Archive for April, 2017

Apr 24 2017

In Our Own Voices: Forgiveness

Published by under Minister's Musings

“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and other meetings. We use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth.

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

May these responses stir your own thoughts and actions.

With gratitude for how we grow together,

Rev. Nancy


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

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Apr 24 2017

May Theme: Forgiveness

Published by under Minister's Musings

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

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Apr 05 2017

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

Published by under Minister's Musings


April Theme: The Boundaries That Heal

and That Harm Us

When We Need Boundaries—

and When We Don’t

Sunday, April 2, 2017, 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

First Unitarian Church of San José

Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Senior Minister


Sermon                    “Sheltering Walls, Open Borders”

     Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

The first time I really pay attention to the hymn we’ve just sung, “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door,” is on the Sunday after September 11, 2001. I am living on the East Coast where the tragedies of 9/11 feel very personal, very very close. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations sing hymn #1, also called “Hymn for This House,” on that Sunday. So many of us are looking for assurance, for comfort, for a sense of safety when all our earlier assumptions about security have been shattered.

But this hymn does not offer the message I need: it feels false and isolationist to pray for “ill fortune” to pass us by, as though we in the United States could get a “pass” on struggle and suffering when others around the world have been experiencing weekly, sometimes daily, the kinds of attacks we have just experienced—maybe not on the scale of 9/11 at one time, yet persistently for decades. To create an “us” and “them” feels like the opposite of what we need to do: that way more danger lies.

See, even in my grief and shock post 9/11, I want all of Life, even the hardest parts, to come into the sanctuaries of our faith so that we can face them and deal with them! “Don’t leave your broken heart at the door,” the Rev. Angela Herrera writes, “bring it to the altar of life.” [These lines begin the beautiful Call to Worship we use on this Sunday, #110 in Lifting Up Our Voices.]

We human beings are a mixity, broken and beautiful streaky creatures every one of us, capable of great harm and of amazing healing. On that Sunday after 9/11, I don’t want to close our doors and build up our walls. I want to feel how connected we all are.

And then I come to this congregation and learn how special this hymn is for long-time members, because of the very personal, very very close trauma of the fire in this building back in 1995. And I begin to see that I have built my own wall—against this song. I see how limited and idealistic my thinking is. You teach me the companion truth to the one I already hold, about needing to face all of Life together. You teach me that sometimes we do need to shelter ourselves and each other, that sometimes we need to draw the line about when and how much we let in, sometimes we need to remember that we can create safer, deeply supportive, honest spaces where, while still acknowledging our struggles and our fears, we can rest for a few moments and regain our strength for all that we must face.

Thank you for showing me more of Life than I knew 12 years ago. This is exactly what living in community is about—we all grow and change from bumping up against each other here.

So when it comes to boundaries, it is, once again, as my own core theology states, both/and. On the one hand, we need to embrace and face the tragedies and the human brokenness that is sometimes called sin—by which I mean that falling away from what we humans can be at our best—and on the other, we need comfort and enough support and safety to get through the day.


As our worship team—Jeff and Rodney, John and Dianne and I—plan the service for this morning, I couldn’t predict that my specific examples about boundaries would come right out of our own faith tradition this week. Why is it crucial for all of us to hear about these crises in the Unitarian Universalist world, even if this is your very first time worshiping with us?

  • Because these crises, these brokennesses, are part of our being human, and that is exactly what we are here to explore and to redeem
  • Because in our faith we know we are all interconnected, so these crises demand a response from all of us
  • And because in naming them, we counteract the poison of secrets, and we lay the foundation for our own courageous, authentic, broken-openhearted way forward


The first of these crises may be triggering because it involves a suspected criminal breach of boundaries. If you need to step out, we understand. Take care of yourself. If you are able to stay, I can promise you that we are here to care for each other in this circle, and that I will speak mindfully—without detail—about this breach. But name it I will, because I believe that this honesty and transparency strengthen our capacity for keeping our children, youth, young adults, adults, and elders safe.

So, let’s take a breath together.


This Thursday afternoon, after a long investigation, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Turley, Oklahoma, was arrested on child pornography charges, to which he has apparently confessed. The harm done by such crimes must not be diminished: they abuse, exploit, and dehumanize the most powerless among us.

And what’s even harder for our hearts and minds to grasp: This minister has been doing powerful public ministry, offering food, shelter, advocacy, and support to the most marginalized in a very poor area. He has been mentor and friend to a number of my colleagues, who would never have guessed about this deep sickness, if indeed it is true. My dear colleague the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa is ministering to the accused’s family and children, to all who have worked with this minister, and I believe that by now Marlin has visited the accused in jail, too. The national Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Team is also present on site. They have support; they are facing into this traumatic breach.

So how are we here at First Unitarian called to respond?

First, you need to know that we have what we call a “Significant Incident Procedure” in place, designed to alert our congregational leaders to any hints of misconduct or breaches of boundaries. I ask that the Board and Program and Operations Council make this available to all of you. When it comes to any form of sexual or physical abuse, we must and we will make our sheltering walls very strong indeed.

Second, if you or someone you know struggles with addictive behaviors, seek professional help NOW. It is the most courageous and compassionate thing you can do for yourself and for all around you. In this congregation, we don’t have the staff to offer that help directly, but as we can, we will walk with you on your journey toward wholeness.

Third, we need to wrestle, individually and communally, with our theology. “Come, come, whoever you are,” we sing, and we want to mean it, we want it to be true—so much so that sometimes we Unitarian Universalists aren’t sure whether we should set any boundaries. When is it OK to say “no”—no, we can’t do that; no, that behavior is not congruent with our mission; no, those words are hurtful and thus they disrupt our community, they can even be community destroying? Those behaviors, those words, are not OK here—because we are called to Make Love Visible in all that we say and do. Our theology is radically inclusive—but it is not “anything goes.” Yes, our theology calls us to say no to harm.

At the same time, our theology calls for radical compassion and mutual respect. We often stumble over how to set a healthy boundary while simultaneously offering compassion for ourselves—staying firm about what is healthy for us, for all of us—and yet still demonstrating respect for the other person’s humanity. It is hard when we are triggered to figure out how to care for ourselves in new ways that allow us to live out our faith.

Still, in the face of trauma, we can learn to breathe, to ground ourselves in our bodies, to ask for help, and then to experi-learn—to experiment with how we set our boundaries and to learn from that experimenting. We don’t have to be stuck in reactive mode.

Yes, we are called to face this crisis in our Unitarian Universalist world—so familiar to religious institutions of all kinds. We face it, knowing that it breaks our hearts open to the terrible streakiness of our human nature. We grieve for the children harmed by any person or industry that abuses or exploits them; we grieve with the family and the children of the accused, and with all whose lives are deeply affected by his apparent breach of the most sacred trust; and if we are Universalist enough, we grieve too for the broken person who resorted to such harmful behaviors. At the same time, we say a firm and steady “NO” always to any harmful, hurtful boundary breaches here. “May nothing evil cross this door”—indeed, and we will do all we can to make that so.

Let’s take a restorative breath.


The second crisis that has risen to the surface in Unitarian Universalism in recent weeks will be the focus of a whole worship service at the beginning of May, when one of the candidates for president of the Unitarian Universalist Association will share the pulpit with me. Here’s what’s going on:

In a staff hiring decision a couple of weeks ago, a white non-local, male Unitarian Universalist minister is selected to lead the Southern Region of our faith over an equally qualified, local, Unitarian Universalist religious educator of color. For Unitarian Universalist religious leaders of color and for all of us allies, it is the last straw, because this specific instance of pushing aside a person of color is part of a larger pattern in our faith. The names for that pattern are many; the two that we name today are white supremacy—which is not about the Klan or the Aryan Nation but about the deep systemic sometimes-subtle sometimes-violently obvious privileges that keep white people and white culture calling the shots in Unitarian Universalism, just as people like me are still calling the shots in most of our country—and the second name for this larger pattern is patriarchy, which does the same for men, even across class and other differences. This language—white supremacy and patriarchy—may be confusing or triggering for some here. That’s because, my friends, we all have work to do. At the same time, I can promise you that this language, this naming, is also a vast relief to others here, because it represents a truth-telling that is our only hope for change.

As a beautiful letter from the Office of Youth and Young Adults at the UUA says, “The first step in healing from the damage [that] white supremacy does to our spirit is to face our reality, process our defensiveness as it arises, so that we can be truly honest about our starting place. As James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’”

As a result of the demand for accountability and action, and in the face of ongoing missteps, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Rev. Peter Morales, resigned effective yesterday, just three months short of completing his full eight years of service. The resignation shocks almost all of us on Thursday. Some of us wanted him to stay and prove that he too can change and offer the leadership we need. Others feel heartbroken that this human being of color must take the fall for a wider systemic issue.

But let’s not let this disruption in leadership distract us from the real work we are called to do. For we Unitarian Universalists have the chance right now, with all of this truth-telling and revealing of long-sustained harmful patterns, we have the chance to break through to being the faith and the humans that we have said we want to be: to breaking down those oppressive boundaries and becoming the multicultural, antiracist, antioppressive Beloved Community to which we aspire. With hard analysis and revolutionary paradigm shifts and deep deep listening to voices that have not been heard, together we can achieve true behavioral change in each of us and in our institutions.

These crises are heart breaking. And that very heartbreak calls for the good kind of boundary-breaking, the kind I call “living with broken-openheartedness.” May our broken-open hearts grow larger, as they burst free of any shell of security or sleep. May our empathy for the pain around us and for the pain in us lead us to action and always to the creation of deeper, more authentic, life-changing relationships.

Amen, I love you, let us learn to Love each other.



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