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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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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