Archive for the 'Minister’s Musings' Category

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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Mar 28 2016

April Theme: Coming Home

Published by under Minister's Musings

What We Long For

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

What word or words describe what you most long for in your life this year? Another way to put it: What words describe your goals for yourself these days?

          And what words describe what you most long for in our congregational community? What goals would you set for this community in the days, weeks, months, and years to come?

          Since January, I have collected answers to these questions from members of our spiritual home. The range of answers demonstrates our rich diversity. The repetition of some words reveals some common threads. I have asked our newsletter editors to create “word clouds” out of these words—one for our personal longings, another for our longings for First Unitarian. In a word cloud, repeated words and ideas show up in a larger font.

          Yet every one of these words represents a “font” of longing and of wisdom. Where do you find your hopes and dreams for yourself, and for our beloved community, in these “clouds”?

How shall we ground these hopes and dreams—how shall we grow them—in this, our spiritual home?

It’s going to be a beautiful month at FUCSJ. I’ll see you in church!

For Ourselves:


For Our Community:



With you on the journey, with love,

Rev. Nancy

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Feb 26 2016

March Theme: Refilling the Well

Published by under Minister's Musings

We Are Enough: How Healing Begins

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Please: Stop for a moment.



For these few minutes, watching the words scroll across your screen or holding this journal in your hand, you do not need to “do” anything more than open yourself to this instant. Let the words roll or tumble or stroll into your mind and heart. If something interests or inspires you, that’s lovely. If not, that’s OK, too.

These moments of rest are yours. A time to remember that we—all of us—already are enough. Sure, we all want to continue to grow—at least, I hope we do! Yet who we are right now, just as we are—that’s good. That’s enough.

No need to beat ourselves up for mistakes we have made or for what we have yet to do.

No reason at all to believe the great lie that you may have heard someplace—that you are not as beautiful, loving, and lovable as you truly are.

Right here and now, see yourself as a sponge, soaking up these words, these true words:

You, I, we are enough.

We are enough.



Let a smile play across your lips.

Or not.

We are enough.

We humans—especially we humans living in this valley—harm ourselves when we absorb the messages of our larger society, messages that say we are not enough. Sometimes we ourselves double-down on the harm of not-enoughness—by working ourselves into the ground, or by pumping up our ego in compensation, or by hurting our relationships through lack of care, understanding, and simple presence. Sometimes it’s our situation that double-downs on the harm, such as when a lack of resources or unjust and oppressive systems make it impossible for us to rest if we hope to keep ourselves and our loved ones housed and fed.

We need to understand these harms and their sources in order to reconnect with our deepest, most abiding sources of replenishment.

Our congregants’ range of responses to this month’s theme of “Refilling the Well” offer suggestions for healing. You can see many of these responses in “In Our Own Voices” in this issue. I confess: I’m the one who writes, “I know all too well those moments when my spiritual and emotional well runs dry. Would it be possible to keep my water jugs fairly full all the time, or am I destined to lurch from oasis to oasis, gulping thirstily at the things that replenish me?” Would my stores of spiritual water run low if I really had the assurance—which Unitarian Universalism offers—that I am already enough?

Some congregants’ responses refer to literal water. In our drought-stricken state (multiple meanings intended), the longing for cool, refreshing, clean water in abundant quantities lies just below the surface of our conscious thoughts and feelings—except when it bubbles over into active anxiety.

We are afraid that there isn’t enough.

“It’s interesting to think of the literal meaning of ‘refilling the well,’” one congregant writes. “A well is not like a glass or a reservoir that needs to be refilled. A well is presumably refilled by the Earth if humans haven’t drawn too much from the aquifer. Following that view of the phrase, you could talk about stopping whatever harmful things we’re doing and then allowing the well to refill (or heal) naturally. Would it help if we used that as a metaphor for other aspects of our life?”

This month at First Unitarian we offer abundant spiritual offerings for refilling the well, from the range of worship services and small groups, to the all-church party on March 13, to Easter’s Flower Communion featuring the folk duo emma’s revolution! This month, may our natural healing begin, as we take in this assurance of our faith:

We are enough.

We are enough.

We are enough!

With love and faith,

Rev. Nancy

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Jan 29 2016

Rev. Nancy’s Coauthor, Karin Lin, Returns to FUCSJ, February 18-24!

Published by under Minister's Musings

Karin Lin, lay leader from First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, returns to First Unitarian this month “in her own voice”! Yes, that’s an inside joke: Karin had lost her voice when she visited First Unitarian this past November, but with technological savvy, she discovered a way to conduct interviews anyway. Thanks to all who participated in group and individual conversations with Karin and Rev. Nancy then.

During this visit, Karin and Rev. Nancy will conduct more individual interviews for their book, The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism (working title). If you receive an email request for an interview, please do say yes. You can visit the book’s website for more information:

And we hope everyone will offer Karin a warm “Welcome Home!” as she joins us in worship on February 21.

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Dec 28 2015

January Theme: Justice

Published by under Minister's Musings

From Joy to Justice and Back Again

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Here at First Unitarian, we move from December’s worship theme of Joy into January’s theme of Justice on purpose. It’s no accident that these themes sit side by side in this church year. Does this surprise you?

Many of us think of justice making as hard work—and indeed it is. Systemic roadblocks and our human failings often make the road to justice a long, winding, muddy, and difficult journey.

But we Unitarian Universalists have a mind and heart for justice. A vision of a better world, the conviction that we can help to create it, and a passion for taking action in solidarity with our kin near and far—all these act like a compass for the journey. And in my experience, once we set out along the road, we discover just how much joy comes with the journey itself. No wonder coauthor Karin Lin and I have chosen as our book’s working title The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism! For us, justice and joy walk hand in hand, just as injustice travels with pain, delay, and frustration. When we live leaning toward justice, we encounter all of these companions.

Some of my learnings on this journey keep me moving forward. Let me offer these conversation starters for our month of renewed exploration of this theme:

  1. Justice is partial—by which I mean two things:

First, justice usually arrives in bite-sized pieces. We never get every change that we want; no justice is “final.” This means that it’s crucial to celebrate every move in the right direction. Marriage equality was a big win in 2015! We know we have much more work to do—for transgender rights and understanding, to name just one area where lives are at stake. Relishing the joy of each win gives us energy for the work to come. We will spend some time this month lifting up our progress toward justice in the past year.

Second, justice is partial in the sense that it is “biased”; it leans in a particular direction. The scales of Lady Justice tip toward all that’s loving, compassionate, and inclusive. Justice leans in the direction of those who are oppressed and marginalized by society’s broken assumptions that some categories of people are “better” than others based on race, gender, gender identity, abilities, sexual orientation, class, education, ethnicity, religion, and so on.

Yes, no doubt some of you are already objecting to my description of Lady Justice here. Isn’t she supposed to be impartial, with the scales neatly balanced? I claim poetic license, along with the wisdom of such traditions as liberation theology, where Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor” marked a new era in justice making. We need a compass for the journey of justice making—and this is as strong a compass as I know.

Perhaps Dr. Cornel West better sums up what I mean when he says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As always, the love referred to here is muscular and active, not sentimental and passive—a Love that connects us to something larger, extending beyond our individual limits, yet it gets expressed in sturdy, practical ways through our individual and collective words and deeds. Love made visible in all that we say and do.

  1. Justice making relies on authentic, accountable relationships across all kinds of diversities. And that’s the real joy of the work—the fun, and interest, and curiosity, and warmth, and compassion, and humanity of it.

In congregants’ responses to our Vision 2020 conversations, First Unitarian’s leaders hear your hunger for a better world that we help create. Racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice; issues of homelessness and mental health—these aspects of our lives cry out for our attention and our care. Just as we discovered in December, when we turn toward what we love with a deep, abiding love, we discover the joy that both guides us and fuels us for the journey we have ahead. Come, join in the journey! Let us be joyful, committed companions for each other on the road to justice!

With renewed love and commitment,

Rev. Nancy

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Nov 30 2015

December Theme: Joy

Published by under Minister's Musings

Looking for Joy in All the Right Places

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

When I meet with the Worship Associates to begin planning our December worship services, I groan as we turn toward the month’s theme of Joy. How can joy make me protest? Well, it’s the media’s relentless insistence on good cheer—as though happiness can be produced on demand. It’s the nonstop soundtrack of perky holiday songs—enjoyable for the first few weeks, not so much after that. It’s the shopping frenzy that skyrockets earlier and earlier each year, even as it draws me up in its wake. Kudos to all of you who find December joyful from the get-go, but I confess: the symptoms of the season can turn your Senior Minister into a bit of a “Bah, humbug!” kind of person.

The theme brings up other questions, too. What is joy, anyway? Does the quality of joy change over time for each of us? Maybe I’m holding joy to the wrong standard, expecting elation when quiet contentment now signals my own deeper experience of joy.

In response to all this puzzling, Worship Associate Brian Singer and I give ourselves some homework: Every day, we will make a list of everything that brings us joy, large or small, between November 11 and December 13, when he and I lead worship together.

I am failing at this homework. Oh, there have been plenty of sweet moments since Brian and I concocted this plan, but somehow I still resist listing these things as “joy.”

What’s up with that?

I bet it has something to do with my most common theme: that we are called to live with broken-openheartedness. As I write, we are flooded with news of violent attacks and with violent responses to those attacks. We wait anxiously to hear whether the United Nations Climate Summit in wounded Paris will produce effective responses to climate disruption. Heck, when we look at the woes of the world—both far away and nearby—they are enough to make anyone glum.

And yet—my better self reminds me that it’s not enough to stay stuck there. Why are the December holidays associated with joy, after all? At the heart of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa lie some common themes. Each of them offers the promise of new life: whether it comes in the form of an amazing liberation struggle and the miracle of light, or in the birth of a humble child who teachings of love will change the world, or in the celebration of a rich heritage and the renewal of commitment to community. Each one calls us to connect to something larger than ourselves. These holidays promise that we will find joy in these connections.

So today, I finally start my homework—my list of small daily joys. As coauthor Karin and I start our trip to Phoenix, I notice the joy sparked by conversations with strangers we meet along the way: with the taxi driver who is proud of his profession; with the baristas at the airport Starbucks where our smiles and warm wishes really do make for a better day; with the cashier at the newsstand, where I buy handfuls of beautiful greeting cards—a silly card for my brother who turns 70 today; several copies of a card that says, “In my imaginary universe you live right next door”; a Thanksgiving card that quotes our Unitarian ancestor Ralph Waldo Emerson; and thank-you cards for the folks who will put me up in Phoenix. I imagine the pleasure these cards will bring to their recipients. The cashier and I joke about how much the cards will cost, and laugh when both of us guess too low. Sure, I see the irony in my getting some joy out of shopping, but on a deeper level, I also see that I managed to connect to something larger than my own grumpy self.

December 2015 - Joy

And suddenly joy doesn’t seem so hard to find! Listening to my own inner guides (rather than the corporate ads and soundtracks) and turning my thoughts toward those around me, a hundred ways to find joy occur to me.

So, friends, let us engage in this spiritual practice of finding—and creating joy—this season. Let us connect with something larger than ourselves. Let us model compassionate, loving responses to the world’s woes and to our own broken hearts. This is the “new life” that will make the holidays meaningful for us Unitarian Universalists. This is the miracle that we can create together. Come, my boon companions, let us go looking for joy in all the right places!

With renewed hope and joy,

Rev. Nancy

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Oct 28 2015

November Theme: Trust

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Makes a Leap of Faith Possible?

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 How many times in your life have you taken a leap of faith, intentionally forging ahead into uncertain territory? Maybe you have switched careers, or you have switched schools. Maybe you have fallen in love, made a commitment, or ended a relationship. Maybe you manage to get up each day, willing to try again to make sense of the muddle of life—that, too, is a leap of faith.

Each one of these experiences, in its own way, involves stepping off the cliff of the known into the unknown. Will we plummet, or will we grow our wings? What makes it possible to take that leap?

On October 18 this year, when we at First Unitarian celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Surviving the Fire, I am struck by how firefighters take a leap of faith each time they fight a fire. They have to forge ahead into the unknown, especially with a fire of the magnitude that we endured. How do they do it? Training, of course—they have practiced and practiced moving into smoke-shrouded buildings, finding the source of the fire, and putting it out.

But it takes more than training, too. As I interview the firefighters in preparation for our celebration, I hear over and over about their sense of mission and purpose: that burning desire, if you will—an inner fire more intense than any they will fight—to help people in times of crisis. The most dedicated firefighters take a leap of faith the moment they join the department, fueled by a deep sense of call.

I am also struck by the leap of faith that First Unitarian’s congregants and friends take in the face of the fire’s destruction in 1995. Putting one foot in front of the other, offering one hour after another of volunteer time and one dollar after another of donations, they forge ahead into an uncertain future. What makes that leap of faith possible? Well, it’s love for this place that has nurtured their spirits, and love for the companions they have found here for life’s journey.

And something more: They are driven by a sense of call—to save not just the building but the church itself, the community of FUCSJ. They don’t want to break the chain; they want to pass along this gift of community that they have received and to make it available for generations to come.

I imagine that the founders of this congregation must have taken a leap of faith when they first gather in City Hall in 1865. Those religious seekers and free thinkers—those Unitarians—are no doubt traumatized by the recent unrest of the Civil War, by the assassination of the president just that spring, and by the radically changing political and social climate in California. Yet they have a longing and a hope—a faith—that they can create a better world. Do they imagine that we will still be here, 150 years later? Throughout this year, we will hear stories of these ancestors, beginning in worship on Sunday, November 8. What makes their leap of faith possible? It must have been a trust in their intuition and in their call to create community.

We here at First Unitarian in 2015 are in the midst of our own leap of faith. Facing the traumas, changes, and uncertainties of these times and of our personal lives, still we forge ahead. What makes it possible? Something about our sense of call. Something about a deeper trust. Something about being in community together. Come find out what fuels your leap of faith, this month at FUCSJ.

With love and courage,

Rev. Nancy

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Oct 02 2015

October Theme: Forgiveness

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Forgiveness as a Path, Not a Moment

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

At the annual for Recovery Café San José breakfast this September, 200 people sit in rapt silence as Roger, a Recovery Café member, tells his story:

“When I came to Recovery Café about 18 months ago, I didn’t have to get over drugs or alcohol. I needed to get over me.” He claps a hand to his chest. He “was a bad man,” he tells us. “No, I mean it!” he adds, before any of us can object. A series of crimes sent him to jail, and after his third strike—“a whopper,” he admits, not proudly—he expects to live out the rest of his days behind bars. For most of his fourteen years in prison, he keeps up the same hateful, destructive behavior—until one day, he simply cannot stand himself any longer. He goes cold turkey on the old ways and starts to turn himself around.

To Roger’s surprise, a judge decides in a little while to downgrade Roger’s last crime and to set Roger free. Roger walks out with a clean shirt and shorts, a new pair of shoes, and almost nothing else. Once on the streets, he doesn’t know how he will feed himself or find work. All he knows are the old ways. Hungry, he “tries to get money”—he doesn’t tell us how—but his “victims,” instead of turning him in, offer him another chance. They take him to Recovery Café, and there he begins to build the new life he has longed for—the life of “a good man.” He eventually gets a job “pushing a broom,” and for months he shows up and works hard, in sickness and in health. “And now,” he concludes, “guess what: I’m a foreman, and I get to hire people.”

We listeners erupt in applause and cheers.

Roger’s sincerity, strength, and courage are palpable. But he gives the real credit for his new way of being to that judge, to the couple who bring him to Recovery Café, and to the café’s members and staff who believe in him and support him on his journey. “They have made me who I am today, and I love these people. Instead of turning all of you,” his hands sweep toward the wide room, “into my victims—because you all were, really—now I’m someone who contributes to society and cares for other people.”

Roger never outright uses the word forgiveness. I don’t know if he has forgiven himself or if others have forgiven him explicitly. Instead, his story makes me think of forgiveness as more of a path—more of a way of living—than an actual exchange at a given moment in time. I believe that when Roger, still behind bars, vows to turn away from his destructive behavior and move toward his vision of a better way of life, he starts the journey of self-forgiveness within himself. When he encounters the generous strangers who take him to Recovery Café and when he intentionally joins with other café members in its programs, he enters on the path of forgiveness among a community seeking the same kind of healing. And when he turns his new job into a chance to give back to others, he extends that road of forgiveness beyond his own narrow circle to reach people he might never otherwise meet.

Within, among, beyond—these three “locations” describe our work as a faith community, too. Within each of ourselves, we wrestle with our individual needs, longings, gifts, and hopes, and we strive for change. Among groups and teams of members and friends, we practice building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community here in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond our open doors, we move out into the wider communities to which we are intimately connected to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say. At every stage, in every location, we have a chance to engage our broken-open hearts on the path of forgiveness.

But to do this effectively and with intention, we need a new vision to guide our work. This month, First Unitarian’s Board of Directors launches a congregational process for creating Vision 2020—a vision that will name where we need and want to put our loving energies and attention over the next five years in order to deepen and strengthen our congregational life in those three main areas: “within, among, and beyond.” Come to worship on October 11 to find out how you can contribute to Vision 2020!

And please don’t miss our special celebration (and the biggest party of the year) on October 18, the 20th Anniversary of Surviving the Fire and the Launch of our 150th Anniversary Year.

We too have stories of forgiveness and transformation to share. Please join us!


Rev. Nancy

About Recovery Café San José:

Located inside First Christian Church on 5th Street behind City Hall, Recovery Café welcomes a wide range of people into programs that help folks find housing and jobs, build skills and self-esteem, develop community, and strengthen their recovery. “We are all recovering from something,” café members and staff say. Recovery Café is founded on the belief that every human being is precious, worthy of love, and deserving of the opportunities to fulfill his or her potential. In this loving community people who cannot afford long-term recovery services come to belong, heal, and know themselves as loved.”

Several First Unitarian members volunteer with Recovery Café, offering programs, singing in the choir, and finding great meaning in the friendships they make there. To volunteer, contact Marianne at or 408-294-2963.

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Aug 28 2015

September Theme: Compassion

Published by under Minister's Musings

September Theme: Compassion

 Becoming the Loving People We Long to Be

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Have you noticed? Every Sunday we welcome you into worship with these words:

“Just through your presence here this morning, you become a part of this community of love, hope, courage, and change…. We hope that being part of this community helps you to become the loving person that you long to be.”

Those italicized words are new. I added them this spring, after a congregant pointed out that we aren’t really a group of self-satisfied, self-actualized folks who already have it all together in the “love, hope, and courage” departments. Rather, we are a community of people who need and want to change, who long to be more loving, to feel more connected and compassionate instead of, say, judgmental, impatient, anxious, distracted, numb, or … Well, we can each fill in the blank with the mental and emotional habits that sometimes keep us from being our best selves.

We Unitarian Universalists have a long history of faith in the human capacity to make ourselves and the world a better place. At root, our religion calls us to draw on our own intentions and efforts in order to become the best people we can be. And by “best,” we mean as whole, authentic, and loving as humanly possible. We know now that we can’t get to our “best” alone. The old radical individualism that some Unitarians espoused can turn selfish and destructive; it certainly doesn’t serve the larger community; and it just doesn’t work to create health and happiness, let alone justice and peace.

Instead, we gather in community where we help each other learn and grow, where we build strength in our love by stretching ourselves to see our own and others’ lovability alongside our vulnerabilities, and where we practice living with compassionate curiosity about others’ experiences and perspectives every single day. Then we take that learning, that personal and communal change, out into the wider world to make a difference in visible, practical ways.

Within, among, beyond—these are the three “locations” of the work we do as a faith community. Within each of ourselves—our individual needs, longings, gifts, hopes, education, and change. Among groups and teams of people in our own community—through the practice of building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community at home in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond the open doors of our congregation, out in the wider communities to which we are intimately connected and where our faith takes visible shape in shared action.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my own process of striving to become the loving person I long to be. In order to make the changes I can and want to make, I need to love my good old flawed self just as it is, complete with the triggers that spring from old traumas, my own particular menu of anxieties, and their troublemaking offspring—fear, impatience, control, perfectionism—not to mention all the standard-issue human shortcomings of limited time, energies, and capacities in some areas but not in others. That’s my “within” work …

Many of us could spend a lifetime just learning to love ourselves, couldn’t we?

But self-esteem, self-acceptance, even compassion and love for ourselves won’t on their own solve the existential problems of human loneliness and suffering. So I need—oh, how I need!—this community of the First Unitarian Church of San José, along with other communities to which I belong, where I can practice getting to know and understand people deeply, where I can practice working together across differences, where I can learn how to share my ministries and how to build my trust. That’s the “among” work …

And all of that makes possible an ever-widening circle of Love, connection, partnership, and change beyond our own community, whether that work takes place in City Hall or Sacramento, in a homeless shelter or at an oil refinery, in the smile I share with a stranger on the street or in the hand I hold as we allies wait to get arrested. That “beyond” work is every bit as central to my becoming the loving person I long to be as the “within” and the “among.”

Let’s face it: all of this is the work of a lifetime—and what a great way to spend this one wild and precious life! I am so grateful that we launch this big year at First Unitarian—the beginning of our 150th year of Making Love Visible—with a month focused on Compassion.

I can’t wait to see you in church!


Rev. Nancy

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