Forget Sacrifice

Reading about yet another mass shooting, the line “forget sacrifice” from UU minister Rev. Lynn Ungar‘s poem “Lent” particularly stuck out to me, as many of our Catholic brothers and sisters began their Lenten season of reflection and penance.

What will you give up for this season,
to help life alongIMG_20180214_144616036_HDR in its curious reversals?
As if we had a choice.
As if the world were not
constantly shedding us
like feathers off a duck’s back–
the ground is always
littered with our longings.

You can’t help but wonder
about all the heroes,
the lives and limbs sacrificed
in their compulsion toward the good.
All those who dropped themselves
upon the earth’s hard surface–
weren’t they caught in pure astonishment
in the breath before they shattered?

Forget sacrifice. Nothing
is tied so firmly that the wind
won’t tear it from us at last.
The question is how to remain faithful
to all the impossible,
necessary resurrections.

The truth is, we don’t get a choice about sacrifice.  And too many of us are asked to make too many sacrifices.  Don’t get me wrong– I find that the practice of giving something up to be an incredibly instructive spiritual practice.  But Rev. Ungar’s poem for me is such superb Unitarian Universalist theology– the Divine/Ultimate/God/Ground-of-Being would never want creation to suffer, to sacrifice.  That suffering and sacrifice happens is part of our human reality– but to believe that which some may call “the Ultimate” would require it of us? Well, that just sounds abusive.  “Giving up” is something we have to do all the time in this human life– as the parents and families of those slaughtered in Florida are being forced to do.   As Ungar so beautifully puts it “The question is how to remain faithful to all the impossible, necessary resurrections” that we must go through in the course of our living.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Curiosity Did Not Kill The Cat
In fact, maybe curiosity resurrected the cat! “Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving” says shame researcher Dr. Brene Brown. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy and Brian Wise. Musicians: Sue Cotter, April Gutierrez, and Karen O’Dell.

 

Advertisements

Making the Invisible Visible

I can’t remember the name of the trees that are blooming right now– these ones: IMG_20180207_114431119_HDR

And I was going to write something about blossoms. But driving up Dakota Ave, I noticed the bee boxes hanging out in the middle of an almond orchard.  And I realized what I was not noticing– the bees, hard at work, pollinating (at least, I think that is what they are doing right now?).  And it made me think of all the things hard at work that we do not see, all the people hard at work we do not see that make the beautiful possible.IMG_20180207_115715024_BURST007

There are many things that are supposed to happen in spiritual community– on the top of this list for me is making the invisible visible.  We cannot see the interdependent web of existence (principle #7 for UUs), and yet there is not more powerful influence on our lives than our intense and entangled interconnections to one another.  It’s easy to the see the blossoms, it’s harder to see the bees.

 

This Sunday, Bending but not Breaking:  Inner Resources for Weathering Storms-Tending to our inner resources creates the ability to weather the storms of life and bounce back from adversity. Making regular investments in our savings provides for rainy days… have you been making deposits to replenish your inner bank account? Worship Leaders: Rev. Lori Wong, Sharon Arpoika and Sabine Klein.  Rev. Lori Wong is an ordained Theravada Buddhist Minister, Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader, Insight Meditation and Stanford certified Compassion Cultivation Training teacher.  She founded Insight Meditation Central Valley.  She is also a member of of the UU Buddhist Fellowship and UUFSC.

Even When It’s Not Pretty

I’ve been learning some simple songs, the kind meant to be taught and song without looking at sheet music.  I’ve been singing so much because I want little Sam to be filled with music and rhythm. And I came across this simple song by Laurence Cole based on an excerpt from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s “the Invitation:” “Let us see the beauty every day, and source our lives from its presence.  I want to know if you can see the beauty, even when it’s not pretty every day.” (for more on the song, visit http://www.laurencecole.com/)

This song popped into my head as I saw photos of the super blue blood moon, which I completely forgot to try to catch a glimpse of myself.  But what a thing of wonder and beauty! (photos snagged from my friend!)

The ugliness is so loud– it is such a stretch sometimes to feel connected to anything like “beauty.”  And, it is there.  It is there at 2:51am in the morning, this peculiar beauty that has not happened since 1866.

“Let us see the beauty every day, and source our lives from its presence.  I want to know if you can see the beauty, even when it’s not pretty every day.”

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday:  Across the Generations–
What would it feel like to build and sustain more connection across the generations within our UUFSC community? Rev. Darcy and members of the religious education & spiritual formation team offer reflections on possibilities and hopes for the future. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Avonelle Tomlinson, Sabine Klein, and Spiritual Formation Team Members.

 

 

 

 

Holy Cow, New Life Takes Work

I remember during my candidating week with you all, when you were just getting to know me and deciding whether or not you wanted to call me as your minister, that I talked about how I understood ministry as midwifery.  “I cannot birth the baby,” I recall myself saying, “my job is to be here with you,  helping you breathe and focus, as you go through your own birthing process.”  After just coming out of two months of caring for a newborn I have to say I have far more appreciation for all that it takes to both birth and sustain something new.  Holy cow does it take a lot of energy.

IMG_20171204_153509761Katherine and I were reflecting on how there is so much attention on preparing for birth. Which, don’t get me wrong birth, is a really big deal (says the mother who didn’t have to give birth).  But as just a big of a deal (if not more so) is the marathon of parenting that comes after the birth. And yet it feels like there is much less attention paid and less preparation encouraged for the parenting part compared to the birth part.  As one friend put it, there is no epidural for parenting.   Maybe that’s why there can be so much focus on birth– it’s easier and more containable– more manageable than what comes after.  It’s like eating healthier and dieting.  It’s much easier to go on a diet, to change your eating for a week or a month.  It’s much much harder to fundamentally change how you eat on an ongoing basis.

So it has me wondering, what in our lives are we trying to birth? What have we birthed? and what kind of help do we each need to do the marathon labor of sustaining?

I look forward to worshipping with you all again this Sunday. I’m so looking forward to being back with you all!  This Sunday: Trusting Our Gut, Listening to Wisdom–In a world where ‘expert’ advice is so easily available, how can we strike a balance between the wisdom of our experiences and the guidance of experts? Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Sabine Klein.

Baby/Bum Wipes

 

Our community is full of beauty of all kinds.  In recent weeks, I’ve been witnessing and experiencing the beauty of generosity. Whether it’s incredibly successful church auction, all the gestures and gifts of support for Katherine and me as we prepare for the arrival of our son, or all the families who brought their children to the youth roundtable last week to listen to what our kids like and want from church, there is so much beauty to experience.

IMG_20171109_151616689_HDR

If you haven’t gotten a chance, make sure to taste the church pomegranates!

There is one gift that feels particularly special– a kind of gift you only get in a multigenerational community like ours.   A congregant asked me if I had a baby-wipes warmer, a device that warms the wipes you use to wipe a baby’s bum, because they had one they did not need.  We didn’t and I gladly accepted the gift.  And then I asked “if you don’t mind me asking, why do you have a wipe warmer?”  This person did not have a baby in their life that I knew of.   “Well, when I was taking care of one of my parents….”

I know this may sound silly, but there is something incredibly beautiful and powerful in thinking about warming the wipes that I’m going use to wipe my child’s bum at the very beginning of his life with the same warmer that this congregant used to warm the wipes they used to wipe their parent’s bum at the end of life.   Talk about the interdependent web. And we need to rename those wipes– they are not just for babies, they are for any of us when are bodies are in a tender state where yes, we need some help wiping our bums– we start out in that tender state, our bodies enter that tender state after surgeries and illnesses, and we end our lives in that tender state.     And in our age segregated society, this is a beauty our congregation has to offer: the beauty of passing down a wipes-warmer.

IMG_20171112_125006196

Cleaning up fallen walnuts from the church back yard 

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Pomegranate and Persimmon Communion–“If I were to teach a course on God, I would begin with a plate of persimmons” writes UU minister Nancy Shaffer.  We will give thanks for the abundance of our valley and offer one another a special pomegranate and persimmon communion.  Worship leaders: Rev Darcy and Sharon Arpoika.

 

P.S. I hope to see many of you this Monday evening November 20th at 6:45pm for the 21st Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration Service.  This year, it will be held at The Redeemer church, 820 H Street, Modesto (corner of 9th and H Streets).  I will be offering the invocation.  This is a special time when our community’s diverse faith communities (Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Latter Day Saints, Sikh, Christian, and UU), join together in a service of thanksgiving with words, prayer and song. The Celebration’s host church is new to the event and we welcome The Redeemer Church, the first evangelical church to be host.  As in past years, you may make a donation of canned goods or monetary offerings before and during the service for Inter-Faith Ministries, Stanislaus County’s local food pantry and clothes closet. Sponsored by the Stanislaus County Interfaith Council.

Why So Many Maps?

Today, I hosted my cohort from the American Leadership Forum, a year long leadership program for leaders in the Central Valley that want to improve their skills in engaging across difference.   First off, they all kept talking about how beautiful our church campus is and how lovely our sanctuary is, and how special our pulpit and stained glass windows are.  I gave them a tour, gave them a little spiel about Unitarian Universalism.

IMG_20171109_095741616_HDR

Sun Peeking Through Big Tree in UUFSC Back Courtyard

As we walked through the education building, someone asked “why do you have so many maps?”   This is something I’ve never noticed before, but in addition to the two maps donated by Kathryn S and Bob St. J., there is the upside-down map in my office.  I guess there are a lot of maps in our education building.   And I suppose that is noticeable– we don’t have Bible phrases or other kinds of “teachy” things.  What we have are maps, tools that humans use to represent and engage with the bigger reality than we can experience in our immediate surroundings.  Maps are devices that help guide you as you venture into that greater reality.   And the reason I have the upside-down map is because it is a concrete reminder to me that so often how we see something is a matter of habit, rather than reality.  The world is a globe and so there is not inherently an “up ” or “down” to the earth– there are just the habits we have of looking– and it’s important to remember that so often how we see things are habits, not the reality.

Why do we have so many maps? Because we UU’s believe in exploring the broader world, grasping a broader perspective than what may be immediately apparent.  Because a map is a useful thing to have when you venture out into that broader reality.  But let us remember that as useful as a map is, it is a far different thing to have a map of a mountain than it is to climb it.  Having the map is just the first step.

IMG_20171112_143529141I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: The Transformative Power of Joy–In serious times, we can so easily become overly earnest and rigid about our efforts to live right. Let us not forget the power of joy to transform lives and sustain us. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and guest musician Jorge Torrez.

Rotting Caterpillars

 

“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.” –From Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”

This week, in the “intro to process thought” reading group, we got to talking about suffering and transformation.  We all expressed dislike of the “everything happens for a reason” kinds of responses to suffering.  I fundamentally disagree with a theology/philosophy that would say the Ultimate would put/wish such pain upon us.  But

1654226404_572f463048_z

Photo by Rich Bowen /CC BY

also we discussed how we all had indeed experienced transformation from our times of deep suffering.  Just because we humans are resilient, just because we are forced into circumstances from which we can learn and grow, does not mean that those are experiences are “good.” It just means we do what we gotta do and some of us are blessed with learning, even growth and transformation, from them.  As one person put it, “sometimes I definitely feel like a rotting caterpillar.”

 

As we transition into the dark season of the year, as we come out of these days of honoring our beloveds who have died, as the leaves change, fall, and decay, remember that if you were to cut a chrysalis open, you would find not a beautiful half-caterpillar, half-butterfly creature, but instead a rotting caterpillar.

This Sunday, Sharon Arpoika with lead worship with Kate Munger: Threshold Choir: Kindness Made Audible–Kate Munger, founder of the Threshold Choir will share its vision – “A world where all at life’s thresholds may be honored with compassion shared through song.”   Kate will also be leading a Community Sing Saturday 7-9pm, and leading a workshop on Sunday 1-4pm.  To sign up or if you have questions, contact Bernadette B!