May Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

At the UUS:E annual meeting on May 20 at 1:00, the Policy Board will ask the congregation to approve the following vision statement:

Unitarian Universalist Society: East will be home to a spiritually alive, richly diverse and growing congregation. We will send forth energy, spirit and strength into our beloved communities. We will love, be present to suffering, comfort, heal, bear witness to oppression, and boldly work toward social and environmental justice.

I want to express my gratitude to Anne Carr, Tammy Stolzman, Rhona Cohen and David Garnes who crafted the original drafts of this statement. Moreover, I want to express my gratitude to our UUS:E leadership team, who met in September for a day of visioning with UUA consultant, Jacki Shanti.

I also want to remind all of us that at the heart of our visioning process was a commitment to countering white supremacy within Unitarian Universalism. For a brief reminder of the way white supremacy operates within Unitarian Universalism, please see my sermon from May 7, 2017, “White Supremacy Teach-In” at http://uuse.org/white-supremacy-teach-in/. That sermon pointed out how the voices of People of Color remain largely on the margins of Unitarian Universalist institutional life. After I preached that sermon, someone asked about our visioning process. “If a group of mostly white people crafts a vision for the future of our mostly white congregation, and if the voices of People of Color remain on the margins of, or are absent from, that process, then what prevents our vision statement from perpetuating white supremacy?” It was a fabulous question.

In response, we invited five People of Color leaders from Hartford and Manchester to speak to our UUS:E leadership team about their vision for the region, and the role they feel UUS:E can play in achieving that vision. We crafted our proposed vision statement in response to the voices of People of Color leaders. We “centered” People of Color voices.

I love the finished product. I love it not only because we used an explicitly anti-racist process to create it; but also because it says “we will love.” This language came from Pamela Moore Selders, a founder of Moral Monday CT and a Black Lives Matter leader. On the evening before our visioning session, she challenged us to first and foremost love ourselves—to take pride in ourselves, to care about each other, to celebrate each other. She’s right. If we envision ourselves bringing love into the wider community, we need to begin by cultivating a deep and profound love among ourselves. That’s a vision that makes my heart sing!

Spiritually alive, richly diverse and growing? That, too, is a vision that makes my heart sing! There are actions we can take to achieve this vision.

Sending forth energy, spirit and strength into our beloved communities? That’s a vision that makes my heart sing! There are actions we can take to achieve this vision.

We will love, be present to suffering, comfort, heal, bear witness to oppression, and boldly work toward social and environmental justice. That’s a vision that makes my heart sing! There are actions we can take to achieve this vision.

I hope your heart sings too!Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

–Rev. Josh

April Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

I want to share my learnings from the March 18th “On Being a Sanctuary Congregation” presentation by the Rev. Paul Fleck, along with members of the UU Church of Meriden and First and Summerfield Methodist Church, New Haven. It was a powerful and inspiring presentation, attended not only by UUS:E members and friends but also by members of at least three other local congregations.

First, I learned about the urgent need to provide sanctuary, especially in our region where no congregation is yet doing so. Deportations have increased dramatically in the last year. Most discouragingly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now deporting people who don’t have criminal convictions; who have minor children who are U.S. citizens; who are primary breadwinners for or caregivers to family members who are citizens; who are married to citizens; who have been living and working in the U.S., paying taxes, and contributing to their communities for decades; or who came to the U.S. to escape ecological disaster or political or gang persecution in their home countries. The federal government’s treatment of such people is immoral and disgraceful. As a Unitarian Universalist who affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and justice, equity and compassion in human relations, I can no longer tolerate witnessing this escalation in deportations, this breaking apart of families, this returning innocent people to extreme poverty, hardship, and even death. If we, as the Unitarian Universalist Society: East, can help such people avoid deportation, I am convinced we should do it.

And I am convinced we can do it! Why? First, our building is incredibly well-suited for this purpose. We have a shower, laundry facilities, 2 kitchens, 6 bathrooms, and lots of rooms. Wherever we might house someone, it would be slightly disruptive to the normal flow of our congregational life; but it would be a small price to pay for living out our principles.

Second, we can set clear parameters around the terms of our sanctuary offer. This is not an open-ended housing arrangement. It is only a last resort for someone who is about to be deported. If we offer sanctuary to an individual or family, we can (and truly must) confirm that they have competent legal counsel and that we are providing housing only while they have active legal options in progress. If their legal options become exhausted, then they would be forced to leave the country. They would not stay with us in perpetuity.

Third, we won’t be in this effort alone. There are a number of networks providing support and funding for immigrants facing deportation. Already, the leaders of United for a Safe and Inclusive Community, Manchester, have pledged their support for UUS:E if we choose to go this route. Participants in the March 18th presentation said they were overwhelmed with the outpouring of community support and funding. The UU Church of Meriden is projecting a surplus of sanctuary funds once their current guests have resolved their legal issues.

Finally, the Meriden and New Haven congregations said they have found sanctuary work to be life- and faith-affirming. They have made new connections in their communities, including with the police, and their congregations feel alive and inspired.

Of course, this is a congregational decision. The Policy Board is currently discerning next steps. It is likely we will establish a Sanctuary Committee that will be responsible for creating a plan that can be quickly executed in the event we are called on to offer sanctuary. If you are interested in working with such a committee, please let me know. Also, I am very interested in hearing the opinions of people who have reservations about becoming a sanctuary congregation, and I welcome your feedback at revpawelek@gmail.com or 860-652-8961.Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

–Rev. Josh

March Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our annual appeal begins in March. For those of you who are new to Unitarian Universalist Society: East, the Annual Appeal is our opportunity to reflect on the value of UUS:E in our lives and to make a corresponding financial pledge for the coming fiscal year. Because the vast majority of our operating funds come from the financial gifts of members and friends, this is the most significant fundraiser in the life of our congregation. I urge all of you to begin thinking about the role UUS:E plays in your life. Then, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up for one of the Annual Appeal potluck dinners. (Sign-up sheets will be available following Sunday services in March.) And as always, if a steward contacts you to meet about your pledge, please respond to them as soon as possible. They are volunteers and we deeply appreciate their work on behalf of our congregation’s financial health.

As in every new year, there are many factors that drive increases in our proposed budget—changes in insurance, cost-of-living adjustments for our staff, and expansion of our programs, to name just a few. This year the UUS:E Growth Team, the Policy Board, and I are all in agreement that it’s time for UUS:E to hire a part-time Membership Coordinator (MC). MCs are staff members who are responsible for tracking visitors to UUS:E and helping them discern whether membership is right for them. MCs also help foster engagement of members and friends in congregational activities such as small group ministries, circle groups, adult religious education, social justice work, etc. Many UU congregations around the country who have hired MCs report not only increases in membership and financial giving, but increases in spiritual growth among members. Of course, there is a cost associated with such a hire. It’s always risky to try to increase the size of a church staff. But I feel strongly this is a risk worth taking—a spirit-filled risk!

I’m not the only one who feels this way. This year, a group of members who also feel very committed to reaching this goal have established a challenge fund. For any member or friend who increases their annual pledge from anywhere between 5% and 10%, the fund will match an amount equal to your increase. I deeply appreciate the generosity of these members, and I hope you’ll take them up on their offer!

Here’s my challenge: The tenth person who sends me a note at revpawelek@gmail.com, or leaves me a message at 860-652-8961 and tells me 1) three things they love about UUS:E, and 2) that they are increasing their pledge by at least 5%—that person will get a breakfast, lunch or dinner on me!

There are so many good things happening at UUS:E. We’re actively exploring what it means to become a Sanctuary Congregation. We’re actively exploring joining a new Greater Hartford interfaith coalition. We’re taking very intentional steps to improve our emergency management procedures and make our building safe. We’re formally establishing a UUS:E concert series. We’re crafting a new vision statement. Please take seriously the question: “What does UUS:E mean to you?” And please make as generous a pledge as possible for the coming year.

With love,

–Rev. Josh

February Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

My four-month sabbatical is winding down. The sabbatical has been a very positive experience for me, and I want to express my deep gratitude to you, the members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Society: East, for providing this opportunity to me. In particular, I’d like to thank the members of the Policy Board and Program Council for their ongoing leadership during my absence—especially our new president, Rob Stolzman, and vice president, Sylvia Ounpuu. I’d like to thank the members of the Sunday Services and Pastoral Friends Committees—chaired by Lorry King and Patricia Wildes respectively—who’ve been covering my regular worship and pastoral duties since October. And I’d like to thank the UUS:E staff—Gina, Mary, Jane, Annie, and Emmy—who’ve been functioning with their usual excellence.

During my sabbatical, I continued writing the novel I started on my first sabbatical in 2007. While I have not been able to complete it to my satisfaction, I do expect to have a readable rough draft finished by the first week of February. Writing a novel is a very different discipline than writing sermons, meditations, prayers and newsletter columns. It requires different modes of thinking, feeling, imagining, planning, expressing and creating. It has been very important to me over the past four months to explore and practice these different modes. Having had this opportunity, I am hopeful that I am returning to ministry refreshed and rejuvenated, and ready to provide high-quality spiritual leadership to our thriving congregation.

When I return in February, I am looking forward first and foremost to being with all of you in person, reconnecting, and getting back to the daily and weekly tasks of ministry. I am also looking forward to establishing a new Humanist discussion group (the first meeting is Feb. 14, 4:30 PM in my office), updating UUS:E’s Safe Congregation policy in light of new best practices, working with the Policy Board to finalize UUS:E’s vision statement, working with the Social Justice/Anti-Oppression Committee to make UUS:E a charter member of a new, regional interfaith coalition, and hopefully adding a part-time Membership Coordinator to our staff.

I’d like to hear from you. First, if there has been a significant event or change in your life (family, career, health, etc.), please feel free to tell me about it. Contact me to make an appointment. Call me. Send me an email, text or Facebook message. My home office phone is still 860-652-8961. However, I have a new email address. My old address will work for a few more months, but the new address is revpawelek@gmail.com.

Second, in my last sermon before my sabbatical, I said that “the congregation has the opportunity to notice, by virtue of the minister’s absence, what it does well, what it does not do so well, where it excels, where it needs improvement.” I am genuinely curious to know whether you have had any insights along these lines. Specifically, are there ways we can do things differently, more effectively, more meaningfully? One thing I’ve come to understand about myself during this time is that trying new things in congregational ministry is important to me. As much as it is easy to do things the way we’ve always done them, I have always assumed that the ongoing experience of health, vitality, meaning, and purpose for the minister and for the congregation depends on a willingness to reinvent ourselves from time to time. Our primary ministries and our core values are more or less permanent, but how we do things must continually evolve. So, if you’ve had insights about how we might do things differently, I want to hear them!!

Rev. Joshua PawelekThat’s it for now. But there’s much more to come. I can’t wait to be with you at UUS:E!

With love,

–Rev. Josh

September Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

As summer begins to wind down, I begin my 15th year as the Unitarian Universalist Society: East’s minister. If I have my facts correct, I am now the congregation’s longest-serving minister in its 48-year history!

This congregational year will be different than usual in that I will be taking a long overdue sabbatical from October 2nd to February 3rd. During my sabbatical, I will be working on a novel that I started on my first sabbatical in 2007. My goal is to complete this novel, though writing fiction is so different from writing sermons, that I have no idea whether achieving this goal will actually be possible. I am very much looking forward to this project, and I cannot express enough my gratitude to the Policy Board and to the congregation for granting me this time.

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 my time away. Local UU ministers will be filling the pulpit on many Sundays. 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.

For pastoral crises that require ministerial presence, we will have a list of local UU (and possibly other) clergy who are available. 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 have not 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!

Despite my absence this fall, UUS:E is brimming over with activity and there are many exciting ventures, including our Youth Group “Experilearn” project, our congregational growth initiatives, work on our new congregational vision statement, and our discernment around what it means to be a “Sanctuary Congregation.” All of this is over and above our long-standing programs such as children’s religious education, adult religious education, music, sustainable living, membership, social justice, the holiday fair and much, much more.

When I return in February, I am looking forward to teaching courses on UU Humanism and UU Paganism, updating UUS:E’s Safe Congregation policy in light of new “best practices,” finalizing UUS:E’s vision statement, and hopefully adding a part-time Membership Coordinator to our staff.

As always, there is much more that lies ahead. For now, our annual season of Homecoming is here. Though our spiritual community never officially stops, we do say “welcome home” in September. So, WELCOME HOME friends! I hope you have a wonderful year at UUS:E.

With love,

–Rev. Josh

June Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

The following meditation, entitled “Cooling Down,” is adapted from our new publication, Hear the Earth Call.

Summer approaches in earnest. May’s cool, dry, sunny days give way to June’s drenching, muggy heat. We melt. We wither. We stick. We shrink. We welcome any rain, any breeze. We welcome an ice-cold drink of anything on these hot, humid June afternoons. Whatever cools us down we welcome: lemonade, ice cream, popsicles, freeze pops, Italian ice, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, swimming pools, fountains, sprinklers, shade, shadows, clouds, dusk, sunset, evening, vespers, twilight, night,

A life of the spirit is like this. So often our greatest spiritual insights, our greatest truths, those elements of human experience that link us to the sacred and the transcendent—love, beauty, sorrow, joy, suffering, death—so often they too inhabit the cool places, the dark places. So often we encounter them in the life- giving shade, the cooling rain, the gentle breeze, the roaring thunder, the darkening night, the deepening dream, the widening ocean, the quenching of our thirst. So often we encounter them not in the glaring light and blazing heat but in the cool, dark places where we perceive less with our minds and more with our hearts.

As summer approaches, as the temperature and humidity continue to rise, along with our anxieties about what things cost, about war, about violence, about the earth; as we welcome that which cools our bodies, may we also welcome that which soothes our spirits. In our moments of spiritual melting, withering, sticking and shrinking may we welcome, too, those insights, those truths, those sacred and transcendent experiences that provide respite from whatever wears us down and dries out our souls. May we welcome and drink in the deepest truths of our lives, like the sip of a cold glass of lemonade, out on the porch, as a cool evening breeze begins to whisper on a hot June night.

Hear the Earth Call is a collection of my nature writing, accompanied by the photography of Duffy Schade, and designed by Sharon Gresk. The first printing will be arriving soon. If you have not yet purchased a copy and would like to, please contact the Unitarian Universalist Society: East office. All proceeds from book sales go to Unitarian Universalist Society: East.

Our ministry theme for June is “journeys.” As summer approaches, as the heat and humidity rise, it is my hope and prayer that each of you, in the midst of whatever journey you are on, has the opportunity to pause and to find rest, respite, insight and wisdom in the cool places, in the afternoon shadows, the evening breeze, the silver night, the morning dew. May the coolness refresh you and make you ready to continue on your way

With Love, Rev. Josh

May Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

It’s been a rough few months for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). As many of you know, in early April, the Rev. Peter Morales resigned as President of the UUA in the midst of allegations of racism in hiring practices. More resignations followed. What many of you may not know is that, in the wake of these resignations, there has been a great deal of conflict, much of it playing out on social media among clergy and other religious professionals. While some of the conflict is productive, some isn’t. People aren’t treating each other well. At times it feels like our faith is being torn apart. This is heart-breaking.

White supremacy is at the heart of this conflict. It feels really, really important for me to name that and for all of us to stay focused on it. When it became apparent that hiring decisions at the UUA were consistently favoring qualified white candidates over qualified candidates of color, something had to be said. Because the UUA has a stated commitment to hiring a diverse staff and a long-held commitment to conducting itself in antiracist ways, something had to be said.

Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color were the first to say it publically in early March. Very soon after that, many religious professionals of color and their white allies starting referring to “white supremacy” at the UUA. The organization Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and some of its partners called for congregations to dedicate their worship services on April 30th or May 7th to a “white supremacy teach-in.” (We will be participating!)

Much of the current conflict has spun out around the use of the term “white supremacy.”

This should not be hard to understand. We typically think of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo-Nazis and other hate groups as white supremacists. During last year’s presidential campaign, so many of us were upset that Donald Trump’s team intentionally courted voters of the “Alt-Right,” a code-word for white supremacist agitators. But Unitarian Universalists? How could anyone in their right mind use that term to describe us? How could “white supremacy” apply to our justice-seeking, Black-

Lives-Matter supporting, refugee resettling, criminal-justice reforming, earth-saving, GBLTQ- welcoming, answering-the-call-of-love, liberal faith?

Well, unfortunately, it can apply, and, all too often, it does. But I want to be crystal clear that attaching this term to Unitarian Universalism is in no way an attempt to equate our beloved faith with the KKK and other hate groups. To speak of white supremacist outcomes inside an organization (e.g., only hiring white people) does not mean that the people in that organization are white supremacists. But it does mean that the culture of the organization may harm people of color despite the good intentions of white leaders. That is what happened at the UUA.

I also want to be crystal clear that Unitarian Universalism isn’t somehow alone in this. Virtually every historically white institution in the United States has embedded within it some degree of white supremacy. This goes back to the founding of the United States and its legacies of genocide, colonization and slavery.

The question is, are we willing and able to recognize it? If religious professionals of color say it, can those of us who are white refrain from reacting negatively to the use of the term “white supremacy,” and instead open our hearts, approach the conversation with curiosity, and try to learn—really learn—why the term is being used? I hope and trust that we can. See you on May 7th!

Amen and blessed be.

Rev. Josh

March Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

This month marks a milestone for me, Duffy Schade and Sharon Gresk. After more years than I care to count, we are finally ready to publish a book we’ve been working on entitled Hear the Earth Call. It was Duffy’s idea originally. She offered to sift through my sermons and prayers in search of meaningful excerpts addressing our experience of Nature. Once she had collected a series of excerpts, she began matching her own photographs to them. Along the way we brought Sharon Gresk onto the team to design the book. Our Sunday service on April 23rd will feature readings from Hear the Earth Call and a viewing of some of the photographs in the book. (We will also begin taking orders. All proceeds go to UUS:E!)

Mindful that our ministry theme for April is reconciliation, I would like to share with you part of the Epilogue from Hear the Earth Call. It speaks to the way Nature reminds us of inherent oneness in the universe:

“Let us imagine there was a beginning to everything—a primordium—a paradise of sorts—a tiny, compressed moment wherein all boundaries blur, so that shapes and spaces cannot be distinguished, matter and energy cannot be distinguished, light and shadow cannot be distinguished, past, present and future cannot be distinguished—a complete unity, all in one; one in all; a tiny potent moment in which a vast multitude of possibilities resides. This moment, this original unity, pregnant, about to burst forth with immeasurable creative power, if it did exist—and scientists say it did—by definition, must contain all truth…. More precisely, this moment—this astounding, glorious, eloquent unity is truth.

“Let us imagine everything we do in our lives, every decision, every emotion,  every thought—everything; even the misguided, harmful things—if we look deeply enough at why we do what we do and feel what we feel, if we look for the motivation

underlying our motivations, if we look in the most intimate way, illuminating our most inner, most vulnerable selves, we realize at our core is a longing—a profound and fierce longing—to return to that primordial moment, that sublime, original unity.

“Let us imagine, that from time to time, each of us in our own way has experiences—experiences of transcending mystery and wonder—brief, fleeting experiences: flashes, visions, dreams, deja vus, feelings, flickers, intuitions, insights, connections, A-has!, eurekas!—marked physically by butterflies and goose bumps—moments of awe, exultation, joy, amazement, and sometimes fear, dread, terror. And let us imagine these moments occur in both likely and unlikely places: in the sun rising over the ocean; the sound and call of the pounding surf; the view from the mountain top; the great circle of Midwest sky; humming birds and squirrels taking a meal at the backyard feeder; the exuberance of new love … spring’s rebirth; summer’s tomatoes served freshly cut with salt, pepper and oil; autumn’s vivid, colorful decay; winter’s barrenness; the cry of the newborn … the final breath before death…. Let us imagine, in these moments—these precious, grace-filled moments, we recognize, if only for an instant, that original unity of all things. We come screaming out of the birth canal into the soft light, into the wet morning, into life’s mud and muck and mess, and we know—a profound heart-and-soul-knowing—truth. The words before words sing in our hearts, and we know truth.”

Amen and blessed be.

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