Reflections on UU General Assembly 2015–Failure, Brokenness, and Vulnerability

Dear UUFSC,

Before I begin my summer sabbath time and study leave, I wanted to share with you some

LoveWins celebration at GA.  photo by thresholdofrevelation https://instagram.com/p/4Z_vPAtPJg/

LoveWins celebration at GA. photo by thresholdofrevelation https://instagram.com/p/4Z_vPAtPJg/

further thoughts on my experience at this General Assembly (GA) and also highlight some of the sermons and presentations from GA that I would encourage all of us to watch.

Many of my ministry colleagues and I commented that it seemed like the “true” theme of this year’s Ministry Days conference and General Assembly was failure, brokenness, and vulnerability.  To put it plainly, for us Unitarian Universalists, most of whom (though not all) identify as White liberal folks,  this year kicked our behinds.  From Ferguson to Charleston, the continuing evils of racism and White supremacy have been put out there in plain sight in ways we simply cannot deny.  What I heard from UUs at General Assembly were these questions:

  1. How can we acknowledge, in compassion, our own shortcomings and failures as a religious community?
  2. How can we find sources of hope and resiliency?
  3. How can we continue fighting the hells of this world by building beloved community?

The good news, my dear friends, is that UUFSC already knows the answer to these questions.  That’s what I have witnessed in my first year serving you all as your minister. We are willing to face ugly truths and the depths of our suffering.  We all are fiercely committed to loving one another and this world. And we know how to find beauty and have fun!

You know what felt awesome for me at General Assembly?  The stories I got share with colleagues about UUFSC and what we have done this year: the work on healthy boundaries and staffing; feeding people who are homeless with respect and dignity; participation in the Beloved Conversations curriculum and small group ministry; our concrete support of First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s Charleston Vigil.  Yes, I was bragging about us. And yes, I enjoyed it :-)

Below, please find the links to what I would recommend you watching from General Assembly.

When I return on July 28th, I look forward to sitting down with many of you and discerning our priorities for our second year of shared ministry.  Blessings on us all and the work of Unitarian Universalism in Stanislaus County!

In Faith,

Rev. Darcy

Must-Sees from General Assembly 2015:

  • Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar’s sermonFor Just Such a Time as This’ at the Service of the Living Tradition. Lavanhar is the Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa OK.  http://www.uua.org/ga/virtual/2015/worship/slt  (to skip to the sermon, forward to the 1h 23 minute mark)
  • Adoption of Action of Immediate Witness for #BlackLivesMatter in General Session VI–take notice of the confusion in procedure, tensions, and anxieties in this process.  http://www.uua.org/ga/virtual/2015/business/vi  (begins approximately at the 47 minute mark of the video).

For great coverage of General Assembly and the highlights and take-aways, check out the UU World: http://www.uuworld.org/ga

So so full!

I write this from Portland OR at our UU General Assembly.  Yesterday we got news of the

Prayer Vigil at First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church last Sunday. Photo by Andy Alfaro at Modesto Bee

Prayer Vigil at First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church last Sunday. Photo by Andy Alfaro at Modesto Bee

SCOTUS decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.  Today, on what would have been the 13th birthday of Tamir Rice,  we celebrated the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, just as the memorial for the Charleston 9 began.   And at General Assembly this morning, we Unitarian Universalists almost unanimously approved the statement of conscience for reproductive justice, a process I have been working on for 4 years.  Talk about being FULL.   What a week, what a year.

The opening ceremony of General Assembly is parade of congregational banners. One of

Board President Elaine Arnold in the Banner Parade

Board President Elaine Arnold in the Banner Parade

our members who is attending General Assembly for the first time spoke about how powerful it was to sit in the convention hall with thousands of UUs watching hundreds and hundreds of banners being carried.  She realized we are far bigger than it sometimes feels in our little slice of Unitarian Universalism in Stanislaus County.

Who we are and what we do MATTER.  I feel this more than ever, sitting in the middle of thousands of Unitarian Universalists, holding the celebrations of this week, and the lament of Ferguson to Charleston.

Delegates nearly unanimously voting to adopt the Reproductive Justice Statement of Conscience.

Delegates nearly unanimously voting to adopt the Reproductive Justice Statement of Conscience.

My weekly reflections will take a four week hiatus as I take 4 weeks of sabbath and study leave, returning on Tuesday July 28th.  Love and blessings to you all!!!

It’s Hot

It’s been hot here in Stanislaus County.  It’s also been hot in Charleston, South Carolina. And it’s gonna keep on being hot.  In fact, the weather between these two geographies looks very similar. Mid 90’s to 100 degrees during the hottest parts of the day.  On Wednesday June 17th, the day Dylann Roof sat in a bible study with members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before opening fire and killing nine people, it got up to 99 degrees.

Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

Our country’s national temperature regarding race has always been high, at times it peaks over into boiling–at least, in terms of news coverage and how much white folks are actively thinking and engaging with topics of racism on a daily basis, like police brutality or church shootings.  I think we can agree these past 8 months have been boiling.

It is easy in these days after something like the shooting at Emanuel AME Church for us to want to “do something.”  We want to ‘do something’ so we can quell the intense discomfort we feel as we “peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.” 

But I would like us to invite us to try to stay in the discomfort.  The work of liberation–for black folks, brown folks, for white folks–is not a sprint–it’s a marathon.  What are on-going, sustainable, long-term ways we can engage? What does racial justice have to do with your own spiritual growth and personal liberation?  Some folks in the congregation have been participating in the small group ministry Beloved Conversations, which focuses on anti racism and spirituality.  Another kick-off Beloved Conversations retreat will be offered in January 2016 at the UU Oakland Church, on one of the last two weekends in January–mark your calendars!  More info to come!

Here are some things to do:

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday, with ONE service at 10am–being with you all fills my being with hope even in the face of overwhelming injustice and violence.  We will be honoring All Kinds of Papas, exploring how we can support our fathers, brothers, and sons to live out liberating masculinities.

P.S. This is my last Sunday in the pulpit before I attend our General Assembly next week and take four weeks of vacation and study leave.  I return on Tuesday July 28th and am back in the pulpit starting Sunday August 9th.

Scaffolding

In the first month or so I was here, construction on Kiernan Ave began– all year, WP_20150611_001we have been dealing with construction. And for the past few weeks, the scaffolding went up around the church, a crew of volunteers have been working to fix up the exterior, and in a few weeks, repainting will begin.  Lots of work has been getting done this year at UUFSC!

A friend of mine who is a museum director (we were roommates back in Washington DC) once talked about “social scaffolding.”  She says that “one of the misconceptions with participation is that people want an open slate. And the reality is that a blank piece of paper

Kiernan Ave September 2014

Kiernan Ave September 2014

is like the scariest thing in the universe to most people. and so if you want people to be creative or to share a personal story… you have to both give them kind of the emotional support and you need to give them the tools to be successful.”

This year, what was the scaffolding that supported us building our relationship as minister and congregation? Of course worshiping together is one of the biggest ways a minister and members of a congregation build relationship.  Working with various committees was another type of scaffolding.  And the other big “scaffolding” of our relationship this year has been navigating the staff changes– we learned a lot about each other as we navigated all that was involved with these staff changes.

What types of scaffolding in your life do you want to off road churchkeep? And what types are time to collapse and put away?

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday (one service, 10:00am): The Simplicity of Fear.  Neuroscience increasingly reveals how despite our sophisticated frontal cortexes, we humans can easily be dominated by the old reptilian brain. How can this religious community help us cope with the simplicity of fear and find that place where we sing and rejoice?

Play with them even if you don’t agree….

WP_20150521_012

Railroad bridge off Cayuga Lake, Cayuga NY–close to where I grew up.

“As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will ever so perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.” -Wynton Marsalis

According to Marsalis, jazz embodies democracy– it means working things out with other people, listening, and playing with them even when you don’t agree.  And the result of that working out? Well, it can be beautiful, soul-stirring music.  And if jazz is the music of democracy, and UUs are the religion of democracy, well then it makes a whole kind of sense for us UUs to do Jazz Sundays like we are doing this Sunday, with special guest musicians Karen Bucio’s New Horizon’s Jazz Band (it was previously announced that the guest musicians were Ernie Bucio’s Little Big Band, but this was incorrect! Apologies for the confusion!)

We will also be honoring our children who are ‘bridging’ up to a new RE class, as well as acknowledging and honoring the hard work of our RE committee this year. The CYRE team not only operated without a religious education staff person from the middle of October to the end of April, but also have been welcoming and on-boarding our new Religious Education Coordinator right at the end of a long church and school year. Talk about having to pull together, self-organize, and improvise!

So many things in church life do not come easy– and yet the process of working through things, even when we feel hurt and misunderstood, can be beautiful and produce beauty.  When musicians get together and improvise, you don’t know what is going to happen and it might not always sound quite “right.”  But when we show up and communicate, when we play our instruments and stick to it, we can make beauty happen.  As Thelonious  Monk put it, “the piano ain’t got no wrong notes.”

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday!

Please note: Our office administrator Brenda is going on vacation- she leaves Saturday June 13th and returns to the office on Tuesday June 23rd.  If you would like an announcement to go into the June 18th weekly e-blast, please email those announcements to Brenda no later than Thursday June 11th at 12 noon.

Home is so many things

I went back to where I grew up last week, a place that was home for me in my childhood.

A farm down the road from my parents home.

A farm down the road from my parents home.

Home is word that tends to evoke a lot of feeling.  We often talk about people finding a spiritual home with us here at UUFSC.   Home can connote a sense of belonging, comfort,  and safety.  But then again, we also know that lots of unhappy things happen in ‘homes’– abuse, violence, grief, sadness. Home is so many things.  A friend shared this Philip Larkin poem with me recently:

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

The house my mother grew up in, handbuilt by my grandfather.

The house my mother grew up in, handbuilt by my grandfather.

What does home mean to you?

And, after all the traveling to and from Upstate New York,  I am certainly glad to be back where I feel is home, the comfort and belonging kind of home!

This week in worship, (one service at 10am!)  we are lucky to have guest preacher Rev. Kurt A. Kuhwald join Tina Godsey in leading worship.  Rev. Kuhwald will address how we must take care of home, our planet earth as home! In Rev. Kuhwald’s words:  “We have come to it …  the decision point. We have come to the realization that as UUs we must Commit 2 Respond to the greatest challenge human kind has ever faced … we must take our place, offer our gifts… we must, together in community, take the redemptive pathway to climate justice and a just transition for all people, all species.”

Rev. Kuhwald has served 8 congregations as minister in various capacities. He has also served in three community ministries including a street ministry in San Francisco, faculty at Starr King School and community change activist for racial, economic and climate justice in the SF East Bay.

Live Gently

This morning, driving up Prescott to church, right before Pelandale, traffic was backed up. I craned my head around trying to see what was going on. I felt annoyed.  And then I saw why we were stopped:

WP_20150514_002bA family of geese were crossing the road. I watched the baby geese waddling in between the grown-ups.  A big sigh left my body….then I realized my breathing had been shallow, so I took a big breath as I watched the goose family cross the road, all the traffic stopped, seemingly patiently waiting in middle of the morning rush.  Our world can be brutal and rushed.  And sometimes, there is a moment of grace when everything slows down.  Where is your moment of grace and slowness?

I am looking forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday at 10:00am, as we begin our summer schedule: Being a Serpent and A Dove–“Be as wise as serpents, innocent as doves,” said Jesus to his disciples. How can we be wise, yet not cynical? Innocent, yet not naive?