Archive for the 'As We Build the Beloved Community-Newsletter Columns' Category

Oct 21 2008

Welcome Home! (from September 3, 2008)

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

Welcome Home! 

Welcome home, dear friends! Whether you have been “away” in body or in spirit this summer, or whether you have been in worship every Sunday and on the job every week, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José welcome you to a new beginning! We’ll launch our new church year with Homecoming Sunday on September 7, with worship at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. As we celebrate the imagination and the joy of community, we will “gather the waters” of our inner and outer journeys in our annual homecoming ritual and regather our hearts, minds, and spirits for the life we will share in the coming months. Do join us—and bring a friend!           

 My own mind, heart, and spirit are filled with hopes and plans for the year ahead. In our next newsletter, Rev. Geoff and I will share our goals for the year with you. But I can sum up our hopes and plans with the slogan Unitarian Universalists nationwide use to describe our communities: We will “nurture our spirits, and help to heal the world.”What does this mean? It means that here folks of all ages and backgrounds have a chance to learn and to grow, to make and to deepen friendships, to discover what we hold in common even as we marvel at our differences. Here we turn inward to comfort and hold each other, to learn to love ourselves and each other, and we turn outward to express our love for the world and all its creatures by taking a stand for justice and deep respect.           

Our “daily life” is the text that we study: Our children and youth are returning to school; we may be wrestling with big life decisions; friends and family may need our care. We worry about money, or we are giddy with love. We are grieving, or we are recovering from surgery or illness, or we are focused on “being the change we want to see.” Or maybe we are experiencing all of the above at once! Here we have the time and space to reflect on these life experiences; here we realize that we are never alone.           

And the wider world is the page on which we write our faith: This November’s election and its ballot issues will have a profound impact on all our lives, whether we are eligible to vote or not. Here we support each other as we find ways—individually and collectively—to stand up for what we hold most dear, honoring our differences and reveling in our common causes. We will bring some of these opportunities right into our sanctuary: Join us on Homecoming Sunday at 2 p.m. for an interfaith training session on how to defeat Proposition 8, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would eliminate equal-marriage rights for same-sex couples. Defeating this proposition will mark a victory for love and fairness, and that kind of victory enriches all our lives. Let’s make sure it happens!           

“Nurturing our spirits, helping to heal the world”—or, as we say in this congregation: Sí, se puede—yes, we can!           

Welcome home, dear friends, welcome home! 


88 responses so far

Jun 10 2008

Announcing: The FUCSJ Summer Challenge!

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

Announcing: The FUCSJ Summer Challenge! 

It’s here! The latest in “reality shows”! A dynamic, action-packed drama, filled with laughter, tears, sweat, and surprising turns. Broadcast in the prime time of summer downtime, across the airwaves of summer breezes, available around the world on your summer travels and right in your own living room. Prizes galore: New Friends! A Meaningful Life! A Better World! Starring: YOU! Enter now: it’s the “FUCSJ Summer Challenge!”

The Backstory: Conversations in recent weeks about First Unitarian’s budget for the coming year have prompted a rush of energy and inspiration. Lively contestants have offered input and leapt into action. The “producers” (your congregational leaders and ministers) are awash in gratitude for the care and commitment you bring to our Spiritual Cooperative! Now comes the REAL challenge!


A few months ago—before the “FUCSJ Summer Challenge!” was even a gleam in your minister’s eye—some of our producers (your Board of Directors), um, produced a draft of our “Ends Statements.” These Ends are statements about why we are here at the First Unitarian Church of San José, and what we are willing to give in order to fulfill our purpose. The “global” statement—both overarching and wide-reaching—goes like this:            

“Through our worship, education, service, fellowship, work for social justice, and stewardship, we build a loving compassionate multigenerational community that embodies our Unitarian Universalist values and that is multilingual, multicultural, multiracial, and anti-oppressive. We are willing to extend ourselves by giving our time, talent, and treasure to meet these expansive ends.”


The Challenge: How will YOU, the star of the show, bring this Ends Statement to life? This summer, we invite you to think about how you will accomplish these ends in the coming year!


The Possibilities:

·        How many people—people you haven’t been close to already—can you reach out to this summer, this year, to express your love for their unique selves, to offer compassion (which means to share their feelings), to comfort them (which means to share your strength), and to remind each other of how good it is to be alive?
·        How will you, this summer, this year, make a new friend who is not close to you in age? What will you learn from this new friend who is much younger or much older than you? How will you share with others what you learn?
·        How will you, this summer, this year, spend time with people who come from a different culture, race, or country than your own, with people whose first language is different than yours? Whom can you invite to dinner? What new friends can you make across these seeming boundaries?
·        What actions will you take, this summer, this year, for justice? Will you call our governor NOW to tell him you support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples? Will you show up for at least TWO social-justice events in the next six months?
·        How will you, this summer, this year, serve those most in need in our community? Will you help hand out food to the homeless with Food Not Bombs? Will you serve a meal at the Julian Street Inn?
·        How will you, this summer, this year, have fun and care for yourself? Will the activities listed above add joy to your life? Will you show up for the all-church campout or the fall retreat? Will you bring your precious self to Sunday services and small-group gatherings?

Be a Star! Join the Challenge! Take the Risk! Earn the Rewards!

And stay tuned to this channel, for news of the Ratings and the Results.  Happy Summer, My Friends! 


259 responses so far

May 03 2008

Just an Ordinary Extraordinary Afternoon

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

Just an Ordinary Extraordinary Afternoon 

In mid April, my clergy group, the Sparks for Growth, spent our spring retreat on the Monterey Peninsula. We “Sparklers,” as we affectionately call each other, fill each of our two-day retreats with worship, check-in, and a varying program that allows us to dive deeply into some aspect of our congregational and ministerial lives. We learn from each other and from other teachers, and then we bring these learnings back to you. Knowing that at this April retreat many of us might feel just a wee bit weary, our “program” this time was a spacious afternoon to use as we wanted—to walk on the beach or into town, to nap, to read, but most of all, to contemplate two big questions: What is the purpose of my life? And how do I express this purpose through my ministry?          

Well! I had planned an invigorating walk along the coast, journal in hand, to be capped by an afternoon coffee in Pacific Grove. But lo and behold, I was too tired to battle the strong winds that day, so I drove partway to town. “No pushing,” I promised myself. In a sandy turnout, I parked the car and lay down on a bench where I could feel the sun warming my face. With my eyes closed, I could hear, to my right, the waves breaking offshore. To my left, I could hear the wind rustling through bushes, trees, and ice plant, and sometimes I could hear the thwack of a golf ball from the 18th tee of the Pacific Grove Golf Course, which reminded me sweetly of my spouse. I lay there just listening and drifting, for half an hour.          

Later, I had walked only a few blocks toward town when I heard that inner voice say again, “No pushing!” So I turned back toward the car, and instantly my still-weary body was so grateful that I began to talk to the animals—to squirrels darting in and out of holes in the cliff, to birds drifting by. This talking-out-loud to animals is a longtime habit of mine and always a sure sign that spontaneity and joy are returning.

Still, the wind was fierce, a force to reckon with. On impulse I spread my arms out like wings, which somehow felt more natural than plodding along with my arms by my side. The ocean beckoned, so I climbed up on a rocky outcropping and spread my arms again. The wind blew me backward, made me hop on the rock. And suddenly, I knew with my whole being what it must feel like to be a bird! I could sense how, if I had feathers and a slightly different shape, the wind would lift me off the ground. I understood the kind of buffeting that birds must feel, the strength of the wind coursing along their bodies. It was a moment of transcendence.          

Just then, as if to say “yes” to my imaginary flight, a flock of pelicans rose from below the cliff, flying close by, at my level, as though to welcome me into their formation. I laughed and thanked them—and then clambered down to my car.           

So, what learnings do I bring back to you from this retreat? First, if we will listen to our bodies’ needs, often we will find our joy again, with “no pushing.” And if we will open ourselves to this world, we may sense our place in the interconnected web in ways we might never have imagined. What did I discover about my purpose in life? Ah, that’s a subject for another column—but it’s a great question, isn’t it? May you feel the wind beneath your wings as you consider it!


4,558 responses so far

Feb 28 2008

Back-to-Back Beautiful Days at FUCSJ!

Back-to-Back Beautiful Days at FUCSJ! 

My heart overflows with gratitude. Truly we embodied the Beloved Community on Sunday, February 24, and Monday, February 25. How this community has been shining!

Let me try to capture the essence of what you created:
On Sunday morning, February 24, at both the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. services, you demonstrated the depth and breadth of your hospitality as we hosted special guests from all around the country. At our 9:30 service, 50 Unitarian Universalist guests from the Now Is the Time conference (Leading Our Congregations into a Multiracial, Multicultural Future) shared in our Spanish service, with English translation provided (truly spontaneously!) by Laura Diaz Shadeed. The choir sang two gorgeous pieces, which they offered at 11 a.m. too. Ervin Barrios told the story of the Exodus in a vastly entertaining way (the “Hollywood version,” as he quipped); Rodrigo Garcia read a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as though he were a Spanish-speaking King himself; and Roberto Padilla preached such a magnificent sermon that folks from the Unitarian Universalist Association offices in Boston and in Washington, D.C., have asked for copies of it in both English and Spanish. You can read Roberto’s sermon by going to our homepage at, then scroll down to “blog” beside Roberto’s picture. Once you get to the blog, you will find the English version of the sermon below the Spanish.          

I was honored to open and close the service, as well as to offer Saturday morning’s worship to the conference itself that weekend (you can read that homily by going to my blog from our homepage, too). Our amazing members who regularly attend the 9:30 service surprised us all with a delicious brunch during the Social Hour following the 9:30 service. This thoughtful Latin-style generosity was moving to everyone: Wow!

Our UU guests came away moved to tears by the service and your hospitality, inspired and enlivened in their vision of Unitarian Universalism. One Puertoriqueña minister-in-the-making said that attending this service fulfilled a lifelong dream of hers to be able to worship in her own faith in her native language. The questions and comments that Roberto and I received when we returned to the conference afterward were overflowing with admiration and affirmation. We feel so fortunate that the UUA chose to locate the conference in San José this year, so that attendees could experience our Spanish-Speaking Ministries. We here at FUCSJ have been promised more support of every kind, as a result.          

At 11:00 a.m. on that Sunday, you offered a warm welcome to friend and colleague Rev. Steve Crump, who shared stories of serving the folks most affected by the Gulf Coast disasters and created more visions of Radical Hospitality. Thank you for giving our guest preacher a sense of homecoming.          

Then, on Monday evening, February 25, our PACT (People Acting in Community Together) Local Organizing Committee simply took our breath away with what was, as moderator-extraordinaire Patti Massey said, a “Green Vision Love Fest.” The sanctuary was packed with folks from our own congregation—thank you, thank you!—along with guests galore. Mayor Chuck Reed and Councilmember Forrest Williams truly seemed to enjoy themselves, and we know (from the difference between earlier versions of the mayor’s responses vs. the more positive ones that we received from him at the event) that we have already made a difference in the mayor’s plans for Greening San José. The Peace Chorale sang gloriously from our front steps before the event—let’s do THAT more often—and Ad Hoc, with Lisa Hettler-Smith singing the lead, brought “We Are” to life. The PACT credential from Bob Miess, the research report from Doug Reid, the time-keeping by Melanie Lanstrom, the testimonials from Carol Stephenson, Ben and Benji Cadena, Sra. Marquez, and the amazing Third Street Community Center youth, the questions posed by Lisa Hettler-Smith, Diana Wirt, Mary Idso, and Michael Pelizzari, along with some rousing congregational singing (“Let’s be seen, All Ways Green, San José!”—thank you, Genie Bernardini!), energized us as we worked not only for environmental sustainability but for environmental justice as well. Marla Scharf closed out the evening with a beautiful prayer. Diana Wirt and Carol Stephenson were interviewed by the press (did you see us featured prominently in that Sunday’s Mercury News?); Mary Martin wrote the brilliant skit performed the day before; Bill Ardrey, Lloyd Eater, Nancy Hada, Jeff Norment, Robin Goka, and others also served on the PACT LOC; whole Small Group Ministry groups came to the event instead of holding their Monday night meeting; and truly a cast of “thousands” made it all happen. Our endless thanks go to our amazing PACT facilitator, Karen Belote, who taught us how to pull it off so beautifully; we couldn’t have done it without you, Karen!          

To all of you who generously contributed your time and vast creative talents to make these events the beautiful expression of our Unitarian Universalist faith that they were, thank you!

To all of you who were able to be present for one or more of these special moments in our life together, thank you!           

To all of you who could not make it but who sent a special thought our way, and to all who contribute to this community simply by being its members and friends, thank you!

In a sermon at the beginning of this church year, I reminded us of what “Beloved Community” really means (you can read that sermon on our website, too). In two back-to-back glorious days, you embodied this rare and beautiful thing for our wider community. Bravo, First Unitarian—bravo! 

With warmth and gratitude, 


Mientras Construimos nuestra Amada Comunidad  

¡Evento tras Evento, Hermosos Días en FUCSJ! 

Mi corazón desborda de gratitud. Verdaderamente personificamos una querida comunidad el domingo 24 y el lunes 25 de febrero. ¡Cómo esta comunidad ha estado brillando!  Déjeme intentar capturar la esencia de lo que ustedes crearon:  

El la mañana del domingo 24 de febrero, en ambos servicios a las 9:30 y 11:00 de la mañana, ustedes demostraron la amplitud y profundidad de su hospitalidad mientras que recibimos a nuestros huéspedes especiales de alrededor del país. En nuestro servicio de 9:30, 50 Unitarios Universalistas de la conferencia Ahora es el Tiempo (que conduce a nuestras congregaciones a un futuro Multirracial, Multicultural) compartieron nuestro servicio en español, con traducción al inglés proporcionada (verdaderamente en forma espontánea!) por Laura Díaz Shadeed. El coro cantó dos piezas magníficas, las cuales cantaron  también a las 11 de la mañana. Ervin Barrios contó la historia del éxodo de una manera sumamente entretenida (la “versión de Hollywood,” como él bromeo); Rodrigo García leyó una fracción de “Yo Tengo un Sueño del Dr. Martin Luther King”, un discurso como si él fuera King mismo hablando en español y Roberto Padilla predicó un sermón tan magnífico que la gente de las oficinas de la Asociación Unitaria Universalista en Boston y en Washington, D.C., le han pedido copias del mismo en inglés y en español. Ustedes pueden leer el sermón de Roberto yendo a nuestra pagina de Internet  en, entonces vaya al “blog” al lado del retrato de Roberto. Una vez que usted ingrese al blog, usted encontrará la versión inglesa del sermón debajo de la versión en español. 

Yo fui honrada  en abrir y cerrar el servicio, así como de ofrecer el servicio religioso el sábado por la mañana en la  conferencia de ese mismo fin de semana (ustedes pueden leer esa homilía yendo a mi blog en nuestra página de Internet también). Nuestros maravillosos miembros que acuden regularmente al servicio de 9:30 nos sorprendieron a todos con un delicioso almuerzo durante la hora social que siguió al servicio de las 9:30. Esta generosidad al estilo Latino nos conmovió a todos: ¡Wow! 

Nuestros huéspedes UU que vinieron de tan lejos se conmovieron hasta las lágrimas por el servicio y la hospitalidad, inspirado y animado en su visión Unitaria Universalista. Una ministra Puertorriqueña dijo que acudir a este servicio satisfizo un sueño que siempre había tenido, el de poder asistir a un servicio de su propia fe en su lengua materna. Las preguntas y los comentarios que Roberto y yo recibimos cuando volvimos a la conferencia desbordaban de admiración y afirmación. Nos sentimos tan afortunados de que la UUA haya elegido realizar la conferencia en San José este año, de modo que los asistentes pudieran tener la experiencia de nuestros ministerios de habla hispana. En consecuencia,  han prometido más ayuda de toda clase a la  FUCSJ. 

A las11:00 mañana de ese domingo, ustedes ofrecieron una calurosa recepción al amigo y colega el Rev. Steve Crump, quien compartió historias de servicio de la gente más afectada por los desastres de la costa del Golfo y creó más visiones de la hospitalidad radical. Gracias por darle a nuestro predicador huésped la sensación de estar en casa. 

Entonces, el la tarde del lunes 25 de febrero, nuestro comité de organización local de PACT (Gente que Actúa Junta en Comunidad) simplemente nos corto la respiración de la emoción; como extraordinaria moderadora Patti Massey dijo, una “Visión Verde un Festín de Amor.” ¡El santuario fue abarrotado con gente de nuestra propia congregación-gracias, muchas gracias! – junto con abundantes invitados. El Alcalde Chuck Reed y Forrest Williams, miembro del concilio de la ciudad,  se veían que verdaderamente lo estaban disfrutando, y nosotros sabemos (la diferencia entre las anteriores versiones de las respuestas del alcalde contra las más positivas que nosotros recibimos de él en el acontecimiento) que ya hemos hecho la diferencia  en los planes del alcalde para hacer verde a San José. El Coro de la Paz cantó gloriosamente en los escalones de la entrada antes del evento-déjenos hacer ESTO más a menudo-y estuvo ad Hoc, con Lisa Hettler-Smith como líder cantando,  “nosotros Somos”  la vida. Bob Miess con credencial de PACT, el informe de la investigación de Doug Reid, Melanie Lanstrom con el control del tiempo, los testimoniales de Carol Stephenson, Ben y Benji Cadena, la Sra. Márquez y la asombrosa juventud del Centro Comunitario de la Calle Tercera, las preguntas planteadas por Lisa Hettler-Smith, Diana Wirt, Maria Idso, y Michael Pelizzari, junto con algunos inspirados cantos congregacionales (“Déjanos estar viendo, todos los Caminos Verdes, San José! ” -gracias, Genie Bernardini!), energizados de como trabajamos no sólo para la sostenibilidad ambiental sino por la justicia ambiental también. Marla Scharf cerró la tarde con un rezo hermoso. Diana Wirt y Carol Stephenson fueron entrevistadas por la prensa (usted nos vio presentarnos prominente en las noticias del Mercury News ese domingo?); Mary Martin escribió el brillante relato realizado un día antes; Bill Ardrey, Lloyd Eater, Nancy Hada, Jeff Norment, Robin Goka, y otros, también ayudaron en el evento  de PACT; todos los integrantes de los ministerios de pequeños grupos vinieron al evento en vez de celebrar su reunión del lunes por la noche; y verdaderamente un reparto de “miles” hizo verdad que todo lo que sucedió. Nuestras infinitas gracias van para nuestra asombrosa facilitadota de PACT, Karen Belote, que nos enseñó cómo llevarlo tan maravillosamente; ¡no habríamos podido hacerlo sin usted, Karen! 

¡A todos ustedes quienes generosamente contribuyeron con su tiempo y sus grandes talentos creativos para hacer de estos acontecimientos la hermosa expresión de nuestra fe Unitaria Universalista lo que fueron, Gracias!  

¡A todos ustedes que pudieron estar presentes en uno o más de estos especiales momentos en nuestras vidas juntos, ¡Gracias! 

A todos Ustedes que no pudieron hacerlo pero que nos enviaron sus buenos pensamientos y a todos los que contribuyen con esta comunidad simplemente siendo sus miembros y amigos, ¡Gracias! 

En un sermón al principio de este año eclesiástico, les recode lo que significa realmente “querida comunidad” (usted puede leer ese sermón en nuestra hoja de Internet, también). En dos días gloriosos uno tras otro, ustedes personificaron esta cosa rara y hermosa para todo el resto de nuestra comunidad. ¡Bravo, Primera Iglesia Unitaria-bravo!


181 responses so far

Feb 13 2008

Being the Change We Want to See-Part II

Being the Change We Want to See—Part II 

In our most recent newsletter (and my most recent blog entry), I mapped out an approach to transformational change that Rev. Dr. Larry Peers introduced to Unitarian Universalist clergy in January. We begin by imagining ourway of being” once the change has been made: What kind of language will we be using with each other? What is our posture, how do our bodies feel? And what is our mood? Then, we picture the results of this change, describing them in as much detail as we can. And finally, we tell a story about the obstacles we faced and the joys we celebrated as we made our journey through this “sacred shift.”

When we begin the process of transformational change with this view “from the mountaintop,” we discover all sorts of gifts: Just by imagining it, we are already beginning to get the new way of being into our heart and body. When we see obstacles from the point of view of having already overcome them, we can imagine solutions to them that might not be so clear if we’re only looking at them from the “valley,” where those same obstacles may appear overwhelming. When we recognize that we will always have much to celebrate even in the midst of change, we can enter into the process with energy and joy, as well as with love and appreciation for our companions along the way.

When we clergy had the chance to apply this approach to an area of transformational change that we would love to see in our communities, I chose to focus on “The Sacred Shift to an Intentionally Multiracial, Multicultural Beloved Community of Faith.” Surprised? Probably not! Still, before I began, I thought, “I don’t know what this kind of congregation looks like. Most people say it’s not possible. How in the world do we get there?” But then, I set my imagination free, I gave myself permission to play, I allowed some Spirit to enter in … and here is what showed up:

What does our new way of being look like, now that we are a multiracial, multicultural Beloved Community of faith? Time and again, we hear each other saying: “I love how we’re the same and how we’re different! Our lives are so much richer because we are all here together! I love you!” The mood of the whole congregation is joyful, passionate, full of wonder and enthusiasm, and loving, in the bell hooks/Scott Peck definition of love as the “will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth.” We can see the change in our own body and in the posture of the congregation as a whole: our bodies are open, flexible, fluid; we make expansive, embracing gestures, and we’re all “mixed up” together.

What are the results of this sacred shift? Families from all cultures have a variety of activities to choose from in order to nurture their spiritual growth. For instance, we have a two-hour religious education program on Sunday mornings, with lots of options for people of all ages. People come for an hour of religious education and an hour of worship; some come to both worship services. People show up for Social Hour between the two services so that they can see new and old friends. All our social justice activities and social events embrace folks from a variety of cultures, “races,” and backgrounds. The church is thriving so we are able to grow our staff to include more “races” and ethnicities. Other churches want to learn from us how we became this Beloved Community—so we publish a book about our story! Besides the increasing joy and compassion that are palpable within the congregation—besides the difference we know we are making in each other’s lives—the whole community of San José listens when the First Unitarian Church of San José speaks.

What were some of the obstacles along the way, and how did we overcome them? People really hated the idea of spending two to three hours at church every Sunday. Folks who grew up with the Catholic model of the “drive-by” mass were particularly shocked. But gradually, as folks of all ages tried it and as our religious education offerings became more responsive to the needs of our diverse people, folks started to form friendships and to love what they were learning, and then they couldn’t wait for Sundays to come. At first, some congregants were terrified of inviting people from a different culture or “race” over to their homes for social events. How would they understand each other? What would they talk about? Wouldn’t it be a lot of work? But some Circles of Eight dinner groups began issuing intentionally cross-cultural invitations, their participants all took some risks to find common ground, and eventually, rumors of the richness that resulted spread, inspiring others to do the same. At first some folks got bogged down in guilt—guilt about the privileges they had inherited, about feelings of discomfort or fear, about whether they could participate enough—but through shared spiritual practices and a culture of patience and care, we learned to let these fears go and to focus instead on loving and reaching out. People also struggled to understand how our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to do this work … until enough of us had thought about it and studied it, and had gone to Now Is the Time conferences and attended Building the World We Dream About classes. Then we could see that Unitarian Universalism’s most complete expression lies in exactly the kind of Beloved Community we are building.

What were some of the celebrations we shared along the way? Participants in our first Building the World We Dream About class started a series of culturally and “racially” mixed social events that were a blast. The Beloved Community Project—a collaboration among our Social Justice Ministries, Spanish-Speaking Ministries, and the Third Street Community Center—offered more and more opportunities for us to come together, and these became much-anticipated events every year. Our Small Group Ministry team helped start small groups in Spanish, and then birthed some mixed groups too; these groups deepened the spiritual life of all involved and sent ripples into the wider community. Plus, each time we overcame an obstacle, we celebrated that accomplishment; the preceding paragraph lists at least ten other celebrations we shared!

That was what I wrote in January. As I share these imaginings with you today, I can hear my inner cynic begin to protest: “Hmpf,” she says. “People are too busy for all this hard work! This vision of the Beloved Community isn’t their top priority, anyway. Why can’t we just be comfortable?” Perhaps you are thinking some of the same things.

Or perhaps you are thinking, “Hey, we can do that! We’re already partway there. I love this vision—in fact, here’s what I would add: ________”—and you fill in the blank! Perhaps you are hearing some part of John Lennon’s great song “Imagine” beginning to play in your head, as it is in mine. Wherever you are in the midst of your own “sacred shifts,” whatever your vision of Beloved Community, you have gifts to offer. I hope you will join us, as we nurture new ways of being right here at FUCSJ. 

With much warmth,                       

146 responses so far

Feb 04 2008

Being the Change We Want to See-Part I

Being the Change We Want to See—Part I 

The second sermon I ever wrote was about change. It was delivered on a hot and sticky Sunday morning in August, and the sermon’s message was “Change is hard. Change is really, really hard.” It included lots of examples and had a somewhat happy ending, but basically, that was it, for 24 uncomfortable minutes: “Change is hard.”         

It wasn’t a very good sermon.         

Yet now, years later, I still believe that it’s fundamentally true: Change is hard—at least the kind of change that Harvard professor Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive change.” Heifetz contrasts adaptive change with “technical changes,” for which there are clear steps to take and a fairly certain outcome. Changing an electrical fuse that has burned out, or taking some medicine known to cure what ails us, could be called a “technical change.” But to accomplish adaptive—or transformational—change, we have to change a complex series of behaviors and attitudes, and the outcome cannot be completely predicted ahead of time. Changing careers is a transformational change; adjusting to the loss of a loved one is another. Getting sober is a transformational change; so is developing environmentally sustainable habits of living or changing civil rights laws. We may have a few ideas about the steps we need to take in order to make such changes, and in community we will find allies, teachers, and companions to help us and cheer us on—but to accomplish transformational change, there is no “quick fix.” It takes heart, time, hope, commitment …         

In January, my clergy colleagues and I spent a couple of days with Unitarian Universalist minister and Alban Institute presenter, the Rev. Dr. Larry Peers, at a workshop called “Sacred Shifts.” Larry offered a fresh approach to transformational change that I find rich and inspiring. Let me sketch it out for you.          

Often when we think about making big changes in our lives, in our community,  or in our world, we think about the results we want—we create a vision of the outcome—and then we form an action plan to get us there. If our actions don’t quite produce the results we’d hoped for, we may figure that we need to rededicate ourselves to our vision, and/or we may come up with a new series of actions to take. This businesslike approach can be productive, says Larry, but if we focus solely on actions and results, we may be leaving out a deeper and more essential truth: When we’re talking about making a transformational change, we’re talking about changing our very way of being. This is what makes transformational change a “sacred shift.”         

So let’s step back from the “strategic plan” for a moment and, with an attitude of nonjudgmental curiosity, take a look at who we are as we enter into a process of change. Let’s describe our “being” using three interconnected aspects of ourselves that we can actually observe:
·        What is the language we’re using to describe where we are right now? If we are facing a big personal change, we may hear ourselves saying, “It’s too hard. It’ll take too much time. My family won’t like it. I don’t have the skills.” If we want societal change, we may find ourselves saying, “That will never happen. It’s human nature to do it the way we’ve always done it. It’s too complicated. I don’t know where to start.”
·        What is our mood about this change? Are we feeling depressed or confused? Are we feeling resistant or angry? Are we feeling hopeful or excited?
·        What is the feeling and posture of our body when we think about this change? These postures may literally be visible, or we may feel them internally. Are our shoulders slumped, our arms crossed across our chest? Do we feel “stuck in the mud,” like our feet buried in cement? Are we stepping boldly forward, head up, eyes bright, even though we’re not sure where the path of change will take us?

OK, those are our tools. Now, here’s the fun part! Larry suggests that as we contemplate a transformational change that we would like to make—either a personal or a societal one—we can make great discoveries by imagining the end of the process before we begin. What does this mean?

First, we start by imagining our way of being after the change has been made. What will our bodies feel like, what will our posture be then? What will our mood be? What kinds of things will we be saying to ourselves and each other when we have made this change that we want to make?
Second, imagine what the results of this new way of being are for ourselves and our community. Picture it thoroughly. What are the new behaviors and relationships that announce, “We are now the change we’ve wanted to see”?
Third, with this new way of being and these results in mind, now tell a story about the process of change itself. What were some of the obstacles we faced along the way, and how did we overcome them? What were we able to celebrate as we moved through this transformation?         

Here is the great advantage of this approach to transformational change: it leap-frogs us out of our “stuck” place and into a place of empowerment, hope, and joy. We begin our transformation from a very spiritual place: That is, in our imagination, we look down from the mountaintop of accomplishment, instead of looking up at the huge mountain we need to scale. From this empowered and joyful perch on the mountaintop, we can imagine new solutions for obstacles that we might encounter—obstacles that might seem insurmountable if we only count them up, down in the valley, before we even begin our climb. From the mountaintop, we can see that there is much to celebrate all along the way, rather than letting ourselves get discouraged by how much more there always is to do! Best of all, when we imagine our new way of being, we begin to integrate that being into our here-and-now lives; our language, mood, and posture begin to shift almost at once, and this makes the rest of the journey all the more possible.         

Take a transformation you are longing for—in your personal life, or in our world. Walk through the steps that Larry has laid out for us and that I have listed here. What do you see? What do you learn, and how do you feel about it?         

Then stay tuned: in my next newsletter column (and blog entry), I’ll tell you about the transformational change I tackled during the workshop in January, and describe what I saw and what I learned. It was a breakthrough moment for me, as I join you in building the Beloved Community! 

With warmth and gratitude, 

4,607 responses so far

Dec 04 2007

Let It Be a Dance We do: A Late-Autumn Meditation

As I walked to work this afternoon, I received a call on my cell phone from an old friend whom I hadn’t heard from in a couple of years. “I was just thinking of you!” I said joyfully. “Really? Whoa,” she said, with the kind of awe that such synchronicities inspire.

It was true: I had just been thinking of her. During the previous week’s move back into our condominium, Kevin and I had unearthed pictures of dear old friends, including hers, and placed them where we can see them often. We had unpacked prized mementos from our previous, separate lives and had shared again the stories that go with them. We had rediscovered family treasures that link us to something larger than ourselves and that help each of us to feel rooted. It had been a week of rummaging through memories, as well as belongings, for we had also recycled a small mountain of paper and had carted off to the Salvation Army several carloads of “loot” that we hope will make good and useful gifts for their new owners. I was feeling a new sense of organization—and a renewed strength in the lifelines that anchor us in friendships and life experiences.

And now, here was my old friend on the phone. Sadly, she was calling to tell me of the loss of another old friend from college, who had died a few weeks earlier after eight years of wrestling courageously with breast cancer. I sat down on the steps of one of the buildings across from St. James Park to listen to my friend and to share our memories of the beautiful person I had known a little and she had known a lot. The world seemed a little dimmer without that person’s light-filled spirit, and our mournfulness mingled with the autumn air. Still, it was good to be together in voice and spirit, even though my friend lives all the way across the country.

As we were speaking, shadowy movements in the windows of the Senior Center across the street caught my eye. Up and down the shadows went, in a rhythmic motion that surely couldn’t come from the traffic. Finally I realized that I was watching a ballroom dance class in one of the center’s large open rooms. Through the windows I could dimly see couples bobbing and turning slowly in the graceful rhythms of a waltz. Silent, peaceful, steady—their dance, from my vantage point, was a gift, hopeful and reassuring.

“Let it be a dance we do,” goes one of our hymns, “may I have this dance with you? Through the good times and the bad times, too, let it be dance.” At this time of year, memories both sweet and bitter can visit us with renewed potency. At this time of year, our losses may mingle with happy surprises, and there is both wistfulness and anticipation in the air. At this time of year, we may be whizzing with energy and joy one moment, and utterly worn out and discouraged the next. How can we “let it be a dance”?

Here, with all my heart, is what I urge us to do: reach out. Grab hold of the lifelines that sustain you—relationships, activities, worship, community, rest. Offer an unasked-for gift of service to someone—anyone, whether stranger or friend. Cast your memory out across your long or short life, and give thanks for every gift of friendship and experience that you find. Look out at this present moment and notice that the world is just waiting for you to love it.

This month, as we explore the themes of faith, hope, love, and joy in worship, I look forward to seeing you here, so that we may gain strength, courage, and grace for this dance we do!



4,323 responses so far

Oct 22 2007

Sharing Ourselves, Sharing Our Faith


A couple of Sundays ago, during Social Hour following our 11:00 am worship service, a visitor asked me about the sources of Unitarian Universalism. “Where did you come from?” he said, or some delicious question like that.

How could he know that he had touched on one of my favorite topics, made all the more real to me by our recent pilgrimage to Hungary and Transylvania? So I launched into an impassioned retelling of our faith’s story, from sixteenth-century Europe to nineteenth-century United States … Oh, it went on and on in a never-ending stream of enthusiastic detail. (To my conversational partner: Thank you for that wonderful question; I look forward to continuing our conversation!)

Meanwhile, though, some other visitors were standing nearby, and a congregant was striving in vain to find a break in my historical monologue so that I could meet them, too. Finally, with one last over-the-shoulder burst of “and in 1819, he claimed the name Unitarian for us,”* I turned to these visitors, and then we too had a wonderful conversation. (To these visitors: Thank you for waiting and for sharing your stories with me. May this sharing continue!)

Later still, the congregant offered me the nicest possible reminder about good ways to connect with a wide number of folks at Social Hour. Maybe monologues are not quite the thing, you know? I recognized the patterns of my own shyness in what he said. (To this congregant: Thank you for your gentle, compassionate communication!)

These experiences reminded me, deep in my own skin, that this fall’s Visibility Campaign for Unitarian Universalism in the Bay Area asks us all to take some risks, to step out of our comfort zones, to be more of the best of who we already are. Visitors and long-time members, ministers and lay folks alike—we are all learning, growing, stretching … figuring out new ways to share ourselves, our stories, and our faith with others.

The Rev. Bill Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, recently spoke of visitors who “screw up the courage to walk into a church where they know no one.” A little over ten years ago, I was one of those first-time visitors to a Unitarian Universalist congregation where I knew no one, and it amazed me how much courage it took.

So why do we do it? Why do we human beings go seeking a spiritual home?

Each of us knows the answer to this question by heart, and our answers are as unique as our own life stories. For me, I screwed up the courage to walk into that Unitarian Universalist church ten years ago because I had a broken heart, and I wanted to make sense of life’s sadnesses in a deeper way. Unitarian Universalism gave me the freedom and the resources to search for meaning in all the wisdom that the world has ever produced and that it produces still. I also wanted to make a difference in this world, which often seems as broken-hearted as I was then—and Unitarian Universalism gave me a community with which to work for the good, without striving at the same time to convert anyone to a particular way of believing. Unitarian Universalism has led me to a wholeness that I could not find anywhere else.

Why, then, are we Unitarian Universalists advertising our faith? Why are we broadcasting our name from BART billboards and local radio stations, on Comedy Central, and through ads in Time magazine?

There are lots of answers to these questions, too. I’d answer it this way: Because there are curious, hungry folks out there—some of them broken-hearted, some of them eager to work for the good, many of them both of these things and much more—who want the kind of wholeness and meaning in their lives that Unitarian Universalism offers. There’s a big difference between “proselytizing”—striving to convert—and “evangelizing”—making available our good news. We Unitarian Universalists are claiming our own way of evangelizing.

How do we sum up our good news? As I said over and over to a San José Mercury News reporter during a recent interview (look for the article around the second week of October): We Unitarian Universalists believe that “we do not have to think alike to love alike.”

And that’s a quote from Francis Dávid,* * which reminds me of another story … J

May our sharing continue!



* “He” was William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister and theologian, one of the founders of Unitarianism in the United States.

** Dávid Ferencz, or Francis Dávid, was a Unitarian minister and theologian who converted the king of Transylvania to Unitarianism and helped to make that country a Unitarian state, based on religious tolerance and freedom, during the sixteenth century.

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