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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Jan 05 2015

January Theme: Creation

Published by under Minister's Musings

Called to Create

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 “This Theme Is a Call to Action …”

So writes one congregant about “creation.” “It is our responsibility as Unitarian Universalists,” this person goes on, “to light the candle of love, to seek truth, and to serve in whatever way we can. We may be a part of someone else’s creation or the generator of our own creation…. Either way is important.”*

Creation as a “call to action” for “our responsibility to light the candle of love, to seek truth, to serve in whatever way we can” … Now there’s an “elevator speech” summing up Unitarian Universalism!

It’s true: the Unitarian Universalist tradition calls us humans to co-create, in the here-and-now, the world we dream about. Ttheologically diverse, as a community we don’t rely on some external force to set things right. Change for the good requires our own sweat equity, a determined will, and lots of healthy partnerships.

In the same way, we may hold a range of beliefs about what happens after we die, but as a whole, we Unitarian Universalists face the afterlife question with humble honesty: we humans can’t know for sure. We can’t count on a happy ending by-and-by—so we better get to work right here and now.

In short, we are called to be co-creators of a world with “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” and “peace, liberty, and justice for all,” as our Principles say. This creation is up to us—and we are not alone. That’s the “co-creator” part.

A Long, Tall Order

Still, “called to be co-creators”—that’s a tall order!

It has been the Unitarian and Universalist call to action for a long, long time. One hundred years ago this year, our Universalist ancestor, the Rev. Clarence R. Skinner, published The Social Implications of Universalism. You can read the whole text of this pithy little book at http://www.pacificuu.org/publ/univ/writings/skinner_social_implications.html.

Although Skinner’s language sounds fusty, non-inclusive, and religiously conservative to us now, his book was revolutionary in its day. Rooted in a radical Universalist Christianity and drawing on early-20th-century psychology and sociology, Skinner heralded “the new heaven and the new earth,” where the “whole of humanity can be gathered as a unit, each individual with his [sic] custom, creed and personality guaranteed freedom and democratic respect, but each individual en­larged and expanded so as to meet all other individuals on the common ground of mu­tual needs and universal interests.” Skinner calls this vision “heaven on earth.” And it’s up to us—us humans—to bring it to fruition.

Wow. A tall order, indeed.

Like Building a Muscle

But what if the capacity to co-create the world we dream about is like a muscle we can build with every act of creation we try?

Nothing makes me happier than the process of creating something. That “something” could be as big as giving birth to an idea or an event in partnership with you, or as simple as stringing beads on a thread to form a necklace. It can be as small as taking a snapshot of some tiny slice of “Creation,” or as huge as joining with allies to bend the arc of the universe a little further toward justice. With every creative gesture, we grow stronger—like building a muscle.

Morning Walk 12-01-14 iris small

This month, we’ll look at many kinds of creation—from evolution to the Beloved Community, from creation myths to the creative arts. We will encourage each other to stretch our creative muscles, and to figure out what contributions we are called to make to the creation of “heaven on earth,” right here and now.

I stand ready to bring my sweat equity, my will, and my beloved partnerships with you to these acts of creation. I’m looking forward to what we will create!

With love and gratitude,

Rev. Nancy

* Take a look at “In Our Own Voices” in this issue for the wide range of congregants’ responses!


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Nov 26 2014

December Theme: Hope

Published by under Minister's Musings

Building an Active Hope

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 The day I answer the survey on our worship themes for winter-spring 2015, I must have felt overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. January’s theme, “Creation,” makes me think of the crises caused by climate disruption. “I feel like this theme could or should be called ‘destruction’!” I harrumph. For February’s “Love,” I offer a big Eeyore sigh: “Oh, Love …” I grump on through the next two months’ themes: March, “Brokenness”—“Well, this one should be easy!” April, “Transformation and Rebirth”—“Are second chances really available for everyone?”

To be fair, after these first gloomy reactions, I do offer some glimmers of hope, but nothing really shifts my perspective until I get to May, “Awe and Wonder.” To my surprise, what flies from my fingers onto the screen is this:

“I do love this world. The awe of pausing even for a moment to follow a butterfly flitting among the bushes outside the church, asking it to pause for a moment while I dig in my purse for my phone and come close enough to capture a good picture of its furry body and tweedy yellow wings with those two blue ‘eyes’ at the bottom … The wonder of making a new friend, like my Tuesday-Thursday-morning-walking-friend Jennifer … The awe of people’s courage as I witness congregants facing such difficult circumstances and finding their way to hope, strength, companionship, and perseverance. I love this world.”

FUCSJ 11-17-14 butterfly 1


What happened here? What caused my spirit’s move from hopelessness to a deep appreciation that embodied hope? It has something to do with moving from a generalized despair, which shut down my senses and limited my choices about those themes for January through April, to naming for May specific examples of my values embodied in the world: the beauty of all our diverse creatures; the importance of friendship; the strength and courage of the human spirit. Stories of hope.

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy’s book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (written with Chris Johnstone) points out that if we only dare to hope for something that is likely to happen, we cut off the full range of our responses to the world. There is no guarantee that what we want will indeed happen. Does that mean that we do nothing?

Of course not! The other kind of hope consists of acting on our gut-level desire for constructive change—change that brings our deepest values to life. “Hope is not something we have,” Joanna Macy says with passion, “it’s something we DO.” It is an embodied spiritual practice, just like the gratitude-in-hard-times that we practiced in November.

Macy and Johnstone spell out three key moves that hope asks of us: First, we have to look honestly at what is. If we turn away from the depressing stuff, we numb our responses and limit our energy and creativity. Second, we must get specific about the directions in which we want our lives and the world to move. We need to name the values that we want to see tangibly expressed. We cast a vision that pulls us forward, even if don’t know exactly how we’ll get there. And third, we commit to the journey of moving toward that vision, taking the steps, one after another, that we discover together and that move us in the desired direction.

Every time we here at First Unitarian step toward our vision for a better life for all, we move through these three stages—looking clearly at the present reality, imagining the future we desire, moving forward one step at a time. Every time I walk toward our vision of making Love visible—with you, with my clergy colleagues and friends, with our partners in People Acting in Community Together (PACT)—I sense this active hope alive and at work in us.

Come to think of it, the December holidays, too, are built on stories of active hope. At the root of Chanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, and Kwanzaa celebrations lie visions of freedom from oppression, of love offered to all, of life cycles promising second chances, of community deepening a sense of identity and self-esteem. Such active hope moves us from a generalized despair that deadens our senses, to the energy and joy of embodying our values, moving toward our desires for the good, and discovering that we are not alone. Come, engage in Active Hope with us this season!

In hope and faith,

Rev. Nancy

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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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