I Climbed A Mountain

Last weekend, I climbed a mountain without even really intending to.  As part of the American Leadership Forum’s leadership program I am participating in this year, I spent a long weekend up in Plumas National Forest with other leaders from San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties.   On one of the days, we had an option: we could climb the Sierra Buttes, do a shorter hike to Tamarac lake, or a really short walk to a look-out point.  I didn’t given much thought to it– I went with the middle option because, well, it was the middle option!  That seemed like a wise choice.  But when the morning came for us to split up in groups, I was the only one who wanted to go to the lake.  Two other


Sierra Buttes– I climbed to the top!

people  decided to join me. The first part of the trail was the same for the mountain and the lake, so we said “when we get to the fork, we can decide to go to the lake or up the mountain.”   No pressure– we would just decide as we got there.  When we got to the fork, we decide to head up the mountain, but were clear we could stop at any point. Our guide told us that we should strive to walk at a pace where we could always keep up a conversation, which at times meant a very slow pace.  But that’s what we did.  About 3/4 of the way up, my two hiking partners decided they were finished with their ascent– but I was feeling good and decided to go to the top.   And just like that, without even meaning to, I climbed a mountain.

From a distance, that mountain looks, well, like a mountain.  Something that would be exhausting to climb.  But when you have good hiking buddies, when you walk at a slow, conversational pace, step by step it’s possible (even easier than expected) to climb a mountain.

I look forward to worshiping with you This SundayThe Gift of Limitations–Life is full of possibility and limitation, though we just like to talk about the possibilities. But in truth, the limitations give our life useful and creative definition. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.   We will blessed to have our children with us for the whole service, allowing our entire multigenerational community to worship together.



Far Flung Love

Former Modesto Poet Laureate Gillian Wegener (who was guest speaker at our congregation in June!), just had this poem featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac:

Letter to My Husband Far Away

The house is not empty without you.
It thrums and bumps, the walls relax and sigh.
The water heater dutifully comes on, rumbles
with heat, waiting for your shower to start.
How many times today have I heard
your truck in the driveway, the floor creak
with your step, felt your breath against
the back of my neck. At least that often,
I’ve turned to tell you something,
or hand you a piece of cheese or plum,
but it’s two more days until you return.
It’s just me in this room, with this plum,
with this good fortune, with this far-flung love.

(you can buy Gillian’s book Sweet Haphazard from which this poem came here)


Orchard cat I’ve named “Chuckles” being very present right outside my front door. 

For me, this poem invokes the power of absence and presence. When someone you love is gone, their absence is almost palpable to you. Their absence is so present.   A church member described how it felt to go out into the world after losing a loved one and how shocking it was to see the world going on as usual.  Does not the world know what has just been lost?  There are few spaces where we are invited to bring forward those who are absent from our lives into community, where we are invited to bring that far-flung love into the here and now– to make their absence present.  In my mind, church should be one of those places– a place where you do not have to pretend that you are not walking around holding these absences.  A place where you be open and say,  “here I am, with this plum, with this loud absence, with this good fortune of this far-flung love.”

This Sunday, please join Avonelle Tomlinson leading worship with guest speaker Joy Willow: Finding Balance in an increasingly unbalanced world means finding our essence and wholeness. It is ever more urgent that we tend to our inner lives with tools such as conscious breathing. Worship leaders are Avonelle Tomlinson and guest speaker, Joy Willow, along with musician Sabine Klein.

P.S.  Today (Thursday), I am heading off into the woods of Plumas National Forest to take part in a retreat as part of my participation in the American Leadership Forum’s (ALF) year-long leadership development program.  You can read about the program here: http://www.greatvalley.org/work/alf.   I’ll be back on Tuesday afternoon.  If there are urgent church business matters, please contact a Board Member. For urgent pastoral care issues, please contact C.L. Everett.




Last night, a few UUFSC members and I attended a post-Charlottesville community organizing gathering, hosted by Unify StanislaUS, the group that formed after the community organizing meeting UUFSC hosted last June.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a room that

21192309_863423750488835_1074930509496073647_nlike, a room of Muslims, Latino Catholics, White Protestants, Jews, Black Protestants, Hindus, Vietnamese Buddhists, white UUs, and Humanists gathering to get to know one another.  The meeting was held in both Spanish and English, which meant the meeting went slower than if we had just were working in one language.  In middle of the meeting, our Muslim siblings, who had been fasting that day for Eid, broke their fast with everyone and then did their sunset prayers as the rest of us snacked on cookies and awkwardly stood around– were us non-Muslims supposed to watch? Or was it rude to watch?  At the end of the meeting, the communities of color were asked to share what requests they had of those gathered– the group was acknowledging that some communities of color are feeling and being more targeted and threatened than other communities. Chatting with someone after the meeting, I asked how the meeting was for them. And their response was “Good and…awkward.”


21192903_863423747155502_7665079101015613079_nHere was a gathering of really diverse people, diverse in all kinds of ways: language, immigration status, religious race, ethnicity, and class.  Does his kind of gathering not embody some of our most precious liberal values?  Yes?  And did it feel good? Well, kind of…but it also felt awkward.   And I’m sure we weren’t the only ones to feel that way.  And yet, over 100 people showed up to be awkward together.   I don’t think “awkwardness” often gets named as a stage of spiritual development, but after last night, I pretty convinced that it is most definitely one.


I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Labor of Love– We gather to honor all the labor that has brought us to where we are today, to remember the work, the love, the struggle, the care. Rev. Darcy will lead members in an extended meditation and then members will share about the labor they would like to honor. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Sharon Arpoika, and Haruko DeArth.

Habits and Adaptations

“Today’s habits are yesterday’s adaptations.”  I read this line somewhere recently– it very likely comes from Harvard professor Ronald Heifetz and one of his books on adaptive leadership.  Our ability to create habits and routines allows us to be more efficient as creatures– when something is a habit, we don’t have to devote so much mental energy to doing whatever the thing is that has become a habit.  Last year, I decided I wanted to make cooking for the week on Monday afternoon (my official day off) a habit.  So, I recruited some friends for a short-term endeavor of cooking regularly– we agreed to do it for 8 weeks.  It’s so much easier to commit to doing something short term!  Initially, I would spend 3-4 hours cooking on Monday afternoons and that wasn’t including the time identifying recipes and going to the grocery store.  But gradually, over time, I found a bunch of recipes I liked, I made the changes to the recipes– figured out how to simplify some of them.  And now, some Mondays, I only cook for like 90 minutes.  I have become more efficient and it has become ingrained that cooking on Monday afternoons is what I do.


As seen on the fridge at First Presbyterian Church in Stockton, CA

Our lives present us with all kinds of challenges– we are faced with many kinds of ways we need to adapt.  One of the hardest things about changing and adapting is actually realizing you are in a new kind of situation where the habit you have developed may no longer be accomplishing or achieving the outcome you want.  We forget that at one point, the habitual way we do things was new– it was an adaptation that was effective in meeting a need.  And it was so effective that we kept on doing it until it became a habit. But it wasn’t always that way.  Today’s habits are just yesterday’s adaptations. And while habits make us more efficient, they can also obscure from awareness how what may be needed may not be the usual routine– but in fact, an adaptation.

This Sunday, please join Todd Whiteley with guest preacher Rev. Yvonne Schumacher Strejcek: Pilgrimage: Spirit, Legacy, Transformation–Pilgrimage travel is more than tourism — while it is educational and fun, it brings to life spirit, people, places, and values from our faith’s history, whose legacies live on today and that we’ve inherited. Pilgrimage travel gives new and important spiritual meaning to personal international connections.



What Are We Gonna Learn?

A few weeks ago in worship, I asked the children (and the grown-ups) what there was not a lot of in the sanctuary. I was expecting them to say things like frogs, or chocolate…or any of the number of things that there were not a lot of.  Instead, the first responses of our children were things like “hate” and “mean people.”   As our children navigate the first weeks of the school year,  I think about how significant it was that our children don’t think there are lot of mean people in our church.   Because, frankly, I experienced and witnessed a lot of “meanness” during my days in school.  One of our parents has shared that their young child is clearly more comfortable and open here than anywhere else.  Indeed, UUFSC is a haven.


UU Clergy (including UUA president Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray) standing back to back with other clergy in Charlottesville, VA

When I asked in worship what there was not a lot of in our sanctuary, one of the grown-ups chimed in “people of color.”  For most UU congregations, it is an on-going struggle to understand how in spite of our open and affirming theology and our spoken commitments to racial justice, there is something about the culture of our congregations that make  most UU congregations so predominantly (though not entirely!) White.  Interestingly, in most UU congregations, the children are far more racially and ethnically diverse than the grown-up population, which is true in our congregation as well.  In these days following the White supremacist violence in Charlottesville, I wonder what White people like me need to learn to create more havens where there isn’t a lot of hate or meanness.   What do we need to learn?

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday for our Ingathering and Water Communion Service:  From all the places we went or didn’t go during the summer, we gather again to recommit ourselves to building Beloved Community.  This earlier date puts us more in sync with our families with school-aged children and invites us to ask– what do we want to learn in this upcoming year and how we want to learn it?  Please bring some water from a special or mundane place or none at all in this time of drought.  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.


My parents have arrived in town for a visit this weekend. And of course I know that the REAL reason they are here is to spend time sitting around my pregnant wife and their future grandchild (their first!).   At this stage, doctors say that the baby can hear outside the womb (which is why I am playing all kinds of music every chance I can– I want this kid to have a great sense of rhythm).  This is a threshold moment for my family– a moment when the past will pour into the future.


Peaches have been picked and the Augusts sunsets are beautiful

A member stood up in Joys and Sorrows last week and shared about how much comfort it gave him to see the children of our church– as someone who is in the later stages of life, spending time with the church children gives him a palpable sense of relief and comfort. Though the future (hopefully far future) won’t have him physically in it, who he is, what he cares about, and his values, are literally going to be carried into the future via these children.

When we “re-member,” yes we recall something from the past.  But the word member means “a part of a whole.” So the work of re-Membering is the work of becoming again a part of a whole.   We rework the whole to accommodate not only our memories of the past but also to accommodate the new parts of our whole–parts and people that will take up, transform, and carry on our past– will carry on “us.”  Of the many things a religious community does, re-Membering is one of the most special.

Speaking of remembering,  remember the first day of school after the summer?  Please send lots of love and courage to our families with school-age children– this week many of our children (and parents and guardians) had their first day of school, (not to mention the many teachers and former teachers in the UUFSC community!).

This Sunday, please join Sharon Arpoika and Bernadette Burns, two members who carry lots of story and memories of UUFSC, who will lead us in worship: Filling Your Spirit With Song–Music and singing are integral parts of our Unitarian Universalist worship services. Whether it’s classical, rock, folk, or a cappella, music shifts the energy of worship and moves it into our bodies. This Sunday we’ll connect to Spirit, and to one another, through hymn singing, chanting, Taize and more.


I’m never quite sure who will show up or how things unfold during the “Tea with the Minister” times (next one is next week, Wednesday 8/9 at 3pm).   But I knew something fun might happen when a person walked in with a basket of peaches and the poem I had selected for us to muse and riff off of in our chatting was all about peaches.   What unfolded over the next hour was one of those beautiful instances of deep layered story-telling, laughter, and difference.  A poem that spoke romantically of peaches, summer, and the orchards did indeed resonate with some– but others had stories of long shifts  in a cannery or hot mornings working in the fields.  And as we laughed at the vivid and visceral storytelling each person unraveled, there on the table sat a basket of peaches that someone just happened to have brought because, well, it is peach season here in the valley.


Goof, one of my peach orchard cats

One of the reasons I love church is because when we gather, we invite moments of beautiful synchronicity and connection.  It happens in worship — something unplanned happens that just makes everything just fit together.  These synchronicities remind me of the importance of not clinging too tightly, not trying to control things too rigidly.   There can be such profound beauty in gathering around a basket of peaches.   And in our time-obsessed, productivity-oriented culture, it is so easy to lose that mental muscle– the muscle that slows us down, breath, and gather around a basket of peaches.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Cultivating Abundance– It’s so easy to focus on what we lack. In fact, our brains are hardwired this way! How can we resist our negativity bias and cultivate appreciation for the abundance in our lives? Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Avonelle Tomlinson, and Haruko DeArth.