Sitting in a religious education meeting this week, I look over at the white-board, still filled with activities and notes from our on-going religious education classes.

And this word pops out to me: Allah.


Underneath the brightly colored poster is the sheet of paper with ‘Allah’ written out, next to the five pillars of Islam.

Scribbled, in what looks like a child’s handwriting.

Allah, the name for God in the Muslim tradition.

Kay B., our representative on the Stanislaus County Interfaith Council, shared that at their monthly meeting, the representative from the local Muslim community said that they are already feeling quite a bit of backlash from the events in Paris and after.

I know there are so many things we can devote our energies to–there is so much hurt and pain all over the world.  It is easy to feel inadequate because we cannot do and be everything ‘good.’  But we figure SOME things to do and we do them.


A fuzzy close up

And one of the things that UUFSC is doing, quite well thanks to the leadership of the Religious Education Committee, is teaching our children compassion, love, and tolerance in middle of a world that too easily teaches fear, hate, and intolerance.

As our Muslim  brother, sisters, and siblings around the world suffer at the hands of intolerance and hate, are punished for the actions of a radical few, our children are sitting in our church and learning about the Five Pillars of Islam. They are writing the word Allah.   Indeed, that is a very worthwhile something.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday, when we will explore how letting go of our ideas of “goodness” and “innocence” may help us achieve the kind of liberation we are looking for– liberation for ourselves and for others.

At our 11am service, our children will be distributing Guest At Your Table boxes– what’s that you say? Read about it here.

Justice Between People

If we fail to be practitioners of right relations in our chosen tribes, then our admirable pronouncements and contributions in the larger society are bogus. In actuality, it may be far tougher to practice our Unitarian Universalist principle of “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” in our families and congregations than anywhere else.  – UU minister Tom Owen-Towle

Or in the words of feminist activist and former editor the AARP magazine, John Stoltenberg (who knew an AARP editor was a radical feminist?): “Justice between people is the most important connection people can have.”

Modesto sunrise in the November fog

Modesto sunrise in the November fog

“Kindred Pilgrim Souls” we sing we are when we sing Blue Boat Home.  There is a lot of time in our relationships when things may not feel so kindred.  Hurt, misunderstanding, frustration, disrespect..or worse, abuse.  How do we make justice not only “out there, for others” but make justice in here, for ourselves?  How we do things, how we run our church, how we relate to one another is not disconnected from our justice making efforts.

The problem with justice is often times it does not feel so comfortable.  In fact, if you are feeling uncomfortable, afraid, hurt, that may be the sign that you are digging into the work of justice and right relationship.  It’s not a spot you want to stay in too long…the question is, what is the next right step to make justice?  Much of the time, it will mean doing something that brings up feelings of vulnerability.  One of the reasons I feel I am a fit with UUFSC is because how much ‘caring’ is central to our community.  And there can be no justice with out that deep care.  Justice in relationship may be hard, but I came here to serve you all because I have faith we can do it together.

Speaking of justice in relationship….this Sunday after 11am worship, staff from our local Planned Parenthood will hold a 60 minute session in the sanctuary  sharing what UUFSC and other community members can do to offer support.  Planned Parenthood has reached out to UUFSC because it needs more community support to help to ensure patient access to services and to conduct community visibility and outreach.   They have experienced increased protests since the national news regarding Planned Parenthood over the summer.   The session will begin at 12:15pm.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: With Loneliness– as we approach the holiday season, full of bustle and busyness for many, let us come out and be honest about the loneliness so many feel. Worship leaders: Rev Darcy, Tina Godsey, and Angel Holmes

Church member Kathryn S’s home burned down to the ground this week, as Kathryn and her husband were dealing with his recovering from surgery.  To support Kathryn, a longtime dedicated member who has generously offered her music to us for so many years, please write a check made out to UUFSC, with “Kathryn Swain House Fund” in the memo line. You can send it in or put it in the plate this Sunday.  Her family will let us know what items they may need.

When Spiritual Doesn’t Feel…”Spiritual”

You have likely heard about the lotus flower that grows up from the mud and is a central symbol in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. I’ve been thinking about the lotus and our church.  One of the things that has been discussed at recent board meetings is how there seems to be some struggle with communication among leaders. Are leaders looping each other in?  Are we striving towards compassionate and direct communication?

I think when people come to a religious community, it is easy to think that the place is the lotus.  The beautiful petall-y thing floating along.  Because isn’t “spiritual” about feeling good, praying, meditating, finding peace, finding hope? OF COURSE it’s not about anger, or hurt or conflict or conversation or fear or vulnerability.

UUs have long worked to focus our ‘spirituality’ on this earth, not somewhere far off in the sky; taught that being in community with humans and embracing our human-beingness is the path of healing. We have said beware of religions that only promise lotuses. Our church–we are the mud.  We are the mud from which a lotus can grow.  Last year when many of us provided balloons for the Charleston Church shooting vigil, we became a lotus.  When members show up and support a member is who is housebound, we become a lotus.  When a team or committee puts on a successful gathering or church event, we have a lotus moment. When we hang up a rainbow flag (which is in process by the way!), we become a lotus.    We have our lotus moments, but only because day after day, we are immersed in the mud. Without the mud, there is not lotus.

So, let’s embrace our muddiness!  How can the church mud nurture a lotus in your life and in the life of our community? What help do you need, from me the minister or from somebody else in the church?

This Sunday, Tina Godsey and Rev. Leroy Egenberger lead worship: Embracing the Person Behind the Uniform.  As reported in our denomination, some Unitarian Universalists have been uncomfortable, and felt awkward, with military service members in our midst. Likewise, some veterans have felt they should not mention their service. Yet it is possible to embrace the veteran without embracing war.

A UU Approach to Death

I took this at the Latino Community Roundtable's Dia De Los Muertos celebration and car show on Oct 24th in downtown Modesto.

I took this at the Latino Community Roundtable’s Dia De Los Muertos celebration and car show on Oct 24th in downtown Modesto.

This week has been full of death.  I gathered with a group of church members to reflect and share about our experiences of death and what we wanted to do in preparation for our own deaths.  I have been planning our Día De Los Muertos service.  In a death-denying culture, it is work to make death part of our life rather than something outside or beyond our lives.

This work is actually core to our Unitarian Universalist heritage:

“Early New England graveyards were desolate, frightening places, the stuff of nightmares. Devoid of trees or grass, they were more like town dumping grounds. Vandals and vagrants hid in them. Markers were engraved with death’s heads and skeletons. Graves were often left open to make room for more coffins. The living hesitated to walk past them, much less enter to pay their respects to the dead.

With the liberalization of Puritan New England and the rise of Unitarianism in the early nineteenth century came a need for a new kind of final resting place. In 1831, Bostonians—led by two Unitarians, physician Jacob Bigelow and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story—founded the nonprofit Mount Auburn Cemetery on a 74-acre farm in Watertown, four miles outside the city. The nation’s first “rural” or “garden” cemetery, it was first to use the term cemetery, from the Greek koimeterion for “place of sleep,” rather than burial ground.

The early Unitarian view of death and commemoration is reflected in the cemetery’s design: set in a natural country landscape, with trees and flowers, paths and ponds, hills and dells, a place where the living can come for reflection and to honor their loved ones. In contrast with the Calvinist idea of a terrible final reckoning, early Unitarians saw death as a natural life passage to be welcomed as a reunion with Nature.”   –excerpted from Kimberly French’s UU World article “American’s First Cemetery, Unitarian-Style”

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday for our multigenerational Día De Los Muertos service. We will gather to celebrate our loved ones who have died, guided by the wisdom of Mexican and Central American Day of the Dead traditions.  Children are invited to participate in the entire service–in ritual, words, and song. Please bring mementos and/or photos of dear ones that have passed, as we will co-create an altar for our deceased loved ones.  The offering will be donated to the Latino Community Roundtable of Stanislaus County.

If you’d like to help build our ofrenda, please contact Tina Godsey!

Join me this Tuesday evening November 3rd in visiting Haven Women’s Center Día De Los Muertos display at the Gallo Center for the Arts and then dinner at Harvest Moon Restaurant.  Tuesday November 3rd at 5pm. Meet at the Gallo Center. There is no fee to visit the display.


What costume are you wearing?

As we approach Halloween, I know many of our children have been negotiating that ever important question at this time of year: “So, what are YOU going to be for Halloween?”


Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

I love the idea of dressing up, trying on being a different kind of character than we usually are.  But it also has me thinking about the “dressing-up” we do every day, the masks we wear to cover up the parts of ourselves we fear other people seeing.

Is there a mask you usually wear that you want to try to take off today?

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday, when we explore how endings and beginnings are not so far apart:  Fold Upon Fold: What if there is no such thing as an ending, but just folds upon folds? Rev. Darcy, Sharon Arpoika, and Angel Holmes are the worship leaders.

Politics vs Religion

Given the recent political candidate debates, I have politics on the mind.  Coming from a tradition that has long held to a strict separation of church and state,  I have a complicated confession to make: I don’t know if I think politics and religion are so easy to separate.  I mean, it’s easy enough to say a church institution should not be a government institution (I agree).  But what about a religious person in public office?  Can you really say your religion is a private matter that does not influence your judgment calls?  In truth, my faith strongly informs my politics.   Because Unitarian Universalism has long instructed us to focus on THIS world, has long told us that there is enough hell in this world to keep us busy (don’t worry so much about what comes after), of course how I approach politics is most definitely Unitarian Universalist.  And how we understand faith and spirituality and the public sphere is an area I think we UUs have something to offer.  We need more complex, nuanced ways of approaching values, beliefs, and figuring out how different-believing people can live together.

Church Pomegranates!

Church Pomegranates!

How does Unitarian Universalism inform your politics?  Which candidate is best going to represent Unitarian Universalist values?

I look forwarding to worshiping with you all this Sunday– our choir will be singing! Our worship will explore: Miscommunication–The biggest problem with communication is assuming it’s happened.  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Tina Godsey, and Angel Holmes.

Something Special to Offer

Many of us are so inundated with information, requests, and demands.   We may feel like we want to shut out or shut down, not open ourselves up.   Some of us may indeed need to shut down for awhile in order not to burn out.  Others of us need to be challenged to open ourselves further.   With the help of trusted friends, we discern which season of the

At the UU Ministers Fall Meeting last weekend, I passed by this tree stump.

At the UU Ministers Fall Meeting last weekend, I passed by this tree stump.

soul we are in.

Regardless of where we are as individuals, our Unitarian Universalist faith is always asking us, as a church, where can we be louder and prouder in our ministry in the larger world.  What ministry in Stanislaus County are we called to?  Where in our community could Unitarian Universalism make a difference in way no other religious community could? Friends, our world is hurting and UUFSC has something special to offer.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Welcoming Ourselves, Welcoming the Other–how we can welcome all parts of ourselves and discover that we are better able to welcome others. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Janice Goodloe, and Matthew Mason.