Risk Assessment

As many of you know, my father was an insurance man.  So conversations about accurate risk assessment were common feature of my growing up.  “Darcy, the most dangerous thing you will ever do is drive a car.”  (My father cringed as I repeated this statement to him when I decided to go traipsing around India as a 20 year old!)  Statistically speaking, this a pretty true statement.  You are more likely to get mangled or killed driving on 99 than to be a victim in a mass shooting, a fear that has grown as we have bore witness to more mass shootings than we should.   And yet, what we FEEL fear about often does not correlate with the risk to which we are considering exposing ourselves.

There is all kinds of feelings and fear circulating about this upcoming weekend, with the Straight Pride event.  As you consider how you are going to engage (or not engage) this weekend, I hope will take to heart this funny human reality– we can feel intense fear over some situations that do not threaten us as much as situations that actually threaten our well-being quite a bit (like driving on the 99!)  In this particular moment in history, a moment that feels scary and overwhelming to many of us; that is particularly risky for immigrants and their families; for Black and Brown folks, for LGBTQ+ and Queer folks,  I hope you can figure out your way to Side with Love, however that looks.   As Winona LaDuke said “Be The Ancestor Your Descendants Would Be Proud Of.”Straight Pride Events


I will be away this weekend– I am taking my family up to (ironically) a queer Jewish family camp in Yosemite, leaving Thursday morning and back on Sunday evening.  Community organizer Everette Thompson from the UUA will be in town on Friday and Saturday; and Rev. Erin and Haruko D. will be leading worship on Sunday.

Come worship with us this Sunday: Fostering Love amidst Festering Hate–
We live in a time when we aren’t only dealing with environmental climate change. Recent years have brought an escalation of hate speech and crimes forcing us to look again at the climate of civility and basic human respect. Persons and movements are calling for “climate control”. What does it mean to foster love amidst festering hate. It’s not easy work. Come explore what a choice for love means and requires. Worship leaders: Rev. Erin Matteson, Haruko DeArth, and Jorge Torrez.


Who is in Your Class?

This past week, across Stanislaus County, students (and teachers and administrators and librarians and parents!) have been having their first day of school.  A 9 nine year old excitedly shared with me that not only did he have one of his best friends in his class, but also he had another two friends in his class.   In listening to this youth, I suddenly flashed back to how IMPORTANT and vulnerable it felt to discover who was in your class.  The quality of your life for the next 10 months was going to be directly determined by the answer to this questions “who is in your class?”  Did you have good friends in your class? Enemies? Bullies?


Church member Dee H.’s classroom for this year

While you may not find yourself asking this same exact question, the quality of our lives is no less determined by the people whom we are with most of the time.   But unlike school-age youth, adults do not have the luxury of social contexts that change on an annual cycle.   We grown-ups must exert a lot more effort to “change our class” so to speak.  In some ways, I think this is what church is supposed to offer to folks–an opportunity to connect with new and different people.  If you are someone at ease at our church, when you see someone you don’t know, remember those feelings of tentative vulnerability at the first day of school– what it is like to be with a new group of people for the first time.   Be a person that makes that newness a little less awkward.  And if you come to church even though you don’t feel quite as comfortable, thank you for being brave and trying something new.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday for our Annual Water Communion- From all the places we went or didn’t go during the summer, we gather again to recommit ourselves to nurturing the Beloved Community. Bread yeast is “woken up” when water is added–we too will use our water to find new ways to awaken and be leavened. Please bring some water from a special or mundane place. At the end of the service, we will bless our new kitchen. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Dee Hawksworth, and Jorge Torrez.




What Laws Do You Obey?

The possible ‘Straight Pride’ event prompted me to read up on Free Speech and Hate Speech issues (here is a rather brief summary of current legal standing of Free speech).  But legality does not determine morality.  And there are so many instances in our history when what was legal was very clearly not right.  Interestingly, other countries place less priority on freedom of expression and more emphasis on human dignity and equality in their laws.  The United States appears to be somewhat unique in the level of protection offered for freedom of expression– in much of Europe, governments are permitted to punish “hate speech” that denigrates people based on their identity.

The tension so many of us feel around “freedom of speech” arguments is important for us as Unitarian Universalists because we have traditionally been such champions of freedom of expression. I might call freedom of expression a core religious value for most Unitarian Universalists. But with the weaponizing of free speech by those whose priorities are very much opposed to ours, we are confronted with a need to retool our moral and ethical frameworks.   Freedom of expression has been a core value because of its ability to facilitate healing and maybe even some kinds of liberation and justice.   But if freedom of expression is no longer facilitating such healing and liberation, then it may be time for us to articulate new moral priorities.   This does not mean we completely throw out “freedom of expression” as a value but we must begin weighing other values equally as heavily, values like human dignity and equality (which are also values important to Unitarian Universalists!).  The blessing of being a religious community is that we commit ourselves to particular moral principles, regardless of whether they are enshrined in government laws or not.  We strive to live on the Side of Love, however that looks in our particular moment.

This Sunday: Look to the Sunflowers … Listen to the Farmers
Farmers and sunflowers, faith and psychology, science and community have a lot to offer when weather feels unpredictable and out of control plants seem to block, dim, or take away the light from others. Come glean the wisdom from varied fields. Worship Leaders: Rev. Erin Matteson, Todd Whiteley, and Haruko DeArth.

P.S. Beacon Press is offering great resources on exploring these troubling times of increased gun violence and hate speech– check them out here.

Reaction vs. Response

‘Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
~Lao Tzu

As I have spent a chunk of my time this week talking with Modesto clergy and UU clergy who have dealt with white supremacists, “reaction vs. response” is what I keep mulling over.  Hearing about the possible August 24th event in Graceada Park brought up a lot of reactions– anger, fear, and anxiety primarily.   But just like with any other thing-that-brings-up-strong feelings, what is usually the wisest approach is breathing, waiting, fitting in a few dance classes, and connecting with others.  That is how I settle “my mud.”   Spirituality is a fuzzy word notoriously difficult to define.  When I talk about ‘spiritual practices,’ what I mean is having a set of things you do that you know ground and calm you–things you do to help have the patience to wait until the water is clear.

As I spoke with the UU minister down in Fresno, who sadly has had to deal with white IMG_20190801_155210supremacists because of the church’s Black Lives Matter banner,  I looked down in my lap and chuckled.  Rev. Tim had called me right after I had visited the library, where I was getting books on sharing because my 1.5. year old is…well, needing books on sharing.  (Come to think of it, I can think of quite a few political and business leaders who are needing some books on sharing!)  This is life: cooking dinner, raising children, going to book-club, visiting loved ones, and figuring out our response to white supremacists.  While this is newer to some of us, this fight is an old one for others who have had to figure out how to live life in the face of hate.  (See below for a list of love and justice focused events on the weekend of August 24th should a permit get granted.  Also, UUFSC Member Matthew M. is organizing a vigil to ask City Council to deny the event permit this Wednesday August 7th)

I look forward to worshipping with you all this Sunday: Book Communion: Search for Truth and Meaning.  The fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism invites our search for truth and meaning rather than reliance on dogmatic teachings. What book do you have that may be helpful to another on their search? Please bring a book (or two) today to leave at the altar and plan to take home another to continue your search. Together, we’ll participate in a summer book communion. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, and Brian Wise.

Love and Justice Centered Events the Weekend of August 24th

Should the City of Modesto issue an event permit for the “Straight Pride” event, there are two events (still in the processed of being planned–I will share details as I get them!) that I would encourage members of UUFSC to attend:

Friday August 23rd at 6:30pm- Candlight Vigil at St. Paul’s Church

Saturday August 24th (time TBD), Congregation Beth Shalom will be holding a major community gathering which will include the screening of the film “Dear Freddy” which documents a gay Jewish man who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp and organized sporting activities there. It’s a film about responding to hate with pride in one’s self and our multiple identities.


I’m Back

A ministerial colleague shared that a congregant sent her this NY Times article right before she started her summer leave.  In short, the author is making the point that “We need to rest, to read, to reconnect. It is the invisible labor that makes creative [or spiritual!] life possible.”   While there is only so much rest one gets while parenting a toddler, my summer leave was indeed precious, regenerative time.  It was filled with my wife’s step-father’s funeral, two weddings, and precious hours with grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins.  Like most families, there are complicated and painful dynamics and histories, right along with deep love, affection, and joy.   Returning home, I pulled out my journal to reflect and digest on all of the family-of-origin togetherness time we had.  And as I opened the journal, I was reminded that this particular journal was a gift from UUFSC when I began serving as your minister almost exactly five years ago.

We are no longer at the start of our story together– we are somewhere in the middle.  A middle full of possibility as we figure out how to use our new kitchen to live out our mission of Growing the Beloved Community.   Such “middle time” encompasses so much more than the beginning– because we have both history together and future.  And like any relationship, we also have shared both joys and sorrows.

Ministry consultant Thom Rainier says years 6-10 of a minister’s service are the “fruit and harvest years”, where “a church is likely to experience some of its best years, by almost any metrics, during this period of a pastor’s tenure. Both congregants and minister have worked through the tough times. They now trust each other and love each other more deeply.”

I am excited to be back– excited to see how our fruit and harvest time unfold!

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Question Box Sermon
Do you have questions for me? They could be about the Fellowship, or theology, or current events, or Unitarian Universalism, or whatever is on your heart and mind. At the beginning of the service I’ll invite you to write questions on index cards; my spontaneous responses to these questions will be the sermon. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy and Haruko DeArth.

Not Where You Expected


Taking an early morning stroll along the river that runs by the Spokane Convention Center, where this year’s annual national gathering of UUs happened, I took this picture, thinking this would be good to share with you all.  This posed photo is pretty enough, though not what I would call beautiful. (For highlights from the meeting, see below!)

And then during a body break at the UU ministers’ meeting, I noticed the light fixture and snapped a photo.

48098051223_8d4325cb44_k This photo is what I would call beautiful.  And you know where I saw this light fixture?  In the bathroom stall! (In fairness, this light fixture was used all over the hotel, not just the bathroom stalls).

Beauty is a grand term.  But we clock most of the minutes of our lives in places that are probably not particularly grand.  According to one poll, over the course of a lifetime, on average, we spend a total of 92 days in the bathroom.   What this tells me is the beauty we find and make in the mundane places may be much more impactful than the beauty we create in parks, theaters, or art galleries.

This Sunday in worship: The Many Dimensions of Beauty- Most of us have heard the phrase, ‘beauty is only skin deep”. Yet beauty is about so much more than “looks” or creation. And what about what beauty does in us and so for the world? Come explore the many dimensions of beauty through the writings and poetry of John O’Donohue, David Whyte, sacred texts and more! Worship leaders: Dee Hawksworth and Rev. Erin Matteson.

P.S. Next week, I begin my summer leave, returning back to the office on Tuesday July 23rd.   Katherine, Sammy, and I will be visiting family back East– wish us luck traveling with a toddler! 

Highlights from UU National General Assembly:


Enjoying the Sidelines

I’ve always intuitively known beauty is really really important.  But aesthetics professor Elaine Scarry has helped clarify for me why it is important:

None of us are the center of the world, but each of us can get into the mistake of believing that we are the center of our own world. Beauty relieves us of this. It not only puts us on the sidelines, but makes us acutely happy to be there on the sidelines. Becoming capable of experiencing bliss in one’s own lateralness may not be itself a state of justice, but it certainly prepares us for doing such work in the world.”

Beauty is important not only because it nurtures and soothes us, but also because when we experience beauty, it moves our ego to the sidelines. And not only does our ego get moved to the sidelines, but we can even experience bliss in that experience of hanging out there.

With all of the scary news out there in the world– with all the of the uncertainty and anxiety that gets pumped through our news channels, social media feeds, and radios, we are well aware of the need to engage in some kind of justice work.  But I don’t think paying attention to beauty wherever you find it often gets considered as preparation for such work.  But perhaps it is.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday:  Where Words Cannot —
Music takes us to emotional and spiritual depths that words cannot. This Sunday, we welcome the trio of Jorge Torrez, Amanda Jane Ross and Tanya Harris for a special music Sunday, inviting their music to stir, provoke, and move us towards Beauty. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and Jorge Torrez.