Laughing and Trust

Maya Angelou (like Mary Oliver, another poet who could probably be considered a “UU Saint”) shared this on trust, laughter and love:

“I suggest that in the poetry there is the answer of how a people stay alive, how people stay alive and how lots of people stay alive…in the poetry, you can see how people stay alive, what becomes their rainbow in the clouds….In the course of staying alive, I always love to hear people laugh. I never trust people who don’t laugh or who act as if they put airplane glue on the back of their hands and stuck them to their forehead. No. No. They have not come to stay and to make a difference and to be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud. So I like to hear people laugh.  I also like people who love themselves. I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me “I love you.” No. If they don’t love themselves, no, uh-uh. There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”  -Maya Angelou, in The Distinguished Annie Clark Tanner Lecture, May, 8, 1997.

Like Mary Oliver, Angelou had confronted intimate evil in her life.  And like Oliver, beauty-as-poetry was a means of survival.  How do you survive?  I think that is one of the most fundamental questions people come to church with.  How do I survive this?– the tragedy, this loss, this loneliness, this fear, this boredom, this tedium.   Our answer needs to be with beauty, with laughter, and with love– not just love of others but also love for ourselves.


Boredom as Spiritual Practice

In two different places this past week, I read or heard stories about the value of boredom for both children and adults.  One was in this NY Times opinion piece and the other was hearing an interview with computer science Professor Cal Newport about his new book on Digital Minimalism.   The crux of it?  It’s useful and beneficial for humans to be bored, to have time when you are NOT engaged with something.  Boredom can spark creativity and self-direction– boredom means you strike up chatty banter in the grocery line.  But when we can always pull out a screen, what we lose is….autonomy? space for self-reflection? opportunities for connection?   In the world of religious congregations, there is always conversation about how we should adapt or reject cultural trends.  Screens in worship? Shorter sermons b/c of shorter attention spans?

Apparently there is value in gathering together, being with people, singing, talking, not using your screen, and maybe even being a little (or a lot!) bored.   Professor Newport says that when when people fail to step away from their screens, they are missing out on activities that are:

“crucial to a flourishing, functional human life — like taking time to self-reflect, having a face-to-face conversation with someone or simply being bored…This might sound intolerable to the modern smartphone, sort of, infected individual, but it’s absolutely crucial to reset in your mind, to [have] insights, to [have] successful self-reflection.”

There are many paths and practices to spiritual/moral growth– and now we can add boredom to the list!

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: A Love That Holds Us–
UU Theologian Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker wrote the Universalist meditation entitled “A Love That Holds Us.” What does it mean to believe and feel “held,” even if one does not believe or feel what many call a “higher power”? Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Sharon Arpoika, and Haruko DeArth.

When We Don’t Get To Say Goodbye

The hardest goodbye may be the one we do not get to say.  This week, a devoted UUFSC member passed away in his sleep.   Bill G, an ordained UU minister, teacher, and feeder of people (among other things) was beloved for his warmth and generosity.  His profound convictions about feeding people who are homeless with deep respect and delicious food transformed many in our congregation–and set the bar high for other groups serving food!   Bill drew out the best in us as a congregation.


Bill G, photo taken by Ted P

Palliative care physician Dr. Ira Byock, who has worked for years with people who are dying, wrote a book called “The Four Things that Matter Most.”  In it, he says there are four things we should try to say to people who are dying:

  1. Please forgive me
  2. I forgive you
  3. Thank you
  4. I love you

In fact, these are probably things we should practice saying in all our relationships on a regular basis.  For as Bill’s death reminds us, sometimes we do not have the luxury of knowing we need to say goodbye.

I look forward to being in worship with you all this Sunday: The Wild Silky Part–We explore the spiritual wisdom of poet Mary Oliver, who instructed writers that they needed to keep a regular appointment for writing, so that ‘the wild, silky part of ourselves’ learns to trust that it can show up.  What regular appointment do you need to keep? Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Jorge Torrez.


Urgent As A Knife

Poet Mary Oliver died last week and how I loved what it did to my facebook feed! I was inundated by poetry!   I have heard it joked that Mary Oliver is the closest thing that Unitarian Universalists have to a saint– she is perhaps one of the most popular poets used in our worship services.   One of her pieces that struck me the most was this stanza from her poem The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, which she wrote after she was diagnosed with lung cancer:

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.


Wandering through the world with my 14 month old child makes me belong to the world in so many new ways (yes, that’s him wandering off behind me!)

What is it you need to do to start belonging to this very messy, complicated, painful, and beautiful world.  What is one small action to take that would make the Mary Oliver of this poem smile with approval?

I look forward to worshipping with you all this Sunday: Transformation Is A Subtle Art.  In a culture that worships change and innovation (but much too often at a breakneck pace) how can we hold space for processes of transformation? Not fixing, not improvement, not perfection–but transformation? Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and musician Jorge Torrez.

Should We Strive?

A friend of mine who I met while working on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline shared an academic article recently entitled: “Toward A Feminist Theory of Letting Go.”   And it was one of those juicy pieces that connected with various parts of my recenting musings, in particular how we relate and value “work” and “productivity.”  (which I have been thinking about a lot as a parent of a young child!)


I love the local colors of our winter!

As religious descendents of the Puritans and immersed in a late-stage capitalist society, Unitarian Universalism has inherited the tendency to over-value work.  Even as we promote our first principle of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” we can still succumb to this belief that work=good. So what does that mean for people who cannot be as “productive” as society tells us we should be?  Folks struggling with illness, people with physical disabilities, folks doing the slowing down that commonly comes with aging?  Are we worth less if we are not as “productive?”   Our theologies and values offer a clear “no” to this question but too often, how we live and act say “yes.” As Fresno State sociology professor Dr. Jennifer Randles puts it

“As individuals shaped by socially shared ideas of worth and value, our inclination is to think that the way to be and have more is to work harder and accumulate accolades and things. We live in a society where the tendency is to believe that only through doing are we worthy of being.”


In our congregation’s recent decision to move ahead with a capital campaign to fund upgrading our kitchen and do necessary sanctuary roof repair, we did not choose the most ambitious version of this project.  I found myself proud of us– because instead of making a choice that would require more of us (more money, more striving, more human labor), we made a choice based on what would be enough for us.  And I think there is some profound spiritual wisdom in this decision making.  Because as a religious community, what we are trying to do is create a place where we can discover and be reminded of over and over again that we are inherently worthy of being, regardless of how ‘productive’ we are.  As that old adage goes, sometimes “less is more.”

This Sunday, January 20th: Hope of a Prophet–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is probably the religious “prophet” most trusted by liberals. How do we hear some of his words today?  Worship Leaders: Todd Whiteley, Brian Wise and musician Jorge Torrez.



Confession of a Worship Leader

There is something magical and healing about gathering a group together to sing, tell stories, and share deeply about our lives.  This is one way I would define worship and it is something people do in various formats across the world.  The sacred comes out, sometimes in unexpected ways.   And I think most folks who lead worship will tell you that there are frequently moments of synchronicity and spontaneous beauty that you just can’t plan for but that just arise.  That is the beauty and magic of people coming together for worship–things just arise.   And sometimes, as a worship leader, you try a new structure or format, you try something different and it doesn’t go quite as planned.  And yet, something happens that saves you.

This happened last Sunday.  I structured our Annual Burning Off Ritual Service around Charlotte’s Web and miscalculated the time and we were going over the usual 1 hour mark..and then one of our children saved me.  The cotton balls that I gave you as egg sacs? I had planned for us to make webs out of them as we thought about our resolutions.  But young F, when I handed her the cotton ball, said “Oh, is this an egg sac?”  I looked at her and said “Yes, it is.”   And then after the service I went up to her and I said “Oh my gosh F– you totally saved me today–I had planned for us to make webs but you had the great idea that instead these cotton balls could represent a spider’s egg sac–what a great idea.”   And so something else special happened in worship on Sunday– one of our children’s creativity and metaphorical thinking got affirmed in (I hope) a meaningful way– her idea and vision gave new shape to our worship that morning.




Resolve, Dissolve

When you look up “resolve” in the Merriam Webster Dictionary,  it first gives you a discarded meaning of the term, which is “dissolve or melt.”  The second meaning it gives you has to do with breaking up or separating: “the prism resolved the light into a play of color.”   The New Year always brings about conversations about resolutions.   What you resolved to do?  But thanks to Merriam Webster, I’ve been thinking about how resolving to do something can in fact require some kind of dissolution, some kind of breaking up.  In particular, it may mean dissolving some stories that you have come to live by.   I came across some research by Philosopher Eugene Gendlin, who suggests that  one variable can predict positive outcomes in psychotherapy—the degree to which the patient struggled to find words.   When we are struggling to find words, to communicate, we are not operating out of the ego’s story, which is so well rehearsed that it takes no effort to recite it.   So my question to you is not what are you resolving to do– but rather, what can you dissolve, what stagnant ego story can you break up in 2019?


One of my day-after- Christmas-sale light purchases for next year!

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Remember, Release, Resolve We humans always need opportunities to begin again.  What do you need to remember, what do you need to release, and what do you need to resolve to do?  Rev. Darcy will lead the congregation’s annual ‘burning off’ ritual. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy and Sharon Arpoika.