse/friend. I hold a deep respect for the human nature of religious belief. Our beliefs and values shape us in similar ways as do our relationships with family members, friends, and community connections. Whether you shared the belief and value system of your loved one or not, you are still grieving their death in the here and now. This life, and our human experience, has changed. Let us celebrate how your life was changed by theirs!

I request $150 remuneration for the following services - from the moment I receive your call, through two weeks following the official memorial service / wake / funeral / celebration of life:

* Up to three in-person meetings with you (parent/child/spouse/sibling/friend) and those closest to the deceased who would like to participate in this service (parents/children/spouse/siblings/friends)

* Planning, with you, how best to memorialize and celebrate the life that they lived - I will begin writing immediately based on memories and stories I'm told by those who knew and loved this person who has died, and will ask for those affected to read what I've written, and to offer suggestions, comments, and feedback so that I can craft a service that will include as many voices and perspectives as possible in this celebration of their life.

* Dedicated dialogue with you, in person at a library closest to where you live, about the grieving process - I will walk with you through the stacks, and show you where to find the resources and guidance that will benefit you as you (and/or children closest to the deceased) ask the hardest questions you now have to answer - these could include, "Why did this happen?" - "What happens after we die?" - "Will I ever see this person again?" - "Could something similar happen to me and/or someone else I love?" - "When will I feel hope again?" - "What has the grieving process felt like for people in situations similar to mine?"

I worked for a year and a half at the Salt Lake City Public Library. I walked past books on these subjects daily and I want you to know that the information is there, in a more tangible and intimate form than Google. I want you to feel the human touch of your fingers against their spines, as you read their titles and decide which one(s) speak to you, personally. They may not be the ones that would speak to me, so this is a very different process than just asking friends for recommendations.

I will go there with you, and show you the many different areas where you can find help, hope, and answers - Philosophy/Religion; Non-Fiction; Poetry; Fiction; Memoirs; Biographies; Psychology of Grief; Evolution/Human Nature. I'll talk with you (softly, because we're in a library, of course) about the varying perspectives on death and dying found around the world. I'll show you Buddhist, Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, Muslim, Humanist, Indigenous, and other perspectives that strike your interest.

I'll help you see that you aren't alone.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wedding Services

Since I began this blog, I've written periodically about various services I offer - however, as the years have passed, my life has changed, and many of these posts are outdated! Now that I have officiated at myriad types of services, and can draw upon these past five years of experience, I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts with you about Humanism and Humanist Celebrations.

Weddings & Commitment Ceremonies

For many human beings the world over, non-religious and religiously minded alike, the experience of planning a Wedding or Commitment Ceremony offers an incredible opportunity to create memories that will last in the minds of the individuals making the commitments to each other, as well as all those with whom they choose to share their day.

Five years ago, there were a great number of members of our society who were excluded from participating in the tradition of planning a Wedding. Today, however, it is the law of the land in the United States of America, and many other countries, that any two people may choose to be legally wed - straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning - your sexual orientation and/or gender identity no longer precludes your relationship from this publicly validated recognition. And so, congratulations to all the happy couples who are now 'officially' able to plan celebrations that will be recognized in their home states!

The services I offer through Secular Weddings Utah are unique, I believe, in our entire state of Utah. I create each service I offer very personally, with your input. As each service I write is completed, I hand-write it into my Wedding Book, which you will see me holding in the photos of the services I've done. For most services, I am not even 'reading' much from the book itself, only using it as a reference - because I review your service many times before the date of your wedding, so that I can interact with the couple and their guests while delivering the words.

There are only a handful of ministers in our state, to my knowledge, who will officiate at your service without mentioning a belief in God and/or their own religious interpretations of the meaning of marriage. The three I know personally are the Reverend Tom Goldsmith at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, the Reverend Connie A. Anast with A Perfect Moment, and the Reverend Christopher T. Scuderi with Universal Heart Ministry. These three all offer beautiful, heart-felt services - however as you may imagine, they receive many more requests for services than they are able to provide each year, because of the great number of people in our state (and especially within the more liberal, open-minded greater Salt Lake area) who are booking wedding services. Depending on what you are looking for, and how far in advance you are planning, you may find that another celebrant better meets your needs. Please compare prices, availability, and the services we offer to find the best fit for your celebration!

I ask for $250 remuneration for the following Wedding Services:

* Three pre-event meetings, in person or via Google Hangouts/Skype, however is most convenient for you to meet. At these meetings I will get to know you both, ask for stories about how you met, your family's religious/non-religious backgrounds & traditions, and your beliefs, values, and thoughts about marriage and life in general. You will also have access to my Wedding Book(s), which contain all of the services I have given, which you may use for ideas/inspiration in planning your service.

At the first meeting, should you decide that our visions match and I am a good fit for your celebration, I will ask for a non-refundable $30 (cash or check) to hold the date for your event. The remaining $220 will be requested upon completion of your event (typically when paperwork has been signed).

Following our first meeting, I will send you a draft ceremony that you can look over together, deciding what you like, what changes you would like to see, how the tone of the writing will fit with your event, etc. Based on your feedback, I will continue sending you updated drafts that you can edit/change to your liking, until we have a final before your event date.

* At your event, I am comfortable speaking with or without a microphone, depending on the number of guests; indoors or outdoors; as well as welcoming guests and/or directing them to where they need to be before and after the service - giving information such as where/when family pictures will be taken, where/when the cake will be cut, toasts will be given, or any other additional details. I generally wear black and white professional/semi-formal attire, but am comfortable dressing in your preferred wedding colors, or as a themed/costumed officiant, should you desire! Star Wars Fans? Go ahead, provide me a Darth Vader costume (I already have a mask) and I'm game!

* Directly before or after the service, I will lead the spouses and witnesses in the signing of the official paperwork, and following the service will deliver the paperwork to the requisite clerk's office.

* For an additional $50, I will be happy to attend any pre-event rehearsals/practices, such as a rehearsal dinner/walk-through of your planned event.

As a member of LGBTQ and non-religious communities myself, I also wish to recognize and celebrate all those who, regardless of the passage of these laws recognizing our rights to these ceremonies, do not wish to engage with or support the institution of marriage as traditionally viewed. There are many people throughout our communities who are perfectly happy in open, non-traditional, non-monogamous relationships, and these relationships are equally valued, meaningful, and worth celebrating! If you wish to plan a Commitment Ceremony with the one, two, or more partners you are living with / raising a family with / supporting romantically, economically, etc. I will be more than happy to officiate at a public event recognizing the joining together of your families! Even if this is only with a few of your closest, most supportive friends and family members, it is still a wonderful thing to be able to proclaim your love publicly.

Since the laws of our land do not legally recognize these relationships for tax and benefit purposes, I charge only $150 for these monogamous or polyamorous Commitment Ceremonies. Also, if you have any questions for me about what Open Relationships and Polyamory look like in practice, please ask away! I can guide you to many secular, non-religious resources for information, community, and support.

All of life & all consensual adult relationships are worth celebrating!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Seasons of Change

I often think of Autumn and Winter as bringing change into our lives more quickly and more noticeably than do Spring or Summer. Somehow, after the cold and snow, it seems perfectly natural, refreshing, and enjoyable to see the slow transitions of plants and greenery resurfacing around us, snows melting, flowers blooming, weather warming. But after the warmth and relative ease of summer, it seems more surprising, inconvenient, and perhaps uncomfortable, to be reminded to add layers of clothing when greeted by the crisper morning airs, to watch greenery dying all around, to see life crawling underground or flying away.

However painful it is to see homeless individuals sleeping on dewy, freezing grasses near freeways on these brisk autumn or bitter winter mornings, or how distressing it is to experience more darkness around us than light, I am every year astonished at the introspection inspired by these changes. Why are the yearly changes from light to dark more noticeable than those from dark to light? Yes, there is rejoicing around the Winter Solstice every year, that moment when our hemisphere on Earth will begin returning to the Sun for warmth, when the light will daily increase . . . but after our New Year celebrations, do we really enjoy those changes every day, or pay attention to how beautiful everything around us is? Do we 'take advantage' of those Spring and Summer days, truly? Do we hike, bike, camp, walk, run, or just 'be' outside enough? Did we take the number of picnics we could have, did we eat out on rooftop patios as often as we would have liked?

It seems more jarring, more memorable, when things "turn south," and head in the opposite direction. We enjoy our 'sweater weather,' and we turn to coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and soup more often to keep warm. But really a sense of sadness seems to enter in with the cold . . . we're sad that we 'can't' be outside now, even if we spent most of our time that we 'could have been' outside, inside anyway. We love to cozy up with our pets and with each other any chance we get, and we seem to crave more human and social contact . . . because it's a difficult time! Because many of us come down with more illness, don't get enough Vitamin D, have seasonal affective disorder, or just generally don't like the cold, damp, dark. Some of course prefer the winter months for various reasons, but everything in the world around us, in nature, is dying during this time, and that calls us to respond in some way, to the challenge, to the changes. We consume less fresh, more frozen, foods. Perhaps we bake more, to warm our homes. We tend to exercise less frequently because many outdoor activities and sports can't as easily be enjoyed indoors. We turn to our televisions and indoor games more often, and also we gain weight we won't easily lose in the Spring, despite our aspirations.

The most challenging aspect of these seasons, to me, is death. The flaring up into flames of extravagant color bursts of all the plant life around us in the fall, as if to give one last shout-out for the year to the oblivious humans . . . "Look outside of yourself! Notice the earth! Pay attention! Open your eyes to the wonder of the smells, colors, and life this earth has been providing you all year! It won't always be here! Be grateful!" And we are, truly . . . Autumn is a time not just of change, but of awareness. We can't miss the changing colors that have been green most of the year so far. We can't help but catch our breath at the startling reds, oranges, and yellows surrounding us. We can't help but smile at the children who haven't yet lost the joy of running through piles of crunchy leaves. We can't stop rolling our eyes at every new pumpkin-flavored invention.

But the biggest question, for the oblivious humans, is . . . will we change ourselves? Will we perhaps stay outside more this Autumn and Winter, embracing what is uncomfortable, beginning to understand that death is a part of life? Will we bring blankets to the freezing homeless people in our cities? Will we spend a bit more time outside, beginning to understand that what hurts, what is painful, teaches us, prepares us for growth in the Spring? Will we see that we are a part of nature . . . that our bodies are natural . . . that we are animals, living on this Earth, interconnected with all other life? Will we think of the death we have experienced in our lives, the deaths of our loved ones, our pets, our earth, and how our earth is replenished and renewed by death every single year? Will we learn to appreciate and embrace the changes in our lives, will we perhaps begin to understand how to be in nature?

Or will we turn up our heaters and televisions, block out the cold, close the blinds, keep our belongings close and our loved ones closer, forget about the death in the world around us, and block it all out until the Spring comes again? Most years, we will. Every once in a while in our lives, we may be forced out of this by some extreme changes, but most years, if we're comfortable, we'll try to stay comfortable. And this is how we survive. All these millennia. The squirrels work hard to save the acorns in the trees, then they hole up with their food supplies. The birds fly south (and many of us do, too) and the bears hibernate.

But this year, do you want to survive? Or will you thrive? What will it take for us to thrive?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Summer Weddings

Summertime, with ample sunshine and warmth, is an ideal time for outdoor weddings. Schedules are often a bit flexible in the summer as well, making it easier for family and friends to take time off of work or to travel to see loved ones wed.

This past summer, I had the pleasure of officiating at four outdoor weddings, as well as my first Vow-Renewal Ceremony. My travels took me to Lake Powell, Moab, Millcreek, and Kearns in Utah -- and to Macon, Georgia, for my first out-of-state wedding!

The most exciting ministerial occasions for me are those unexpected twists and turns; the off-the-cuff, unplanned moments that make or break an event. When I have my wits and calm about me, these moments always seem to create the best of memories for myself and for the couples who are marrying or renewing their commitments to each other. All those chaotic times . . . when a bride's mother is in a panic, wondering if she's remembering her lines in the ceremony; when a scheduled meeting place doesn't work out and we have to wander around looking for another picturesque spot; or when a groomsman isn't sure when to start the processional . . . remaining calm in front of the crowds of family members and friends, or remembering to smile and laugh in the midst of the unexpected, these are the moments that remind me of why I love this work.

When I feel I have something to offer; I know I've done these things before; I'm comfortable speaking in front of people; and I genuinely love meeting new people and building positive relationships -- these are the times when I know I have something to bring to an event that is uniquely personalized. The memories the couples create as I work with them prior to and on their event day are ones that they will look back on, and they will recall the laughter and the mishaps as fondly as the tears of joy and the hugs of congratulations. These are the moments that shape us, that remind us of what it means to be human. We make 'mistakes,' and we learn from them. And in every moment that we are willing to be our own real, authentic selves, we are opening ourselves up to relate to the world around us in a more real, authentic way.

I hope that your summer-time was filled with warmth and joy from trips taken, family-time enjoyed, and whatever came your way! I look forward to the Autumn that is now here, and to the Winter that is approaching, as more introspective seasons of change that allow us to slow down and appreciate everything in our lives. If you have been recently married, I wish for you that all the strength, warmth, and enjoyment of summer will seep right on through these months, and that you and your loved ones will enjoy the cold and stormy weather to come as you build your homes together!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Divorce Healing Ceremonies

Helen Keller once said, "What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."

Having been married young myself (and divorced following four years of marriage), I have a profound respect and admiration for individuals who are willing and able to recognize the caring and commitment that they shared within their marriage union, despite the unraveling of their lives together.

Also, as a child of divorced parents, I hold in the highest regard those parents who are able to place their own pain aside, never speaking ill of the "other parent," if that parent is loving, caring, and non-abusive to their children.

Co-parenting is a modern-day reality. If you did not know any peers or co-workers, between the ages of six and twenty-six, whose parents had separated or divorced, you quite possibly were raised prior to the 1960's or 70's.

Today, not only are divorces and mutually-agreed-upon-separations more common, they are more openly discussed and understood. Quite in opposition to what right-wing, conservative radio and television personalities would like you to believe, today is a much, much healthier time in which to be a child from a "broken family."

Far from the religious right's damning judgements that the ethics and morality of our world disintegrates with every divorce, the truth is that these days, parents of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and economic backgrounds are being held to much higher standards of commitment by the laws of our land! Rather than being able to simply 'disappear' from their families, mothers and fathers are more likely now than ever before to be held accountable for financially supporting the children they choose to bring into this world, and they are also more likely to remain involved with their children's upbringings, despite living in different homes.

I dislike this term, "broken family," because while my parents were divorced, our family was most certainly not "broken" ... we were all buoyed, strengthened, and able to work together to rebuild from the ground up! Both of my parents re-married while I was in my teenage years, and I now have four loving, devoted, kind, and caring parents -- where some only have two, or one, or none! I know how very, very lucky I am that my "broken family" rebuilt itself by working together in healthy ways over the years.

And today, as a Humanist Minister, I truly hope to offer some measure of hope and assistance to divorcing & separating families.

If you or someone you love is experiencing the heart-wrenching trials associated with "letting go" of relationships that are no longer healthy and happy -- please let them know that they can contact a compassionate, non-religious, understanding & respectful Humanist Minister who can guide them through this most important of life-processes!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Input From Men, Please!

I have been thinking a significant amount, lately, about my decision to raise my female children with the cultural expectation that they will, around the age that they begin to experience pubescent growth, be thrown a "Red Party."

This has become rather like a tenant of my Humanist "faith." I believe that coming-of-age is a time of our lives that nearly every human culture acknowledges and celebrates in some meaningful way.

As I have had my own experiences of becoming a "female adult" within the culture of my youth, and I have observed the experiences of other females "becoming adults" within the differing cultures of their youths, as a Humanist Minister I have thought a great deal about the culture of "coming of age" that I would like to create for my own children someday.

Let me first describe, at least in part, my vision of a "Red Party."

This will be a planned event (likely prepared for six months to one year before it takes place) where every female-identified human that the young girl chooses to attend, is invited.

Every attendee wears Red, in some form, which symbolizes the beginning of the young girl's adolescent journey into womanhood, and shows support of everything the color Red symbolizes (blood, life, love, passion, beauty, etc.).

The "female-identified attendees" may be of absolutely any age, birth through death. They may be the girl's younger siblings, nieces, cousins, friends, or classmates . . . they may herald from the siblings, nieces, cousins, classmates, friends, peers, or co-workers of other girls or women that she knows.

The primary concern is that these are the individuals from whom the girl who is coming-of-age would be interested to hear advice about "what it means to be a woman."

This is a Red Party! A Celebration of Womanhood!

No matter the ages of the attendees, each individual is expected to wear red, to bring something symbolizing womanhood, and to offer some token or type of advice pertaining to how to be a woman.

My own vision of what this event would entail is that the women preparing the party (likely the mother(s), aunt(s), sibling(s), cousin(s), and/or friend(s)) would prepare every type of food for the evening that is reminiscent of womanhood . . . they would bake bread, prepare their favorite dinner dish (casserole? meatloaf? pasta? salad?), and enlist each other attendee to the party to bring a dish, side, dessert, or drink that is reminiscent of womanhood to that person.

As the Red Party begins, guests arrive and share what they have brought to contribute to the meal, and why. As the meal progresses, once every invited guest has arrived, a toast is proposed (likely by the woman/women organizing the event) -- the young girl is given a virgin version of a "Red Party" drink that all the other women are enjoying, and the young girl gives the first toast!

She toasts to something that she loves about being a young woman, or something she looks forward to about becoming a woman. The meal & drinks continue, and each female-identified girl or woman in attendance shares a story/experience/piece of advice, and proposes a toast in honor of the young woman who is coming of age. They are all encouraged to share something about being a woman, and/or something about how the color Red is related to being a woman.

Finally, the main vision that I have regarding the purpose and cultural importance of this "Red Party," is that the young woman who has "come-of-age," and who is being honored and celebrated at this party,  will have the opportunity to ask any and every question that she may have about "womanhood."

If she has any questions about how to deal with "getting a period," or how to interact with her peers (male, female, gender-queer, etc.), this is her ultimate chance! She can ask younger friends or family members what they perceive to be the "most important" things about being a "woman." And she can ask older friends or family members what they perceive to be the "most important" things about being a "woman!"

This is her coming-of-age occasion. The time of her life when she will be surrounded by girls & women she loves, who will bring her food & shower her with gifts, and openly and honestly consider & answer any question she may have!

So, now that I have described my vision for a "Red Party" for young women, we come to the reason I am asking -- even begging! -- for input, please, on this post!

Especially, input from boys, young men, and male-identified adults!

I realize that I am a woman, and have identified and accepted myself as a girl or young woman since at least the age of three! So I feel quite qualified and comfortable crafting a coming-of-age celebration for women, identifying as a woman myself.

And so, the primary question that I have is: How would Male-Identified youth prefer or desire to celebrate and/or acknowledge their unique coming-of-age experience(s)?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Visceral, Mundane, Delightful

Do you wonder which eccentricities
may reverberate through echoing canyons
if you dare to shout?

Do you see the ethereal sadness
in the wisps and strands
of the homeless woman's hair?

Do you smile through your tears
while you attempt to unearth
all the earthly mysteries?

Be visceral, remember
the joy at four and distress at fourteen
of the dirt underneath your fingernails.

Be mundane, revel
in the ennui, the boredom, your loneliness
that connects you to every other lonely being.

Be delightful, recall
the visceral, mundane moments
of life on earth.

-- Elaine Ball  10/10/13