Archive for the 'Minister’s Musings' Category

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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May 25 2018

June Theme: In Our Own Voices – What does it mean to be a people of BLESSING?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a people of BLESSING?


Blessing is another beloved word for me, which all too often we Unitarian Universalists think we must not use for fear of offending someone. How can we *imagine* (May’s theme) our own Unitarian Universalist way into blessing each other and the world? How can we imagine a way of feeling blessed that may or may not be tied to the agency of Something More?

Here’s what makes this theme of Blessing simple and clear for us in June: This month we celebrate two people who have been enormous BLESSINGS to our congregation. In worship followed by a special congregational meeting on Sunday, June 10, we honor Rev. Geoff Rimositis as he completes 24 years of service as our Associate Minister and sets off into retirement at the end of the month. And the next Sunday, on June 17, we lift up our thanks for Rodney Lemery—and he offers his thanks to us—as he completes his two-year part-time internship with us and sets off on the next stages of his journey into ministry.

When I think about these specific blessings, I have no trouble shouting that word from the rooftops in gratitude and joy for having known and worked with these two glorious human beings! Please join us this month to celebrate all our many blessings!


With love,

Rev. Nancy


“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth.


Congregants’ Responses: 

  • People value us for our positive influence on themselves and others.
  • Appreciating the blessings that we have? Trying to do more for others, so they’ll have more blessings?
  • Count your blessings. To be a people of Blessing is to be happy and thankful. It’s to be aware of even the smallest of blessings and is confident that more will come. Not that life will be easy or without pain, but that being a people of blessing means also to be a people of patience. Blessings will come.
  • I struggle with the concept of blessing. Who am I that I could bless someone or something? What is it that one gives, when one gives blessings? I find myself drawn to thinking about privilege and unearned privilege. Is it a blessing to be born into a family of financial means? Is it a blessing to have had an inspirational teacher? Why would one person deserve to receive that blessing when another doesn’t get it? Is Blessing a commodity that can be given and received? Does “I give you my blessing” mean the same thing as “I approve of what you’re doing and I will support you”?
  • To get it right! Not as others proclaim it, but as a result of all of the prayer, study, and imagining that our normal days prevent us from noticing. It’s very hard to realize that the blessings are all around us with the clamor of those who want us to need and want, rather than just be blessed.
  • From, verb: Old English bletsianbledsian, Northumbrian bloedsian“to consecrate by a religious rite, make holy, give thanks,” from Proto-Germanic *blodison “hallow with blood, mark with blood,” from *blotham “blood” … Originally a blood sprinkling on pagan altars. This word was chosen in Old English bibles to translate Latin benedicere and Greek eulogein, both of which have a ground sense of “to speak well of, to praise,” but were used in Scripture to translate Hebrew brk “to bend (the knee), worship, praise, invoke blessings.”


Note: For this column each month in the coming year, our Worship Associates—a group of almost 20 members who help us to create and offer our worship services—will offer their reflections on our themes. You can contribute, too! Take a look at next year’s themes, and send us your thoughts about how these themes relate to your life, to our life together in community, and to Unitarian Universalism as a whole. What questions, stories, images, and songs do these themes evoke? You can send your thoughts on one or more of the themes to Worship Associate Co-Coordinators Marnie Singer and Alice Lynch:,


Congregational Themes for the Coming Year:

September 2018-June 2019 

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

The practice of intentional imagination

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

The practice of finding sacred space within and ensuring welcoming space for all

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

The practice of honest remembrance and honoring the shoulders of all our ancestors and predecessors on whom we rest

  • December: What does it mean to be a People of Mystery?

The practice of embracing life with humility and awe

  • January: What does it mean to be a People of Possibility?

The practice of personal unfolding and prophetic vision

  • February: What does it mean to be a People of Trust?

The practice of commitment and faith in a love that won’t let us go  

  • March: What does it mean to be a People of Journey?

The practice of pilgrimage, courageous growth and patient change

  • April: What does it mean to be a People of Wholeness?

The practice of repairing what is broken and knowing we are enough

  • May: What does it mean to be a People of Curiosity?

The practice of moving from fear to broken-openheartedness

  • June: What does it mean to be a People of Beauty?

The practice of savoring life’s gifts  


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Apr 27 2018

May Journal: Introducing Susie Idzik, FUCSJ’s Interim Director of Religious Education

Published by under Minister's Musings

Introducing Susie Idzik:

First Unitarian’s Interim Director of Religious Education/“Visionary Change Agent”

for 2018-20

With great joy, the Religious Education Transition Planning Team introduces you to Susie Idzik, who will serve as FUCSJ’s Interim Director of Religious Education (aka “visionary change agent”) as we maintain, assess, and experiment with our Religious Education programs after Rev. Geoff Rimositis retires this summer. True to the real purpose of an interim period, Susie will help guide us in taking a deep look at the structure of our whole congregation. As a result, we will be able to make ever wiser decisions about our staffing, programs, and infrastructure in support of our mission and vision. Religious Education is just one piece of the puzzle!

The Transition Planning Team arrived at Susie as our top choice after a months-long process of educating ourselves about the work of Interim Religious Educators, conferring with Pacific Western Region staff, posting our job description nationally, and reviewing five candidates’ applications. Susie’s application, interviews, and references were outstanding. Her particular gifts, experience, and style made her the clear match for our Beloved Community.

Susie is a long-time Unitarian Universalist with a private practice as a life coach and spiritual director. She brings vast experience in administration on the congregational and district levels, and she specializes in helping institutions in transition look at their needs and desires so that they can streamline their operations and meet their goals. Her many years of experience as a Religious Education teacher—and as a mom whose three children have grown up in UU RE programs—have given her a sense of call to the work of Religious Education. Currently, she is helping design and implement a five-year plan for a new Adult Religious Education program at the UU church in Redwood City, where she is a member. She lives in Palo Alto with her spouse, 16-year-old son, and their dog; her two older children are in college. With other members of our staff, she is already participating in a webinar about 21st-century Family Ministry in Unitarian Universalism. Susie brings great spiritual depth to everything she does. Rev. Nancy feels she has a terrific partner in Susie for the work of these next two years.

Susie’s start date is June 1, overlapping with Rev. Geoff for a month. During that month, she will be striving to absorb some of Rev. Geoff’s 24 years of experience with FUCSJ, as well as assisting with our fifth annual weeklong Peace Camp.

We look forward to introducing you to Susie in person on Bridging Sunday, June 3, when we will also celebrate our dynamic youth.

But you don’t have to wait until June 3 to catch a sense of Susie’s spirit! Please do read the beautiful email she sent in response to our offer of the job. After FUCSJ’s Board and Program and Operations Council had approved the Transition Planning Team’s choice, the team’s co-chairs, Kristin Rivers and Robert Strong, our Personnel Officer Mary Mary Feldman, and our Senior Minister the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones hosted a Zoom call with Susie on Thursday, April 12. Just as in our earlier interview, we had a lively conversation. Susie had some great questions for us; then she asked for some time to consult with her family. We had talked for an hour when she needed to get off the call to teach a class. A few hours later, she sent us this message:

Subject: Thank you!!

Hello Nancy, Mary Mary, Robert and Kristin!

My apologies for having to end our conversation so abruptly!

I jumped off our Zoom call and then onto another and taught my class, and then “zoomed” off to Redwood City for an adult RE meeting and finally made it home just minutes ago. I squeezed in confirming calls with my people and was bubbling over with excitement throughout it all. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get home to say YES YES YES!

I am SO delighted to be joining you all.

I cannot say enough about what an experience this has been already — I have been dazzled by your professionalism in the search and truly touched by your honesty and your open, generous hearts. (You know you’re heading someplace great when you’re gushing to folks about the interview process.) I feel like I hit some sort of lottery in all of this.

Let me know what next steps might be.



Please join us on Sunday, June 3, in worship to welcome Susie Idzik into FUCSJ’s Beloved Community! Then join us again on Sunday, June 10, as we celebrate Rev. Geoff’s extraordinary ministry!


FUCSJ’s Transition Planning Team: Kristin Rivers and Robert Strong, co-chairs; Gautam Biswas, Mary Mary Feldman, Dee Howard, Mary Idso, Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Bill Shepard; early consulting: Rev. Geoff Rimositis.

With love and devotion to our journey together,

Rev. Nancy

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Mar 24 2018

April Journal: In Our Own Voices – What does it mean to be a people of EMERGENCE?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices – What does it mean to be a people of EMERGENCE?

“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth.

The question “What does it mean to be a people of Emergence?” draws fewer responses that do many of our other themes. Are we experiencing “survey fatigue”? Or does this word not resonate for others as it does for me? I find something exciting in the possibility of new birth, something fearful but also potentially awesome in the uncertainties that come with change, something life-giving and hopeful in coming more and more fully into ourselves as individuals and as a community.. What do we emerge from, and what do we emerge into? If you were to map the “emergences” in your life, what might they hold in common?

I wonder what will emerge from our exploration of this theme in April? Please join us in worship and small groups to add your voice and to hear from others!


Ever emerging with you,

Rev. Nancy


·         I think of change, growth and becoming one’s true self when I think of this word emergence. I also get mental pictures of little baby chicks coming out of their shells: peep peep!

·         Emerging from ignorance, apathy, lethargy, fear?

·         I had to look this one up: 1. The process of coming into view or becoming exposed after being concealed. “I misjudged the timing of my emergence.” 2. The process of coming into being, or of becoming important or prominent. As an introvert, neither of these makes me exactly comfortable. I could live with “coming into being,” but important—not so much—and prominent, well … As a member of a church, I love to expose the goodness and also the challenge of living a faithful life. We have far too many “easy” answers presented to us as part of living a “good” life. Most are truly hollow.

·         Hmmm … where are the conflict and resolution in emergence? Everything is always emerging or becoming; nothing is static. How would talking about emergence help me to live my values better? When thinking about emergence, I picture crocuses and daffodils emerging from the soil, so this is appropriate for April. Perhaps the most interesting aspect I can think of is the emergence of hope, which is something we seem to particularly need now.

·         Always growing, always learning, recognizing that nothing in life is static. A willingness to adapt our language, culture, and habits to fit emerging circumstances in healthy ways. Surely, surely, this “coming out” process—the emergence of identity, self-understanding, the capacity to love and to show up—is a lifelong journey, for both individuals and community. I see it in my own story, and in the story of this beloved congregation. I relish the invitation!

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Mar 24 2018

April Theme: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Emergence?

Published by under Minister's Musings

The Hard Labor of Giving Birth to Our Selves

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


In the two-character show I Do! I Do!—an old chestnut from the American musical-theater catalogue—the actors play a married couple over the course of 50 years, from newly-wed bliss to the transformations of old age. Pretty early on, the woman, Agnes, goes into labor with their first child. She clings to a bedpost, rocked by pain, while her spouse Michael dithers about, so excited and nervous about new parenthood that he can’t get it together to get them out the door and to the hospital. Agnes’s labor pains grow harder and harder until finally she turns on him, and in a voice that has suddenly dropped two octaves and ratcheted up in decibels, she shouts in no uncertain terms:

Michael! GO GET THE CAR!!!

          When I play Agnes in the Marin Theatre Company production of I Do! I Do!, I ask an obstetrical nurse about the stages of labor, since I haven’t experienced it myself. “Oh, yes,” she says. “When hard labor hits, we never know what will come out of the woman’s mouth.” Some may grow angry—who caused this mess? Some may wonder how they will ever make it through. Surely most expectant parents are filled with anticipation, wonder, and fear: Who will this new person be that they are bringing into the world? Will everything be all right?

          As we enter into this month of April with its theme of Emergence, the metaphor of giving birth keeps rising in my mind. We human beings are constantly called to give birth to the new—in ourselves, in our communities, in our world.

What is longing to be born in you right now? A new career, a new relationship? Some new wisdom or perspective that will help you deal with the stresses that assault us every day? Some new contribution to your family or communities that will Make Love Visible in small but sparkling ways?

What is longing to be born in us as a community right now? We anticipate bringing onto our staff a new Interim Director of Religious Education beginning in June or July. How will we integrate this new person into our life as a Beloved Community? How will this new religious professional, passionate about our faith, help us to learn and grow?

In my life, I have reached the “hard labor” stage of finishing the revisions on the book that Karin Lin and I are writing (working title: Mistakes, Misgivings, and Miracles: Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism). Oh, how this piece of work is longing to be born! And oh, how ready we are to send it on its way!

But we have a few more months of truly difficult “pushing” to get it off to the publisher by midsummer. Like an expectant mother who has other children at home and plenty of other responsibilities to attend to, I feel torn about how to care for everything and everyone at once. Yet I know that this new birth requires some fierce focus in order to get it out into the world, and we hope that the life it takes on will be worth all the sacrifice.

So if you notice a wild look in my eye in the weeks to come—if I take fewer appointments and am slower than usual to respond to emails (my cell phone is always the best way to reach me)—please know that I am still attending to the most crucial aspects of our congregational work together, while encouraging this baby to emerge, full blown, at last.


With determination and love,


Rev. Nancy



P.S. The picture shows me as Agnes with Jack Shearer as Michael, singing about our life as new parents, in Marin Theatre Company’s production of I Do! I Do! in the early 1990s.

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Feb 24 2018

March Journal: Soul Matters Spiritual Exercise for Balance

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Does It Mean to Be a People of Balance?
Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises for March
Gathering: Sunday, March 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m., Ramsden Fireside Room
Take our theme of the month deeper by engaging in one or more of these spiritual exercises.

Then join our small group to enrich the experience!

Option A:
A Reminder to Re-Balance

Sometimes balance is as simple as remembering to take a moment to breathe. The problem is
we’re not so good at reminding ourselves and remembering on our own. Take a week this month
and commit to the practice of a “daily pause”—or maybe a few daily pauses. You can keep it
simple by setting an alarm on your phone reminding you to take a break. Or you can use one of
the recommended apps below to help remind and guide you.
You’ll also need to decide what to do during your daily pauses. Some of us will step
away and go for a walk or find a quiet place to be by ourselves. Others will keep it short and
sweet, staying put and just taking 5 deep breaths. Still more will use the time for brief
meditation. Figure out what works for you.
Here are some apps that might help:

Come to the Soul Matters Reflections Group ready to share how it went. Did daily pauses make a
difference? Did you have to readjust your strategy because your first plan wasn’t working? What
exactly helped you re-balance? Deep breathing? Remembering gratitude? Silence? Self-talk?

Option B:

Put Down Their Work & Pick Up Your Balance

Often our imbalance is our own doing. Frequently, we just take on too much. But sometimes it’s
not that simple. Sometimes, our imbalance is about us taking on too much that is not really ours
to do or fix. In other words, it’s often accepting responsibility for other people’s weight and
worry that tips us over. Or as organizational consultant Betsy Jacobson puts it, “balance is not
better time management, but better boundary management.”
This exercise invites us to regain our balance by letting go of that which is not ours. The
instructions are as simple as they are challenging:

Identify one way in which you are taking on something
that is not really your responsibility.

Then find a kind way to put up a boundary
and give another’s “work” back to them.

Here’s a great reflection by Rev. Meg Barnhouse to give you some motivation: Sorry, Hon, Not My Table, by Rev. Meg Barnhouse

Come to your group ready to share what you “gave back,” how you put up that boundary, and how it offered you a bit of balance. There will likely be some bumps in the road and some costs. Come ready to share those, too, along with what the exercise taught you.

Option C:

Finding Balance by Facing FOMO

FOMO is a trendy acronym that stands for the “fear of missing out.” FOMO has reached
epidemic proportions in our culture these days, throwing us and the culture itself out of balance.
We are constantly bombarded with tempting choices about what to do or who to try to be next.
We may see daily reminders that “others” have achieved the kind of life we want, while we feel
stuck or held back.
FOMO can keep us focused on ourselves, instead of on our connections to others. FOMO
can affect our self-esteem, our anxiety levels, our capacity to become our own best selves, our
ability to gather together to make a difference for good in the world … and more.
What is your experience with FOMO?
Spend some time this month noticing when and how the “fear of missing out” arises in
your mind, heart, body, and spirit. Just make a note of the feeling and its causes when they arise.
No need to judge them.
Before the Soul Matters Reflections Group on March 25, spend some time reflecting on
what you have noticed about your experiences of FOMO.
You might take a look at one or both of these resources. They are not perfect—they feel
gendered to Rev. Nancy, and they may not speak to you. Still, you may be able to translate their
messages into something useful for your own reflection.

Come to the Soul Matters Reflections Group on March 25 ready to share what you have learned
and what you’re going to do with your insight.


Sunday, March 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Balance
Sunday, April 29, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Emergence
Sunday, June 3, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Imagination
Sunday, June 17, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Blessing

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Feb 24 2018

March Journal: In Our Own Voices – Balance

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a people of BALANCE?

“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth.

Here are just a few of the responses we received for this month’s theme of Balance. What would you want to add?


With you in the spirit of seeking and growing,

Rev. Nancy


·         To be a people of balance means being very mindful of one’s decisions and practices. I think it also means accepting the bad weather of our lives and trying to make the best of things. Seeking. We don’t stay in balance, but we can always try to find it.

·         Oh, dear me. Balance can be such a shaming concept for those of us who feel overcommitted and overwhelmed, who find ourselves dropping balls right and left. But if I sense balance to be that beautiful place of flowing inbreath and outbreath, of BOTH/AND-ness, then I feel the peace that such balance can bring. “Moderation in all things, even moderation”? I’m not sure that old quote works for the times when we need to be “all in,” passionately devoted to a cause or a person. But when it comes to my internal work, the balance of self-love-as-I-am and self-improvement-as-the-gift-of-living feels like a worthy dance.

·         We try to balance work and play; eating for pleasure and eating for nutrition; freedom and restriction (particularly in parenting); physical activity and rest; organization and spontaneity; indoors and outdoors; self-care and caring for others. Perhaps the more interesting and challenging thing to talk about is how to regain our balance when we have lost it.

·         This is my worst issue. I love music, adore liturgy, and care mightily about my family life. I find it hard to care about things that really might make my life easier, like discipline in spending. I find I depend on others to work those issues, and occasionally it really bites me. Balance? Maybe next year!

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Feb 23 2018

March Theme: What Does It Mean to Be a People of BALANCE?

Published by under Minister's Musings

Balance as a Springboard, Not a Still Point

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


When we talk about balance, it’s natural for calm and rest to be the first things that come to mind. After all, so many of us are tired. We’re overworked, overcommitted, and fearful. Stress undergirds most of our days. We may be so weighed down by worry and responsibility that just one drop of something unexpected can tip us right over.

So, yes, we long for rest. Yes, we want less to manage and absorb. Yes, we need balance’s reminder that finding a place of calm is possible—even in the midst of a troubling world, even in the midst of circumstances that frighten us.

Yet pointing us to peace and calm is not all that balance is about. This month’s work on balance offers us fresh and hopeful perspectives.

Thank goodness we Unitarian Universalists draw on wisdom and inspiration from many spiritual traditions! Here’s a glimpse of the search for balance through the lens of religious holidays in March:

The Christian observance of Lent reminds us that balance is a place of reassessment, renewal, preparation, and even repentance. It honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry and the life that would lead to his death on the cross. The balance he seeks in the desert is not that of restful escape but that of restorative recentering. Balance gets Jesus ready, rather than simply offering him relief.

During Passoverparticipants retell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. (Stay tuned for news of FUCSJ’s Seder, to be held in early April!) In this season, balance is a matter of remembering, of pausing to put ourselves back into a story that connects us with others and anchors us in a countercultural narrative. During Passover, the balance we find is not that of calm but that of reconnection.

Ostara, the Pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox, honors the balance of day and night, and it celebrates the way this balance is a tipping point on the way to Spring. It’s a reminder that still points are rarely still. They are a place of turning, a space where shifts happen and new life emerges.

The Hindu holiday of Holi offers a celebration that restores our belief in the power of good over evil. It reminds us that balance and calm aren’t just found by taking a break from life, but by trusting in its goodness once again.

These March holy days remind us that balance is not simply a destination but also a place of invitation. It’s not a static space of peace, as much as a still point on which we pivot and turn to something new. It’s not just about rest, but about resting up for a journey.

Yes, balance allows us to catch our breath, but it’s also about finding our center so we can end all our aimless wandering and point ourselves in the direction we want to go.

Maybe balance, after all, isn’t the prize but the springboard. Maybe balance isn’t the goal, but the source of strength that gets us where we need to go.

So, beloveds, what kind of balance will we seek in order to get us where we are called to go?


Yours in the search for the balance that keeps us ready and connected,


Rev. Nancy

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Jan 29 2018

February Journal – Devotion: What Do We Love?

Published by under Minister's Musings

February Theme: What Does It Mean to Live a Life of Devotion?

Devotion: What Do We Love?

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


Here we go again, we Unitarian Universalists, reclaiming another old-fashioned and often-freighted word! Devotion. This month we take a fresh, heart-opening look at it. What are your first associations with this word?

Most of us know the shadow side of devotion. We may have experienced a religion where we were asked to give ourselves over to a leader or a doctrine, which involved abandoning our true selves. Or maybe we have been in a relationship—in our families, at school, or at work—that demanded a dangerously self-sacrificing “devotion” from us if we wanted this relationship to last. This kind of devotion disregards our worth and integrity. It leaves no room for expressing and meeting our own needs. Such false devotion traps us instead of setting us free.

As a result of these experiences, we may be allergic to the very idea of devotion. We think it’s the opposite of freedom, and we value our freedom above all else.

But a healthy devotion actually invites us into relationship with our own best selves. True devotion signals a choice—something to which we give a deep love, a commitment, a steadiness and loyalty that actually set us free from distractions and dithering and give us a sense of direction.

I have felt this kind of devotion to both my vocations, first as an actor and now as a minister. I love giving time to these callings; I feel a deep loyalty to the relationships that they create. Sure, in my devotion to these careers, I have to surrender part of my own ego-needs in order to serve a Something More. Such surrendering can be hard—we may lose sleep or have to make difficult choices—but ultimately it doesn’t feel like a denial of self. Devoting ourselves to a path that “has our name on it” feels like coming home. This is one kind of healthy devotion.

One Soul Matters Sharing Circle facilitator—a Unitarian Universalist exploring this same theme—writes, “I need to remind myself that devotion to a cause has brought extraordinary changes in our world.” Think about the end of slavery, the winning of the vote for women, the passage of Civil Rights laws, the gain of marriage equality. How long it takes the passionate devotees of each cause to transform those oppressions into freedom! Surely, we live in a time that asks us for this kind of healthy devotion. Wouldn’t it be great if folks could say of all of us Unitarian Universalists: “Nevertheless, they persisted!”

          Our Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises this month invite us to pay attention to the smaller, daily acts of devotion in our lives, because these reveal our deepest values and longings. They give us a sense of what calls for our loyalty and commitment.

So maybe the most important questions of this month are “How devoted are you to your core?” and “How loyal are you to that which lights you up?”

          In the end, my friends, this theme of devotion all boils down to this: What do we love? Only love can drive out hate, as Dr. King reminds us, and oh, how much we need to drive out hate. Today, this month, this year, may we devote ourselves to embodying the love that, with focus and intention, loyalty and persistence, can turn this world around.


With love and devotion to our journey together,


Rev. Nancy

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Jan 24 2018

February Journal: Soul Matters Spiritual Exercise for Devotion

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Does It Mean to Live a Life of Devotion?

Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises for February

Gathering: Sunday, February 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m., Ramsden Fireside Room

Take our theme of the month deeper by engaging in one or more of these spiritual exercises. Then join our small group to enrich the experience!


Reconnecting with and recommitting to our own deepest self is a major part of what it means to live a life of devotion. This journey happens differently for each of us. Here are two spiritual exercises that may help you reconnect with your devotion—that is, with those things to which you give your love, loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment.



Rediscover Your Devotion to Small Things


Mother Teresa wrote, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

“What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” We know this is true, yet it is so easy to lose sight of the small things that we love and that make a big difference. For example:


  • We may be devoted to having dinner with our family and making time for each person to name something that they are thankful for from that day. But when things get busy, our commitment to this practice falls to the wayside.
  • We may have made a commitment to call at least one long-distance friend each month, but somehow this past year, it’s not happened at all.
  • Maybe we think of ourselves as devoted hikers, artists, runners, choir members, you name it. These activities re-energize us and connect us to something larger than ourselves. And yet … we just haven’t gotten around to doing them in months.
  • Reading a book to our children before they go to bed; volunteering monthly to help with a cause about which we care deeply; writing a love letter to our spouse or friend; checking in on a neighbor; writing to our congressperson—these are all small, ordinary things that contain great power. But when we get tired or overwhelmed, we can lose sight of their importance in our lives and in the world.


So here is the exercise:

This month, make a list of the “small loves” that have great strength for you. Spend some time relishing what your list tells you about who you are and what you value at your core.

            Then choose one item from your list and do at least one action that reaffirms your devotion to it. Feel free to borrow or adapt from the examples of small devotions above.

Please join us on Sunday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. at FUCSJ to share what you learn from this exercise about yourself and about the strength that lies in small things.



 Do Our Values Really Have Our Devotion?


Living a spiritually faithful life is about living in alignment with our values. We know in our hearts the values to which we are most devoted, but sometimes our lives don’t reflect this devotion as much as we would like. This exercise offers us a chance to step back, to see how well we are doing, and to consider how we might course-correct to bring our lives in alignment with our values.


Step One: Name Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

Two values to which I am deeply devoted to are _______________ and ________________.


Step Two: Examples of Living Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

You can see my devotion to these values by looking at these parts of my life:







As you fill in these blanks, think about how you interact with your family or friends, what you have chosen to do as your employment, how you spend your free time, how you handle conflict, how you use your money, where you volunteer, what you do for fun and/or self-care, and so on.


Step Three: Ways to More Deeply Reflect Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

Here are three ways in which my life can more deeply reflect my devotion to these values:





Step Four: What Have You Learned?

Reflect on what this exercise shows you about the way your life lines up with your most deeply cherished values. Has anything surprised you? How will you carry these lessons forward in your life in the days and weeks to come? Please join us on Sunday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. at FUCSJ to share what you learn.



Sunday, February 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Devotion

Sunday, March 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Balance

Sunday, April 29, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Emergence

Sunday, June 3, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Imagination

Sunday, June 17, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Blessing

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