Luscious Intimacy Without Touch

One of my good friends wrote this article for the NY Times (click here to read: My Life Is More ‘Disposable’ During This Pandemic ).  It is about his experience as a rabbi with chronic health conditions and his experience of a lot of the language used regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This is a redrawn version of a Vox graphic, posted on Twitter by epidemiologist Anne Marie Darling https://twitter.com/amdar1ing/status/1237880129575157760

Before we were in middle of a pandemic, I was thinking a lot about the climate crisis and how there was a bitter irony that many of the groups most oppressed and exploited by our late stage capitalism society are the ones who might have the most wisdom about how to survive it.   It is a bitter irony because I say this as a white able-bodied (for now) woman in the U.S.  who has many unearned privileges and blessings bestowed upon her– privileges that have come at others expense regardless of whether I wanted them to or not.   And now those who are considered “disabled” might have the wisdom those of us not (yet) in that category need to survive.

“I have spent years of my life rarely leaving home. Being stuck at home due to illness often sucks, but sometimes it is other things, too. Calm. The kinds of connection that can only come from profound slowness, from borrowing down instead of stretching out. Even as we withdraw physically, our emotional and spiritual need for others has never been more visible. I already knew that we needed one another in intimate ways that go beyond the capacity of our bodies to connect. Disabled people are experts in deep, luscious intimacy without touch. We are used to being creative.” Rabbi Elliot Kukla,

That line about disabled people being “experts in deep, luscious intimacy without touch.”   YES.  That is what we all need to be reminded of right now–that we can still have powerful connection, even “luscious intimacy” without physical proximity.

This Sunday:  Online Worship at 10:30am–  We are currently broadcasting/posting Sunday morning worship in the church’s private facebook group (hoping to go more public soon!) If you are not already a member of the facebook group, please visit
https://www.facebook.com/groups/stanuu/ and ask to join!

Joys and Sorrows: If you would like us to read a joy and/or sorrow
for you and light a candle, please email Rev. Darcy at revdarcybaxter@gmail.com by 8pm Friday evening

Zoom Video Conference Coffee Hour and Connect & Reflect: After worship, we are going to try and connect via Zoom video conference for the first time this Sunday! (Zoom allows me to break people into groups, so there can smaller group talking with each other.)

To join this Zoom Meeting, click here: https://zoom.us/j/976539809  (it may prompt you to install software, which you should do!)

Meeting ID: 976 539 809

If you want to call in on your phone, rather than video-in on your computer, then dial +1 669 900 9128 and enter this meeting ID when prompted: 976 539 809

P.S. Will you help me and join a “test” zoom video call at 1:30pm this Saturday 3/21? Just follow the instructions above, except do it at 1:30pm on this Saturday!  Thank you

 

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A Time for Creativity

Fear. Anxiety….these are totally normal responses to the pandemic we find ourselves in.  Our “lizard brains” go into overdrive– sometimes in helpful ways, sometimes not.  That’s why I made this video, because laughter is great for helping us get out of our ruminating and anxious ruts:  Out-Takes of Minister Trying to Connect with Congregation During COVID-19 Pandemic

But in all seriousness, this is a time for creativity.  We may need to take physical space from groups in order to care for one another, but we do not need to isolate or be disconnected.  You all know I have mixed feelings about social media and the various ways technology is impacting human relationships. And I have no doubt that at this moment, social media and other technologies are a blessing– ways to connect even as we take physical space.  How quickly our opinions change!

A church member has created a special facebook group for church members and friends to post brief video check-ins.  If you are not familiar with the video-taking technology on your phone, use this time to try to learn!  The church is going to be trying to use our Zoom video-conferencing program for meetings and maybe even worship, so start experimenting with Zoom as well.

I know these are strange, scary times.  Now that we have to suspend so much of our usual patterns of living, we also have an opportunity to invite new ways of beings into our lives.

This Sunday– ONLINE WORSHIP ONLY! (details to come).  Effective as of Friday morning 3/13/20, UUFSC is temporarily suspending all in-person gatherings over 10 people until further notice, including Sunday morning worship and youth spiritual formation. We are following new guidelines put out by California Department of Public Health on Wednesday evening March 11th 2020. You can read these guidelines by clicking here. We are going to try to do a Facebook LiveStream on the church’s facebook page. More details to come on this– please check your email and/or the church Facebook page Saturday afternoon for details on how to access the online experience.  This will NOT be a polished production but an adventure in learning how we can connect even when we are farther apart. 

We Are Not As Smart As We Thought
Wisdom is different than knowledge or information– it offers guidance about
 how to live, often in ways we strive and/or struggle to fulfill.  When was a
 time when you thought something was true, but then later gained a deeper understanding?  Worship leaders:  Brian Wise, Todd Whiteley, Rev. Darcy and Sue Cotter.

 

How To Care for Ourselves, Our Community,and the Interdependent Web During COVID-19 Pandemic

Wed March 11th 1:30pm

How To Care for Ourselves, Our Community,and the Interdependent Web During COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear UUFSC Community,

I am writing to you about how to care for yourselves in community, and how community can support caring for yourself during what the World Health Organization has now categorized as the COVID-19 Pandemic.

I begin with this quote from Helen Keller, from her 1940 “Let Us Have Faith”:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of [humanity] as a whole experience it.”

This is a confusing and anxious time for many, exactly the time connection with others is extra important. Being together in community, singing, sharing joys and sorrows…these are the practices that calm our souls and nervous systems. And coming together in groups, particularly for folks over 60 and those with health conditions (Click here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html), is exactly what some public health officials are suggesting we many want to avoid in the near future, if not sooner.

The Board and I have decided that UUFSC will temporarily suspend in-person gatherings AFTER Sunday morning worship on March 22nd, if not sooner depending on new information. We will do worship online and work to move small groups and other meetings to video-conferencing via the Zoom program (details to follow–this is all a work in progress!). We hope to do livestreaming of worship on March 15 and 22nd as well– please do not expect our initial livestreaming efforts to be ‘polished’ productions, as we are learning on the fly! More details to follow.

This decision is based on conversations church leaders have had with local officials and with church leaders around the country. This decision is based on the deep love, care, and concern we have for the UUFSC community and a desire to preserve and protect one another, our larger community, particularly the most vulnerable.

The California Department of Public health has recommended that in counties where there is no evidence of community transmission (as of the sending of this email, we just received word that Stanislaus county has its first two confirmed cases, click here to read the Modesto Bee article), gatherings can still be held but in a modified form (which is what we plan to be doing the next two Sundays). However, news reports have revealed that it is very difficult to get tested for COVID-19 and the number of cases in the U.S. are likely under-reported.

For the next two Sundays (March 15 and March 22) that we presently expect to meet in person, we will gather for worship but will not have “coffee hour”– no yummy treats or coffee. We will ask people to avoid hugs or handshakes–instead, we will greet one another with jazz hands or hands clasped at the chest.

Please note: I will be at church this Sunday March 15th supporting our Worship Team, though I was originally scheduled to be away.

This is a moving and evolving situation and we will rely on email and the church facebook group and page to communicate quickly with you.

What I want to ask of you all:
1) Breathe and Breathe and Breathe. Perhaps sing our When I Breath In hymn.

2) Follow public health recommendations. Wash wash wash your hands!

2) Install and get familiar with Zoom. https://zoom.us/ Zoom is a video conferencing program for your computer and/or phone. It allows people to do online video meetings. The church has an account and I will be distributing the login information to our program leaders and small group ministry leaders.

3) If you come to church the next two weeks, bring hand sanitizer to share! (There has been a run on hand sanitizer and it is difficult to come by either online or in stores. I think I have been able to locate a one gallon jug of it but it will not arrive until middle of next week).

4)Stay connected! Please make phone calls, text messages, use facebook and the church facebook group. I feel ambivalent about social media AND in a moment like this, I hope it can serve us well in staying connected with one another even as we may need to implement social distancing. If your anxiety about this, or anything else going on in the world, is at a breaking point, or just feeling too much, you are not alone. Reach out to someone you trust. Risk connection.

These are strange times –and we are going to navigate them together. And we are together, no matter where we find ourselves in these upcoming weeks.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

In deep and abiding LOVE,
Rev Darcy

Create

This week, I got to participate in a minister’s study group I have been going to for the past 6 years.  A group of 10-12 UU minister’s gather at an Episcopal retreat center in the Redwoods and we share and discuss papers we have written, lead worship for one another, and lead each other in some spiritual practices to help us restore our spirits.  This is a group of colleagues I deeply trust and care about and who are able to minister to me.

Because there was so much trust in the group, so much energy and creativity was unleashed among us.  Conversations  (and tears) could just flow.  And I thought about how THIS kind of experience– of trust, care, and creativity is the kind of experience I want you all to experience at UUFSC.  A religious community is supposed to be a different kind of place in our lives– different from work or home, or places where you may volunteer.

Such an experience does not come immediately or quickly– it is in the sixth year of participating in this study group where I had such a deep experience of trust and flow.  But when we invest in relationships with the right people, we can create the kinds of spaces where our most authentic and creative selves show up loud and proud. And LORD knows in these times, we need our most authentic and creative selves to be growing strong and showing up in our hurting world.

Please join us for worship this Sunday: Believe It or Not– Despite all the messages telling you otherwise, there is nothing wrong with you.  Join church member Elaine A. as she shares how the Unitarian Universalism of this community that helped truly and deeply learn this lesson.  Worship leaders: Dee Hawksworth, Elaine Arnold, and musician Jorge Torrez.

Regarding the Coronavirus– church leadership is staying abreast of the latest news and will follow recommendations of the CDC, local government and school authorities.  At this time, we will continue with our normal church life together with some slight modifications (for example, we will not be holding hands at the end of worship this Sunday). We ask all community members to follow the CDC recommendations you have been reading/hearing about, listed below for your convenience.  If suspension of large gatherings is recommended by authorities, we may suspend services and other programming. Events may be live-streamed or video-conferenced instead of held in person (the church has a Zoom video-conference account, available for use by church members). Major cancellations will be announced on our facebook pages and website.

  • Please stay home if sick or feeling at all ‘under the weather’: All community members, including staff, should stay home (or seek medical attention) if they are sick or they have any flu or cold-like symptoms until at least 24 hours after fever and symptoms are gone.
  • Wash hands often and/or use hand sanitizer (bring some hand sanitizer to share!)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing (disposing of them frequently), or sneeze into your sleeve elbow.
  • Get lots of sleep, manage stress, drink fluids and eat healthy foods, and maintain the physical and spiritual practices that keep you feeling healthy.
  • Avoid exposure: Avoid close contact with those who are sick. With members experiencing flu-like symptoms,pastoral care, visits, and/or meetings by phone or internet, and not risk exposure

I personally appreciated this hand washing guide that Adrienne Maree Brown found and shared:

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Beauty and/or Pain

One of the longest serving/participating members of our congregation has been undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. They sent out an email, celebrating that this week that they completed their final treatment.  They shared these photos of the contraption they had to wear during those radiation treatments:

 

Before I read the email, I saw the photos and the first thought that went through my mind was “Oh, did they go to an art exhibit or something?”  There was something striking and aesthetic about the piece, as if it were a sculpture.    And THEN I read and realized what they were.  This was placed over the person while they were lying on the table, then snapped/bolted down so they wouldn’t move.  Apparently, some people have made art of these “masks.”  Apparently one person took it to a shooting range and shot it up– our church member has not yet decided what to do with it.

One of the greatest capacities we humans have is to take our pain and use it to make something beautiful.  I mean, if you we are going to suffer, you might as well do something with that suffering– whether it is to use what you learn to help others or to use it to somehow transform your pain into something beautiful.  I realize that is a hope I have for one of the things our congregation does– to offer space and support for people to transform their pain.  Such a process is rarely something that happens quickly.  But it can and does happen.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: The Power of a Gift–
In our market economy dominated world, we are frequently deprived of the power of a gift– the power to create non-transactional relationships of reciprocity and mutual care. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.

 

Nuts

Nuts are like the pan fish of the forest, full of protein and especially fat—“poor man’s meat…” Today we eat them daintily, shelled and toasted, but in the old times they’d boil them up in a porridge. The fat floated to the top like a chicken soup and they skimmed it and stored it as nut butter: good winter food. High in calories and vitamins—everything you needed to sustain life. After all, that’s the whole point of nuts: to provide the embryo with all that is needed to start a new life. –  excerpt from Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass.

How do we find a new path forward when it comes to our relationship to the Earth?  Dr. Kimmerer finds answers in integrating indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and her own story as an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.  Kimmerer believes that healing the human relationship with the Earth requires an intertwining of science, spirit, and story.

As the beautiful white almond blossoms surround us (and their pollens bombard our sinuses!), I find myself asking what can the almond trees teach us?  This question doesn’t just come from Anishinabekwe wisdom that Kimmerer shares– I realize this is also the kind of question that our religious ancestors, the 19th century Transcendentalists, also would have wanted us to ask.   Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Margaret Fuller. They were critical of “cold, rational,stuffy” Boston Unitarian churches—they wanted more feeling, more poetry….they believed people should go out and experience the world, should go out and find truths for themselves—people should go out and get awakened.  Go out into the natural world and discover what is to be revealed.  What new life, new perspectives can the nut/embryo offer us? 28322017666_074bfb9677_o

I look forward to answering this question this Sunday with you all! Blossomings–
Come celebrate the glorious beauty we are surrounded by at this time of year (if your allergies allow!) Please wear your boots or sneakers and a coat as you will be invited to take a brief contemplative walk (or do a sitting) into the surrounding almond orchard as part of the worship service! Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and Jude Markel.

 

Beauty in the Broken

Something like the phrase “Beauty in the Broken” can sound so trite, and yet, gosh darnit, I think it’s true.  It was true as I noticed this broken glass on the sidewalk from a car window that had been smashed in.

And in fact, a whole Japanese philosophy/perspective is based almost exactly on this principle of finding beauty in the broken: wabi-sabi.  Perfection is strived for in our dominant Western culture, but in Taoism something that is perfect means that no further growth or development can take place. In fact, “perfection” is considered equivalent to death.

Well, look how alive we are then! How alive are we, how alive is our congregation, how alive is the U.S. political system, and how alive is the world!  In order to nurture the kind of growth and change we yearn for– growth and change that leads us all to a more compassionate and just world–we have to learn to see beauty in the ugly.  Not so as to erase the ugliness, but instead to nurture our spirits so that we do not fall into despair and can be fully alive.

In other words, perfection is just not our goal.

Please join us for worship this Sunday: Bootstraps to Beltstraps- The broader culture, as well as the Unitarian-Universalist tradition, has over-emphasized individualism. How can we work our way from “pull yourself up from your boot-straps” to interdependence and right relationship? Worship leaders: Todd Whiteley, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.

 

Being vs. Becoming

For many of us, becoming is always going to be a greater proportion than being. I’ll never have enough experience of life as myself, to have that settled, fixed sense.  “I think I’m always going to have this sense of being as something that constantly involves becoming. And I think that that’s really the glory of the human race. I don’t think anybody should write us off. We’re not done yet — Professor Joy Ladin

“Becoming is always going to be in a greater proportion than being.”  We so easily forget how much of our worlds are based on movement– the most solid thing in front of you– a rock, a table, is in fact made up of millions of buzzing particles.  Movement is at the very core of life, even when we cannot perceive movement.

Professor Joy Ladin has perhaps a less common experience of becoming– in her mid-40’s, she transitioned from male to female identity and was the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution.   While transitioning a gender identity is not something most of us go through, I bet most of us can relate to the work of expressing our most authentic selves– and how our authenticity can feel restricted by cultural norms.   It wasn’t very long ago that gays and lesbians felt pressured to live closeted lives.  And as attitudes have continued liberalizing (in some ways), we are increasingly seeing people express their gender in different ways than earlier generations.   This growing freedom for individual expression is at the heart of our Unitarian-Universalist tradition, a tradition born because our religious ancestors believed that difference and individuality should and could be expressed in community.   I guess you could say “we welcome misfits.”

In a time when so many of our liberal values feel attacked or threatened, it is more important than ever to be clear about our values and how we want the world to become.  And then to do whatever our part to participate in that becoming.

 

 

 

 

Disagreement

I offered these words at the UUFSC’s Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday evening:

The most difficult work of leadership involves learning to experience distress without numbing yourself. The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through your darkest, most difficult moments. Leading with an open heart means you could be at your lowest point, abandoned by yourpeople and entirely powerless, yet remain receptive to the full range of human emotions without going numb, striking back, or engaging in some other defense. … Without keeping your heart open, it becomes difficult, perhaps impossible, to fashion the right response and to succeed or come out
whole.  -Professors Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky

It is not just the most difficult work of leadership that involves us learning to experience distress without numbing ourselves– is some of the most difficult work of being human!  IMG_20200127_150531When you experience distress, when there is a significant disagreement in an important relationship, maintaining an open heart is HARD.  But if I were to list some outcomes of doing spiritual/moral/emotional development work, being able to maintain an open heart and listen while experiencing distress and disagreement would definitely be on this list.   (A friend shared this list with me recently and I think it’s fairly accurate).

 

The truth is even when you are feeling pretty good and secure in your life, maintaining open-heartedness is difficult.  But if you are struggling, stressed, and insecure?  Well, it may be virtually impossible. That is

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After refilling my olive oil bottle this week, I noticed the sun beaming through the bubbles.

when the compassion and open-heartedness of others saves us!   I often like to think of church as a laboratory or a playground where we get to practice behaviors such as open-heartedness– lord knows there is plenty for us to disagree about!  But at least in church, we share some values and the UU Principles– we share being part of a tradition that proclaims that you do not need to think alike to love alike.   If we can figure out how to disagree here, then perhaps we have a chance of figuring out how to disagree in the broader world, with people who are even more different.  In this age of political polarization, we need people who can disagree with open-heartedness more than ever.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: 12 Steps for UU’s- Addiction touches so many of our lives– 12 step groups have provided so much support to many, despite a lot of the ‘theological’ translation work many have to do to participate in such groups. What wisdom can be gleaned from the 12 steps? Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Brian W., Carol F., and Sue C.

The Work Love Demands

The politics of greed is at play when folks seek love. They often want fulfillment immediately. Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know genuine love we have to invest time and commitment. As John Welwood reminds us in Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love, “dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love – which is to transform us.” Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling… More often than not they do not want to do the work that love demands. When the practice of love invites us to enter a place of potential bliss that is at the same time a place of critical awakening and pain, many of us turn our backs on love.– excerpted from All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

Spoiler alert:  this excerpt from bell hooks is my sermon “seed” for our service this Sunday.   And the line “More often than not they do not want to do the work that loved demands” has been sitting with me.  There are so many reasons why people decide to get involved in a congregation.  Often times, people are seeking to find like-minded people, want to explore meaning and purpose, and build up a sense of belonging.  All of these are great reasons to be involved in a congregation.  And, as your Unitarian Universalist minister, I have to say we are here for something more because this is what the Unitarian Universalist traditions teaches us: We are here to experience radical love and help others experience radical love.   We are here to be transformed by an experience of love and community that is different than anywhere else in life.

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Transformation in process

So many of you are already working so hard, it seems a little mean to say “yes, you even need to do more work.”  But the work that love demands is not like other kind of work.  It’s often not about more “doing.”   The work that love demands requires being self-reflective, looking at yourself, what you do, and why.  It means participating in relationships in healthy ways, particularly when the relationship gets hard– when you feel hurt, disappointed, or betrayed.  It requires vulnerability, honesty, respect, and consideration.   Saying all this stuff is relatively easy– it is much MUCH harder to practice and live it out.   This is what I think our congregation is for– a space and people with whom to practice and practice, and practice the work of love.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday: Loving More Than Your Reflection–Too often we confuse love with the experience of another person reflecting back to us what we want to see–the version of ourselves we so want to see. Our Universalist heritage asks us to move beyond these deceptive practices of ego gratifying reflection to find true love. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Haruko DeArth, and Carol Festejo.