Sep 23 2016

October Theme: Living with Our Fears

Published by 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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Aug 26 2016

September Theme: Change

Published by under Minister's Musings

The Changes We Embrace for the Sake of Beloved Community

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

In the first days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, New York City, still shrouded in ash, transforms itself from a hub of harried competitors, anxious seekers, and disoriented tourists into a family of compassionate, loving kindred. People are united—and this is important—not by a common enemy but by shared loss and sharp grief. The World Trade Center towers and the first responders represent every race, religion, nationality, and class in the world. Everyone of every age knows someone who has died or someone who is directly affected by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job.
Yet in the midst of horror, beauty erupts. People open their homes, offer free rides, and show up with pastoral care and doughnuts for those working in the rubble of the towers. They make hard calls to next of kin. They find ways to comfort their children. They look at each other gently; they ask the deep questions and answer honestly. They gather in houses of worship to mourn and begin to make meaning. They make meaning by building Beloved Community.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and in the face of today’s divisive national mood, the 9/11 Day group, including family members and survivors of the tragedy, has formed a coalition of nonprofits. Called “Tomorrow Together,” they will “organize diversity service projects, help teach empathy and unity to America’s youth, and bring generations together nationwide for community service.” David Paine, president and cofounder of 9/11 Day, says, “Our goal with ‘Tomorrow Together’ is to rekindle and reinforce the important lessons of empathy, service and unity that arose from the 9/11 tragedy, and to encourage all Americans and our leaders to work more closely together again as one nation to address the challenges facing our society.”

Join Us for Acts of Service
On Sunday, September 11, we launch our own recommitment to service by participating in the collection of much-needed items for our unhoused neighbors and kin who are served by the Julian Street Inn. Please see the list of needed items elsewhere in this newsletter, and bring your gifts to the entryway of the church before the 11:00 a.m. worship service on September 11. Our children and youth will parade in with these contributions as worship begins.

A Call for Deeper Changes
To embody empathy and unity, and to continue to build Beloved Community here at First Unitarian, we must “double down” on the spiritual practices that lead us to our best selves and to deeper connections, collaborations, solidarity, and community. In Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (known as “Thay,” for “teacher” in Vietnamese) offers some deceptively simple yet profound spiritual practices, including these two:
1. “The Art of Watering Flowers”: “‘Watering flowers,’” Thay writes, “means giving encouragement by showing someone … their good qualities and our appreciation of those qualities…. The practice of watering flowers is an expression of our gratitude. When we are grateful we will no longer suffer so much.” As a community, we here at FUCSJ have lived through great trauma in recent months. Let us practice looking at each other gently. Let us ask the deep questions—“How are you really?”—and answer honestly. Most of all, let us speak and write and name our appreciations for each other’s beautiful qualities and generous actions. Our parched souls need the water—and we have this kind of water in abundance!
2. “Shining Light”: Shining light is the tender, loving practice of inviting each other to our best selves when we have made a hurtful mistake, whether intentionally or unintentionally. As Thay says, we are “the bones and flesh of the same Sangha [community] body.” So if we shine light on another’s mis-step, we are truly shining light on our own mistakes. This is not about “policing” each other’s behaviors! Rather, I’m inviting us to acknowledge our own mistakes and to encourage others to change with us as we recognize the flaws we share. For instance, as many of you know, I can “blurt” or snap at someone when I am particularly stressed or frustrated. It’s a sad flaw that I’m working hard to change. Recently I was reminded of just how hurtful this blurting can be; the wound I have inflicted can still smart years later, even when I have apologized quickly and tried to return to right relationship. It matters what we do and say! In our community, it’s particularly important that we slow down and think before we blurt or tease. That teasing comment may come across as hurtful. Without our meaning to, we may reinscribe a racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or ableist stereotype with our awkward attempt at humor. Let’s shine light on our own beautiful, broken selves, and practice a deeper mindfulness: slowing down and considering how we want to act and speak with each other, and gently reminding each other of our call to Make Love Visible in all we do and say, when we make a mistake.

With deep love for you and gratitude for this journey we share,

Rev. Nancy

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Jul 22 2016

Mission Statement & Vision 2020

Published by under Minister's Musings

Mission Statement

Bound together by our commitment to making Love visible, we gather to deepen our spirits, to work for justice, and to create one sacred family.

Vision 2020

In 2020 at the First Unitarian Church of San José, we see:

 

Within

  • Worship, classes, and activities that deepen personal spiritual development and encourage the expression in the world of one’s faith
  • Congregation-wide participation in activities that promote multicultural, anti-racist, anti-oppressive competencies, including deep listening, compassionate communication, and understanding of systems of oppression
  • Experiences in worship services, in church events, and through visual displays that deepen one’s awareness of multiple faiths and practices

 

Among

  • A robust membership support system that engages everyone from first-time visitors to long-time members and friends through programs that include social events and celebrations, diverse support groups, and service to the congregation and to the community
  • Children, youth, and young adults at the center of congregational life through classes, projects, worship, and intergenerational experiences
  • Our facilities structurally sound and updated to support our ministries

 

Beyond

  • Coalitions and alliances with interfaith, Unitarian Universalist, and secular organizations working for racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice

 

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Jul 22 2016

August Journal: Habits of the Heart for Times Such as These

Published by under Minister's Musings

Habits of the Heart for Times Such as These
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
 
Every day throughout my teenage years, my father sits at the kitchen table in the early morning hours, a cup of coffee by his side, a yellow legal pad before him, and a pencil in his hand. He is making a list (or five, or ten): lists of to-do’s for that day and that week; lists of his dreams and of steps to accomplish them; lists of instructions to give his colleagues, or his family, or the Sunday school class he’ll teach that weekend; lists of jokes to share with those very same people, bless him.
            For years, I railed against the content of my father’s lists, especially when they offered helpful but unasked-for advice for me. Little did I know how deeply this spiritual practice of my father’s—the chaos-reducing, brain-freeing, creativity-encouraging practice of list making—was seeping into my soul.
Nowadays, especially when our world—locally, nationally, personally, publicly—feels chaotic, traumatic, exhausting, and confused, I find it helpful to ground myself in this spiritual practice. I make, or I find, a list or lists that offer a pathway to clarity, peace, and a renewed sense of gladness about being alive. And lo and behold, I have found just such a list this week!
But first, a little context:
 
Habits of the Heart
What is a spiritual practice, after all, if not a “habit of the heart,” as writer-teacher Parker Palmer calls them? We find an activity that grounds us in our best selves and that opens our minds and hearts to new ways of seeing, thinking, being. Maybe our spiritual practice involves making lists, or praying, meditating, taking photographs, drumming, dancing, singing, beading, journaling, washing the dishes, serving meals to those in need … Actually, anything can be a spiritual practice when we bring a mindful intention to it. We practice and practice these activities until they become a habit of the heart, a steady portal into a new way of being in the world. We practice and practice, and gradually we feel ourselves beginning to change, with the side effect that our capacity to change the world around us grows, too.
 
In Times Such as These
As I write, the temperature of the national presidential election season has skyrocketed, with the major parties’ national conventions bringing heated rhetoric and sometimes-alarming surprises. We Unitarian Universalists feel, too, the pain of this summer’s brutal losses—the deaths of citizens and police officers; violence near and far; needs beyond our capacities to fix in any simple or straightforward way.
            Yet this week, just when I need it most, I come across a wonderful list. Parker Palmer lists five “Habits of the Heart” to help “heal the heart of democracy.” And it strikes me that Palmer’s list applies not just to our political system—though God knows we need these habits there. It can also remind us, dear ones, of the habits of the heart that we need as we strive to create the Beloved Community right here and now.
 
The List—Five Habits of the Heart for Us to Practice:
1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
5. A capacity to create community.[1]
 
What We Do Now
This list will not surprise us Unitarian Universalists. It echoes our core principles and the very mission of our congregation.
But in times such as these, the ground of our faith must prove its strength. We must “double down” on the spiritual practices that lead us to our best selves and to deeper connections, collaborations, solidarity, and community. What we do now matters!
            So: let’s plunge in. Let’s double down on the spiritual practices that give us the strength, hope, and courage to change and to be agents of change. We need such habits of the heart for these crucial times. I can’t wait to participate in what we will create!
 
With deep love for you and gratitude for this journey we share,
 
Rev. Nancy

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May 20 2016

May Theme: Letting Go

Published by under Minister's Musings

All Hands on Deck!
Uniting Our Forces for Justice in This Election Season
by the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
 
We have a crucial opportunity to make a difference during this election season by calling “all hands on deck” for the Voter Engagement Campaign that People Acting in Community Together (PACT) is organizing across our county and that its parent organization PICO is organizing across the country. 
 
What Is the Voter Engagement Campaign?
Goals:
The Voter Engagement Campaign aims to:
1. Strengthen PACT’s power and each participating congregation’s power and effectiveness—by showing how many folks we reach county-wide, and by experiencing the impact we have as a team! (Imagine how persuasive our meetings with decision makers will be in years to come if we can show that we have had an impact on a great number of voters this season.)
2. Transform the electorate by focusing on people who have been excluded from the democratic process but who can and need to have a voice.
 
Infrastructure:
Each PACT congregation will set up a team of people willing to work in five areas:
— door knocking (in partnership with other congregations’ teams, like our friends at Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Most Holy Trinity, and many more whom we will meet as we partner)
— phone banking (we are pros at this!)
— data collection (perfect job for the computer-savvy quieter folks among us—lots of data entry to keep track of how many people we reach—this is what builds power for us as PACT!)
— voter registration and pledges (in areas where this will have the most impact)
— coordinating the team’s efforts and communicating with other teams
 
Training:
PACT will provide training for the Voter Engagement Campaign, and will bring groups of folks together across congregations based on which role(s) they want to play.
 
Relationships: 
In our work for immigration reform over the past ten years, we have experienced the life-changing joy and power of building relationships across congregations and cultures. The Voter Engagement Campaign offers us a similar chance to expand our hearts and lives by connecting with our neighbors across the county.
 
Time Commitment:
Each volunteer can control how many hours they put into this work. The more people involved, the less any one person will need to do.
 
At FUCSJ:
On Sunday, June 19, we will offer a worship service that explores the underlying forces driving this disturbing election season. What pain and anger cause such extremism? How do we feel compassion for those whose views not only differ from ours but seem downright dangerous? What does our Unitarian Universalist faith call us to do at such a time as this?
After worship that same Sunday, PACT will offer a training for all who want to participate in the Voter Engagement Campaign. Please join us for both worship and training on Sunday, June 19!
 
What Can You Do?
·         Say “YES” if and when our PACT-staff organizer Jesús Ruiz calls and asks you to join a training and a team!
·         RSVP ASAP for the training on Sunday, June 19, at 12:45 p.m. at FUCSJ (room TBA), where PACT staff will get us ready to jump in with other congregations. RSVP to Office Manager Sharmeen Enayat:fucsjoffice@gmail.com.
·         Invite friends to join you on the FUCSJ team!
 
“Why Us, Rev. Nancy?”
Friends, together we have the passion, leadership, engagement, and concern for the well-being of all peoples and creatures—and of the planet itself—that calls us to make a difference in our community. So much is at stake in this year’s election, not just because of the election of a new president who will set tone and direction for the country but also because of numerous crucial bills and measures that reflect on our care and inclusion of all. Each of us has particular gifts to bring to this campaign—and each of us has friends who will also say “yes” to participating when YOU invite them to join.
     
Let’s SHOW UP!
We can’t sit this election out. It’s about much more than just making sure that we ourselves vote. It’s about more than just registering more voters. It’s about affirming our deepest values for the direction of our community and our country. It’s about building networks and power so that we can be even more effective in the future.
       And most of all, it’s about RELATIONSHIP. It’s about our kinship with each other and all around us. It’s about Making Love Visible.
 
I hope you’ll join me in this campaign.
 
With my love,
 
Rev. Nancy

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Mar 28 2016

April Theme: Coming Home

Published by under Minister's Musings

What We Long For

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

What word or words describe what you most long for in your life this year? Another way to put it: What words describe your goals for yourself these days?

          And what words describe what you most long for in our congregational community? What goals would you set for this community in the days, weeks, months, and years to come?

          Since January, I have collected answers to these questions from members of our spiritual home. The range of answers demonstrates our rich diversity. The repetition of some words reveals some common threads. I have asked our newsletter editors to create “word clouds” out of these words—one for our personal longings, another for our longings for First Unitarian. In a word cloud, repeated words and ideas show up in a larger font.

          Yet every one of these words represents a “font” of longing and of wisdom. Where do you find your hopes and dreams for yourself, and for our beloved community, in these “clouds”?

How shall we ground these hopes and dreams—how shall we grow them—in this, our spiritual home?

It’s going to be a beautiful month at FUCSJ. I’ll see you in church!

For Ourselves:

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For Our Community:

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With you on the journey, with love,

Rev. Nancy

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Feb 26 2016

March Theme: Refilling the Well

Published by under Minister's Musings

We Are Enough: How Healing Begins

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Please: Stop for a moment.

Breathe.

Rest.

For these few minutes, watching the words scroll across your screen or holding this journal in your hand, you do not need to “do” anything more than open yourself to this instant. Let the words roll or tumble or stroll into your mind and heart. If something interests or inspires you, that’s lovely. If not, that’s OK, too.

These moments of rest are yours. A time to remember that we—all of us—already are enough. Sure, we all want to continue to grow—at least, I hope we do! Yet who we are right now, just as we are—that’s good. That’s enough.

No need to beat ourselves up for mistakes we have made or for what we have yet to do.

No reason at all to believe the great lie that you may have heard someplace—that you are not as beautiful, loving, and lovable as you truly are.

Right here and now, see yourself as a sponge, soaking up these words, these true words:

You, I, we are enough.

We are enough.

Breathe.

Rest.

Let a smile play across your lips.

Or not.

We are enough.

We humans—especially we humans living in this valley—harm ourselves when we absorb the messages of our larger society, messages that say we are not enough. Sometimes we ourselves double-down on the harm of not-enoughness—by working ourselves into the ground, or by pumping up our ego in compensation, or by hurting our relationships through lack of care, understanding, and simple presence. Sometimes it’s our situation that double-downs on the harm, such as when a lack of resources or unjust and oppressive systems make it impossible for us to rest if we hope to keep ourselves and our loved ones housed and fed.

We need to understand these harms and their sources in order to reconnect with our deepest, most abiding sources of replenishment.

Our congregants’ range of responses to this month’s theme of “Refilling the Well” offer suggestions for healing. You can see many of these responses in “In Our Own Voices” in this issue. I confess: I’m the one who writes, “I know all too well those moments when my spiritual and emotional well runs dry. Would it be possible to keep my water jugs fairly full all the time, or am I destined to lurch from oasis to oasis, gulping thirstily at the things that replenish me?” Would my stores of spiritual water run low if I really had the assurance—which Unitarian Universalism offers—that I am already enough?

Some congregants’ responses refer to literal water. In our drought-stricken state (multiple meanings intended), the longing for cool, refreshing, clean water in abundant quantities lies just below the surface of our conscious thoughts and feelings—except when it bubbles over into active anxiety.

We are afraid that there isn’t enough.

“It’s interesting to think of the literal meaning of ‘refilling the well,’” one congregant writes. “A well is not like a glass or a reservoir that needs to be refilled. A well is presumably refilled by the Earth if humans haven’t drawn too much from the aquifer. Following that view of the phrase, you could talk about stopping whatever harmful things we’re doing and then allowing the well to refill (or heal) naturally. Would it help if we used that as a metaphor for other aspects of our life?”

This month at First Unitarian we offer abundant spiritual offerings for refilling the well, from the range of worship services and small groups, to the all-church party on March 13, to Easter’s Flower Communion featuring the folk duo emma’s revolution! This month, may our natural healing begin, as we take in this assurance of our faith:

We are enough.

We are enough.

We are enough!

With love and faith,

Rev. Nancy

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Jan 29 2016

Rev. Nancy’s Coauthor, Karin Lin, Returns to FUCSJ, February 18-24!

Published by under Minister's Musings

Karin Lin, lay leader from First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, returns to First Unitarian this month “in her own voice”! Yes, that’s an inside joke: Karin had lost her voice when she visited First Unitarian this past November, but with technological savvy, she discovered a way to conduct interviews anyway. Thanks to all who participated in group and individual conversations with Karin and Rev. Nancy then.

During this visit, Karin and Rev. Nancy will conduct more individual interviews for their book, The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism (working title). If you receive an email request for an interview, please do say yes. You can visit the book’s website for more information: http://joyofthejourneyuu.weebly.com/.

And we hope everyone will offer Karin a warm “Welcome Home!” as she joins us in worship on February 21.

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Dec 28 2015

January Theme: Justice

Published by under Minister's Musings

From Joy to Justice and Back Again

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Here at First Unitarian, we move from December’s worship theme of Joy into January’s theme of Justice on purpose. It’s no accident that these themes sit side by side in this church year. Does this surprise you?

Many of us think of justice making as hard work—and indeed it is. Systemic roadblocks and our human failings often make the road to justice a long, winding, muddy, and difficult journey.

But we Unitarian Universalists have a mind and heart for justice. A vision of a better world, the conviction that we can help to create it, and a passion for taking action in solidarity with our kin near and far—all these act like a compass for the journey. And in my experience, once we set out along the road, we discover just how much joy comes with the journey itself. No wonder coauthor Karin Lin and I have chosen as our book’s working title The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism! For us, justice and joy walk hand in hand, just as injustice travels with pain, delay, and frustration. When we live leaning toward justice, we encounter all of these companions.

Some of my learnings on this journey keep me moving forward. Let me offer these conversation starters for our month of renewed exploration of this theme:

  1. Justice is partial—by which I mean two things:

First, justice usually arrives in bite-sized pieces. We never get every change that we want; no justice is “final.” This means that it’s crucial to celebrate every move in the right direction. Marriage equality was a big win in 2015! We know we have much more work to do—for transgender rights and understanding, to name just one area where lives are at stake. Relishing the joy of each win gives us energy for the work to come. We will spend some time this month lifting up our progress toward justice in the past year.

Second, justice is partial in the sense that it is “biased”; it leans in a particular direction. The scales of Lady Justice tip toward all that’s loving, compassionate, and inclusive. Justice leans in the direction of those who are oppressed and marginalized by society’s broken assumptions that some categories of people are “better” than others based on race, gender, gender identity, abilities, sexual orientation, class, education, ethnicity, religion, and so on.

Yes, no doubt some of you are already objecting to my description of Lady Justice here. Isn’t she supposed to be impartial, with the scales neatly balanced? I claim poetic license, along with the wisdom of such traditions as liberation theology, where Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor” marked a new era in justice making. We need a compass for the journey of justice making—and this is as strong a compass as I know.

Perhaps Dr. Cornel West better sums up what I mean when he says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As always, the love referred to here is muscular and active, not sentimental and passive—a Love that connects us to something larger, extending beyond our individual limits, yet it gets expressed in sturdy, practical ways through our individual and collective words and deeds. Love made visible in all that we say and do.

  1. Justice making relies on authentic, accountable relationships across all kinds of diversities. And that’s the real joy of the work—the fun, and interest, and curiosity, and warmth, and compassion, and humanity of it.

In congregants’ responses to our Vision 2020 conversations, First Unitarian’s leaders hear your hunger for a better world that we help create. Racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice; issues of homelessness and mental health—these aspects of our lives cry out for our attention and our care. Just as we discovered in December, when we turn toward what we love with a deep, abiding love, we discover the joy that both guides us and fuels us for the journey we have ahead. Come, join in the journey! Let us be joyful, committed companions for each other on the road to justice!

With renewed love and commitment,

Rev. Nancy

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Nov 30 2015

December Theme: Joy

Published by under Minister's Musings

Looking for Joy in All the Right Places

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

When I meet with the Worship Associates to begin planning our December worship services, I groan as we turn toward the month’s theme of Joy. How can joy make me protest? Well, it’s the media’s relentless insistence on good cheer—as though happiness can be produced on demand. It’s the nonstop soundtrack of perky holiday songs—enjoyable for the first few weeks, not so much after that. It’s the shopping frenzy that skyrockets earlier and earlier each year, even as it draws me up in its wake. Kudos to all of you who find December joyful from the get-go, but I confess: the symptoms of the season can turn your Senior Minister into a bit of a “Bah, humbug!” kind of person.

The theme brings up other questions, too. What is joy, anyway? Does the quality of joy change over time for each of us? Maybe I’m holding joy to the wrong standard, expecting elation when quiet contentment now signals my own deeper experience of joy.

In response to all this puzzling, Worship Associate Brian Singer and I give ourselves some homework: Every day, we will make a list of everything that brings us joy, large or small, between November 11 and December 13, when he and I lead worship together.

I am failing at this homework. Oh, there have been plenty of sweet moments since Brian and I concocted this plan, but somehow I still resist listing these things as “joy.”

What’s up with that?

I bet it has something to do with my most common theme: that we are called to live with broken-openheartedness. As I write, we are flooded with news of violent attacks and with violent responses to those attacks. We wait anxiously to hear whether the United Nations Climate Summit in wounded Paris will produce effective responses to climate disruption. Heck, when we look at the woes of the world—both far away and nearby—they are enough to make anyone glum.

And yet—my better self reminds me that it’s not enough to stay stuck there. Why are the December holidays associated with joy, after all? At the heart of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa lie some common themes. Each of them offers the promise of new life: whether it comes in the form of an amazing liberation struggle and the miracle of light, or in the birth of a humble child who teachings of love will change the world, or in the celebration of a rich heritage and the renewal of commitment to community. Each one calls us to connect to something larger than ourselves. These holidays promise that we will find joy in these connections.

So today, I finally start my homework—my list of small daily joys. As coauthor Karin and I start our trip to Phoenix, I notice the joy sparked by conversations with strangers we meet along the way: with the taxi driver who is proud of his profession; with the baristas at the airport Starbucks where our smiles and warm wishes really do make for a better day; with the cashier at the newsstand, where I buy handfuls of beautiful greeting cards—a silly card for my brother who turns 70 today; several copies of a card that says, “In my imaginary universe you live right next door”; a Thanksgiving card that quotes our Unitarian ancestor Ralph Waldo Emerson; and thank-you cards for the folks who will put me up in Phoenix. I imagine the pleasure these cards will bring to their recipients. The cashier and I joke about how much the cards will cost, and laugh when both of us guess too low. Sure, I see the irony in my getting some joy out of shopping, but on a deeper level, I also see that I managed to connect to something larger than my own grumpy self.

December 2015 - Joy

And suddenly joy doesn’t seem so hard to find! Listening to my own inner guides (rather than the corporate ads and soundtracks) and turning my thoughts toward those around me, a hundred ways to find joy occur to me.

So, friends, let us engage in this spiritual practice of finding—and creating joy—this season. Let us connect with something larger than ourselves. Let us model compassionate, loving responses to the world’s woes and to our own broken hearts. This is the “new life” that will make the holidays meaningful for us Unitarian Universalists. This is the miracle that we can create together. Come, my boon companions, let us go looking for joy in all the right places!

With renewed hope and joy,

Rev. Nancy

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