Baby/Bum Wipes


Our community is full of beauty of all kinds.  In recent weeks, I’ve been witnessing and experiencing the beauty of generosity. Whether it’s incredibly successful church auction, all the gestures and gifts of support for Katherine and me as we prepare for the arrival of our son, or all the families who brought their children to the youth roundtable last week to listen to what our kids like and want from church, there is so much beauty to experience.


If you haven’t gotten a chance, make sure to taste the church pomegranates!

There is one gift that feels particularly special– a kind of gift you only get in a multigenerational community like ours.   A congregant asked me if I had a baby-wipes warmer, a device that warms the wipes you use to wipe a baby’s bum, because they had one they did not need.  We didn’t and I gladly accepted the gift.  And then I asked “if you don’t mind me asking, why do you have a wipe warmer?”  This person did not have a baby in their life that I knew of.   “Well, when I was taking care of one of my parents….”

I know this may sound silly, but there is something incredibly beautiful and powerful in thinking about warming the wipes that I’m going use to wipe my child’s bum at the very beginning of his life with the same warmer that this congregant used to warm the wipes they used to wipe their parent’s bum at the end of life.   Talk about the interdependent web. And we need to rename those wipes– they are not just for babies, they are for any of us when are bodies are in a tender state where yes, we need some help wiping our bums– we start out in that tender state, our bodies enter that tender state after surgeries and illnesses, and we end our lives in that tender state.     And in our age segregated society, this is a beauty our congregation has to offer: the beauty of passing down a wipes-warmer.


Cleaning up fallen walnuts from the church back yard 

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Pomegranate and Persimmon Communion–“If I were to teach a course on God, I would begin with a plate of persimmons” writes UU minister Nancy Shaffer.  We will give thanks for the abundance of our valley and offer one another a special pomegranate and persimmon communion.  Worship leaders: Rev Darcy and Sharon Arpoika.


P.S. I hope to see many of you this Monday evening November 20th at 6:45pm for the 21st Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration Service.  This year, it will be held at The Redeemer church, 820 H Street, Modesto (corner of 9th and H Streets).  I will be offering the invocation.  This is a special time when our community’s diverse faith communities (Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Latter Day Saints, Sikh, Christian, and UU), join together in a service of thanksgiving with words, prayer and song. The Celebration’s host church is new to the event and we welcome The Redeemer Church, the first evangelical church to be host.  As in past years, you may make a donation of canned goods or monetary offerings before and during the service for Inter-Faith Ministries, Stanislaus County’s local food pantry and clothes closet. Sponsored by the Stanislaus County Interfaith Council.


Why So Many Maps?

Today, I hosted my cohort from the American Leadership Forum, a year long leadership program for leaders in the Central Valley that want to improve their skills in engaging across difference.   First off, they all kept talking about how beautiful our church campus is and how lovely our sanctuary is, and how special our pulpit and stained glass windows are.  I gave them a tour, gave them a little spiel about Unitarian Universalism.


Sun Peeking Through Big Tree in UUFSC Back Courtyard

As we walked through the education building, someone asked “why do you have so many maps?”   This is something I’ve never noticed before, but in addition to the two maps donated by Kathryn S and Bob St. J., there is the upside-down map in my office.  I guess there are a lot of maps in our education building.   And I suppose that is noticeable– we don’t have Bible phrases or other kinds of “teachy” things.  What we have are maps, tools that humans use to represent and engage with the bigger reality than we can experience in our immediate surroundings.  Maps are devices that help guide you as you venture into that greater reality.   And the reason I have the upside-down map is because it is a concrete reminder to me that so often how we see something is a matter of habit, rather than reality.  The world is a globe and so there is not inherently an “up ” or “down” to the earth– there are just the habits we have of looking– and it’s important to remember that so often how we see things are habits, not the reality.

Why do we have so many maps? Because we UU’s believe in exploring the broader world, grasping a broader perspective than what may be immediately apparent.  Because a map is a useful thing to have when you venture out into that broader reality.  But let us remember that as useful as a map is, it is a far different thing to have a map of a mountain than it is to climb it.  Having the map is just the first step.

IMG_20171112_143529141I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: The Transformative Power of Joy–In serious times, we can so easily become overly earnest and rigid about our efforts to live right. Let us not forget the power of joy to transform lives and sustain us. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and guest musician Jorge Torrez.

Rotting Caterpillars


“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.” –From Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”

This week, in the “intro to process thought” reading group, we got to talking about suffering and transformation.  We all expressed dislike of the “everything happens for a reason” kinds of responses to suffering.  I fundamentally disagree with a theology/philosophy that would say the Ultimate would put/wish such pain upon us.  But


Photo by Rich Bowen /CC BY

also we discussed how we all had indeed experienced transformation from our times of deep suffering.  Just because we humans are resilient, just because we are forced into circumstances from which we can learn and grow, does not mean that those are experiences are “good.” It just means we do what we gotta do and some of us are blessed with learning, even growth and transformation, from them.  As one person put it, “sometimes I definitely feel like a rotting caterpillar.”


As we transition into the dark season of the year, as we come out of these days of honoring our beloveds who have died, as the leaves change, fall, and decay, remember that if you were to cut a chrysalis open, you would find not a beautiful half-caterpillar, half-butterfly creature, but instead a rotting caterpillar.

This Sunday, Sharon Arpoika with lead worship with Kate Munger: Threshold Choir: Kindness Made Audible–Kate Munger, founder of the Threshold Choir will share its vision – “A world where all at life’s thresholds may be honored with compassion shared through song.”   Kate will also be leading a Community Sing Saturday 7-9pm, and leading a workshop on Sunday 1-4pm.  To sign up or if you have questions, contact Bernadette B!


Absence and Presence

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
-from John O’Donohue’s poem “On the Death of a Beloved”

We are entering the season of memories.  The end of October and beginning of November are a time when Christian and Pagan traditions honor and connect with the those who have died.  Thanksgiving begins it’s approach and we all know that Christmas shortly follows.  Who is going to be at Thanksgiving this year?  And who will not be?  Whose absences do we feel?

I’ve been thinking of this line from O’Donohue’s poem “you would want us to find you in presence.”   Those who have died don’t just want to live in our memories–they want us to find them a place of presence in your everyday life.   When my dog Benny was alive, he liked28276978641_4f3113be4a_o to have a belly-rub first thing in the morning.  “Start the Day with Love” I would pronounce.  He didn’t like belly-rubs any other time–only in the mornings would he roll over on his back, his belly exposed. There was something extra safe about that early-morning time.  Sometimes when I open my eyes in the morning, I think of those morning belly-rubs and I smile.  The sensations and feelings of those belly rubs flood my body. And some mornings, particularly when the sun hits me just right (reminding me of how he loved to lay in the sun)  I say out loud “start the day with love.”  I can still find Benny in the morning hours, when the sun streams through my window just right.  The love of the past still sustains me in the present.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Honoring Our Beloved Dead–We gather to honor and celebrate our beloveds who have left our lives. Children are invited to participate in the entire service–in ritual, words, and song. Please bring mementos and/or photos of dear ones who have passed on, as we will co-create an altar for our beloveds. Worship leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Avonelle Tomlinson, and Haruko Dearth.

Hope Returns

There are some stories coming out of Sonoma and Napa Counties that have really turned on the water works for me–stories of deep care and concern.  Being a dog person, this video I have watched a few times over, because I can totally experience the shock and joy these guys must have experienced upon having found their dog amidst the ruins of their home (it’s a four minute video…I would recommend watching the last 30 seconds).  I love the sound of the man who is not carrying the phone-camera– it is so raw and unpolished.  And I love that the video cuts out just as they find the dog because who cares about the video when you just discovered your beloved whom you thought likely died?

Hope. Joy.  It is so important to tap into these things over and over and over again.  Our brains are wired to remember the painful and hard much more easily than the joyful and pleasurable.  And so that is perhaps why I watched this video a few times over.  Because it could tap right into my brain and spirit and I could viscerally experience the overwhelming joy those guys must have felt.   We humans need to experience joy, particularly in the midst of danger and destruction.  “Hope returns…” wrote the photographer of this photo of two brothers playing and decorating a statue of General Vallejo in Sonoma.    Indeed, don’t forget: hope (and play) returns.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: How to Remember- Memory is a tricky thing, essential to our sense of self and yet also so fallible and changeable. How do we remember and what are the things we want to make sure to remember?  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy and Todd Whiteley.

Speaking of joy and play…this Saturday evening, a group of dedicated UU members are excited to bring you a night of joy and play (and yes, some fundraising) at the Great Gatsby Soiree! It will be a Gala evening, complete with costumes for those who like to dress up…..and any amount of bling for those who don’t wish to
have a period costume.  7pm at UUFSC!  And here is the Auction Booklet.



Smoky Haze

It is eery to smell, inhale, and see the smoky haze and realize you are literally breathing in the ashes of people’s lives– their homes, their dreams…even their loved ones.  I think back to the book I was reading last winter by Northern California writer Rebecca Solnit, Paradise Built in Hell.  It helped me a great deal those months after the election. I refer back to this book often, because it tells the stories of how the very best in people come out in crisis– neighbors take care of each other, take risks for each other, in ways we often do not do in regular life.  In Solnit’s words:

“But what if paradise flashed up among us from time to time—at the worst of times? What if we glimpsed it in the jaws of hell? These flashes give us, as the long ago and far away do not, a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become. This is a paradise of rising to the occasion that points out by contrast how the rest of the time most of us fall down from the heights of possibility, down into diminished selves and dismal societies. Many now do not even hope for a better society, but they recognize it when they encounter it…[Disasters] are a crack in the walls that ordinarily hem us in, and what floods in can be enormously destructive—or creative.”


Photo shared by Rebecca Solnit’s Facebook Page from Sonoma County


Sadly, there are too many opportunities these days to turn to Solnit’s words, to remind myself of the possibility of paradise rising up from the (literal) ashes.  And yet, I absolutely have no doubt in the possibility of this paradise.  As we bear witness to yet more death and destruction, as we take in our family and friends, as we mourn and grieve for all that has been lost, let us not forget the possibility of Solnit’s paradise.  At least, that is what I am working on these days as I walk through our hazy, smoke filled streets.

If you are interested in offering support to those impacted by the wildfires, please considering contributing to the UU Disaster Relief Fund or the North Bay Fire Relief Fund .

This Sunday, I look forward to worshipping with you all: Engaging with White Supremacy–Unitarian Universalists of color have asked UU congregations around the country to dedicate this Sunday to addressing issues of white supremacy, inside and outside our congregations. Worship leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.  (Learn more about the UU White Supremacy Teach-In.)



No Extraordinary Power

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.
-Adrienne Rich

Unitarian Universalist Association president, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, quoted these words in a message she sent to those of us on the front-lines in our congregations, those of us living and working in our communities, just working to get along, get by, and not be overwhelmed with the seeming unceasing news of disaster and violence.  Those of us trying to create meaning and stay connected to a sense of hope and possibility.


Time for the shake and sweep!

In our worship team meeting on Tuesday, we reflected on the difference between belief and faith.  And one person, with their arms crossed over their chest, said “right now, I don’t have faith. I just don’t.”   I responded “that’s okay– that’s what community is for.”  We went on with our meeting, checking in, chatting, planning worship, and talking about babies (that seems to be a frequent topic of conversation my world these days!).  And by the end of the meeting, the person whose arms were crossed so tight– well, they had loosened up.  “I feel better” they said at the end of the meeting.

What do I have faith in? In community, in NOT going it alone.  My bones know this to be true– no matter what, don’t go it alone.  Find a place where you can be real and honest about your joy and despair.  And when you find that place, those people, stick by them no matter what.  It’s messy and frustrating, for sure– and so very worth it.  It is us who, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

This Sunday,  join in worship: Replenishing at the Well of Fellowship–in seeking justice, equity and compassion in human relations with the goal of peace, liberty, and justice for all, we split our time and energy among many deserving causes. Sometimes we forget that we must also seek compassion and peace for ourselves. For many of us, the only place we replenish our spirits is at our Fellowship. And yet….is that actually happening? Come and explore this question with Bernadette Burns in a service that will, perhaps, challenge as well as comfort you. Worship leaders this week are Bernadette Burns, Sharon Arpoika, and Sabine Klein