The Courage of Facing

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed unless it is faced” is a well known quote from writer and social critic James Baldwin.  While sometimes I will accept a quote like this at face value, I often like to dig to find out what the context of the quote actually was. Is the meaning of the quote actually what the author intended?  This quote came from a 1962 article in the NY Times entitled “As Much Truth As One Can Bear: To Speak Out About The World As It Is, Says James Baldwin, Is the Writer’s Job.”   I was drawn to another part of Baldwin’s article, where he was speaking about the role of writers, but which I think applies to us all:

We are the generation that must throw everything into the endeavor to remake America into what we say we want it to be. Without this endeavor, we will perish. However immoral or subversive this may sound to some, it is the writer who must always remember that morality, if it is to remain or become morality, must be perpetually examined, cracked, changed, made new. He [sic] must remember, however powerful the many who would rather forget, that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.


 Wahoo! Our new church sign/way-side pulpit is going up, thanks to Dave T. and Bob S.  What do we want to help Stanislaus County face? 

First, I always find comfort in reading things that feel they could be written today but were written in another time– however I am feeling about the world, it is not by any means the first time someone has felt these things.  Secondly, that line about “joyful acceptance of this danger” strikes me as part of the reason that you all have worked so hard and given so much to make sure that UUFSC exists.  One of the things I first loved about you all was how real you were,  how in joys and sorrows, you would speak truth about the dangers of life and express such fierce love and joy– sometimes in the same breath.  This kind of culture is precious.


In our congregation, in our county, in our country, we have much to face.   Let’s help each other find joyful acceptance and remember that even though not everything that is faced can be changed, nothing can be changed unless it is faced.

This Sunday in worship–Forming and Formation: Bridging our Youth.  Our early years are a precious period, and the spiritual lessons we learn then shape us for the rest of our lives. Join us in celebrating the faith formation of our children, of which we are all a part. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.

And what about this to go on our new church sign/ way-side pulpit?




Being Creaturely

On Tuesday, as I pulled into the church parking lot, I saw a bunch of creatures were IMG_20170509_110830725cuddled against our fence, which was the only spot of shade in the whole pasture out back. And so the first thing I did was walk over and put my hand through the fence.

As many of you know, I’m a fan of neuroscience and what it reveals about us as humans, in particular how the older, more survival oriented parts of our brain are far more powerful and influential on the ‘rational’ parts of the brain than once thought. Persuasion is not usually a matter of logical argument, but of relationships and emotions. We are creatures, creatures who seek companionship, play, food, shelter, and safety.

IMG_20170509_110907883As the horse licked and nibbled on my hand (what did I taste like? Was the horse just expressing affection?), I thought of these lines from the popular Mary Oliver poem Wild Geese:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

What I appreciated about one of our church members who got a chance to speak with our Representative Jeff Denham is how she focused on the vulnerability of her and her friend’s body–and how she articulated how scary it was to face the risk of losing access to the means of caring for the soft animal of our bodies.   By speaking up to Representative Denham, she was expressing deep love, concern, and care– and she was asking Denham to care too.

May our haven of hope up here on Kiernan Ave be a place where we remind each other that we do not have to be good, or walk on our knees, or repent– we need to care for these soft animals of our bodies and help them express what they love.

This Sunday, Sharon Arpoika, Sabine Klein, and guest preacher Zackrie Vinczen, a seminarian from Starr King School for the Ministry, will lead worship:  The Time in Between–Beginnings and endings tend to be clear cut. Sure, they can be hard and even complex, but the expectations they provide are clear—you start and stop. But what about the time in between? How do you keep yourself motivated when the beginning is behind you and the end is not yet in sight? In this sermon we will explore the time in between and examine ways to cultivate motivation and excitement in these liminal spaces.

Spark of Love

“Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give to yourself…The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame. It is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite, waiting for the heart to awaken…When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love…whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment. Self love cannot flourish in isolation.”” bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions. 

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Upstate NY Farmhouse

Many of you have asked me how was my trip last week, visiting my family of origin and celebrating my father’s retirement (and helping him clean out his office).  My reply went something like “Good. And family is complicated. So it was good. And full.”   Spending time with the people who created and molded me always gets me thinking about love, because those are the people who taught me about what it meant and what it didn’t. And probably like many of you, some of the lessons I got taught I have needed to rewrite.

We UUs invoke the word “love” a lot.  “Love is the doctrine of this fellowship…” or “Standing on the Side of Love.”   One of the reasons Bob Santos and Dave Tucker have been working on putting up a wayside pulpit (we are in middle city permitting stuff apparently) is because we want to define what our kind of love is.  The rainbow flag we fly helps specify what kind of love our church represents.  And once we have a wayside pulpit where we can post signs like “Black Lives Matter” or “We Love Our Muslim Neighbor,”  we can continue to be even more specific about what our UU kind of love is.

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My brother Matt and me posing at my father’s retirement party

But UU love is not just about love we direct outside of ourselves or those we may call “others”– UUism about is about providing a place, what bell hooks’ calls ‘a loving environment,’ where we can learn to see our selves as we truly our, where we can learn to accept ourselves and we can learn to love ourselves.   And no matter how cold the flame, love is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite it–that is the blessing of this community.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Blessings of Community— John and Debbie Swearingen offer reflections on their 30 years as part of UUFSC, as well as blessings for our future.  Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, John and Debbie Swearingen, and Sabine Klein.

Also this Sunday, at around 12:30/12:45ish, I will be heading over to the Hindu Temple of Modesto, which is just a mile down the road on Tully Road.  They have invited folks to attend their service and  are holding a kind of open house afterwards. and I am going to go over and would love to have some UUFSCers join me.  I imagine I will stay for around 30 minutes.  Through the new multifaith clergy/leader group that started after the Election, I have gotten to know a few of the leaders there.  The Hindu Temple is located at 4801 Tully Road, just south of Kiernan Ave.



A Flower, A Fruit, A Death

I know my heart has been heavy with the losses and changes going on, within our congregation and in the broader world.   It feels like we are saying so many goodbyes.  While striving to be gentle with my heavy heart, I also am trying  to remind myself of the wisdom Italian poet Diego Valeri shares in this poem:

You who have an eye for miracles


Amidst wildflowers, baby cows with parents lounging.

Regard the bud appearing
on the bare branch of the fragile young tree.
It’s a mere dot,
A nothing.
But already it’s a flower,
already a fruit,
already its own death and resurrection. 

In each bud is already a death and in each death there is a birth.   In this cycle of mere dot to flower to fruit to death, where is your heart these days?   Wherever you are in this cycle, I hope you are being gentle with yourself and are taking the risk to reach out so that wherever you are (dot, flower, fruit, or death), you know (and feel) that you are not alone.

This Sunday, I look forward to worshiping with you: Power of Goodbye: Within our UU community it feels like we have been saying a lot of goodbyes; not to mention what we are saying goodbye to as we live into our newish political reality. How do we find power in these goodbyes? Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy Baxter, Sharon Arpoika and guest musician Jorge Torrez.

Tea Time with the Minister: Join Rev. Darcy on the following Wednesdays 3pm-4:30pm for some tea, casual conversation, and reflecting with one another on the state of your spirit and the world.  Rev. Darcy will offer a reading or prompt to guide our conversations.  Wednesday May 3rd, Wednesday May 17th, Wednesday May 31st, and Wednesday June 14th.  No need to RSVP– just show up! And if there is a particular issue/topic you want to address, please send me an email at

Also, next week I will be taking a week of vacation, so will be “offline” from Monday April 24th and returning Tuesday morning May 2nd.  For pastoral care emergencies, you can reach me on my cell-phone or contact Pat E.  For other issues, please contact Brenda our church administrator or a Board member.

It’s Okay Not To Know

Unitarian Universalist generally are not big fans of the Christian Crucifixion story– so many interpretations of it have condoned legacies of violence.  Humanity is saved through God sacrificing “his” only child?  No, that is not how UU’s do salvation, thank you very much! And yet, we know the crucifixion is happening every single day.  Every single day brutal forces of racism, white supremacy, misogyny, greed, and economic exploitation sacrifice the lives of someone’s child– for we are all someone’s child.   I do not like the Cross and it’s violence legacy.  And yet, there is a truth in the sacrifice of which it tells.

When Jesus was crucified, his followers did not know there would or could be a resurrection.  All they knew was that their beloved leader, the person that represented hope and salvation, was crucified by the ruling powers of the day.  Sometimes, we find ourselves sitting at the foot of the Cross, only knowing of the loss, not knowing what comes next, what could come next.


Clouds Over Kiernan Ave

I don’t like sitting in the unknowing– I don’t think many humans do.  But our great religious stories have survived because there is life saving wisdom in them.  And today, as I approach Good Friday (and my Good Friday Reflection for Clinton Chapel AME Zion’s Good Friday Worship Service– please join me!), I am comforted by this part of the Crucifixion Story:  sometimes, you are faced with an unbearable loss and you don’t know what comes next.  And that is okay– resurrection happens without you knowing or planning for it.  It is okay not to know.

This Friday, UUFSC has been invited again to join with the (predominantly Black and African-American) Clinton Chapel AME Zion congregation, to celebrate Good Friday I will be offering a brief reflection as part of the service. The service will start at 7 pm, will likely go for two hours.  Clinton Chapel is located at 1024 4th St– be careful using your phone map program– when you search for Clinton Chapel on google maps, it takes you to the wrong location.  Type in the address instead!

And after Good Friday, comes Easter, even when we don’t know it… this Sunday:  How We Rise–Multigenerational Flower Communion. From despair, hopelessness, and stuckness, we can rise. On Easter, we honor the Christian wisdom of the resurrection story, celebrating with our multigenerational Flower Communion. Please bring a flower for our Flower Communion Ritual! Worship Leaders this week are: Rev. Darcy Baxter, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.

And next Thursday, April 20th at 6pm, please join me in advocating Modesto’s city officials to support becoming a Sanctuary City.  Our local, Latino-lead community organizing group, Faith in the Valley (formerly Congregations Building Community), has asked us to show up in support of making our community as safe as possible for our Latino and immigrant brothers, sisters, and siblings. We will hear testimonies from local youth and respectfully encourage our public officials to make Modesto an official sanctuary city. Thursday, April 20th, 6 p m – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1528 Oakdale Rd.

Don’t Waste a Good Crisis

“Don’t Waste a Good Crisis” is a phrase that is attributed to Winston Churchill…and Rahm Emmanuel, but it turns out that researchers can trace it to a relatively unknown physician who wrote an article in the journal Medical Economics journal in 1976– not nearly as inspiring as Winston Churchill or even Rahm Emmanuel, huh?  The title of his article was “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own” and he was addressing how it is in moments of perceived crisis/threat that humans are often most motivated to change.


Church lilacs planted by Sharon A’s mother 

Most UU’s I know do not pay a lot of attention to what happens at our national denominational office in Boston. But UU ministers certainly do!  Controversy over a recent hiring decision, where a white straight man was selected over a woman of color, surfaced lots of concern and discussion over how much we UU’s are successfully “walking our talk” when it comes to our values of justice and multiculturalism.  Last week, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Peter Morales (who identifies as Latino), resigned in response to this controversy.  Then this week, it was announced that two other UUA senior leaders (both White men) have tendered their resignation.   Fortunately, this does not have a lot of direct or immediate impact on life in our congregations.  If you want to read the details, you can read more here.

We UU’s having embraced lofty goals that are expressed in our Seven Principles.  There is a proposal to add an Eighth Principle. That we as a religious tradition struggle and wrestle with our culture of Whiteness and the broader culture of White Supremacy, is not new.   That we continue to fall short is also not new– that people experience profound disappointment and hurt is not new.  One of the things I am most proud of is to be part of a religious tradition that is even having these conversations and yes, even having these “crises.”  Most other predominantly White religious traditions are not having these kinds of conversations or “crises.”

If you are a person of color in our congregation, I welcome your insights and feedback. Since I am both White and Human,  I know I got some serious blindspots and need to listen if we are truly going to grow the Beloved Community.  If you are a White person in the congregation and are struggling with all this whiteness stuff, I encourage you to join many of us White UU’s at our next Showing Up for Racial Justice meeting on Tuesday April 25th: at 7pm at Central Grace Hmong Alliance Church, 918 Sierra Dr.

For me, I am working on being present to the pain and disappointment UUs of Color are expressing and tempering a (White) emotional culture of shame and blame. Shame shuts us down and cuts us off from our source of power–it shuts us off from Love, it makes us want to turn in on ourselves, instead of reach out.  And friends, this is no time to be turning in.   Sometimes a “crisis” is actually a sign of development and growth– an experience to work through so we can evolve and mature.  And there is no one else I would want to be “evolving and maturing” with than YOU.

This Sunday, Avonelle Tomlinson and pianist Sabine Klein lead worship with guest preacher Rev. Jay Atkinson: Living by Liberal Faith–UU theologian Paul Rasor says that our liberal religious tradition “is not for the faint of heart,” suggesting that Unitarian Universalism offers a challenging pathway not always easy to follow. What does it actually mean to live deeply by liberal faith?  And how do we help one another live up to that ideal?




Radical Hope

“But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.” –Junot Diaz, b. 1968

There is so much beyond my understanding and control– the line about “a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is”  really resonated with me.  Unitarian Universalists have always emphasized the power humans have to address suffering, reluctant to leave issues of justice in the hands of a distant God.  Sometimes, however, I find it helpful to step out of a traditional UU paradigm of “human power” and remember just how limited my human powers are.  There are things that transcend me and my understanding– and quite frankly, sometimes I find that a huge relief.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Finding Your Power— In the face of fear and uncertainty, how can we stay powerful?  Worship leaders this week are Rev. Darcy Baxter, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.