Do not forget to see love

After covering terrorist attacks in Paris, the rise of the European neo-nazism, and sex slavery in Spain, photo journalist Stefania Rousselle was overwhelmed with despair. She took a road trip, where  she asked random strangers to share their most defining and life-changing love stories with her and then posted photos of these stories and people on her instagram account.   You can see some of them here:

Journalists are allowed to ask strangers questions like “what is your most defining and life-changing love story?”   But what if we all felt we had the authority and permission to ask such a question to those we pass on the street?  In a moment of despair and hopelessness, what if we asked the next person we saw to tell us a love story? There was something so powerful about looking at these photos– love is happening all the time, in so many ways, all around us.  These stories are not all bubble-gum and lollipops, for love is messy and hard.  But it is also the thing most precious.  Love is not the only thing we can set our sights on– Rousselle needed to focus on seeing love after the witnessing such evils of this world.   But we cannot let the awful make us forget the acts of love and care happening all around us.   For me, a big part of being a Unitarian-Universalist is that we promise to not forget to see love.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday for our annual In-Gathering and Water Communion Service– Navigating Currents: From all the places we went or didn’t go during the summer, we gather again to recommit ourselves to nurturing the Beloved Community. How do we navigate the currents we find ourselves in? Please bring some water from a special or mundane place. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whitely, and guest musician Jorge Torrez.


Abundant Love

“Love lifts us up, ennobles the moment, and reinforces our sense of safety. I have found this quality in friendships, in nature, and in my connection to a world bigger and more complex than me…Love is a practice. Sometimes you may want to walk away thinking that it demands too much of you. You may think: Why bother? Love has not been giving you what you were seeking….Love is simple and abundant, but it is not always in the places we look for it.” -Sharon Salzberg

One the things I love about religious congregations is how they are often the concrete accumulation of so many acts of care and love.  Specific people, offering their gifts, made the thing you are walking by or even on.  A rose bush, the stained glass windows, the landscaping, or the lemonade you drink after Sunday service.  A few years ago, a member asked if they could put up name plaques on two maps you find on the walls of the Education building.  Because she and her husband were such avid travelers, they had donated those maps.  I did not know that.  But now, because of those plaques, it is clear where those maps came from and why they are there.  Imagine if there were plaques attached to every stone, flower, or chair?  Whose love is it made up of?

Our brains are wired to notice danger, risk, and loss (what scientists call the negativity bias.)  It takes intention to begin training our attention otherwise.   “Love is simple and abundant, but it is not always in the places we look for it.”

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: The Decision to Bless
Every person, every community has gifts they can use to bless the world or use to curse the world. How can we choose to bless the world even if our gifts are not what we would want them to be or think they should? Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy Baxter, Haruko DeArth, and musician Sue Cotter.

You Don’t Always Have to Look For the Answer

I am actually being quite concrete with the title of my reflection this week: “you don’t always have to look for the answer.”  What I mean is, the next time you wonder something, like “how many people live in Iowa?” or “when did the first Harry Potter book come out?,” you don’t have to pull out your phone and Google it.  I heard this question posed this week: what does it do to us and our humanity and imaginations when we never have to wonder? What capacities are we losing by having so many answers so quickly available? Appropriately, I do not have an answer to that question.  But it does resonate with me that something may be lost when we no longer have to sit with even mundane questions.  I wonder if sitting with mundane questions helps our capacity to sit with those questions which do not have easy answers, like “how do I let go of a loved one?” or “how do I find hope and joy in hard times?”

I look forward to not looking for answers with you this Sunday: What Does A Promise Mean?   What makes Unitarian Universalism different than the Christianities we come from is that we gather based on how we try to be together, not on what we are expected to believe together. What does it mean to be a people of promise instead of a people of belief? Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy Baxter, Matthew Mason, and musician Joseph Homer.

THE News is NOT the Only News

I am regularly tuned into Krista Tippett’s On Being Project, and this week I heard her say this line:

“However seriously we must take what’s happening in the world and what the headlines are reflecting, it is never the full story of our time. It’s not the last word on what we’re capable of. It’s not the whole story of us.”

The news we get from MSNBC, NPR, the Bee, and most other journalistic sources is not the only news of our lives, though it is so easy to get saturated in the news of journalism that we forget other important news.  Is there new love in your life– perhaps a new pet, a new friend, a grandchild?  That is news.  Have you turned a corner in your grief journey and are finally able to let something go you haven’t been able to? That is news.IMG_20180722_094309588_HDR   Did you discover a new hobby, a new book?  What is the “other news” of our lives?  By no means should we try to avoid or be ignorant of the injustices in our world.  But it is also possible to become TOO tuned into the pain and injustice.  I consider it a spiritual discipline to manage my media “diet” and make sure I am tuning my focus to a bigger story that puts into context the news bits I receive.  I realize that our Sunday morning worship service is like another “news station,” where we tune into both the bigger story and the smaller stories of our lives.  The bigger story of our values, our strengths, resilience, and possibility and the smaller stories of our joys and sorrows.   But unlike other news stations, we gather together in each other’s physical presence, to soothe our bodies with group singing and the presence of people who share our values, questions, and struggles–people who help us find our compassion, courage, and hope.

I look forward to worshiping with you all This Sunday: Book Communion–Our fourth principle invites our search for truth and meaning.  Bring a book today to leave at the altar and take home another to continue your search. Together, we’ll participate in a summer book communion.  Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and guest musician Jorge Torrez.

Humanity in Inhumane Times

In her Sunday morning sermon at the national gathering of UU’s last month, Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said religious communities are places where we are reminded of our humanity because we are living in dehumanizing times (her sermon starts at around minute 42:30). Humanity is a nice, high-falutin word, but as Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky voiced through one of his characters “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man [sic] in particular.”   Religious community is where we infuse general humanity with particularity.  The result? Feelings. Heartbreak. Frustration. Joy. Connection.  Not-aloneness.


My parents, uncle, and son porchsitting

I am back from a few weeks of a lot of humanity+particularity, taking my now almost 8 month old son Sam, to meet his only living great grandmother and to spend humid East Coast days with all three sets of grandparents.  There was a lot of simple time– sitting in family rooms and porches, on the floor, while Sam played and worked trying to crawl and pulling himself up.   I’m holding on to these precious and incredibly ordinary moments of family being together, (while images of children being separated from their families at the border flash in my mind) hoping these moments of simple but deep joy and togetherness fuel me as I also hold the pain of the world around and in me.   Religious communities remind us of our humanity through simple acts and activities of being together.

I look forward to worshiping with you all again this Sunday: Question Box Sermon
Do you have questions for me? They could be about the Fellowship, or theology, or current events, or Unitarian Universalism, or whatever is on your heart and mind. At the beginning of the service I’ll invite you to write questions on index cards; my spontaneous responses to these questions will be the sermon. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy and Matthew Mason.



Everything Interesting in 90% Boring

I was listening to a conversation with author Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity, what creativity means, what myths we have about ‘creative’ people, etc.  And she has this great line where she talks about how boring and tedious writing can be.  Being an artist, a writer, is not full time interestingness.   Gilbert grew up on a family run Christmas tree farm and she says:

“the Christmas tree farm is a great metaphor. And I think one of the reasons that both my sister and I ended up being authors is because we were taught how to do boring things for a long time…here is one of the grand misconceptions about creativity.  When people dream of quitting their boring job so that they can have a creative life, one of the risks of great disappointment is the realization that, “Oh, this is also a boring job a lot of the time.” It’s certainly tedious. I mean, it’s a boring job I would rather do than any other boring job. It’s the most interesting boring job I’ve ever had, but…I have a theory that I’m just growing, and I haven’t really put a roof on it, but I’ll throw it out there, which is that everything that is interesting is 90 percent boring. And we are sort of in a culture that’s addicted to the good part, right? The exciting part, the fun part, the reward. But every single thing that I think is fascinating is mostly boring. “

41009810140_eebab34e1e_oWhat does it mean to be on a path of spiritual growth? For me, it’s what Gilbert describes here.  Like creativity, spiritual growth means committing to practices, tasks, and relationships that, frankly, are not going to make you glow with enlightenment immediately or all the time.  But in the course of doing the mundane and regular, you creative the environment in which transformation, meaning, and even magic can happen.

If you can stick through those [boring] parts, not rush through the experiences of life that have the most possibility of transforming you, but to stay with it until the moment of transformation comes, and then through that to the other side, then very interesting things will start to happen within very boring frameworks.


I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: “I Am, Because You Are”–
Unitarian Universalists have a strong sense that we are all connected.  Practicing Ubuntu is a way we can live out our seventh principle of respecting the interconnected web of life of which we are all a part.  We welcome guest speaker Debbie Adair Soro.
Worship leaders:  Rev. Darcy Baxter, Sharon Arpoika, Debbie Adair Soro, and Haruko DeArth.


Beyond Insularity

I came across this Joan Didion excerpt this week about the Central Valley, from her essay “Notes From A Native Daughter

“U.S. 99 in fact passes through the richest and most intensely cultivated agricultural region in the world, a giant outdoor hothouse with a billion-dollar crop. It is when you remember the Valley’s wealth that the monochromatic flatness of its towns takes on a curious meaning, suggests a habit of mind some would consider perverse. There is something in the Valley mind that reflects a real indifference to the stranger in his air-conditioned car, a failure to perceive even his presence, let alone his thoughts or wants. An implacable insularity is the seal of these towns.

First off, I wonder if you agree with Didion’s characterization of the Valley.   Secondly, that word “insularity” is what most stuck out to me.  Unitarian Universalist values guide us to reach out beyond insularity.  We embrace difference and curiosity– we believe in wisdom found in many different traditions and practices (so many exist right here in Stanislaus County!)  Rather than practicing indifference to the stranger, we aim to be welcoming and curious.  But these days, maybe you find it difficult to practice welcome and curiosity.  Being welcoming and curious takes a mental/emotional energy that is hard to muster when you are feeling stressed, fearful, and/or exhausted. No matter how you are feeling, UUFSC will be a place that reaches out beyond insularity, even if you as an individual aren’t up to in this moment!

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Holding it Together and Falling Apart. Chaos and order, messiness and tidiness, holding and falling apart. The spiritual path requires engaging with these opposite, (or perhaps complimentary?) forces in our life. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and guest musician Jorge Torrez.