Wednesday, December 23, 2015

January 2016

For a moment last month I realized I was human.  Having had a difficult and emotional month of ministry I found myself stepping back and not being as present as I typically am. You've noticed.

I was hard on myself for taking the time to step back, discern, and increase my time for spiritual practice. I thought that as the minister this "luxury" couldn't be mine. But, I'm brave enough to say that isn't true. When stuck in difficulty we should all have the opportunity to step back. It's healthy and we return renewed and revived with deeper understandings.

Sometimes we lack compassion for oneself and the compassion that we should expect from others.  I share my intimate lesson lesson with you as minister, as teacher. As a fellow human being, I too have the same struggles and emotional processes that you do. My hope is that my sharing will lead you to share with me and others.


I'm stepping out of the shadows having taken the time to think and to understand my call more deeply. It was awkward and, for some of you, concerning. I thank you for waiting patiently and for your concern. I hope when you step back sometime you will have the love and support I received.


We will travel many places this year in our congregational life. Let us be gentle with one another and our spirits. You are truly dear to me.

In faith, Rev. CJ

Friday, November 27, 2015

December, 2015

Dear Ones,

As always I am in disbelief that another year will soon pass. It is this time of year many are consumed by deciding which behaviors they will change for the new year or making resolutions. I stopped making resolutions a long time ago. I focus on the Roman god Janus. Looking back as well as looking forward. I've learned a lot about myself, and you, over the past year, particularly in the past few months.

Looking back I'm able to pick out a few major lessons like sometimes ego can blind you to realities, email stinks, most of the time, to communicate effectively, and that when relationships break we can repair them instead of throwing them away. Looking ahead I've decided to change a few things. Taking the next step in caring for my health as well as making a few adjustments in my ministry are commitments I'll be making.

I'm presently engaged in changing and enhancing my sermon writing and delivery. I've realized that writing and delivering sermons has become more like an errand for me. My sermons fill the space and serve their function. But I see sermon writing as a craft, one that exercises passion and wish to return to that. Many ministers face this dilemma sooner or later. If I allow my ego to step aside I will better be able to inspire.

My generation is very comfortable with email and social media to communicate. The problem is that others feel differently and perhaps see a phone call or face to face contact as the best way to communicate. Recognizing that email allows the misinterpretation of tone and intent I'm committing to using email less this year which will save me headache and heartache in my ministry.

Like precious furniture I have some relationships in the congregation in storage waiting for repair. We all do or say things that effect our relationships even if there was no intention present. I am no different. I do believe that when something we care for is broken we should fix it rather than throw it away. I'm committed to begin this work.

Reflecting on where and who we have been and where and who we would like to be may be a comfortable process this time of year. I hope you, too, might take this time for discernment. It is right and meaningful work. May each of be blessed in the New Year.

Blessings, Rev. CJ

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

November 2015

Friends,

Most of you know I spent nearly a week in Mount Dora, Florida recently with my colleagues. Twice each year all the ministers in Florida gather for collegiality, development, and organizational matters of the Florida Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association ( FUUMA). I serve on the executive committee of FUUMA as a Good Officer. This means I help guide FUUMA as well as act as minister to the ministers of Florida.

During my time in Mount Dora I was able to worship twice each day and had time for spiritual practice. We engaged a program around Black Lives Matter. I shared our experiences. I also met an inspiring black minister, Rev. Poole, who has -- against all odds -- planted the Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church in The Villages in Marion county. Rev. Poole's father was the president of the NAACP during the Civil Rights movement and succeeded the president who's home was bombed and destroyed. This offers a unique perspective on the lives of people who are black and the movement. I would have joined his congregation as a member on the spot. He was that inspiring!

I lead a workshop with the second Good Officer, the Rev. Dr. Sara Zimmerman. She will be our guest speaker in November. UU Ministers are held accountable to a code of ethics that guides our behavior and relationships with each other and those we serve in our congregations. New guidelines are being considered around ministers and social media. Sara and I presented this information and facilitated a feedback session with our colleagues. This feedback is given to the Guidelines Committee so guidelines can be created and eventually adopted. I also spent time with the executive committee managing FUUMA issues and planning.

I share this with you because I want you to understand how your minister seeks development and serves in other capacities. My most important role is to serve our congregation. One that is dear to me. I also serve Unitarian Universalism. I contribute to FUUMA, I've served the UUA on committees, and I'm an Adjunct Professor of Ministerial Formation at Meadville Lombard Theological School. I contribute to the formation of future ministers of our faith. I also serve the free church. I contribute to promoting the mission and ideals of the free church in the world.

I serve as minister, teacher, and believer. Unitarian Universalism goes beyond our walls. There are many ways to serve our movement, our tradition, and our faith. A good place to start is within our congregation, but I hope your arms and heart will stretch wider as you consider how you can best serve our saving faith.

Blessings,   Rev. CJ

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

September 2015

Friends,

Impressed yet? In August 2013 upon my arrival I was asked to work on the goal of building a cohesive and mission-driven staff.  I would have never predicted the hills and valleys that we have experienced together in assembling such a dynamic team. The Congregation should be proud and blessed. I know I'm grateful as this work wasn't done in a vacuum. We all had to participate, collaborate, and trust.

Let's reflect on one day in the life of our Congregation. On September 13th I invited our Director of Child and Youth Programs Beth Matthews to deliver a sermon in my absence. I hear she was quite successful -- you can slow down on the emails sent to me offering accolades for Beth.  I wasn't surprised. Beth is a talented woman who understands who this Congregation wants to be.

Our Sunday Music Coordinator Peilin Ko was given the theme of the service just days before our September 13th service. That was my doing. The information given to Peilin was not as in depth as she would typically get. It did not prevent Peilin from coordinating a Sunday music program that couldn't have been a better match, including offering a guest musician that had everything to do with the theme and message of the day. None of us planning the service expected Peilin to offer us this. Peilin obviously has gifts that will serve us well. Peilin has listened to you and understands what you expect in a music program and continues to deliver beautifully.

Barbara Hatzfeld is contracted to serve as our office administrator from 9:30am to 2:30pm Monday through Friday. When you see the order of service, the ushers, the sound on many Sundays, the visors, hearing devices etc., and the extra organization for the service to run smoothly, you are witnessing some of Barbara's work on Sunday.  Most of the work you do not pay Barbara to do. She sees the need and fills it. Without Barbara on September 13th the Congregation would have felt less welcomed and comfortable and the service would have felt less organized.

We can't forget about our sexton, Willie Nelson. Willie does his work to prepare for Sunday undercover. He isn't just responsible to make sure your bathrooms are stocked, the sanctuary carpets are vacuumed, or the chairs are arranged.  On September 13th Willie was asked to move things in and out of the sanctuary, hang things, take things down, arrange and clean additional things and spaces. Your sidewalks were free of sand and debris, the trash our renters leave in our grass is removed, and much more. Willie's work is not typically associated with Sunday service planning -- yet it is.

Your staff, including myself, are here to serve you. We have assembled a staff that will bring you closer and closer to the mission of our Congregation. I'm highlighting September 13th because your staff showed up for you. We are achieving the goals set for a staff team by the Congregation in 2013. It is right to pause and reflect on our growth. No, not the growth charted for membership. Rather the growth we have achieved in becoming more deeply aware of our strengths, our challenges, and our opportunities. We can reflect on the growth of being connected to one another in a more calm and compassionate way.

We are here to serve you. How may we help?

Rev. CJ

Monday, August 3, 2015

Grateful in August

August arrives. I'm preparing to return home, and I'm ready. I'm beginning to miss my routine and my work. This internal signal tells me it's time to go. Richard and I will be driving home together. Each summer as I leave our home here in New York and its surroundings I say a ritual thank you. Yes, I literally thank the river, thank the heron and otter families, thank the long and quiet roads, thank the spaces between the branches in the trees for inspiring my imagination, thank the Queen Anne's lace, and as I turn and step out of the door I look around one last time and say, "Thank you."

My gratefulness sometimes comes from a place of recognizing the privilege of having our home and space in New York. However, when I leave I feel I need to say, "see you next summer" like a summer camp buddy that shares your summer year after year. Not unlike growing with a dear friend, this place has held me, has celebrated with me, has witnessed life at its raw core. It has witnessed babies, now college bound, grow and delight us and mourns when some never return.

It's amazing what a physical place can mean to us. It can hold us, accept us, and comfort us.  I'm lucky. I have a congregation in Florida that I love and that welcomes me each late summer. When I arrive home one of the first things I do is sit in our Sanctuary. I breathe in the air that I've missed. I allow the voices and music that I've missed to surround me -- at least in my minds eye and ear.  I know what it feels like to leave love, so I must know what it feels like to return to love. That is why I'm grateful. I would not know one without knowing the other. I'm on my way and am excited to see you all.



Friday, July 17, 2015

Rednecks

Dear Ones,

As promised I'm sending some brief words along as I vacation. I'm well. I'm rested, am enjoying much down time, swimming, boating, am steeped in nature, reading for pleasure, and traveling a bit. I'm hoping to visit some of you in Ottawa, Albany, and the Catskills soon. Montreal is lovely and lively in the summer and I'm here for another few days.

I love the people in and around our home in the north country of New York who show their Appalachian roots. Yes, I'm in the Adirondacks but many, including some family members, are Appalachian transplants. They're quite proud to be rednecks. They aren't fond of the derogatory use of the term redneck but it's original meaning is not an insult but a badge of honor.

Author Jonathan Vankin tells us of the Scottish rebels opposing the religious and political oppression of England's Charles I being rednecks as they signed a 17th century covenant declaring religious freedom in blood. The Scots-Irish eventually immigrated to the American colonies settling in the area known to us as the Appalachians. I, too, can trace my ancestry of individualism, religious freedom, and Scottish descent to those rednecks.

I'm equally fascinated by the more modern understanding of redneck, which is an unsophisticated people living in rural areas. I've learned that not all rednecks are unsophisticated, uneducated, or hold offensive views. I most certainly judged these people at the beginning of the summer. I now appreciate their simple living, their being happy and grateful with what they have versus wanting more. My brother recently invited his friends for a gathering at our home in New York. As they arrived I noticed dress, speech, accent and values I'm not accustomed to in my insulated Unitarian Universalist and privileged life. Honestly, my first reaction was one of judgement. I wonder if you've been in this position. Have you given in to your quick reaction to judge?

I've been thinking about that question on the riverbank lately. I've been examining my reactions versus my accepting and how, like a strong current, it whisks away joy and contentment from my thoughts, my interactions, and ultimately my soul. Not along ago Dr. Paul Ward shared via email this Victor Frankl quote from "Man's Search for Meaning":
 

  • Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

It is a lovely quote and thanks to Paul one that is etched in my memory to recall again and again.


Choosing my response allows me to practice radical acceptance in the case of the rednecks I've encountered. Just by being born they, we, are entitled to the right of dignity, freedom, and to be loved-entitled to radical acceptance. They may dress, speak and live differently, they may have varying or little higher education, and their unsophisticated living may sometimes not be in my wheelhouse. But choosing to give a redneck a chance, choosing to enjoy their unsophisticated humanness, and choosing to replace judgement with the love and respect we are called to give to all as Unitarian Universalists. I wonder if you too make this choice. Our living faith is one for the times. Our ailing world can be healed by our values of freedom, compassion, and acceptance. I'm sure it begins with us as individuals.  Be well. I miss you all.  Rev. CJ



Monday, June 29, 2015

Charleston

Dear Ones,

Something nagged at me telling me I had to travel to Charleston, South Carolina. I felt there was unfinished business for me if I did not bear witness to the church shootings at Emanuel AME. I took with me a chalice pin and a brief note written on a notecard from our Congregation. I added both to the condolences collecting outside of the church on behalf of us all.

I arrived to blocked streets, the Red Cross on site, a large police presence, and barriers creating a confusing path for all wanting to join in our final steps of our pilgrimage. Hundreds of mourners were pouring out of the church and onto the street. I didn't know that inside lay Myra Thompson, dead. She was shot and killed because her skin was black. I walked a block and joined the long line of others wanting to pay their respect. I could smell something sour, something rotten. I discovered that most of the flowers laid in the past week on the sidewalk outside of the church were in decay. The stench filled my mouth and nose and rightly so. This hateful act should smell foul and make me uncomfortable. Let it be a reminder of an unjust culture that reeks of racism.

I finally reached the church steps and climbed toward the door leading to the sanctuary. I was greeted by a member of the congregation with a kind smile and gentle hand. The stench outside had been replaced by an incredibly fresh and welcoming floral scent-obviously from the beautiful and large arrangements flanking the body of Myra Thompson. Bright light from the sanctuary chandeliers exposed the deep rich red carpets and the antiquity of the pews and other furnishings. My eyes immediately were drawn to the stained glass window that was floor to ceiling behind the pulpit. This was the pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others graced during the civil rights movement.

I began to weep humbled by the moment and the history. I passed by the body of Myra Thompson. I paused and offered words. I remembered what Myra's brother had said about her in a news article. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and a cousin. She volunteered to teach Bible Study classes for years and had decided to teach only for a couple more weeks when she was killed. A few quick glances brought all of this rushing back to me. I could only ask myself, "why?"


I followed others to the exit and as I shared glances with those who were black I wondered if they were angry with me or if they thought I had some nerve being present. They were gracious and I was experiencing white guilt. I was feeling guilty because a white man, like myself, killed nine people of color in this church because they were black. This is the psychological cost of racism.

Racism kills all in a community one way or another. It's brutality wants us to live in fear, separated and hateful. I experienced the opposite in Charleston. I found myself within a community that will heal. A community that still holds the hope of freedom and love. Resilience is palpable. I return to my car with no words.


As I drive north I smell the scent of the sanctuary flowers on my clothes. I believe it is a reminder of Myra Thompson, the hope for justice and compassion, and a reminder that as an ally I have much to do to change a culture of hate and violence to one of acceptance and a right to live with the love of self, our family, our church, and our community. All taken from Myra Thompson and the other victims.

May we mourn and act.

Blessings, CJ

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer is Here

Dear Ones,

Summer is most definitely here. This will be my third summer in Florida and I am pleased to say I think I've adapted to the heat....somewhat! As every summer I will spend a few weeks at our home in New York. I am leaving for New York on June 30. Richard will follow two weeks later. My cousin is flying here from New York and we will drive back together. I plan on seeing friends along the way and will stop to visit the AME Congregation in South Carolina. It's an important stop for me. I simply must bare witness to this racist tragedy and worship and mourn with its people. 

I will likely return earlier than planned, as I always do. I am one to recognize when I've had enough vacation and move on. I know that it has a been a joy for the last couple of years to return to the beaches and the home we've made in Florida. I do love it here.

In my absence please do email me or call my cell phone if something big is happening or you find yourself struggling. Its no bother. The Rev. Kenneth Claus is covering for me this summer and is on call. If you need Rev. Ken please call the office to get his contact info. He's a delightful and no-nonsense minister. I know he will take care of you. 

I will be sure to send a letter each month to the Congregation. I'm reminded of each of you over the summer when I'm browsing in book stores and see a certain title, sitting with art or watching a film that I know you would love, and many other reminders. I am returning to the pulpit September 6, the official beginning of our church year. I am excited for all that we have planned for you. An exciting music program, multigenerational programming, new child and youth programs-watch for the printed brochures this week!.

We've also hired a new Nursery Staff/Teacher. Her name is Regina Baez and you will be impressed with her. Regina and her children might volunteer at the Feeding Frenzy this Saturday. Please make her feel welcome. She will be in the nursery every Sunday over the summer. What a year we will have. Until then do show up on Sundays -- there is a diverse music program and diverse speakers. 

Personnel email addresses will change effective July 1, 2015:
Rev. CJ McGregor, minister                         ministeruupb@gmail.com
Barbara Hatzfeld, office administrator         uniuni2@att.net (NO CHANGE)
Beth Mathews, Child and Youth Programs     cypuupb@gmail.com
Willie Nelson, sexton                                  sextonuupb@gmail.com
Regina Baez, nursery staff/teacher              nurseryuupb@gmail.org
Music Staff TBD                                          musicuupb@gmail.com

We will also begin using a new letterhead on July 1, 2015.  I've attached a copy.  Be sure to look top to bottom.  Maybe its just me who gets excited by such things...but you should be aware. Thank you Larry Stauber for the art.

My summer contact info:
cell  508.736.3361
email  ministeruupb@gmail.com

Be safe.  Be Cool.  Blessings to you.  Rev. CJ


Monday, May 18, 2015

May 2015, Covenant

I remember the day we brought our oldest son, Antonio, for a neuro-psychological evaluation. We were told that he had a pervasive developmental disability. Richard and I were leveled. You see, when we decided to adopt children we had dreamed of being part of all the typical milestones all of our children pass through like school dances, friendships, graduations, university. In that moment all of it was taken away and each year as Antonio grew we felt the loss of the milestones he was missing in the moment. We needed to be the parents we never wanted to be or expected to be. We were  disappointed. At the time of Antonio's diagnosis we were given the opportunity to "give him back" to return as a ward of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We never considered it. Despite our devastating disappointment we had made a commitment to Antonio and to our family. We trusted each other and decided to see it through. We could never step away from this disappointment, or our son. Today Antonio is a challenging young adult but is happy and content. 

At our last new member recognition ceremony I added a few words to the welcome I deliver to those wanting to join the Congregation. I told them that we, the Congregation, will disappoint them and that they will disappoint us. This is an important truth about life. Being imperfect, we all will be disappointed by and will disappoint those we love and those we share community with. A common human response to disappointment is to pull back or step away from people, circumstances, and communities. I know this is something I'm mindful of in my responses. It's important to remember that disappointment is inevitable but we do have control over how we manage it. It's healthy to pause and assess the situation and feel and process the emotion. It's healthier to pause and and recognize the love and affection we have for the source of our disappointment and our agreements we've made to see it through.

Unitarian Universalism is differentiated from other faiths based on our commitment to being covenantal versus creedal. If we fall out of covenant with one another, others we love, or a community we seek to return to covenant rather than banish ourselves as a creedal faith would. My family covenanted long ago to remain a family come what may. We've fallen out of covenant hundreds of times with one another and we've re-covenanted hundreds of times because of our love and commitment to one another. We agreed to be part of this family and remain a family and so we do -- imperfectly.

Blessings, CJ

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Let it Be a Dance

Serious, strange,or silly?  In the original 1984 movie Footloose we journeyed with a rebellious teen who moved to a small town where rock music and dancing were banned. The movie portrays the timeless struggle between innocent pleasure and rigid morality. I offer you this as a segue into one of the most interesting things I've heard during coffee hour since I arrived in the summer of 2013.

YOUR MINISTER HAS BANNED DANCING IN OUR SERVICES!  Serious, strange, or silly?  Silly. Tis' silly but allows me to reiterate some things I'm quite serious about. I stated during a Teaching Thursday program weeks ago that I preferred, my personal preference, services where there is no dancing. It's a remnant of my Catholic upbringing. I congratulate service leaders who include such things in worship. I don't have the chutzpah!

Why am I entertaining and acknowledging this silliness?  It is because I'm serious about not letting silly become something that divides us. It is because, as you learned at the Teaching Thursday where I answered questions, I am an open book and believe things should be named before they become larger. It is because I need you to know that I am OK, I'm here, and am staying here at the will of the Board and Congregation. Silliness will never turn my love for you, even when I'm the one causing the silliness! I won't let that happen to us. 

My personal preferences influence decisions, but I never will -- nor should I be -- afforded the ultimate say about many things, especially dancing in the sanctuary!  My personal preferences should never be turned into edicts. This Congregation has had some experiences with that type of ministry.  I assure you it's not mine.


The expression of our faith takes many forms and our worship is richer for it. Will you see the Dance of Seven Veils during my services? No. But you will come back next week and find poetry, art, and dance offered by another service leader, like yesterday when the youth danced with members of the assembled Congregation. Isn't that wonderful?

The minister is never the single source of transcendence and inspiration. This is our beautiful tradition; innovative worship and a polity that gives the minister the role to guide not rule. I honor both. Join me in singing hymn #311 Let It Be a Dance.
 

In faith, Rev CJ

Individuality or Greater Community?

I'm sitting in my favorite spot in a tiny French restaurant. In front of me are two patrons speaking Parisian French. I understand a few words, very few, having a French Canadian grandmother. Beside me are two 50-something women who are obvious colleagues. I overhear religious language, so naturally my interest peaks. They were leaders of the local Catholic diocese responsible for a group of Catholic churches in the area.

Between my cafe au lait and salade de la Constance, I was privy to venomous conversation. Worse than my eavesdropping was my discovery that parishes were being pitted against one another, receiving the news that they are not good enough because their Holy Thursday was not up to snuff, not as good as that of the church across town, personal attacks on leaders, all brought together with the ugly bow of insular thinking. Clearly it was a strategy based on competitiveness used to help the individual parish churches become bigger, better, and -- let's face it -- more lucrative. These churches are encouraged to operate alone and to try to create separate lands versus agreeing to meet to walk together as in Amos 3:3.  Honestly, before we explore what that might mean for us and how we shape our collective congregational life, let us put down the stones.

The flu has visited me three times in the last year. I've been thinking about how many times I introduce myself each day and how many handshakes that involves and how this likely leads to three bouts of the flu. I’ve done intense and intellectual work related to the underbelly of the friendly handshake and luckily, the sake of our ministry, have considered how all of this handshaking brings many innovative and progressive voices and ideas into my life and the lives of those I serve in the sometimes complicated Deep South. Outstretched hand to outstretched hand, walking together in collaboration, fellowship, and the faith that will save us and mostly hands outside of my UU catchment area.

Last week I sat in the sanctuary of our Orlando congregation and witnessed our district's decision to support the move toward regionalization. I arrived in Florida from ministry in the north engaging ministry within the Southern Region and all that piloting the regionalization model entailed. I was fascinated and relieved. It made sense to me. Now do I not only have an eternal tan but an appreciation for how regional living is less knotty, individualistic, and more informed about the realities of who and how we need to be to be effectual in our UU evangelization. It’s the South y’all. Embrace the word.

Our reality is that we can no longer change the world by acting in small decentralized bands. This is why interfaith work is so important to us today. None of us can do it alone. Not individual, not congregation, not district, not region, not denomination. We are required to structure ourselves and work together in new ways with new people. Our influence is strengthened by regionalization and all it has to offer. Simply consider the oddly colored yellow tee shirt phenomenon.

Consider our Universalist history to understand decentralization. I often hear new and potential members being told the story of the Unitarians and Universalists merging because they had theology in common. That's not the whole truth. Yes, both shared some theological and social commonalities, but Unitarianism was better organized and privileged and Universalism was dying because of their decentralized structure of many independent conferences. Universalism was unsuccessful in making an increased impact and couldn't financially, and otherwise, afford to be insular in their work. Each conference committed to the same mission, but was ineffective in the strength of witness, growth, efficiencies and the responsible use of resources and their people. History repeats itself.

How shall we live together? Should we expect to forsake the faith the world needs for the sake of holding on to a faith that is easily reduced to fervent individuality trumping covenant? No, we are greater than that. We can no longer afford the illusion that we do not operate in vacuums, though we easily convince ourselves otherwise. All roads of holding individuality, conscious or not, over greater community lead us to insignificant places. Regionalization requires us to reroute, just as the Universalists wisely did. Let us remind ourselves of the wisdom of the great innovators and community builders crafting a timeless covenant that could serve us today as it did centuries ago. Let us continue building and stretching, gaining a deeper understanding of the realities of growing our faith that require us to think, live, and support one another differently. Let us hold one another in care as we navigate change, difference, and unknown yet faithful paths.

In faith, the Reverend CJ McGregor

Individuality or Greater Community?, by the Rev. CJ McGregor, a column appearing in Ministry Matters at the the Northeast Breeze (the UU FL Northeast Cluster blog), May 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From the SAC Newsletter, April 2015

I'm deeply disturbed by the blinders that are put on to avoid the realities of social and environmental issues of our state and country. Poverty, lack of health care and emergency services, sea levels rising, Christian fundamentalism controlling taxpayer dollars, women's health put at risk, low wages, no work, the super wealthy getting fatter, and on and on.

Surely our leaders don't really think that poor mothers simply need to pull their lives together, a child is better left in the system instead of being loved by same-gendered parents, to receive public benefits you need to sacrifice privacy, that the world's top scientists are simply stupid and histrionic, that poor communities create and perpetuate their circumstances, and religion and government are bedfellows. Surely stripped down to basic humanness they see and feel and mourn and weep.

I wonder. I believe basic humanness, the fact that you are born into the world, gives us all worth. However, when we decide to be blind to pain, suffering, impending disaster and injustice, our personal equity decreases. We are no longer maintaining or building value.

I'm struggling today to understand the gross lack of morality, ethics, and decency. It is becoming clearer that if our cries fall on those ears, we are spinning our wheels. An adaptive response can only change an adaptive challenge. To adapt, feelings, values, and behaviors need to change. The fundamental adaptive challenge for us is to change our response to this terrible numb and unaware leadership. Hold them accountable. Publicly question them. Publicly write about them. Write to them. Visit them. Oppose them at every turn. Support and vote for a better them.

Our time and resources are best spent by removing these despicable human walls. Show up. Reach out. Use your voice. The alternative is not an option for those of us building a world we dream of.


Blessings, CJ

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 2015

I have a dear friend who teaches in an elementary school by day and an adult education school by night. In both instances she is teaching English as a second language. We were recently in conversation about the practicalities of transcription in linguistics. That is, not studying the theory of, but actually doing the work of converting human speech into written text. Listening, writing what you are hearing, and listening even more. 

I remembered that conversation and the wisdom of transcription after our most recent annual meeting. Though my spoken words weren't being transcribed, they were being reflected back to me verbally. Advice given for phonetic transcription is to listen to yourself out loud before deciding on pronunciation. Members of our Congregation were reflecting back some of my words amidst a hard conversation.


When the words left my lips I was confident they were the words I wanted to use and the words that would be most helpful. That was until a member said them back to me or, in the case of transcription, said them out loud and I discovered how they sounded. I think the member even shared how these words were being perceived. For example, in explaining a decision I had made I said that I made the decision to protect and keep safe the Congregation. I hadn't heard how those words were perceived in the moment, but am clear today how they were perceived as I listened to them.

When speaking of someone we all love it isn't a good idea to imply that they are unsafe or harmful. Perhaps that is how I perceive that person's behaviors, but that's not what I discovered I said when I listened. I embarrassingly implied I thought that of the person whom I truly care for just as our members. I screwed up.

There I was, hearing my words out loud as if for the first time, and having been given the opportunity to check them. 


Powerful.

If we are to move from our understanding of our words to the understanding of how others are receiving and perceiving our words, we are required to listen.  Though I wouldn't have changed the ideas behind my words, I realized the words I was using weren't helpful. Thank you to the member willing to help me understand this.

I've lived steeped in vulnerability for the past few weeks. Not a place to vacation, but day trips have served me well. I shared emotionality with the Congregation recently. I fought back tears while sharing from the pulpit words of meditation that are very meaningful to me and were apropos given some challenges in our Congregational life. I felt emotional because I was deeply listening to the words and was moved.

Let us truly listen and be willing to stand in the vulnerable and emotional places. Let us remember we are not above hearing our words for the first time and realizing when they've taken on unintended power. Let us recognize that our imperfection becomes beautiful when we learn from one another and accept that we too are teachers of a second language. The language of vulnerability, humility, truth, apology, and strength in weakness.

Grateful to each of you, Rev. CJ

Monday, March 23, 2015

Respecting Elders

Respect your elders. We've all heard this at one time or another. I've recently had cause to reflect on the meaning of the word elder. Most of us might understand the word to describe an older and influential member of a family or tribe.
 
I've come to understand it differently. An elder can be any member of a community that can offer wisdom or influence. An older person and even a child can be an elder of a community.
 
I spend much time listening to congregants who have been leaders in congregations for decades. Their experience and wisdom is so valuable. On the other hand I am constantly amazed by what our children and youth teach me. Just when I think I'm the elder, the teacher, the wise one our children and youth do or say something that is humbling and causes me to pause, listen, and learn.
 
We all have potential to be elders in our Congregation. Some of our wisdom is from years of life experience and some is from having grown in a post 9/11 world and understanding and experiencing life very differently. Both matter. Both are necessary for a healthy and balanced community. Respect your elders indeed.
 
We all have wisdom and influence. Let us create the space and opportunity to grow and learn together.
 
Blessings, Rev. CJ

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 2015

I introduce myself nearly 7,314 times each week. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but I do announce myself and introduce the Congregation a lot. Something significant happened last Thursday afternoon. I was participating in a small group meeting of stewards and we were asked to introduce ourselves, our role in the Congregation, and why we remain involved with the Congregation. Many of us have been asked these questions. We usually don’t hear what anyone else is saying because we are busy forming our own response in our minds. This time that didn’t happen for me. I didn’t think about how to answer those questions. I simply stated my name, my role and said, “I am here because I want be.”

I didn’t feel the need to give a laundry list of reasons why I love the Congregation. This simple statement was very meaningful to me and from the heart. I wonder how many places we occupy because we want to versus having to. I wonder what happens when we feel the need to be somewhere else. Unitarian Universalism is a chosen faith. Most of us have arrived here from other traditions. We choose this faith because it speaks to our love of community, justice, and the tent of Unitarian Universalism is large and holds many traditions, free thinkers, and theologies.

There are times when some of us feel the need to be somewhere else. The large tent can become an illusion for some of us because our differences in thought and spirit are not part of the dominant theology of our community. You may have heard me say that one thing that concerns me about Unitarian Universalism is that we are at risk of not walking the talk. That is, we claim we are inclusive but our practice is to judge and sneer at thoughts and beliefs we think are not part of Unitarian Universalism or are not our own. I’ve experienced this in other congregations and here, along with others, at 1stUUPB. My use of Christian scripture, readings and hymns that are outside the comfort zone of some is sometimes abhorred. My use of readings and hymns that are outside of the more Christian spirituality of others sometimes receives the same reaction.

In fact I was asked to say “Amen” after the benediction on Sundays instead of “Blessed be.” Unitarian Universalists, including myself, claim we are inclusive yet talk of other traditions and faiths sometimes excludes our own UU brothers and sisters who hold those other traditions and faith dear. This leads to questioning their choice to be here. They feel they’ve fallen victim to a bait and switch. They arrived here with the promise of acceptance and encouragement but received the opposite.

I’m holding this up not because I wish for everyone to change what they believe and hold dear. I’m hoping for the opposite. We should hold tight to our beliefs but simply understand we need to be respectful of what others are holding. How very Unitarian Universalist that would be. Our tent shelters many people, stories, traditions, beliefs, and thoughts are plentiful and diverse. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.


This is the talk we must walk saying “I don’t share your beliefs but I honor you, thus honor your beliefs.” None of us own the truth and need to live and love one another in a way that demonstrates we understand that. My heart aches when one of us feels left or cast out for what we believe. At our core that is not who we are. It is a conscious practice to honor one another as we are called by Unitarian Universalism to do. If we believe in freedom, our hearts and speech will encourage versus disparage. I want to be here. I love you, I love this place. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here. Let these words not shallowly fall from our lips. Let us live them.

Blessings,
Rev. CJ