Archives for March 2016

April 2016 Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

Our congregation is poised to meet a major milestone in its strategic plan: adding a ministerial intern to our staff. It has long been a personal goal of mine to mentor candidates for Unitarian Universalist ministry. And UUS:E set a similar goal five years ago when it included “becoming a teaching congregation” in its strategic plan.

In order to be granted “fellowship” as a parish minister by the Unitarian Universalist Association, a candidate for the ministry must complete an internship in a congregation (full-time for one-year, or part-time for two years.) During the internship, the intern is expected to practice the arts of ministry under the supervision of the minister. The intern will participate in Sunday morning services, including occasional preaching. The intern will work with the minister to offer pastoral care, adult and children’s religion education, and social justice activism. At UUS:E the intern will have opportunities to work with the Council of Elders, the Mental Health Ministry, Small Group Ministries, and Circle Groups. The intern will participate in Policy Board and Program Council meetings in order to learn about church administration. It is possible for UUS:E to begin its journey as a teaching congregation as soon as next September, especially if we find an excellent person to fill the position.

What are the benefits of becoming a teaching congregation?

1)  Teaching congregations gain a second ministerial voice—a different theological perspective, a different approach to problem-solving, a different pastoral presence, and a different way of thinking about ministry.

2)  Teaching congregations increase their pastoral care resources because the intern is expected to provide such care on a regular basis.

3)  Teaching congregations experience an expansion of their overall ministerial offerings because the intern is expected to design and implement new programs.

4)  Teaching congregations receive and benefit from the intern’s passion, fresh opinions, and programmatic ideas.

5)  Teaching congregations feel good about the contribution they make to Unitarian Universalism by participating in the education of ministers.

6)  Teaching congregations are often invited to ordain their interns—one of the highest honors in the free church tradition!

Is an internship free? No. The intern works for the congregation and must be paid. For a congregation the size of UUS:E in our geographical area, the pay for a part-time (20 hours/week) intern is approximately $12,000/year. How would UUS:E afford such an increase to our annual budget? First, for congregations who are starting internship programs, the Unitarian Universalist Association offers grants of up to $6,000/year for the first 2-3 years of the program. Second, some seminaries contribute funds to teaching congregations. Third, UUS:E has recently received a number of one-time financial gifts. While these gifts are not huge, they are sufficient to cover the cost of a two-year, part-time internship if necessary. Since December, the Policy Board has been discussing whether or not funding a ministerial intern would be a wise use of this money. After much discussion, they feel strongly that bringing on a ministerial intern at this time will provide a big boost to UUS:E’s ability to carry out its mission and achieve its vision. I am grateful for the Policy Board’s decision. I agree that bringing on a ministerial intern at this juncture is a wonderful opportunity for our congregation. If you have any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

With love,

Rev. Josh

“Eat-For-Life” Potluck

Come one, come all! Join us for our first

“Eat-For-Life” Potluck

Friday, April 1st, 6:00 PM
Families, singles, everybody welcome.
This will be a vegan* potluck

veganIf you’re not sure how to make a vegan dish, it’s fairly easy to find recipes online. Just think about your favorite potluck dish and enter a search for it, prefaced with the word “vegan”…….there is a vegan version of nearly everything. Or, contact Kat at katdargan@gmail.com for assistance.

?To keep it balanced, we suggest you bring a dish based on the first letter of your last name. (Don’t get too stressed over this part. You can always change your name for the day 🙂 and thus get a different category; or bring cider, juice, or bread if no time to cook.)

First letter of last name … ?Bring

  • A through H ……. Appetizer or salad
  • I through P ……. Main Dish
  • Q through Z …….? Dessert

?This will be an evening of fun and information. You will learn how easy it is to be vegan, how tasty it can be to eat cruelty-free and earth-friendly, how it does not cost more, and many other myth-busting facts.

You will also learn about our newly-formed “Vegan Challenge Group,” (open to all) which was formed after the viewing of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret here on Jan. 22. If you saw this film then you may already feel moved to make some changes in your life. (If you were not able to make it to our showing you may be able to watch in on Netflix streaming.)

?*To be vegan, a dish cannot contain meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products or honey. As with all potlucks, make a dish to serve eight hungry people. Please jot down a list of ingredients to place next to your dish.

I Am Lush Land and Rugged Rock

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Lush Land and Rugged RockThis past week I’ve been in Boston at a meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Board of Trustees. Every morning, prior to commencing our work, we worship. One morning my colleague Jennifer Ryu was our worship leader. When we entered the worship space, there were no chairs. (Imagine how you might feel if you entered the UUS:E sanctuary on Sunday morning and discovered no chairs!) Jen’s plan was for us to stand for worship—and not only stand but move around the room, stretch, dance. We might call this “embodied worship.” Jen wanted us to get out of our heads. She wanted us to move, sense and feel more than think and analyze. She concluded the service with the poem, ‘For the Senses,” by the Irish priest and poet, John O’Donohue. “May the touch of your skin / Register the beauty / Of the otherness / That surrounds you.” Jen’s embodied worship felt strange, yes, but even more strangely familiar. Since the turn of the year I find myself increasingly drawn to a theology of embodiment. It has been pushing and pulling at me, poking up at me like spring-time crocuses. It’s as if the universe has been speaking to me about embodiment. On some days it has been quite vocal in its desire to get my attention. Embodiment keeps showing up when I’m least expecting it—in books I’m reading, in music I’m listening to, in random conversations, in my dreams. Those of you taking the adult religious education class on Thomas Moore’s book know that our next session is all about the body and Eros! So when Jen offered embodied worship, there it was again.

We human beings are part of Nature—intimately part of it. Not above it, beyond it, or distant from it, but part of it, participating in it, in relationship to it. This relationship is not abstract, not a purely intellectual concept. It isn’t enough simply to proclaim our seventh Unitarian Universalist principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” and be done with it. This relationship is visceral, sensuous. We experience it in and with our bodies. It is solid, concrete. We can touch it, hold it, taste it, smell it, see it. We are rooted in Nature, embedded in Nature. We are subject to its whims and fancies, blown by its winds, drenched by its rains, scorched by its fires, parched by its droughts. Its bounty sates our hunger. Its waters quench our thirst. Its nearest star warms our backs and gives us life. Its beauty calms and buoys are spirits. Its gravity draws us ever downward to the earth.

Nevertheless, in practice we modern people of the industrialized western nations have a difficult and confusing relationship with Nature. On one hand we love it, we revel in it, we praise it in poetry and hymns. On the other hand we consume Nature voraciously. We manipulate, exploit, brutalize and destroy it. How can these essentially opposite approaches to Nature live together so seamlessly in us? There are two reasons—we might say two sins. One is the separation of the mind from the body. The other is the separation of divinity from the earth. I fear we cannot fully live as intimate participants in Nature until we atone for these two sins.

A few reflections on mind-body separation. We know mind and body are not separate. Every self-appointed self-help authority from here to Xanadu says this all the time. Modern day mystics, healers, yogis, swamis, gurus, sages, TED talkers, therapists, Unitarian Universalist ministers and many other spiritual personalities will tell you there’s no separation between mind and body. Anyone who practices yoga has some inkling of this non-separateness. But at some point in our history mind and body became separate, and despite our best intentions, they’ve never been fully reunited. Modern science helped create this separation. In fact, the 17th-century philosophical innovation that enabled the emergence of modern science in western Europe was the separation of mind from body. Modern science assumed a disembodied human mind that could float above Nature and know it through impartial observation. Cogito ergo sum. “I think, therefore I am,” said René Descartes in 1637.[1] Not, “I feel.” Not, “I sense.” Feelings and senses could deceive and thus could not serve as a reliable source of knowledge. But the mind could reason, and if it did so according to certain, basic rules—the scientific method—the mind could know everything. According to science historian Morris Berman, “the idea that [we] can know all there is to know by way of … reason, included for Descartes the assumption that mind and body, subject and object, were radically disparate entities. Thinking, it would seem, separates me form the world I confront. I perceive my body and its functions, but ‘I’ am not my body.”[2]

The mind-body split had profound implications for how human beings related to Nature. Human beings stopped understanding themselves as participating in Nature and began to locate themselves—at least their knowing minds—outside of Nature. And this meant we could essentially do whatever we wanted to Nature in the quest to gain knowledge. In 1620 Francis Bacon—another architect of modern science—said “the secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under vexations … than when they go their own way.”[3] Morris Berman says Bacon’s statement is remarkable, “for it suggests for the first time that the knowledge of nature comes about under artificial conditions. Vex nature, disturb it, alter it, anything—but do not leave it alone. Then, and only then, will you know it.” A scientific experiment is, in other words, “an artificial situation in which nature’s secrets are extracted, as it were, under duress.”[4]

I suspect I sound very anti-science. Please know I am not anti-science. As the child of a scientist, I have a deep appreciation for the scientific method. As the father of a child whose life was saved by what were then fairly recent advances in modern surgery and medicine, I have a soft spot in my heart for the science that produced those innovations. Hooray for science! Hooray for the insight that human beings could develop knowledge about Nature, about the world, about how things work through a method that requires stepping back and observing, that requires the artificial conditions of experimentation. Science has given us so much: sailing ships, steam engines, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, televisions, lightbulbs, lasers, semi-conductors, computers, artificial intelligence, the internet, rockets, robots, modern medicine. To be sure, the fruits of science’s advances do not extend to every person on the planet, but for those who benefit, the results have been life-saving and life-extending.

But there is that “other hand.” We have vexed Nature unceasingly, vexed the earth relentlessly. We are witnessing the evidence of that vexation in rising global temperatures and sea levels, monster storms, multi-year draughts, massive fires. At some point, human beings experimented with oil, natural gas and coal and gained a certain kind of knowledge: we can burn this stuff in power plants to create cheap energy! They were correct. But their knowledge was limited and short-sighted. Understanding how to unlock the energy stored in carbon did not provide knowledge of the long-term atmospheric consequences of using that energy on mass scale. It turns out the observations of the disembodied mind were not so objective after all, and  we are paying for it now, precisely because our minds and our bodies are one, and our bodies are feeling the climate crisis.

The first sin goes hand-in-hand with the second, the separation of divinity from the earth. Modern science wasn’t the first discipline to suggest a disembodied, distant observer with the power to manipulate Nature. Religion did it first, though at a relatively late date in human history. For the vast span of human life on the planet gods and goddesses lived right here on earth, infusing everything, enchanting everything, making everything alive, filling everything with power, even with consciousness. Divinity was part of Nature, participated in Nature, related to Nature. The gods and goddesses were earth-based. They were as material as anything else. And in response, human beings lived as participants in Nature, were rooted in Nature, were subject to its whims and fancies, blown by its winds, drenched by its rains, scorched by its fires, parched by its droughts.

Slowly, a new theology emerged and took hold in various places. 4,000 years ago, 3,000 years ago. At its center was a sky god, a war god, a god from another realm—above, beyond, distant, controlling —a god not of matter but of spirit. That god emerged often for political reasons, often for the sake of conquest. Maybe at times that god took a human form, lived among humans, died among humans and—miracle of miracles—was resurrected among humans—lived again—but didn’t stay on earth!—but still ultimately left the material body behind, ascended to Heaven, gave up participation in Nature, and in doing so, cemented in human minds the idea that our physical bodies don’t matter. What mattered was disembodied spirit.

The strict monotheistic religions were most likely to preach this message. Their followers learned to view Nature as mere matter that did not possess spirit—was cold, inert, dead, and thus by definition corrupt and profane. Nature was dangerously sensual, not spiritual. Likewise, the human body, as mere matter, was corrupt and profane; its passions and desires were to be avoided and even feared. In such religious systems humans felt God’s presence, but God lived somewhere else. Humans couldn’t go there, so they imagined elaborate schemes of salvation to get there at the end of life, or at the end of time, when they were no longer matter, when the body had returned to the earth, and only disembodied spirit remained. Indeed, even today, the great monotheistic faiths offer the life of disembodied spirit as real life, and contend this flesh-and-blood life, this sensual life, this felt life, this bodily life is an illusion to overcome.

“I am lush land and rugged rock,” writes Jezibell Anat in her meditation, “Gaia”—as I interpret it, a modern day challenge to any religion that would strip the earth of divinity, that would identify as corrupt and profane our human bodies and the land that sustains us.  I am “the massive, monumental Mother. / I am the founding force, / the germinating ground. / Touch me, / I am soft as moss and hard as diamond / …. Stand on me, I will sustain you. / Dig your roots into me, I will nourish you…. / I am the abundance of fertile fields, / the beauty of golden lilies / …. I am the rotting vine, / the moldy grain, / …. All matter returns to me, / for I am renewal. / I am the sphere of the seasons. / when your span has ended, / I will bring you home.” [5]  I cannot, in the end, experience this life and this earth as an illusion. This life and this earth, are too precious, too dear, to beautiful, too real.

Humanity has been struggling for generations to atone for the sins of separation. We, Unitarian Universalists, people of liberal faith, must continue to do our part, and today is a good day to recommit. Spring arrives today. We’ve sung songs about the earth, about Gaia, about Mother and Grandmother. We’ve called out to the four directions, aligned ourselves on the face of the planet—a powerful act of embodiment. Yes, a snowstorm is coming—winter lingers—but spring arrives today! We know from experience the earth is about to come back to life, to be reborn, to bud, to blossom, to bloom, to shine forth in 1,000 shades of green, to turn moist and fragrant and beautiful. A disembodied mind might wonder if this is an illusion, might imagine ways to test it, but our bodies encounter it with every available sense and know it is real and worthy of our reverence.

Spring arrives today! May ours be a religion as much for the body as for the mind. May ours be a religion that honors and reveres the physical, the sensual, the felt, the touched, the seen, the heard, the tasted, the held. Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that promotes embodiment, that invites us and teaches us to live fully in our bodies, to worship with our bodies, to work with our bodies; to move, dance, sing, drum, prepare food, plant seeds, stretch, sit still—fully attentive and fully in our bodies. Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that prays not only with words but with movement—clearing the ground of winter’s detritus, picking up sticks, raking, digging in dirt.  Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that urges us to register, in the touch of our skin, the beauty of the otherness that surrounds us.[6]

Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that meets us here in this world, in this life—not in some other world, in some other life. Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion whose mission is to knit mind and body more fully together for the sake of saving lives now, not at the end of time. Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that witnesses and discovers and proclaims and knows the sacredness of the earth, the holiness of the earth. May ours be a religion that asserts our ancient ancestors’ faith in the divine sun, the divine moon, the divine ground, the divine fields, the divine fish, the divine animals, the divine forests, the divine seasons—a religion whose psalms announce: “I am lush land and rugged rock!”

Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that gently sinks its people into intimate relationship with Nature, intimate relationship with the divine earth—a relationship that is the ancestral birthright of all of us. Spring arrives today. May ours be a religion that assures its people as they gaze up into the night sky and witness the light of 100 billion stars, no matter how small and insignificant they may feel, this earth, this sacred, holy, divine earth is home. Spring arrives today. We are home. Your body knows. Our bodies know. The great body, the “massive, monumental Mother,” of which we are all a part, knows.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences was originally published in 1637.

[2] Berman, Morris, The Reenchantment of the World (New York City/ Ithica: Bantam Books and Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 21.

[3] Bacon, Francis, New Organon, Book I, Aphorism XCVIII, in Dick, Hugh G., ed., Selected Writings of Francis Bacon (New York: The Modern Library, 1955).

[4] Berman, Morris, The Reenchantment of the World (New York City/ Ithica: Bantam Books and Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 17.

[5] Anat, Jezibell, “Gaia,” in Janamanchi Abhi and Janamanchi, Abhimanyu, Falling Into the Sky (Boston: Skinner House, 2013) pp. 28-29.

[6] This is a reference to John O’Donohue’s poem, “For the Senses.”

Beloved Community – The Shelter of Each Other

Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull

Unitarian Universalist Society: East, Manchester, CT
March 13, 2016

The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull

The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull

“Nobody calls out for their therapist on their deathbed.”  Such is the observation of psychotherapist Dr. Mary Pipher.  In no way is Pipher writing off the benefits of psychotherapy.   She is rather landing emphatically on a “something more.”   Family is that something more—family, not necessarily biological, but family that breathes caring and commitment and is grounded in covenant.   Few families, biological, extended, or institutional, are sustainable by creed.  Covenant—experienced, learned, practiced—is the stuff of sustainable community; and family, in whatever form, is the first community most of us experience.

Tiospaye is the Sioux word Pipher introduces to bring to life what it means to dwell “in the shelter of each other.”   Tiospaye—“the people with whom one lives.”

Given her message, I would like to believe that it’s not coincidental that Mary Pipher has long been a member of the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska.  “Nebraska, the middle of nowhere,” some of you might be musing.   Not really, no more than Iowa, where I grew up. Lincoln and Des Moines are not exactly the Big Apple or even an understated Bean Town, but they are hubs of the heartland, where dwelling “in the shelter of each other” is as rich and challenging as it is here in New England or the Deep South or the Far West.  And the heartland, the Midwest, is home to the Sioux nation, whose people harvested the term tiospaye from how they lived before the intrusions of my ancestors.

A community of faith is a form of tiospaye. I was fortunate enough to know it from an early age.  What I recall most vividly from the church of my childhood–a Presbyterian Church in a small Iowa town–are the smells and the din of potluck suppers in the church basement on cold winter nights. It doesn’t take much to conjure up the 27 varieties of steaming meatloaf, the 92 renditions of quivering Jell-O, and always the cakes, the pies, the brownies and the cookies that we gobbled down if we cleaned our plates. Such were the sacred ingredients of extended family, of tiospaye.

The downside of this scenario is the stark reality that my brother and I were discipline fodder for any adult deeming our behavior out of bounds, and we did our share of out of bounds. But somehow we negotiated our way through this gauntlet of hyper-vigilance toward some semblance of responsible adulthood.   It’s that same brother who introduced me to Unitarian Universalism—long after I had graduated from seminary, long after I had detoured from being a Presbyterian into faith terrain that was a complicated and enervating wilderness.

In this sanctuary this morning I’m guessing that we hold stories of our biological and adopted families that stretch across the spectrum of beloved to tolerated to fractured to tragically dysfunctional.   A beloved family is some curious reality of luck and mindful compassion.   Beloved community, that mantra of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a reality to which we aspire.  What a profound kinship lies between beloved community and what it means to be “in the shelter of each other.”  Beloved community is an enhancement, an enrichment, of that notion.   It rises from intentional compassion and a deep understanding that we are all family.   Whatever dysfunctions we have are no excuse for not pursuing the path that Dr. King expounded and modeled.

Was it because he was just a born saint?   I don’t think so.   Any of us who are moderately acquainted with his life know that Dr. King had his share of follies and frailties, and he too stood on the shoulders of prophetic women and men who came before him.   The very term “beloved community” was borrowed from Josiah Royce, an early 20th century philosopher/theologian who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which Dr. King was a member.   So too Dr. King borrowed that now famous claim that “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice” from the 19th century Unitarian abolitionist minister/theologian Theodore Parker.   We know also that Dr. King was profoundly influenced by the non-violent principles and practices of Mahatma Gandhi, with whose family he met in 1959, just eleven years after Gandhi’s assassination and nine years before King’s own assassination.  He and we abide in the historic and current “shelter of each other” for gifts received and gifts passed on.

Beloved community is not a state to which we simply open a door and there we are.   It is rather the inevitable outcome of intentionally pursuing and practicing principles of non-violence grounded in an understanding of brotherhood/sisterhood.  At the age of 30, in his Sermon on Gandhi, Dr. King proclaimed that:

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

The battle to which he referred was rife with conflict, as battles are; but conflict needn’t be violent or disrespectful.   So it is in a world rife with conflict, as our world is.   So it is in a nation rife with conflict, as our nation is.   So it is as this nation teeters on the threshold of violence and crosses that threshold in spaces that embody these conflicts.   So it is in a community and in neighborhoods brimming with conflict.  So it is in a congregation in which conflict is inevitable.  So it is in a family in which conflict is a given.

Whenever a couple says to me, “We never fight!” I respond by saying, “You’re either not telling me the truth or you don’t live together!”   When we abide in the shelter of each other, it’s not a rose garden unless we count the thorns, those prickly appendages that are as much a part of the rose as the blossom.

The path to beloved community is wrought with peril, yet bends when least expected toward love and justice, like that long moral arc of the universe.  It’s simply impossible to find beloved community and to abide faithfully in the shelter of each other unless we’re willing to take the risks.  In this faith and this congregation, you strive to do so.   You aspire and you perspire.   Every congregation holds a history of pivotal moments.  You search your souls and move through these moments, not around them, held by what my friend and colleague, Robbie Walsh, calls “the tensile strands of love that bend and stretch to hold you in the web of life.”

How to engage historic moments of brokenness in this and any congregation, this and any community, as we aspire toward beloved inclusiveness?   How to own episodes in our congregational life, our community life, our family life, when an honest mirror stares back with blemishes?  Being in the shelter of each other ensures that each of us is a check and balance on all of us and all of us are checks and balances on each of us.  That proverbial observation that “humility is the beginning of wisdom” is an understatement.  Humility is not the same as doubt; it is rather an acute awareness that we are flawed.  We trip; we reel; sometimes we even careen in our attempts at wholeness and our temptations that lead us far from it.  To the extent that this community, this congregation, is beloved is also the extent to which we can admit our frailties to one another as well as celebrate whatever acts of communal compassion we may have helped make possible.   Families nuclear and extended are fallible.

My brother Jeff and I are among the lucky ones to have grown up in a family that was overall deeply caring.  Our father was blessed with a rollicking sense of humor that beveled the edges of his strong opinions.   But as I ventured forth into the world of college and, heaven forbid, seminary, I came into increasing conflict with Dad over primarily political issues.  We could both be stubborn, and neither of us was good at backing down.  As for my Mom, how frequently did she raise her voice in my direction: “Stop arguing with your father, Jan!  You’re going to give him a heart attack!”   Guilt, schmilt!   Sometimes I think guilt gets a bad rap in this faith.  It can be quite useful, and my Mom was a master at it.   Did this make her a bad Mom?  I don’t think so.  Did it make me a more compassionate daughter?  Well, it took awhile…. but I hope I’ve learned that when I’m in conflict with someone I love, or even someone I don’t particularly care for, compassion overrides content.

I don’t want in any way to understate the real cruelties that can be transmitted between parent and child.  Their aftermath commonly leaves scars that linger.  But when families work, they provide grounding and a far greater capacity to love our neighbors as we love ourselves than perhaps any institution I could name.   Families need not be biological families or families of adoption.  They can be extended families.  For some here this morning, many perhaps, this congregation is an extended family.

None of us can be the singular catalyst for healing another.   We need the check and balance of community with individuals liberated to speak the truth in love and sometimes the truth in love minus one.   We need the tempering and transforming influence of cohesive caring community.

With such community we can be there for our children and for the child that still resides in each of us.   Those words of Alice Walker awaken my own memories in the very title of her poem: “Sunday School, ca. 1950”.   So my past meets my present:

…there we stood

Three feet high

Heads bowed

Leaning into Bosoms.

As she continues, “then” meets “now”:

Now

I no longer recall

The Catechism

Or brood on the Genesis

Of life

No.

I ponder the exchange

Itself

And salvage mostly

The leaning.

In the leaning, in the “being leaned on,” in the caring behavior, in the flexing and stretching of strong opinions, in the feelings moving in and out of hurt and gratification, in the exchanges that stretch the patience of the best possible angels of our natures, across the minefields and the meadows of religious community, our souls ripen.  Let us be grateful for the prophetic women and men of all ages: Theodore Parker, who bore the scorn of his colleagues for his unconventional theology; Sophia Lyon Fahs, with whose words we opened this morning’s service and who persevered against formidable odds into ordination at the age of 82; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who paid the price of walking down the perilous road toward beloved community; Dr. Mary Pipher, who continues to share the wisdom gleaned through thousands of hours of therapeutic practice and thousands more in the spheres of church and family; Alice Walker, who kindles the flame of our chalices with the resonance of her poetry and prose; and you, you, and you–prophetic souls all, each with the message that is your life.

Where are we on the path to beloved community?  How do we dwell in the shelter of each other?   Let’s take a moment of silence and ponder these questions in our hearts.

(Moment of silence)

Beloved community is not a goal for the faint of heart.   Being in the shelter of each other is not a kumbaya party.  Together they call us to look into the eyes of another and see our own—teary, smiling, sobbing, laughing, in anguish, in celebration, in discovery, in epiphany, in faith that we can walk the path and that we are not alone.

So may it be.  Amen

Sources:

“The Beloved Community,” from The King Philosophy, http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy.

Sophia Lyon Fahs, “We Gather in Reverence,” in Singing the Living Tradition, Beacon Press, Boston, The Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993, 439.

Mary Pipher, Ph.D., In the Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families, Ballantine Books, New York, 1996.

Alice Walker, “Sunday School Circa 1950,” in Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1970, 11.

Robert R. Walsh, “Fault Line,” from Noisy Stones: A Meditation Manual, Skinner House Books, 1992.

UUS:E Offers Good Friday Service

3-25 tenebrae

Violinist Sharon Gunderson joins UUS:E for its Good Friday service

Violinist Sharon Gunderson joins UUS:E for its Good Friday service

UUS:E will offer a 7:00 worship service on Good Friday (March 25th). This service will feature New York City-based violinst, Sharon Gunderson performing Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. Ms. Gunderson’s performance will be accompanied by reflections on the execution of Jesus and the persistence of state-sponsored violence in our own time. This service will borrow elements from a traditional Tenebrae service. Tenebrae is the Latin word for ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows.’ It is also an ancient Christian religious service celebrated  in the days leading up to Easter–most typically on Good Friday. Tenebrae is distinctive for its gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of readings and psalms is chanted or recited. UUS:E’s adaptation of Tenebrae will be contemplative, meditative, and truthful about violence in our time. Other musicians include pianist, Mary Bopp; harpist Wilda Wyse; and singer/guitarist, Jenn Richard. For more information about UUS:E’s Good Friday service and its Easter Sunday services, click here.

March 2016 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for March is community. It’s no coincidence that we chose this theme for this month. March is also the month in which we kick off our Annual Appeal. It’s the month when we ask each other to make as generous a financial pledge as possible to UUS:E for the coming fiscal year. It’s the month when we ask each other to reflect on the value this spiritual community holds in our lives. What does it mean to us?

What would we lose if it suddenly disappeared? I’d like to share with you some of the things that I’m excited about at UUS:E.

First, I’m excited about the growth of our adult religious education program. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated leaders (our current Adult RE chair is Crystal Ross; before her it was Louisa Graver), we’ve grown our program tremendously. There are many compelling classes every semester related to theology, spiritual practice, the Bible, creativity, world religions, and on and on. I was personally very pleased when nearly 40 people signed up for my class on “Deepening Your Spirituality,” based on the book, A Religion of Ones Own, by Thomas Moore. And the “icing on the cake” is that Thomas Moore has agreed to give a public lecture at UUS:E at the end of the course—Saturday, June 10.

Second, I’m excited about the development of two age-based affinity groups—the Council of Elders (for people 70 and older) and the Young Adult Group (for people between 18 and 35). While our community is ultimately  a multigenerational community, there are always good reasons for people of a similar age to spend time together. Such groups can serve as critical points of connection for people who might otherwise feel isolated, and as such they play a vital role in growing and sustaining our beloved spiritual community. I am looking forward to a number of events for both of these groups over the coming months.

Third, in addition to our regular minister- and lay-led worship services, we’ve had some very inspiring guest preachers this year, including Moral Monday CT leader Bishop John Selders, journalist and writer Susan Campbell, Jewish “entertain-ucator” Felicia Sloin, and UU minister Carolyn Patierno. In the coming months we’ll be enjoying worship with more UU clergy from area congregations, as well as New York City-based violinist, Sharon Gunderson, for Easter and a special Good Friday Tenebrae service.

There’s so much more that excites me: more work with Moral Monday CT and Black Lives Matter; more work on the Governor’s Second Chance Society criminal justice reforms; more great offerings in the children’s religious education program; April’s vegan challenge; mental health ministry programming; April’s Little Big Band concert and “Speak Up” story-telling extravaganza; art shows with artists from UUS:E and from the wider community. So much is happening!

Last but not least, the UUS:E Policy Board is considering how we can finally become a teaching congregation and begin receiving the services of a ministerial intern. This is very exciting. The goal of hiring an intern is in our strategic plan, and it’s time to make it happen. With a successful annual appeal, we can likely achieve this goal for the coming year.

Please take some time to consider what UUS:E is worth to you. And please pledge generously. Thank you!

 

 

 

With love, Rev. Josh

Your Money and Your Life (the Sequel)

Rev. Josh Pawelek

TithesLook closely. There is always an opportunity to practice generosity. There is always a chance, no matter what burden we carry, to give of ourselves. The more I reflect on this truth, the more I realize that being fully human—being whole—demands that we practice generosity. Our hearts are meant to be open, spacious, and roomy. Our hands are meant to help. Our goodness, compassion and love are meant to pour out. An open and generous heart is the hallmark of a well-lived spiritual life. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the highest outward manifestations of any religion is generosity! When we take our Unitarian Universalist principles seriously, when we let them guide our living, generosity is the natural outcome.

Those are, with some adaptation, words from a sermon I preached in 2003, entitled, “Your Money and Your Life.” It was a sermon about giving money to the church. It was about tithing, about giving a certain percentage of your money to the church. It was ambitious for the newly installed minister who had only been on the job for four months to preach about tithing to Unitarian Universalists who historically and generally speaking have been wary of the concept and, frankly, have been somewhat reserved—especially in New England—when it comes to asking for money. Well friends, I am still ambitious, not only for myself and my values, not only  for our congregation and its mission, but for Unitarian Universalism and its capacity to change the world. And because I am ambitious I want to revisit that sermon from 2003, especially the part about tithing. We launch our 2016 Annual Appeal this weekend. The Policy Board, with my support, has set an ambitious goal—an increase of 6% over last year—and I’m feeling ambitious, which really means I’m feeling incredibly positive, hopeful, excited and joyful about our ability to raise the money we need to provide great worship, great religious education for children, youth and adults, great pastoral care, great opportunities for connecting and building community, great social and environmental justice activism, great leadership development, great concerts, art shows and guest speakers.

When I began my ministry I was clueless about congregational fundraising. There were courses about fundraising in seminary, but I didn’t pay attention. Some people love fundraising, but there’s something in me that cringes when it comes to asking for money. It didn’t help that the congregation I served as a student had a nearly $10 million endowment at the time (this was during the dot-com bubble). The interest from that endowment, along with a number of very lucrative rental agreements, provided annual revenues far above what the congregation’s members and friends were giving every year. Stephany and I were living on her part-time salary in those years. We felt we had no money to give to the church, and nobody asked us. I learned a lot during those years, and I am forever grateful for what I learned; but I didn’t learn how to do fundraising and, even more importantly, I didn’t learn the value of making a financial gift to the congregation I love.

It wasn’t until a few years after seminary that I attended a workshop by a Unitarian Universalist fundraising consultant named Mike Durall. I remember him making a distinction between low expectation and high expectation congregations. High expectation congregations ask their members and friends to make a commitment. Low expectation congregations don’t High expectation congregations have a strong vision for their future. Low expectation congregations don’t. High expectation congregations talk about money, and directly ask their members and friends to tithe. Low expectation congregations don’t. Durall said he found it difficult to work with Unitarian Universalist congregations because so often he experienced them as low expectation congregations. He liked working with High Expectation congregations like the Mormons. He said we could learn a lot from the Mormons.

I had two transformative insights that day. One had to do with how I conduct my ministry. I realized that I was setting low expectations. I was operating as if my job as a minister is to set an example of what it means to be a committed Unitarian Universalist, and then trust that people would just naturally follow my example, and naturally they would all want to do that. That assumption was misinformed for a number of reasons. First, just setting an example and leaving it up to lay people to decide whether or not to follow without actually inviting them to follow is about the lowest expectation one can set. If I want people to do something, I need to motivate them to do something. I need to invite, ask, arm-twist, cajole, organize, empower. Furthermore, as a staff member with a seminary education and the title Rev. in front of my name, there are ways of being a Unitarian Universalist that I can pursue precisely because my job gives me the authority and the time to do so. Lay people who have rich, busy, and often demanding lives outside the congregation, in so many instances, can’t follow my example even if they want to. Thus my role as a minister is not to set an example for everyone to follow, but rather to work with people to discern what being a committed Unitarian Universalist means to them, asking them directly to make that commitment, and then supporting them in keeping that commitment.

The second insight had to do with money—my money specifically. Mike Durall said, essentially, your congregation ought to be the place in your life that expresses your highest, dearest, deepest values. It ought to be the place you come back to week after week to hear those values proclaimed in a world that is in so many ways antagonistic to them. It ought to be the place that helps you keep those values at the center of your life. “Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve,” said Howard Thurman, “that in good times and in tempests, I may not forget that to which my life is committed.”[1] Church ought to do that for you. And then Durall asked, what’s a church like that worth? I knew the answer in my bones: it is worth everything. Our highest, dearest, deepest values matter immensely. Shouldn’t we have the highest expectations possible of the institution we ask to uphold, proclaim and act on those values? “Yes, yes, yes,” I shouted out. Others did too. And shouldn’t that institution have high expectations of us as well? Shouldn’t it elevate us, raise us up? Shouldn’t it call on us to bring those values into the world every day of our lives? “Yes, yes, yes.” And if we’re going to have high expectations of our beloved church, shouldn’t we be giving as generously as possible so that the church can do what we need it to do?” “Yes, yes, yes!”

But then, to myself: “Ohhh, wait a minute. Something is wrong here. I am an ordained, fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister. I have just completed a nearly $50,000 graduate degree in order to become a minister. I am dedicating my life to Unitarian Universalism and the congregations I serve. I expect Unitarian Universalist congregations to be there for my children and grandchildren, to provide them with the same, open-minded, spiritually-grounded, justice-seeking religious education I was blessed to receive as a child. I am relying on Unitarian Universalism to participate in and, when necessary, lead the national conversations on environmental justice, racial justice, economic justice, gender justice, marriage equality. I am counting on Unitarian Universalism to be there for all the milestones in my family’s life—births, dedications, affirmations, marriages, deaths. When I die I fully expect a Unitarian Universalist minister will officiate my memorial service. I look to Unitarian Universalism to elevate me, to raise me up. I proudly proclaim myself a Unitarian Universalist. My life depends on this, and yet I am giving less than half a percent of my annual income to the church.” This utter disconnect hit me so hard I had to leave the room to collect myself. My expectations of myself changed radically that day, from low to high. I am forever grateful to Mike Durall for challenging me to rethink my financial commitment to my beloved faith.

I’m reminded of an old image—I suppose it’s from old movies: the robber sneaks up from behind and says, “your money or your life!” It’s always presented as a choice: your money or your life. But we know that’s not what the robber means. The robber is not saying, “either give me all your money, or let me kill you, and in that case you can keep your money.” The robber doesn’t actually separate our money out from our lives. And similarly, we cannot talk authentically about generous living without talking about money. It’s not a real choice. So let’s transform the image. If generosity—including financial generosity—is the hallmark of a well-lived spiritual life, then I reason that our capacity to be generous gives us greater life! Our capacity to give of our money is part of what makes us whole. It is not a choice—our money or our life. It is a shift in perspective: through generosity we live our lives to their fullest; we become fully human; we fulfill the promise of our principles. Our money and our life.

Most of you know what tithing is. I believe it originated in the Ancient Near East. It appears in the Hebrew book of Genesis as a tribute paid to a secular leader, an offering given to the priests and the temple, or as a gift given directly to God. The Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob both, at different times, pledge one tenth of everything they have. Abraham pledged one tenth to King Melchizidek of Salem after winning a battle. Jacob, in the story we heard earlier, pledged one tenth to God after God visits him in a dream. But tithes are not always one tenth. Often the amount isn’t specified. In the Christian New Testament, as far as I can tell, there is no mandate to share one tenth, though there are many admonishments to give freely, promises that the giver shall be rewarded, and reminders that God loves a cheerful giver.

I don’t think Unitarian Universalists will ever become like the Mormons. It certainly isn’t likely that our congregation will establish a formal expectation of tithing. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have high expectations. We do. We ask that you consider what it would mean to give a certain percentage of your income or wealth to UUS:E every year. What would it mean to give 10%? What would it mean to give 7%, 5%, 3%? Can you commit to a certain percentage every year? And can you commit to increasing that percentage over time? This is important to me, because a congregation whose members tithe can be very powerful—can provide any ministry, serve any constituency, offer any program, achieve any vision. Anything. And by my best guess—and I think this is conservative—if every single one of us tithed at 10%, our annual congregational income would be over $1.5 million. That’s exciting to contemplate! Dream with me for a moment. Our mortgage would be gone! Our endowment could grow by a few hundred thousand dollars every year with no extra appeals. We would have money abundantly available to members who fall on financial hard times. We could fill all our staffing needs and pay excellent salaries and benefits. And imagine how our values could be put to work in the wider world, by making generous grants to organizations and people in the community whose work is consistent with UU principles, by founding new service organizations to meet unmet needs, and by supporting social and environmental justice campaigns that change the world. And we would never have to do another extra fundraiser!

I am dreaming. So let’s make it a little more realistic. Let’s cut back from 10% to 5%, a half tithe. What if we raised around $750,000 dollars every year? Every piece of the dream I just named would still be entirely possible—on a smaller scale, yes, but entirely possible. I think it’s worth dreaming. And I think it’s worth asking “What is it worth?” That’s our theme for this year’s appeal. What is it worth? That church that affirms your values, proclaims your values, acts on your values, and calls you to do that same—what is it worth? That church that offers a safe and familiar place to rest, to breathe, to heal, to rejuvenate, to connect, to commune—what is it worth? That church that offers a challenging place to question, to reason, to think and rethink, to feel, to intuit, to grow—what is it worth? That church that strives to provide your children and grandchildren with religious learning opportunities not through the rote memorization of catechisms and insinuations of guilt, but through experiences of wonder and awe, comfort, love, trust, gratitude and joy—what is it worth? That church that responds when you or your family are in crisis and need a helping hand, a supportive presence, a ride, a meal, a prayer, a conversation, a memorial service—what is it worth? That church that puts itself out there and fights in a principled, respectful way for economic justice, gender justice, racial justice, environmental justice—what is it worth? That church that keeps fresh before you the moments of your High Resolve, so that in good times and in tempests, you will not forget that to which your life is committed”[2]—what is it worth?

I know 5% is unrealistic for many. Even in good economic times, 5% is hard to imagine. And that is why we don’t formally ask anyone to tithe. It’s ultimately a personal and private decision on your part. Stephany and I have pledged $6,000 to UUS:E this year, which is just short of 5% of our adjusted gross income from last year. Many of you strive to tithe—3%, 5%. Some higher. Thank you. And for those of you who don’t, I ask simply you consider what it would mean. What is it worth? We need you. We have high expectations. You have high expectations of UUS:E. And UUS:E has high expectations of you. Let’s have a great Annual Appeal. May our financial gifts be a measure of the high expectations we hold. May we give generously. May our money and our lives go hand in hand.

Amen and Blessed be.

[1] Thurman, Howard, “In the Quietness of This Place,” Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press and the UUA, 1993) #498.

[2] Thurman, Howard, “In the Quietness of This Place,” Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press and the UUA, 1993) #498.