Sep 23 2016

October Theme: Living with Our Fears

Published by at 10:56 pm under Minister's Musings

flower for October essay

“I Need You to Survive”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

As I write on September 23, it has been an especially hard week for all of us committed to the Movement for Black Lives. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a police officer shoots and kills Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African-American man seeking help because his car has broken down. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Keith Lamont Scott, also African American, dies after being shot by police under unclear circumstances, and the community’s decades-long—no, centuries-long frustrations erupt in protests. Our Unitarian Universalist colleagues in these towns issue powerful statements of grief and solidarity. My heart is heavy.

At the same time, my commitment to our own work here in San José and Santa Clara County grows fiercer. We are building multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational, justice-seeking community here through the Beloved Community Movement, which brings law enforcement, elected officials, faith leaders, and community together to create transparency, trust, mutual respect, and even—dare I say it?—affection across all our relationships and our practices. A movement for justice and the recognition of the sacred value of life—I am so grateful that we at First Unitarian are part of it. You can join in through the Voter Engagement Campaign—never has it been more important to show up, beloveds!

It is also poignant that in this week of tragic loss and unrest, we could watch our Unitarian ancestors, the Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, “defying the Nazis” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary). During World War II, the Sharps go behind enemy lines again and again to rescue those most at risk of extermination. Such models of courage, of putting our faith into action! Please watch for a showing of this documentary at FUCSJ in the months to come. Today, I ask myself: Would I have been that courageous then? Can I be that courageous now?

In times such as these, when sorrows combine with so many other traumas and uncertainties, I keep repeating: We not only need to act in solidarity with each other and with those most at risk, but we also need to double-down on the spiritual practices that ground our actions in faith, hope, and love. Our capacity to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say is only as strong and wide as our foundation in our faith, in our connection to our deepest selves and to that Something More within us and beyond us.

So yesterday, I set out on one of my Morning Walks. These Morning Walks are my prime urban spiritual practice, but they have been in short supply lately, as I race to accomplish all that must be done before I leave on sabbatical on October 15. With a heavy, hungry heart yesterday, I go looking for some shout of abundant Life from the earth, and some link to centuries of human good.

Sure enough, within a block, this multicolored daisy-like creature reaches out over the sidewalk on her slender stem, casting a filigreed shadow on the cement. She lifts her head, directly in my path, and says, as clearly as if she really does speak English: “STOP!”

“Oh, you beauty,” I breathe. I pause to take a photo. And as I walk on, David Frazier’s gospel song begins to thrum over and over inside until it rings out: “I need you, you need me, we’re all a part of God’s body … I pray for you, you pray for me, I need you to survive, I won’t harm you with words from my mouth, I love you, I need you to survive …”

Friends, though we may be physically apart during my book-writing sabbatical (October 15-March 13), we need not fear that we are ever truly separated. We are, each and every one of us, part of one Sangha body, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, working together for the good of all. “I need you, you need me”—yes! And oh, how I love you! We need each other to survive, and equally, we need each other to fulfill our call: to further the abundance of Life on this earth and to carry forward centuries of human good! I can’t wait to share what wonders we discover, what hope we create, and what community we build during the time that I am away!

Now: please go watch and hear Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout (director of music and worship at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor) lead the General Assembly 2016 Choir in David Frazier’s gorgeous song, “I Need You to Survive”:


with all my love,


Rev. Nancy


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