Archive for October, 2008

Oct 21 2008

A Reflection on Gratitude and Recognition

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

A Reflection on Gratitude and Recognition 

Often I pause to marvel at this “voluntary association” that is the First Unitarian Church of San José. Take our Fall Church Retreat, for example: Diana Wirt and Kelly Burnett voluntarily organized a beautiful gathering for us up in the Santa Cruz mountains, with congregants from the Mission Peak and Los Gatos congregations further enriching our time together. Folks volunteered their time and talent to offer a delicious smorgasbord of workshops and activities. It was glorious. And I hear it was wonderful to be in San José that weekend, too, with a beautiful worship service led by Rev. Geoff and a host of volunteer worship associates, with special music volunteered by Frank Farris and Patrick Smiley bringing people onto the labyrinth to walk the “path.”        

Honestly, it takes my breath away to recognize who we are and what we accomplish all because you choose to belong, you choose to contribute to this association out of your own free will and generosity, out of your belief in our mission. Think about it: First Unitarian exists—and has existed for 143 years—in downtown San José as a beacon of liberal religion, of social justice, and of personal transformation because you and our Unitarian ancestors have voluntarily given of your hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits to this spiritual collective. Wow! I personally owe every one of you and of those ancestors a heartfelt, handwritten thank-you note!           

In truth, we are still learning how to thank each other. We are getting better; thanks to creative, thoughtful folks like Genie Bernardini, we have added annual rituals of recognition that lift up our volunteers. But we can never really thank each other enough, because at the root, we are run—and the professional staff is paid—by your voluntary contributions of time, talent, and treasure. (Can I just say it again? Wow!)       

So, what about recognition for these gifts? Is public recognition itself a “good” or a “bad” thing? Should we not even try to recognize your generosity, just because we won’t be able to honor every single act of giving, and because surely we’ll miss some folks, which can be painful and embarrassing? To that I say, Let’s not give up; let’s simply become more and more mindful and creative in our recognitions!         

Does public recognition take away one iota from the generosity of the gift or throw into question the motivation for giving? I say, Not at all. Recognition keeps us honest; it says, “We wouldn’t be here without you!” Recognition is a crucial part of the spiritual practice of gratitude, expanding our hearts and minds, deepening our sense of connection. It can inspire and strengthen us in our own giving, too, making us more generous people. Hallelujah for you who are willing to receive public recognition!     

On the other hand, some folks like to give quietly, behind the scenes; they don’t want their names to be called out or scribed on a plaque. Hallelujah for you, too, because when we don’t know exactly who our beneficiary is, we are called to be grateful to everyone! Anyone might be our anonymous beneficiary, so everyone shines with an extra light because of your quiet giving.     

Want to know the truth? I am happier right this minute because I’ve spent this time focusing intentionally on your infinite acts of generosity. May you find joy in this practice of gratitude and recognition, too!

With my love,       

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Oct 21 2008

Rumi-omancy (from October 1, 2008)

Published by under Minister's Musings

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

Rumi-omancy, or Finding Space “Between the Layers of Baklava” 

At our Committee on Ministries meeting, chair Michael Payne-Alex launched our gathering by opening the Tao Te Ching at random and reading a passage. I confess, I don’t remember what the passage said (sorry, Michael; sorry, Tao), but I do remember my delight at this reminder of the practice called “bibliomancy.”      

Bibliomancy—it means “divination by interpretation of a passage chosen at random from a book.” The word first shows up in the mid 18th century, but the practice goes way back. You may have heard about people using the Bible in this way: letting the Bible fall open where it will, then expecting to find in the passages on that page hints about the future or some special guidance for their life. In even earlier days, folks used the classical poets Homer and Virgil in just the same way.        

What is valuable about this history for us Unitarian Universalists? Simply this: that throughout time we human beings have craved more insight into the future; we have longed for inspiration and affirmation. We may go about it differently now, but we are all connected, through time, in these human longings. And that’s a good thing.    

I certainly don’t believe that these random passages, whatever their source, can predict our future. But I do find that when my mind and heart need a spiritual lift, this game of opening at random to a page from a well-loved source can provide something to puzzle over, can send my thoughts off in a new direction, or can simply give me a good laugh. Those are good things, too!      

The other night, I thought I’d give it a try. So I picked up The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, translated by Coleman Barks, and opened it at random. This is what I found—this poem called “The Taste”: 

A walnut kernel shaken against its shell makesa

delicate sound, but

the walnut taste and the sweet oil inside makes

unstruck music. Mystics

call the shell rattling talk; the other, the taste

of silence. We’ve been speaking

poetry and opening so-called secrets of soul growth

long enough. After

days of feasting, fast; after days of sleeping, stay

awake one night; after these

times of bitter storytelling, joking, and serious

considerations, we should

give ourselves two days between layers of baklava

in the quiet seclusion wheresoul sweetens and thrives more than with language.      

After all we’ve been doing, let’s remember to give ourselves time “between layers of baklava” for a change. After all the talk, a silence. After all the worry, hope. After all the doing, being…. Those are good things, too!

With my love,       

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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! 


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