Oct 24 2018

November Journal – Taking It Home: Re-Membering Who We Are

Published by under Minister's Musings

Taking It Home: Re-Membering Who We Are

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


All that we have ever loved

And all that we have ever been

Stands with us on the edge

Of all that we aspire to create:

A deeper peace,

A larger love,

A more embracing hope,

A deeper joy in this life we share.

Rev. Leslie Takahashi


           “What does it mean to be a people of Memory?” asks our November theme. With pressing worries and urgent calls to action demanding our attention at home and in the world, and with midterm elections and important propositions on the November 6 ballot, it may seem odd to turn our attention to memory this month. Do we have time for this? More specifically, who has time for this? Isn’t rummaging through the past a spiritual practice that only well-off folks can do?

           Our annual Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead celebration teaches us that the act of remembering can bring wholeness and strength to everyone. On Sunday, November 4, we bring to worship photos and mementos of our loved ones who have died—relatives, pets, and other important people who have had an influence on our lives. We place these symbols on our big bright altar, and we share memories about those lives. The spirits of those we love draw close, and we have a chance to learn from them once again.

           We bring the past into the present in order to know that we are not alone. As the Rev. Leslie Takahashi says in her poem, “all that we have ever loved and all that we have ever been stands with us”—right now. When we reach down to touch our deepest roots, when we call on the strength of our ancestors, we remember what makes us who we are today. We lift up the messy and painful memories as well as the joyful and encouraging ones. Because, as one of our Soul Matters friends says, “it is in the space of memory that we are somehow held together, and also re-assembled. As we remember, we are re-membered.” Naming where we come, and from whom, puts us back together again … better than before. With the practice of re-membering, we wake up to who we are now, to what we need to do, and to who we want to be as we do it.

           So here is the invitation to this month’s spiritual practice:

           Make a list of all the people and creatures you have loved, all the people and creatures who have made a difference in your life. Living or dead, these are beloveds who dwell in the spaces of our memory.

           Just jot down their names, or a brief description when you don’t know their names. Sometimes a chance encounter with a stranger can make a big difference in our lives, too.

           This doesn’t have to be a perfect, or complete, or even a very long list. Just let each beloved appear in your memory’s eye and ear for a moment, and make a note of them.

           As you add each name, let a specific memory or quality rise up about that beloved. Let it be the first thing or two that pops into your mind. Jot that down, too.

          For example, my list begins like this:

  • My mother Jane: Generosity. Books.
  • Rastus, our first dog: Companion. Softness.
  • Ellen: Laughter. Trust.

           Keep coming back to your list. Notice the gifts that each beloved has given you. Notice how they are part of who you are now, especially when you re-member them—when you bring them again into your awareness, when you let the accumulation of these gifts build and build into the complex, strong, shining person you are now.

            You can weave this practice into your life first thing in the morning or last thing at night. You can share it with family and friends of all ages over a meal. You can ponder it on your way to work or school. You can add to it every day, every week this month. Notice what changes for you through this practice of mindful memory. Notice how connecting with your roots gives you an anchor strong enough to keep you solidly planted, even when outside events might shake us all.

             “What does it mean to be a people of Memory?” Awake, alive, strong, ready to create a “larger love, a more embracing hope, a deeper joy in this life we share.” Come, let us re-member ourselves.


With love for who we are and all we bring,


Rev. Nancy

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Oct 24 2018

November Journal – In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a People of Memory?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices

November 2018: What does it mean to be a People of Memory?

The Practice of Honest Remembrance

and Honoring All Our Ancestors and Predecessors

on Whose Shoulders We Rest

“In Our Own Voices” captures congregants’ thoughts and feelings on the theme of the month. This year, our Worship Associates offer their first responses to each theme. May these words inspire you, too, to ask:

  • How does this theme relate to my life?
  • What does it inspire in me?
  • How does it trouble or perplex me?
  • How can it help us to live our Unitarian Universalist faith?

Memory as Central to Our Being

  • Memory defines us and how we view others. It structures the patterns for our day.
  • Honest remembrance is a foundation for learning how to be, to love, and to exist.
  • The more honestly we seek to remember, the more honor we give to the remembered.
  • Let us use honest remembrance to support ourselves. When we made decisions that turned out to be bad ones, let us remember what we knew at the time. We may have been confused. We may have not had all the facts. We are human.

Changing Memories and Revisionist History

  • The process of remembering changes the memory. Is that a bad thing? Could we think of this process of remembering like alchemy transforming it into something more meaningful (gold)? That same process of change could produce lead—a memory that is self-serving, editing out the bad and keeping only what keeps us static and self-satisfied.
  • Revisionist history: how people mis-remember and how each person has a different set of memories of the same event
  • Was there an “honest” remembrance of Fr. Junipero Serra when he was canonized?
  • In our personal lives: changing the story depending on what happened later
  • When people die, people often tend to put them on a pedestal so high they are not recognizable! Or people focus on the good and tend to forget the less pleasant aspects of the lives and personalities of the deceased.

Learning from the Past

  • The African concept of Sankofa—moving forward while simultaneously returning to the past to bring forward valuable lessons. The concept of Sankofa is illustrated by a bird who flies forward while looking backwards, holding a precious egg in its mouth.
  • The New York Times offers obituaries of women who were all but forgotten and ignored.
  • What do we gain from working to remember? Bringing to consciousness, fresh air and sunlight … Getting rid of leftovers in the back of the fridge …

Unitarian Universalist History

  • I would like to hear more about Unitarian Universalist forbears on a regular basis (and not just the ones we hear about so often—Emerson, Thoreau, etc.). It would be so wonderful if everyone could hear about our history from Rev. Cat Cox, who did a fascinating series of presentations on UU history at the Leadership School I attended.
  • Focusing on the history of our past Unitarian Universalist leaders would be inspirational. What is “honest” remembering anyway? Why is this word used? I am guessing that it’s because some of our Unitarian Universalist history and other history have been whitewashed over time and no longer reflect the reality of the times.
  • Why does it matter that we acknowledge and share the truth about our religion’s (and our congregation’s) past injustices to people and communities of color? What do we learn now from looking at the past?

Memory as Healing—and as Traumatic

  • This is a loaded topic for many of us who have very negative childhood memories. Looking at our own pasts through the lens of age and experience could be very healing. And it could be a minefield for some folks and would need careful handling. Some shoulders are hard to acknowledge even if they did exist. Much pastoral input would be needed.
  • Looking back at early sources of feelings in our lives. For example, what is the youngest I can remember feeling shame?

The Science of Memory

  • It might be interesting to look into the science of memory. Much work has been done on this subject.
  • The amazing function of the mind. How does it possibly work?

Muscle Memory and Intentionality

  • How have I gotten by without intentionality? It’s like proprioception—“the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself” (dictionary.com). We do something without conscious thought but with muscle memory.
  • In music lessons, I had very little conscious thought about the instruction I was being given, but it must have gotten through to my memory anyway, because I improved and people seemed to think I was doing well. It’s perplexing how that can be. For example, I don’t remember ever thinking, “Okay, I’m coming close to the frog of the bow, so I need to lighten up the pressure.” Nor did I ever think, “This needs to be louder, so I need to press more with my index finger and bring the bow closer to the bridge.” I just learned to do it. Did that actually set up a pattern in me that worked well in the violin/ viola setting but not so well in others? Did I come to believe I didn’t have to work consciously to learn?

Losing Memory

  • Losing memory for those of us that are approaching or have reached our senior years is scary. Could our companions on our journey care for us by remembering that which we don’t want to forget?

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Sep 24 2018

October Journal – In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a People of Sanctuary?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices

October 2018: What does it mean to be a People of Sanctuary?

The Practice of Finding Sacred Space Within

and Ensuring Welcoming Space for All


“In Our Own Voices” captures congregants’ thoughts and feelings on the theme of the month. This year, our Worship Associates offer their first responses to each theme. May these words inspire you, too, to ask:

  • How does this theme relate to my life?
  • What does it inspire in me?
  • How does it trouble or perplex me?
  • How can it help us to live our Unitarian Universalist faith?


Safety and Comfort

  • Protect. Shelter. Retreat—as in a safe place to gather.
  • Sanctuary = Safety. Sanctuary is where you feel safe from whatever threatens you.
  • Comfort of familiarity
  • Sanctuary has many layers. It is comfort and solace to those within the community. AND political and physical safety to those within and outside our community. We can provide sanctuary from hate and rejection.
  • A quiet space in which to think and meditate.
  • A place of silence and peace. A place of safety from ICE and other predators. A physical place like a church sanctuary or church building. Could also be a policy that governs the behavior of police officers to protect vulnerable immigrants from deportation. Could be a place for all people to be with others where everyone can be their whole selves without reservation. Judgment-free space where acceptance is expected. Could also be an internal space opened up through quiet meditation and prayer.
  • El refugio—“refuge” in Spanish. A place to come back to, again and again, where love and affection are found. I thought of the elements of our sacred space: a round, circular space with a labyrinth; with music, natural light, a dome; with a pulpit—a place for voice, spoken words; with a place for storytelling, for children; a safe place, the safety to grow and take risks.
  • Catholics refer to the area around the altar as the sanctuary—the holiest part of the church. What makes the sanctuary we offer holy or sacred? Is sacrifice necessary?


Sacred Space Within

  • Sanctuary as “sacred space within”—a practice that evolves and grows
  • Do you have to find sacred space within yourself before you can offer sanctuary to another?
  • Creating a sacred space within myself where other spiritual perspectives can be respected and honored in a way that invites thoughtful expression


A Welcoming Space for All

  • Our church should express acceptance for all (of course, we do this). Welcome all. Minister to all.
  • Church should be a sanctuary, but how willing are we to be a sanctuary for all? Sometimes certain people need to be asked to leave (like the person who was a danger to children several decades ago). Do we require change of some people in order for them to be in our sanctuary?
  • A place for role playing, practicing how to be an ally, how to intervene in a conflict
  • Safe space, anti-bullying


Many Kinds of Sanctuary

  • I find that nature either on a trail or in a garden is sacred space for me.
  • We refer to a park or preserve as a sanctuary.  What is similar and what is different in what we offer?
  • “Nesting”—particularly just before someone goes into labor
  • For years, I would come home from school, set my books down, and immediately take off my dress and change into jeans, which were a kind of sanctuary from what the world wanted me to be and do.
  • Poem my daughter wrote in second grade:


quiet now

not reading

             out loud

going to bed

and sleeping

at night

not shouting

in bed.

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Sep 24 2018

October Journal – Taking it Home: Creating Sanctuary

Published by under Minister's Musings

Taking It Home: Creating Sanctuary

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, with help from the Soul Matters Sharing Circle


During this two-year Interim Period, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José will be diving into the nitty-gritty of how we can best embody our Unitarian Universalist faith. And like the old joke about “how do you get to Carnegie Hall,” we can only strengthen our capacity to live the life-saving, life-giving core of Unitarian Universalism through “Practice, Practice, Practice”!

So each month, I’m offering “Taking It Home,” suggestions about how to turn our monthly themes into practical, life-changing guides. I hope you and your family will try on these exercises. Often they will deepen our worship experiences, too. Here are two for this month’s theme of “What does it mean to be a people of Sanctuary?”


Building an Altar to Sanctuary for October’s Worship

Sanctuary comes to us in many forms. This exercise invites us to meditate on the gifts of our many sanctuaries. Over the next few days and weeks, notice all the various places, spaces, relationships, and experiences that function and have functioned as sanctuary for you. Where, when, or with whom do you find peace, grounding, inspiration, and the chance to be your most authentic self? Do you find sanctuary here at FUCSJ, for instance? Do you find it by the ocean or in the woods? Do you find it in conversation with your best friend, or when you are immersed in a good book or movie, or when you are out for a run?

Here’s the crucial part: As you remember and notice these sanctuaries, identify a symbol or token that represents them. For instance, collect a picture of the person who has been sanctuary for you. If it’s a physical space like your home, pick a small object that represents it. If it’s a park or beach where you love to sit or walk, choose a picture or print out a description; bring a leaf or shell if it’s OK to pick one up. If it’s your garden, choose a spray of flowers or herbs that you have grown.

Please bring these symbols of your sanctuaries to worship with you on October 7, 14, and 21, and add them to our joint altar. Much like the annual creation of our Day of the Dead altar, we will create a space that represents inspiration and grounding for all of us—a visual and tactile place that can strengthen our spirits and fuel our actions. Pulling all our diverse sanctuaries into one space helps anchor us in the truth that life itself is more of a sanctuary than we sometimes think.


Creating a Sanctuary at the End of Each Day

Many of us have “morning rituals of sanctuary.” We meditate, take the dog for a walk, do some yoga, cook, or read something special. We start the day with a sense of grounding and inspiration.

Psychologists tell us that ending the day with the experience of sanctuary can be even more important. This month, find a practice that lets you end your day with sanctuary. The following article, called “Evening Ritual: The 7 Things That Will Make You Happy at Night,” offers ideas and explanations about why this is key to spiritual centeredness: https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/02/evening-ritual/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits


A Word of Assurance

Friends, I too have trouble fitting a new practice into my life, especially in these times when everything feels urgent. But an old spiritual truth says that such times are exactly when we most need to slow down, pay attention, and take the time to do what needs to be done. To be loving and effective in our jobs, families, and friendships, in our congregation and communities, we need to be grounded, to find inspiration, and to stay in touch with our most authentic self. So won’t you please be accountability partners with me, checking in about how our “practice” is going?

I can’t wait to experience the peace and grounding we will create.


With love and faith,

Rev. Nancy

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Aug 27 2018

September Journal – Taking It Home: A New Series

Published by under Minister's Musings

Taking It Home: A New Series

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones,

with help from the Soul Matters Sharing Circle


Welcome, everyone, to our new congregational year 2018-19! This year and next—the two years of this Interim Period with Susie Idzik—will be exciting times for all of us at FUCSJ. We will be looking within and among us for how we can best embody our Unitarian Universalist faith. We’ll be more explicitly exploring how we can make tangible and real First Unitarian’s mission: to Make Love Visible in all we say and do. Please do take a look at Susie’s essay in this edition to learn more about the plans already afoot!

Like the old joke about “how do you get to Carnegie Hall,” I’m convinced that the only way to strengthen our capacity to live the life-saving, life-giving core of Unitarian Universalism is to “Practice, Practice, Practice.”

So this year I’m launching a new series for our monthly newsletter. Instead of another essay—another set of ideas and stories, which we pour our hearts into offering in worship every week—I want us all to have some way to take these ideas home. How can make our monthly themes practical, life-changing guides?

Each month I will offer one or two Spiritual Exercises that you and your family can try on. We’ll call this series “Taking It Home,” based on a family-oriented program from the UUA. And the spiritual exercises will come from our Soul Matters Sharing Circle of UU congregations diving into the same themes—and from our own creativity. I hope we will all give them a try! Here’s the first one. [or, if what follows is printed in a different place: You’ll find the first one on p. xx of this newsletter.]


[NOTE TO NEWSLETTER EDITORS! The opening section can be printed apart from the actual “Taking It Home” piece below, as long as you point folks to where the “Taking It Home” piece can be found. If you place it elsewhere, you can change the by-line above to just my name and then move that by-line to the part below. Clear as mud, right?? ? Thanks!]


Taking It Home: Creating Your Own Vision Statement


Companies—even congregations—write vision statements, but we rarely write one for ourselves. Let’s use this month to fix that. Simple, clear, and memorable statements of vision inspire us, help clarify our choices, and motivate us to get out of bed each morning. Without them, we may wander. With them, we choose and shape our own path. It’s one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.

And it’s not really that hard to give ourselves this gift. It’s doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the best personal vision statements are short and simple, even just one sentence. Try making it less intimidating by narrowing the timeline. Instead of trying to write a vision of what you will make of your entire life, just focus on what you want to accomplish this year. For instance, try answering one or both of the following questions:

“How do I want to be different when this congregational year comes to an end in June 2019?”

“What do I want to have done when this congregational year ends?”

Are your thoughts and feelings already stirring? Dive in!


For More Inspiration:

Would you like some more inspiration? You might like these videos about writing your “life sentence”:


Here’s a great seven-page essay that offers a road map to creating your personal vision statement:



For Visual Learners:

Some of us are visual learners, so instead of writing your personal vision statement, try creating a visual representation of it. This popular technique is called vision-boarding. Here are two good sites that explain what a vision board is and how to go about creating one:


Share What You Create:

Dear ones, please do share what you create! Bring your vision statement or vision board to your small group. Go over it with a friend or family members. What do they see in what you have created? Send a copy of it to me: revnpj@yahoo.com, and let me know if we can share it in October’s newsletter. And come to worship on Sunday, October 23, when we will play with this practice in community!


The Power of a Vision:

When I think of the power of creating a vision for my life, I think of James Baldwin’s beautiful quotation: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We all have aspects of our lives we would like to change. Most of us would like to be more consistent agents for love in our families and our world. Let’s experiment together with creating a vision statement that can guide us through the year to come!


With faith in the power of our visioning, and with deep love for all of you,


Rev. Nancy



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Aug 27 2018

September Journal- In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a People of Vision?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices

September 2018: What does it mean to be a People of Vision?

The Practice of Intentional Imagination

“In Our Own Voices” captures congregants’ thoughts and feelings on the theme of the month. This year, our Worship Associates offer their first responses to each theme, in hopes that they will inspire you, too, to ask:

  • How does this theme relate to my life?
  • What does it inspire in me?
  • How does it trouble or perplex me?
  • How can it help us our Unitarian Universalist faith?

What does it mean to be a People of Vision and to practice Intentional Imagination?

  • It means to expand awareness. To behold possibilities. To appreciate growth.
  • We envision a future we can realize. We build our collective faith in who we are and our existence and our capacity for the expression of love. With an intentional and imaginative vision, we can overcome our fears and strengthen our faith. We can articulate that which we are sure will come, and guide ourselves into more perfect examples of love.
  • To be a people of vision is to see clearly, truthfully, harmoniously, in alignment, with “all/and” glasses on.
  • Lifting blinders and self-limitations à sudden clarity!
  • Vision is what motivates, drives, and inspires us. It’s what we dream about—our goals and ideals. What we want.
  • How do we know where to go without spending time figuring out what we want?
  • Vision armors and protects us as we go about our daily jobs. It nurtures and sustains us. It enraptures us.
  • Vision is part imagination. What does the future hold?
  • Nothing would ever be accomplished without vision. Look at Jules Verne imagining things that wouldn’t come to be a reality until much later. And at Steve Jobs imagining and bringing to reality things that seemed impossible. A visionary or imaginer who wants to bring dreams into reality must be inspirational and a good leader (or delegator). Vision and imagination are dandy, but there have to be action and goal-setting in order to make visions a reality.
  • With regard to church: As we strive to build the Beloved Community, it takes intention and imagination to move toward that goal.
  • The word intentional is a bit problematic for me. What about brainstorming, daydreaming, and so on, without a set goal in mind? These are key to visioning what is yet to be!
  • In creative imagining, we spend time imagining utopia, then we envision our progress toward it. But the counterpoint lies in appreciating where we are. We are a culture built on “progress”; we’re never satisfied. I’m not talking about complacency but rather about recognizing the good in what is. Here’s the both/and: Taking stock and appreciating what-is can go hand in hand with recognizing that change happens and that we want this change to move us forward.
  • Where does our vision come from? What does it mean to have a vision? Does everyone have a vision, or is it a gift? Are those who have “visions” special? What about drug-induced visions? Are they real? How much are visions based on experience? What is the purpose of a vision? How can we encourage visioning? Should we?
  • If we take a day at a time and live in the moment, why is visioning important … or is it? Does any change come without a vision? Whose vision do we follow? How does visioning influence society—and whose vision is it? When policies are related to a vision, it is important to know our leaders’ vision.
  • Is “vision” an ableist word? To be inclusive, do we need to eliminate all words that are a part of being human—words that refer to the senses, to physical activity, and more? I agree with attempting to include everyone, but I feel that the focus on these words does not increase inclusion. Actions—such as making sure the room is accessible, being sure that everyone can be included in the discussion and exercises, planning alternate but equally strong activities for when something does leave someone out—those are what embody inclusion.
  • Look more deeply into hymn #20 in the gray hymnal, “Be Thou my Vision.” Why is that re-worded but still high-falutin’ and theistic hymn even in our hymnal? (See Eleanor Hull’s translation from 1912 and other bits of history in Wikipedia and beyond.) Let’s challenge people to come up with modern language with the same essential meaning. Is that the story behind Thomas Mikelson’s writing the words for #298 “Wake, Now, My Senses”?
  • Dreams, inspiration from dreams. Perspective, binocular vision. Headlights will show only so far, and that’s all we have to go on. Theodore Parker in his 1853 sermon “Justice and the Conscience”: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

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Jul 22 2018

August Journal – The “Getting to Know You” Challenge 2018-19!

Published by under Minister's Musings

The “Getting to Know You” Challenge 2018-19!

In worship on Sunday, July 15, 2018, our Senior Minister, the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, and our Interim Director of Religious Education, Susie Idzik, bravely modeled a way of getting to know each other by answering some deep questions about their own lives and about their hopes and dreams for the Beloved Community we are trying to build at the First Unitarian Church of San José. They took up some interesting and fun questions from the congregation, too, and they will continue to share those answers in the weeks and months to come.

The result? A warmer, more intimate and meaningful connection with our key staff members. You can hear their dialogue by going to http://www.sanjoseuu.org/OurWorshipLife/FavoriteSermons.html and clicking on the link for the audio file for July 15.

Now they invite all of us to participate in the “Getting to Know You” Challenge 2018-19!

The Challenge:

Gently, kindly, experiment with using one or more of the following getting-to-know-you questions with folks whom you would like to know more deeply—family and friends, congregants and visitors at FUCSJ. These questions invite you and your companions to search your hearts and share your truths. How we tell our stories will change from day to day and year to year, so we always have new depths to explore with even our longest-term loved ones.

You might use these questions to start a deeper conversation during Social Hour after worship on a Sundayor during a Circle Supper or other casual gathering. Use them as check-in questions during your Small Group Ministry session or at the beginning of a meeting. Experiment with seasoning your meal-time conversations with these questions, or others like them.

When you share these questions, be ready to offer your own honest, vulnerable answers.

Let folks know how genuinely curious, open, and loving you feel as you ask such personal questions. Each person gets to decide how deep they want to go with their answers.

It’s worth a try! Here are the questions that Rev. Nancy and Susie suggest:


  • How did you arrive at this point along your journey in life? What in your past has brought you to where you are now?
  • What’s being born in you right now? What is most alive in you at this moment?
  • What seeds are you planting now, and how do you hope they will grow? What are your hopes and dreams for the days to come?

Good luck! And please be sure to let Susie and Rev. Nancy know how it goes. They have faith that if we all take up this “Getting to Know You” Challenge, then in a year, we will feel a palpable sense of closer connections, of deeper empathy and compassion, and of re-energized collaboration as we strengthen and grow our Beloved Community.

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Jul 18 2018

August Journal: “But What Can We Do?”

Published by under Minister's Musings

“But What Can We Do?”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

“But what can we do?” some of you cry, in the face of fear, anger, and exhaustion resulting from the onslaught of discouraging news on the national front. Shouldn’t we be doing something with more lasting impact than simply showing up for rallies and marches, as important as the numbers at those protests may be?

          There is not just one answer about what we are called to do to create a morally just society. Yet I also believe that we are all called to two practical efforts right now and for the months to come:

1.     Engage in Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) activities with our partners throughout the county and the country.

2.     Build our personal and communal strength and resilience through participating in the practices that bring us back, again and again, to our best selves and to something larger than ourselves. That’s my definition of spiritual: connecting with our best selves and with something larger than ourselves, both of which guide and lure us toward the good, toward Making Love Visible in all we do and say.

Stay tuned in the next weeks and months for more specifics on how and where we can be involved in #1. And be sure to share with us what your networks suggest for Get-Out-the-Vote actions.

For #2: just as physical exercise builds the body’s strength, so too spiritual practices build our emotional, psychological, and moral muscles and agility, our soulful strength and resilience. These are not “soft” or self-involved responses to the hardships of this day, but rather real skill-building techniques that will sharpen our senses and deepen our compassion and connections to one another.

Here are three suggestions for this month of August:

Spiritual Practice #1: Wherever you are right now, take a moment to move out (in body or in spirit) into the air, to take a breath, and to reconnect with your body, no matter what shape it’s in. Just take a moment to drop your senses into this wondrous, complicated vessel—your very own body—which carries you through the world.

And while you do, try to hear this message: We are so glad you are HERE, present, presente, alive in this time and place. Breathe and repeat: We are so glad we are here together.

Spiritual Practice #2: Take a break this month from just one habit in your life in order to open up time for fresh perceptions. Take away something, even just for a few days, that has been absorbing your time and energy, and then notice what enters in to fill that time and heart-space.

          Maybe you will take a break from social media or the news, from sugar or alcohol, from habitual worry or distracted driving. No matter what your circumstances, I bet there is something you can relinquish in order to create some spaciousness for your soul.

          When I took such a break in July, music flooded in. I came across an old but half-forgotten James Taylor song: “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel …” I was struck by our need for this deeply empathic, compassionate message to counter all the hate and fear, all the renewed bigotry and injustice around us. “Shower the people you love with love” … I thought of some of my closest friends. I thought of you. I began to say and show my love more often.

          I also came across Sarah Bareilles’s more recent song “Brave”: “Honestly I wanna see you be brave with what you want to say!” Brave and loving—full-on expressive of these powerful, grace-filled parts of ourselves. Willing to be vulnerable and authentic, thoughtful and considerate in order to create “brave space” among us.

And that leads to Spiritual Practice #3: Please do show up in our community as often as you can—for worship and/or Circle Suppers, for Musical Mystery Theater rehearsals and/or Contra Dances, and/or for some other activity listed in our online calendar or mentioned on Sundays. Let us show up to build our spiritual strength, to connect with our best selves and with something larger than ourselves. When we do, we build our muscles for resilience and resistance, for courage and hope.

We are in this struggle for the long haul, dear ones. Strength, resilience, courage, and Love—we can build these together!And Get Out the Vote!

With my love,

Rev. Nancy


P.S. Spiritual Practice #4: Please pause for a moment to enjoy these videos of the two songs mentioned above:

  • James Taylor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfJWqjoekow
  • Sarah Bareilles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4


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Jun 22 2018

July Journal: Freedom, Culture, Power, Ambiguity … and Love

Published by under Minister's Musings

Freedom, Culture, Power, Ambiguity … and Love

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

As I write, we Unitarian Universalist ministers have just wrapped up our 2018 Ministry Days. For two days before General Assembly officially begins each year, we clergy gather to worship and learn and take care of some business. We hug, and laugh, and bemoan, and celebrate. We dedicate our colleagues’ babies, and we sing—oh, do we sing.

This year the Ministry Days’ keynote session featured a panel of Unitarian ministers from around the world—Burundi, India, Indonesia, and Transylvania. These panelists are meeting all year to explore differing global expressions of Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism. Are we one religion with many expressions, or are we “one” in name only?

The project honors the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, one of the world’s first official expressions of religious tolerance. In 1568 in Torda, Transylvania (now in Romania), a multifaith gathering of religious leaders, convened by Unitarian King John Sigismund, decreed that no one could be compelled to listen to a particular preacher who did not speak to their soul and that no one would be “reviled” or imprisoned for following the faith of their choice.

          As the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website puts it, “That proclamation is the beginning of our legacy to be a spiritual tradition that resists hatred, oppression, and the narrow view that there is only one way to be faithful, to be religious, to be free.” Our Unitarian kin in Hungary and Transylvania have kept this tradition alive through all kinds of oppression of their own. Just a few years after the Edict of Torda, for example, the Counter-Reformation turned Unitarianism into an outlaw religion. In the Communist era of the late 20th century, Unitarians in Transylvania—including in our Partner Church village of Homoródszentmárton—risked their freedom in order to speak out against the government’s injustices.

          Yet we Unitarian Universalists in the United States have some serious differences with our Transylvanian kin about the practice of this embracing, antioppressive theology. During Ministry Days, my beloved colleague, the Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa, asked the whole panel, “How can we build a global UU community when we have different definitions not just of theology but the praxis of that theology,” in which some of our global kin “practice values that deny LGBTQ2 peoples our very humanity and deny our inherent worth and dignity”? “With what moral authority am I, a Two-Spirit person, asked to support financially and otherwise, those congregations which deny my humanity and right to live and express my commitment to my Beloved, to have the same rights as them?”

          Important, powerful questions.

And though they weren’t directed at a particular panelist, the Rev. Norbert Racz, the Senior Minister of the flagship Unitarian church in Kolozsvár, Romania, was quick to respond. The issue of LGBTQ2 inclusion is a hot topic for our partners in Hungary and Romania. Recently, the Hungarian Unitarian Synod issued a statement that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. The Unitarian Universalist Association has written a letter of concern to the Synod about this issue. You can read that letter here: https://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/lettertohucsynod.pdf.

          Rev. Norbert painted a picture of the tenuous position of the Unitarians in Romania. They comprise a tiny minority amidst a very conservative Eastern Orthodox population. The Synod’s position, Norbi said, defined “traditional marriage” as between a man and a woman. To do otherwise would have been to risk a government shutdown of Unitarian churches. But the Synod went on to add—in a second part of the statement not usually quoted—that it recognizes that there are many definitions of marriage and many ways to live in loving union. Norbi said that the Hungarian Unitarian church has affirmed the rights of LGBTQ people to love whom they love and to be welcomed in its congregations.

          I felt the emotional weight of this exchange. The issue of LGBTQ recognition, inclusion, and justice feels fundamental to who we Unitarian Universalists are; it is personal. Rev. Norbi wants us to understand that the Unitarians of Transylvania are themselves an oppressed minority, who must find a way to maintain their very existence in order for further freedom to be possible. This too is personal.

          Are the Unitarians in Transylvania (and elsewhere) on a journey toward a full expression of the freedom of this faith for everyone? Do their circumstances ask something of us? Is there a both/and way to support both those of us who are LGBTQ2 and those of us who live under additional systems of oppression? How can we deepen our understanding of differing cultures, amplify our analysis of systems of power and oppression, and listen to each other with broken-open hearts?

Even as the tension of difference thrummed in the air during this conversation, a more powerful force held us together. And that truly was the Spirit of Love.

          So in this month of celebrating, questioning, and exploring the limits and the reach of our own freedoms, may we too dive into our differences in the Spirit of Love. In these times when so many freedoms are threatened here at home, we need the wisdom of discernment, the fine-tuning of nuance, and the power of Love to guide us.

With love for the freedoms we make and maintain together,

Rev. Nancy

P.S. To read the UU Partner Church Council’s recent follow-up letter about this controversy, please see:http://www.uupcc.org/sites/uupcc.org/files/huc_marriage_equality_update_6-6-18.pdf

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May 27 2018

June Journal: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Blessing?

Published by under Minister's Musings

“Dear Colleague”:

An Open Letter of Love and Gratitude to Rev. Geoff Rimositis

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


Dear Colleague, dear Rev. Geoff,

I can’t quite remember the first time you addressed me as “Dear Colleague.” Was it during our first year of working together, shortly after we had created our “startup” weekend in the fall of 2005? We were still almost strangers to each other, but we each sat down and spent hours filling out all those temperament-typing, leadership-style tests. Then we drove up to Berkeley together to see a ministerial counselor, who looked over our tests, asked us many questions, and finally told us that we were great complements, cut out to be wonderful working partners. (And wasn’t that was a relief!)

Or did this phrase crop up later? Did it first show up in writing, as you answered one of my many emails—probably on your day off—about some “urgent” bit of congregational business? Or did it happen spontaneously one morning, when your cell phone rang and, seeing my number, you answered with an enthusiastic, “Hello, Dear Colleague!”?

Whatever the specifics, I definitely remember the feeling of hearing those words for the first time: thrilled to be acknowledged as partner and colleague, new as I was to settled ministry; touched and tickled to be held in your quiet, supportive care. “Dear Colleague” has become our nickname for each other, richly layered now with all that we have shared over these last 13 years. Thirteen out of your impressive 24 years of serving this Beloved Community—your unprecedented 24 years, let me add, for you have served the First Unitarian Church of San José longer than any other minister in all of its 152-year history!

So much Life shared in these years of working side by side. In our weekly meetings, beginning always with prayer, we have laid bare the heartbreaks and the triumphs of our personal and professional lives—and there have been quite a few! We have brainstormed about church programming, worried over congregational conundrums, shed tears for congregants who have died or hit hard times—and laughed until we’ve cried about some of life’s most beautiful, awkward, human moments. We have shared luscious retreats with other dear colleagues in our UU ministers’ support group, the Sparks for Growth. There, your poetry, dance, and flute playing could always shake us out of the doldrums and lift our spirits high.

I have witnessed the beauties of your ministries, especially your passion for our faith, your delight in our children, and your Universalist empathy for all you encounter. I have marveled at your steady spiritual practices and the depth that they bring you. I have loved watching you re-create yourself and your approach to your ministries again and again, always open to learning and growing, determined to support this congregation’s journey toward building a multicultural, multigenerational Beloved Community for the 21st century.

On Sunday, June 10, we will reflect on the ways that you have helped transform this congregation. Here, I offer my wide-open thanks for the ways that you have helped to transform me—by being you, your own unique self, my “Dear Colleague.”

So thank you, Rev. Geoff! May this next chapter in your life bring you still more growth and learning, more poetry and flute playing, and—always—the blessings of never-ending Love.


With love and never-ceasing collegiality,


Your Dear Colleague, Rev. Nancy


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