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.


Not THAT Kind of Whitehead…(or Beauty Beyond the Skin)

It didn’t even occur to me when I typed in “beauty” and “Whitehead” that of course skin care products related to whiteheads would be the first search engine results.  I had to laugh at myself–I was that much in my theological research zone.   And yet, when a lot of people think of beauty, they indeed are thinking about appearances

You see Alfred North Whitehead is the founder of process theology, a school of thought based on the revelations of quantum physics in dialogue with classical Western philosophy.  And in this school of thought, beauty serves as a primary ethical guide.  What should you do in a situation? The most beautiful thing you can– or the action that contributes most to beauty.   And is how beauty defined in process theology?  Well, John O’Donohue captures it well when he says:

Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness.  Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.

Grace, elegance, depth, fullness, rounded, substantial.  If you are trying to figure something out in your life, what decision do you think would be the most graceful, elegant, full, round, substantial one?

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: The Beauty of Growth and Learning–Throughout our lifetimes, we humans have opportunities to grow in so many ways. Our early years are particularly rich in growth– our bodies and brains are growing and adapting more actively than in any other period of life. Come celebrate the journey of growth as we honor the youth of our community.  Worship Leaders this week are Rev. Darcy, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.

Speed of Trust

There are 40 seconds left in overtime, Golden State Warriors versus Portland Trail Blazers. The Warriors are up by just one point.  If the Warriors win this game, they win the series and get to take a 9 day break before playing in the NBA Finals.  Multiple key players are injured, the team is tired.  40 seconds left and star 3-point shooter Steph Curry has the ball.  Two players are defending him and he can’t get off a good shot.  But his long-time teammate Draymond Green (known for his defensive and playmaking skills, but not as a great shooter) is wide open at the three-point line.   It would have made a lot of sense for Curry to take the shot anyway– he is good enough to have possibly made it, even with two defenders on him.  But instead he passes it to Draymond Green.   Draymond dribbles, shoots….and it goes in.  And it was that basket that essentially won the game and the Western Conference semi-finals for the Warriors.

There is a book that has been popular among UU ministers and social justice leaders these past couple of years called “Emergent Strategy,” by adrienne marie brown. Brown wrote this book to address leaders in mission driven organizations, organizations that center values of social justice, compassion, and generosity. And yet, too often, she experienced and saw that the way people treated each other in those organizations did not reflect their stated values. People got burnt out, tried to do too much, came down with stress based illnesses; people became competitive and too often inconsiderate. Her core principles for organizing and doing our work are:

  1. Small is good, small is all– the large is a reflection of the small.
  2. Change in constant– be like water.
  3. There is always enough time for the right work
  4. Never failure, always a lesson.
  5. Move at the speed of trust
  6. What you pay attention to grows.

Sportsy people are talking about this pass from Steph Curry to Draymond Green because it shows the importance of trust. Curry and Green have played a lot of games together, as very different kind of players–they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.   And even though Green isn’t known as a shooter, Curry knew it was the time to risk trust.  And this has me curious about where in life (my life, you life, church life) is it time to risk some trust?

This Sunday in worship: The Real Story –The phrase “curiosity killed the cat” has been around for decades, if not centuries. People have enjoyed it, used it without thought, perhaps even with good intention. But Curiosity hasn’t been happy with that. She begs to differ, would like to set the record straight, and is ready to speak out. Come hear from her for yourself as she makes her first public appearance in a string of scheduled stops on that tour at the UU Fellowship this Sunday. Worship leaders: Sharon Arpoika, Rev. Erin Matteson, and Jorge Torrez.

Worry vs. Curiosity

Our religious educator, Amanda G., closed our Religious Education and Spiritual Formation team meeting Wednesday night with this quote from Rabbi Marcia Prager:

“Where worry says “oh no, what is going to happen?” curiosity says “oh wow! I wonder what will happen!”

Perhaps this feels like a frivolous quote– there is indeed so much to worry about.  Climate change, political polarization, or how about the latest in restrictive abortion access laws?  Our brains are predisposed towards negativity–a helpful trait when the only things we humans had to fear were four legged predators!  But how do we not get stuck in negativity? Because in the moments when we need creativity the most, worry and fear actually shuts down our creative capacities.

What helps us ground ourselves in those moments of fear?  Moving our bodies, singing, breathing, prayer/meditation–all things that are standard practice in many kinds of religious gatherings.  Where in your life is worry in the driving seat? What would it look let curiosity drive for a bit?

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Name, Hand, and Heart
What does it mean to carry forward Unitarian Universalism? In lead-up to our annual congregation meeting today, we explore what it means to, in the words of Rev. William Channing Gannett, “join ourselves together, name, hand, and heart.” Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Brian Wise, and Haruko DeArth.

Toilets and Other Appliances

This week, I was delighted to be at the church when the new stove, refrigerator, andimg_20190507_143523581_47036033164_o dishwasher got delivered (and also as the old toilets got taken out, ALL thanks to Bob S. and the many hands helping him).   I know you probably don’t have a daily practice of giving thanks for your toilet or stove or your dishwasher..but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.   When I graduated from seminary, a bunch of my friends pooled money to buy me a portable dishwasher as a graduation gift.  Doing dishes was a chore I hated.  I joked with them I would bow down and say prayers to that dishwasher for the relief and help it provided.    And I remember growing up with a persistent img_20190507_160948467_hdr_33948320388_oannoyance and stress of a “fussy” toilet.  These appliances we engage with every day for essential human functions provide a great deal of comfort and ease– or prevent a great deal of comfort and ease when they are not working right.   I wonder, now that we are moving towards having a beautiful, functioning kitchen, what will the comfort and ease it brings us allow us to do in our ministry of Growing the Beloved Community?

This Sunday in worship: Families Are Curious Things–Most of us wonder about our families, who they were, where they came from, what our place is in them. Being adopted heightens this curiosity. Janet Moncrief, who grew up in our Fellowship and was a member until she moved to Santa Cruz, will share her adoption search story. Worship leaders: Haruko DeArth, Jorge Torrez, and guest speaker Janet Moncrief.

Limitless Belonging

“Mysticism is the experience of limitless belonging”

This Sunday, we will be welcoming 8 new members and hearing them share a slice about why they have decided to make the commitment to UUFSC as their spiritual home.  So I have been thinking a lot about belonging. When Unitarian Universalists are drawn to explore religious wisdom, we often gravitate towards the mystic sides of religions, the sides that tend to focus on connection and unity.  Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast defines mysticism as the “experience of limitless belonging.”  Dominant culture views mysticism as abstract and elite, but Steindl-Rast’s definition democratizes mysticism.  Once in awhile, every human can feel it– a sense of deep connection, oneness with the world.  Some people describe it in experiences of parenthood, some people describe it in experiences of love and partnership; and still others can find it in the woods, mountains, or busy street.    Who we call the great mystics are people who never forget this sense of connection– they organize their lives around it, while the rest of us generally forget and are lucky to stumble into the experience time to time.

Membership to a church is different than membership to other kinds of organizations (at least it is supposed to be).  What we strive for, I think, is to be a place of belonging, a place where instead of being afraid of connecting to the bigness of the world (with its abundance of violence and oppression), we build up our spiritual and emotional muscles so we can connect more and more and more.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Belonging–A core human need is to belong– we honor our own sense of belonging here at UUFSC, engage our curiosity about our newcomers’ stories, and welcome new members as they begin their journey of belonging here. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Jorge Torrez.

Sacred Places

The fire-fueled destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral this week (and the rapid raising of


Stained Glass Portrayal of the Valley, made by church members Walt Lab, Dolores Niemi and others.  They were dedicated on Easter Sunday 1981.

1.3 million dollars to repair it) has me thinking about the importance of “sacred places” in an increasingly secular world.  Write Sarah Smarsh shares this about her childhood Kansas prairie church:

Even on a humble patch of flat grassland, there’s a recognizable energy field inside a place designated for speaking with God. How could there not be in a building that has contained so many prayers and songs, so many tears over dead farmers in open caskets, so many smiles at crying babies with holy water running down their cheeks?

I’m of the mind that, if some mysterious force can hear what’s in our hearts, it can do so whether we’re kneeling at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City or pumping unleaded gas at a convenience store in Duluth. But historically it’s been churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques where we meet others making their own vulnerable attempts at faith — and let them witness ours. As society becomes decreasingly religious but no less concerned with the big questions of existence, where will we find those shared spaces of reverence?

I bet a lot of UU’s would echo Smarshes beliefs that the Sacred can be accessed at “St. Peter’s Basilica or pumping unleaded gas at a convenience store in Duluth.”  But there IS something special about a physical place that has been the site for so many people in


Our kitchen in progress!

their vulnerable attempts at faith, at being the best version of themselves, at coping with tragedy and transition; the site of so many songs, tears, funerals, and smiles at crying babies.   I think this is why over the past decade or so, this congregation has put so much energy into preserving and beautifying our church campus; it’s why so many of you have shared generously to get a new roof for the sanctuary and build a kitchen for our community.


In this times of political polarization, climate catastrophe, growing wealth inequality, we need shared spaces of reverence more than ever– places that call us to our best selves, welcome our whole selves, and build a “we” out of the “me’s” so emphasized by consumer culture.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Easter Sunday: The Usual and the Profound–It was in going to perform the usual burial rituals that women myrrh-bearers discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. On this Easter, we honor the profound encounters we can have in midst of the usual. We will do our annual Flower Communion ritual, so please bring a flower to church!  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Sharon Arpoika, and musician Jorge Torrez with guest musician Firefly Walters.

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