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.

This is Why You Are Here

And then there’s the other thing which is, when your favorite song gets to that part that you love, and you just feel something. Or when you’ve had a series of crappy meals and then finally you get a well-spiced, balanced, goat biryani, and you have this moment. So, these moments of pleasure, of epiphany, of focus, of being there, in their instantaneous way can actually feel like a kind of little nudge that tells you, by the way, this is why you’re alive.   –Teju Cole

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Sunlight on a lemon tree after the rain–a little nudge towards beauty.

I’ve been chewing over this reflection from writer and artist Teju Cole.  I love how he takes some of the simplest, most accessible aspects of living– like food and music–and uses that as a portal to purpose.  When you experience moments of pleasure, epiphany, focus, and presence, it is like a little roadmap to help you get in touch with ‘the why’ of your living.   There is a part of me that says “yes!” and then there is a part of me (perhaps our Puritan roots?) that says but what about work? What about how our purpose can also require commitment and sacrifice?  But Cole is not saying these moments are ones we are supposed to try to exist in forever– but rather, those moments are nudges or traffic signs towards something, towards your deepest integrity.  That experiences of pleasure, epiphany, focus, and presence, if you explore them, might help you on your path (not BE your path).

In many ways, this is how I have approached ministry with our congregation– what are the projects, the things we do, that give us energy and joy?  Let’s focus on THOSE things.  This is why our monthly Shelters Meal program has survived, despite the death of the program’s founder.  Bill G. wanted to the experience of the Shelters Meal program to be way of deep humaneness and dignity. Getting to participate in that kind of experience is what we crave– that is why our congregation to exists.  To provide people with experiences and relationships of deep humaneness.

Where are the nudges in your life? And what do they tell you about why you are alive?

This Sunday:  Jan 19th  The Arc of the Universe– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made famous the quote by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker that the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.  For Unitarian Universalists, living in integrity means figuring out ways to lend our weight to bending the arc.  Worship leaders: Brian Wise, Todd Whiteley, and Jude Markel.

 

All Will Be Well, Right?

There is a song we have played at the church a few times , written by UU minister Meg Barnhouse, called “All Will Be Well.” The song is a conversation with the medieval woman Christian mystic Julian of Norwich who is believed to have been the first woman to write a book in English and who expressed universalist beliefs.   Julian became gravely ill and had mystical visions, which she then wrote about in her book.  In one of these instances, she reports wondering why there was evil in the world, why God would allow it (a common question across the ages!).  She had a vision of Jesus, who told her with deep tenderness “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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Some things that bring comfort to my two-year old

I don’t know about the “necessariness of sin”– (and far too much evil has been labeled ‘necessary’ when it was far from it!).  But “all manner of things shall be well” seems eerily similar to my shallow understanding of Buddhist teachings regarding impermanence and non-attachment. There is something about it that both makes sense and does not make sense.

As I heard someone put it, the world seems to be a “large dumpster fire” right now–Australia is burning, military tensions with Iran, protests all around the world.  In fact, it feels like we have been in “dumpster fire” territory for awhile now.  Julian of Norwich had her share of dumpster fires: she witnessed the devastation of the plague and the violence of the Peasants Revolt.

Julian didn’t say things were going to be good, going to be easy, or going to be comfortable.  She said “all manner of things shall be well.”  In this dumpster fire moment, I am listening to this song and trying to access the wisdom I think is there.

I look forward to worshiping with you all this Sunday (particularly after being sick last Sunday!): Making A Way Out of No Way–Religious liberals often talk about ‘freedom’ as a value, even a goal, of our tradition–but perhaps freedom may be too lofty of an aspiration. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Jorge Torrez.

How to Begin Again

There are so many voices you are hearing at this time of year, telling you how to be a better you in 2020; how to slough off the old and be new!new!new!   If you are in a moment in your life, where you are ripe for newness, such messages may provide just the encouragement you need to take that next step.   But if your life is not ripe for “newness,” all those voices may just be overwhelming and discouraging.

IMG_20200102_140807The title of this reflection is misleading because I do not know a simple answer to the question of ‘how to begin again.’   The truth is, we begin again every day.  The seasons of our lives do not so easily fit into cultural calendars.  The change of the (Gregorian) calendar year can provide us an opportunity to move what we want to move– frankly, for me, what I need to move is the accumulation of boxes that has built up during all the festivities and family visiting this Christmas holiday season!  But if newness and movement seem too hard right now, then maybe it’s not the right time. Maybe what you need is still and old.   You can begin again when the calendar year changes or you can begin again another time (or another calendar’s new year).   How to begin again? You do it when you need to do it and you are actually doing it every single day.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Beginning Again..and Again…and Again— In order to live in integrity, we humans always need opportunities to begin again. What do you need to remember, what do you need to release, and what do you need to resolve to do? Rev. Darcy will lead the congregation’s annual ‘burning off’ ritual. Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Dee Hawksworth, and Jorge Torrez.

The Importance of Singing

On Sunday, my two year old was quite entranced by Elaine A. and Carol F. leading christmas carols after worship.  He loves singing and his eyes take on a particular sparkling focus when music is playing.  I realized that this carol-singing was really his first exposure to the classic canon of Christmas carols.  These songs, which I am sure will become as familiar to him as they are to most of us,  began for him in the Johnson room.

One of the most important things a religious community does is provide a group of people with shared songs.  Perhaps this does not seem lofty enough– shouldn’t a church aspire to save souls? Liberate us?  I would say yes and no.  Saving and liberation are, frankly, overwhelming goals.  What is the first thing we should do if we are trying to save and liberate?  Singing is not a bad place to start.  Having shared songs means that we can show up to a person’s hospital bed and have familiar songs to sing together (in fact, at this very moment, people are organizing to do just this).   Having shared songs means that when you are feeling depressed and isolated, you can show up to church and experience connection of shared breath and voice, if only for a few moments.   Singing together means our bodies and breathing are in sync, providing us humans with an experience of connection we so desperately need.  Before there is action or organizing or salvation or liberation, there must first be connection.  First, there must be singing.

I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday: Pain is the Other Side of Love–
During this time of longest nights in our Northern Hemisphere, this contemplative service will help us honor all that darkness offers our beings in midst of ecological crisis. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy, Matthew Mason, and Jorge Torrez.

 

For Those Who Stay

Storyteller Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux has found it useful in this season of Christmas music and concerts to bring notebook with her and write a poetic response to the things that rankle her.  This year she wrote a a poetic response to the aspect of the classic Christmas story that celebrates “leaving your flock” as the shepherds did to celebrate the birth of Christ:

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Claremont United Methodist’s Nativity Scene –read about it here 

here’s to those who didn’t rise up,
who stayed all night with the flock–
The shepherds who heard angels
whose hearts longed to go–but
who remembered
wolves
serpents
cliffs
& the long cold night.
I say,
we cannot all leave–
the children must be fed
the fires must be kept burning
& water must be fetched.
What good to me is a
Savior
if he does not love my family
lambs & sheep
as much as I?

So many of the classic stories we celebrate in our culture are hero-leaving home kinds of story.  Adventure and independence seem to be valued over the work of care and nurture.  In all of our lives, we have to balance these different tensions– the need for adventure and novelty, as well as the need for care and stability.  As you encounter different parts of the classic Christmas story, in the grocery story, in Starbucks, driving by different Creche scenes,  pay attention to the story.  What part of the story rankles you?  What would you YOUR poetic response?

I look forward to celebrating our UU spin on the Christmas story this Sunday: Incarnating Christmas– The Christian tradition teaches us to embody, to incarnate the divine, so embody we will! Join us for our multigenerational, pageant of Margaret Brown’s Christmas in the Barn. Rev. Darcy, Brian Wise, and Jorge Torrez.

Birth and Death

My son’s 2 year old birthday happened to be on the same day as his great-grandmother’s funeral two weeks ago. And frankly, I don’t think there was a better way to have celebrated his birth.  He was surrounded by his large extended family, kids galloping through the large family home where Grandma McIntosh had lived for nearly 60 years; where she raised her 7 seven children; and where she peacefully died.

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My son during his Great Grandmother’s Graveside Service

Someone kindly bought some birthday cupcakes in honor of my son’s birthday, but when the time came around to put a candle in one and sing happy birthday, they had all been eaten up. (This was my wife’s fault– I told her to hide one cupcake and she decided that a good hiding place was on the counter next to a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups with a little post-it note on it. Needless to say, a post-it note was not sufficient protection).  So instead, a cousin recommend stacking three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on top of each other and sticking a candle in it, which my son seemed perfectly happy with.   I can already tell you that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are going to be featured in all his future birthdays.

During the service, after each song was sung, my son’s little voice piped up with “bye-bye music.”   I was most afraid that my son would start naming body-parts, the one’s involved with going to the potty being the ones he is currently most enthusiastic about. And his toes– he is very into his toes. But I also knew that Grandma McIntosh would have relished such a contribution to her funeral from her two year old great grandchild.

One of the most precious things religious communities do is hold, honor, and tend to birth and death– to keep them connected to each other so that we all can feel the full cycle of life.

I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday: Finding Awe the Second Time Around–Novelty is overrated, though our human brain is wired to look for the flashy and new, we humans vastly underestimate the joy and pleasure we derive from repeat experiences. Worship Leaders: Rev. Darcy and Haruko DeArth.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Wednesday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance .  What I love about our UU tradition is that when I go to our national on-line library of UU Worship Resources, this day is listed as one of our Holidays/Celebrations.  Not so long ago, we had a regular, periodic visitor who shared about their gender transition in our Joys and Sorrows.  They had chosen UUFSC to be a place to help hold and honor the specialness (dare I said sacred-ness?) of a person claiming and making real their authentic self.   I just heard from a colleague that her UU congregation will be honoring the new name of a gender-queer congregant. Theologically, our bold embrace of GLBT sexualities and identities can be traced to our religious ancestors’ affirmation that the human flesh is not the carrier of inherent sin and temptation – but a source of joy and pleasure that should be stewarded and respected.  Humans are born good; our bodies are good.   And so UU religious communities have been a place where transgender people can find a spiritual community that hopefully embraces them and the learning it requires for a majority-non transgender community to be a true spiritual home.

IMG_20191118_095245In this month of November, where our spiritual formation theme is ‘Attention,’  how are we as a community doing in being welcoming to those who don’t have majority (Straight, white, cisgender) identities ?  What would it mean to become even more welcoming– and how can expanding our sense of welcome free something inside all of us?  In this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the welcoming we already do and I am grateful for all that we have yet to learn in how we can Grow the Beloved Community.

This Sunday, I am unexpectedly out of the pulpit to attend a family funeral. My friend, colleague, and mentor,  Rev. Michelle Favreault will be guest preaching: What Really Nourishes You–It is so easy to consume things that actually do not nourish you. As we approach a season so focused on consumption, we turn our attention to what truly nourishes and nurtures us. Worship Leaders: Matthew Mason, Rev. Michelle Favreault, and Jude Markel.

 

Complexities of Self-Care

The term “self-care” gets used a lot, at least in the circles I run in.  In order to avoid getting burned out, the wisdom goes, take time to take care of yourself.  I’ve often heard “you have to put on your own oxygen-mask before you put on others,” alluding to the instructions you get in the case of an emergency  when taking an airplane flight.  Indeed, this is very true and I emphasize this when chatting with folks new to UUFSC– there are going to be many things you are going to see that could or “need” to get done in our community– you are not going to be able to do them all, so please be mindful of your boundaries and please do not burn yourself out!

But self-care is not the whole story.  Artist Deanna Zandt writes “Self-care is thrown

around a lot as a magic bullet to solve all your problems. If you’d only take a second to treat yourself, you’d be fine! But what does self-care really mean?”  Zandt created this comic,  explaining distinctions between:

  • Self-soothing
  • Self-care
  • Community-care
  • Structural-care

I think Zandt should have put “religious communities” in the community care section, and perhaps even in the ‘structural care’ section.   Not only should religious communities serve as “workarounds for systems that don’t inherently support care” but also as places that mobilize for changing our systems as well.

In short, when religious communities are functioning at their best, we are supporting people in their self-soothing and self-care. And, we are facilitating community care and mobilizing for structural care.

This Sunday, please join us: To What Are You Devoted? –Poet Mary Oliver writes that “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”  In order to become devoted to something or someone, first you must notice it, then give it your attention, and then fall in a kind of love.  In this service, we will reflect on to what and whom we are most devoted and whether our devotions reflect our deepest held values.   Worship Leaders: Brian Wise, Dee Hawksworth, and musician Jorge Torrez.

 

 

 

The Beauty of Letting Go

Perhaps have you seen this meme going around the internet “the trees are about to show you just how beautiful letting go can be” (at least for those of us living in that kind of climate!).   Many of us look to nature for wisdom and inspiration.  And I am reminded about some of our religious ancestors who believed that God/the Divine was actually expressed through nature.  It’s not just that falling leaves can be beautiful–it’s that there is something important, even divine, to be discerned.  Whether not you believe in some kind of divinity, most Unitarian Universalists highly value nature and find comfort in whatever lessons we can draw from it.

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The beauty of dropped leaves on a yellow mustang!

Unfortunately, for humans, the seasonal calendar does not dictate when we release and when we hold on.  We cannot simply look at the calendar to know that it is the right time.  Our lives are full of moments of holding and releasing, across every season.  Whatever you are in the process of letting go of, I hope you can find a little beauty in it.  And if not, that’s okay too.

I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday: Making Your Way Through the Dark- Now that we have changed our clocks out of daylight savings time, many of us find ourselves spending a lot more time in the dark.  In a culture that focuses our attention “the light,” we take time to honor the wisdom of the dark.  Worship leaders: Rev. Darcy, Todd Whiteley, and Jorge Torrez.