Archive for the 'Minister’s Musings' Category

Apr 05 2017

Sermon: When We Need Boundaries — and When We Don’t – Sunday, April 2, 2017

Published by under Minister's Musings


April Theme: The Boundaries That Heal

and That Harm Us

When We Need Boundaries—

and When We Don’t

Sunday, April 2, 2017, 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

First Unitarian Church of San José

Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Senior Minister


Sermon                    “Sheltering Walls, Open Borders”

     Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

The first time I really pay attention to the hymn we’ve just sung, “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door,” is on the Sunday after September 11, 2001. I am living on the East Coast where the tragedies of 9/11 feel very personal, very very close. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations sing hymn #1, also called “Hymn for This House,” on that Sunday. So many of us are looking for assurance, for comfort, for a sense of safety when all our earlier assumptions about security have been shattered.

But this hymn does not offer the message I need: it feels false and isolationist to pray for “ill fortune” to pass us by, as though we in the United States could get a “pass” on struggle and suffering when others around the world have been experiencing weekly, sometimes daily, the kinds of attacks we have just experienced—maybe not on the scale of 9/11 at one time, yet persistently for decades. To create an “us” and “them” feels like the opposite of what we need to do: that way more danger lies.

See, even in my grief and shock post 9/11, I want all of Life, even the hardest parts, to come into the sanctuaries of our faith so that we can face them and deal with them! “Don’t leave your broken heart at the door,” the Rev. Angela Herrera writes, “bring it to the altar of life.” [These lines begin the beautiful Call to Worship we use on this Sunday, #110 in Lifting Up Our Voices.]

We human beings are a mixity, broken and beautiful streaky creatures every one of us, capable of great harm and of amazing healing. On that Sunday after 9/11, I don’t want to close our doors and build up our walls. I want to feel how connected we all are.

And then I come to this congregation and learn how special this hymn is for long-time members, because of the very personal, very very close trauma of the fire in this building back in 1995. And I begin to see that I have built my own wall—against this song. I see how limited and idealistic my thinking is. You teach me the companion truth to the one I already hold, about needing to face all of Life together. You teach me that sometimes we do need to shelter ourselves and each other, that sometimes we need to draw the line about when and how much we let in, sometimes we need to remember that we can create safer, deeply supportive, honest spaces where, while still acknowledging our struggles and our fears, we can rest for a few moments and regain our strength for all that we must face.

Thank you for showing me more of Life than I knew 12 years ago. This is exactly what living in community is about—we all grow and change from bumping up against each other here.

So when it comes to boundaries, it is, once again, as my own core theology states, both/and. On the one hand, we need to embrace and face the tragedies and the human brokenness that is sometimes called sin—by which I mean that falling away from what we humans can be at our best—and on the other, we need comfort and enough support and safety to get through the day.


As our worship team—Jeff and Rodney, John and Dianne and I—plan the service for this morning, I couldn’t predict that my specific examples about boundaries would come right out of our own faith tradition this week. Why is it crucial for all of us to hear about these crises in the Unitarian Universalist world, even if this is your very first time worshiping with us?

  • Because these crises, these brokennesses, are part of our being human, and that is exactly what we are here to explore and to redeem
  • Because in our faith we know we are all interconnected, so these crises demand a response from all of us
  • And because in naming them, we counteract the poison of secrets, and we lay the foundation for our own courageous, authentic, broken-openhearted way forward


The first of these crises may be triggering because it involves a suspected criminal breach of boundaries. If you need to step out, we understand. Take care of yourself. If you are able to stay, I can promise you that we are here to care for each other in this circle, and that I will speak mindfully—without detail—about this breach. But name it I will, because I believe that this honesty and transparency strengthen our capacity for keeping our children, youth, young adults, adults, and elders safe.

So, let’s take a breath together.


This Thursday afternoon, after a long investigation, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Turley, Oklahoma, was arrested on child pornography charges, to which he has apparently confessed. The harm done by such crimes must not be diminished: they abuse, exploit, and dehumanize the most powerless among us.

And what’s even harder for our hearts and minds to grasp: This minister has been doing powerful public ministry, offering food, shelter, advocacy, and support to the most marginalized in a very poor area. He has been mentor and friend to a number of my colleagues, who would never have guessed about this deep sickness, if indeed it is true. My dear colleague the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa is ministering to the accused’s family and children, to all who have worked with this minister, and I believe that by now Marlin has visited the accused in jail, too. The national Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Team is also present on site. They have support; they are facing into this traumatic breach.

So how are we here at First Unitarian called to respond?

First, you need to know that we have what we call a “Significant Incident Procedure” in place, designed to alert our congregational leaders to any hints of misconduct or breaches of boundaries. I ask that the Board and Program and Operations Council make this available to all of you. When it comes to any form of sexual or physical abuse, we must and we will make our sheltering walls very strong indeed.

Second, if you or someone you know struggles with addictive behaviors, seek professional help NOW. It is the most courageous and compassionate thing you can do for yourself and for all around you. In this congregation, we don’t have the staff to offer that help directly, but as we can, we will walk with you on your journey toward wholeness.

Third, we need to wrestle, individually and communally, with our theology. “Come, come, whoever you are,” we sing, and we want to mean it, we want it to be true—so much so that sometimes we Unitarian Universalists aren’t sure whether we should set any boundaries. When is it OK to say “no”—no, we can’t do that; no, that behavior is not congruent with our mission; no, those words are hurtful and thus they disrupt our community, they can even be community destroying? Those behaviors, those words, are not OK here—because we are called to Make Love Visible in all that we say and do. Our theology is radically inclusive—but it is not “anything goes.” Yes, our theology calls us to say no to harm.

At the same time, our theology calls for radical compassion and mutual respect. We often stumble over how to set a healthy boundary while simultaneously offering compassion for ourselves—staying firm about what is healthy for us, for all of us—and yet still demonstrating respect for the other person’s humanity. It is hard when we are triggered to figure out how to care for ourselves in new ways that allow us to live out our faith.

Still, in the face of trauma, we can learn to breathe, to ground ourselves in our bodies, to ask for help, and then to experi-learn—to experiment with how we set our boundaries and to learn from that experimenting. We don’t have to be stuck in reactive mode.

Yes, we are called to face this crisis in our Unitarian Universalist world—so familiar to religious institutions of all kinds. We face it, knowing that it breaks our hearts open to the terrible streakiness of our human nature. We grieve for the children harmed by any person or industry that abuses or exploits them; we grieve with the family and the children of the accused, and with all whose lives are deeply affected by his apparent breach of the most sacred trust; and if we are Universalist enough, we grieve too for the broken person who resorted to such harmful behaviors. At the same time, we say a firm and steady “NO” always to any harmful, hurtful boundary breaches here. “May nothing evil cross this door”—indeed, and we will do all we can to make that so.

Let’s take a restorative breath.


The second crisis that has risen to the surface in Unitarian Universalism in recent weeks will be the focus of a whole worship service at the beginning of May, when one of the candidates for president of the Unitarian Universalist Association will share the pulpit with me. Here’s what’s going on:

In a staff hiring decision a couple of weeks ago, a white non-local, male Unitarian Universalist minister is selected to lead the Southern Region of our faith over an equally qualified, local, Unitarian Universalist religious educator of color. For Unitarian Universalist religious leaders of color and for all of us allies, it is the last straw, because this specific instance of pushing aside a person of color is part of a larger pattern in our faith. The names for that pattern are many; the two that we name today are white supremacy—which is not about the Klan or the Aryan Nation but about the deep systemic sometimes-subtle sometimes-violently obvious privileges that keep white people and white culture calling the shots in Unitarian Universalism, just as people like me are still calling the shots in most of our country—and the second name for this larger pattern is patriarchy, which does the same for men, even across class and other differences. This language—white supremacy and patriarchy—may be confusing or triggering for some here. That’s because, my friends, we all have work to do. At the same time, I can promise you that this language, this naming, is also a vast relief to others here, because it represents a truth-telling that is our only hope for change.

As a beautiful letter from the Office of Youth and Young Adults at the UUA says, “The first step in healing from the damage [that] white supremacy does to our spirit is to face our reality, process our defensiveness as it arises, so that we can be truly honest about our starting place. As James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’”

As a result of the demand for accountability and action, and in the face of ongoing missteps, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Rev. Peter Morales, resigned effective yesterday, just three months short of completing his full eight years of service. The resignation shocks almost all of us on Thursday. Some of us wanted him to stay and prove that he too can change and offer the leadership we need. Others feel heartbroken that this human being of color must take the fall for a wider systemic issue.

But let’s not let this disruption in leadership distract us from the real work we are called to do. For we Unitarian Universalists have the chance right now, with all of this truth-telling and revealing of long-sustained harmful patterns, we have the chance to break through to being the faith and the humans that we have said we want to be: to breaking down those oppressive boundaries and becoming the multicultural, antiracist, antioppressive Beloved Community to which we aspire. With hard analysis and revolutionary paradigm shifts and deep deep listening to voices that have not been heard, together we can achieve true behavioral change in each of us and in our institutions.

These crises are heart breaking. And that very heartbreak calls for the good kind of boundary-breaking, the kind I call “living with broken-openheartedness.” May our broken-open hearts grow larger, as they burst free of any shell of security or sleep. May our empathy for the pain around us and for the pain in us lead us to action and always to the creation of deeper, more authentic, life-changing relationships.

Amen, I love you, let us learn to Love each other.



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Mar 24 2017

In Our Own Voices: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us

Published by under Minister's Musings

“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and other meetings. We use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth.
Congregants’ responses to this month’s theme, “The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us,” speak to our community’s commitment to undoing the boundaries of systemic oppression. They also wrestle with the need for personal boundaries and with how to set limits or say “no” when such responses are the healthy ones.
As we learn how to Make Love Visible in all we do and say, we need to look at boundaries from “both sides.” May these responses stir your own thoughts and actions.
With gratitude for how we grow together,
Rev. Nancy

• We need some boundaries, and we need to remove some others!
• This theme relates to March’s theme of Empathy. How do we understand and feel with another’s experience of the boundaries and borders that separate us? Empathy is a boundary crosser …
• Congregants’ experiences in the Beloved Community Movement, where we sit down and talk with community members, law enforcement, and elected officials, and then work for policy changes—that’s undoing boundaries that harm us.
• At FUCSJ we have been learning how to have Beloved Conversations around race, ethnicity, and class. Now, if we could get more people involved …
• I think of the movement called Black Lives of UU, calling us to live up to our faith’s commitment to undoing racism … in our own house!
• Bisexuality: its marginalization (not being seen or named) and the intense effects of that marginalization (including statistics about bi people)
• This is about having a sense of self-worth and integrity.
• How do I set boundaries with difficult people?
• How can I learn how to say “No”?
• Why is it so hard sometimes to set limits with others?
• How do I maintain a boundary for my own self and recognize the overlap of yours?
• Who are you and why are you? Might my perceptions of you be influenced by who am I?
• How do I understand when a boundary has been crossed?

• Bishop Yvette Flunder’s book, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion
• A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness—a great HBO documentary from 2015
• “Draw the Circle Wide”—a favorite hymn!

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Mar 24 2017

April Theme: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us

Published by under Minister's Musings

The Door in the Wall
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Did you see the ad that Lumber 84 created for February’s Super Bowl this year? Not the edited version that the Fox television network aired. Fox asked the company to cut out the “controversial parts.” The aired ad is titled “The Journey Begins.”
No, I want you to see the original version, called “The Entire Journey.” I hope you will watch it as a form of spiritual practice—a way of engaging with our April theme: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us.
Super Bowl ads reach millions of people. This year, some companies’ ads use their visuals and casting to make a timely statement about who’s included and who’s not in the midst of a rising national rhetoric of disrespect and exclusion. The tools that ads use may be bold and blunt or subtle and shaded. But the choices the companies make mirror or challenge our current cultural climate. Paying attention to these social commentaries makes us smarter about how we fulfill our mission at First Unitarian—to Make Love Visible in all that we say and do.
So, please take a moment to center yourself, to breathe and open your mind and heart to what the senses may receive. Set aside what you may have heard about this ad or what you have felt when you watched it before. Set aside even what you feel about rampant, expensive commercialism. Just pay attention to the story, as you would to a movie or to a fable.
You can find the full ad here: Let me describe what I see:
A mother and daughter wake at first light in a Latin American country. “Are you ready?” Mom asks. “Yes!” says the little girl. The mom slips snapshots of a missing loved one into her backpack. They kiss a grandfather goodbye. “Take care of yourself,” he says tenderly, and offers the girl a sweet treat to savor later on her journey. The leavetaking is poignant. Mother and daughter are migrants, seeking to unite their family on the other side of the border.
Mother and daughter pay to climb aboard a truck for the first part of the journey. Then they walk through long stretches of arid landscapes, follow train tracks, get hauled up into moving boxcars. They cross fields, move through canyons, ford creeks, run from the rain, sit at makeshift campfires. The girl collects scraps of plastic, woven material, stray buttons. They ask for precious sips of water from other migrants’ dusty bottles. The journey is long, hard, often lonely.
Interspersed with their trek we see images of workmen with clean cold water bottles in hand, transporting lumber, stapling materials together, pausing to admire their work. What are they building? Could it be a wall?
Sure enough, mother and daughter come over a rise and look down. Disappointment streaks their faces. The border wall snakes through the desert—a tall, slick boundary that stops them in their tracks. The little girl, seeing her mother’s tears, offers her the scraggly United States flag that she has pieced together from the scraps.
And then they notice a beam of light coming from a place in the wall that they can’t yet see. When they move toward it, they find a giant door in the wall. The workmen were building a door, not a wall! Mother and daughter push, and—amazingly—the door swings open, unlocked. They step forward into the dusty sunlit landscape on the other side. “The will to succeed is always welcome here” flashes across the screen.
What do you feel? If this ad is our theological text, what messages do you take away?
Company spokespeople have said that they did not intend to make a “political statement” with this ad. But the story has a life of its own. We see—we are meant to see—mother and daughter as members of our own family. The wall is a boundary that harms not just them, but us. We want them to arrive. If there’s a wall, it’s up to us to ensure that the door is huge and that it swings open, unlocked. We have work to do.
This month we acknowledge the boundaries that we do indeed need in order to stay safe and healthy—personal and communal boundaries that say no to abuse of all sorts. We also look at those boundaries that we need to tear down—in our hearts and minds, and in our culture. I hope you will join us!

Grateful to be with you for the Entire Journey,

Rev. Nancy

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Feb 17 2017

March Theme: Empathy

Published by under Minister's Musings

Empathy: Bridging the Impossible Chasms

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

It’s May 2016, and First Unitarian’s Worship Associates and I stand in front of a flipchart sheet fluttering with sticky notes and scribbled over with words. We have taped flipchart paper to every door, wall, and window in the Fireside Room—one for each month in this congregational year. (Pro tip: The thematic year runs from September 2016 through May 2017; we usually fly free-form in the summers.)

Some of the other pages around the room read “Change,” “Earth,” “Kinship and Friendship.” They too draw lots of input as we brainstorm what these concepts mean for us human beings, trying to make sense of life and struggling with the challenges of these very times.

But at least on those flipchart sheets, the titles don’t take up much room.

On the one for March 2017, though, a line of words scrolls across the top of the page:

Understanding the Other; Understanding “the Other”(?); Civility; Dialogue

That’s why we stand there pondering …

What’s the impulse, and where’s the pain, behind these words? Why do we worship leaders intuitively cluster them together? What do we humans long to heal and what do we hope to understand when we touch the tender spots pointed to by these words?

Already in May 2016, the psychic pain of our sense of separation from each other, and the actual physical and emotional hurt of the distances between us, feel almost unbearable. The situation is both personal and communal. Here at First Unitarian we have awakened to the impact of injustices rooted in centuries of social hierarchies ascribing better-than and less-than status to people and creatures based on differing identities or attributes. The legacy of those injustices, and the ways in which they are perpetuated, come home through our own and our friends’ experiences every day. And the news—oh, the news confirms that all too often we are drifting or racing, apart.

So we worship leaders feel the hunger of the congregation: Can we humans understand each other across our differences? Can we figure out why and how we create a sense of “otherness”? Is this an immutable habit of human nature? And is there actually something to celebrate, rather than bemoan or dis, about being “other”?

Then, can we restore a common sense of citizenship (the root of civility) across all borders? Can we develop our capacity for real dialogue—that exchange of words among two or more people conversing, changing directions back and forth—so that we all really grow and change as a result?

Today, in March 2017, the chasms we sense almost a year ago seem even more apparent, more destructive, and perhaps less bridgeable.

But here’s the good news: we humans have the capacity for empathy. We can vicariously feel another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Please note: like love, empathy is not a soft and squishy feel-good exercise. It takes courage, stamina, humility, and broken-openheartedness. It’s a muscle we must build. But empathy gives us a new place to stand in relation to each other. We don’t have to remain separate. We can bridge those chasms.

You see what we worship leaders did there? We took that long string of words—those aching hungers—and transformed them into one affirmation of what we can actually do and how we can really grow.

Are you ready, Beloved Community?

With vast readiness to be learning and growing with you once more,


Rev. Nancy

Returning from sabbatical on March 15!

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Sep 26 2016

Frequently Asked Questions About Rev. Nancy’s Sabbatical!

Published by under Minister's Musings

When can we talk with Rev. Nancy about this sabbatical?
Please join Rev. Nancy for a free-flowing conversation about her sabbatical, following worship on Sunday, October 9, at 12:30 p.m. in the Ramsden Fireside Room. In worship that morning, Rev. Nancy will offer her wishes for the congregation during this time apart. Come to the Fireside Room after worship with your questions, curiosities, and good wishes!
Bonus: At this gathering, you will also get an update from our Treasurer about First Unitarian’s financial health so far this year. What a team!
Here are Rev. Nancy’s answers to frequently asked questions about sabbaticals in general, and about this sabbatical in particular.
When is this sabbatical again?
My sabbatical begins on Saturday, October 15, 2016, and I return five months later, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
Who’s “in charge” while Rev. Nancy is away?
Rev. Geoff Rimositis will serve as Lead Sabbatical Minister. Over his 25 years in the ministry, Rev. Geoff has taken on this role many times, but is especially excited about this one. Just back from his own sabbatical, he brings renewed energy and vision, and a passion for all the growth and opportunity afoot at First Unitarian right now! Intern Minister Rodney Lemery joins our ministerial team, learning and growing alongside us. Our Office Manager Sharmeen Enayat can answer questions about space use and events. And our volunteer leaders will actually run the congregation and all our programs—as they are already called to do!           
            Before I leave, we will produce a list of “whom to call” (or email) for different aspects of our congregational life while I am away. In fact, even when I am not away, often you should reach out to these lay leaders or other staff members for answers to your questions and help with your needs, rather than turning to the Senior Minister each time. This is a chance for us to establish some new and healthier habits that will sustain us all over the long haul!
How does a congregation benefit from a minister’s sabbatical?
A minister’s sabbatical—especially the Senior Minister’s sabbatical—gives the congregation a chance to remember and experience how amazing YOU are. Without one individual serving as the symbolic focal point of congregational life—as my role often does—long-time members and brand-new visitors alike see how lively and shared our ministries really are. The imaginative, heartfelt, consistent work that our volunteers are already doing—to run the congregation; to present special events; to keep worship vital, meaningful, and creative; to offer deep and loving care to all in need; and more—all of these things become visible, and grow stronger, when the Senior Minister is away.
          In the next five months, you will hear new voices in worship—and I urge you to SHOW UP on Sundays to honor these very special guests; truly they are all-stars in the firmament of San José’s faith communities! You will celebrate our 150th Anniversary of Making Love Visible with the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the President’s Council (Sunday, November 13)! You will weather the storms of this election season, participate in Voter Engagement, and show up for our ministries in the public square, setting a tone for what we need to be and do as a faith community in the difficult months and years to come. For our work is ever evolving; we don’t want to lose any momentum now.
          When I return, we will meet each other with renewed strength and commitment! I can’t wait … But first, we all need this sabbatical.
How do ministers earn their sabbaticals, and how long are they usually?
For every year of service, a minister earns one month of sabbatical, up to six months total. The sabbatical “clock” restarts when the minister returns from a sabbatical. The time away can include that year’s month of vacation time, as long as the total does not exceed six months. My first sabbatical took place January to June 2011, so this sabbatical arrives right on time.
What’s the difference among “sabbaticals,” “study breaks,” and “vacations”?
It’s confusing, right? My Letter of Agreement with you (our “contract”) follows the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association guidelines. Every year I get one month of study break and one month of vacation. This plan recognizes ministers’ need for ongoing study as well as rest and refreshment. Each year, I usually break up these benefits into chunks, taking shorter breaks during the main part of our “church year,” and a bigger chunk during the summer. In the last two years, all of this time away has been spent researching my book project.
          A sabbatical offers an extended period of time away. Everything goes deeper with this extra time: completing a major project (see “book project”!), learning new skills, deepening my spiritual life, exploring new practices in ministry, “thinking outside the box,” establishing a renewed balance between personal and professional life, returning with fresh energy …
Why do ministers get sabbaticals?
In a just world, EVERYONE would get a sabbatical! Ministerial life also presents special challenges. Here are just a few of the things I am called to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis: preach, teach, offer spiritual guidance and pastoral care, inspire (suggest?) a vision for our work together, manage some of the programs that bring this vision to life, speak for our faith in the public square, engage in community organizing and transformational change, study, write, tell stories, answer emails, make calls, rally the staff, coach congregational leaders … Well, you get the picture!
          Congregational ministry is often a 24/7 job, despite our combined best efforts to bring it down to 24/6 or better. It wakes us ministers up at night; it occupies 90-95% of our waking thoughts; it both lifts and burdens our hearts; it stretches us to be better people than we could have imagined being. It is challenging, exhausting, sometimes hard on friends and family—yet filled on a daily basis with unexpected grace and beauty. I love it. I am grateful for it.
          So: ministers really need sabbatical time to step away from the “tyranny of the urgent”  and rest, reflect, reconnect with friends and family, get the “big picture” of where we’re going together—and complete major projects! For instance …
How will Rev. Nancy spend this sabbatical?
I will complete my major book-writing project, which has been in the works for two years! During this sabbatical, co-author Karin Lin and I will actually write the book we have been researching for Skinner House Books: “The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism” (working title, forthcoming fall 2017). I am the primary writer, with Karin editing and consulting every step of the way. So I will be visiting lots of libraries and coffee shops on my travels, where I will be getting all those words on the page. Over the course of this project, Karin and I have grown into a transformative relationship, learned so much about ourselves and the congregations we have studied, and we have finally reached the point where we are ready to risk sharing our truths and observations, our hopes and dreams for our faith in this timely journey toward a multicultural, antiracist, 21st-century Unitarian Universalism.
You have my heartfelt thanks and love for the wise and generous practice of offering your ministers sabbaticals! Please do join me for a free-flowing conversation following worship on Sunday, October 9, at 12:30 p.m. in the Ramsden Fireside Room. Come to worship at 11:00 where I will offer my wishes for the congregation; then come to the Fireside Room after worship with your questions, curiosities, and good wishes!
With all my love,
Rev. Nancy

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Sep 23 2016

October Theme: Living with Our Fears

Published by under Minister's Musings

flower for October essay

“I Need You to Survive”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

As I write on September 23, it has been an especially hard week for all of us committed to the Movement for Black Lives. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a police officer shoots and kills Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African-American man seeking help because his car has broken down. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Keith Lamont Scott, also African American, dies after being shot by police under unclear circumstances, and the community’s decades-long—no, centuries-long frustrations erupt in protests. Our Unitarian Universalist colleagues in these towns issue powerful statements of grief and solidarity. My heart is heavy.

At the same time, my commitment to our own work here in San José and Santa Clara County grows fiercer. We are building multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational, justice-seeking community here through the Beloved Community Movement, which brings law enforcement, elected officials, faith leaders, and community together to create transparency, trust, mutual respect, and even—dare I say it?—affection across all our relationships and our practices. A movement for justice and the recognition of the sacred value of life—I am so grateful that we at First Unitarian are part of it. You can join in through the Voter Engagement Campaign—never has it been more important to show up, beloveds!

It is also poignant that in this week of tragic loss and unrest, we could watch our Unitarian ancestors, the Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, “defying the Nazis” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary). During World War II, the Sharps go behind enemy lines again and again to rescue those most at risk of extermination. Such models of courage, of putting our faith into action! Please watch for a showing of this documentary at FUCSJ in the months to come. Today, I ask myself: Would I have been that courageous then? Can I be that courageous now?

In times such as these, when sorrows combine with so many other traumas and uncertainties, I keep repeating: We not only need to act in solidarity with each other and with those most at risk, but we also need to double-down on the spiritual practices that ground our actions in faith, hope, and love. Our capacity to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say is only as strong and wide as our foundation in our faith, in our connection to our deepest selves and to that Something More within us and beyond us.

So yesterday, I set out on one of my Morning Walks. These Morning Walks are my prime urban spiritual practice, but they have been in short supply lately, as I race to accomplish all that must be done before I leave on sabbatical on October 15. With a heavy, hungry heart yesterday, I go looking for some shout of abundant Life from the earth, and some link to centuries of human good.

Sure enough, within a block, this multicolored daisy-like creature reaches out over the sidewalk on her slender stem, casting a filigreed shadow on the cement. She lifts her head, directly in my path, and says, as clearly as if she really does speak English: “STOP!”

“Oh, you beauty,” I breathe. I pause to take a photo. And as I walk on, David Frazier’s gospel song begins to thrum over and over inside until it rings out: “I need you, you need me, we’re all a part of God’s body … I pray for you, you pray for me, I need you to survive, I won’t harm you with words from my mouth, I love you, I need you to survive …”

Friends, though we may be physically apart during my book-writing sabbatical (October 15-March 13), we need not fear that we are ever truly separated. We are, each and every one of us, part of one Sangha body, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, working together for the good of all. “I need you, you need me”—yes! And oh, how I love you! We need each other to survive, and equally, we need each other to fulfill our call: to further the abundance of Life on this earth and to carry forward centuries of human good! I can’t wait to share what wonders we discover, what hope we create, and what community we build during the time that I am away!

Now: please go watch and hear Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout (director of music and worship at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor) lead the General Assembly 2016 Choir in David Frazier’s gorgeous song, “I Need You to Survive”:


with all my love,


Rev. Nancy


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Aug 26 2016

September Theme: Change

Published by under Minister's Musings

The Changes We Embrace for the Sake of Beloved Community

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

In the first days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, New York City, still shrouded in ash, transforms itself from a hub of harried competitors, anxious seekers, and disoriented tourists into a family of compassionate, loving kindred. People are united—and this is important—not by a common enemy but by shared loss and sharp grief. The World Trade Center towers and the first responders represent every race, religion, nationality, and class in the world. Everyone of every age knows someone who has died or someone who is directly affected by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job.
Yet in the midst of horror, beauty erupts. People open their homes, offer free rides, and show up with pastoral care and doughnuts for those working in the rubble of the towers. They make hard calls to next of kin. They find ways to comfort their children. They look at each other gently; they ask the deep questions and answer honestly. They gather in houses of worship to mourn and begin to make meaning. They make meaning by building Beloved Community.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and in the face of today’s divisive national mood, the 9/11 Day group, including family members and survivors of the tragedy, has formed a coalition of nonprofits. Called “Tomorrow Together,” they will “organize diversity service projects, help teach empathy and unity to America’s youth, and bring generations together nationwide for community service.” David Paine, president and cofounder of 9/11 Day, says, “Our goal with ‘Tomorrow Together’ is to rekindle and reinforce the important lessons of empathy, service and unity that arose from the 9/11 tragedy, and to encourage all Americans and our leaders to work more closely together again as one nation to address the challenges facing our society.”

Join Us for Acts of Service
On Sunday, September 11, we launch our own recommitment to service by participating in the collection of much-needed items for our unhoused neighbors and kin who are served by the Julian Street Inn. Please see the list of needed items elsewhere in this newsletter, and bring your gifts to the entryway of the church before the 11:00 a.m. worship service on September 11. Our children and youth will parade in with these contributions as worship begins.

A Call for Deeper Changes
To embody empathy and unity, and to continue to build Beloved Community here at First Unitarian, we must “double down” on the spiritual practices that lead us to our best selves and to deeper connections, collaborations, solidarity, and community. In Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (known as “Thay,” for “teacher” in Vietnamese) offers some deceptively simple yet profound spiritual practices, including these two:
1. “The Art of Watering Flowers”: “‘Watering flowers,’” Thay writes, “means giving encouragement by showing someone … their good qualities and our appreciation of those qualities…. The practice of watering flowers is an expression of our gratitude. When we are grateful we will no longer suffer so much.” As a community, we here at FUCSJ have lived through great trauma in recent months. Let us practice looking at each other gently. Let us ask the deep questions—“How are you really?”—and answer honestly. Most of all, let us speak and write and name our appreciations for each other’s beautiful qualities and generous actions. Our parched souls need the water—and we have this kind of water in abundance!
2. “Shining Light”: Shining light is the tender, loving practice of inviting each other to our best selves when we have made a hurtful mistake, whether intentionally or unintentionally. As Thay says, we are “the bones and flesh of the same Sangha [community] body.” So if we shine light on another’s mis-step, we are truly shining light on our own mistakes. This is not about “policing” each other’s behaviors! Rather, I’m inviting us to acknowledge our own mistakes and to encourage others to change with us as we recognize the flaws we share. For instance, as many of you know, I can “blurt” or snap at someone when I am particularly stressed or frustrated. It’s a sad flaw that I’m working hard to change. Recently I was reminded of just how hurtful this blurting can be; the wound I have inflicted can still smart years later, even when I have apologized quickly and tried to return to right relationship. It matters what we do and say! In our community, it’s particularly important that we slow down and think before we blurt or tease. That teasing comment may come across as hurtful. Without our meaning to, we may reinscribe a racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or ableist stereotype with our awkward attempt at humor. Let’s shine light on our own beautiful, broken selves, and practice a deeper mindfulness: slowing down and considering how we want to act and speak with each other, and gently reminding each other of our call to Make Love Visible in all we do and say, when we make a mistake.

With deep love for you and gratitude for this journey we share,

Rev. Nancy

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Jul 22 2016

Mission Statement & Vision 2020

Published by under Minister's Musings

Mission Statement

Bound together by our commitment to making Love visible, we gather to deepen our spirits, to work for justice, and to create one sacred family.

Vision 2020

In 2020 at the First Unitarian Church of San José, we see:



  • Worship, classes, and activities that deepen personal spiritual development and encourage the expression in the world of one’s faith
  • Congregation-wide participation in activities that promote multicultural, anti-racist, anti-oppressive competencies, including deep listening, compassionate communication, and understanding of systems of oppression
  • Experiences in worship services, in church events, and through visual displays that deepen one’s awareness of multiple faiths and practices



  • A robust membership support system that engages everyone from first-time visitors to long-time members and friends through programs that include social events and celebrations, diverse support groups, and service to the congregation and to the community
  • Children, youth, and young adults at the center of congregational life through classes, projects, worship, and intergenerational experiences
  • Our facilities structurally sound and updated to support our ministries



  • Coalitions and alliances with interfaith, Unitarian Universalist, and secular organizations working for racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice


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Jul 22 2016

August Journal: Habits of the Heart for Times Such as These

Published by under Minister's Musings

Habits of the Heart for Times Such as These
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Every day throughout my teenage years, my father sits at the kitchen table in the early morning hours, a cup of coffee by his side, a yellow legal pad before him, and a pencil in his hand. He is making a list (or five, or ten): lists of to-do’s for that day and that week; lists of his dreams and of steps to accomplish them; lists of instructions to give his colleagues, or his family, or the Sunday school class he’ll teach that weekend; lists of jokes to share with those very same people, bless him.
            For years, I railed against the content of my father’s lists, especially when they offered helpful but unasked-for advice for me. Little did I know how deeply this spiritual practice of my father’s—the chaos-reducing, brain-freeing, creativity-encouraging practice of list making—was seeping into my soul.
Nowadays, especially when our world—locally, nationally, personally, publicly—feels chaotic, traumatic, exhausting, and confused, I find it helpful to ground myself in this spiritual practice. I make, or I find, a list or lists that offer a pathway to clarity, peace, and a renewed sense of gladness about being alive. And lo and behold, I have found just such a list this week!
But first, a little context:
Habits of the Heart
What is a spiritual practice, after all, if not a “habit of the heart,” as writer-teacher Parker Palmer calls them? We find an activity that grounds us in our best selves and that opens our minds and hearts to new ways of seeing, thinking, being. Maybe our spiritual practice involves making lists, or praying, meditating, taking photographs, drumming, dancing, singing, beading, journaling, washing the dishes, serving meals to those in need … Actually, anything can be a spiritual practice when we bring a mindful intention to it. We practice and practice these activities until they become a habit of the heart, a steady portal into a new way of being in the world. We practice and practice, and gradually we feel ourselves beginning to change, with the side effect that our capacity to change the world around us grows, too.
In Times Such as These
As I write, the temperature of the national presidential election season has skyrocketed, with the major parties’ national conventions bringing heated rhetoric and sometimes-alarming surprises. We Unitarian Universalists feel, too, the pain of this summer’s brutal losses—the deaths of citizens and police officers; violence near and far; needs beyond our capacities to fix in any simple or straightforward way.
            Yet this week, just when I need it most, I come across a wonderful list. Parker Palmer lists five “Habits of the Heart” to help “heal the heart of democracy.” And it strikes me that Palmer’s list applies not just to our political system—though God knows we need these habits there. It can also remind us, dear ones, of the habits of the heart that we need as we strive to create the Beloved Community right here and now.
The List—Five Habits of the Heart for Us to Practice:
1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
5. A capacity to create community.[1]
What We Do Now
This list will not surprise us Unitarian Universalists. It echoes our core principles and the very mission of our congregation.
But in times such as these, the ground of our faith must prove its strength. We must “double down” on the spiritual practices that lead us to our best selves and to deeper connections, collaborations, solidarity, and community. What we do now matters!
            So: let’s plunge in. Let’s double down on the spiritual practices that give us the strength, hope, and courage to change and to be agents of change. We need such habits of the heart for these crucial times. I can’t wait to participate in what we will create!
With deep love for you and gratitude for this journey we share,
Rev. Nancy

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May 20 2016

May Theme: Letting Go

Published by under Minister's Musings

All Hands on Deck!
Uniting Our Forces for Justice in This Election Season
by the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
We have a crucial opportunity to make a difference during this election season by calling “all hands on deck” for the Voter Engagement Campaign that People Acting in Community Together (PACT) is organizing across our county and that its parent organization PICO is organizing across the country. 
What Is the Voter Engagement Campaign?
The Voter Engagement Campaign aims to:
1. Strengthen PACT’s power and each participating congregation’s power and effectiveness—by showing how many folks we reach county-wide, and by experiencing the impact we have as a team! (Imagine how persuasive our meetings with decision makers will be in years to come if we can show that we have had an impact on a great number of voters this season.)
2. Transform the electorate by focusing on people who have been excluded from the democratic process but who can and need to have a voice.
Each PACT congregation will set up a team of people willing to work in five areas:
— door knocking (in partnership with other congregations’ teams, like our friends at Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Most Holy Trinity, and many more whom we will meet as we partner)
— phone banking (we are pros at this!)
— data collection (perfect job for the computer-savvy quieter folks among us—lots of data entry to keep track of how many people we reach—this is what builds power for us as PACT!)
— voter registration and pledges (in areas where this will have the most impact)
— coordinating the team’s efforts and communicating with other teams
PACT will provide training for the Voter Engagement Campaign, and will bring groups of folks together across congregations based on which role(s) they want to play.
In our work for immigration reform over the past ten years, we have experienced the life-changing joy and power of building relationships across congregations and cultures. The Voter Engagement Campaign offers us a similar chance to expand our hearts and lives by connecting with our neighbors across the county.
Time Commitment:
Each volunteer can control how many hours they put into this work. The more people involved, the less any one person will need to do.
On Sunday, June 19, we will offer a worship service that explores the underlying forces driving this disturbing election season. What pain and anger cause such extremism? How do we feel compassion for those whose views not only differ from ours but seem downright dangerous? What does our Unitarian Universalist faith call us to do at such a time as this?
After worship that same Sunday, PACT will offer a training for all who want to participate in the Voter Engagement Campaign. Please join us for both worship and training on Sunday, June 19!
What Can You Do?
·         Say “YES” if and when our PACT-staff organizer Jesús Ruiz calls and asks you to join a training and a team!
·         RSVP ASAP for the training on Sunday, June 19, at 12:45 p.m. at FUCSJ (room TBA), where PACT staff will get us ready to jump in with other congregations. RSVP to Office Manager Sharmeen
·         Invite friends to join you on the FUCSJ team!
“Why Us, Rev. Nancy?”
Friends, together we have the passion, leadership, engagement, and concern for the well-being of all peoples and creatures—and of the planet itself—that calls us to make a difference in our community. So much is at stake in this year’s election, not just because of the election of a new president who will set tone and direction for the country but also because of numerous crucial bills and measures that reflect on our care and inclusion of all. Each of us has particular gifts to bring to this campaign—and each of us has friends who will also say “yes” to participating when YOU invite them to join.
Let’s SHOW UP!
We can’t sit this election out. It’s about much more than just making sure that we ourselves vote. It’s about more than just registering more voters. It’s about affirming our deepest values for the direction of our community and our country. It’s about building networks and power so that we can be even more effective in the future.
       And most of all, it’s about RELATIONSHIP. It’s about our kinship with each other and all around us. It’s about Making Love Visible.
I hope you’ll join me in this campaign.
With my love,
Rev. Nancy

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