Archive for February, 2010

Feb 25 2010

The Spiritual Practice of Giving Up Despair

“Easter, Passover, Spring equinox—festivals of liberation, new life, and new hope,” the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry reminds us (you can read more at To honor this season of liberation and hope, the UULM invites us to make “40 calls in 40 days” to our government representatives, urging them to pass health care reform. Opponents to health care reform are surely keeping up the pressure to defeat even the most modest of bills; the UULM asks that we be equally persistent in our commitment to creating a more just and accessible system of care. “Forty calls in forty days”—even if we start late in the Lenten season, this is a beautiful and potentially effective spiritual practice. You will find the phone numbers for our U.S. Senators and for the White House in this edition of the newsletter, along with a brief message we can borrow.

But this spiritual practice is larger and more far-reaching even than health care reform. Here is the line from the UULM that caught my mind and heart: “Some folks give up chocolate for Lent. We recommend that we give up despair.” The spiritual practice of giving up despair … How can we make such a practice our way of life? Let’s puzzle this out together:

Just what is despair? In French and Spanish—désespoir; desesperación—the roots of the word are crystal clear: it means literally the loss of hope. Many of us have experienced moments, or more, of despair in our lives. When I think about my own moments of despair, I can see how fear—fear about the future—almost always plays a major role in that “loss of hope.” Sadness spirals into despair when we fear that the current bleak situation, whatever it may be, will never ever change.

And yet … the one thing we are guaranteed in life is that everything does change. Despair is a kind of misconception, then—a projection that the future will feel as difficult as the present does. And of course, the very best way to ensure that this projection does not come to pass is to get engaged in creating that future. As the UULM’s “40 calls in 40 days” illustrates, we can take action to help move the change—which will come, with or without us—in the direction that we desire! “Action is the antidote to fear” is one of my favorite aphorisms, because I have experienced its truth in my bones.

So when despair shrouds our hearts—whether such despair is prompted by discouragement with the workings of Washington, D.C., or by deep personal loss—let us remember that our feelings are gifts of discernment about where we need to focus our loving attention. If we feel stuck in sadness and discouragement, then we are called to reach out to others who will remind us how good it is that we are alive. If we feel fearful that the future holds only more of the same discouragement that we are feeling today, then we are called to reach out to help lift others’ spirits, to help make others’ lives brighter and more hopeful. Let our experiences deepen our compassion for all who are suffering; let these experiences, even of loss or discouragement, invite us into deeper engagement with each other and the world.

Our Sunday worship services in March, with the theme “Aspects of the Holy—the Depth and Breadth of Life,” will dance with the questions I’ve explored here. Please join us as we try out many languages for naming our surest sources of hope.

My friends, let’s never “give up”; let’s give up despair instead!


With warmth and hope,



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Feb 12 2010

Becoming a People So Bold!

Published by under Minister's Musings

Every month our PACT (People Acting in Community Together) organizer Karen Belote and I set aside an hour to check in: What is most alive for us at that moment about our twin passions for justice and for this congregation? At our most recent one-to-one, Karen said, “You know, we’ve been working together for a few years now, yet I’ve never asked you about your passion for antiracism. I know it is really important to you, but … why? What’s the story behind this part of your call to ministry?”

            My answer to this question usually begins with stories from my growing up in Texas. Some of you have heard about how I didn’t get to go roller skating with my friend Everett –because he is African American and I am white—when we were only eight. That moment of loss pierced my heart; it made racism something personal and direct. There were other losses, too: broken bridges between Latina and European-American girls in junior high school; walls built up between family members and beloved employees. But it wasn’t just the ever-present racial prejudice and ethnocentrism that hurt, piercing peoples of color around me with a “thousand tiny [and not-so-tiny] cuts” and costing everyone our wholeness. It was also the systemic racism that was soul-killing, keeping the divisions and injustices intact from generation to generation, denying access and opportunity to some and giving unearned advantages to others, like me.

            Yet my passion for the work of understanding and undoing racism in myself and in the world—and my call to the ministry of helping to build multiracial, multicultural, antioppressive communities—are not rooted solely in the wounds of my past, nor are they driven by guilt or shame, although I have had to wrestle with these emotions too. My passion and my call now spring from fresh and ever-renewing sources. They rise up out of life-giving and joyful relationships that bridge those old forbidden boundaries and that have bloomed ever since I began to engage in the work of antiracism. These relationships make multiracial, multicultural community something personal and direct. My passion and my call are fed by ever-increasing experiences of communities that are learning how to celebrate and enhance our diversities, even while dealing with the challenges, confusions, and conflicts that arise when we invite differences to speak out loud. Communities like ours here at FUCSJ. Communities I’m honored to be part of throughout our Unitarian Universalist movement. Communities I’m coming to know here in San José. Communities available to all of us—and that we can help create.

            In short, I am committed to the work of antiracism, multiculturalism, and antioppression because it makes me more alive and more whole. It lifts me up, it turns me on, it gives me hope, it grows my soul. It’s personal and direct.

            Through worship this February, we’ll be experiencing ways to grow our souls, ways to discover more life and more hope, as we look at how we can dismantle divisions and celebrate diversities—both inside our own being and out in the wider world. How are we becoming a “People So Bold”?[1] I can’t wait to dive deeper into our learning and growing together!

With gratitude for your calling me

to be all that I am

and to bring to this work all that I have,




[1] This phrase is drawn from a new book, titled A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, ed. John Gibb Millspaugh (Boston: Skinner House, 2010).

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