The Floom Was My Favorite Ride

While slightly scary especially when you don’t seem them, driving through the large puddles of Modesto reminds me of my favorite amusement park ride: the floom. It’s the one where you sit in a long “log” and then essentially take a kind of roller coster ride on water. And at the very end, there is a particularly long drop where water sprays up everywhere.  If you were an experienced floom rider, you knew exactly where to sit either to stay the driest or get the most wet.  What I recall is that the person in the very back got the most wet– the very front seat of the log was the driest.img_20170119_104356675_31565265864_o

I shared this with a friend of mine who rides his bike around Modesto as a primary mode of transportation– including in the rain.  “Hmmm, I’m going to remember that…it may make it more fun, particularly when I get doused by a passing car!” If you are gonna drive through puddles, if you are gonna get doused by passing cars, then at least try to have some fun with it.

We are all on quite the ride right now as we approach the Inauguration and the incoming administration.  There are gonna be some big puddles (perhaps rivers and oceans) we are gonna have to drive through.  But whatever we do, we must not give up joy, not give up our ability to find the fun because there is going to be plenty of fear, sadness, and anger to go around.  But fear and anger only can take us so far– love, laughter, and play must come along for the ride as well.   As I have prepared for the various vigils and protests coming up (I hope you will join me!), I realize that I have been able to build relationships, been more motivated to reach out to folks I might not usually reach out to.  As I shared last week, I came out to a Pentecostal minister!   And, when I reflect on this, I realize do feel some real joy through these connections I’m making.   If you have to ride through a puddle, you might as well pretend it’s a floom.

This Sunday in Worship: Becoming a Deeply Disciplined Half-A**–Perfectionism can paralyze us from taking important action; sometimes our spiritual work may be to cultivate habits of imperfection and just half-a**ing it. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.

Join UUs in Showing Up For Love at these Upcoming Inauguration Events:

1) Tonight (Thursday) 6pm: Interfaith Prayer Vigil hosted by Congregations Building Community: This evening, Congregations Building Community, a local community organizing group that works with primarily Latino and Spanish speaking immigrant communities, is holding a vigil at 6pm. I will be there, offering a prayer. This is a chance to show up and support our Latino and immigrant brothers, sisters, and siblings! Saint Stanislaus Church, 709 J street, Modesto ca 95351. If you have yellow Standing on the Side of Love Shirts, please wear them!

2) Saturday Jan 21st, Join UUs at the Modesto Women’s March.  Marcia G and I are definitely going. We are meeting at 9:45am in front of CVS on the corner of Briggsmore and McHenry, to march as group. You can also join us at Graceada Park for the Unity Gathering at 11am. Feel free to call/text me to find us.  More info about the march here:

3)Sunday at 2pm, Vigil for Compassion and Solidarity, 10th Street Plaza. Join faith leaders and community members from around our region as we gather to celebrate the values of compassion, solidarity, and hospitality. Rain or shine– bring umbrellas!


I Came Out To A Pentecostal

Doing worthwhile things in our lives often require taking some kind of risk.  When emotions run high, when anxiety is swirling around, it can be definitely difficult to assess what IS risky versus what feels risky.


Makes me think of our UU hymn “I Know This Rose Will Open”

This week, I sat in the second meeting of a Modesto area clergy meeting, a group convened after the election to build relationships in the face of a country and county that seem so polarized.   A group of between 15-20, we broke out into small groups because it was clear after our first meeting that we just needed to spend time getting to know one another.   So I sat in a small group, with a liberal Catholic leader with whom I know reasonably well and with a Pentecostal minister who I did not know at all.   He was a tall, big, bald White guy–someone who I easily make all kinds of assumptions about.  And of course the first thing we start talking about is our families.  I quickly mentioned that I was married and briefly referred to a “spouse” and then moved on. But the emotional energy was awkward because I was holding something back.  We continued talking, I learned that the Pentecostal minister had been journeying with his congregation as they transitioned from predominantly White to a much more diverse and multicultural congregation.  And as we talked, I decided that though I felt nervous, that perhaps my coming out would threaten or politicize this gathering, I decided to do it.  I said “Can I be really honest with you? I have something to share that I don’t know how you will respond to and I’m nervous that it could threaten this chance we have to build relationship. But it’s something really important and basic to me and who I am:  I have a wife.”

And you know what? He was great.  We then proceeded to have a much juicier conversation dialogue and even exchanged cell phone numbers.

Sometimes, when you take a risk, you are rewarded.  And, of course, sometimes you are not.  But I’m gonna give thanks for the hope and possibility this exchange gave to me during this anxious days.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Hope of A Prophet–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is probably the religious “prophet” most trusted by liberals. We will practice deep listening to some of King’s words and how they call to us in this particular historical moment. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.

This Sunday, I also hope that you will join in our first Mission Statement Feedback Session.  The mission guides and offers direction to congregational leaders as we face decisions about how to best use our precious resources.

Also, please spread the word about the Compassion and Solidarity Vigil Sunday January 22nd at 2pm at 10th Street Plaza.  I am co-organizing this gathering with a few other clergy.

And just one more thing:  please consider joining and spread the word about the opening meeting for Exploring Whiteness, Showing Up for Racial Justice on Tuesday evening January 31st. More details here:






Trees Are So Good At Letting Go

Every single moment of our lives, we are losing something, letting go of something whether we realize it or not.   On Sunday, we heard from all those gathered the many, things they were working on “letting go.”  Fear. Depression. Insecurity. Obama.  Mothers. Fathers. Children.

Political theorist Judith Butler says that it is “possible to appeal to a ‘we’ for all of us have


Trees are so good at letting go, but even they hang on to a few fruits!

some notion of what it is to have lost somebody. Loss has made a tenuous ‘we’ out of us all.”  In a time of political polarization and divisiveness,  the human experience of loss may be a powerful unifying force.   Sitting in the sanctuary with you all on Sunday was a visceral reminder of how much we have lost, how much we love, and how much we need one another.


As we enter the new year, there is much we need to let go of so we can move forward.  In the years to come, UUs are going to be called on to show up in more boldly loving ways. In the new political climate, more people will face more loss and they will need a place where they do not have to do loss alone.

This Sunday, my good friend Rev. Lucas Hergert of the UU church in Livermore will be in the pulpit while I preach in Livermore: Curse Of Blessings–How can we be a blessing to others, especially in a time of uncertainty? Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Lucas Hergert, Todd Whitely, and Sue Cotter

Wondering what to do around the inauguration?  Join UU’s who are attending the Women’s March in Sacramento on Saturday Jan 21st.  Many are taking the Rally Bus .  On Sunday January 22nd, attend the peace and justice rally at the 10th Street Plaza in at 2pm.  Or join me in the opening meeting of :

Exploring Whiteness and Showing Up for Racial Justice

Tuesday January 31st, 7:00 p.m. – location TBD.
Rev. Darcy and Rev. Wayne Bridegroom (retired minister of Central Baptist Church and 2014 winner of MLK Jr. Legacy award) are convening an opening meeting of Showing up for Racial Justice. In order to be of better support to local communities of color, this group will initially focus on building relationships and developing an understanding of the “soul-sickness” of Whiteness.


Embrace of Darkness

Last night was the Solstice, the real “reason for the season” if the truth would have it.  The ancient European festivities surrounding Solstice made Christians adapt their liturgical calendar to the festivities, rather than the other way around.  In fact, our Puritan ancestors made Christmas “illegal.”  Puritan preacher Cotton Mather wrote “Can you in your Conscience think, that our Holy Savior is honoured by Mad Mirth, by long Eating, by hard Drinking, by lewd Gaming, by rude Revelling; by a Mass fit for none but a Saturn, or a Bacchus?”   I always chuckle when I see the signs that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” because I know history reveals another storyimg_20161221_211703

The longest night holds a powerful sway on us humans, so sensitive to sunlight, so dependent on the sunlight not just for our moods, but for our crops, for our very survival. In the evenings leading up to Solstice, I take a little time to light candles, sip tea, and stare into the flames, thinking about for how many hundreds and hundreds of years we humans have done something similar at this time of year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).  We let the darkness embrace us and still ourselves around the warmth of flame.

I think my favorite UU hymn is #55 Dark of Winter by Shelley Jackson Denham.  The hymn closes with these lines, which is my prayer for us all.

“Darkness, when fears arise, let your peace flow through me.”

This Saturday night, we are doing a shared Christmas eve service with our religious cousins, the College Ave Congregational Church. College Ave is a member of the United Church for Christ (UCC), the Christian denomination to whom UU’s are most closely related. In fact, there is a joke that UCC stands for “Unitarians Considering Christ.”  Rev. Darcy and Rev. Michael Schiefelbein will lead this service of Lessons and Carols and communion will be offered for those interested.

Reminder: There will be NO worship service this Sunday December 25th. 



Hairbreadth Away

“To be human is to live a hairbreadth away from the unbearable.”

This line jumped out this week while reading a chapter in Serene Jones’ book “Trauma and Grace in a Ruptured World.”  A family member of mine who lost her 18 year daughter to a heroin overdose last year replied “I wish I had that distance.”  A hairbreadth felt so close until she replied and reminded me that, in fact, it is the lucky among us who can claim “the distance” of a hairbreadth.   Some of are in midst of the unbearable– and they/us need companionship and witness.  When we held our special “Sing and Share” service the day after the election, I asked folks to share in a brief word or phrase what had gotten them through an unbearable time.  What I recollect is that the majority of people said something along the lines of friends/family.  It is the people who can physically touch us and our lives, who clean up our house when we are coping with the death of a loved one, that makes the unbearable survivable.  Our spiritual and moral task is to draw that circle of companionship as wide as possible.


Though I suspect unintentional, this house on Christmas Tree Lane in Ceres, with their deflated inflatables, offered a powerful visual speaking to the tension and vulnerability so many are feeling this particular Christmas season. 

Making our circle bigger is part of the reason we are joining College Ave Congregational Church this Christmas Eve for worship, instead of doing our own service at UUFSC.  Rev. Michael and I will co-lead this worship of Carols and Lessons.  This is an experiment, an opportunity to connect with folks who share our values even if they tend to like a lot more Jesus and God language in their worship than we UUs do. But if there is a worship service where UU’s ‘do Jesus,’  it’s Christmas Eve.  Congregational churches are our religious cousins– Unitarians split off from the Congregationalists in Puritan New England. Ironically, since we split 200 years ago, Congregationalist churches (now part of the United Church of Christ denomination, UCC), are often the Christian congregations most closely in sync with UU values.  There is a joke that says UCC actually stands for “Unitarians Considering Christ.”   Celebrating Christmas eve together, with people who share our values of welcome, justice, and love, is a chance to draw our circle wider and strengthen our religious interdependent web.   Lord knows this historical moment requires us to build bridges, not walls.

This Sunday, I look forward to really living into the Christian wisdom of embodiment with our Multigenerational, No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant: The Christian tradition teaches us to embody, to incarnate the divine, so embody we will! Join us for our multigenerational, pageant of Margaret Brown’s Christmas in the Barn.  Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.





Gay Science

Okay, so the title of this reflection is a bit “click-baity.” However, “Gay Science” is the


Christmas lights bring me MUCH joy during these darkest days.  Even sheep appreciate lights

title of a work by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Or, as it was originally translated into English: “The Joyful Wisdom” (froeliche Wissenschaft in German).  Nietzsche says that we humans should strive to act with joyful wisdom–that we should strive to respond to situations with affirmative, active attitudes, not reactive, negative attitudes.  Well, duh!  But Nietzsche develops “joyful” to mean more than pleasure or fun, but rather an ability to own even the most painful, regretful, shameful moments of one’s life, instead of being ashamed and blocked by those moments.  Philosopher Robin James offers this interpretation of Nietzsche’s rule of thumb for living in joyful wisdom: “act in a way that if you had to re-live each moment of your life over and over to infinity, would always choose/affirm your experiences (rather than regret them, disavow them, feel shame or guilt for them, etc.)”


Joy is a word that we come across a lot during the Advent and Christmas season.  You will find the word “Joy” lit up in store windows and shimmering on Christmas cards.  In this particular historical moment, we need more joy more than ever.  Both the experience of delight and pleasure that energizes and relaxes us,
calms ouriclipart-royalty-free-clipart-image-of-the-word-joy-in-candy-cane-hm90ya-clipart bodies down and reminds us of what is most precious and valuable; AND Nietzsche’s joy, the ability to affirm and acknowledge our choices without shame or guilt.

Post election, I have struggled more than usual with being White, knowing that so many of my fellow White brothers and sisters voted for our now President-Elect.  And while I want to distance myself and say “I’m not like THOSE White people,” such distancing I don’t think actually addresses the suffering and pain so many experience because of the evils of White supremacy.  How can I be a joyful White person, whose actions help create healing and liberation?  We need energy, vitality, and courage more than ever.  We need to be able to own our past, without guilt and shame blocking us from right action.   So during this Advent, I am taking those lit-up store signs and shimmering Christmas cards more to heart than I ever have: JOY.

This Sunday in worship: Finding Joy in the Darkness–German minister and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his family from a Nazi prison that “We can and should celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.”  We will come together to reach out for joy amidst the darkness. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.


How Big Is Our Tent

This week, I joined a small team of clergy in convening a “big tent” meeting of clergy around Modesto for relationship building.  We organized the gathering to address the growing divides in our country that the election revealed.  There was no agenda other than getting to know each other and speaking across the political, religious, and ethnic divides.  18 total clergy showed up: Liberal Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and of course Unitarian Universalist.  We were 14 men, 4 women. 2/3  of the clergy were White, 1/3 were Brown or Black.  I sat in the meeting and was aware how reserved I was being– this was a group where I’m not sure where everyone stands on the legitimacy of women’s ordination for example, let alone a queer woman.   Who else was feeling tightly reserved?  Who else wondered how others would judge their humanity if we weren’t keeping our full selves so constrained?  How was the one Black pastor in the meeting feeling?

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that our differences should be valued and embraced in community. We also believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As the adage goes, “we need not think alike to love alike.”   But, there are limits to how much difference a community or meeting can hold.  Whose humanity is affirmed and valued? And whose is not?    In an ideal world, I would never need to choose whose humanity to support or affirm.  But in these strange post-Election days, I feel like I am being asked to choose.  For example, to be frank, I am far more concerned about the humanity and well-being of Mexican immigrants than I am about White Evangelical Christians


Remember to look up so you can see colors like these along our streets!

I am more concerned not because I think a Mexican immigrant is somehow better or more worthy than a White Evangelic Christian but because the humanity of the Mexican immigrant is far more threatened and un-affirmed by our broader culture.   Even a big tent ends somewhere.

I find myself wondering: are smaller tents the places where I/we should invest our energy?  The tents where gays, lesbians, Black folks, Brown folks, immigrants, and the White working class can enter, not needing to wonder if their/our humanity will be affirmed and respected? Maybe that’s not a smaller tent after all– maybe that “tent” is the biggest tent of all.

This Sunday: Waiting in Uncertainty
We humans struggle so much with uncertainty, even though uncertainty is the reality of every one of our days. In the moments when we feel the uncertainty, to what can we turn to soothe our anxious minds?  Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and guest musician Sydney Gorham