Welcome

“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blessing of the Backpacks


        The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, a prophetic voice of our time, says this about the impact of racism on all of us, but in particular, the impact of racism on children and young men of color: “These are our children…and they are in danger. We have to fix this; we have to address the ways that racism in the United States is like a virus that mutates and continues to infect us. Children are not born to hate, nor are they born to fear. But adults who have the virus can harm them, and children can catch the virus, too. It can feel overwhelming to address racism, but we have to do it.”
As the grief, turmoil, and protests continue in Ferguson, MO, and around the country, I remember that Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot six times after some sort of encounter with the police, was supposed to have started college this past Monday, August 18th.

If you have a child (or children) in school, you are familiar (or are preparing for the first time!) for this fall time ritual, the beginning of the new school year.
Our son starts kindergarten next Wednesday; he’ll board the bus, wearing his backpack, carrying our hearts with him, as he begins his first day. This scene, in various communities, in various ways, repeats itself around the country; parents will drive a young adult to college; parents will prepare for life with a middle-schooler, or a high-schooler; and some parents will watch as their child boards the bus for the first time.
These are poignant, tender days; I am aware of those among us who have lost a child, a child who would now be in high school, college, or beginning a new job this fall. I am aware of the families, like Michael Brown’s family, who have lost young men because of the virus of racism. And I am aware of all the living children – all of our children, of all colors – who are very much in need our love, support, and blessing, so that they might thrive.  
Next Sunday, at our 10 a.m. service, we will be holding our “Blessing of the Backpacks” serviceChildren and youth are encouraged to wear their school backpacks to church, so that we can include them in the Backpack Blessing ritual. If you are able, please bring an extra backpack to donate for students at Augsburg Fairview Academy. We will bless these backpacks, too.
        As we move toward this ritual, ready to bless the backpacks and the lives of those most precious to us, let us remember those children and young adults no longer with us. Let us remember Michael Brown, and the many others like him, who have no backpack to bless.
        Let us remember the preciousness of all children, and let us continue to work for a world of equity, justice, and compassion.
        May it be so.  

       



Friday, August 15, 2014

Love Reaches Out



           Robin Williams and Mike Brown died two days apart.  Robin Williams was 63 and took his own life on August 11th. Michael Brown was 18 and was shot to death by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9th. Both deaths break my heart. I imagine the pain and suffering that Williams must have lived with. I know that many of us live and struggle with such pain and suffering, and despite apparent successes, or the happy faces we wear, inside we ache or are numb.

And when I see pictures of a once living, smiling Michael Brown, I can’t help but think of a once living, smiling Trayvon Martin. While all of the details are not yet clear, what is clear is that once again, a young, unarmed black man has been shot. I grieve for everyone involved, including the police office who pulled the trigger. I can only begin to imagine the grief and anger that Brown’s family and the Ferguson community feel.  Despite strides made around racial equality in this country, the fact remains that much of this country was build upon the bodies of black men, women, and children, as well as the resources and land of Native Peoples. We are still living with the aftermath of centuries of slavery and violence against people of color.  We are still living with a racial narrative that says black men are dangerous and violent, their lives worth less than white lives.

Depression and despair are real. Racism, and the daily verbal, emotional, and physical violence against people of color, is real, as well. Our broken hearts, anger, and suffering are real. So when we are suffering, let us remember that we need not suffer or struggle alone. If you are carrying a great sadness about Williams, Brown, or anything else, please reach out to me, or Rev. Jen, Rev. Elaine, or Rev. Ruth.

 At First Universalist, we have promised (covenanted) to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.  We can’t bring back Williams or Brown, but we can reach out to one another; we can strengthen our commitment to work for a racially just world; we can break the silence around depression and mental illness. Even with broken hearts, we can reach out to one another in love. 

 *The title of this post is inspired by this video:



Monday, November 18, 2013

Building a New Way


There is something stirring at First Universalist Church these days. We are beginning to build a new way! We’re getting focused and clearer about where Love is calling us. 

Simply put, we’re on fire with the Universalist spirit of Love and Hope that is alive here. 

We're on fire about our “House that Love Built” project. Thanks to a fabulous leadership team and their thoughtful work, our entire faith community – people of all ages - can be involved in the “House that Love Built” project, as we raise $60,000 to be the lead-sponsor on Habitat for Humanity house, and build it from the foundation up. More than that, this project invites us to re-evaluate our relationship to the often crazy making, over consuming, frenetic holiday season. This year, we’re inviting everyone to cut their holiday spending in half, and to give the half not spent to this project. As a pastor once said, “Christmas isn’t your birthday! It’s about celebrating the birth of hope and possibility.” This project invites us to create a new understanding of the holidays.

We're on fire about our racial justice commitment. We've had hundreds of people show up to the workshops on September 29th, Oct 20th, and Nov. 17th. And we’ve added a workshop for Dec 15th, at 1 p.m. 

In January, we’ll launch a number of Circles committed with Racial Justice learning as the core content. This is deeply spiritual work, as we begin to see clearly how race, racism, and whiteness work in our lives, church, and wider world, and then begin to work for racially just policies and practices within the church and beyond its walls. This is about waking up to the ways that racism damages, destroys, and harms all of us. (If you missed the sermon from September 29th, catch it here: http://tinyurl.com/o7dr3sz)

We're on fire about our Community Circles (Circles with a particular content)? Nearly 250 friends and members of the church are participating in some kind of Circle, as we engage in the spiritual practice of deep listening and open hearted reflection. 

We are building a new way: a way that is focused and grounded as we give, receive, and grow more fully into Love’s people.

I’ll see you in church,

Justin

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The House that Love Built

I'm so thrilled that the Rev. Jen Crow and our House that Love Built Team is helping all of us at First Universalist Church rethink our relationship to Christmas, the Winter Holidays, and how we tame the holiday machine. We're already getting creative in our family. How about you?

Will you join us in this project, or do your own version of the "House that Love Built" with your faith community?

Please share in the comments how you're planning to engage the holidays in new ways!

Here's the article from Habitat.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

We are Called

In the meditation manual, Voices from the Margins, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Natalie Fenimore writes:

We are all called.
Called by the wind, the rushing water, the fireflies, the summer sun.
Called by the sidewalk, the playground, the laughing children, the streetlights. Called by our appetites and gifts – our needs and challenges.
Called by the bottle, the needle, the powder, the pill, the game, the bet, the need, the want, the pain, the cure, the love, the hope, the dream.
Called by the Spirit of Love and Hope, and visions of God’s purpose for our lives. We are all called.
What do we choose? How do we answer?

At First Universalist, we believe that we are called by the “Universalist Spirit of Love and Hope, to give, receive, and grow ever more fully into Love’s people.”  

We believe that we are called to walk with one another as spiritual companions. And hundreds of you are just beginning this journey in one of our many Community Circles, groups of 8-10 people that meet every other week to welcome, affirm, and protect the light in one another, and to listen deeply to where Love is calling us next in our lives. I know that sometimes it feels safer to sit in a row than a Circle. I know that being in a Circle can be soul stretching, heart opening, and even challenging, as Circle members share the “really real” of what’s going on in their lives with others.

As you heard during worship on September 29th, we are called into our Racial Justice work; it’s a spiritual imperative and spiritual practice for us. By the end of this year, one hundred people will have gone through the racial justice trainings, and twenty people will be equipped to lead ongoing trainings. We are answering “yes” to this soul work, because as the Rev. Rebecca Parker has said, “Racial injustice is not only a tragedy that happened yesterday…racial injustice is currently mutating and re-creating itself. Its dehumanizing effects are harming lives.”  

Finally, I am grateful that the Board of Trustees has approved my request for a two month sabbatical for March and April, 2014, because I am feeling called to deepen my understanding of large church ministry. I wish that everyone could have regular sabbatical time for spiritual, personal, and professional growth. During the sabbatical, I intend to grow as your Senior Minister, to visit other large Unitarian Universalist churches and learn best practices around management, growth, and staffing, to work with a large church ministry coach, and to deepen my own spiritual life. Ultimately, I want to help this congregation thrive in our shared ministry. Whether we’re 1000 or 2000 members, I want First Universalist to offer an experience of warmth, welcome, and transformation, that helps all of us move toward more fully becoming Love’s people in the world.

How are you responding to the call from the Spirit of Love and Hope? How are you answering “yes?” Drop a line here, or catch me at church – I’d love to know.

In faith,
Justin

Friday, August 30, 2013

Growing More Fully into Love's People

I am still glowing from the “The Big Wedding Party” we had in August. Thank you to all of the staff and church members who helped make this big day happen, as we celebrated marriage equality. It was a blessing to be witness to such love and joy! 
As we begin to move into the church year, I have been thinking about our mission to “give, receive, and grow into Love’s people,” and I keep coming back to this prayer from Unitarian Universalist Minister Kate Braestrup, from her book, Beginner’sGrace: Bringing Prayer into Your Life: 
May love and strength be in my hands
May love and courage be in my heart
May love and wisdom be in my mind
May love be with me and work through me today
And all my days.
Amen.

I love this prayer because it points to the essence of the church’s ministry; here, in the Universalist spirit of love and hope, we strive to grow more fully into Love’s people and to embody and become vehicles for that love.

In fact, “Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our racial justice commitment, which continues to deepen this year, with conversations, trainings, and sermons about faith, race, racism, and racial justice. As a person of faith, I am clear that love and the horrendous impacts of racism are fundamentally in opposition. The deepest tap roots of our faith call us to work for racial justice.

“Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our Community Circles. Community Circles are sacred spaces designed for participants to engage in the spiritual practice of deep listening and connecting with others. I believe that smaller groups are one of the best places to “give, receive, and grow into Love’s people.”

“Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our Sunday morning worship, our Faith in Action work, and our Religious Education Programming (we want our children and youth to know they are loved and to grow up to be agents of a justice seeking love). 

Here, in all that we do, we invite a Holy Love to lay claim on our lives. Here, we practice giving, receiving, and growing ever more deeply into Love’s people. 

Welcome to the new church year! May love be with you and work through you today and all of your days.

I’ll see you in church, 
Justin


Monday, June 24, 2013

Race, racism, and faith


We have begun our racial justice journey as a church. 

This journey has begun with learning, listening, and engaging with one another this past year. We’re watched and discussed, “Race the Power of an Illusion,” “Mirrors of Privilege,” and “Cracking the Code: Making Whiteness Visible.” We’ve held a number of small group listening sessions, and we’ve preached on the spiritual imperative of racial justice work, as well. It is a reclamation project of sorts, a way to reclaim our full humanity, and the humanity of others, and a way to commit to be partners in dismantling the devastating impact of racism. 

I’ve just finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons, which is about the “Great Migration,” the untold story of the millions of African Americans who left the Jim Crow South for opportunities and better lives in the North and West. 

As human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson says in a TED Talk: “I tell my students about slavery. I tell them about terrorism, that era that began at the end of reconstruction that went on to World War II. For African Americans in this country, that was an era defined by terror. In many communities, people had to worry about being lynched, about being bombed. It was the threat of terror that shaped their lives. And these older people come up to me now and say, “Mr. Stevenson, you give talks, you make speeches, you tell people to stop saying we’re dealing with terrorism for the first time in our nation’s history after 9/11.” They tell me to say, “No, tell them we grew up with that.” And that era of terrorism, of course, was followed by segregation and decades of racial subordination and apartheid.”

Stevenson goes on, "And yet, we have in this country a dynamic where we don't really like to talk about our problems. We don't like to talk about our history." 

As William Faulkner has said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” And so part of our racial justice journey as a faith community is to understand the past, and how it impacts and is alive in the present, in different ways and forms.

Beginning this fall, we'll move into this spiritual work in earnest, working closely with Dr. Heather Hackman, a local educator and racial justice trainer, who will help us develop the internal capacity to train and educate ourselves as people of faith working for racial equity.