Snatching Some Pleasure

A colleague of mine shared this video of a person delivering a package and sniffing some flowers on the package recipient’s porch.  My colleague wrote: “Where are you snatching some pleasure in the middle of capitalist drudgery today?”  That phrase capitalist drudgery stuck out to me– whether you are in the formal workforce or not, productivity and profit are the norms that shape all of our lives.


Stray flower I found on the sidewalk this morning

Religious communities are places where we try to resist the toxic and oppressive forces shaping our lives and create a space where we try to behave, think, and prioritize differently.  How can we expand that moment of sniffing a flower? The state one is in when one notices and sniffs a flower–can we be in that state a few moments longer? Maybe even a few minutes?  Not only does “snatching some pleasure” or indulging in beauty replenish our spirits– it may even be necessary for doing the work of justice, the work that could lead to a world where we are all relieved of capitalist drudgery!  In the words of Harvard Aesthetics professor Elaine Scarry:

“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.”

So next time you are at UUFSC, take a few moments and, quite literally, smell the flowers.  Snatch a pomegranate.  Pause at our stained glass window.  Stroke our sparkly new kitchen countertops. Appreciate the beauty that some of our dedicated members have worked so hard to cultivate, so that we are prepared for doing the work of justice in the world.

This Sunday: Becoming the Sanctuary You Have Found–While humans deeply crave to feel a sense of belonging, as Unitarian Universalists, we are called not just to enjoy this experience when we are lucky enough to find it– we are called to become the sanctuary we have found. Worship Leaders: Todd Whiteley, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.


When They Turn the Power Off

PG&E’s Planned Power Outages are filling the airwaves, both local and national.  While much of Stanislaus County is not in one of the planned outage zones, we are surrounded by communities that are.  And we are reminded, once again, of the precarious and interdependent nature of our existence.   Do you have emergency preparedness kits ready– days worth of water and food?   Some of us do and some of us don’t– it is so easy to take for granted the grid that fuels so much of our modern existence.  And in any given moment, there can be so many other priorities on our to-do list.  There are plenty of places in the world where power outages are a common occurrence, but because they are expected, people have adapted their lives to accommodate them.  What I hear people

wondering is if outages like this are going to become more common– is this going to become our new normal?  Is the kind of dependability and stability (of our power grid and so much more) that we have come to expect shifting?   Honestly, I think the answer is ‘yes.’  So much is changing, which compels us humans to adapt even if we do not want to.  But what has not changed is the capacity of human beings to come together, take care of each other, and figure things out.  In the anxious moments, that is what I remind myself of– how creative and resilient we humans can be when we are motivated.  And these are motivating times indeed.


I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Overcoming Fear and Terror–
Coping with fear and terror requires us to create and sustain holy friendships–friendships where we challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim, and help and get help in dreaming dreams we otherwise would not dream. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and musician Jude Markel.

Story vs. Experience

There are the stories we tell about an experience and then there is an experience itself.  This is an obvious distinction, but with the prevalence of social media in many people’s lives, I wonder if we have begun to short-change experience because we are so interested in communicating a story about our experiences.   Some of you have noticed that within a few months of my son being born, I stopped posting on facebook.   One of


Our newly pruned Orange tree (pruned by a dedicated member!)–I never realized how much of a ‘wall’ the tree was between our education building and the rest of our campus!

the biggest reasons for this is because I did not know how to express my experience of parenthood in a way that wouldn’t somehow diminish it or play into saccharine tropes.  Rather than figuring out how to communicate about parenthood, in a way I just wanted to be with the experience.  And those of you who have been regularly coming to church have experienced me experiencing parenthood–sure there are the things I mention, but there is also you standing next to me as I glance at my son happily swinging on our play-ground during coffee hour; you hearing me decide NOT to go greet him because he will get upset when I leave him again to go to Connect and Reflect.  The stories we tell never ever convey the fullness of experience, even the most mundane, ordinary of experiences.

I think just last week I quoted poet Muriel Rukeyser in my sermon. She wrote “the Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  I think this is true– but I think it is also true to say we are made up of experiences, not of atoms.   In a world saturated with stories, let us not forget to value the experiences that do not lend themself to easy communication; let us not forget how dense our human living is and that our stories only ever convey a fraction of the experience.

I look forward to experiencing worship with you this Sunday: Should You Do the Dishes?  Belonging is a basic human yearning. Humans are designed to be part of a group–that is what brought many into this congregation! But how do you cultivate that sense of belonging in yourself and others? Well, do the dishes. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy and Sharon Arpoika.


On Tuesday, a UUFSCer shared with me that they had just called their spouse and told them to put a very special bottle of champagne into the fridge.

“Is it for an anniversary?”  I asked.


“A birthday?”


A mischievous smile spread on their face.

“What’s if for then?” I asked.

“Well, after the 2016 elections, I bought this bottle of champagne and stored it away for when a certain someone finally leaves office.  And with the news today, I think it’s time to start chilling the champagne” 2697445585_caddf53a38_k

All of us who heard the story just started laughing– and appreciating.  This person bought a bottle of champagne in anticipation of celebrating when a very hard and painful period in our history would end.   They created something to look forward to, they created the expectation that some day, they would be popping that cork.    What a great way to cope with a period of struggle or pain– figure out the thing you are going to do when it ends.  Even if you do not believe an end may be in reach (and it IS easy for our brains to get us into a loop of negativity bias),   it could be a good practice to “act as if” and get that bottle of bubbly anyway (or some sparkling juice if alcohol is not your thing!).

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Feeding Our Souls (and Bodies!) Potluck Communion–Eating together is a sacred act in many traditions and UUFSC has a long tradition of delicious potlucks.  Please bring food to share, as the service will end with a “communion potluck,” where we will offer gratitude, spend some moments in mindful eating, and share stories about what we expect from ourselves and the church this upcoming year.  Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and musician Jorge Torrez.

Seasonings and Spice

Last Saturday, the UUFSC Board and I spent the today together, being facilitated by Rev. Erin Matteson for our annual Board retreat.   Like any group (or person really!), the Board needs to take time to build relationship, reflect on the meaning of the Board’s work, and establish priorities for the upcoming year.   For our opening, I asked each Board member to bring two spices and/or seasonings.  One spice or seasoning that represented a gift they bring to their Board work and one that represents a hope for the congregation this year.   Each person added their spice to a mason jar, adding to our “altar” which also included water and yeast from this year’s water communion.  What ingredients do we have?  What can we make with what we have?  And what is the most important thing to make?


Serving on a church Board is challenging, in particular because they are tasked both with holding the “big picture,” centering our mission and core values, but also with handling various kinds of organizational business and details.  And as we all know, it is easy to get buried in details.   It’s also hard because religious congregations are similar but not exactly like other kinds of organizations– there are some things about us that are like a business, but we are not about profit.  There are things about us that are like a non-profit, and yet we are not a service-provider.  We are tasked with using the resources and gifts we have to Grow the Beloved Community.   And the Beloved Community is about living, being, and acting the world we dream about right now.  In short, it’s a hard job. Which many of you know because many of you have served on the Board over the years!


Had you been at the Board retreat, what seasonings and/or spices would you have brought?  What are the gifts you bring to Growing the Beloved Community?  And what are your hopes for UUFSC this year–not abstract hopes you hope “someone” will do, but rather the hopes you want to commit time and energy to help making real?

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Being the Ancestors Our Descendants Would Be Proud Of– We get so caught up in the day-to-day, it is easy to forget to pause, zoom out of the mundane, and ask whether we are being the ancestors our descendants would be proud of.   So, are we? What should we expect of ourselves in this complicated moment in history and how do we be the kind of people our children and children’s children will be proud of?  Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy and Dee Hawksworth

Crying in Public

I am going to make a guess that most of us seek solitude when we need to let the tears flow–maybe alone in your car or in your bathroom.  But neuroscientist Matthew Sachs believes that tears are actually social cues, intended to elicit empathy and support from other humans.  Sadness arises when we suffer a loss, perceived or actual, and our bodies’ physiological response is designed to receive care from other members of your group during that perceived loss.  Apparently, crying in something we are not supposed to do (just) in private.

We have so many expectations for how grown-ups are supposed to behave.  Too many of us believe that sorrow, grief, and sadness are experiences to be kept in the private realm.  I think this is one of the power of our “Joys and Sorrows” ritual that we do most Sundays, particularly the “Sorrows” part.  As a community, we are challenging the common expectation that your sadness should be kept private. And apparently, if neuroscientist Matthew Sachs hypothesis is correct, this wisdom is actually etched into our very neural circuits.

This Sunday: Expecting Too Much, Expecting Too Little– One of the biggest challenges of our time is knowing what to expect—the rate of change and the pace of life have increased so much, we don’t know if we are expecting too much or too little– or if too little or too much is being expected of us.  Come explore how we can expect just the right amount.  Worship leaders: Dee Hawksworth and Todd Whiteley.

Crisis vs. Meta-Crisis

I’ve recently come across the work of British theologian and social critic Rowan Williams, who has this to say about the times we find ourselves in:

“There are crises and there are meta-crises: a system may stagger from one crisis to another but never recognise the underlying mechanisms that subvert its own logic…If we are now panicking about the triumph of a politics of resentment, fear and unchallengeable untruthfulness, we had better investigate what models of human identity we have been working with. Our prevailing notions of what counts as knowledge, our glib reduction of democracy to market terms, our inability to tackle the question of the limits of growth – all these and more have brought us to the polarised, tribal politics of today and the thinning out of skill, tradition and the sense of rootedness. Treating these issues with intellectual honesty is not a sign of political regression but the exact opposite.”  

In short, the very models we use in our everyday thinking may need to shift in order to face the variety of challenges we are facing today.  It’s not just rising wealth inequality, institutional racism, OR climate change that we need to address, but the underlying ways of thinking and understanding humans and the world that produce such problems.  The line about “the thinning out of skill, tradition, and the sense of rootedness” is what reminded me of church.  Because being a church, growing the Beloved Community, means we are trying to build up and resource us with the exact skills, traditions, and

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For our Ingathering and Water Communion Service, every participant was asked to bless our new kitchen by sharing their hope for how our new kitchen could resource us in Growing the Beloved Community.  You can now read those hopes and blessings on display in our kitchen, along with some of the yeast and water used in this year’s Water Communion Ritual. 

sense of rootedness that late-stage capitalism is thinning out.   The skills of right-relationship;  traditions of lament, grief, forgiveness, celebration, and redemption; and a deep sense of connection to a place and a people.      Zoning out on a screen definitely takes a lot less energy than all of this stuff.   And lord knows so many of us are tired. But if we are to survive, maybe even flourish, in the crises and the meta-crisis, then we must double down on the work of Beloved Community.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday:  Creatures of Stealth Denial–When we know something is true but don’t feel that it’s true, we do not live as if that something is true. We live in a state that philosopher Jonathon Rowson calls stealth denial. We explore how we can know, feel, and live the truths we are so good at stealthily denying. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Sharon Arpoika, and Jorge Torrez.