February 4, 2013 by rebelwithalabelmaker
I spent the last week at the UUMA Institute for Excellence in Ministry, which as you can imagine is where Ministers and Students go to engage in spiritual deepening and professional development and/or the kidnapping and ransom of rodents.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This blog has already established unequivocally that Unitarian Ministers are lousy criminals. Technically, though, all we have really established is that my congregation’s Minister, Karen, is a lousy criminal. To be fair, criminal masterminding is not one of the key priorities highlighted by our Board, and the last thing we want to do is fall into the all-to-common flaw of expecting the Minister to be everything to everyone.
That’s why we have “collegiality”. So that we can get to know other Ministers in Canada, and undertake criminal capers with them. It’s kind of like a team building exercise.
So, we started our collegial deepening by going out to dinner, because several of the other Ministers think that’s the best way to do these things. As we arrived, another conference attendee approached us and handed us a stuffed rat and a sheet of paper, which we foolishly accepted. Because that’s apparently how they do these things in the States.
The colleague explained that we had to take photos with the rat and upload them to Facebook. And I was all “this is a weird sense of humour”, but I looked through the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association Professional Guidelines in great detail and nowhere in our covenant does it say anything about a sense of humour–weird or otherwise. The mouse thing, apparently, is just an American custom, which we didn’t understand because in Canada when we usually–as I mentioned earlier–bond by going out to dinner. Or, of course, commit crimes. Which is also not specifically mentioned in the guidelines either, so I assume it’s okay.
It turns out that it wasn’t a rat, it was a Unitarian Church Mouse, which is apparently a real thing. He travels all over the country visiting congregations and uploading his adventures to Facebook. Apparently everyone in the States knows about this, but to our group (all Canadians) it was a bit weird. Especially the part where we were supposed to try to convince some other group of Ministers to accept the stuffed vermin… I’m not sure of the exact etiquette around the “here, take this rodent” interaction, so I was feeling awkward.
I am learning in these cross-border interactions that it is important to remember to think “how does this translate to my cultural context?”. And it was somewhere in that translation process that we felt the call to kidnap the mouse.
It was a foolproof plan. We’d borrow the mouse for a few hours, post a list of hilarious demands, and it would be cute and funny and done early the next day so Mr. UU Churchmouse could get on with his tour of the Institute and get his picture taken with everyone.
But of course these hostage situations can quickly get out of hand, no matter how well you plan them. Which of course, we didn’t at all.
The instructions for taking photos with the mouse say that you are supposed to say “squeak”, but a colleague not named Ned translated this into the Canadian context by having the mouse tickle-bite people right as the shutter went off. I knew that Ned and I would work well together, since he is clearly a cultural ambassador like I am. Also, he was the only one there who didn’t know me yet, which made him clearly the right person to work with because 1) We could call this a getting-to-know-you-team-building-exercise, and 2) All the colleagues who did know me were reluctant to get involved for some reason.
So, with the full endorsementish (kind of) of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada, Ned and I took control of the situation. We needed ransom specific photos, to prove UU Churchmouse really was in Canadian Custody. The only Canadian thing we had on us was money, so we took a picture of the mouse sitting on a pile of money, which in retrospect didn’t really send the right message about who was taking hostage of whom. Which kind of turned out to be foreshadowing.
I offered to take over the posting of the demands. I took the mouse back to my room to take a more appropriate picture. Fortunately, like most Canadians, I never leave home without pajamas with a picture of a Moose and the slogan “Wanna Moose Around?” on the butt. I felt it was an appropriately threatening kidnapper type message. I also picked a red and white beach mat as a background, which in retrospect looks a lot more like part of the American flag than part of the Canadian one.
Then, I spent all night trying to post the photo and demands. Attempting to get wifi working, attempting to tether to my cell phone, and attempting to slit my own throat. Which didn’t work since I travelled there by plane so the sharpest thing I had on me was nail clippers.
In order to post the demands to the main Facebook page, I needed to be friends with Mr. UU Churchmouse. Which meant I had to wait for some unknown person to answer my friend request. In the meantime, I tried setting up an independent page, (titled “Unitarian Church Mouse Kidnapping”), in case the friending thing didn’t come through in time. Also, it was important to have a publicly link-able page, so that I could add a link to the conference twitter feed that was mostly being clogged with deeply spiritual and professional messages. All this with the spottiest wifi in the history of Ministerial Rodent Capers.
Dear American Colleagues,
Bwah hah hah hah hah, eh? We of the Canadian Apprehension Task-force have kidnapped Mr. Unitarian U. Churchmouse, and are holding him ransom. We shall not return him until the following demands are met, please:
1. That plaid flannel stole options be made readily available. Fur lined clerical robes would be nice too, but we’d be willing to compromise on that point.
2. That the syllable “eh?” be added after each of the seven principles.
3. That every year on July 1st (Canada Day), the stature of liberty wear a sweater and moose ears.
4. That the letter “u” be added to the words. Not just the words that used to have a U, but all the words.
5. That your president, Obama, be granted a third term in office.
6. That our Prime Minister, Harper, be removed from office immediately.
7. That the great lakes be signed over to us in full, because we believe them to be ours anyways. Except Lake Michigan, which we are not particularly fussed about. It goes without saying that we will be expecting full ownership of the other half of Niagara falls.
8. That you fix the money by making each bill a different colour. Or shape/size. And put the queen back on. We would accept an ultrasound image of William and Kate’s fetus in a pinch.
9. That a law be instituted for when the Republicans and the Democrats cannot agree on stuff, mandating that disputes be settled via impromptu hockey match.
10. That those creepy scanning machines in all the airports be replaced with highly trained sniffing mooses, and the 100 mL liquid limit not apply to Maple Syrup or Canadian Beer.
Please leverage your denominational structures and federal government to comply immediately with all of our requests, and we shall return Mr. Unitarian U. Churchmouse unharmed. Eh.
Thank you kindly, and Merci Beaucoup,
The Canadian Apprehension Task-force (C.A.T.)
P.S. But don’t worry about Mr. Unitarian U. Churchmouse. We are treating him with great politeness and it turns out that he loves poutine.
P.P.S. Also, we’re really really sorry about this.
When we couldn’t get the pages working right, Anne suggested we use something called a pen and paper, and post the demands to the bulletin board, which is apparently what criminals did before wifi. Unfortunately, the only thing more pathetic than being unable to post your demands on Facebook is staging an intricate plan to post the demands in person without getting caught and feeling the thrill of victory and then having nobody notice that they exist!
What is the etiquette for when you take a hostage and nobody notices? I mean, I understand “we do not negotiate with terrorists” as a policy, but a polite acknowledgement does seem in order, in my opinion.
Back to the wifi. Which had the continuous appearance of being about to work, which caused Ned and I to keep being hopeful rather than just cutting our losses and handing back the rodent. This was all made more complicated by the fact that now that we’d stolen the mouse, we couldn’t exactly walk up to a random American and hand it over. One has to save face in these high stakes international negotiations. Also, we didn’t know who to give it to. Truth be told, we were not fussed about saving face at this point.
Mike was now involved from across the country–because we could access wifi by issuing him instructions and giving him the passwords and user IDs for our facebook and bank accounts. It was a lot like in the Batman movies, except instead of saying “Alfred, cross reference all recent prison breaks with…” we were saying things like “how come that stuffed mouse won’t be my friend on Facebook?” and “see if you can get people to notice us”. Which I don’t think Batman ever said.
Also, Mike decided to counter-negotiate, posting without my prior approval, which I guess is how hostage negotiations usually work:
OFFICIAL RESPONSE FROM THE AMERICAN NEGOTIATING TEAM:
On behalf of the American negotiation team, I have been instructed to provide the following counteroffer:
If you release Colonel– I mean Mr. Churchmouse, we are open to a dialogue in which we will discuss granting you approximately 10% of the water from the Great Lakes. Since they are currently 100% American, this will be a great asset for you.
July 4 is our holiday and July 1 is yours. We will agree to a truly Unitarian compromise and make the joint holiday July 2.5. So the holiday will not start until noon on July 2 and will go until noon on July 3.
We will add “u” to “favorite” and “flavor”, but will still spell “check” our way. No one would ever be able to pronounce “cheque” and would probably laugh if they received one spelled in such a manner.
Our constitution will not allow for President Obama to stay for a third term. However, we have a 69-year-old woman in fashionable shoes ready to not only succeed Obama, but clean up his domestic policy messes. Think Jack Layton with a dress.
We will promptly remove Prime Minister Harper from office and will install Don Cherry in his place. All cabinet ministers will be required to wear suits in his fashion, especially the women.
We will NEVER be putting any royalty on our money again. WIth the possible exception of the Queen of Soul, Mrs. Aretha Franklin, and the King of All Media, Mr. Howard Stern. Hey Now!
The hockey shootout idea is acceptable.
You guys have the cancer machines just like us. You’ll have the sniffing machines as soon as our Pentagon and your Ministry of Defense (notice the ‘s’) collude on that. Sorry, eh.
Oh, and we’re annexing all poutine recipes. And vinegar on French fries.
Yours sinceruly (notice the ‘u’)
The Pentagon– I mean, the American Delegation of World of Delightful and Charming Unitarian Universalists
At this point I had spent half of the class sessions at the back of the room saying “sorry about this, I’ll join the group again in just a minute–I’m kidnapping a mouse.” Yes, I am aware that I’m turning out just like my mother.
We didn’t get Mr. UU Churchmouse’s escape finished until Thursday. At this point, the Mouse’s allies were getting annoyed, since we’d stolen the mouse, put up stupid demands, and appeared to now be stubbornly waiting for them to… what?
They said we were not very Ministerial to kidnap a mouse, and I looked through the guidelines again and it would seem they are right. Even the owner of the page posted that we should “repent”. I wanted to post “I’m TRYING, but repenting is more logistically tricky than you would think”, but of course, the wifi was down again.
You know how team building exercises are supposed to include adversity and challenge? Ned and I are so team-built that we are practically one person at this point. Running those negotiations was practically two full time jobs. Also, we were very bad at it. We essentially went from:
“Give us these ten things”
“Please please take this mouse off our hands before we are excommunicated. We’ll do anything.
P.S. We’re really sorry about this. You have no idea how sorry.”