Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Year's Eve Message

Dear Ones,

Welcome to 2017!  If you're like me you're glad to put 2016 behind us. Like it or not, Donald Trump will soon be inaugurated as our next President. There will also be a "Freedom Concert" in Miami on Inauguration Day that will be televised as an anti-Trump protest. I wonder how Unitarian Universalists will manage this on January 20? Whatever you do, know that our Congregation has many ways to stay informed and become active. We know the next four years will test our progressive voices, and remember, you're not alone. 

On January 19th during our Teaching Thursday presentation Allen Maxwell will offer  WHEN THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD: SMOOTH PAVEMENT, SKID MARKS AND CRASHES? --THE IMPLEMENTATION OF PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN PROMISES On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, our resident and retired Professor of Political Science, Allen Maxwell will present his thoughts and ask you to join him in speculating about whether or not, “It could happen here.”

Our Justice Action Ministry will be offering us opportunities to become more active on issues of race, deportation, and activism. Do check the calendar and participate. Our Congregation will be voting on whether we will engage these issues. 

Our liberal religious voices will become more important and necessary during this Presidency. Please engage all that the Congregation has to offer.

Ministry to one another will be equally important on this journey. We will surely be challenged, confused, and crestfallen. May we use our voices and values on behalf of a broken and divided country and each other. 

May 2017 bring you joy. 

Blessings, Rev. CJ

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Commitment for 2017

The new year is around the corner and it's about this time I reflect on the past year and set goals for the new year. I guess you could call them resolutions. I wonder if you have a similar practice.
I've decided that one thing I'll commit to in 2017 is to hold reasonable expectations of myself and for others in my life. I decided this after re-reading my favorite book on ministry leadership, Leading With A Limp by Dan Allendar. I love how honest Allender is. It’s refreshing because he says things that most of us are afraid to say -- the simple truth of realities. The chapter in which Allender writes this is about counting the cost of leadership.  It’s simply an honest look at the unrealistic expectations we create for people.
I'm going to be intentional about practicing what I preach and let people know I have their back, expect them to make mistakes and not be good at everything, confront them with grace and gentleness and understanding that my specific desire and expectations may not be met, and to remember they are imperfect people just like me, and that they are human, not superhuman.
Allender writes, "What we want is an illusion and we know it.  We prefer the illusion because we have a deep need to be buffered from reality." and that "we inflict on a few while we comfort ourselves that we don’t have the right stuff to pull it off."  Strong words, words that I rejected at first reading, but found myself understanding them the more I thought about it.
I wonder, as imperfect humans, what do we avoid about the reality of ourselves when we are unreasonable with our expectations for others? For me, I can unreasonably expect people to be all I need or desire because that's who I want to be, and it's impossible.  It's good to step back and say. "It's not about me in this moment." I wonder if you might benefit from stepping back and realizing that your expectations for perfection from others, thus creating an illusion of reality, is because of your own fear of not being the perfect superhuman. Being compassionate toward ourselves will lead us to show compassion to others. Compassion is the root to all that we hold dear in our UU faith.  I look forward to adjusting my expectations and reminding myself I am beautifully imperfect and will not have my every need and desire met because those around me are beautifully imperfect too. 

May your holidays be blessed with joy and beautiful imperfection.

Rev. CJ

Monday, November 21, 2016

Off to New York and Canada

I'm off to New York and Canada at the end of this week. Richard and I are celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and friends and sneaking off to Montreal for a day. I'm not going to make a big deal about the weather there. Though there is snow, ice, and it's 27 degrees Fahrenheit as I write this, but I said I wouldn't make a big deal of it. So, I won't!

Like the world around us congregations, too, have seasons. The sunshine of summer, the rain of spring, the crispness of fall, and the cold of winter. Even if we experience seasons in a different way in Florida we can imagine the cycle. There are bright times and grey times in the cycle and in congregations. As we will learn during our Yule service in December, in the grey times there is always hope and anticipation of returning light. I no doubt have caused confusion and some might view my willingness to continue to serve you as a bright time. Others may feel otherwise. We do find common ground in our current "season" within our Congregation. Each of us cares for the Congregation and act not to be a fly in the ointment or to create an "us" versus "them." Our love for our tradition and community is no less no matter where we stand. If we are to serve one another and the world we will need to explore all options and live in a bit of awkwardness. Even those options we are uncomfortable with. Let us be grateful that we need not stand on one side of the line or the other. Let us be grateful we stand on common ground of love for our beloved church. 

Let us put aside this work for one or two days to be fully present to those we love and care for. No matter your tradition this time of year I wish you peace, hope, and thanksgiving. 

Blessings, Rev. CJ

Monday, September 26, 2016

Forever Connected, Grateful

Dear Ones,

You know how it is when you take on a do-it-yourself project and you sail along pretty well until you reach a part of the job that stumps you? When we find ourselves in this spot we have two choices.

First, we can continue the job and risk the whole project. 

Second, we can identify our limits and ask another professional to manage the next steps allowing the project to continue smoothly.

There is a saying in developmental ministry, "A good minister knows when to leave." A developmental minister arrives to support the congregation to move toward health. The developmental minister knows that while doing that work there will be some peaks and valleys in their relation to the congregation.

I'm proud of where the congregation will be in 2017 when I leave, compared to when I arrived in 2013. Many have observed the same. Just as in the do-it-yourself project I mentioned above, I know when my capacity to do the work is done and when it is time for you to invite another colleague to move the congregation on the next leg of the journey.

I know the announcement of my departure might have been surprising, disappointing, and -- for some -- a relief. All of these reactions are valid. All love this congregation.

I'm not going to leave this congregation feeling upset. Truth be told I expected to move toward settled ministry, but it wasn't in the cards. Although I worry about some voices capturing the congregation, I know that your next minister will pick up where I've left off in helping some in understanding being in relationship with ministers. I know I've learned a lot about being in relationship with a congregation. That said, it's important to remember the strength of this congregation, the good work of this congregation, and the deep connections within this congregation. No matter who your minister is, this congregation has the grit and vision to be a strong presence and a place for all to commit themselves to reason, justice and compassion.

I ask you to remember why you are part of this beloved community. I love serving this congregation and will always hold up how amazing the people in this congregation are. I'm truly blessed to have had your care and this experience. We have shared so many laughs, tender moments, and truly walked together. We are forever connected and I am grateful.

Blessings, CJ

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August 2016

I'm presently in the Adirondacks winding up my time here preparing for my return to Florida.  I always get what some might call the "church itch" this time of year. That is, I am eager and ready to return to congregational life.

As your minister I have the privilege of having a birds eye view of congregational life and the year ahead of us. I'm excited by the opportunities that some of our present challenges will bring. Claudia, our Intern Minister joins us this month. Watch your newsletter for Claudia's schedule week to week. We have a hand in Claudia's formation as she moves toward ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I already know that we will be blessed by her presence here.

Our board and committees have a lot in store for us. We will go deeper in racial justice, we will have a new website, membership will have a new focus with "200 by 2020" as their guide, there will be a concert series with many local musicians, our focus on financial sustainability will be laser sharp, your voice and ideas will be honored like never before, and our visibility in our area will increase. The total sum being revitalization.

Claudia and I will offer sermons this fall that will offer some comfort and inspiration as to how to live our Unitarian Universalist values and principles in what promises to be a difficult social and political time. Claudia begins with her sermon on hope and humility and I will offer a sermon on how to live and understand our UU faith amid troubling times. I am returning to the office on August 7th, we will welcome Claudia the weekend of August 21st when she will be preaching, and I will return to our pulpit on August 28th. I am glad to be among you once again.

Blessings, Rev. CJ

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Not a Rule Follower

I tend not to follow the rules. Just ask the Catholic nuns who exhaustingly tried to rear me.  There are several unwritten rules of ministry.  I'm afraid I've broken some rules since I joined you in 2013. For example, I once moved all the tables in Ministers Hall. I once moved the pulpit to the floor as an experiment. A new minister should never do that. When a minister arrives at a congregation his or her mantra should be, "Change is undesirable at this time...change is undesirable at this time...."  Sometimes it's necessary to not follow the rules. For me rules are worth breaking if it's for the sake of growth for us as individuals, our spiritual maturity, and if the rule breaking will move us closer to the congregation you dream of.  I'm sure you could share your own instances where not following the rules may be justified.

I've led you to an announcement. I have decided, as proposed to the Sanctuary Services Group, to change the format of the order of service. Take a few deep breaths and let me explain. I've observed that you wish to be better connected, to know the joys and concerns in our lives, to be reminded of what is going on in our congregational life.  I've studied orders of service from many congregations. I believe I've developed an order of service that will better meet our evolving needs.

I've not changed most of what you find in our current order of service. I've formatted the order of service to allow us to connect, be informed, and act as valuable resource for visitors. The new format makes the order of service living. It's like stepping into a snapshot of our congregational life. It demonstrates how we worship, how we care for one another, and how we offer opportunities to grow deeper in our beliefs.

I had reservations about making this change. The order of service in congregations is a "sacred cow."  As a sacred cow the order of service has been immune to tampering. Sometimes we create sacred cows that hold us back. In this instance I believe that our order of service could serve us, and our visitors, better. The change will move us closer to becoming the congregation we want to be.

I'm telling you this because the order of service you receive will soon change. I care that you understand that this wasn't a case of my preference or an impulsive decision. The change is based on what you, the congregation, is asking for. Try it on.

May we remain connected, cared for, and clued in.
Blessings, Rev. CJ

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July 2016

Dear Ones,

So much has happened in our country this past week. So much to digest, to consider, and to find our way out of.  I'm sure your heart is as heavy and your confusion and anxiety might have increased like mine has. I hold all that has happened and discern what my response should be as your minister and how I might comfort the Congregation and lead our Congregation to a response worthy of our Unitarian Universalist faith.

I have a new hero. His name is David Brown and he is the Chief of Police in Dallas, Texas. He is my hero because I admire his courage, his reproach of conventional wisdom, and his call for all of us to do the right thing no matter what. These attributes might lead us in the right direction in responding to personal, local, and global issues. You may know that Chief Brown encouraged those who have been protesting to get off the protest line and apply for a job. Moving from frustration to community service. “We’re hiring,” he said. “Get out of that protest line and put in an application. We'll put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of these problems."  For me, this isn't knocking the right and decision to protest. Chief Brown is simply offering another way. A way that is more likely to build trust and relationships.

I've been thinking a lot about this idea. What would happen if we got off the protest line and took ownership of our neighborhood in cooperation with other neighborhoods moving toward a common purpose?  I know for sure that this notion decreases my anxiety of responding because it makes the work doable and not so overwhelming. I like the idea of trying something different; a new approach.

The New York Times reports that during a news conference last Monday, in which he offered new details about the attack, Chief Brown commended the success of the “community policing” model he favors, which has given him a national reputation as a reformer focused on defusing tensions between police and minorities. Again by criticizing conventional wisdom, challenging  the status quo, and worrying about doing what is right.

What does this mean for us? How will we respond as a Congregation? I know we have a Justice Ministry that has already been doing the work. One of the best ways we can support Black Lives Matter and better understand the tension between law enforcement and minorities is to work to understand and unveil white privilege. Our Justice Action Ministry has already held workshops and I know will offer additional opportunities to us in understanding and naming white privilege without guilt.

We can't lead the efforts of Black Lives Matters, but as allies we can engage black communities, organizations, and congregations to listen and learn. As your minister, a guide to leading you to who you want to be as a Congregation, it is my important task to support and promote the efforts of our Justice Active Ministry. As pastor I provide comfort and counsel, as preacher I use our pulpit to inspire the Congregation to name the problem and become part of the solution, and as teacher I make available to you opportunities to reflect on privilege and opportunities to engage with stakeholders of the movement to ease, to resolve, racial tensions that are ripping our communities apart. Along with the Justice Action Ministry I can best serve you by giving you the tools you'll need to respond as well as the inspiration to use them. We need to look to Chief Brown for inspiration as well. We might take applications of our own. 

Living a life free of anxiety for all that is happening around us seems more difficult these days. Know that I am here to comfort, to listen, and offer what I can to equip you to manage in these troubled times.

Blessings, Rev. CJ.