Archive for the 'Minister’s Musings' Category

May 24 2017

June Journal: Forgiveness and Our Families

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Forgiveness and Our Families:

Taking the Ritual of Forgiveness Home


In worship on Mother’s Day this year, we shared an all-ages Ritual of Forgiveness. So many people found it meaningful that we want to share it with you here. Maybe this ritual can become part of your regular spiritual practices at home, on your own or with your family.


The Ritual

We all make mistakes—big ones and little ones and everything in between. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve experienced this in your family, too. Parents, grandparents, caregivers, children, youth, young adults—our families are great places for practicing the art of asking for, and offering, FORGIVENESS.

In this Ritual of Forgiveness, we use the word parent to represent anyone who has cared for you or is caring for you now. This could be a grandparent, a foster parent, another adult, an older sibling, your mom or moms or dad or dads …

We invite you to go as deep with this as you feel ready, or you can keep it really simple.

After a moment of quiet meditation, write down on a slip of paper your answers to one or more of these prompts. You can share these slips with your family—or burn them mindfully to release them into the gentle air.

  • A mistake or problem for which you are ready to forgive your parent
  • A mistake you made as a child—either now, or earlier in your life—that you’d like to ask forgiveness for from your parent
  • A mistake or problem you made for which you hope your children or the next generation will forgive you
  • A mistake or problem for which you are ready to forgive yourself in your parenting and caregiving

May this Ritual of Forgiveness offer you strength, hope, and guidance on your journey toward wholeness!


With gratitude for how we grow together,
Rev. Nancy

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May 19 2017

Continuing the Conversation: “Teach On!”

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Continuing the Conversation: “Teach On!”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


On Sunday, May 7, 2017, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José join about 700 congregations in the nationwide UU White Supremacy Teach-In, examining the ways in which the insidious culture of white supremacy infects not just our whole country but even our own beloved faith. We engage in the spiritual practice of saying those dreaded words, “white supremacy,” while wrapping our minds and hearts around its systemic definition: “White supremacy”—not white supremacists but the broader noun white supremacy—“is the set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude or harm people of color.”

The sanctuary is packed with long-time members, brand-new visitors, and everyone in between. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, candidate for president of the UUA, and I share worship leadership. Together with all of you, we create “brave space,” where we Unitarian Universalists can be strong, brave, curious, humble, and collaborative enough to build a new way of being.

After worship, 53 people return to the sanctuary for a talk-back about the service and a deeper exploration of the proposed 8th Principle. The 8th Principle, written by Bruce Pollack-Johnson and Paula Cole Jones and endorsed by Black Lives of UU, builds on the passage 25 years ago, at the 1992 General Assembly, of a Resolution of Immediate Witness that affirms the “vision of a racially diverse and multicultural Unitarian Universalism.” Five years later, at the 1997 General Assembly, delegates vote that the Unitarian Universalist Association commit to intentionally becoming a multicultural and antiracist institution. That’s 20 years ago now. How are we Unitarian Universalists and our institutions making this commitment real?

The 8th Principle would explicitly name our shared commitment to dismantling this culture of white supremacy in our own institutions. Here’s the principle:

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

One of our largest congregations, All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., has already created an 8th Principle Task Force, in order to implement antiracism tools and practices toward institutional cultural change in their congregation. The task force has clear and measurable goals: to equip 50 percent of the active congregation with a shared antiracist power analysis within five years, and to engage all parts of the church in setting goals and measuring progress toward racial justice and inclusion.

At FUCSJ on May 7, our initial responses to the proposed 8th Principle run the gamut from enthusiasm to doubt, from worries about accountability to helpful hints about wordsmithing. Here are some of our responses.

As you continue to ponder the heart of this nationwide call for deeper systemic change, what do you want FUCSJ’s commitments to be?

In Our Own Voices: The 8th Principle


  • I believe this principle is a good idea. I agree that we need to explicitly name goals to achieve them. [repeated by several people]
  • The 8th Principle is needed to keep the challenging work of undoing racism in the forefront.
  • I like the concept of “journeying,” which implies that churches will be on a journey and at different places on a continuum, just like “accountably dismantle” implies measuring at points along the journey and that the institutional norms of white supremacy require being taken apart not just tweaked.
  • Like it and support it. It’s beautiful and recognizes what we have to undo to move change.
  • The 8th principle is active! “Dismantling” is a powerful word!  I like it very much.  We need to be active!
  • It is active (do something), not just passive.
  • Love the “spiritual wholeness” language! As a white person, I have struggled to articulate why the work of dismantling white supremacy is important to me. I am not spiritually whole as long as white supremacy continues. And none of us is.
  • It’s spiritual. It’s about becoming whole in ourselves and congregations.
  • The best mention of community (as experienced) in the 7 Principles
  • Community should be a principle.
  • It gives UUs a permanent commitment, like our other principles.
  • I would like to see the 8th Principle included! [repeated by many people]
  • Yes. You are welcomed here.
  • Yes!!! [x 4]
  • Strongly support this principle, whether or not formally added as #8.
  • This principle would be a powerful addition and seems critical to putting our principles where our mouths are. However, if it is all we do, it will not be enough.
  • The 8th Principle is good as long as it is not just words!
  • It tells us how to do this, and that is to be accountable and dismantle racism and oppression.
  • I like that the 8th principle is explicitly written to promote multiculturalism and dismantle racism. It is a needed addition to the 7 Principles.
  • This is an important principle, written in a very loving way. I hope San José and the wider church community find their way to affirming it.


  • The proposed 8th Principle isn’t a principle at all. It’s a course of action driven by our 7 existing principles. Adding it would add nothing to our principles.
  • The other principles are Ends Statements. This is not.
  • Proposed 8th Principle sounds like a goal; content should be a principle.
  • Humanists will not like “spiritual growth” in this area.


  • “Accountably” is important, too: we have to create measurable change.
  • I am for it, but what does “accountability” mean?
  • It’s about taking responsibility for our actions.
  • I like the idea of adding the 8th principle. I don’t object to any of the words used, and I think they make a powerful statement. My questions are: How will we be accountable and to whom? And when do we start?
  • “Accountably dismantle”—what does this mean to me?
  • “Other oppressions” seems too vague to me, which makes it hard to be accountable.
  • I like that “other oppressions” is included. It broadens it to ethnicity and culture (not just skin color).
  • It feels odd to put “accountably” into a principle. That belongs in an action plan to implement the principle.

 The 8th and the 1st Principles

  • The need for the 8th Principle highlights the failure of us to act on the 1st Principle, the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
  • Doesn’t “dignity” cover this?
  • At its base, the 8th Principle is contained in the 1st Principle, but it is good to make this facet explicit. It’s part of the RESPECT for every individual.


  • Very important to state commitment explicitly; does need wordsmithing
  • Edit down to this: “We, the member congregations of the UUA, covenant to affirm and promote dismantling racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
  • I like the proposed principle, but it could be more simply worded as “We, the member congregations of the UUA, covenant to affirm and promote: Building a diverse multicultural Beloved Community that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
  • Not “by working to …” but “by building …” Working sounds like
  • This 8th principle looks good to me, but I would move “by our actions” right after “to build.” I think it works better there; it seems to disrupt flow where it is.
  • Support 8th Principle but change to start with “To build a diverse …”
  • I think it is important to not only promise to stop the bad but to also promote the good … to eradicate racism and replace it with love and compassion.
  • Love the wording, however can we add something about celebrating diversity?
  • The principle is in the right direction, but the wordiness waters down its purpose, which is to identify and change what’s inside that holds us back.
  • Yes and too much description of HOW; more succinct would be better, placed after the 3rd or 4th Principles
  • “By our actions” is the how for all the principles.

 More Thoughts

  • Maybe it is part of the real mission (not just a principle).
  • Many in our congregation feel we are already expressing the value expressed by the 8th Principle.
  • I would also like us to add a 7th Source, liberation movements, such as civil rights, feminism, and gay liberation.

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Apr 24 2017

In Our Own Voices: Forgiveness

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.

The Worship Associates summed up requests for such themes as “Good Enough,” “Imperfection,” and “Mistakes” in May’s theme of “Forgiveness.” How do we forgive ourselves for our mistakes and imperfections? Can we accept ourselves as “good enough,” though far from perfect? What is a “good-enough life”? When and how can we forgive those who hurt us or who harm whole groups of people and creatures?

May these responses stir your own thoughts and actions.

With gratitude for how we grow together,

Rev. Nancy


  • Forgiving myself for the things I’ve done wrong (of which there are many!). Forgiving others who have hurt me. Asking forgiveness from the others whom I have hurt.
  • Forgiveness: easy to say, hard to do. Must forgiveness be earned?
  • Forgiving = For + Giving. What does forgiving give to us?
  • Shame. Seeking peace with myself. Is there anything that can’t be forgiven?
  • Non-religious confession is a powerful spiritual practice!
  • Forgiveness means I made a judgment: someone didn’t meet my standards. How do I live with people who may not share my standards? How do I change my standards?
  • A great resource: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
  • With this theme, I want to hear about Restorative Justice and about Truth and Reconciliation.
  • I have learned there are steps I can take in order to forgive those who have harmed me: self-differentiation (what am I responsible for, and what is theirs to own?); a truth-telling encounter (if that’s possible, and if approached with both broken-openhearted vulnerability and groundedness); “giving the issue or problem back to them” (sometimes I imagine myself handing them back a package—“this is yours; it’s no longer mine”); letting go; and mining what I can learn from the whole experience.

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Apr 24 2017

May Theme: Forgiveness

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Forgiveness, Discomfort,
and the Work of Undoing Our Culture of White Supremacy
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
On Sunday, May 7, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José take part in a nationwide movement called the UU White Supremacy Teach-In. Created by religious educators and faith leaders of color, with white Unitarian Universalist allies following their lead, the teach-in includes over 550 congregations—thousands of Unitarian Universalists—across this country and around the world. All of us will “interrupt our regularly scheduled programming” to take a look at patterns that run so deep inside us, both as individuals and as institutions, that they often remain invisible or unquestioned. That unconsciousness keeps us in their grip. “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free,” sings Nina Simone in her recording of Billy Taylor’s gospel/jazz tune.[1] The spiritual and actual truth is that none of us can know truly how to be free until we bring into conscious view the chains that bind us and begin with renewed energy and commitment to dismantle them.
I’m excited, I’m disturbed, and I’m a little terrified about this moment—really, thisMovement in our faith. I’m excited to follow the lead of admired colleagues of color who have created this event. Excited because at last we Unitarian Universalists are ready to dig deep into how we too, despite our faith’s fervent proclamations to the contrary, fall asleep to the ways that the culture of white supremacy infects our institutions.
I’m disturbed because these conversations are difficult, and some folks in our movement are already acting out in the face of discomfort. I believe that we here at FUCSJ are far enough along in our awakenings around racism and other oppressions that surely we can move into this discomfort together. But I’m a little terrified because when we boldly go where we’re not supposed to go, anything can happen. Can we hold ourselves in Love, dear ones, even as we hold ourselves to account?
Do we have to call it “white supremacy”?
Yes, we do. I know this is an uncomfortable term for many white folks and for some folks of color, too. In the United States, we associate this phrase with the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, and other white supremacist terrorist groups.
That’s not what we are talking about. White supremacy is the accurate name for the “set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color.” We use this term not to call ourselves or others names, not to shame or guilt one another, but rather to wake up to patterns that can only be challenged or changed when they become visible and conscious.
Here’s a personal example: On the Thursday before Easter this year, multiple faith leaders, community members, and I take part in a press conference and ritual footwashing outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Morgan Hill. The themes, “SJWeBelong,” and “Families First/Primero las Familias,” proclaim that all our residents are worthy, beloved, valuable contributors to the life of this valley. We want unjust deportations to stop.
Two moments that day stand out for me as particularly holy. The first takes place when we clergy kneel and wash the feet of immigrants from many countries. Like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper, the ritual portrays an intentional reversal of society’s expectations about power. As I wash my friend Samina Sundas’s feet, I look up into the face of this Pakistani-American Muslim woman to see tears rolling down her cheeks.
The second holy moment occurs when Minerva Rosas, a Latina dressed all in white, insists on washing my feet. I am grateful when the San Jose Mercury News article comes out the next day, and at first I don’t even notice that the lead photo shows Minerva, a Mexican immigrant, washing my feet, the feet of an older white woman. This cover photo misses the main point we were trying to make! In the simple act of my not noticing it, not questioning it, I see the deeply unconscious assumptions of white supremacy at work. I don’t have to do the “power analysis” all the time, so sometimes I forget. Do I feel guilty? No. A little embarrassed, but almost immediately I feel more alive, more hopeful. Every time I wake up, I know I am better equipped to help dismantle this culture that has its chains on all of us.
Being Woke, Feeling Discomfort, and Offering Forgiveness
Teach-in organizer Aisha Hauser says that “being woke” is not about being enlightened, not about having our act together around race and racism. None of us really has our act together in this area, my friends. Being woke—especially for white people like me—is about being curious, about asking and supporting peoples of color, rather than “whitesplaining,” assuming, or telling. It’s about being humble in our approach to antiracism work and about being accountable to communities of color.
With our broken-open hearts, Beloved Community, we are ready to move into this “theology of discomfort.” We are ready to forgive ourselves and each other, and to begin again in love.    
Please join us on Sunday, May 7, as we go boldly into the renewed creation of our faith!
Yours with love on this journey toward wholeness,
Rev. Nancy

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Apr 05 2017

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

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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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