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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Oct 28 2015

November Theme: Trust

Published by under Minister's Musings

What Makes a Leap of Faith Possible?

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 How many times in your life have you taken a leap of faith, intentionally forging ahead into uncertain territory? Maybe you have switched careers, or you have switched schools. Maybe you have fallen in love, made a commitment, or ended a relationship. Maybe you manage to get up each day, willing to try again to make sense of the muddle of life—that, too, is a leap of faith.

Each one of these experiences, in its own way, involves stepping off the cliff of the known into the unknown. Will we plummet, or will we grow our wings? What makes it possible to take that leap?

On October 18 this year, when we at First Unitarian celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Surviving the Fire, I am struck by how firefighters take a leap of faith each time they fight a fire. They have to forge ahead into the unknown, especially with a fire of the magnitude that we endured. How do they do it? Training, of course—they have practiced and practiced moving into smoke-shrouded buildings, finding the source of the fire, and putting it out.

But it takes more than training, too. As I interview the firefighters in preparation for our celebration, I hear over and over about their sense of mission and purpose: that burning desire, if you will—an inner fire more intense than any they will fight—to help people in times of crisis. The most dedicated firefighters take a leap of faith the moment they join the department, fueled by a deep sense of call.

I am also struck by the leap of faith that First Unitarian’s congregants and friends take in the face of the fire’s destruction in 1995. Putting one foot in front of the other, offering one hour after another of volunteer time and one dollar after another of donations, they forge ahead into an uncertain future. What makes that leap of faith possible? Well, it’s love for this place that has nurtured their spirits, and love for the companions they have found here for life’s journey.

And something more: They are driven by a sense of call—to save not just the building but the church itself, the community of FUCSJ. They don’t want to break the chain; they want to pass along this gift of community that they have received and to make it available for generations to come.

I imagine that the founders of this congregation must have taken a leap of faith when they first gather in City Hall in 1865. Those religious seekers and free thinkers—those Unitarians—are no doubt traumatized by the recent unrest of the Civil War, by the assassination of the president just that spring, and by the radically changing political and social climate in California. Yet they have a longing and a hope—a faith—that they can create a better world. Do they imagine that we will still be here, 150 years later? Throughout this year, we will hear stories of these ancestors, beginning in worship on Sunday, November 8. What makes their leap of faith possible? It must have been a trust in their intuition and in their call to create community.

We here at First Unitarian in 2015 are in the midst of our own leap of faith. Facing the traumas, changes, and uncertainties of these times and of our personal lives, still we forge ahead. What makes it possible? Something about our sense of call. Something about a deeper trust. Something about being in community together. Come find out what fuels your leap of faith, this month at FUCSJ.

With love and courage,

Rev. Nancy

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Oct 02 2015

October Theme: Forgiveness

Published by under Minister's Musings

Forgiveness as a Path, Not a Moment

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

At the annual for Recovery Café San José breakfast this September, 200 people sit in rapt silence as Roger, a Recovery Café member, tells his story:

“When I came to Recovery Café about 18 months ago, I didn’t have to get over drugs or alcohol. I needed to get over me.” He claps a hand to his chest. He “was a bad man,” he tells us. “No, I mean it!” he adds, before any of us can object. A series of crimes sent him to jail, and after his third strike—“a whopper,” he admits, not proudly—he expects to live out the rest of his days behind bars. For most of his fourteen years in prison, he keeps up the same hateful, destructive behavior—until one day, he simply cannot stand himself any longer. He goes cold turkey on the old ways and starts to turn himself around.

To Roger’s surprise, a judge decides in a little while to downgrade Roger’s last crime and to set Roger free. Roger walks out with a clean shirt and shorts, a new pair of shoes, and almost nothing else. Once on the streets, he doesn’t know how he will feed himself or find work. All he knows are the old ways. Hungry, he “tries to get money”—he doesn’t tell us how—but his “victims,” instead of turning him in, offer him another chance. They take him to Recovery Café, and there he begins to build the new life he has longed for—the life of “a good man.” He eventually gets a job “pushing a broom,” and for months he shows up and works hard, in sickness and in health. “And now,” he concludes, “guess what: I’m a foreman, and I get to hire people.”

We listeners erupt in applause and cheers.

Roger’s sincerity, strength, and courage are palpable. But he gives the real credit for his new way of being to that judge, to the couple who bring him to Recovery Café, and to the café’s members and staff who believe in him and support him on his journey. “They have made me who I am today, and I love these people. Instead of turning all of you,” his hands sweep toward the wide room, “into my victims—because you all were, really—now I’m someone who contributes to society and cares for other people.”

Roger never outright uses the word forgiveness. I don’t know if he has forgiven himself or if others have forgiven him explicitly. Instead, his story makes me think of forgiveness as more of a path—more of a way of living—than an actual exchange at a given moment in time. I believe that when Roger, still behind bars, vows to turn away from his destructive behavior and move toward his vision of a better way of life, he starts the journey of self-forgiveness within himself. When he encounters the generous strangers who take him to Recovery Café and when he intentionally joins with other café members in its programs, he enters on the path of forgiveness among a community seeking the same kind of healing. And when he turns his new job into a chance to give back to others, he extends that road of forgiveness beyond his own narrow circle to reach people he might never otherwise meet.

Within, among, beyond—these three “locations” describe our work as a faith community, too. Within each of ourselves, we wrestle with our individual needs, longings, gifts, and hopes, and we strive for change. Among groups and teams of members and friends, we practice building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community here in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond our open doors, we move out into the wider communities to which we are intimately connected to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say. At every stage, in every location, we have a chance to engage our broken-open hearts on the path of forgiveness.

But to do this effectively and with intention, we need a new vision to guide our work. This month, First Unitarian’s Board of Directors launches a congregational process for creating Vision 2020—a vision that will name where we need and want to put our loving energies and attention over the next five years in order to deepen and strengthen our congregational life in those three main areas: “within, among, and beyond.” Come to worship on October 11 to find out how you can contribute to Vision 2020!

And please don’t miss our special celebration (and the biggest party of the year) on October 18, the 20th Anniversary of Surviving the Fire and the Launch of our 150th Anniversary Year.

We too have stories of forgiveness and transformation to share. Please join us!


Rev. Nancy

About Recovery Café San José:


Located inside First Christian Church on 5th Street behind City Hall, Recovery Café welcomes a wide range of people into programs that help folks find housing and jobs, build skills and self-esteem, develop community, and strengthen their recovery. “We are all recovering from something,” café members and staff say. Recovery Café is founded on the belief that every human being is precious, worthy of love, and deserving of the opportunities to fulfill his or her potential. In this loving community people who cannot afford long-term recovery services come to belong, heal, and know themselves as loved.”

Several First Unitarian members volunteer with Recovery Café, offering programs, singing in the choir, and finding great meaning in the friendships they make there. To volunteer, contact Marianne at marianne@recoverycafesj.org or 408-294-2963.

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Aug 28 2015

September Theme: Compassion

Published by under Minister's Musings

September Theme: Compassion

 Becoming the Loving People We Long to Be

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Have you noticed? Every Sunday we welcome you into worship with these words:

“Just through your presence here this morning, you become a part of this community of love, hope, courage, and change…. We hope that being part of this community helps you to become the loving person that you long to be.”

Those italicized words are new. I added them this spring, after a congregant pointed out that we aren’t really a group of self-satisfied, self-actualized folks who already have it all together in the “love, hope, and courage” departments. Rather, we are a community of people who need and want to change, who long to be more loving, to feel more connected and compassionate instead of, say, judgmental, impatient, anxious, distracted, numb, or … Well, we can each fill in the blank with the mental and emotional habits that sometimes keep us from being our best selves.

We Unitarian Universalists have a long history of faith in the human capacity to make ourselves and the world a better place. At root, our religion calls us to draw on our own intentions and efforts in order to become the best people we can be. And by “best,” we mean as whole, authentic, and loving as humanly possible. We know now that we can’t get to our “best” alone. The old radical individualism that some Unitarians espoused can turn selfish and destructive; it certainly doesn’t serve the larger community; and it just doesn’t work to create health and happiness, let alone justice and peace.

Instead, we gather in community where we help each other learn and grow, where we build strength in our love by stretching ourselves to see our own and others’ lovability alongside our vulnerabilities, and where we practice living with compassionate curiosity about others’ experiences and perspectives every single day. Then we take that learning, that personal and communal change, out into the wider world to make a difference in visible, practical ways.

Within, among, beyond—these are the three “locations” of the work we do as a faith community. Within each of ourselves—our individual needs, longings, gifts, hopes, education, and change. Among groups and teams of people in our own community—through the practice of building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community at home in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond the open doors of our congregation, out in the wider communities to which we are intimately connected and where our faith takes visible shape in shared action.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my own process of striving to become the loving person I long to be. In order to make the changes I can and want to make, I need to love my good old flawed self just as it is, complete with the triggers that spring from old traumas, my own particular menu of anxieties, and their troublemaking offspring—fear, impatience, control, perfectionism—not to mention all the standard-issue human shortcomings of limited time, energies, and capacities in some areas but not in others. That’s my “within” work …

Many of us could spend a lifetime just learning to love ourselves, couldn’t we?

But self-esteem, self-acceptance, even compassion and love for ourselves won’t on their own solve the existential problems of human loneliness and suffering. So I need—oh, how I need!—this community of the First Unitarian Church of San José, along with other communities to which I belong, where I can practice getting to know and understand people deeply, where I can practice working together across differences, where I can learn how to share my ministries and how to build my trust. That’s the “among” work …

And all of that makes possible an ever-widening circle of Love, connection, partnership, and change beyond our own community, whether that work takes place in City Hall or Sacramento, in a homeless shelter or at an oil refinery, in the smile I share with a stranger on the street or in the hand I hold as we allies wait to get arrested. That “beyond” work is every bit as central to my becoming the loving person I long to be as the “within” and the “among.”

Let’s face it: all of this is the work of a lifetime—and what a great way to spend this one wild and precious life! I am so grateful that we launch this big year at First Unitarian—the beginning of our 150th year of Making Love Visible—with a month focused on Compassion.

I can’t wait to see you in church!


Rev. Nancy

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Jun 01 2015

What Will We Learn This Summer?

Published by under Minister's Musings


Getting Ready for a New Water Communion 2015!

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Homecoming Sunday—held annually on the first Sunday after Labor Day—brings out our highest Sunday morning attendance of the year. There’s something about that new beginning, about that ritual of “return” to our spiritual home (even if we haven’t traveled at all over the summer), and about the ritual of Water Communion that beckons us all.

Homecoming Sunday: September 13, 2015!

Right now we stand on the very threshold of summer, yet I am already looking ahead to this fall’s Homecoming Sunday on September 13. On that Sunday we will launch a year of celebrating the First Unitarian Church’s 150th anniversary. We will celebrate the Beloved Community that we are now and that we are becoming—a community of depth and meaning, of love, hope, and courage, dedicated to making Love visible in all that we do and say.

And of course we will participate in our annual Water Communion. For the past few years we have been working to make this ritual more meaningful. We have learned to create a “communal poem” of place names, and I have almost trained you not to say “virtual water,” since all the water is symbolic, whether it came from your kitchen tap or from the Red Sea. The ritual flows more smoothly now.

But we can make it more substantive, truer to its real meaning. Drawing from the changes that Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country have made to their Water Communion, I suggest that this year, instead of naming the places where we have been on our spiritual or physical journeys over the summer, let us name what we have learned over these summer months–still in just a few words, creating one communal poem.

Here’s how it works:

 “This Summer I Learned …”

For Water Communion this year, each of us fills in the blank: “This summer I learned …” We speak our learnings briefly into the microphone, then walk forward to the altar in the center of the labyrinth, and pour the water that represents our very selves—our learning and growing humanity—into a common bowl.

No one will be left out, for every single one of us is growing, learning, changing every day, in huge ways and in tiny ones. And all of these learnings matter.

This is the community we are creating—a community of seekers and learners of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, theologies, and more. What a great way to bring to life this truth about who we are—using an old ritual that has tried to capture this meaning all along.

 Some Examples to Inspire You

In April, on the 10th anniversary of you calling me to become your Senior Minister, many of you shared what you had learned in the past decade. Your notes have moved and encouraged me to keep growing. Your answers, rephrased to fit the new prompt for Water Communion, offer wonderful examples of how our Homecoming ritual may sound this year:

  • I have learned that what we do matters and that it has a ripple effect.
  • I have learned to be more courageous, more willing to take risks and to act on them.
  • I have learned how to be “broken open” and to love awkwardly.
  • I have learned to keep building relationships even when it is so hard to do.
  • I have learned to be a more considerate person.
  • I have learned that I’m truly OK just the way I am, warts and all.
  • I have learned more about aging and how I want to be in these later years.
  • I have learned to be more loving.
  • I’ve learned to focus on doing good in the world and to just keep plugging along on at it.
  • I’ve learned hope.

Can you hear how vulnerable and real these offerings are? Imagine creating a ritual where we bring this—our most honest selves—into the community. Imagine how that bowl of water will (symbolically!) brim over with our learning, and how hearing others’ learnings will encourage each of us to grow.

Beloved Community, may you find some joy, peace, and rest this summer, no matter how many challenges life may bring. May you notice that each day you are learning and growing, making meaning of your life—and may you bring all of these riches back to this spiritual community throughout this summer, and especially on Homecoming Sunday, September 13!


Rev. Nancy

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Apr 27 2015

May Theme: Awe and Wonder

Published by under Minister's Musings

Awe and Wonder in the Everyday:

Join Us for 31 Days of Noticing, Creating, and Posting!

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 Are you the kind of person for whom “Awe and Wonder”—May’s theme—seem extraordinary, something you experience only on rare occasions when the immensity of the universe or the miracle of life takes your breath away?

Or are you the kind of person who experiences a sense of amazement, of connectedness, of curiosity—all symptoms of “awe and wonder”—every single day?

Last month, I run a pilot test of the spiritual practice I want to propose for May. And I learn a little about the kind of person I am. (Let’s just pretend for a moment that the above two are our choices.)

Day one: I ask myself to notice something that inspires awe or wonder.

Just moments later, I am amazed when I walk into the big post office on First Street and find no one in line! I marvel at the warm, friendly conversation I have with the person at the counter. I rattle off my enthusiasm for our Unitarian Universalist faith when he asks about my chalice necklace. “Awesome!” I think, as I head back to the office. “Piece of cake, this spiritual practice. I’ll try it for a second day.”

Day two: ………………………………….

Nothing. Nada. Tumbleweeds drifting across the barren landscape of my wonder-less life.

And so on for the next few days. Somehow I forget to look up from the to-do list to notice some sweet special-delivery message from my senses. Somehow I lose my confidence that it’s OK to call the “small” encounters awe-some or wonder-full. Evidently I think “awe and wonder” must represent something rare indeed.

Yet the experience of wonder lies at the heart of our religion. The very first of the six Sources for the ever-unfolding “living tradition” of Unitarian Universalism is “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

A renewal of the spirit. An openness to life itself. Those sound like much-needed refreshment for all of us, whether or not we can connect with the “transcendent” part.

So let’s invite awe and wonder back into our daily lives this month. The spiritual practice is simple: all we need to do is to be on the lookout—using all our senses—for what amazes us or awes us, one day at a time. What gives you a sense of wonder today? What makes you curious today? Here’s how it works:

The Practice

Please join me for thirty-one days of experiencing awe and wonder in the everyday!

  1. Notice: Find below the list of prompts for each day in May. The prompts suggest where you might look for experiences of awe or wonder. For example, on May 1, “Small,” ask yourself: “What tiny thing or small experience amazes me today?” Whether it’s the bones in your little toe, or a bee dipping into a flower, or a momentary sweet encounter with a stranger on the street—there can be wonder in what’s small.

Note: These prompts need not limit you! Use them or ignore them—the point is to take a moment each day to slow down and simply notice. If you only do those two things—slow down and notice—then you are contributing to our communal spiritual practice! Yet we hope you’ll take the next step, too:

  1. Create: When you notice that flicker of wonder or curiosity—when you notice something that amazes you in a large or small way—take a picture, write a poem, or scribble a descriptive sentence or two. Have some fun with this second step. No need to be literal about the prompts—just play. Or if being literal increases your wonder, then mine the meaning of each prompt to your heart’s content. See if you can capture in words or imagery some of that childlike amazement that comes with seeing the world “for the first time.
  2. Post: Share your photo or your writing. First post it to our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/FUCSJ (you can sign up for Facebook for free). In this way, we will inspire and encourage each other through the month. Then send it to our newsletter editors at circular.editors@gmail.com. We’ll publish some of the photos, poems, and paragraphs in our June journal.
  3. No worries! There is no right or wrong way to engage in this practice, as long as your intention is to reawaken your sense of wonder. Some days will be more of a challenge than others. Don’t worry if you miss a day. Just keep coming back to the practice, and noticing. We can bet that this spiritual practice gets easier with … practice.
  4. Want some more inspiration? Read “In Our Own Voices” in the newsletter. Our congregants’ responses go deep on this theme. Then join us for worship and Small Group Ministry sessions as we pause to marvel and wonder.

I look forward to “wondering” with you!


Rev. Nancy

The Prompts


  1. Small
  2. Large
  3. Touch
  4. Heavy
  5. Unexpected
  6. Familiar
  7. Light
  8. Orange
  9. Violet
  10. Smell
  11. Sharp
  12. Soft
  13. Loud
  14. Silent
  15. Swift
  16. Lingering
  17. Young
  18. Old
  19. Earth
  20. Water
  21. Fire
  22. Air
  23. Emptiness or Energy
  24. Taste
  25. Surface
  26. Depth
  27. Separate
  28. Together
  29. Same
  30. Different
  31. Your own awesome self!

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Apr 01 2015

April Theme: Transformation and Rebirth

Published by under Minister's Musings

“Say, Rev. Nancy, How’s That Book Coming Along?”

A Story of Transformation in Progress

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 In September, I announced to you—with joy and a tremor of terror—that my co-author Karin Lin and I had signed a two-year contract with Skinner House Books (one of Unitarian Universalism’s presses). After months spent drafting our proposal, we had a few moments to savor those signatures and celebrate our official go-ahead. Then we gulped and plunged into the actual work of researching, writing, and producing the book.

The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism is the working title that will surely change. Here at First Unitarian we know that the journey to living out our faith in multicultural, antiracist, antioppressive ways is joyful at times and also difficult, frustrating, and long. Yet even with the stumbles and detours, the confusion and discouragement, progress on this path is necessary, rewarding, and profoundly spiritual. It is truly a “journey toward wholeness” in body, mind, heart, and spirit for individuals and community alike.

As Karin and I build our own multicultural relationship and connect with other Unitarian Universalists on the journey, we find ourselves in the midst of many “transformations and rebirths.” I long to share more of our discoveries with you.

 Progress on the Book

Through the last six months, Karin and I have talked weekly (she lives in Cambridge, Mass.), reviewed the current literature on our topic, interviewed teams from congregations we will feature in the book, refined our vision, revised our table of contents, drafted many paragraphs, designed a requested pamphlet that congregations can put in their entryways, and planned our first site visits to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis (UUCA) and to the Leading Edge Conference in New York City later in April. We have heard powerful personal testimonies and gathered a list of core principles. Here’s just a sample:


  • Karin Lin, lay leader at First Parish, Cambridge: “What would I have wanted to know when I first began this work of building multicultural Unitarian Universalist community? That the journey is going to be 10,000 times longer than I thought it would be. And the resistance is going to be hurtful and heartbreaking, but it’s also going to change me more than anything else in my life.”
  • Fred Muir, senior minister at UUCA: “I really do think that our congregations becoming multicultural is an issue of whether Unitarian Universalism will make it into the next century, or even complete this century. It’s a faith I love, [and it] has to begin to change and evolve as the country is evolving.” He reminds us that it took about 300 years to get our congregations to be the way they are now, so he urges us to stick with it for the long haul. “It will take more than a three- to five-year strategic plan to redirect us,” Fred says.
  • John Crestwell, associate minister at UUCA: Ministers must have a fierce commitment to this work, John advises. After all, “it’s my responsibility to take people to task when they are not living up to Unitarian Universalist values,” he says. He finds hope in the diversity of the ministry team leading UUCA now: an older white minister (Fred), an African-American man (John), and a young-adult white woman (Christina Leone Tracy). “Hope is in who is on the chancel leading worship—that’s progress, that’s hope.”

John’s words echo one of the core principles we are discovering. Fred’s words do, too: “Keep your eyes on the prize knowing that there will be detours, stops and starts, frustrations, and disappointments, as well as times of joy and celebrating. It helps to meditate, pray, sing, and look onward to the next milestone.”

As I work on this book, I feel ever closer to you, Beloved Community, and ever more committed to the long and winding road toward multicultural community that you launched at First Unitarian decades ago and along which we continue to move. Please join us on this journey of “transformation and rebirth,” as we sing and meditate and celebrate our way forward this month!

With fierce commitment and abiding love,

Rev. Nancy

Core Principles for Multicultural Congregations

Although there is no single roadmap for navigating this journey, there are certain core principles confirmed by the current literature on multicultural congregations and by the experiences of our Unitarian Universalist conversation partners. These include:

  1. Theological Vision: A powerful commitment to an overarching goal—something higher even than multiculturalism itself. A commitment to living our faith with integrity, which in turn calls us to a life of radical inclusivity.
  2. Clear Mission Statement: A congregational mission that states this commitment clearly.
  3. Equitable, Accountable Governance: Ensuring access and accountability for all and institutionalizing growing our self-awareness around systems of power and privilege. Opportunities for multiculturalism and antiracism trainings are ongoing, with everyone encouraged to participate.
  4. Inclusive Worship in Style and Message: People from nondominant cultures need to be able to see and hear themselves reflected in words, music, leadership, and sacred space.
  5. Diverse Leadership: Having multicultural teams lead worship, serve as ministers, and participate in governance communicates that the congregation values everyone and recognizes their gifts.
  6. Commitment to Working for Justice in the Community: A way of living our faith out loud and of letting the community know that all are welcomed and valued here.
  7. Relationships Are Central: Like all spiritually infused justice work, relationships form the beginning, middle, and end of this work. These relationships meet people “where they are,” while encouraging everyone to grow, stretch, and be open to change.
  8. Patience, Perseverance, Adaptability, a Willingness to Try and to Try Again: A sense of humor and a grounding in Love are crucial, too!

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Mar 04 2015

March Theme: Brokenness

Published by under Minister's Musings

When We Meet Face to Face: A Path to Healing Our Brokenness

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 In a large room on a hill above Monterey Bay, fifty Unitarian Universalist ministers mill about, listening for our teacher’s instructions. She first asks us to rush around, not making eye contact, grazing past each other’s shoulders—not unlike walking on a busy sidewalk at rush hour. Because we are moving at speed, our heart rate rises; our adrenaline starts to pump.

Then our teacher prompts us to slow down, to widen our awareness to our surroundings. The breath deepens. We feel our feet on the floor; we notice the soft sea air blowing through an open window. As we keep milling, we gently look into each other’s eyes. We offer a smile or a nod, a brief acknowledgment of the beings with whom we share this space.

Our teacher now invites us to stop and turn to someone close by. This person becomes our partner for the next part of the exercise. We hold our gaze on each other’s eyes. Our teacher asks us to see that person “whole,” which means to see both that person’s brokenness (burdened by sorrows, wounds, pain beyond what we can know) and that person’s wholeness—the courage and strength, the commitment to caring for the earth and all its beings, the capacity to change.

When we repeat these “milling exercises” for days in a row, they actually work. What seems contrived—forcing an intimacy with a stranger—becomes a real connection. Something shifts. From our opening sense of despair about these times—“a time when a radical confluence of crises sweeping the globe challenges human and planetary existence and eco-system integrity,” as the workshop description intones—we ministers move to an active hope. Our own brokenness no longer feels insurmountable. Instead, it forms a necessary element in creating a more sustainable wholeness.

How does this happen?

Our teacher Dr. Joanna Macy (aided here by the staff of Movement Generation) guides us in The Work That Reconnects. These spiritual, intellectual, and emotional practices pierce through the numbing effects of our society. The work’s four stages reconnect us with our creativity and clear-sightedness, even as we face full on the crises of our times.

The Four Stages of The Work That Reconnects

  1. “Coming from Gratitude”: When we remember how much we love this earth, our life, and the creatures with whom we share our planet-home, our monkey mind quiets down, and we touch the sources of our strength, the motivation for changing our ways. “Gratitude will hold us steady, especially when we’re scared or tired,” Joanna Macy says.
  2. “Honoring Our Pain”: This stage begins with a robust analysis of the crises in our midst—from climate disruption, to economic injustice, to violence against “the other,” and more. Then, touching our sorrow over the sorry state of our planet—feeling our grief for the mistakes we humans have made and do make—we reach a deeper compassion, a true “suffering with.” We can live in love or in fear, the writer China Galland tells us. When we live in love, we feel another’s pain as if it is our own. Then we are no longer isolated but feel stronger for our rediscovered solidarity.
  3. “Seeing with New Eyes”: Now, wide awake and more deeply connected to all around us, we feel our creativity return. New ways to build sustainable community come to us; we turn toward a way of living that nurtures diversity and responds with resilience to new challenges. “We taste our power to change,” Joanna Macy says, and we are ready for …
  4. “Going Forth”: We turn what we have learned on this spiraling path into practical steps that we can take with others. Each of us contributes according to our gifts, wisdom, and capacity. We form networks of appreciation and support. We celebrate our turning to a healthier, more whole and holy life. We vow to stay on the journey.

As we spiral through these stages again and again, they offer a palpable, practical hope. I saw that hope alive in a room full of sometimes-jaded, often-weary of Unitarian Universalist ministers. Now I bring it home to you.

          What if this path becomes our roadmap? Come experience the possibilities at First Unitarian this month and beyond!

With you on the journey,

Rev. Nancy

Wonderful resources:

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