Oct 27 2014

November Theme: Gratitude

Published by under Minister's Musings

November Spiritual Practice: Thirty Days of Practicing Gratitude

First Unitarian’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/FUCSJ

Newsletter Editors’ Email: circular.editors@gmail.com

 Please join us throughout the month of November for Thirty Days of Practicing Gratitude! Maybe you start each day with this spiritual practice, or maybe you return to it every evening. Maybe you pause to recognize a grateful moment right in the midst of a busy day. Maybe you offer someone your thanks! And maybe you miss a day or two or three—no worries, just keep coming back to the practice, and sharing it with us!

How You Can Participate:

  1. Every day in November (or as often as you can), make a note of 1 to 3 things for which you feel grateful. Make a list, take a picture, write a poem, or scribble a paragraph that represents your gratitude or gratitudes for that day. Be playful or serious, creative and complex, or simply thankful. Either way, be as specific as you can!
  2. Post your writing and/or your photos each day to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FUCSJ. (You can sign up for Facebook for free.) In this way, we’ll inspire each other and share each other’s journey through the month.
  3. At the same time, send your contributions to our newsletter editors at circular.editors@gmail.com. We’ll publish some of the photos, poems, and paragraphs in our December journal—and that will surely bring us “Hope” (December’s theme)!

What Happens Next:

Be prepared to be changed! As with any spiritual practice, when we stick with it day after day, it changes us. We slow down, wake up, notice, see, hear, taste, touch, smell with more acuteness—and this can bring us back to loving the life we are given. We grow kinder and more compassionate with ourselves and others.

What If Some Days I Don’t Feel Grateful?

Be kind to yourself. Read the wonderful story about a congregant who keeps a “jar of gratitude,” which you’ll find at the bottom of “In Our Own Voices” in this journal. The intention to practice gratitude daily doesn’t go quite as this congregant planned, yet it works deeply. Taking the pressure off the practice can make it even more meaningful and authentic.

Or you may want to push yourself gently to seek out some little thing for which you feel grateful, even on the toughest days. Changing the “lens” through which we view our life can change our actual experience of it. When we look through the lens of discouragement or exhaustion, we can feel hopeless and overwhelmed. When we look through the lens of gratitude, we find surprising reminders of the good just waiting to be rediscovered in the people, creatures, and things all around us. Life remains both tough and beautiful—but our resilience, hope, and capacity for connection grow stronger when we open our mind and heart to gratitude.

 Can You Give Us an Example, Rev. Nancy?

Of course, I would love to! Today I am grateful for:

  1. The unexpected gift of song from Judge LaDoris Cordell: “Hold Out for Joy,” by Regina Baiocchi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXVTnRmHpGs). Judge Cordell was practicing the piano in our sanctuary when some visitors arrived to plan the memorial service for their mother and friend—and she sang for us.
  2. The smile from the crossing guard at Selma Olinder Elementary School offered to my Methodist minister friend and me on our Thursday morning walk
  3. The bridge of support that you and my friends build for me and with me, even when our shared destination is invisible just around the bend! (see photo)

Please join us, and see what this Month of Practicing Gratitude holds in store!

With profound gratitude for all that you are and all that you do,


Rev. Nancy

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Oct 27 2014

PACT’s Community Covenant with the Next Mayor

Published by under Minister's Musings

PACT’s Community Covenant with the Next Mayor

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones (with input from other PACT faith and community leaders)

 On Monday, October 13, PACT—People Acting in Community Together—organizes a bus tour of East San José, bringing together a diverse group of faith and community leaders with San José’s two mayoral candidates, Dave Cortese and Sam Liccardo. The evening’s theme: “Hear us, see us, act with us for the good of ALL.”

We begin with an interfaith blessing (which, as the Unitarian Universalist, I get to write) and a statement of purpose. “Tonight we ask you candidates to work with us, and to prioritize actions that address the toll that San José’s disparities of income and opportunity take on our community,” I say. “We ask you to hear, see, value, and act on behalf of those who are marginalized.”

We board the bus, and in the gathering twilight it makes its way through this part of town. It stops at the site of the murder of a young man; at a community center that offers hope to a troubled neighborhood but that now desperately needs funds; at a charter school where young children jump on the bus to offer the candidates bright yellow T-shirts, proclaiming their hopes for their future. At each stop, we hear testimony from members of the community about the impact on their lives of violence, homelessness, quality of education, and lack of access to decisionmakers. At the public forum following the bus tour, the candidates respond to questions about how they intend to govern and lead on these issues.

No one is stumping for one candidate or the other at this event. Instead, we clergy and community leaders are looking for a shared commitment to leadership based on values held in common by our diverse religious and cultural traditions—values that nurture meaningful, productive lives freed from undue suffering. My colleagues—other PACT clergy and lay members—have come to consensus on these four values:

  • Interdependence: Healthy communities know that when all thrive, the whole community thrives. For such health to exist, all must have the opportunity and power to share in the community’s prosperity. When only a few prosper, there is a false appearance of prosperity, but the truth of dis-ease shows through in the lives of those left in poverty.
  • Distributive Justice: The flourishing of the land and the community is to benefit all, not a few. The radical inequities that exist in Silicon Valley call for what the Catholic bishops and others term “God’s preferential option for the poor.” The suffering of the poor must be a priority for people of faith, and for anyone, for that matter, who has a heart of flesh and not stone. The good news of faith, and of justice, must be good news specifically for the poor.
  • Compassion and Advocacy: The community is called to care for and to create structures that address and heal suffering wherever it occurs.
  • Leadership: All religious traditions teach about the importance of leaders who stand alongside the disempowered and oppressed and who use their power to stand for the marginalized.

Based on these values, PACT’s Community Covenant calls on public officials to provide leadership for the well-being of ALL by:

Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently upholds the values of interdependence, distributive justice, compassion and advocacy, and leadership for the marginalized;

  1. Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently demonstrates that you hear, see, and value the participation and the voices of those economically marginalized in our community;
  2. Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently demonstrates that dismantling disparities and reducing inequalities are a top priority.
  3. Developing and approving budgets that consistently demonstrate these values and that provide equitable distribution of resources.

We faith leaders and community members sign the covenant before we get on the bus. By the end of the evening, both mayoral candidates have added their signatures, too. Then, in an op-ed piece published in the San José Mercury News in late October, I join with other PACT leaders once again, as we promise to continue our work with the new mayor and with other public officials, holding all of us accountable in honoring and implementing this shared Community Covenant.

A Note About Ministry in the Public Square

We ministers call events like PACT’s Mayoral Candidates’ Bus Tour and Public Forum our “ministry in the public square.” Ministry in the public square includes our participation in acts of service and justice-making that take place beyond the walls of the congregation or agency we serve. To be worthy of our time, such ministries must speak powerfully to the urging of our own conscience and ministerial call, and/or they must help establish a meaningful public presence for our congregation in its local community and beyond.

Ministry in the public square belongs to congregants as well as ministers, of course. Every month when First Unitarian members and friends serve a meal at the Julian Street Inn, and every time you show up in Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts at a march or rally, you are participating in a vital ministry in the public square. Such ministries are part of our mission to “make Love visible in word and deed.” They put our faith into action; they let our neighbors know what we stand for; they attract others who share our values and commitments. They have always been part of FUCSJ’s history.

Still, some congregants may find it confusing when I show up in the public square, especially if I am taking a stand on a controversial issue with which some of you disagree. After all, you have called me to be your Senior Minister, and we are in covenant with one another. What does my ministry in the public square mean for our relationship?

First, here are the facts, as I understand them: According to FUCSJ’s revised By-Laws, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association Guidelines, I may speak and act as an individual faith leader, expressing my own deeply considered conscience and commitments. That’s exactly how I signed PACT’s Community Covenant—as the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones.

But I cannot represent our congregation as a whole—I cannot sign for our congregation—unless we have held a congregational vote on a Moral Position. “A Moral Position states a moral issue and a general course of action based on Unitarian Universalist principles,” our revised By-Laws say. To act on such a Moral Position, a congregant, a group of congregants, or a minister must ask the Board of Directors to approve a specific Statement on that Moral Position. The statement responds to a specific pressing issue in a timely manner. First Unitarian has a Moral Position that supports marriage equality, for example. We can make specific statements on behalf of the whole congregation for marriage equality—say, on the national level—with a simple endorsement from the Board.

This process is new. Up until recently, we had to have a congregational vote on every single specific statement. But as we grow into this new process, we will find ourselves better equipped to show up in the public square in timely and effective ways.

So: those are the “facts” about the boundaries and requirements for my ministry in the public square. But the covenantal relationship between you and me, dearly loved community, involves more than just the facts. It also calls on us to hold each other in our minds and hearts as we speak and act. We want our actions to support one another, not harm each other. We may sometimes disagree, but we are called to stay at the table with each other, to listen and learn from each other so that we can all grow and change. These considerations underlie my participation in ministry in the public square, every time.

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Sep 29 2014

Theme for October: Death

Published by under Minister's Musings

Mementos and Mortality:

How Unpacking Boxes Can Spark an Existential Experience

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 Although I have been in my new apartment for nine months already, I still have those boxes hanging around. You know the ones: the boxes that never got unpacked after the last move, or the move before that, or the move before that. Now here they are, fewer than last time but as heavy as ever, sitting ruefully in a corner or collecting cobwebs in the garage, practically moaning from neglect.

This time I am determined to unpack every box—to make a place for, or discard, all this stuff I have been carrying around. I turn first to the most enjoyable box to unpack: the box of ol  d photographs. Or rather, first I go out and buy everything I need to display old photos: half-price photo albums, extra pages for those albums, sticky stuff to put on the backs of pictures so they will stay in place in the photo albums.

Then I open the box, and old photos and letters spill out—some of them sorted into piles by decade, others all jumbled together. Photographs of me through the ages with various friends and family. Photographs of my parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother, nephews, numerous in-laws, and of the ancestors whose names I will never know because the last folks who knew them have died.

And all of a sudden, on the brink of this creative project, I have a sobering thought:

Who will want these old photos and letters once I am gone?


Mom and Dad WWIIphoto (3)photo (2)


Who will care about the picture of my mother pinning my father’s wings on his Army Air Corps uniform as World War II begins? Who will want to read my dad’s letters to my mom from his wartime deployment in England, addressed to “baby darling,” “sweetheart,” and (surprisingly) “Butchie”? Who will cherish the picture of the two of them, sitting on their couch in matching white bathrobes, their white hair gleaming—a picture that my mother always hated, for some reason?

Oh, I have a few family members who might value these mementos: my brother, if he outlasts me (but he’s not the sentimental type); my nephew (so busy and forward thinking); my grand-nieces (still babies, they will have known only digital photos in their lifetime). But even if they take these keepsakes, what happens later, after they die? How long do our memories last?

It’s not the practical matter of who gets my stuff that strikes the deep chord in my chest. It’s the inevitability of my departure from the only life I have known—the inevitability of all of our departures. It brings up the companion question: what difference will I have made with my living? What will we really leave behind for this world, which needs a contribution, a legacy from every one of us?

Perhaps when we turn from our daily preoccupations and embrace the fact that we are here for just a moment, we will see that it matters deeply how we live. We take up the theme of Death this month from many angles, with surprising insights and inspirations. Aren’t you curious? I am! I hope you’ll join us!

With love and affection,

Rev. Nancy

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Aug 29 2014

September: Oneness/The Unity in Unitarian

Published by under Minister's Musings

“We ALL Belong!”
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
The Press Conference
On a sunny day in late August, a diverse group of clergy and congregational leaders gathers in front of Most Holy Trinity Church in east San José. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer the week before.
All the Bay Area’s major news outlets are there. The podium bristles with microphones like a porcupine. There is no place to put a script, so we faith leaders speak from the heart.
            “We cannot and must not pretend that we are not all connected to and impacted by the lingering legacy of racism and white supremacy,” Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews offers. “Our communities, too, experience the brokenness and alienation that is rooted in our failure to recognize one another’s full humanity. Racism still lives like an unseen spiritual force—in the atmosphere and in our psyches—impacting our thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors, the quality of our relationships, the policies and practices of our institutions, and our culture’s sense of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful, and who belongs. In ways both explicit and implicit, we communicate to one another whether we really ‘belong’ in our communities, institutions, and public spaces.
            “What the young people, families, and clergy in Ferguson are fighting for is ‘Belonging,’” Rev. Michael-Ray goes on. “Hands up!” he then cries. And the small crowd of witnesses around him respond, “We ALL belong!”
Through days and nights of protests, people have repeated Michael Brown’s final reported gestures and words: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” At this press conference, we transform that desperate shout into a mighty affirmation of our common humanity.
            “I hear the news of Michael Brown’s death, and my heart breaks,” I say when it’s my turn. “But I want my heart to break openWhen our hearts break open, our actions become more compassionate, more just, more humble, more inclusive, and more powerful. As a white woman, when I respond from a broken-open heart, from an open mind and active hands and feet, it means I am accountable to those most harmed by the ongoing systems of oppression in this country. It means I will step out of my comfort zone to name how the presence of racism and white supremacy cuts off my full humanity too. It means not just to stand in solidarity, but to act in solidarity to take down the systems of oppression that benefit white-skinned people like me and disadvantage peoples of color.
            “White supremacy,” I go on—and friends, I step out of my comfort zone to use that phrase. “White supremacy is the false construction that one group of people is ‘better’ than another based on the color of our skin, based on the idea of ‘race,’ which both faith and science tell us is merely a social construct. How many races are there?”
“ONE race!” the witnesses shout. “The HUMAN race!”
“And we all belong!” we chorus.
The Unity in Unitarian
In the old days, the concept of “unity” in Unitarian referred to our ancestors’ sense that there was just one God, rather than a Trinity. One unifying source and spirit infusing everyone and everything—this heretical thought set our ancestors apart from their own religious ancestors.
            Ours is still an evolving faith—always has been, always will be. We honor the wisdom and meaning we make of our own experiences in the language of our times. In the 21st century, the “unity” in Unitarian calls us to undo the deadly divisions caused by systemic racism and white supremacy, along with all other forms of oppression.
Come, join the beloved and courageous conversations that will show us the way. For today our unity surely means “we ALL belong.”
With great love and anticipation,
Rev. Nancy

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Aug 04 2014

For the Love of Our Children

Published by under Minister's Musings

For the Love of Our Children

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 The joyful squeals of children splashing in the creek at Uvas Canyon reach me as I park my car on Saturday, July 19, for my second visit that week to the church campout. Soon children and youth of all ages, races, ethnicities, and personalities are bounding around me. “No running in camp!” we adults remind them (and each other). The kids chase and wrestle, bead necklaces and play cards, laugh at magic tricks, swing at the birthday piñata, feast on the food, find lizards on the bank and crawdads in the creek, roast marshmallows for S’mores, take a tumble, pick each other back up, and revel in the warm dappled air and cool water.

Adults and children go on a creek walk, led by Lawrence Ashley, whose family has owned part of this property for generations and has generously hosted the campout for more than ten years. As we step into the creek, we form safety buddies across generations, making new friends in an instant. The youngest ones leap from one mossy rock to another, tugging at our hands as we adults seek stable footholds in our water shoes. Lawrence points out how the rocks change colors when wet. Much splashing ensues. He explains tree burls and sedimentation and shows us how high the creek used to be. The water level has never been as low as it is in this summer of drought and climate disruption; even in our joy, we notice and touch the world’s pain.

Finally, the pièce de resistance, the end point of our trip upstream: Lawrence shows us a rusting car embedded in the creek bank, with its top in the mud and its wheels, tires long gone, jutting out. “LOOK! A RACE CAR FELL INTO THE WATER!” shouts Eric Schmall with wonder and delight. An old jalopy transforms into a race car in a child’s imagination and ignites a series of stories about how it came to be there.

Meanwhile, other adults, younger and older intermingled, sit on camp chairs with their feet in the stream, talking or reading through the long afternoon. Folks who didn’t know they would enjoy camp come for a few hours and vow to return again. One couple, recent first-time visitors to FUCSJ’s Sunday morning worship, jump right into this community and bring their young son for his birthday. A group from our Small-Group Ministry program commutes down and gathers around the fire circle, quiet in the morning air. They share worship as always and reflect, this month, on the theme of “diversity.”

Looking around, I see how such open-ended time together builds a foundation of knowing and caring for one another in community. The campout is just one of many such foundation-builders, crafted of simple pleasures, which we create together every month of the year. Sitting in that shady circle, I sense how crucial is this foundation for the hard work of living out our demanding faith, our Unitarian Universalism, every single day. We can’t do our justice work without it.

The two gestures—love reaching in and love reaching out—belong together; they need each other. So it doesn’t surprise me when the campout conversation turns to the crisis of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant children fleeing Central America and landing in U.S. detention centers, where they sleep on cold floors and are fed little. Their cases will drag through immigration court and may result in their return to the life-threatening situations from which they fled. What a contrast to the leaping, squealing, joyful freedom of our children at camp. “What can we do?” congregants at camp ask, heartbroken. These young immigrants are “our children,” too.

For starters, the Pacific Southwest District of Unitarian Universalist congregations has set up a relief fund: www.pswduua.org. The Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministries, California, will offer more resources, and we are already working with local faith groups, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, to support the San José mayor, city council, and county board of supervisors in their efforts to house some of these children locally. Please pay special attention to all-church emails and in-church announcements in the weeks to come, as opportunities may arise quickly. Then join us for worship on Sunday, August 17, when we will share all we know on this humanitarian crisis happening right here and now. For the love of our children—for love that reaches in and reaches out—let us gather in the wide-open circle of FUCSJ!

With much love and affection,

Rev. Nancy

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Jun 27 2014

Transformation Through Forgiveness

Published by under Minister's Musings

“Transformation Through Forgiveness”:

A Photo Essay

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

On the first evening of the writers’ retreat that I attend in mid June, I walk to the back of La Casa de Maria’s property. For the next three days, eighteen women and I will explore the “underworld” in our writing, seeking sources of depth and value in our own woundedness. It will be a journey of transformation. But on that first night, I find myself in a small parking lot behind the room where we will write and write and write. There stands a glorious statue of a Native American, its shape changing subtly in the fading light. On the plaque at its base, sculptor Francis Jansen (www.graceinstone.com) writes: “Transformation Through Forgiveness” A National Monument for All Peoples This is a tribute to the Native American peoples and stands symbolically for the healing of all wounds, be they physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or environmental. “Transformation Through Forgiveness” is a call to all humankind for the reconciliation of “man’s inhumanity to man” and represents the acknowledgment in celebration of … “one whole nation, one whole world.” May the eagle soar to eternal heights and envelop humankind into the profoundness of our greater evolution. Here are the pictures I took of that statue, trying to capture its grace, sorrow, beauty, and hope. The last picture—a “tattoo” of leaves shadowed on the warrior’s back—holds for me the essence of our relationship to this Earth, of which we are an inextricable part. This summer, may you feel yourselves transforming into something even deeper and more whole than you already are. May we too be “transformed through forgiveness.” With great love, Rev. Nancy

Summer 2014 Engaging the Feminine Heroic warrior 2Summer 2014 Engaging the Feminine Heroic warrior 3Summer 2014 Engaging Feminine Heroic warrior 1Summer 2014 Engaging the Feminine Heroic warrior tattoo of leaves

P.S. Because the writers’ retreat was called “Engaging the Feminine Heroic”—using the myths of Demeter and Persephone, Inanna and Ereshkigal, to prompt a journey beyond gender into archetypal territory—I offer this second set of images. In another statue by Francis Jansen, “The Gathering,” we discover a mother figure whose face speaks volumes about Love itself.

Summer 2014 Engaging the Feminine Heroic mother and childrenSummer 2014 Engaging the Feminine Heroic 1


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Jun 04 2014

Introducing Nikira Hernandez – First Unitarian’s Field Education Student, 2014-15 by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

Published by under Minister's Musings

First Unitarian’s leaders, Rev. Geoff, and I are busy making plans for our “Year of Compassionate Troublemaking” in 2014-15. With great joy, I can now announce that our Board of Directors and the Program and Operations Council have accepted my proposal that we welcome Nikira Hernandez as our Field Education student for the coming year.

The Field Education Experience

With this field education placement, First Unitarian returns to serving as a “teaching congregation,” helping to shape the future leaders of our faith movement. Here, Nikira will witness how the members and staff of this program-sized Unitarian Universalist congregation work together to keep this “spiritual cooperative” vibrant and healthy. She will practice her teaching and preaching skills, participate in our social justice work, and help us prepare for our 150th Anniversary Celebration in 2015-16. Her questions and perspectives will help us to see afresh our strengths and the areas where we need to grow. Field education placements are a win-win arrangement for congregants and students alike, as we learn and serve alongside each other.

There is no financial burden to FUCSJ for next year’s field education placement. Instead, we offer the learning environment, the mentoring, and the support. Nikira will spend 12-15 hours a week on-site from September through May. She and I will meet weekly for reflection sessions on the practice of ministry, and together we will develop a Learning-Serving Covenant for each semester, spelling out her learning goals and the areas of ministry on which she will focus. Three to six of our congregants will form a “Teaching Parish Committee,” meeting with Nikira for an hour once a month. This committee provides feedback on her work, answers questions about congregational life, and helps Nikira establish the best practice of collecting and then incorporating lay members’ feedback into her emerging ministerial identity.

My conversations with Nikira, with her references, and with the director of Field Education at PSR have given me a glimpse of the wonderful person we will welcome into our midst for the coming year. I am delighted and grateful that Nikira sought us out as her field education placement. The next section lists her gifts, skills, and experiences. What interests and intrigues you the most? Please feel free to share your hopes and dreams for this new relationship with me at revnpj@yahoo.com. I’ll ponder your messages as I take time in July to rest and rev up for the coming year.


Nikira Hernandez

FUCSJ Nikira Hernandez photo 05-14

Nikira T. Hernandez has just completed her first year in the Master of Divinity program at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where she has received the Presidential Scholarship, the school’s highest merit award. She received her undergraduate degree in environmental studies from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 2008, with a concentration on environmental justice. At Mount Holyoke, she chaired the team that sponsored Native American History Month, and she served as an officer with the Interfaith Council, which worked to promote tolerance and understanding among all faith groups on campus.

In Santa Cruz over the last few years, Nikira has served on the board of the Coastal Watershed Council. As Vision Keeper for Naraya, A Dance for All People, she has been responsible for the spiritual and administrative wellbeing of this Native American spiritual community. She has also coordinated programs for LGBT youth and foster youth at the Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center and the Diversity Center, as well as serving as speaker and trainer for Triangle Speakers, a speakers’ bureau that works to eliminate fear, prejudice, and hatred against LGBTQ people. In 2004, she founded the Safe Schools Project in Santa Cruz County, recruiting and training local nonprofits and law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of the atmosphere that LGBT youth face on school campuses, to advocate for the enforcement of anti-LGBT bullying legislation, and to catalyze action in each school district.

With her partner, she owns and runs her own business, Light Hands Healing, an energy healing practice with a focus on empowering women to create change.

Nikira’s first official Sunday with us will be Homecoming Sunday, September 7.Please join me in welcoming Nikira Hernandez to our Beloved Community!

You, dearly loved community, have my enormous gratitude for the wonderful year we are completing and for the terrific year to come, which we will create together. May you too find some time for rest and renewal this summer—and may we “make Love visible” in all that we do and say!

With warmth and affection,


Rev. Nancy


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May 02 2014

May Theme: Freedom and Responsibility

Published by under Minister's Musings

Freedom and Responsibility:

A Year of Shifting the Balance

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 Spring 2013:

A year ago, when the annual Worship Survey asks me about this month’s theme, Freedom and Responsibility, I type out this (slightly edited) stream of consciousness:

“More and more, I realize how much I value freedom. My fundamental focus—on how much choice we have no matter what our limited circumstances, on how much agency we have to effect change in our lives and in the world—implies enormous freedom. How much does this focus reflect an assumption that comes from my own unearned privilege, especially in my younger years growing up in an economically and socially comfortable family? And how much does it spring from my fundamental love for and faith in human beings and in life itself? I also heard an ‘On Being’ podcast recently about creativity brain research and how we need FREEDOM, we need space, to be creative![1]

“I LIKE responsibility, too—those ‘ties that bind,’ like our March 2014 theme, Covenant. Yet I know what discipline-compassion-responsibility fatigue feels like. I think of the research in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, about how we must use self-control in every single moment—in every decision—and how our self-control can grow weary, so we become less able to make the best choices. Eating those brownies instead of choosing the fruit, for example! … Is all this related?”

 Spring 2014:

When I read those words from a year ago, I see a snapshot of myself then: nearing the end of the church year, hungering for freedom, space, creativity, rest, for hope and faith in our human capacities to change and in my own capacity to make a difference. I hear a struggle with “responsibility”—with how hard and persistent its call can be.

I still wrestle with those questions—yet the balance has shifted for me over the course of this year. Today, as I write, it is April 22, 2014: Earth Day. Today I would start my stream of consciousness with those “ties that bind” rather than with “freedom of choice.” I still have faith in our capacity and our freedom to choose the good, the life-giving, the compassionate—but I feel the urgent call of our responsibilities to each other and to this earth in my very bones, and I know that these responsibilities require some very hard choices. I have come to see how huge and complex are the adaptations we need to make in order to support life, all life, in our radically changing world. I can’t—I don’t want to—“lay this burden down.” Today my stream of consciousness begins: “More and more I realize how much I value and really feel our interconnectedness. It hurts, and it brings me joy.” Today my focus is not so much on “What do we want freedom from?” (from others’ control, from too many demands) but rather on “What do we have freedom for?” Toward what great purpose can we put our capacities for choice, for creativity, for love and connection? That’s my question, my friends, this May and as we move forward. Our answers will be so much wiser, so much more effective, more nuanced and beautiful because we seek them together. Let us dive in!

With love and commitment,

Rev. Nancy

[1]Listen to the On Being podcast at http://www.onbeing.org/program/creativity-and-everyday-brain/1879/audio?embed=1.


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Mar 26 2014

April Theme: Being a Body

Published by under Minister's Musings

Notice, Create, Post:  Join Us for Thirty Days of Embodied Spiritual Practices!

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


For two years now, I have signed up for the “photo-a-day challenge”—ten months of Unitarian Universalist ministers taking a photo each day and posting it to a special Facebook group. My beloved colleague the Rev. Michelle Favreault (http://riteherenow.com/blog/) creates this spiritual practice, urging us simply to slow down enough to notice … ourselves, the world around us, the present moment. Perhaps, when we really look, we’ll catch a glimpse of beauty; perhaps we’ll “reframe” our perspective on the day. It’s not about being great photographers—though taking photos every day and sharing them with others does teach me something about lighting, framing, composition, color. But it’s definitely not about being “good” at something. It’s simply about Being Present. Which is what makes it a spiritual practice.

The gift: It brings us back to a love of being alive.

Michelle posts a prompt for each day, which we participants are free to use or to ignore. The prompts range from the concrete (“Tooth”) to the abstract (“Trust”), and from the practical (“Weather”) to the whimsical (“Whether”). Participants play with the prompts, turning them into a play on words. We turn them upside down and do the opposite of what they suggest. We stretch them to encompass a whole new view. One day, when the prompt is “Smile,” I find myself sitting in a peace meditation group in the Circle of Palms. Through my downcast eyes, I notice the curving double lines in the California State Seal laid into the paving stones. I shoot a picture of just that, the burnished beads of the embossed symbol smiling up at me as I meditate.

Being a Body

At First Unitarian this April, our transformational theme is “Being a Body.” Being present. Paying attention to our senses. Noticing this embodied life we are given.

Let’s stretch the practice to include not just photography but also writing, journaling, pondering. Anything that takes us a moment or two yet brings us into our bodies, in the present.

How You Can Participate

Please join me for thirty days of an embodied spiritual practice!  Here’s how it works:

  1. Below you will find a prompt for each day in April. Use this prompt or ignore it—the point is to take a moment each day to slow down and notice. Take a picture, write a poem, scribble a descriptive paragraph about what your senses present to you—what you see, hear, taste, touch, smell.
  2. Then, post your photo or your writing to our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/FUCSJ. (You can sign up for Facebook for free.) We’ll get to share each other’s journey through the month. At the same time, send it to our newsletter editors at circular.editors@gmail.com. We’ll publish some of the photos, poems, and paragraphs in our May journal!
  3. Don’t worry if you miss a day. Just keep coming back to the practice, and noticing …

The Prompts


1                    Spring

2                    Yellow

3                    Touch

4                    Longing

5                    Up or Down

6                    Toes

7                    Dance

8                    Bud

9                    Orange

10                Taste

11                Grief

12                In or Out

13                Fingers

14                Write

15                Blossom

16                Blue

17                Scent

18                Love

19                Large or Small

20                Eyes

21                Music

22                Fruit

23                Violet

24                Sight

25                Joy

26                Flowing or Stuck

27                Hands

28                Paint

29                Silence

30                Self-portrait

One More Example


ReFraming Clergy Photo Group 03-19-14 orange blossom

When I walk out the door of my apartment right now, I am flooded with the scent of orange blossoms. Everywhere, the trees are in bloom, and the sweet gentle aroma envelops me like a bubble bath. As if today’s prompt were “Scent” (see April 17), I take a picture of buds bathed in sunlight, the round globes of the oranges just out of reach in the shadows. As I do, my body breathes in that very moment, grateful.

May this practice bring you awareness, peace, and joy! And may the sharing of it bring us closer to one another!

With love and faith,      Rev. Nancy

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Feb 24 2014

March Theme: Democracy and Covenant

Published by under Minister's Musings


Democracy and Covenant: Acting Each Other into Well-Being

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

“Love [is] the power to act-each-other-into-well-being….

We have the power, through acts of love or lovelessness, literally to create one another.”

Beverly Wildung Harrison

February 2001: teacher Eileen de los Reyes stands on the stage of the largest classroom at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education to launch her popular course. “T128: Educating for Social and Political Change.” To the students before her, she throws out this challenge: “We are here to create a radically democratic classroom! And if we succeed, you will never want to teach in any other way.”

March 2014: We at the First Unitarian Church of San José jump into a month of exploring the spiritual and practical dimensions of “Democracy and Covenant.” Professor de los Reyes’s words ring in my ears. What did I learn through that class that will help us create the kind of community we long for?

I remember how hard it was for all of us—certainly for me—to stay awake to the play of power and privilege, to engrained lessons about who gets to speak the loudest and most often. I remember our discussion section—a group of 15 students of all ages from Argentina, Mexico, Palestine, Peru, Puerto Rico, the United States—wrestling with the interweaving of “the personal and the political.” How much time would we spend checking in with each other? How much time would we give to the content of our reading? How would we record our learnings and our progress toward that radically democratic classroom? How would we apply these lessons to all our relationships at school, at home, at work?

When I read through those old notes and papers, I see the messiness of creating a space where everyone is honored and valued. All those different perspectives, histories, identities, life circumstances, and more—of course it was messy! We each brought unique gifts and flaws to the table. “Equality” did not mean erasing those different capacities and personalities. We struggled, we got mad, we went through some major life passages. I see the depth of connection and care that grew among us. I remember how we changed each other. I see the goals that we emboldened each other to pursue. They are still, even now, a good measure of how well I am living up to my promises to myself and to them. We were bound together in democracy and covenant.

“Does real democracy always involve covenant?” one of you asks. Yes—I’ll be bold enough to say it—it always does.

What lies at the root of these entertwined ways of living? You guessed it: Love.

“Love [is] the power to act-each-other-into-well-being,” the late feminist professor Beverly Wildung Harrison writes. Right here at the First Unitarian Church of San José, I see the power of such love every day. And I also hear Love’s call to Step Up—to go deeper, to try harder, to notice more, to think more clearly, to widen Love’s embrace!

Did we students in “T128” really create a radically democratic classroom? I don’t know for sure. It’s an ambitious goal. But I do know this: the vision called us to Step Up. And we did—we stepped up. I will never forget it, and I want to live that way every day. Won’t you step up with me?

With love and faith,      Rev. Nancy

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