Addiction and the Art of Surrender

Back in the Day

Back in the day when they allowed smoking at AA,
the nicotine haze hung in the air and clung
to my skin and hair for days,
like the memory of no memory
from too many chardonnays
that hung heavy on my newly cleared brain.

Back in the day, when I could drink any man
under the table and then dance naked on top of it,
coming to a week later with no recollection
of what had gone down, who knew that someday,
I would come to know myself again in crowded,
blue smoke clouded church basements all over town?

When a new state ordinance outlawed cigarettes
in the meeting halls, all of us drunks,
trying to live without a drink a day at a time,
didn’t think we could make it through an hour-long
meeting without a butt, but we stayed anyway,
drumming our yellowed fingers on the table tops,
gripping our coffee cups and listening for our lives.

We assembled again and again, again hearing
Jimmy K. tell about killing that girl with his old Chevrolet
and Maureen B. trying to reclaim her kids from the system
she had lost them to on her last big bender, and I knew
it could’ve been me, leaving my babies asleep in the car
while I ducked in for a quick one with the guys at Jack’s,
or drifting over the yellow line and not coming back.

Back in those days I was sucking wind like all of them,
running a race against the bottle I could never win
without crashing and burning everything in sight.
Those were the days before I gave up
the fight and surrendered, hauled the wreckage
of my past into God’s smoky cellars,
and finally learned how to breathe again.

~ Penny Field

February Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

It happens a lot these days. I’m at the grocery store or a restaurant, the kids’ music or karate lessons, a memorial service at a local funeral home, a rally or protest—and I encounter someone from UUS:E. There’s an instant connection, a feeling of warmth, a sense of mutual understanding. We’re part of that wonderful Unitarian Universalist congregational family, attached to that beautiful, green, accessible building on Elm Hill in Manchester’s northeast corner.

That sense of connection is no accident. We share seven profound principles. We share a commitment to justice-making and peace-building. We share a faith-based loyalty to the earth. We share a common experience of Sunday morning worship that draws on many sources of religious wisdom, comforts us in difficult times, and sends us forth into the world with love in our hearts. We share a spiritual home! In a world where fear, anger, and injustice seem to be gaining ground, it matters that we have a place like UUS:E that we can call home—a place that knows us, holds us, challenges us, loves us. What a precious and valuable thing to have in our lives, and the lives of our children.

“A Place We Call Home” is the theme for this year’s annual appeal, which is fast approaching. Like virtually every year, we are asking for an increase in pledging in order to cover all those fixed costs that regularly increase—insurance, utilities, etc. We also hope to provide our staff with cost of living raises as well as cover the expense of 6-8 guest ministers during my sabbatical next year. We’re hoping to continue funding our growth efforts, which include offering innovative, relevant and (sometimes) entertaining programming and marketing it more effectively to the greater Manchester community. And one of the new programmatic ideas I’m very excited about is an investment in our youth ministry. We’re learning, like so many congregations across denominations, that traditional “youth group” models no longer work for today’s teenagers. So, our youth ministry team is proposing to spend the coming year experimenting with new models and a variety of new activities for our youth. While the old models don’t work, youth still need loving, nurturing spiritual communities that allow them to question, search, test out their values, and discover who they are. Youth need a place they can “call home,” and we fully expect to provide it. If you are interested in helping out with our “experilearn” year in youth ministry, please let me or Gina Campellone know. We’d love to include you.

Of course, our children and youth are not the only ones who need a place to call home. All of us need it, a place we can come for human contact, warmth, support, challenge and love. A place for beloved community. A place that not only reminds us to stay focused on our values and commitments, but sends us forth to overcome cynicism and despair with hope, to meet violence with peace, to counter hatred with love. UUS:E is such a place. Please make the most generous pledge possible to this place we call home!

 

With love,

Rev. Josh

January Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

First, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you’ve had a peaceful and restful holiday season. Winter is here. Cold, snow and ice are here. Snow-blowing, shoveling, sanding and salting are here. Freezing and shivering are here. Hats, mittens, gloves, heavy coats and boots are here. Frozen car batteries are here. The dark season continues, though we know longer daylight hours are slowly returning. I hope and pray that this winter treats you well. I hope and pray that 2017 will be a good year for you. And no matter what challenges you face in this new year, I hope and trust you will find at UUS:E a place to lay your burdens down—to let others hold them for a while, so that you may regain the energy and strength you need to move through life with integrity and grace.

****

No, it’s not a rumor. Some of you have begun to hear the news that I have a sabbatical coming up. It is true. In fact, I have two sabbaticals coming up. I have accrued quite a bit of sabbatical time (10 months at the end of this current congregational year). The UUS:E Policy Board has graciously agreed to let me begin catching up on this unused time and take a one-month sabbatical in the current congregational year. I will take that time from February 12 to March 12. And the Policy Board has also granted my request to take a full (four month) sabbatical from October, 2017 to February,2018. During my sabbatical time, I am planning to return to the writing I was doing during my last sabbatical. Hopefully, I will come out of it with a completed novel!

Ministerial sabbaticals can be anxiety-producing for members and friends who rely on the minister’s presence, especially on Sunday mornings. Please know that the Sunday Services Committee is working with me to plan compelling, life-affirming worship services during the month I am away in the current congregational year. We are also in the early stages of inviting local Unitarian Universalist ministers to preach during my full sabbatical next year. The Sunday Services Committee is a talented group of people, many of whom were on the committee during my last sabbatical. They know what to do! They will provide excellent services in my absence.

Ministerial sabbaticals can also be anxiety-producing for members and friends who rely on the minister for pastoral care. It is true that people who seek a regular level of pastoral care from me will not have access to that care during my sabbatical. However, for pastoral crises that require ministerial presence, we will have a list of local UU (and possibly other) clergy who are available. And in the event of a pending death or an actual death, I will certainly come away from my sabbatical to provide care and to conduct a memorial service. All the other regular caring activities performed by our Pastoral Friends Committee will continue without interruption during my sabbaticals.

If you have any questions or concerns about what happens at UUS:E when the minister is on sabbatical, please do not hesitate to contact me. I like to think we are taking care of every important detail, but you may have a question or concern we haven’t yet thought of. And whether or not we’ve thought of everything, UUS:E has strong leaders and a strong staff who function wonderfully, whether I am present or not!

Rev. Joshua PawelekWith love,

Rev. Josh

Special Ministers Column

A Special Column from Rev. Josh on our Ministry Theme: Evil

I found this column I wrote from the last time (three years ago) when our theme for the month was ’Evil’. Since it still seems relevant, I offer it to you for your reflection.

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for January is ’Evil’. A number of you have already told me you’re not clear on why we’ve chosen this theme. I’ve had to confess that I lobbied pretty hard to include it this year. Certainly, ‘evil’ is one of those haunting religious words that many liberal religious people find little value in discussing. “It’s something religious conservatives talk about, but not us.” I get that. But ‘evil’ is used commonly in both religious and secular contexts, and it feels important to me that we name what we mean, if and when we use it. So, here are a few of my preliminary thoughts about what evil is and isn’t:

  • Evil is not the result of the machinations of some divine entity or fallen angel. There is no so-called “prince of darkness.”
  • Natural disasters may cause much suffering, but they are not evil, nor do they originate from the wrath of a divine entity.
  • Evil is not in any way inherent in the world, nature, or human beings, though human beings and human institutions certainly have the capacity to act in evil ways.
  • In attempting to identify what evil is, I begin with human behavior and ask questions like these: What kinds of behaviors destroy the human spirit? What kinds of behaviors diminish human dignity? What kinds of behaviors prevent human freedom and agency? What kinds of behaviors cause physical and emotional damage among human beings?
  • It is possible for good people to participate (wittingly and unwittingly) in the evil of human systems and institutions. For example, if we agree that the current fossil-fuel-based global energy system is destroying the planet, and if we agree that this destruction is a form of evil, then what are we to make of our own participation in this system? And, if we can identify racism operating in various systems and institutions in our country, and if we agree that racism is a form of evil, then what are we to make of our own participation in those systems and institutions?
  • I don’t expect agreement (anywhere) on a single definition of evil. I expect a wide variety of views and a large grey area. However, the absence of agreement should not lead to the absence of action. Whether we use the term ‘evil’ or not, there are atrocities that require our faithful response.

Evil is not an easy or pleasant theme to explore. But I do think it behooves us to explore it with intention from time to time. That’s my goal this month—an exploration. I hope you find this exploration meaningful.

Rev. Joshua PawelekWith love,

Rev. Josh

December Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for December is joy. As I sit down to begin contemplating joy, we are just a week out from the presidential election. If you’re not sure about my views and feelings related to the whole election cycle, you can visit the UUS:E website and find my sermon from November 6. If you’re not sure about my views and feelings related to the election results, you can visit the UUS:E website and find my sermon from November 13. (And if you don’t use computers, and you’d like to read those sermons, please give me a call. I’ll send you hard copies).

Perhaps needless to say, joy is not high on my emotional list these days. And yet, I think cultivating joy is essential. Joy is essential not only as a foundation for engagement in the wider world, but it is also essential to our health and well-being, to our sense of confidence, to our sense of self-worth, and to our capacity for hope. So, in the interest of finding joy as I write, I offer my answer to the question, “What brings joy to my life?”

In no particular order:

  • Playing the drums in worship;
  • Hearing people laugh when I’m preaching;
  • Working with the UUS:E staff (I’m not just saying this—each of them brings joy to my life!);
  • A good night’s sleep;
  • Yard work, as long as everyone’s willing to help (and sometimes even if they aren’t);
  • A day off;
  • A meaningful pastoral visit;
  • Watching my sons do something creative that I don’t expect them to do;
  • Watching leaves fall (can’t say why, other than that the experience connects me to mystery).
  • Trevor Noah;
  • A hearty breakfast (hard to do when you’re trying to go vegan!!)
  • The darkness of this late autumn/early winter season—again, mystery (I’ll be preaching on this on December 11);
  • The occasional Dogfish Head ale;
  • My wife’s rock-solidness—mind, soul, body;
  • A good book;
  • Lamp light;
  • ”Spirit of Life” and “Love Will Guide Us;”
  • Hermione Granger, Frodo, Ender, and Paul Muad Dib;
  • Great colleagues, UU and non-UU alike;
  • 153 West Vernon St. on Elm Hill in Manchester, East of the Connecticut River.

I’m just getting started. But before I run out of room, let me ask you: What brings joy to your life? Send me a note. Give me a call. I’d like to hear your answer to this questions.

With love,

Rev. Josh

November Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our November ministry theme is abundance. I’ve been wondering: what are the good things we possess in abundance? This feels like such an important question to me, in part because 2016 has been a year of perceived scarcity. This year’s election cycle has focused so much on what we lack, on what’s wrong with the United States, and on what’s wrong with the world, that it’s easy to forget what we possess in abundance. Not only the election, but multiple, high-profile acts of violence (terrorist attacks, police violence and anti-police violence) have drawn our attention to anger and rage, to the ways in which the very fabric of our society seems frayed and torn. To the extent we focus our attention on these acts (and sometimes we do need to focus on them) there is always the possibility that we will begin to feel small, isolated, frightened and angry ourselves. At times like these, it is essential that we ask: What are the good things we have in abundance?

Of course, the answer is different for different people. Some will name family and friends who love and support them. Some will name the UUS:E community that loves and supports them, and hopefully challenges them to live a principled life. Some will name opportunities for growth and learning. Others will name opportunities for service. Still others will name meaningful work. Some will name only the basics: access to food, clean water, shelter—and even these are lacking at times. Others will name access to health care, higher education, technology, and transportation; or access to clean, breathable air, green spaces, hiking trails, Nature. And some will speak of their relationship with the Sacred, God, the Great Mystery—whatever name they choose. Yes, we each have different answers to the question, but I’ve never encountered anyone who doesn’t have some semblance of an answer, even at the lowest moments of their lives. What are the good things we have in abundance?

As we gain clarity about our answers to this question, we also gain strength, centeredness and resilience to meet the cynicism and mistrust that seem so pervasive in our nation. That is, when we approach life from an understanding of what we possess in abundance as opposed to what we lack, we give ourselves grounding. We give ourselves a center.

When anger and rage threaten to destabilize our nation, we will more easily remember that there is more to life than anger and rage if we understand the good things we possess in abundance,

When fear of the “other” threatens to divide our communities, we will more easily remember that there are options other than fear; that there are ways to work together and stay united—if we have a deep sense of abundance.

When violence erupts, we will more easily remember to respond with love and compassion, if we are grounded in an understanding of abundance.

If we are clear about the good things we possess in abundance, then, when people complain about increasing scarcity, lack and unfairness, we will know to listen and learn, trusting there is a way beyond scarcity, trusting there is enough for everyone.

As New England farmers bring in the final harvest of the year; as crimson, gold, orange and brown leaves pile up in yards and woods; as we enter the Thanksgiving season – let’s give priority to asking and answering this question: What are the good things we have in abundance?

With love,

Rev. Josh

October Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our October ministry theme is suffering. I admit it’s not the most inviting theme. Nor is it the most uplifting, inspiring or motivating theme. Suffering. Do we have to talk about it?

But we know there is immense suffering in the world. We know all human beings suffer at times through the course of our living. We know animals and other non-human creatures suffer. We hear it spoken aloud virtually every Sunday morning in our ritual of sharing joys and concerns. We know part of being alive is suffering. So we would be remiss—even foolish—not to reflect on the meaning of suffering in our lives, or to focus only on the more positive aspects of the human experience. If part of being alive is suffering, then we need to talk about it. We owe it to ourselves to prepare for the times when we and those we love will suffer.

Some suffering is unavoidable, and nobody’s fault. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes the hurricane or the fire or the earthquake strikes where we are. Our initial response might be “why me?” but the answers aren’t very satisfying. Luck of the draw? Accident? Wrong place at the wrong time? Genetics? Natural disaster? Certainly, as Buddhism asserts, our suffering stems from our attachments. We are attached in so many ways to things, people, outcomes and desires. The deeper our attachments, the more profound our suffering. Practices that enables us to decrease the strength of our attachments reduce the power of suffering in our lives. Even so, there is no way to prevent pain 100%. We can change our relationship to pain and perhaps reduce its intensity, but nobody gets out of this life without pain. Given this, my hope and prayer for us—and for everyone—is that nobody suffers alone.

In those times when you suffer, you have an open invitation to reach out to me and the UUS:E congregation for love and support. And when others are suffering, I urge you to respond with love and support. Let’s not turn away. The spiritual writer Rachel Naomi Remen says “There is in life a suffering so unspeakable, a vulnerability so extreme that it goes far beyond words, beyond explanations and even beyond healing. In the face of such suffering all we can do is bear witness so no one need suffer alone.” I take these words to heart.

Of course, some suffering is avoidable. Some suffering isn’t a result of accidents or bad luck or genetics, but is rather created by human beings out of greed, hatred and fear. The suffering that comes from poverty is, in fact, avoidable. The suffering that comes as a result of war is avoidable. The suffering that comes as a result of systems of injustice is avoidable. But avoiding such suffering, we know, takes enormous effort on the part of people who envision a more just and loving world. I feel very strongly that our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to make such efforts—that we are called to spend our lives working to reduce the avoidable suffering that arises from human greed, hatred and fear. This is why we work for environmental justice. This is why we are supporting the resettlement of refugees from war-zones. This is why we support the Black Lives Matter movement. There is too much avoidable suffering in the world, and we are called to respond.

There will always be suffering. Let us be people who respond with our presence and compassion when suffering is unavoidable. And when it is avoidable, let us be people who challenge and transform it!

With love,

Rev. Josh

Guinea Pigs Benefit Concert

Guinea Pigs Benefit ConcertFriday, October 21. It is because of the generosity of people like Sandy Johnson and her band, the Guinea Pigs, and all of the months of work by our cadre of dedicated volunteers that the Manchester Community Refugee Resettlement Group will soon be helping a family make their home in our community. Thank you All.

Black Lives Matter Sign Dedication

All welcome! We’ll place a Black Lives Matter road sign on our property along West Vernon St. at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, October 9.

September 2016 Minister Column

Dear Ones:

As I write I begin my 14th year as UUS:E’s minister. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been serving since August, 2003. Yet sometimes August, 2003 feels like yesterday. (Except when I see pictures from those early years—I had a lot more hair then!)

Mine is definitely an ‘above average’ duration for a congregation-based ministry. I’ve encountered a variety of different studies on how long the average minister remains in a pulpit, and the numbers range from approximately five to eight years. Given that range, there’s no other way to describe my tenure at UUS:E, other than that it is a long-term ministry. There are many benefits to long-term ministries. The one that comes to my mind most quickly is that a long-term minister gets to know the members of a congregation on a very deep level. This is helpful in times of crisis, since the long-term minister is often already aware of dynamics in members’ lives when a crisis happens. And it is also helpful in the day-to-day operations of the congregation, in working with volunteers, and in knowing the congregation’s strengths and weaknesses. A minister’s long-term relationships with members of the congregation make the day-to-day operations flow more smoothly.

Of course, there are drawbacks to long-term ministries as well. Over time, ministers and congregations can get so used to each other that they fall into ruts. They stick to the familiar and the comfortable. They stop innovating. They stagnate. The first step in avoiding stagnation is being aware that it can happen. The second step lies in the minister and the congregation challenging themselves to not be complacent with how things are, to keep offering new programs, new ways of worshipping, new ways of connecting. I like to think we do a pretty good job of staying creative and fresh at UUS:E. But I never want to take this for granted—which means that if you have an idea for how I or we can do things differently at UUS:E, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts with me. I want to hear what you have to say!

I cannot express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with one congregation over the long-term. It has been, and continues to be, an honor to serve as your minister, and I look forward to serving for many more years.

****

Although UUS:E never really takes a break, our 2016-2017 congregational year officially begins on Sunday, September 11th with our annual homecoming service. Please join us for this fun, meaningful family service! And let’s have another great year together.

With love,

Rev. Josh