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, November 13, 2014

#Pointergate and How We Might Respond as Unitarian Universalists


After the past few worship services at First Universalist, many of you have asked, “What’s the call to action? We’re ready to act for racial justice in our community.”
            Today, we have an opportunity to take a small step. Several days ago, KSTP ran a story about Mayor Betsy Hodges “flashing a gang sign” with a "known felon." Of course, the story behind the story is that Betsy Hodges was out door knocking with residents from the North Side of Minneapolis, in a get out the vote effort. Additionally, the Chief of Police, Janee Harteau, was with Mayor Hodges and other North Side residents during the time this photo was taken.  Chief Harteau expressed no concern about Mayor Hodges’ behavior, because it was simply a friendly gesture with a Minneapolis citizen. (For further context: check out the article, “Dear White People: Mayor Betsy Hodges is Not in a Gang,” by Nekima Levy-Pounds.)
              Unfortunately, the story that ran played to some of the worst racial stereotypes out there: the false narrative that young black men are dangerous, are in gangs, and are unsafe.
              As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all people; we believe in welcoming, affirming, and protecting the light in each human heart; we believe that we are called to be Love’s people in this world. The kind of “reporting” that KSTP did is irresponsible, unaccountable, and deeply damaging. Spreading lies and misinformation does not help build the beloved community we dream of. We must demand better from KSTP.  You can call them 651-642-4421 to leave your feedback or Tweet them @kstp. It’s a small step, but our silence does nothing to build the community we dream of.  Our next steps are larger ones, and they are holding our city leaders and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis accountable to a racial justice vision.
            

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Joining a Circle: Letting Your Soul Catch Up With Your Body



In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes, "The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any further. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them."

What a powerful image: stopping to rest, so that your soul can catch up with you. Resting, so that your head, heart, and soul can arrive in the same place, at the same time, in some kind of alignment.

Whether or not you believe in a “soul,” surely we all yearn for moments when we can slow down enough to tenderly and gently welcome home all of who we are, all of what we’re carrying. Surely we yearn for those moments of stillness, where our deepest wisdom and knowing emerge, where we can discern the movement of Love in our lives.  

At First Universalist, through our Circles,” we have created dozens and dozens of such spaces to slow down and listen deeply.

Circles are groups of 8-10 committed participants who come together with a trained leader. These groups are grounded in the spiritual practices of deep listening and open-hearted reflection. Each gathering offers an opportunity for deeper connection: connecting with our own inner truth, connecting with other people, and connecting with something greater than ourselves.
We offer Circles for NewcomersCircles for Spiritual Deepening (including 12 Step Spirituality for Unitarian Universalists, Mostly Silence Meditation, and Spiritual Practices and Support for Those Living With Depression and Other Mental Health Concerns),and Community Circles, which offer a space to dive deeper into the message from Sunday morning.

We live in a time when we have millions of data points in our life, all clamoring for our attention. We are in the midst of an information overload, that taxes our bodies and spirits.  

The practice of sitting in a Circle, of intentionally slowing down, gives us time to see ourselves and our lives more clearly. Sitting in a Circle can awaken our hearts in ways we scarcely can imagine, as the non-essentials fall away, and the information that really matters, begins to emerge. 

Circles fill up fast; take a look at what we’re offering, and sign up by September 21st. If you have questions, or aren’t sure what Circle is right for you, please talk with Rev. Elaine Aron Tenbrink, our Minister of Membership and Adult Ministries, at Elaine@firstuniv.org.

This fall, let your soul catch up with you body; give yourself the gift of participating in one of our Circles.

I’ll see you in church,
Justin

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