The Cha-Cha

“Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.” – Robert Brault

As many of you know, I am a dancer.  Generally, I spend 3-5 hours a week dancing. So of

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Some church campus color!

course I could really appreciate this Robert Brault quote.  Taking a step back after taking a step forward– it’s not just okay, not a disaster, but this process of learning, adjusting, and even backtracking could be something like a dance.  When I started to dance, it took me a number of months to learn how to learn how to dance– how to pick up the different sections of choreography and then string them together.  I remember really clearly the dance class when all of the sudden, I could do it.  It just clicked after months of fumbling.   I could finally learn and string together all the different pieces of the choreography.  Often times, we have to learn HOW to learn.  And in my experience, this learning how to learn is a clumsy process.  I did not look or feel very elegant or sassy when I was learning how to learn dance.  And the only way I could learn to learn dance was by doing it and fumbling alone.  I couldn’t sit down and learn it abstractly so then I could perfectly execute.

Our congregation is a learning community, where hopefully, we are learning how to learn and can laugh along the way as we are awkward and fumbling.  Cha-cha!!!!

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Adorable Deplorable— Adorable Deplorable were the bumper sticker words plastered on the back of a Toyota Corolla—how can we recognize and care for those whose worldview seem so different from our own? Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy Baxter and Matthew Mason.

Also, as part of worship, we will be doing a child dedication ritual for a few of our children  who are new (ish) to the congregation!

Double Your Pledge Impact–Increased Pledges and New Pledges Will Be Matched! As you probably know, we are in middle of our annual fundraising pledge drive. What you generously donate to UUFSC determines just how powerfully we can Love the Hell out of Stanislaus County.  Thanks to a generous donor, we have $5000 of matching funds for you if you increase your pledge or if you are newly pledging for the first time.  In other words, if you had been pledging $1200 a year, and you up your pledge to $2000, your $800 increase will be matched with another $800.  If you pledge for the first time with a $1200 pledge, then your pledge will be matched with another $1200. Thank you all for your generosity and for growing Beloved Community in Stanislaus County.

 

 

 

What is Possible?

Wednesday was my wife’s birthday, so I sent some flowers to her office.  She sent me a text message, thanking me for the flowers.  I responded “did you like the dog?”

“What?” she wrote back.

“The flowers were supposed to be in the shape of a dog– sounds like maybe not?”

“Wait, hold on.”…”Oh, wow! The bouquet was turned sideways and I didn’t even see the dog!”

As most of you know, we are in middle of our annual pledge drive, so this question of IMG_4088“what is possible” has been on my mind and our leaders’ minds.  As I scroll through spreadsheets, I try to hold onto our congregation’s mission, hold onto the big picture, in my head and heart.  Our human minds are subject to all kinds of evolutionary habits that often do not serve us well in our modern circumstances– like the brain’s negativity bias.  Human brains will pay more attention to danger, threat, and negative experiences than to neutral or positive experiences.  In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and thinking than something equally emotional but negative.

It is so easy to look at circumstances (and  spreadsheets) and “miss the dog” so to speak.  In fact, our brains may be so focused on looking for “lions, tigers, and bears” that we are almost ensured to be missing the opportunities and generosities that may be abundantly surrounding us.  What possibilities are hiding in plain sight?

This Sunday: Possibilities in the Eternity of Now–What are the possibilities created in the eternity of now? Todd Whiteley delivers a sermon written by Rev. Kathleen Ellis. Worship Leaders this week are Avonelle Tomlinson, Todd Whiteley, and Sabine Klein.

 

Flowering of Paradox

“Spring is the season of surprise when we realize once again that despite our perennial doubts, winter’s darkness yields to light and winter’s deaths give rise to new light. So one metaphor for spring is “the flowering of paradox”… The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love. But in the spring we are reminded that human nature, like nature herself, can hold opposites together as paradoxes, resulting in a more capacious and generous life.”  -Quaker author Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness

The “flowering of paradox” captures what I feel strolling or driving through the Valley these days–almond blossom season in the Valley is so stunningly beautiful and magical (and allergy filled).  And as I smile in appreciation of that beauty, I cannot help but also feel a pang of pain as I think about the sweat of the poorly paid immigrant labor that nurtures these orchards just as much as the soil and rain. Or the Valley farmers who overwhelmingly voted for our 45th president and in many ways feel so distant to me, despite being surrounded by their orchards.  Here again I find an experience of beauty intricately interwoven with pain.  “The deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair. The deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring.”

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On the heels of the almond blossoms, here come the peach blossoms!

In the mission statement feedback sessions, one word that got repeated about this congregation was that it was a”refuge,” “haven” and “sanctuary” from dominant and dehumanizing worldviews.   UUFSC is a refuge.  And there are some things, like the flowering of paradox,  which we cannot find a haven from– things that we must confront, preferably in the context of a sanctuary, of community.  What paradoxes are flowering in your life?

This Sunday in worship: Hell is Other People…But So is Heaven– “Hell is Other People” said Jean Paul Sartre in his play No Exit. The trouble is, so is heaven. Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy Baxter, John Patton, and Sabine Klein.

After worship this Sunday, newcomers to UUFSC are encouraged to join me for the first part of a three class New to UU Series: March 12, 26 and April 23.  Each class will last 75 minutes (11:45 am – 1:00 p.m.)  On March 12th, we will explore “Where UUism Comes From, Where We Are Going.”  On March 26th, we will explore “How UUs Believe” and on Apr. 23, we will explore “How UUs Belong.” Please bring snacks to share! In the Education Bldg.

 

 

A Season for Wandering

After the heavy rains and flooding, this week I got to spend time in the almond orchards around my home. In fact, it was the morning of Ash Wednesday that I got to spend some time wandering. In some ways, Lent, which honors Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, is a season to honor how periods of wandering are crucial for our spiritual growth and well-being. Of course, I know life is overly full for many. Might there be a way, even 5 minutes, that you can find a way to wander?

Rend Your Heart-A Blessing for Ash Wednesday by Jan Richardson

To receive this blessing,img_20170301_080437886
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmersimg_20170301_081242461_hdr
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.
It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you
to the One who waits
who watches
who works within
the rending
to make your heart
whole.

This Sunday, I look forward to worshiping with you all:  Wandering and Wild–When you find yourself wandering and wild, what can you hold onto? Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy Baxter, John Patton, and Sabine Klein.

After worship this Sunday, please join our Board of Trustees for a Financial Best Practices workshop with Rev. Jan Christian from the Unitarian Universalist Association. Via video-conference Rev. Christian will help us understand the financial management practices recommended for congregations like ours. All interested members are welcome to join. We will meet in the Education building.  Before attending, it would be helpful to review this material: http://www.uua.org/finance/management

Also after worship this SundayFamily Promise will be at UUFSC at 11:45 a.m in the sanctuary to give a presentation about their program. UUFSC partners with College Ave UCC and the Church of the Brethren to provide meal and overnight support.

Spiritual Terroir

I’ve spent this week gathered with a small group of UU ministers amidst the coastal redwoods of Sonoma County for an annual study group.  Our theme this year was  “Spiritual Terroir” because one of the ministers used to be in the wine business and he shared this concept of terroir last year. Terroir is the idea that a food is influenced and flavored by it’s local and unique environmental factors.  So what does UUism look like in our individual contexts? How do our local environments impact “the flavor” of our particular UU ministries?

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Thursday Morning at St. Dorothy’s Episcopal Retreat Center

Perhaps more than most, the idea of food and farming resonated strongly with me–I brought a big bag of almonds to the group!  We in the Valley have some very particular flavors and challenges that make up how we do UUism.  In fact, our Central Valley ‘terroir’ is why the Vatican decided to host it’s US World Meeting of Popular Movements social justice conference here last weekend, stating that they chose Modesto because:

“THE CENTRAL VALLEY OF CALIFORNIA IS A REGION WHICH STARKLY REFLECTS THE ‘ECONOMY OF EXCLUSION’: DEEP POVERTY AND ECONOMIC INEQUALITY, LARGE NUMBERS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, HIGH RATES OF INCARCERATION, AND CLIMATE CHANGE CREATING ECONOMIC AND HEALTH IMPACTS AMONG THE MOST VULNERABLE.”

Building Beloved Community here is a bold calling and not for the faint of heart.  We live far more closely and intimately to the ravages of our global economic system than many of our UU brothers and sisters.  If you were to meet another UU, say from San Francisco or Seattle, how would you describe the “terroir” of your Unitarian Universalist spirituality? With what wisdom and unique perspectives does the Valley endow you?

 

This Saturday, I hope many of you will join me and Lori Wong at the FREE workshop “Restorative Communication in Times of Conflict” from 9:30am to 4:00pm in the church sanctuary. Ryan McCarthy, Executive Director of CALEAD from San Francisco will be teaching this workshop.  For more details, check out: https://www.facebook.com/events/1279268208819510/.   To register, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/restorative-communication-in-times-of-conflict-tickets-30326079119.  Donations gladly welcomed.
This Sunday, Sharon Arpoika, Lori Wong, and Sabine Klein will lead worship: The Inner Work of Love–When we talk about Standing on the Side of Love, what’s the inner work we must do? Sometimes we neglect to do the important work within to support the work we do in the wider world.

Bodies in Rooms

In an age where communication has become so disembodied–where communication can happen so easily without you being in the same place as me–I have been struck by the advice of political insiders who say that if you want to influence your representatives, you should show up as embodied as possible.  Phone calls are betters than emails or petitions.  Showing up in person (like a small crew of UUFSCers are doing every Tuesday morning at 10:30 at Jeff Denham’s office) is the most effective and persuasive means of communication.   No matter how “easy” communication gets, there is power in bodies showing up together in the same room.   Like we do on Sunday mornings for worship. Like some of us did on Wednesday night at College Ave Congregational for a town hall on the Affordable Care Act.   Power=bodies being together.

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Modesto Townhall Wednesday Night

David Frum, a writer for the Atlantic and former George W. Bush speechwriter, said in an interview this week “Democrats are powerless and Republicans are complicit. Change that. Republicans will change when they get scared of losing their seats. Democrats will change when they feel empowered. So be an active citizen. What’s happening at town halls I find tremendously encouraging. This is politics happening… Meetings are what make democracy go. But meetings may be tedious. Protests are fun, but protests are effective to the extent they motivate people to attend the meetings.”

I think all of us have complained about meetings, particularly if you have ever been involved in leadership in a congregation!  Indeed, meetings can be tedious. But it is bringing our bodies together that something special can happen, where power can be realized.  Sometimes, I think religious community is so important because it’s based on the simple idea that people should gather together regularly and sing together.  Where does your body spend time and with whom?  Where else do you want your body to go?

This Sunday, Sharon Arpoika and Sue Cotter lead worship: Trusting the Journey–Sometimes a journey is not just about where you go – it’s about being open to the insights you gain along the way. Sue Cotter will share some reflections on her experiences traveling around the country in a campervan.

Board Appreciation of Volunteers After Worship
Growing Beloved Community requires the work and generosity of many of us, each contributing our diverse gifts. The UUFSC Board will offer up some appreciation of our many volunteers in the form of chocolate after worship in the Johnson building. Please make sure to stop by!
FYI: Next week, I will be taking a week of study leave, spending some time with some other UU ministers thinking deep thoughts in the Redwoods of Sonoma County.  I’ll be back online Tuesday February 28th.  For pastoral emergencies, call the church office or Pat Egenberger.
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We are entering a time of such beauty (and allergies) in the Valley!

 

No Spiritual Surrender

When I saw this sign when I was in Standing Rock in November, I loved it and posted it on facebook page, saying something like “A good message for all of us.”  A Muslim friend

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A sign from Camp Oceti Sakowin/Standing Rock November 2016

pointed out to me that this is not a message for “all of us” in his opinion. Surrender/Submission is a key concept in Islam and according to one interpretation, it was surrendering to something greater than ourselves that brought me and other clergy to Standing Rock in the first place.

 

The sign wasn’t the issue– it was my little phrase “all of us.”  To be honest, I find it to be a constant discipline to remember that human beings are not just replicas of Darcy Baxter, to be curious about people’s behaviors and actions rather than assuming I know what they mean.  You could take the very same action I take but have different motivations.  We could have the same motivations and very different actions.  Remaining curious, particularly in stressful times, take effort and intention, something my morning meditation and prayer practice really help me with.  And dancing– lots and lots of dancing.

In your life right now, do you need to resist?  Do you need to surrender?  Maybe we all need to do a little bit of both and remember some people’s surrender looks like another’s resistance.  And another’s resistance will be someone else’s surrender.  I thanked my friend for his perspective and deleted “all of us” and said instead “a powerful message.” If only all communication and issues of meaning were so easy to resolve!

This Sunday, join me, Rabbi Shalom Bochner, and musician Sue Cotter: Deep Roots, Beautiful Blossoms–Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Congregation Beth Shalom joins Rev. Darcy and shares with us about the wisdom of Tu Bishvat–celebrated this year on February 10th, and called by some the “Jewish Earth Day.”