Ministerial Musings – Thanksgiving Week

Grateful Thanksgiving everyone!  It isn’t always the happiest of times, the holidays, but I hope you can look at this season as a time of gratitude and hope.  There are times when the holidays bring on painful memories and I pray that for you all out there that your memories and experiences will be peaceful and gentle ones.

 

I was privileged to MC the Tri-City Interfaith Council’s annual Thanksgiving Service Monday evening at St. Joseph’s with Shamsa Rafay another Council member.  In this service I was reminded by Pastor Jeff Spencer of how it is up to us to change the narrative we have been raised with about this holiday.  He preached about the false history we have grown to believe, how we have neglected to acknowledge the damage we have done to the First Nations who had always lived here, how the racism and destruction of millions of people were viewed as inconsequential.

It can be so disheartening to review this history and feel the guilt and shame that we must feel on knowing that we did this.  But there is hope.  For we can view our history, acknowledge our participation in it, and vow to take action to rectify and repair what we have done in the past.  One of the reparations I give every November is to donate to the First Nations Development Institute and to the American Indian College Fund.  I have been doing this for over 10 years now and feel that is one way I can make reparations for what my government did in the past.  Our government has not taken steps to repair the damage we have done, so maybe it is time for us to do it.  And it doesn’t have to be to those organizations, those are just examples, but to give to those organizations that are helping Native Americans to recover and begin to thrive could be a first step in helping to mend and to heal the First Nations and ourselves.  For when we carry the scars of what our ancestors wrought, it is a burden that we don’t even know we are carrying.  Reparation heals both sides of the damage.  Our country would benefit with this repair as much as the First Nations would.

 

So let us celebrate this Thursday and keep in our hearts all of those in need, for there are many.  If you can volunteer or donate time or money to those who are truly in need, isn’t that the greatest way to give thanks?  Let not our privilege get in the way of helping others.  Let us be grateful and serve those in need.

Have a Grateful Thanksgiving.

Grateful Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

What Are You Waiting For?

I officiated the Celebration of Life for Ed Green on Monday, the husband of one of our congregants, Donna.  It was such a lovely way to salute this man who has left our mortal lives.  I feel I was privileged to know him the short time that I did.  This service was filled with proclamations of his good works, his generosity, his kindness and love.  And at the end of the service, after so many had commented on the wonderful hugs that he gave throughout his life, we each were presented with an ornament holding a ribbon the length of his hugs.  I acquired  one for myself and also one for the congregational holiday tree we will be putting up next month.  It is a memory for those who knew him and experienced his hugs in the past.

Death can be a reminder and an impetus on how we live our lives in the moment.  Do you know that friend that you think about often but really never visit or call because we always feel we have more time?  Do you have something on your bucket list that you want to do but haven’t really gotten around to it yet?  Have you told your family you love them lately?

 

What are you waiting for?  Sometimes we just need a reminder of the fleeting, transitory moment of life that we live.  Sometimes it takes something like a tragic loss to spur ourselves into movement.  But should it?  Is there a way to incorporate into our lives a routine of staying in touch with those who mean so much to us.  Ed did do that.  He stayed in touch so that by the very end, he had met with friends and family members and gotten to spend some quality time with them.  I was one of those lucky people in that in this last month, I was privileged to know him.  We were able to have meaningful conversations and were able to connect as fellow human beings.  Which is why we are all here on this planet, isn’t it?

So what are you waiting for?  What could possibly be more important than telling your loved ones you love them, looking at that bucket list and choosing one thing to accomplish that will make you happy?  Take some time this week.  Discover what is meaningful to you.  Spread goodness and kindness around.  And throw in some special hugs for those who need it.

Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

 

Giving Service

I read an interesting article awhile back that got me to thinking about giving to others or to an organization.  Not monetarily, but when we choose to help by chairing a committee, giving someone a ride, setting the coffee out on Sunday mornings, setting up the Sanctuary.

This article was written by a woman who doesn’t like the word volunteer and I read it and thought, a like-minded person like me!  I’ve never liked the word “volunteer”.  And especially in these last years of my life when I’ve been ministering and chaplaining, I have found it increasingly inadequate.  Now this author calls herself a Progressive Christian so there is where our paths diverge, but it was so encouraging to read another minister’s article that held my same beliefs.  This past Sunday in my sermon I took note of my annoyance with this word.  And this Christian minister spoke of how when her husband looks after the children when she’s away, others refer to him as babysitting and her retort is you can’t babysit your own kids.  And that’s the same way I feel about congregations.  We aren’t volunteering to keep our Sanctuary clean, we’re cleaning our own spiritual home.  Volunteering seems more business related – we volunteer sometimes at our jobs or for non-profits, but that doesn’t seem very spiritual.  This is our spiritual home.  When we give service here at Mission Peak UU it means something more.  We are more like a family so it feels more like we are engaged with our family.

In my sermon on Sunday I said, Stop using the word volunteer.  We are giving service to this community and when we do, it comes from our heart and not as an obligation.  Giving service brings compassion for others, giving service can bring out the passion you have for a project or a cause, giving service offers you an opportunity to give back to others, to forward a cause, and will give you the satisfaction and happiness that maybe you’ve long been craving.

Volunteers many times only do it once, they are more like spontaneous, obligatory offerings of service for a certain cause or organization.  Giving service however offers a deeper connection to community, it comes from the heart.  We feel good about what we’ve done, it’s not an obligation but an opportunity to give back to something we’ve gotten so much richness from.

 

That’s how I would like us to view giving service here at Mission Peak.  It’s not an obligation, but such an amazing opportunity to connect spiritually, to offer our gifts and talents not just once, but many times and to see how it connects us to this larger family – this congregation. Think of this place as home, your spiritual home.

I hope you all can begin to view giving service in this way.  It will be remarkable what rewards you yourself will receive and it will be remarkable for the rest of the congregation to receive these gifts from you.  Let’s banish the word volunteer from our vocabulary as it just doesn’t fit the spiritual wellness we are striving for here.  See how you can give service and see what your heart feels like after.

Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

It is Our Job

Greetings Beloved Community!

As of this writing, the power has not been shut off yet, so cross your fingers we all weather this windy time in our area.  If you do have you power shut off, know that this is a community that might be able to help.  We can use this time to lean on each other and help each other in times of need.

This week is an important week.  Matthew Shepard died 21 years ago on October 6th.  Yom Kippur is today, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  Friday the 11th is National Coming Out Day and this Sunday we will be hosting J Mase III as he speaks about being Transqueer and reads excerpts of his book and his poetry.  And to add to all of this next Monday is Indigenous People’s day for those of us who reject the previous honoree.

For LBGTQ+ folks, there’s a lot happening that personally affects them.  I want to honor that.  It is amazing in some ways how much our nation has grown.  When I speak with younger generations they don’t see what the big deal is regarding gender, accept all categories of gender and are not fazed by people’s identities.  And then there are some of my relatives in the Midwest, older than me, who won’t even watch the Ellen DeGeneres  Show because they don’t approve of her lifestyle.  When I look at the difference in generations, it gives me hope.  There is more acceptance, more compassion, more acknowledgement of people’s true identities.  Yes there are those still who ridicule, torment and hate.  There are those who refuse to change their beliefs no matter what the proof.  It is our job however to always be tolerant without derision, strong in our belief of our Seven Principles, courageous to speak truth to power, and engaged in the task to create a world more fair, more loving, more unified.  Even when it feels impossible.  Even when it feels awkward, even when we feel we just can’t do it.

It is our job to strive to understand.  It is our job, even when it feels too hard or too complicated or just too much.  Even when we feel we just don’t have the energy to do the work.  As Unitarian Universalists, we can stand together to do this work, just like our hymn #1021 Lean on Me.  Together we can accomplish so much more.

I urge you to attend this Sunday evening when J Mase III comes to Cole Hall to speak to us about being Transgender, about being African American.  We can learn how to have the courage, we can learn how to walk alongside the shoes of another.  We can’t walk in them many times, but we can walk alongside.  That is our job.

Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

The Power of One

A week of change, a week of turmoil, a week of passion.  We were shone this week what one person can do to affect the world.  If that is not an example of individual identity, I don’t know what is.  Greta Thunberg has shown us what one single person can do to change the world.  It doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your country, what matters is your heart and mind.  She brought intelligent, succinct, honest dialogue to the table on the climate crisis.  And people are listening.  The most effective photo I saw this week on the Internet was the picture of her in front of the Swedish Parliament one year ago in November, where she was the sole protester against the world.  Her sign reads School Strike for Climate in Swedish.  And then this was last Friday in New York City.  Just in New York City.

 

 

 

 

One young woman did this.  Her individual identity is confirmed. She knows what she believes and she lives in that belief.  I admire her tenacity, her courage and her young wisdom.  Don’t we wish we could all be like her in her strength? 

We can.  We may not need to take on the world as she has chosen to do, but we can take on what we are passionate about.  We can take on what is important to us, whether it is a local issue or a national one.  We have to find that inner strength, that passion, that spirituality that will move us forward.  I know that it is there.  I know that sometimes it appears.  I see it in you, sometimes I see it in me.  Every human being possesses a strength that we sometimes don’t believe is there.

What is it you can turn to that strengthens your resolve?  What is it inside of you that you are passionate about?  Discover it, reveal it to yourself and others and then take action.  We must.  It is time.

Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

Ministerial Musings

We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from person to person, and from moment to moment.

(Viktor Frankl, 1905 – 1997)

Our spiritual theme this month is Individual Identity.  Who are you?  What is your purpose in being on this earth?  What is your best self?

Many of us don’t really know.  We follow and believe what others tell us from early on in childhood and those impressions are imprinted on our brains, sometimes as a lifelong influence.  We need to do reflective work on ourselves, deep inner deliberation to confront those demons and angels that reside in our minds, about ourselves, about how we relate to others, about where we fit in this world.  It’s hard.  It is never easy to confront that which you wish to avoid.  But that is exactly what I’m asking you to do this month.  To confront those ideas and thoughts that do not serve you or others.  What do you tell yourself when you look in the mirror?  Do you praise what you see or do you pick apart and name and criticize all that you see as imperfect?

Sometimes we need to break those patterns that do not serve us and the longer we’ve had them, the more difficult it is.  Try using some of these techniques.  Take a moment to sit quietly, begin to listen to your breathing, and meditate.  Watch yourself calm yourself down.  It could take moments, it could take many minutes.  Then ask yourself some questions.  What fills me with passion?  What did I want to be when I grew up when I was 7 years old?  Has your path taken you there? If not, why not and what can you do to change it?  Is it still a passion for you?

 

Sometimes just asking ourselves the question provides the answers to us.  Be honest with yourself, see what purpose arises for you.  Then go out and pursue that.  It’s never too late to create that life you are longing for.

Use this month to devote to you.  Look inward, self reflect, process, be kind to yourself.  Then go out and make a change.  Our world depends on you.

Blessings to you all,

Rev Jo

 

Enough is Enough

Resident Reflections

All I did was turn on the TV to watch while grabbing a quick lunch.  I wanted light hearted fare, something bland to preoccupy my brain while eating, was watching The Talk when the broadcast was interrupted with another special report about a mass shooting, not even one week after the last one in Colorado.  As I watched I began to cry and as I watched, it became increasingly more difficult not to cry.  My hopelessness and sadness increased, my tears increased, it began to be harder to breathe and definitely impossible to eat.  When will it all end, I thought?  Why does this happen in our country?

As Unitarian Universalists we value life more than anything else.  We value human life, animal life, plant life, planet life.  As a Unitarian Universalist, I grieve when these mass shootings occur.  Part of my grief is that it has become so commonplace.  Do we even notice anymore that this is a horrendous act, that this isn’t normal, that this is terrorism?  What is causing these predominantly white men to resolve their issues this way?  Are we raising our boys to see gunfire as a solution to whatever anger or frustration they feel?  Are video games to blame?  Is it our culture?  WHAT THE HECK IS IT?  There has to be a reason that as an evolved species we are acting as Cro-Magnon humans instead of 21st century humans.

Was this an act of terrorism a reporter asked.  How can it not be I screamed at the television screen!  Killing people IS terrorism.

We need to not only speak up and sign petitions, we need to go outside and do something.  Now is the time.  Not just for vigils or marches, but active presence.  We need to be an active presence to stand against gun violence.  Enough is enough.

Ask yourself what you can do.  Reflect on how much you do and be honest with yourself that it is or is not enough.  If it’s not enough, it’s time to act.  We already have a vigil calendared for December 13th in memory of all the deaths by gunfire we have already experienced.  Come that evening to UUCCH, 401 N. Kings Highway in Cherry Hill NJ and let’s become an active presence.  Come on December 13th, show your UU principles and let’s do something to stop the killing.  There are more of us than there are of them.  We can make peace possible again.  We can make life possible again.

Blessings from the heart,

Jo Green

Minister in Residence

Surrendering

From the October Newsletter

I always thought that surrendering or letting go meant giving up something; that a part of me would be missing if I gave up something or that a part of my personality would be gone.  How could I still be me if I didn’t have my passion or my righteous anger?  Isn’t the very definition of surrender to give up control, to stop resisting, to admit that one is not going to succeed?  As a feminist haven’t I fought for so many years to gain control?  To be the Captain of my own fate?  To fight the good fight?

In the course of growing up and experiencing many disappointments and some failures, I learned that letting go wasn’t altogether a defeat or punishment.  I learned that when I surrendered to a situation or let go of what I felt was control over something, that I wasn’t failing.  I was more in a position to ask for help.  There are times where I want to do it all myself, that for whatever reason I need to show people that I can or I need to prove to myself that I can, and the idea of asking for help can almost feel like a failure.  What I discovered was that asking for help became a solution, became a victory, added some needed peace to my life.  It also was a reward in gaining friendships and closer relationships.  I’ve always been told that people really want to help; that they feel good helping and that asking for help was actually a gift to others.  I had not thought of it that way previously, but I do know that when others ask me for help and I can help them, I feel good about that.

Isn’t it human nature really, to want to help?  Is surrendering then a way to help our fellow humans be more human?

I had a friend once who was really good at accounting.  I was tasked with working on a committee at one of my past churches and needed to create a spreadsheet.  I had limited experience at this point in my life with Excel and was really struggling in creating this sheet.  I spent a week on it, going through tutorials, making mistakes and redoing macros, simply just having a horrible time of it.  When our committee met the next week and I presented what I had generated, we discovered that some key points of information that we needed were missing.  I felt so frustrated that I had put all this time in and it still wasn’t giving us what we needed.  My friend looked at it, immediately saw what was missing and made some very valid suggestions on how to improve it.  We proceeded through the meeting and made a lot of progress that day in terms of moving forward.  Afterwards we were walking out and I thanked her profusely for her help, explained all the work I had done on it and the time I had spent, and she just turned to me and said, “Why didn’t you just ask me for help?”  I honestly told her the thought had never occurred to me.  I had it in my head that I needed to do this, all by myself, with only my resources.  I had never thought to ask.  And I could see some disappointment in her eyes that I hadn’t thought to ask her.

How much community are we losing with one another by not asking for help?  How much closer could our relationships be with one another to share a task or a project and then revel in the success of it together?  I have a favorite quote that follows my signature on my email from Thomas Merton, who was an American Catholic monk, that states, “ We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”   Surrendering can be a link to community, can be a strengthening of relationships and not a failure or a disappointment.  Surrendering and letting go can be a victory.

Unexpected Blessings

From my September Newsletter page
For the longest time I never understood the meaning of Grace.  By God’s grace people would say to me, it could have been me.  Through the grace of God, others would opine, there go I.  What did they mean by grace?

Then one day someone explained that Grace was an unexpected blessing, a reprieve from suffering or misfortune; that for some reason they were spared suffering or pain when others were not.

As a recovering Catholic I was raised to believe that all human beings were sinful and imperfect, that we all had to perform penance to receive God’s grace.  I’ve never believed that human beings are sinful; I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings.  So I could never understand why some people would receive God’s grace and others would not.

Not until the explanation that opened my eyes – grace was unexpected blessings.

For this I could believe.  That some would receive an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness or fortune was much more plausible.  It didn’t mean someone was more special for any reason; it was something that happened to you surprisingly or unpredictably.  It was luck in a way.

So when I began to watch the footage from the St. Louis area this week, my heart fluttered and sank.  I was born in St. Louis, raised in the St. Louis Metro area and lived there into early adulthood.  Why weren’t they receiving grace?  I wanted them to be blessed.  I wanted this part of the country that was such a part of me, where I still had family, where I had just traveled through on my travels to my new home here in New Jersey, to be rid of this evil, this racism, that seemed so pervasive when I lived there.  Now it was on view for all to see and nothing had changed in 30 years.  How do we get grace to visit these places that so desperately need unexpected blessings?  With so much visible pain boiling over, how can grace heal?

I don’t know.  I do know that we are actually capable of giving grace, that it’s not just in the purview of a Divine Power.  We can give random acts of kindness to others; we can work to contribute to the Common Good; we can live our Seven Principles daily to the best of our ability.  This indeed can be grace.  These would be unexpected blessings for others.

I was traveling in Los Angeles before my trek here and pulled into a Starbucks to take a Frapucchino on the road with me.  Unbeknownst to myself, I had pulled into the lot the wrong way and began to turn my car around to gain entry into the drive through lane.  As I performed this maneuver, I waved at a woman to enter the line and she allowed me.  I gave my order and started to pull up when she yelled out the window of her SUV, “So you couldn’t go around like everyone else, you had to cut in!”  I replied that I was visiting and didn’t know I pulled in the wrong way and was sorry to inconvenience her.  It rattled me though that she was so angry she felt the need to scream at me out of her car.  So when I approached the window to pay for my order I asked what hers was and paid for that too.  I believe it was God’s Grace that placed that thought in my head to ward off my own anger and frustration.  It wasn’t intentional for me to “cut” in line, but rather than fume at the anger this woman sent my way, I decided to give a random act of kindness.  I don’t know how she reacted as I just drove away afterwards, but I do know that I felt better.

Maybe that’s a first step in the world receiving more grace.  If we each give acts of kindness to each other unexpectedly, then maybe it will help to dispel the acts of hate and pain that seem to occur so frequently in our world.  It’s worth a try.  It’s worth grace.

Leaving California

July 31st

A little while ago I drove over the border of California into Arizona leaving the state I’ve lived in the last 30 years.  30 years?  How did I go through so many years of my life when it seems like about a year ago I moved here.  In preparation for this move, I’ve gone through boxes of old letters, souvenirs, and notes, firmly sticking to my mantra of if I don’t love it, it can’t come with me.  I watched whole relationships progress through the written word, gave away my 26 year old sofabed, oh friends, what will you do when you sleep over!, and other non-essential items.  I went through grief, joy, anger, melancholy, pain and boredom, going through all that I had accumulated through all these years.  When I arrived in San Diego 30 years ago, I came with 3 suitcases (when they were free to bring that many, ah those were the days) and all of this stuff I’ve collected over the years.  I watched one relationship evolve through letters and saw the love that he freely gave turn to bitterness and resentment.  It was amazing in a way to see that progression, how he sent love letters to my work (this was way before email… ) how he begged for me to stay, how he resented what I took, how he argued how to divvy up the money upon our breakup.  It was almost like a sitcom to read these letters and I was surprised to find them, not realizing I had thrown them in a box many years ago never to see again until now.  That’s what happens when downsizing.  When there’s room to store, I guess I use it.  Now that I need to consolidate, I am finding the time to review so many things that were content to sit in the dark. 

I left with 3 plants from the many I’ve had and given away to so many friends and family.  They’re sitting on the passenger side of the cab of this 16 foot Penske truck and they seem to be making the trip rather well.  I’m moving to the other coast where there isn’t bougainvilla, agapanthus, eucalyptus, or jacaranda trees.  What flora awaits me on the East Coast I don’t know, but will soon find out.  I miss California already.  Farmer’s markets all year round, temperatures never dipping below 40 degrees, sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.  I have acquired California blood now and it will be difficult to reacquaint myself with frozen winters once again.  In driving down this glorious state, I’ve seen mountains and forests, deserts and ocean, cities and farmland.  Although in the 20+ times I’ve driven up and down this state, I’ve never seen it so brown – so brown it was actually a bit scary.  Our drought here is real.  Acres and acres along the way have been left unplanted, seeing miles of brown dirt where there used to be plantings that were green and growing.  There is not enough water and it shows.

 Driving from Prescott however after visiting my friend I encountered three rainstorms and two monsoons!  So hard of a rain that twice I had to pull over.  The second time I am coming down a mountain in the pouring rain and the gas light comes on as I was down to about an 1/8 of a tank.  Really????  Not just the rain, but the gas light testing my endurance after driving for 9 hours.  But I made it and arrived safely.

It is indeed an adventure.  A bit of a scary one.  It looked so much better on paper.  An exciting way to see the continent.   I’ve never done an ocean to ocean road trip before and I guess after this I’ll be able to say I did.  I think it might be the only time… tee hee.

Anyway I still love you California and hope to come back and live here again.

Going towards my new little piece of Mayberry,

Jo