Saving Paradise

It has struck me as eery and prescient that the biggest town so far destroyed by the Camp Fire is called Paradise.  There are so many headlines that say something like “Paradise Destroyed.”  If the Universe was trying to send humans a very clear message….

UU Theologian Rev. Dr. Parker co-researched and wrote a book called “Saving Paradise.” Through her research, she discovered that for the first 1000 years of Jesus followers and Christianity, Christians did not focus on the crucifixion, but instead on how this earth was a paradise infused with the Spirit of the Sacred.  This world was to be protected and guarded. And would people be exploited by Empires in Paradise? Of course not!  This world is precious– paradise is here and now, not in some afterlife.  This idea that both heaven and hell exist here and now (and not in the afterlife), was a core theological tenet for Unitarians and Universalists back when they were still considered Christian.  And it seems more important than ever, as wildfires break out across our State, to affirm the preciousness of this earth.

In the words of Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker and Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima-Brock:

Paradise is not wholly lost… we believe we must stand again at the open doors of paradise and bless this world as sacred soil, as holy ground, and as a home that all must learn to inhabit together.

Join us in celebrating the preciousness and abundance of our great this Sunday: Pomegranate and Persimmon Communion–Memory is something that lives not just in the grey matter of our brains, but is embedded in our flesh, bones, and soil.  We honor the history of abundance of our valley through a special pomegranate and persimmon communion ritual.  Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.

P.S. If you are looking at how to quite literally save the people and creatures of Paradise, here is an article about how and where is best.


A Headline

Here is the headline that brought me the most joy and hope the day after the elections:

“Kansas Elects First Lesbian, Native American ex-MMA fighter”


The church pomegranate tree is ripe! I love starting Sunday by nibbling on fresh pomegranate seeds

Holy cow, what a powerful human Sharice Davis must be.  And she joined this powerful and inspiring list of women and people of color who broke barriers on Tuesday: Davis will join Deb Haaland from New Mexico as the first Native American women elected to congress. The first Muslim women, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib will be heading to congress. Massachusetts and Connecticut will send black women, Jahana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley to Congress as firsts for their states, while Arizona and Tennessee are getting their first female senators.  And Colorado elected the first openly gay Governor.

As we bite are nails here in the 10th Congressional District of California, waiting for the results of our local congressional race, I hope we can take time to celebrate the beauty of this moment.  Unitarian Universalists are dedicated to the inherent worth of every human, to the democratic process, and to making this world just and compassionate.   In a representative democracy, we believe that all people should be represented.   And just like so many of you were out knocking on doors, making phone calls, and sending text messages to get out the vote here, you can bet that Unitarian Universalists all of this country were doing the same. We are a long way off from seeing our Unitarian Universalist values embodied in our leaders.  But on Tuesday, we got a few inches closer.  And I’m celebrating every inch.


Getting Your News from Poems

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.


Photo taken by Rabbi Bochner while on the Bimah at the solidarity vigil last Sunday

Poet Gregory Orr quotes these William Carlos Williams lines at the beginning of his book Poetry as Survival. I’ve been thinking about these words because of the response I received after sharing Marge Piercy’s The Low Road  last Sunday at Congregation Beth Shalom’s vigil in solidarity with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.   A number of people asked me for the title and thanked me for sharing it.

Theologian Serene Jones says that “to be human is to live only a hairbreadth away from the unbearable.”   In my experience, poetry and music are the best means for addressing the experience of when that hairbreadth distance collapses.  As my aunt said after reading this quote (and after her daughter died of a heroin overdose), “I would welcome a hairbreadth distance.”   One of the blessings of a religious community like ours is that it is a place where we can share poetry and music, where as a community we develop a repertoire so that when that hairbreadth distance dissolves, we do not have to look too far to know what poems to recite and what songs to sing.

I look forward to singing and sharing poetry with you all this Sunday (as we do every Sunday morning): Ode to Ordinariness-Our brains our wired to remember the extra-ordinary but in fact ordinariness is what fills up most of our days and most of our lives. How can we honor and celebrate the gifts and blessings of ordinariness? Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy and Todd Whiteley




Don’t Forget, You Are Going to Die

img_20181024_170011891_hdr_45543423331_oWalking by some ghoulish Halloween decorations,  which I almost didn’t really register, I realized how peculiar, (even dissociative?), Halloween is.  On one hand, it’s about children dressing up and getting candy– so delightful and fun!  My 11 month old son has a really cute pumpkin suit!  On the other hand (literally), I walk by disembodied body parts covered in fake blood sticking out of bushes.

There is an app called “WeCroak” and the only thing it does is send you this periodic message “Don’t Forget, You Are Going to Die.”    The (White American) creators of the app based it on the Bhutanese-Buddhist wisdom that “one should think about death 5 times a day.”  So as you are scrolling through facebook, a notification will pop up reminding you that you are going to die.   Other ‘mindfulness’ and ‘wellness’ apps have been downloaded millions of time. 6 weeks after the debut of img_20181024_165958425_hdr_44629319005_oWeCroak, it had been downloaded just 84 times.  Of course, there are many of us who don’t need any reminders about death– the many memorials we attend, the calendar reminders of anniversaries and birthdays of those who have died.  Some of us do not need any reminders.

American dominant culture is well-known for it’s avoidance of death, but like so much we repress or avoid, it surfaces in peculiar or indirect ways.  Like walking by disembodied bloodied hands with your young son dressed as a pumpkin.  The gift of our spiritual community is that we gather in community and in ritual to recognize rather than repress death. In a culture that wants to forget, we gather to remember our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones–and to celebrate the gift of life that would not exist without death.

This Sunday, I look forward to worshiping with you: Sanctuary of Memory— We live in the shelter (and the shadow) of each other, including those who have died. We gather to honor and celebrate our beloveds who have died.  Children are invited to participate in the entire service–in ritual, words, and song. Please bring mementos and/or photos of dear ones who have passed on, as we will co-create an altar for our beloved departed.  Worship leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and Jorge Torrez.


Mediocrity and Ordinariness

I do not think spirituality or meaningfulness comes from the special and extraordinary.   Or at least, not mostly from what we would consider special or outside the ordinary.  Law professor Tim Wu wrote an opinion piece recently entitled “In Praise of Mediocrity.”   In a nutshell, he suggests that a culture of “excellence” has robbed us of  “the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.”   Wu talks about how few people he knows have


The beauty of “ordinary” Halloween decorations!

hobbies any more– you don’t just “jog” anymore but “train for a marathon.”   And because it can feel like we have to strive for “excellence,” instead of doing things we are mediocre at and enjoy, we can opt for passive screen time entertainment.  In short, there is value and meaning to be found in the regular, mediocre, and modest.

In becoming a parent, I have marveled at how the most mundane things have become so meaningful.  Toilet paper rolls, garbage lids, kitchen drawers, magnets– a young child explores and discovers the world and companioning him is endowed with a specialness that is in fact not unique or outside the ordinary.  There are few things more normal, regular, common, and ordinary than raising children.   In midst of a broader culture that pushes excellence on us, I wonder if the job of a church is to help us plumb the richness we can find in the mediocre and ordinary.

This Sunday, Brian Wise, Todd Whiteley, and guest musician Firefly Water lead worship: Sanctuary– “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine” is an Irish saying which translates in two ways, the most familiar is “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”  But “scáth” can also be translated as “shadow.”  How does the safety sanctuary provides fuel us for adventures? How does the comfort of sanctuary risk lulling us into stagnation?  In this service, congregants will be invited to share and reflect on the them with another congregant in a guided process of deep listening. Worship leaders: Brian Wise and Todd Whiteley, and musician Haruko DeArth.

Generational Time

IMG_20180924_131101651_HDRI know it is so easy to get sucked into the headlines.  Our brains love the hits of “newness” that pop up on our screens– our brains also are wired to pay so much more attention to threat and danger than to hope and joy.   I consider a serious spiritual discipline to being very intentional about where my attention is going these days.  My 10.5 month son is extraordinarily helpful in this regard– not only is he quite the attention grabber, but he is a very incarnational reminder of generational time.  The story or stories of today are not the whole story.   The full story is never covered– and what is happening today is not the full story.  The bigger, fuller story unfolds over the generations.   And I find that deeply comforting.   Whenever you find yourself gripped by awfulness, whether by the politics of our day or by more personal perils,  remember that this moment is not the full story– one moment, one day, one year never is.   Journalist  Krista Tippett puts it well:

However justifiably granular our despair and confusion might be on any given day, it is so, so critical that we keep orienting ourselves towards the long view, towards the fact that what we are in the midst of is culture shift. It is going to play itself out in generational time. And so, we have to, at the same time that we act and speak and think critically about what’s happening in the moment, we have to embody and walk with and towards how we want to live in contrast to that, how we want to live beyond this. We cannot call forth in the world something that we don’t embody.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday, when we try to embody the world as we want it to be: This Sunday: Sanctuary— “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine” is an Irish saying which translates in two ways, the most familiar is “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”  But “scáth” can also be translated as “shadow.”  How does the safety sanctuary provides fuel us for adventures? How does the comfort of sanctuary risk lulling us into stagnation?  This service is whole-congregation worship–children are invited to attend the entire service. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Jorge Torrez.

Comfort, Confidence, and Risk

I came across this article in the NY Times this week “The Confidence Gap for Girls: 5 Tips for Parents of Tween and Teen Girls.”   Apparently, girls confidence levels drop by 30 percent between the ages of 8 and 14.   One of their key recommendations? “trade her 44785499511_8344db7599_ocomfort zone for her danger zone.”  This line stuck out to me:

Comfort zones inhibit growth.

As our congregation focuses this year on whole-congregation spiritual formation, I am reminded that if we are to grow spiritually, this requires venturing out of our comfort zones.  But I disagree it means going to the “danger zone.” My understanding of learning is that it is on the edge of our comfort zone where we learn.  The danger zone is where all the fear neurochemicals override our capacity to learn.

More recently, I have heard this zone where learning occurs as the “courage zone.”  CourageZoneGraphic

Of course, there are plenty of us who are feeling anything but comfortable these days.  There are those of us really struggling with getting by day to day.   Our work is make our way from the danger zone back to courage and comfort.  And then there are those of us that need to work on making our way out of comfort towards courage.  As I have been mulling over this month’s spiritual formation theme of Sanctuary, I realize that I believe what makes a place a Sanctuary is that it is not just a place of comfort, but also a place of courage.

In the NY Times article, the authors say that parents and guardians should help their daughters take risks, embrace failure, and of course model this for their daughters as well. How we build confidence is not by staying comfortable but by getting courageous.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Sanctuary— “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine” is an Irish saying which translates in two ways, the most familiar is “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”  But “scáth” can also be translated as “shadow.”  How does the safety sanctuary provides fuel us for adventures? How does the comfort of sanctuary risk lulling us into stagnation?  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy and Sharon Arpoika.

And I look forward to spending Saturday evening with many of you at our annual Church Auction!