Feb 23 2018

March Theme: What Does It Mean to Be a People of BALANCE?

Published by under Minister's Musings

Balance as a Springboard, Not a Still Point

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, with help from the Soul Matters Sharing Circle

 

When we talk about balance, it’s natural for calm and rest to be the first things that come to mind. After all, so many of us are tired. We’re overworked, overcommitted, and fearful. Stress undergirds most of our days. We may be so weighed down by worry and responsibility that just one drop of something unexpected can tip us right over.

So, yes, we long for rest. Yes, we want less to manage and absorb. Yes, we need balance’s reminder that finding a place of calm is possible—even in the midst of a troubling world, even in the midst of circumstances that frighten us.

Yet pointing us to peace and calm is not all that balance is about. This month’s work on balance offers us fresh and hopeful perspectives.

Thank goodness we Unitarian Universalists draw on wisdom and inspiration from many spiritual traditions! Here’s a glimpse of the search for balance through the lens of religious holidays in March:

The Christian observance of Lent reminds us that balance is a place of reassessment, renewal, preparation, and even repentance. It honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry and the life that would lead to his death on the cross. The balance he seeks in the desert is not that of restful escape but that of restorative recentering. Balance gets Jesus ready, rather than simply offering him relief.

During Passoverparticipants retell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. (Stay tuned for news of FUCSJ’s Seder, to be held in early April!) In this season, balance is a matter of remembering, of pausing to put ourselves back into a story that connects us with others and anchors us in a countercultural narrative. During Passover, the balance we find is not that of calm but that of reconnection.

Ostara, the Pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox, honors the balance of day and night, and it celebrates the way this balance is a tipping point on the way to Spring. It’s a reminder that still points are rarely still. They are a place of turning, a space where shifts happen and new life emerges.

The Hindu holiday of Holi offers a celebration that restores our belief in the power of good over evil. It reminds us that balance and calm aren’t just found by taking a break from life, but by trusting in its goodness once again.

These March holy days remind us that balance is not simply a destination but also a place of invitation. It’s not a static space of peace, as much as a still point on which we pivot and turn to something new. It’s not just about rest, but about resting up for a journey.

Yes, balance allows us to catch our breath, but it’s also about finding our center so we can end all our aimless wandering and point ourselves in the direction we want to go.

Maybe balance, after all, isn’t the prize but the springboard. Maybe balance isn’t the goal, but the source of strength that gets us where we need to go.

So, beloveds, what kind of balance will we seek in order to get us where we are called to go?

 

Yours in the search for the balance that keeps us ready and connected,

 

Rev. Nancy

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Jan 29 2018

February Journal – Devotion: What Do We Love?

Published by under Minister's Musings

February Theme: What Does It Mean to Live a Life of Devotion?

Devotion: What Do We Love?

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, with help from the Soul Matters team

 

Here we go again, we Unitarian Universalists, reclaiming another old-fashioned and often-freighted word! Devotion. This month we take a fresh, heart-opening look at it. What are your first associations with this word?

Most of us know the shadow side of devotion. We may have experienced a religion where we were asked to give ourselves over to a leader or a doctrine, which involved abandoning our true selves. Or maybe we have been in a relationship—in our families, at school, or at work—that demanded a dangerously self-sacrificing “devotion” from us if we wanted this relationship to last. This kind of devotion disregards our worth and integrity. It leaves no room for expressing and meeting our own needs. Such false devotion traps us instead of setting us free.

As a result of these experiences, we may be allergic to the very idea of devotion. We think it’s the opposite of freedom, and we value our freedom above all else.

But a healthy devotion actually invites us into relationship with our own best selves. True devotion signals a choice—something to which we give a deep love, a commitment, a steadiness and loyalty that actually set us free from distractions and dithering and give us a sense of direction.

I have felt this kind of devotion to both my vocations, first as an actor and now as a minister. I love giving time to these callings; I feel a deep loyalty to the relationships that they create. Sure, in my devotion to these careers, I have to surrender part of my own ego-needs in order to serve a Something More. Such surrendering can be hard—we may lose sleep or have to make difficult choices—but ultimately it doesn’t feel like a denial of self. Devoting ourselves to a path that “has our name on it” feels like coming home. This is one kind of healthy devotion.

One Soul Matters Sharing Circle facilitator—a Unitarian Universalist exploring this same theme—writes, “I need to remind myself that devotion to a cause has brought extraordinary changes in our world.” Think about the end of slavery, the winning of the vote for women, the passage of Civil Rights laws, the gain of marriage equality. How long it takes the passionate devotees of each cause to transform those oppressions into freedom! Surely, we live in a time that asks us for this kind of healthy devotion. Wouldn’t it be great if folks could say of all of us Unitarian Universalists: “Nevertheless, they persisted!”

          Our Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises this month invite us to pay attention to the smaller, daily acts of devotion in our lives, because these reveal our deepest values and longings. They give us a sense of what calls for our loyalty and commitment.

So maybe the most important questions of this month are “How devoted are you to your core?” and “How loyal are you to that which lights you up?”

          In the end, my friends, this theme of devotion all boils down to this: What do we love? Only love can drive out hate, as Dr. King reminds us, and oh, how much we need to drive out hate. Today, this month, this year, may we devote ourselves to embodying the love that, with focus and intention, loyalty and persistence, can turn this world around.

 

With love and devotion to our journey together,

 

Rev. Nancy

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Jan 24 2018

February Journal: Soul Matters Spiritual Exercise for Devotion

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Does It Mean to Live a Life of Devotion?

Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises for February

Gathering: Sunday, February 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m., Ramsden Fireside Room

Take our theme of the month deeper by engaging in one or more of these spiritual exercises. Then join our small group to enrich the experience!

 

Reconnecting with and recommitting to our own deepest self is a major part of what it means to live a life of devotion. This journey happens differently for each of us. Here are two spiritual exercises that may help you reconnect with your devotion—that is, with those things to which you give your love, loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment.

 

OPTION A:

Rediscover Your Devotion to Small Things

 

Mother Teresa wrote, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

“What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” We know this is true, yet it is so easy to lose sight of the small things that we love and that make a big difference. For example:

 

  • We may be devoted to having dinner with our family and making time for each person to name something that they are thankful for from that day. But when things get busy, our commitment to this practice falls to the wayside.
  • We may have made a commitment to call at least one long-distance friend each month, but somehow this past year, it’s not happened at all.
  • Maybe we think of ourselves as devoted hikers, artists, runners, choir members, you name it. These activities re-energize us and connect us to something larger than ourselves. And yet … we just haven’t gotten around to doing them in months.
  • Reading a book to our children before they go to bed; volunteering monthly to help with a cause about which we care deeply; writing a love letter to our spouse or friend; checking in on a neighbor; writing to our congressperson—these are all small, ordinary things that contain great power. But when we get tired or overwhelmed, we can lose sight of their importance in our lives and in the world.

 

So here is the exercise:

This month, make a list of the “small loves” that have great strength for you. Spend some time relishing what your list tells you about who you are and what you value at your core.

            Then choose one item from your list and do at least one action that reaffirms your devotion to it. Feel free to borrow or adapt from the examples of small devotions above.

Please join us on Sunday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. at FUCSJ to share what you learn from this exercise about yourself and about the strength that lies in small things.

 

OPTION B:

 Do Our Values Really Have Our Devotion?

 

Living a spiritually faithful life is about living in alignment with our values. We know in our hearts the values to which we are most devoted, but sometimes our lives don’t reflect this devotion as much as we would like. This exercise offers us a chance to step back, to see how well we are doing, and to consider how we might course-correct to bring our lives in alignment with our values.

 

Step One: Name Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

Two values to which I am deeply devoted to are _______________ and ________________.

 

Step Two: Examples of Living Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

You can see my devotion to these values by looking at these parts of my life:

 

1._________________________________

2._________________________________

3._________________________________

4._________________________________

 

As you fill in these blanks, think about how you interact with your family or friends, what you have chosen to do as your employment, how you spend your free time, how you handle conflict, how you use your money, where you volunteer, what you do for fun and/or self-care, and so on.

 

Step Three: Ways to More Deeply Reflect Your Values

Fill in the blanks:

Here are three ways in which my life can more deeply reflect my devotion to these values:

1._________________________________

2._________________________________

3._________________________________

 

Step Four: What Have You Learned?

Reflect on what this exercise shows you about the way your life lines up with your most deeply cherished values. Has anything surprised you? How will you carry these lessons forward in your life in the days and weeks to come? Please join us on Sunday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. at FUCSJ to share what you learn.

 

~ SOUL MATTERS REFLECTIONS GROUP MEETING DATES ~

Sunday, February 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Devotion

Sunday, March 25, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Balance

Sunday, April 29, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Emergence

Sunday, June 3, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Imagination

Sunday, June 17, 2018, 1:00 p.m.: Blessing

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Jan 24 2018

February Theme: What does it mean to live a life of DEVOTION?

Published by under Minister's Musings

 In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to live a life of DEVOTION?

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

When our theme of the month involves reclaiming a traditionally “religious” term, we get the widest range of responses. For “What does it mean to be a people of Devotion?” or “What does it mean to live a life of devotion?” we get contradictory answers. From “I love this old-fashioned word” to “this concept doesn’t excite my interest”; from devotion to God, to devotion to people and relationships; from open-ended “rituals done with lots of smiling” to the well-scripted Episcopalian daily office—this theme lifts up our theological diversity in all its splendor! I hope you will join us in worship and small groups this month as we celebrate our diversity and reclaim a word that can enrich our lives … no matter where we place ourselves on the religious spectrum!  

 

With real devotion to you and to this faith we love,

Rev. Nancy

 

  • I think of consistency and daily practice, rituals done with lots of smiling—this is what I see when I think of being a part of a people of devotion.
  • I love this old-fashioned word devotion! It signals a deep love, a commitment, a steadiness and loyalty that are of great value to me. It means I allow something or someone to be larger than my own ego, so that I surrender some part of my own ego-needs to serve this Something More. More and more, I want to live from a place of devotion to my core self, my deepest loves and values, my evolving understanding of what helps make us all more whole.
  • In some religious contexts, devotion is seen as being toward abstractions like God. In our Unitarian Universalist context, I am more interested in being devoted to people and relationships, or being devoted to actions for social justice, or being devoted to a regular practice. At first blush, this concept doesn’t excite my interest very much.
  • We are devoted to something or someone that is of value. The highest devotion ought to be for the Divine, who is above earthly calamity.
  • Since many of the church members don’t believe in God or are agnostic, I suppose devotion raises the question of devotion to what? Truth, justice, service, community? And to which community or communities?
  • To be aware of spiritual forces within my life and outside of it. Devotion is an odd word. I looked it up and found these: love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause: “Eleanor’s devotion to her husband.” Synonyms: loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, constancy, commitment, adherence, allegiance, dedication. More religious worship or observance: “the order’s aim was to live a life of devotion.” Synonyms: devoutness, piety, religiousness, spirituality, godliness, holiness, sanctity: “a life of devotion.” As an Episcopalian, I understand the value of the daily office (prayer and scripture as found in the prayer book) and the importance of being an active part of a community of faith. These things, when practiced faithfully, provide an external focus that helps me to become centered.

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Dec 20 2017

January Journal: “Hear Our Vote”: Women’s March 2018

Published by under Minister's Musings

“Hear Our Vote”: Women’s March 2018

January 20, 2018, 11 am – 2 pm, Downtown San Jose (exact location not yet announced)

Unitarian Universalists, LET’S SHOW UP!! Once again this year, there will be many women’s marches on January 20, including one in downtown San José. The march and rally will reaffirm our commitments to building a positive and just future for all, and will celebrate the spirit of resistance over the past year. This event is designed to engage and empower all people to support women’s rights, human rights, and social and environmental justice, and to encourage participation in 2018 midterm elections. HEAR OUR VOTE! For more information or to register: https://womensmarchbayarea.org/events/  Additional details and events for the “week of action” to be announced.

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Dec 20 2017

January Theme: What does it mean to be a People of INTENTION?

Published by under Minister's Musings

Resolutions or Intentions? A Difference in Direction

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, with help from the Soul Matters team

 

“Here’s what I discover,” Katie Covey begins. Katie is on staff with our Unitarian Universalist Soul Matters Sharing Circle—a circle of congregations with whom we share monthly themes and spiritual growth. After brainstorming with colleagues about this month’s theme—“What does it mean to be a People of Intention?”—Katie comes to understand that “intention is different from setting goals or resolutions. Intention ‘pulls us into’ who we truly are. Goals and resolutions ‘push us out’ into future possibilities. To set intentions, we listen to our inner voice, which tells us who we truly are.”

Some of us find it hard not to buy into the familiar January ritual of setting “resolutions.” Aren’t we all always trying to “become better”? Even our Unitarian ancestor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote a passionate essay about the value of “self-culture,” which was his word for self-improvement. Our society has been entranced with the lures and promises of self-improvement ever since.

But more and more, I wonder if such “self-improvement” is what we really want. Wouldn’t I rather be “pulled in” to my deeper self this year, than “pushed out” into another round of striving for accomplishments? I don’t know about you, but I have spent far too many years caught up in societal expectations around looks, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, intelligence (including the gender-coded message to hide our intelligence). My own internalized oppression about striving for some kind of “perfection” in order to be lovable flies in the face of all I believe as a Unitarian Universalist: that we are inherently lovable just as we are. And that we are always growing.

Instead of taking this New Year as another opportunity to leap into “self-improvement,” measured by some external standard, let’s pause. Let’s ask, “What hunger really has my heart?”

          There is a big difference between becoming “better” and becoming ourselves. Self-improvement is not the same as self-alignment. Wanting to get from point A to point B is quite different from longing to find our inner anchor.

So this month, our most important work is to make room. May we, as a people of intention, keep our attention close to the present, on who we already are at our center. May we make space for listening before we leap into striving.

Intention, for me, is about setting a “good holy direction” for ourselves—holy, because it comes from our authentic core. With that grounding in our human being, we’ll know what we want to do.

 

With love and faith in our journey together,

 Rev. Nancy

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Nov 22 2017

December Journal: Why Do We Unitarian Universalists Do Christmas?

Published by under Minister's Musings

Why Do We Unitarian Universalists Do Christmas?
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
 
On October 22, during our Diwali celebration this year, Sundar Mudupalli begins his reflection with these beautiful words:
“In preparing for this service, we members of the worship team have a robust discussion about why we celebrate Diwali in our church. Are we being cultural voyeurs? Is this another aspect of white supremacy benevolently accommodating other cultures when convenient?”
Then he answers: “What I see is not voyeurism, but a wholeness that comes from incorporating aspects from other cultures that speak better to me than my own. For example, in the spiritual practice of my birth, I don’t have a way of honoring the dead. I find that the Day of the Dead celebration incorporates my desire to respect and honor my ancestors. So, too, from Diwali, we can incorporate the long view presented in the Ramayana into our spiritual practice.”
Just a couple of weeks later, a Worship Associate asks a similar question: Why do we at the First Unitarian Church of San José make such a big deal about Christmas? We light the Advent candles every Sunday of the season. We offer a candlelight Christmas Eve service.
It’s a great question, and I hope it sparks a robust discussion among us!
We are a purposely diverse group. Some folks feel oppressed, overwhelmed, or disconnected by the wider culture’s focus on this radically commercialized holiday. They wish that we would offer relief from the Christmas onslaught during this time of year.
Others among us would be devastated if we dropped any of our Christmas rituals. And still others would feel better about the Christmas acknowledgments if we would just give equal time to the other festivals of light and darkness at this season, like Chanukah and the Solstice.
This is what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist!
Sure, our faith’s tendency to question absolutely everything can be frustrating, but it can also lead to depth. It can shake us out of sleepy habits. It can awaken us to systemic injustices and oppressions. As a spiritual practice, such questioning is a lot of work. But it can also show us how to build Beloved Community—if we hold our questions and our diverse answers in a curious, compassionate, and openhearted spirit, ready to learn from each other even as we clarify our own beliefs.
So: Why do we do Christmas? Here are few of my own answers. I would love to hear yours.
·        Our religious roots lie in Christianity. The earliest understandings of “unitarianism” and “universalism” lie in interpretations of Jesus’ life and messages from thinkers in the first centuries of the Common Era. These understandings were declared heretical, but they stayed alive counterculturally, because—like the best seekings of any religion—they continue to ring true to some of us. They crack open ideas about what we humans are called to be and do on this earth. I like mining Jesus’ teachings and even the myths around his birth in order to incorporate those core ideas—core ideas about the inherent belovedness and beauty of everyone, and about our human agency to create heaven or hell here on earth through our actions.
·        Our religious ancestors in this country were religious rebels, trying to get back to those core messages from Jesus’ life. Honoring the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter guarantees that I will spend some part of each year deepening my own understanding of this heritage. Our Living Tradition draws on wisdom from six rich sources, including “wisdom from the world’s religions” and “Jewish and Christian teachings,” and I want to explore them all!
·        In general, we Unitarian Universalists are ritual-poor. Ritual speaks to mind, heart, body, and spirit; it offers experiences beyond a long string of interesting words, and opens a window on wonder. Lighting the candles at Christmastime, building our Día de los Muertos altar, celebrating Flower and Water Communions, lighting the diyas for Diwali, kindling candles or dropping stones for our Joys and Sorrows—these rituals connect us through time to those who come before us and who will come after. They remind us that we are embodied, whole-bodied beings. That feels important in our information-overloaded world.
·        The best spirit of Christmas offers delight to many. The light in our children’s eyes; the toddlers rolling about on the labyrinth in the candlelight on Christmas Eve; the tears as we listen to Crystal Isola sing “O Holy Night”; the sound of our youth’s voices reading new or ancient texts—these bring me home to hope, love, joy, and peace (the themes of this holiday season). And that, my friends, is priceless.
 
I don’t identify as Christian, though I love Jesus’ witness for love and justice. Every year, the work it takes to find our Unitarian Universalist way into Christmas leads to some new discovery. I hope we can have a robust and openhearted conversation about why we do Christmas, how we can make our reasons ring loud and clear, how we can invite the Christians in our own community to help us lead these services, and what all of us might incorporate from these traditions, even if they are not part of our own culture or theology.
This year, we will lift up Chanukah on December 10 and 17 in worship. We will celebrate Solstice twice—through the Holiday Play on December 17 at 11:00 a.m. and the Solstice service on December 21 at 8:00 p.m. And on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24, we offer two different services: one in the morning at 11:00 a.m., and our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 7:00 p.m.
May these celebrations feed your spirit! May we experience a “wholeness that comes from incorporating aspects from other cultures that speak better to me than my own.” May we continue to grow together!
 
Yours in the searching,
 
Rev. Nancy

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Nov 20 2017

December Journal: What does it mean to be a People of WONDER?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a People of WONDER?
“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth. Look for news of the latest survey in this edition of the newsletter!
When we mention the word wonder, our spirits rise. Respondents’ words lift off the page. We get a physical sensation—a “sense memory,” we call such moments in the acting world—of an opening in the chest, a gasp of breath, a widening of the eyes, a release of endorphins and peace that floods through our body. We stop in our tracks. The corners of our mouths turn up into a gentle smile. Our minds spark with curiosity and eagerness to learn. We feel connected to something larger than ourselves.
Yes, we have to slow down in our hectic, sometimes overwhelming lives in order to notice the moments that bring wonder into our lives. We have to be looking for those moments, open and available to them. But they are there, moments large and small, waiting for our mindful attention. Once noticed, these moments of wonder can change how we move into the next moment—with our broken-open hearts, Love spilling out, and a calm assurance that we are part of an interconnected web of all existence.
May we deepen our practices that lead us to wonder this month! What a great way to enter into the New Year!
 
With love and wonder in our resilience and strength,
Rev. Nancy
 
Curiosity as a Path to Wonder
·        Approaching the unknown with an attitude of gentle curiosity
·        Curiosity and deep exploration
·        The mere word WONDER opens up a space in my chest and makes me realize that sometimes I live too tightly bound—in my heart, mind, and body. To be a People of Wonder, or a Person of Wonder, I will ask more questions, be more curious, not jump to conclusions or offer advice and my own opinions, instead of seeking to understand others more deeply first. “I notice …, and I wonder …” is a great formula for getting at difficult conversations. Yes, yes, of course this theme crops up in December when the world’s religious holidays encourage us to experience awe and wonder. But I hope we figure out wider ways to apply this invitation to transformation.
·        The world is a fascinating place, with ever more things to discover. To lose our curiosity and our sense of wonder at the evolving universe would be a terrible thing. What new thing can you see or learn today?
 
The Opposite of Limitations
·        Instead of thinking in terms of limitations, think: What would my life be like if I learned to identify and to question my self-limiting thoughts?
·        We remind ourselves and each other to wake up and perceive (see, hear, touch) with Awe all the amazingly diverse manifestations of existence. We struggle to understand, and when we arrive at the edge of our limited ability to explain, we step back, gasp a breath, and are struck with a spiritual “Wow!” Without that awareness (Awe-wareness?), our lives would be flat.
 
Spiritual Practices of Wonder
·        Make time for the natural world, for poetry, music, animals, babies, stories, laughter, and connection.
·        Showing appreciation for things beyond our understanding, like children do—not trying always to appear Cool
·        We notice works that seem beyond the ordinary, casual, and mundane. And we thank or acknowledge the people who are responsible.
·        Ah. We are such a busy society and we seem to be proud of our inability to slow down. How can we find what to wonder about, if we can’t slow down? And now we’re so busy with the political news that it’s tough to remember why we are alive. I love the way friends post pictures of flowers to Facebook; it encourages me to look for those places in my life that renew my spirit.
 
Staying Open to the “Something More”
·        Wonder, I believe, keeps us grounded in miracles. To be a people of wonder is to be a people that count blessings and see silver linings. A people of wonder may or may not believe in capital-G God, but they often have a connection with a higher power, a sense of universal goodness and creation. In my book, scientists are a people of wonder and appreciation for the wonders of the world. Lastly, wonder keeps us open to welcoming the next person, the next example of creation and life.
·        To me a moment of wonder is when we release our attachments to all we think is real and allow the presence of the NOW to fill our mind and heart. It creates an instant when all is perfect within us, individually and as a whole in Oneness. We really cannot create that moment of wonder by ourselves. It comes when we release ourselves to the Oneness we are in joining, in unity, leaving ALL separation behind. I call this a holy instant.
·        It means to see the world through the eyes of a beginner, a child, or anyone who casts aside their normal way of thinking to view everything anew. It means to hold all life, life forms, and creation as miracles of nature/divine and to treat them as such.
·        There is much to wonder at in the material world, human relationships, and human achievements. But we need to be open to the ineffable, the divine, as well.
·        Of course all things are related. Wonder and Appreciation (November’s theme) can easily be connected. But wonder feels more introspective. There is Wonder in complexity. Wonder in simplicity. Wonder goes beyond noticing to joy and awe.
 

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Oct 23 2017

Sermon: The Courage to Come Out – Sunday, October 8, 2017

Published by under Minister's Musings

 

October Theme:

What does it mean to be a People of Courage?

Everyday Courage

Sunday, October 8, 2017, 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m

Call to Worship “Bold and Courageous Together,” by Erika A. Hewitt

(Please see insert.)

 Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones and Rev. Geoff Rimositis

Rev. Nancy:

Let us begin in the spirit of prayer and meditation. Would you please join me there?

Spirit of Life and of Love—Life that pulses through us and all around us; Love still longing to be born from within us—we Unitarian Universalists may not have a creed but there are two things that we hold to, that we value most: One, that every person, every creature, has worth and beauty, worth and dignity; and two, that we are all connected, what happens to one matters for all. This means that tragedies like the Las Vegas shooting a week ago, or the fate of folks still living without power and running water in Puerto Rico, or … we pause here for each of us to fill in the blank with what troubles us most, near or far [pause] … this means that all these tragedies hit us hard. We here at First Unitarian have family and kinship connections to each of these tears in the fabric of Life—family who were at that concert in Las Vegas, or living in Houston or Florida, or kin in Puerto Rico. Let us hold a moment of silence for all those who are grieving or suffering … [long pause]

Now we ask for help with our broken and overloaded hearts, for a space to reconnect with ourselves and each other, a tender, loving space where we can find the courage that we need in order to be a People of Courage. In this spirit, we turn our hearts and minds to the creation of this brave space, together. Amen.

 

On the goldenrod insert in your order of service, you’ll find the words for our Call to Worship, adapted from Rev. Erika Hewitt. This is a reading called “Bold and Courageous Together”:

 

Rev. Nancy:
The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means heart. Poet Mark Nepo says that originally courage meant to remain steadfast to one’s core: an idea that “reinforces the belief found in almost all traditions that living from the Center is what enables us to face whatever life has to offer.”

Rev. Geoff:
To “encourage” means to hearten, to impart strength and confidence. This is our work, as a religious community: to encourage one another; to be bold in engaging the world around us, as well as what scares us internally; to give one another the confidence and heart to live as fully as possible.

Congregation:
With full hearts,
we affirm our relationships with one another;
we recognize our agency and our connective power;
and we accept our responsibility to be bold and courageous.

Rev. Nancy:

This month, may we see our chalice with fresh eyes: as the symbol

of all that we are,

of all that we have done together,
and of all that we will bravely become.

May our shared ministries encourage—give heart to—

all those within, and beyond, our walls

so that we may remain steadfast to our core.

 

Reading   “What Does It Mean to Be a People of Courage?,”

by Scott Tayler, Soul Matters Sharing Circle                Amy Lorenzen

Our reading today is adapted from the Rev. Scott Tayler, who heads up the Soul Matters Sharing Circle. This is a group of Unitarian Universalist congregations that we belong to—all of us seeking ways to deepen our spiritual lives and grow stronger in our solidarity in these chaotic times. Rev. Scott starts with this quote from Mary Anne Radmacher:

“Courage doesn’t always roar.”

Then he goes on:

 

Courageous people change the world. There are so many examples of that this month. October is LGBTQ history month and reminds us of the many who bravely moved (and continue to move) our world toward greater acceptance and affirmation. The revolutionary prophet of peace, Mohandas Gandhi, was born on October 2. Our Christian friends celebrate Reformation Day and Martin Luther’s courage that changed how we all think about religious authority. And there are many many more.

Most of us don’t feel as courageous as the folks who change history. But here’s what we can help each other to remember:

In addition to the heroic acts that alter history, there are also the daily choices that prevent history from altering us. Battling evil and bending the arc of the universe toward justice deserve praise, but there’s also the ordinary work of integrity and not allowing ourselves to be bent. There’s the bravery of embracing our own beauty even when it doesn’t fit the air-brushed images surrounding us. There’s the courage of calling out the microaggressions that happen almost every day at work. The list is long: Turning down that drink one day at a time. Making yourself get out of bed when the depression tells you to stay there. Holding your partner’s hand in public.

There are dozens of ordinary acts of bravery to which we rise up every day!

Or maybe we should say: there are dozens of ordinary acts of bravery to which we help each other rise up every day. Courage is contagious. Our ordinary courage keeps each other going. Watching someone else make it through another day helps us endure. Witnessing someone else confront bigotry allows us bravely to be more open about who we are. They say that courage is found by digging deep, but most often it is passed on.

So don’t worry so much if you haven’t changed the world yet. And certainly let’s stop comparing ourselves with those giants. Our work rests less in looking up to them and more in looking over at and gaining strength from each other. And remembering that others are looking over at and needing strength from us.

Sermon       “The Courage to Come Out”        Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

“Take down these walls that divide us,” the choir sings just a little bit ago. “Take down these walls so deep inside us.” Everyday courage—helping each other to take down these walls that keep us from being our truest, best selves. It’s the “ordinary work of integrity,” Scott Tayler says, that capacity to live from our core, even when it’s uncomfortable, and still stay in relationship with each other.

 

On September 21 this year, a group of folks gathers in the Peace Plaza at Santa Clara County headquarters for the county’s first-ever raising of the Bisexuality Flag. The flag, County Supervisor Ken Yeager [who is gay] explains, is a band of pink on the top, for those who are attracted to the same gender as themselves; a band of blue on the bottom, for those attracted to the opposite gender; and where they overlap, there’s a band of purple in the middle for those attracted to all genders. It is beautiful, this flag, and on this day, with the sun shining brightly and a strong breeze blowing, the flag billows and ripples as it joins the rainbow flag for LGBTQ pride and the blue, pink, and white transgender flag. We live in a great county!

Supervisor Yeager goes on to say, “Here in Santa Clara County we strive to make everyone to feel welcome and included throughout every aspect of their lives.” He talks some about how bisexuality is all too often ignored or discriminated against by both straight and gay people. So, he says, “it is vital that we hear from the speakers that we have assembled today to reflect on their coming-out journeys and their struggles for acceptance. It is by listening to each other’s stories that we can learn and grow as a community.”

As I sit there in the front row, listening to him, I feel awed, and inspired, and moved … and downright surprised that my story is one of the ones he’s talking about. When Maribel Martinez from the county office of LGBTQ Affairs calls me a couple of weeks earlier and leaves a message asking if I will speak at the flag-raising, one of my first thoughts is “How does she know? Am I that ‘out’ already? Maybe I’m just being asked to represent the all-embracing love of Unitarian Universalism.” Either way, it’s a matter of integrity for me to say yes—yes, I will be there, yes, I will speak. Yes, it is an honor.

Then I see that the publicity for the event lists the names of us three speakers as “members of the bisexual community.” Well, OK then. Here we go! I am called to grow that much more into a full and public naming and claiming of my core self.

When this congregation calls me as your senior minister in 2005, you have a brave and sparkling history on LGBTQ inclusion, having called the first out lesbian minister in any major denomination in this area. And you did this in 1985, 20 years before my arrival. So during our interviews and conversations back in 2005, you naturally ask me—I’m then married to a man—you ask me how I will work with our gay and lesbian and trans members. And among other things I say, “Well, you know, I’m not all the way over on the meter myself.”

But at that time, in 2005, having lived a mostly heteronormative life, I didn’t think I really could claim or should claim a letter in the alphabet of LGBTQ.

It’s only about four years ago, really, in 2013, when I am single again, that I finally, finally, lay claim to what has been true all along. I start by claiming the B in LGBTQ, bisexual. But some friends help me to see that that word is too binary, too limited. So the label I currently like best for myself is “queer, all-gender loving.” I love the reclaiming of that word queer, with its resonances of being a little deliciously off-kilter in terms of the “norms” imposed by society, a little beyond strict definition or expectations. And yet, my darlings, I have to admit that when I send out my all-church email on Friday and tell you that I will be preaching about the courage to come out as queer, my fingers tremble on the keyboard as I type that word.

And then “all-gender loving”—meaning that if and when I fall in love again, the right partner for me could be anywhere along the wide beautiful spectrum of gender identity.

Four years ago, I was just tiptoeing into this new naming and claiming of a fuller self. But it’s only 13 months ago, called by the communities I love—our interfaith community-organizing group People Acting in Community Together or PACT; you, the beloved community I serve; the people of San José at the Equality March in June; and now the county—only 13 months ago that I began to come out more publicly. Just four times; today’s the fifth.

I did not think coming out would be a big deal for me. Surely I could not be held by a more loving and accepting community than I am here at First Unitarian. Surely this story is a deeply familiar one: an older woman who has been married to men realizing she can love more genders than that. In fact, the cliché factor was one reason I really didn’t want to come out! Especially when the truth of my sexuality may seem “theoretical” as long as I remain single.

I also thought I didn’t deserve to come out because I had benefited from all the power and privilege of my straight-appearing life. But as I have stepped, and sometimes leapt, into this deeper integrity, I have had to realize how deeply discrimination has impacted me. Scott Tayler says that ordinary courage is “living with integrity and not allowing ourselves to be bent by the injustices in the world”—but my mind has been bent. There are stereotypes around bisexuality, pansexuality, bi+, queer all-gender loving sexuality—all of these labels and more can be claimed by people like me—there are stereotypes about us that are so embedded in our culture that I didn’t even realize until I began this coming-out journey that they are also embedded in me: the ideas that “it’s a phase”: “it’s not even a thing,” “it’s not real”—you must either really be gay or straight; “you just want more options”; even “you just want to be different or special”—remember what I said about the resonances with that word queer, about how I like feeling a little different, a little special?

In truth it has been scary to feel I am “setting myself apart.” It turns out that both straight and gay people have prejudices about bi people. Yikes, for someone who longs to be connected to as many people as possible—the idea that this truth about myself might actually disconnect me is terrifying! Is that why it has taken me so long?

I’m not one to regret the past usually, those things we cannot change, but I have had the “what if?” and “if only” thoughts about my identity: what if I could have come out earlier? What difference would that have made in my ability to love and trust and connect? What difference might it have made for my self-esteem? What have I lost? What do we lose when systemic oppression—fear, ignorance, violence, hatred—silences or invisibilizes any portion of our human kindred? How much potential for love and joy and productive energy do we lose as a community, as humankind?

 

Something changes for me, though, on the day that we raise the Bisexuality Flag in the Peace Plaza of Santa Clara County headquarters on W. Hedding St. The words of Supervisor Yeager and of the other speakers, Vera Sloan and Moria Merriweather—all three of us affiliated with this congregation—invite me to take my place fully in this particular community, to recognize that my story too is part of the struggle and part of bending the arc of the universe toward justice, one inch at a time. As Ken Yeager says about the significance of this small gesture—the raising of a flag, he says: “Together we can honor the courage it takes each and every one of us to live our lives openly and authentically.”

Here I am, mid-leap, yet mixed in with the complicated feelings are also relief, and joy, and mystery about what may come, and sheer wonder at the evolving of this human life.

 

So, dear ones, where do each of us find the courage to live our lives openly and authentically?

I believe that courage is like a muscle that we can exercise and grow stronger. I found courage in a Soul Matters spiritual exercise from September (this is a plug for taking part in our Soul Matters Reflections Group!)—this spiritual exercise that invites us to “notice all that we’ve welcomed into our lives.” When I look at the leaps I’ve made—into acting, into ministry, into relationship, into this new claiming of my authentic identity—I notice that they have always come about with the support of community: some friend who says, “why didn’t we think of that before?!” as I change careers, or “of course we knew that” about my identity, and “congratulations” at each step. But they have also most often come out of times of deepest depression. Often, I think, that depression seeded by not honoring some truth in me. Until finally the pulse of Life itself demands that I move forward, take that leap … Over the course of my life, welcoming in challenging vocations—and they are both challenging—and relationships, and roles in the community, and grief—this has helped my courage muscle to grow stronger.

And like Alec’s story of changing careers, we can find the courage to become our full selves in a community that encourages us to grow, to live from our Center.

The great twentieth-century theologian Howard Thurman—we Unitarian Universalists sometimes try to claim him as our own, we are so close—Howard Thurman says: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

So I invite to move into a time of meditation, to let all these words settle deeper into our own minds, hearts, bodies, spirits. Maybe you’ll want to ask yourself the questions you’ll find in your order of service:

  • What’s holding you back from doing something that you hold deep inside you?
  • To what and to whom can you turn for the courage to take your next steps?

Into the silence, into the silence …

*Benediction                                                 Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

The Talmud says—I’m paraphrasing here!—“The day is short and the work is great. It will not be finished in our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we can stop working” to build a world of love, justice, and compassion. So, as we go from this place, may we help each other find the courage to do what makes us come alive, and to live from our core.

Amen. Shalom. Salaam. Namaste. Ashé. And blessed be.

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Oct 16 2017

November Journal: What does it mean to be a People of APPRECIATION?

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Does It Mean to Be a People of Appreciation?

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 

In “Gratitude and Appreciation: What’s the Difference?” Deborah Price offers this wisdom:

“Gratitude is the base from which appreciation grows and flourishes—if we’re paying attention. That is, we can be grateful for something in our lives without really appreciating it. [To] shift from gratitude to appreciation involves being more present—more thoughtfully aware and active in reflecting on the reasons we feel grateful about something or someone…. When we truly have appreciation, we bring to mind what about someone or something makes us feel brighter, lighter, happier, more inspired, energized, and loved. And that’s a good thing, regardless of what’s going on [in the world] that is beyond our control and can test our gratefulness.”[1]

Just as real Love for me is a muscular, active verb, so too appreciation can become an active life-changing spiritual practice. In these challenging times, practicing appreciation—making it a way of life—can keep us strong, hopeful, and connected.

So let’s turn our attentions in this energizing direction this month, dearly loved community! Please take a look at the Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises offered here. These help us to take this month’s theme into our daily lives and witness how they can change us for the better.

Choose one or more of these exercises. Try it on for some period of time this month—an hour, a day, a week … Then join me and the ministerial team for our Soul Matters Reflections Group on this theme: Sunday, December 3, 1:30-3:00 p.m. in the Ramsden Fireside Room. We will offer each other the energizing connections of deep listening and sharing—and launch our holidays with appreciation!

 

With my deepest appreciation for all that you are and all that you do,

 

Rev. Nancy

 

P.S. Special appreciation to Small-Group Ministry Content Team leader Julia Rodríguez for all the resources that have inspired and created this essay and the exercises!

Soul Matters Spiritual Exercises:

Becoming a People of Appreciation!

  1. Make a “Life Appreciation” list. Most of us have a bucket list—a list of things that we hope to do in our life. This list is the opposite. Make a list of all the things that you have done and seen and experienced in your life–items big and small. For instance: tasted salt water, moved to a new state/country, learned some words of a new language, climbed a mountain, mentored a child, seen a bear in the wild … See how long you can make this life-appreciation list. What surprises you about this exercise? How does this list make you feel about yourself and your life?

 

  1. Find something to appreciate about each person you interact with during the course of a day or a week. When possible, offer appreciation in the form of thanks, encouragement, or validation. What surprises you about this exercise? How does it make you feel about you move through your day?

 

  1. Send notes of appreciation for no special reason. For instance, “Your smile lights up my day.” Choose one day a week—or one time of day—that is your note-writing day or time. How does this practice make you feel? What do you discover from doing this practice over a few days or weeks?

 

  1. Use your senses to appreciate the world as you pass through it. Spend time noticing the smells, sounds, tastes, touch, and sights. Keep a list—on your phone, in a journal, in your mind or heart—of what you notice. How does this practice change how you move through your day?

 

  1. What do you appreciate most about yourself? How can you treat yourself like someone who matters? This month, offer yourself appreciation for your best qualities and good deeds. Write yourself a note of appreciation and mail it to your home or work. What gestures of appreciation mean the most to you? What does this teach you about expressing appreciation for others? What part of this practice will you carry forward into December and the new year?

[1] http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/yourdailyspiritualstimulus/2009/04/gratitude-and-appreciation-whats-the-difference.html

 

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