Feeling Blessed

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.  What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

~Thomas Merton

If ever there was a time to heed Thomas Merton’s words, it is now.  The new Shelter in Place instructions have begun and our lives have taken a turn that we really have never gone down.  As we watch, state after state and the national government are requiring stricter and more stringent guidelines to follow to ensure the containment of the Covid-19 virus that has killed some and sickened so many thousands.  I feel lucky that our government has begun to take actions for containment and pray that the citizens here in this country will heed them and abide by them.  It feels hard though, doesn’t it?  We can’t stand near each other, hug each other, go places, or laugh with one another in person.  All we have now is our technology and actually that is a blessing that we can look at.

One of the by-products that I feel is a blessing is how our planet is now being taken care of in a much better way.  I hear that the Chinese for the first time in I don’t know how many years can actually see the sky.  The pollution has dissipated so much that they can see the sky.  Half of our planes are grounded and so many working from home here in the US has helped our air to become cleaner.  We’re using less gas and electricity.  And yes, businesses are suffering, lacking customers and income, so many hourly workers are having their hours cut with no benefits or pay to replace their income.  How will they pay their rent and utilities and child care?  Our world right now is turned upside down in a way, as Americans, most of us have never experienced.  I’ve never entered a grocery store before where there wasn’t a single egg to buy, any paper products, especially toilet paper.  I can only imagine that this is what my parents experienced during World War II.  They had rationing, you could only buy so much, and they used to tell me about this.  But until one has experienced this first hand, it’s really kind of hard to understand.

Our congregation is experiencing a new way to worship.  Last Sunday we held our first streaming Sunday service with our Youth providing the entire service and it was wonderful!  It also was so gratifying to see our members log in and attend online and then later give praise and admiration to our youth for a job well done.  There are many changes with which we will have to accustom ourselves in the coming weeks.  We did not include Joys and Concerns and are working on a way to do that in the next services to come.  We are looking at creating some Zoom meetings just to connect with each other and be able to talk to each other, kind of like Small Group Ministries online.  I am going to have a Coffee Chat on Zoom so look for that!  We also have our Pastoral Associates team calling every single one of our members to check in and just say hi and find out if all is well and if anything is needed.  We have members who have offered to go shopping for other members who can’t leave the house.  We are a community and we are still a community.  We are coming together in a new way.

And our DRE Shawn is working on activities online for our children and youth to be able to get together.  Stay tuned for those possibilities too!

Yes, things are different.  Yes, we wish they were the same.  And some of us are tech savvy and feel like this is an easy transition.  And others are not and are dreading being online, might be scared of it, might not have the equipment to be online.  So we need to help each other find our ways to connect, to show that we are a community.

Thank you so much to all the members helping us live through this new time!  Thank you Board of Trustees, all the members on the Pastoral Associates team, our DRE Shawn, our Office Administrator Sandra, all the people helping with tech and scheduling.  We know you are there doing this work and we thank you and are very grateful for your service.

Help each other, remember each other, talk to each other, know that there are so many out here for you.  If you have a need, there’s someone in this community that can help you fill it.

We are here for you.

I feel blessed to have each and every one of you in my life.

Stay safe, stay healthy, blessings to you all.

In love,

Rev. Jo

 

Women’s History Month

This Sunday we will be honoring International Women’s Day during the month of March which has been designated Women’s History Month.  In looking at quotes made memorable about women, I have been struck by how these quotes spotlight a woman’s role as wife and mother and not the qualities that we just consider as human.   One from Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady and the other was to be independent, and the law was something most unusual for those times because for most girls growing up in the ’40s, the most important degree was not your B.A. but your M.R.S.”

Many of the quotes I read felt very demeaning and misogynistic towards women.  It came from the era in which they were spoken.  So many of the quotes were a century or more old, and only those true pioneers of old recognized the role women played during that time.  Louisa May Alcott wrote: “Women have been called queens for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn’t worth ruling.”  She epitomized the spirit of women who saw life as giving so much more than they were allowed to have.  Even Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “The age of a woman doesn’t mean a thing. The best tunes are played on the oldest fiddles.”  Would he have said that regarding a man?  I doubt that age was even considered for men, other than to denote wisdom and experience.

We’ve come so far as a gender.  Female identified people are able to pursue so many more dreams today than even 40 years ago.  When I was very young, about the age of 8 or so, I told my father I wanted to become a doctor, as I had seen a documentary on the first heart transplant at school, narrated by Walter Cronkite.  He informed me that I couldn’t be a doctor, but I could be a nurse because men were doctors and women were nurses.  I pointed out that our family doctor was a woman and he said, yes but that’s because she inherited the business when her husband, our former family doctor, died.  I was too young to realize that she would have had to complete all the degrees and requirements to gain access to a medical practice and accepted what he said.  I was disappointed but I moved on.

My how life has changed.  I don’t believe today any child would accept that they couldn’t be what they wished to be.  And so many more parents would not dream of telling their female identified children they couldn’t be something that they give permission to their male identified children.   Yes, there is still much to be done.  Our transgendered children are still prohibited from truly living the life they wish to live.  There is much, much work to be done.  This month, let us revel in the victories we have experienced and let us rejoice in the strength and courage we are seeing in our young people.  Change is happening and as Unitarian Universalists we are a part of that change.  Thank you for all the work you are doing to give inherent worth and dignity to all people in the world.

Generous and grateful blessings to you all,

Rev. Jo

 

 

Generosity and Gratitude

Someone said in passing the other day that generosity was the flip side of gratitude.  We went our separate ways and there the discussion ended, but it got me to thinking.  What could they have meant by that?  I had not coupled these two words together with any interpretation of meaning before.

Generosity has a couple of different definitions.  To be generous is to be giving, to be kind and to be lavish and magnanimous.  It also has a definition of bounty, of abundance, of being plentiful, having a generous amount of something.  Gratitude is being thankful for someone or for what someone has done or something that has happened.  They can be similar but they also are different.  Both generosity and gratitude make me feel better, they make me feel happy.  When I am generous, I am not thinking about myself, I’m thinking about the other person and feeling that I am helping in some way.  When I am grateful I am thinking about my own abundance, seeing how much I really have in making an abundant life, and appreciating all that life is giving me. Generosity is a quality we possess and gratitude is an emotion.  They do go hand in hand.  When someone is generous to me, I feel gratitude to that person.  When I am generous to someone else, I can feel their gratitude towards me.

What happens when we feel we are being generous to someone and we don’t feel any gratitude coming back?  It actually shouldn’t matter, as being generous is generally not done so that someone will be grateful to you.  And if that is the case, that you are expecting someone to be grateful, then are you really being generous?  Generosity comes with no strings attached, no expectations; it’s a matter of going one step beyond what is expected from, as they say, “the goodness of your heart.”  That’s the part sometimes that we forget and the part of generosity that we always need to remember.  When we are generous we do feel good, we are doing it for the benefit of others and not for something in return.  We are doing it because we see someone or something in need and want to help.  That should be the only reason.

And I’m feeling a bit these days that that quality, for generosity is a quality, is lost in our culture.  I want everyone to experience that feeling of joy and abundance when giving to someone else and expecting absolutely nothing in return.  That quality should be part of the human experience, part of raising our children, part of our society.  Generosity is probably one of the most important qualities to have as human beings.

Let’s revive the quality of generosity.  And I’ll bet any money that when we do, our gratitude meter will also go up.  They are the flip side of each other in many ways and if we can hold both the quality and the emotion in our hearts, we will be grateful and generous to others.  And that is what I believe the world needs right now.

Generous and grateful blessings to you all,

Rev. Jo

 

Ministerial Musings

The Impeachment hearings have begun.  I decided to watch a bit of it that I taped and then realized how anxious I was feeling and decided to stop.  In this month where we are thinking of the theme of belonging, I didn’t feel that sense of belonging that I wished to feel.  I was only feeling anxious, angry, frustrated and sad watching people who are in positions of power say things to each other that were either wrong or completely untrue or meant to hurt.  I didn’t want to fall into this trap where I felt this way and also felt helpless to make an effect, to make any change as to what was happening in this world outside of me.

 

What do you do when you want to change something that you do not have the power to change?  It’s a lesson in futility most of the time.  And yet there’s that old saying, if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.  Do we have the power to make change in this world? Or do we hold that power and don’t even realize it?

I believe we do.  So when I turned the channel, Ellen came on and she had a segment where she brought a family in from New Jersey to tell their story.  One of the children, an 8-year old boy, had been saving up his ice cream money and allowance and whatever money he got, to send to Ellen to save a Gorilla.  She has a foundation she began to build a sanctuary for the endangered gorillas in Rwanda and this little boy decided to give everything he had to her to save a gorilla.  It was so heartwarming it brought tears to my eyes.  This husband and wife with three children were living with their parents because they had recently become homeless and here they were, supporting their son, collecting over $300 to give to this foundation to help save gorillas that desperately need saving.  It may seem like such a little thing, but it was making a difference in the only way they knew how, even as they had nothing of their own.

What small thing can you do this week to help the to change the world?  We just honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday and his lasting wish was to make change, to change the systemic racism, economic inequality and militarism in our country.  He made a profound change, he was a man of great dignity and honor, and yet, how much have we changed in this country?  There are times when I think, if he couldn’t do it, what in the world could I do?  What kind of change could I make?  Then I see stories like this little 8-year old boy and I know that it’s not the outcome of the change that should spur me on but the mere act of doing it.

Change is inevitable.  Nothing stays the same.  So every morsel of kindness that we can provide the world is a conduit for change, not the result we wish to see, not the effect our presence will make, but the mere act of thinking of another living being and working to make their lives more comfortable and safe.  That helps me to feel true belonging in this interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

May you find a morsel of kindness to spread to another living being this week.Blessings to you all,

Rev. Jo

Happy Glorious New Year!

Happy glorious New Year of 2020 to you all!  It’s a brand new year, one full of possibility.  That’s always the feeling I have at the beginning of a new year, how much delightful brilliant happenings are there to anticipate.  The beginning is always more joyous to me than what happens next.  It might be overly theatrical of me to anticipate what the new year holds and then it doesn’t measure up.  That is a character defect I need to work on.  On the other hand, it is delightful to revel in this feeling of anticipation and hopefulness.  I indeed wish to feel that all the time.

We have choices to make when we feel different feelings.  My Spiritual Director has often told me how I think a thought and that brings on a feeling.  I used to argue with her that it was the opposite.  No, I would say, don’t we feel the feeling first and then think the thought?  On the contrary she said, your thoughts influence what you feel.  And if you decide to act on that thought, you will feel a feeling supporting that thought.  Or you can choose to recognize that thought and discard it and a corresponding feeling will not arise.

I knew she was right and I’ve been working on paying more attention to my thoughts.  I’m also wondering if all the energy people are expending right now to hate or resent or antagonize others is hovering over us like a cloud that can be suffocating.  We’re putting out so much animosity into the world right now that it has to have an effect on us.  These thoughts are bringing about feelings that we then are choosing to act upon or not.  The theme this month is Belonging and there’s a lot of anti-belonging sentiment swirling about us right now.  The dangerous animosity between us and Iran, the actions of our administration that could be viewed as murder, all of this energy is spinning around us and it must be having an effect on us.  I am feeling such tension in myself just from day to day knowing that any minute we could be on the brink of war, yet another conflict we will be sending our troops to fight.  And it feels like it’s escalating and that only creates more fear.

What can we do in our communities to combat this?  Individually we can all create practices in our daily lives to calm ourselves, to give ourselves a sense of peace within.  We can also bring those practices to our communities and gather each other together to combat these feelings of acrimony or bitterness.  But will that community spread out into others, into other states or even countries, to combat the direction we seem to be traveling?  Do we have enough of an influence to turn the tide, build a bridge, hold hands with others to create a more peaceful existence?  I don’t have an answer for that.  I do know that we need to try.  We need to consider how we combat these dangerous feelings, how do we change the thoughts before they bring about feelings, before they bring about actions, before it affects the entire world?  How can we influence the thoughts in the beginning so that we can bring about change?  How do we help others to change their way of thinking to ones of peace, consideration, thoughtfulness and service?

The only way I know is by example.  It could be a slow sluggish way to make change, but it seems to be the only way to be effective.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who we will be honoring in a couple of weeks, said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

It will be a continuous struggle to change the direction our world is in, the division, the animosity, the cruelty.  Continuous struggle can seem inexhaustible and eternal if that is the thought you have.  But if you begin with the opposite thought – that it can be achievable and reachable, you will then feel that feeling and be able to continue.

So let us in this new year, check our thoughts and guide them towards the feelings we wish to feel.  We will all be better for it.

Blessings to you all in this brand new glorious year,

Rev. Jo

 

 

 

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