Sep 22 2017

October Journal: What does it mean to be a people of COURAGE?

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In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a people of COURAGE?
“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.
Your responses to this month’s prompt—“What does it mean to be a people of courage?” —are bracing. I feel energized and strengthened just from reading them. Even those who ask the tough questions make me feel more awake and alive, more capable of acting courageously—especially if we are all in this together.  
The journeys we take through our themes this year ask us not just to grow as individuals but also to grow as a community. I wonder, then, dear ones, how we shall grow into our Unitarian Universalist identity as “a people of courage” over the course of this month and the months to come?
Always seeking to grow with you,
Rev. Nancy
Meanings of Courage
·        Courage can mean many things. I think of courage as showing up, standing up, speaking up for what we believe in, what our heart calls to us to say.
·        To be a people of courage means standing up for rights that are too often forgotten. It means being caring when the majority is careless or worse. It also means listening and learning to be an ally. Courageous people don’t always need to be the leader, particularly if it’s time to hear from a less outspoken, but worthy, culture, race, or non-mainstream people.
·        It means to stand up for what we believe, even in the difficult times. Support others as allies during difficult times. Come to church services when we are exploring difficult subjects.
·        Courage is taking action based on principle despite one’s fears. If you are not afraid, then it doesn’t take courage.
·        Exploring the unknown
·        Taking on the difficult tasks
·        It means to speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. It means to push through your discomfort or apathy in order to take action for a more just society. It means to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be open, and sometimes to just be quiet and listen.
What’s the Source of Courage?
·        What’s the source of courage in an individual or a community? We need to have something to which our loyalty, love, and commitment surpass our fear of harm. I think about those People of Courage—many beloved Unitarian Universalist friends among them—who walked down the street in Charlottesville this past August and then surrounded the park where the white supremacists/neo-Nazis were gathered, some with an intent to do harm. My friends embodied courage because their sense of connection and accountability to those most targeted by that harm surpassed their fear of being harmed themselves. I have been at rallies, demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, and marches where my fear of hurt and harm has overwhelmed me, almost paralyzed me. It’s time for me to strengthen those Courage muscles in the face of my fears. I bet such strengthening applies to all circumstances where we need courage—not just the social-justice experiences I mention, but in our personal lives too. To be a people of Courage, we have to strengthen those muscles and find a deeper source than our fears.
·        “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Ambrose Redmoon
Courage to Fulfill Our Mission
·        Do we have the courage to actually Make Love Visible in ALL we say or do? I often hear people speaking badly of people they don’t agree with. When people hear us insult our country’s leaders, even if we strongly disagree with those leaders, have we “made love visible in all we say and do”? We certainly do not need to agree with anyone to show them love.
What Do People of Courage Do?
·        We acknowledge our fears; look to one another for affirmation, validation, and acceptance; and dare to move forward, knowing that we are not alone.
·        Do things which make us feel uncomfortable, but which will help us grow. Do things which make us feel afraid so we feel our heart beat more (cuore = heart), but will make our love more visible.
·        Balancing courage and self-protection. In this day, be courageous to do the right thing. Stand up for someone who is being bullied. Parents and teachers need training on how to deal with bullying, cyber-bullying, and playground bullying.
·        Be willing to express disagreements when among likeminded folks who all share the same point of view. Resist the temptation to give knee-jerk responses to ideas without examining them more impartially.
·        We need to be willing to do what is right, even if there are financial implications, fear of getting arrested, fear of community disapproval.
·        In a way that is harmless and truthful, we speak to and act on all areas of injustice. This means standing up for those whose voices are not being heard or standing against even those we normally agree with but who are not acting in a manner befitting a welcoming people.
·        We need to stand up and be counted for the causes we believe in, at every opportunity—without making a pest of ourselves. When there’s an opportunity, do good, even though it always takes some effort and may involve moving outside our comfort zone.

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Jul 21 2017

August Journal: Improvising the Spirit of Play

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Improvising the Spirit of Play
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
“I just don’t want to adult today.”
          This phrase pops up in social media so regularly that it now qualifies as a meme. Wait, you’re not a social media maven? Don’t know what a meme is? No worries! Here’s one definition: it’s a phrase, video, or image that catches the spirit of the moment, or a deeply shared experience, so well that folks keep passing it on until it has thousands of “likes” and “shares.”
I don’t know who first decides to use adult as a verb, but surely it sums up everything that is ponderous about the responsibilities of living in these times. Don’t we all want a break sometimes from the bills or the news, from our physical weariness or our flagging spirits?
Now, don’t get me wrong: overall I am a big fan of adulting. I like having a challenging job that I love and amazing people to work with (you!). I like having the communal power to make a difference, and I like waking up more and more to the difficult realities of this world because my heart grows larger and my mind stronger and my sense of kinship deeper as a result. The relationships made possible by such adulating are simply awesome and life-saving.
Still … there’s a spirit of playfulness in that complaint—“I just don’t want to adult today.” And I can relate!
On my Study Break this July—and during most of the daytimes in August, too—my coauthor Karin Lin and I are putting in long hours, wrestling with words, trying to capture big ideas, hoping to tell transformative heart-filled stories in order to get our book (new working title: Mistakes, Misgivings, and Miracles: Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism) to the publisher by early September. It’s serious business, a real calling. And we have had to remember how to step aside from the seriousness and improvise a sense of play in the hours not spent at the desk. Taking pictures, taking a stroll, meeting a dog or a horse or a cat, meeting a stranger or a friend, watching a show or gazing at the stars—just about anything that loosens our grip on urgency and deadlines for a breather can return us to that sense of wonder that playtime brings.
This month at First Unitarian you will find lots of opportunities for improvising a sense of play. Whether you spend time with our Partner Church visitors at the welcoming and the farewell parties, on July 26 and August 9; or join us for worship on August 6 when we’ll talk about FUN, on August 13 when we celebrate JAZZ, or on August 27 when we bring back news of Justice General Assembly, urging us to “Resist AND Rejoice”; or you simply show up for any of our gatherings, this month we improvise a sense of play in the midst of our adulting. I look forward to sharing this spirit of joy with you!
With love,
Rev. Nancy

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May 24 2017

June Journal: Forgiveness and Our Families

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Forgiveness and Our Families:

Taking the Ritual of Forgiveness Home


In worship on Mother’s Day this year, we shared an all-ages Ritual of Forgiveness. So many people found it meaningful that we want to share it with you here. Maybe this ritual can become part of your regular spiritual practices at home, on your own or with your family.


The Ritual

We all make mistakes—big ones and little ones and everything in between. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve experienced this in your family, too. Parents, grandparents, caregivers, children, youth, young adults—our families are great places for practicing the art of asking for, and offering, FORGIVENESS.

In this Ritual of Forgiveness, we use the word parent to represent anyone who has cared for you or is caring for you now. This could be a grandparent, a foster parent, another adult, an older sibling, your mom or moms or dad or dads …

We invite you to go as deep with this as you feel ready, or you can keep it really simple.

After a moment of quiet meditation, write down on a slip of paper your answers to one or more of these prompts. You can share these slips with your family—or burn them mindfully to release them into the gentle air.

  • A mistake or problem for which you are ready to forgive your parent
  • A mistake you made as a child—either now, or earlier in your life—that you’d like to ask forgiveness for from your parent
  • A mistake or problem you made for which you hope your children or the next generation will forgive you
  • A mistake or problem for which you are ready to forgive yourself in your parenting and caregiving

May this Ritual of Forgiveness offer you strength, hope, and guidance on your journey toward wholeness!


With gratitude for how we grow together,
Rev. Nancy

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May 19 2017

Continuing the Conversation: “Teach On!”

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Continuing the Conversation: “Teach On!”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


On Sunday, May 7, 2017, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José join about 700 congregations in the nationwide UU White Supremacy Teach-In, examining the ways in which the insidious culture of white supremacy infects not just our whole country but even our own beloved faith. We engage in the spiritual practice of saying those dreaded words, “white supremacy,” while wrapping our minds and hearts around its systemic definition: “White supremacy”—not white supremacists but the broader noun white supremacy—“is the set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude or harm people of color.”

The sanctuary is packed with long-time members, brand-new visitors, and everyone in between. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, candidate for president of the UUA, and I share worship leadership. Together with all of you, we create “brave space,” where we Unitarian Universalists can be strong, brave, curious, humble, and collaborative enough to build a new way of being.

After worship, 53 people return to the sanctuary for a talk-back about the service and a deeper exploration of the proposed 8th Principle. The 8th Principle, written by Bruce Pollack-Johnson and Paula Cole Jones and endorsed by Black Lives of UU, builds on the passage 25 years ago, at the 1992 General Assembly, of a Resolution of Immediate Witness that affirms the “vision of a racially diverse and multicultural Unitarian Universalism.” Five years later, at the 1997 General Assembly, delegates vote that the Unitarian Universalist Association commit to intentionally becoming a multicultural and antiracist institution. That’s 20 years ago now. How are we Unitarian Universalists and our institutions making this commitment real?

The 8th Principle would explicitly name our shared commitment to dismantling this culture of white supremacy in our own institutions. Here’s the principle:

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

One of our largest congregations, All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., has already created an 8th Principle Task Force, in order to implement antiracism tools and practices toward institutional cultural change in their congregation. The task force has clear and measurable goals: to equip 50 percent of the active congregation with a shared antiracist power analysis within five years, and to engage all parts of the church in setting goals and measuring progress toward racial justice and inclusion.

At FUCSJ on May 7, our initial responses to the proposed 8th Principle run the gamut from enthusiasm to doubt, from worries about accountability to helpful hints about wordsmithing. Here are some of our responses.

As you continue to ponder the heart of this nationwide call for deeper systemic change, what do you want FUCSJ’s commitments to be?

In Our Own Voices: The 8th Principle


  • I believe this principle is a good idea. I agree that we need to explicitly name goals to achieve them. [repeated by several people]
  • The 8th Principle is needed to keep the challenging work of undoing racism in the forefront.
  • I like the concept of “journeying,” which implies that churches will be on a journey and at different places on a continuum, just like “accountably dismantle” implies measuring at points along the journey and that the institutional norms of white supremacy require being taken apart not just tweaked.
  • Like it and support it. It’s beautiful and recognizes what we have to undo to move change.
  • The 8th principle is active! “Dismantling” is a powerful word!  I like it very much.  We need to be active!
  • It is active (do something), not just passive.
  • Love the “spiritual wholeness” language! As a white person, I have struggled to articulate why the work of dismantling white supremacy is important to me. I am not spiritually whole as long as white supremacy continues. And none of us is.
  • It’s spiritual. It’s about becoming whole in ourselves and congregations.
  • The best mention of community (as experienced) in the 7 Principles
  • Community should be a principle.
  • It gives UUs a permanent commitment, like our other principles.
  • I would like to see the 8th Principle included! [repeated by many people]
  • Yes. You are welcomed here.
  • Yes!!! [x 4]
  • Strongly support this principle, whether or not formally added as #8.
  • This principle would be a powerful addition and seems critical to putting our principles where our mouths are. However, if it is all we do, it will not be enough.
  • The 8th Principle is good as long as it is not just words!
  • It tells us how to do this, and that is to be accountable and dismantle racism and oppression.
  • I like that the 8th principle is explicitly written to promote multiculturalism and dismantle racism. It is a needed addition to the 7 Principles.
  • This is an important principle, written in a very loving way. I hope San José and the wider church community find their way to affirming it.


  • The proposed 8th Principle isn’t a principle at all. It’s a course of action driven by our 7 existing principles. Adding it would add nothing to our principles.
  • The other principles are Ends Statements. This is not.
  • Proposed 8th Principle sounds like a goal; content should be a principle.
  • Humanists will not like “spiritual growth” in this area.


  • “Accountably” is important, too: we have to create measurable change.
  • I am for it, but what does “accountability” mean?
  • It’s about taking responsibility for our actions.
  • I like the idea of adding the 8th principle. I don’t object to any of the words used, and I think they make a powerful statement. My questions are: How will we be accountable and to whom? And when do we start?
  • “Accountably dismantle”—what does this mean to me?
  • “Other oppressions” seems too vague to me, which makes it hard to be accountable.
  • I like that “other oppressions” is included. It broadens it to ethnicity and culture (not just skin color).
  • It feels odd to put “accountably” into a principle. That belongs in an action plan to implement the principle.

 The 8th and the 1st Principles

  • The need for the 8th Principle highlights the failure of us to act on the 1st Principle, the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
  • Doesn’t “dignity” cover this?
  • At its base, the 8th Principle is contained in the 1st Principle, but it is good to make this facet explicit. It’s part of the RESPECT for every individual.


  • Very important to state commitment explicitly; does need wordsmithing
  • Edit down to this: “We, the member congregations of the UUA, covenant to affirm and promote dismantling racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
  • I like the proposed principle, but it could be more simply worded as “We, the member congregations of the UUA, covenant to affirm and promote: Building a diverse multicultural Beloved Community that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
  • Not “by working to …” but “by building …” Working sounds like
  • This 8th principle looks good to me, but I would move “by our actions” right after “to build.” I think it works better there; it seems to disrupt flow where it is.
  • Support 8th Principle but change to start with “To build a diverse …”
  • I think it is important to not only promise to stop the bad but to also promote the good … to eradicate racism and replace it with love and compassion.
  • Love the wording, however can we add something about celebrating diversity?
  • The principle is in the right direction, but the wordiness waters down its purpose, which is to identify and change what’s inside that holds us back.
  • Yes and too much description of HOW; more succinct would be better, placed after the 3rd or 4th Principles
  • “By our actions” is the how for all the principles.

 More Thoughts

  • Maybe it is part of the real mission (not just a principle).
  • Many in our congregation feel we are already expressing the value expressed by the 8th Principle.
  • I would also like us to add a 7th Source, liberation movements, such as civil rights, feminism, and gay liberation.

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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

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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

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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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Mar 24 2017

In Our Own Voices: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us

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.
Congregants’ responses to this month’s theme, “The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us,” speak to our community’s commitment to undoing the boundaries of systemic oppression. They also wrestle with the need for personal boundaries and with how to set limits or say “no” when such responses are the healthy ones.
As we learn how to Make Love Visible in all we do and say, we need to look at boundaries from “both sides.” May these responses stir your own thoughts and actions.
With gratitude for how we grow together,
Rev. Nancy

• We need some boundaries, and we need to remove some others!
• This theme relates to March’s theme of Empathy. How do we understand and feel with another’s experience of the boundaries and borders that separate us? Empathy is a boundary crosser …
• Congregants’ experiences in the Beloved Community Movement, where we sit down and talk with community members, law enforcement, and elected officials, and then work for policy changes—that’s undoing boundaries that harm us.
• At FUCSJ we have been learning how to have Beloved Conversations around race, ethnicity, and class. Now, if we could get more people involved …
• I think of the movement called Black Lives of UU, calling us to live up to our faith’s commitment to undoing racism … in our own house!
• Bisexuality: its marginalization (not being seen or named) and the intense effects of that marginalization (including statistics about bi people)
• This is about having a sense of self-worth and integrity.
• How do I set boundaries with difficult people?
• How can I learn how to say “No”?
• Why is it so hard sometimes to set limits with others?
• How do I maintain a boundary for my own self and recognize the overlap of yours?
• Who are you and why are you? Might my perceptions of you be influenced by who am I?
• How do I understand when a boundary has been crossed?

• Bishop Yvette Flunder’s book, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion
• A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness—a great HBO documentary from 2015
• “Draw the Circle Wide”—a favorite hymn!

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Mar 24 2017

April Theme: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us

Published by under Minister's Musings

The Door in the Wall
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Did you see the ad that Lumber 84 created for February’s Super Bowl this year? Not the edited version that the Fox television network aired. Fox asked the company to cut out the “controversial parts.” The aired ad is titled “The Journey Begins.”
No, I want you to see the original version, called “The Entire Journey.” I hope you will watch it as a form of spiritual practice—a way of engaging with our April theme: The Boundaries That Heal and That Harm Us.
Super Bowl ads reach millions of people. This year, some companies’ ads use their visuals and casting to make a timely statement about who’s included and who’s not in the midst of a rising national rhetoric of disrespect and exclusion. The tools that ads use may be bold and blunt or subtle and shaded. But the choices the companies make mirror or challenge our current cultural climate. Paying attention to these social commentaries makes us smarter about how we fulfill our mission at First Unitarian—to Make Love Visible in all that we say and do.
So, please take a moment to center yourself, to breathe and open your mind and heart to what the senses may receive. Set aside what you may have heard about this ad or what you have felt when you watched it before. Set aside even what you feel about rampant, expensive commercialism. Just pay attention to the story, as you would to a movie or to a fable.
You can find the full ad here: Let me describe what I see:
A mother and daughter wake at first light in a Latin American country. “Are you ready?” Mom asks. “Yes!” says the little girl. The mom slips snapshots of a missing loved one into her backpack. They kiss a grandfather goodbye. “Take care of yourself,” he says tenderly, and offers the girl a sweet treat to savor later on her journey. The leavetaking is poignant. Mother and daughter are migrants, seeking to unite their family on the other side of the border.
Mother and daughter pay to climb aboard a truck for the first part of the journey. Then they walk through long stretches of arid landscapes, follow train tracks, get hauled up into moving boxcars. They cross fields, move through canyons, ford creeks, run from the rain, sit at makeshift campfires. The girl collects scraps of plastic, woven material, stray buttons. They ask for precious sips of water from other migrants’ dusty bottles. The journey is long, hard, often lonely.
Interspersed with their trek we see images of workmen with clean cold water bottles in hand, transporting lumber, stapling materials together, pausing to admire their work. What are they building? Could it be a wall?
Sure enough, mother and daughter come over a rise and look down. Disappointment streaks their faces. The border wall snakes through the desert—a tall, slick boundary that stops them in their tracks. The little girl, seeing her mother’s tears, offers her the scraggly United States flag that she has pieced together from the scraps.
And then they notice a beam of light coming from a place in the wall that they can’t yet see. When they move toward it, they find a giant door in the wall. The workmen were building a door, not a wall! Mother and daughter push, and—amazingly—the door swings open, unlocked. They step forward into the dusty sunlit landscape on the other side. “The will to succeed is always welcome here” flashes across the screen.
What do you feel? If this ad is our theological text, what messages do you take away?
Company spokespeople have said that they did not intend to make a “political statement” with this ad. But the story has a life of its own. We see—we are meant to see—mother and daughter as members of our own family. The wall is a boundary that harms not just them, but us. We want them to arrive. If there’s a wall, it’s up to us to ensure that the door is huge and that it swings open, unlocked. We have work to do.
This month we acknowledge the boundaries that we do indeed need in order to stay safe and healthy—personal and communal boundaries that say no to abuse of all sorts. We also look at those boundaries that we need to tear down—in our hearts and minds, and in our culture. I hope you will join us!

Grateful to be with you for the Entire Journey,

Rev. Nancy

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Feb 17 2017

March Theme: Empathy

Published by under Minister's Musings

Empathy: Bridging the Impossible Chasms

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

It’s May 2016, and First Unitarian’s Worship Associates and I stand in front of a flipchart sheet fluttering with sticky notes and scribbled over with words. We have taped flipchart paper to every door, wall, and window in the Fireside Room—one for each month in this congregational year. (Pro tip: The thematic year runs from September 2016 through May 2017; we usually fly free-form in the summers.)

Some of the other pages around the room read “Change,” “Earth,” “Kinship and Friendship.” They too draw lots of input as we brainstorm what these concepts mean for us human beings, trying to make sense of life and struggling with the challenges of these very times.

But at least on those flipchart sheets, the titles don’t take up much room.

On the one for March 2017, though, a line of words scrolls across the top of the page:

Understanding the Other; Understanding “the Other”(?); Civility; Dialogue

That’s why we stand there pondering …

What’s the impulse, and where’s the pain, behind these words? Why do we worship leaders intuitively cluster them together? What do we humans long to heal and what do we hope to understand when we touch the tender spots pointed to by these words?

Already in May 2016, the psychic pain of our sense of separation from each other, and the actual physical and emotional hurt of the distances between us, feel almost unbearable. The situation is both personal and communal. Here at First Unitarian we have awakened to the impact of injustices rooted in centuries of social hierarchies ascribing better-than and less-than status to people and creatures based on differing identities or attributes. The legacy of those injustices, and the ways in which they are perpetuated, come home through our own and our friends’ experiences every day. And the news—oh, the news confirms that all too often we are drifting or racing, apart.

So we worship leaders feel the hunger of the congregation: Can we humans understand each other across our differences? Can we figure out why and how we create a sense of “otherness”? Is this an immutable habit of human nature? And is there actually something to celebrate, rather than bemoan or dis, about being “other”?

Then, can we restore a common sense of citizenship (the root of civility) across all borders? Can we develop our capacity for real dialogue—that exchange of words among two or more people conversing, changing directions back and forth—so that we all really grow and change as a result?

Today, in March 2017, the chasms we sense almost a year ago seem even more apparent, more destructive, and perhaps less bridgeable.

But here’s the good news: we humans have the capacity for empathy. We can vicariously feel another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Please note: like love, empathy is not a soft and squishy feel-good exercise. It takes courage, stamina, humility, and broken-openheartedness. It’s a muscle we must build. But empathy gives us a new place to stand in relation to each other. We don’t have to remain separate. We can bridge those chasms.

You see what we worship leaders did there? We took that long string of words—those aching hungers—and transformed them into one affirmation of what we can actually do and how we can really grow.

Are you ready, Beloved Community?

With vast readiness to be learning and growing with you once more,


Rev. Nancy

Returning from sabbatical on March 15!

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