Resistance is the Secret of Joy: report from General Assembly

When you walk around the General Assembly (GA) of Unitarian Universalists (our annual national gathering), people adorn their nametags with all kinds of ribbons and buttons.  “Black Lives Matter.”  “Honor Congregation” “I’m here for the ribbons.”  My favorite pin had this quote from Alice Walker’s novel   Possessing the Secret of Joy: “Resistance is the secret of joy.”  That quote comes from the character Tashi, who only comes to this conclusion after surviving brutal, colonial violence.   What is it we are resisting?  The answer came across loud and clear at this GA: white supremacy culture.

IMG_20170623_145945814The call put out to those of us gathered, again and again, was this: how can we dismantle and weed out the culture of white supremacy on which our faith rests?  What is white supremacy culture exactly and what does it mean to resist it?  When I return from my summer leave, I want to continue unpacking with you all the themes and lessons from this General Assembly (and fortunately, I have Pat E., Leroy E., and Matthew M. to help me!).  There are so many forces at work that dehumanize us, no matter our race, ethnicity, or gender.  And those forces work even more strongly and violently on those of us who are Black and Brown, on those of us who are women and gender-queer, on those of us who are LBGTQ, on those of us who are financially poorer.   I believe wholeheartedly that, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said,  “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men [sic] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”   And here in the Central Valley, we are blessed with so many opportunities to lean into the messy and complex inescapable network of mutuality.

As I begin a period of extended sabbath and reflection (I’m back online and in the office on Tuesday July 25th),  I feel so ridiculously grateful to be navigating these days with you all, to being in spiritual and beloved community with you Unitarian Universalists of Stanislaus County.    Thank you for letting me serve this faith of resistance and joy!

General Assembly Highlights:

  1. Reflections from the three co-interim presidents on their two months of work for the Unitarian Universalist Association (an brief article and the full video of the discussion):
  2. The official report from the co-interim presidents (brief article and full video):
  3. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray elected president of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
  4. Activist and lawyer Bryan Stevenson delivered the prestigious Ware Lecture  Saturday evening.  And while you cannot view this year’s Ware Lecture, you can see a video here of a very similar speech he gave this year at the American College of Trial Lawyer’s conference.
  5. And if you want to do more background reading, here is a list of readings and videos to join in this conversation around white supremacy culture:
  6. And if you didn’t catch it, NPR’s All Things Considered did a brief story on this transformational moment in Unitarian Universalism:



Resist and Rejoice

Greetings from New Orleans, where I am attending national UU gathering, along with Pat E, Leroy E. and Matthew M.   The UUFSC team is well, despite a tropical storm and tornado warnings! (I will admit– it felt a bit eery to be experiencing a tropical storm in New Orleans, where the ghosts of Katrina surround us).


Team UUFSC at the UU General Asssembly in New Orleans.

Before General Assembly began, I was in the national UU ministers gathering, where we ministers spent a lot of time engaging about the various resignations, revelations, and changes that have occurred at the denominational level over the past few months, revelations that have engaged UUs across the country once again in conversations about racism, whiteness, and Unitarian Universalism (you can track these stories here: .  One article in particular you may want to check out is this one:  As much pain and broken-heartedness got expressed, there was a palpable sense of possibility– perhaps the pain and disappointment will break us open to healing transformation.  For any of us who have been through “healing transformations”, we know it is not the most comfortable of experiences.   But definitely worthwhile.   I realize I am being fairly general here– rest assured I’ll be sharing more about all of this when I return!


And in midst of wrestling with challenging stuff, I want you also to imagine what it feels like to sit in giant meeting whole of thousands of UUs….I want you to hear the Second Line band leading the parade of banners of UU congregations from around the country.  There is vitality and beauty that arises from coming together and being REAL together– real about the beauty and the pain; the joy and the struggle.   As this one sign put it:  Resist and Rejoice!

You can tune into a live-stream of the general sessions here:  And you can read dispatches from General Assembly by the UU World here:   On Saturday evening, I would highly recommend tuning into the Ware Lecture by lawyer, activist, and author of Just Mercy,  Bryan Stevenson:

This Sunday, we are blessed to have Modesto Poet Laureate Gillian Wegener in our pulpit,  affirming Audre Lorde’s wisdom that, “poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”  Worship Leaders this week are Todd Whiteley, Gillian Wegener, and Sydney Gorham.

Minister’s schedule note: After I return from General Assembly, I will be taking four weeks of vacation and study leave, during which I will be completely “offline.”  Brenda in the church office is available as usual to answer your questions or check in with a Board member!  For pastoral care emergencies, you can also contact Brenda or  pastoral care team members Pat E. or CL E.   I will be returning to the office and back “online” on Tuesday July 25th.




Bending the Arc

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”  19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Rev. Theodore Parker

This Sunday, I will be joined in the pulpit by two community organizers: Homero Mejia from Faith in Stanislaus and Na’ama Firestone from Bend the Arc (a Jewish bay area community organizing group).  Na’ama first contacted me shortly after the inauguration and was interested (like many individuals and groups in the Bay Area) at helping to elect a democrat to our congressional seat in 2018.   In our first conversation, I asked her if she knew the story behind the quote for which her organization was named.  She said she knew it was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote.   And then I shared how King was drawing from the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker.


Cannot help myself–here is my staking out a table for the Warriors last Sunday…go Warriors, a team who is good at connections!

We are connected in ways we are not aware of.  Spirituality is about becoming aware of all of our connections, aware of our deep interdependence on one another and the universe.  In the wake of the November election, one of the blessings is growing awareness and interest in these connections.   Political representation is so important and I expressed my hope to Na’ama that perhaps this was an opportunity to forge more connections, more relationships–no just “flip” the seat.  After connecting Na’ama with Homero Mejia, our local community organizer, they asked if UUFSC would host a community organizing gathering.  I spoke to several of you, asking for your feedback/insight– thank you! Your input shaped what has come to fruition, particularly the enthusiasm and energies of Tracy H., Adlai F, Susan P. and Susan D. UUFSC is hosting about 40 people this Sunday afternoon, representing diverse faith communities to see how we can have each other’s backs in these uncertain political times.  If you would like to join this gathering as a witness/observer, please let me know! Through our connections and relationships, we can lend our weight to bending the moral arc!







Greeting God and My Unmade Bed

“Neither I nor the poets I love have found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God and my own disorder. I say hello to chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day…”    –Padraig O Tuama, poet, theologian, and leader of the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland.

In Tea-Time with the Minister on Wednesday (join me  for the next one Wednesday June 14th at 3pm!), we reflected on this reading and we ended talking about communication.   How do we hear wisdom, truth, or what some may call God?  How do you know if what you think is right is actually so?  The truth is, most of the time, you can’t “know.”  You do the best you can–you listen, breath, and discuss with trusted friends.  And maybe make friends and greet all that is unknown, all the “doing the best you cans.”


Pomegranate Blossoms Caught in a Rain-Dropped Spider Web on a Bush at UUFSC

In reading this excerpt from O Tuama, I am reminded that at the center of any spiritual practice is this idea of making friends with the life that is. A spiritual practice is about greeting our disorder, our chaos, our unmade decisions, and our unmade beds– not getting rid of, ignoring, or repressing what is “unmade” in our life.  O Tuama communicates a real sense of friendliness in this reading, a real sense of friendliness to things and feelings that sometimes I know I am not so friendly toward in myself.   And when you are struggling to make friends with your unmade bed?  Well, that’s what friends are for!  Whatever path gets you to experience friendliness,  take it, whether it’s meditation, prayer, a phone call, or a coffee-date!

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday:  Jazz Sunday– We welcome the New Horizons Jazz Band for a special music Sunday, inviting their music to stir, provoke, and move us in ways that simple words cannot. Worship leaders this week are Rev. Darcy and Matthew Mason.

After worship, join me, Susan P, Susan D, Tracy H, and Adlai F. in a Listening Session for Community Organizing Gathering.  In preparation for the community organizing gathering being led by Faith in Stanislaus and Bend the Arc being held at UUFSC next Sunday afternoon, our delegates to the gathering would like to listen to how you would respond to these questions: Are there issues your community would like to advance if you had the support and backing of a coalition of other faith-based communities? What is the one issue your community would most like support with?  Join us in the Education Building!



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.