“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)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mapping a Life: Love, or Fear?

(Note: for some context for this post, please check out previous post about Mapping a Life.)

"Love takes off the mask that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”   - James Baldwin

In the consumer culture map, fear plays a big role in our lives, doesn’t it?

Maybe we’re afraid of our bodies, their smell, how they look. Or we’re afraid we’re not enough, don’t have it all together, don’t have the right things, or the right job.

Or on a deeper level, maybe we’re afraid of how close we feel to falling apart – because of health issues, financial stress, parenting, our house being foreclosed on, losing a job, or our marriage coming undone.

Maybe we’re afraid we’re on the edge of losing it. And yet, we’ve got to keep pretending things are fine.

Let me say this another way: perhaps we’re afraid of truly confronting the pain in our lives.

And the fear of confronting that pain might mean we turn to the bottle, to pills, or the internet, or something else, so we can numb out, tune out, keep the pain at bay.

As the Rev. Forest Church says, “We find so many ways to armor and protect ourselves…”

And as I’ve been thinking about this, here’s what I’m realizing: fear – from the consumer culture map - makes us put on a false show of strength, of pretending to have it all together.

You know how this looks:

Q: “Are you ok?”

A: “I’m fine.”
A: “I don’t need help.”
A: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

And of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Beneath that mask of strength, of being “fine,” is grief, pain and heartbreak.  

And here’s what I think the crux of the issue is: In the consumer culture map, we have been taught to be afraid of our feelings and our pain.

As the Rev. Forest Church reminds us, “Every time we express ourselves, emotionally, we lose some control.”

Beyond being afraid of our feelings, the consumer culture map tells us that the thing to be most afraid of is to lose control of our emotions, to be vulnerable, to appear weak.

This is particularly brutal for men in our culture, but it impacts all of us. Essentially, we’re instructed to be afraid of ourselves, of our feelings, of our own deepest truths.

Fear then, tells us to hide our hearts. This, as you might imagine, is not a life giving practice!

And this is where love comes in.
Love calls our hearts out of hiding. Love invites us into vulnerability, authenticity and honesty.
This feels risky, even terrifying.    

As the Rev. Forest Church says, “We sense the risk… every time we share ourselves with another, every time we commit ourselves to a cause or to a task that awaits our doing…
We risk disappointment, failure, or being embarrassed or inadequate…”

But love calls us to take that risk; love invites our hearts out of the dark closet they’ve been hiding in. And paradoxically, real strength comes from risk taking, from vulnerability.

And in a faith community, we can collectively begin to orient ourselves on a new map, and take risks to live from a place called love.

The consumer culture map says, “Be afraid, bunker down, pretend things are just fine,” but when we look around and see our homeless neighbors, or bullied GLBT youth, or veterans coming home and struggling with addiction and suicide, or reflect on the pain in our own lives, we can see that things aren’t ok.

With courage, we can name these realities, and “speak the truth in love.”

Fear says, “Dress right, talk right, have the right things, have the right job, and keep it all together – keep the mask on – this will keep you safe and strong.”

Love says, “Nope, not true.” Love reminds us that we’re not asked to be perfect, or have our stuff together. We’re only asked to take off our mask, to be who we are, to see our fellow human beings as the incredible miracles they are, to see their struggles and desires as our own, and to see them as brothers and sisters.

Love, as author John O’Donahue says, invites us to “waste our heart on fear no more.”

May it be so.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mapping a Life: Hospitality, or Exclusivity?

Who’s in? Who’s out?

Who’s welcomed, who’s not?
Who’s acknowledged and seen? Who’s not?

Hospitality insists that people are not objects or “its.” They are not means to an end. 

Hospitality insists that people are living miracles, children of God, the face of God, if you will. Hospitality is about loving and welcoming the stranger, those different from us.

Hospitality, as opposed to exclusivity, is about a kind of kinship, an authentic, holy engagement with another. It is about casting the circle of welcome and love wider and wider still.
I spoke with a church member earlier this week, and he told me it was his personal practice to connect with folks “who looked lost” in the coffee hour after the service.

He greets them, talks with them, and introduces them to others.
He described the sense of relief they seem to feel, as someone notices, pays attention, and engaging them.

As author Rachel Naomi Remen says, “The places in which we are seen and heard are holy places. They…remind us of our value as human beings.”

Wherever hospitality is practiced is a holy place.
And hospitality’s baseline is simply: “Welcome, you belong, you are a child of the Universe, of God.” As Greg Boyle, a Jesuit Priest says, “Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God (Love) had in mind.”

That sentiment points us to the Spirit Map, where our natural desire to reach out, to connect with others, to reach out to those who are left out, can blossom!   

Wherever hospitality is practiced is a holy place.

What sacred places are you creating? What new map are you trying to life into?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mapping a Life, or "What Values Orient You in the World?"

(Note: for the full context of this post, you might want to check out this earlier post. Thanks!)

This past Sunday, this song was our reading for the day, our "sacred text:"

That line,“How could it come to this? I really want to know about this…” just grabs me.

That’s my heart’s question.        

I really want to know, how can it be that 1 in 7 children in Minnesota live in poverty and go to bed hungry? How can it be that their life is shaped by that devastating reality? These are children just like our son. Just like your children. And perhaps they are your children. How has it come to this?

Imagine having to choose between paying your utilities bill or buying groceries? Maybe you don’t have to imagine…maybe that’s your life. How has it come to be that across this country, there are 46 million people living below the poverty line? That’s a family of four making less than $22,000 a year. These are our brothers and sisters, uncles, grandparents, friends, our neighbors – it’s us.

How has it come to this? 

How has our moral compass gotten so twisted? Our political system so shaped by moneyed interests? Our politicians posturing and playing games, as people suffer? Can’t we do better?

I really want to know about this.

I trust I’m not alone with these question.

Maybe on a personal level you’re asking, ”How did it come to this?” Maybe there’s a deep sense of unhappiness about your life, or marriage, or something else. Or perhaps you’re longing for more purpose and meaning in your life. Perhaps you’re thinking, “How could it come to this? This sure isn’t what I imagined my life would be like.”
Or maybe, like me, you’re thinking about the country and the world. Maybe you’re wondering, how did we get into these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan again? Tell me about the $3 billion we spend a week in these wars; what that money might do in North Minneapolis or New Orleans or anywhere else…what that money might do for our children?

Maybe you’re thinking, “Tell me how we decided it was ok to trash the planet, to mine, pollute, exploit it? When did profit become more important than people and our planet?"

If our eyes and hearts are truly open to what is happening around us, surely a part of us must be asking: “How could it come to this?”
The good news is that this is not a new question. It seems to me that sacred scriptures all deal with some variation on this question, and the simple answer to "how could it come to this?" is that we’ve been using the wrong map to guide our lives and decisions.

We’ve been using the “popular culture” or “consumer culture” map instead of the spirit map, the faith map, Love’s map, God’s map – call it what you will.  

In popular consumer culture map, the core values we are given to guide our lives are these:

and greed.

(We’ll be unpacking these values in the next four weeks in our Sunday worship…and looking at “spirit map” alternatives to these popular culture values, which are: hospitality, love, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.)

The trouble, of course, is that these "consumer culture" values lead us to ask the wrong kinds of questions. As the Rev. Jim Wallis says, “Television, magazines, and our whole popular culture, in ad after ad, have asked us, “What’s the fastest way to make money? What do you need to buy next that will make you truly happy? What is wrong with you, and how could you change that?" What do you need to be afraid of? These questions do not speak to the deep yearnings of the human heart, nor do they help us become better people.  

But that’s the map we’re living in, right now, in what I would call an “apocalyptic moment.” Yes, an “Apocalyptic movement!” (The root of the word “apocalypse” means to unveil or reveal what has been hidden. And we are living in an apocalyptic time right now because what is being revealed is the popular consumer culture map – with exclusivity, fear, ego-gratification, guilt, and greed as its core values - that has lead us astray.

And I believe that our brothers and sisters in this growing “Occupy” movement are essentially saying, “As a country – we’ve been living and operating from the wrong map, and it’s not working. We need a new map.” 

That’s what this Occupy Movement is about. It’s not dirty hippies lounging around – it’s people of faith, families, students, and so many others, who are saying, "It’s time to use a different map with a different set of values and principles." 

And they’re bearing witness to that.
And for the next four weeks at First Universalist, we’ll be exploring the Spirit Map and how we might live more fully in that map. 

To be continued in another post...this one is plenty long!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Practicing Hospitality

True hospitality is amazing.

Let me tell you what I mean. I spent part of the day down town at "The People's Plaza." While down there, I met a great guy named "T."

T's been staying over night in the plaza since day 1, and he explained that he used to work (in a well paying job) but that he'd recently lost that job. I'd guess T was in his mid to late 50's. He told me he didn't want to feel hopeless about the current economic and political crisis, so he came to the people's plaza.

What he's experienced has changed him.

Here's the gist of what he said to me, "This is incredible; the organizers are amazing; this process is democracy in action; and we're staying here until there's real change in this country. The community that's formed here is something else. We've got a medic station set up and a food station (along with a media station and more) - we feed anyone who's hungry. We take care of the homeless folks - food and a visit with the medic. It's like this country's supposed to be. We take care of each other. I didn't think I'd be here, but I am. And we're starting to communicate with the other "Occupy" organizers, beginning to plan together. I really didn't think I'd be here, but I am."

I had a plate of hot food while I was there, and T introduced me to one of the other organizers, D. We talked for a bit about the role that the faith community could have in this growing movement. We talked about staying grounded and not burning out, something near and dear to my heart.

As I left, I couldn't help but think about hospitality, the radical welcoming of strangers. I was a stranger and they engaged and welcomed me.  I was a stranger and they fed me. And it wasn't just me; this group was offering radical welcome and care to the growing number of homeless men and women who are on the streets of downtown Minneapolis. They are living their message of creating a new way, of truly putting people before profit, a way that might work for all of us.

P.S. If you're a new reader of this blog, and are curious to know more about me and how I am, check out this post.

P.P.S. Here's another good piece to read by a colleague of mine, the Rev. Bill Sinkford.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Countdown to "Invite a Friend Sunday!" (Oct 16)

 (Dear readers: while this post is for all of you, it's especially geared to First Universalist members.)

Starting Oct. 16th, we’re launching a 5 week sermon series called, “Mapping a Life.” We’re be exploring the tensions between the different “maps” we encounter in this life – the “consumer culture map,” which offers a particular set of values to guide and orient our life vs. a “spiritual” or “faith map,” which lifts up a different set of values and a different way of being in the world.

This whole sermon series will be especially visitor friendly, and we hope you’ll ask a friend to join you for the launch on Oct. 16th.  (Why? One reason is because it breaks my heart when I talk with people who are new to First Universalist, and they say, “I wish someone had told me about this place years ago....when I was raising kids, when I was struggling, when I really needed a faith community like this...” Now is your chance to be that “someone!”) And you send 'em to check out this video, found here: 

Remember, a personal invitation really means something. It means you know and care enough about your friend to invite them into something that’s really important in your life, and you think it might be important in their life, too.

So if you’re proud of this progressive, liberal faith community and the faith based work we do with Habitat for Humanity, for Marriage Equality, for the Environment, and so many other things, invite a friend to experience what’s happening here! If you’ve had a life changing experience in a Small Group, or a Sunday morning worship service, invite a friend to experience what’s happening here! If your children have loved their Religious Education Classes or the Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, invite a friend to experience what’s happening here!

Who knows, it might change their life. Or yours. Perhaps you'll grow in ways you never expected!

I’ll see you, and a friend, in church.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The People's Plaza! (Further reflections on the occupy movement)

NOTE: This is a follow up post to the earlier post, "What Would Jesus Occupy?"

On Friday, my wife and I had the chance to visit the People's Plaza in down town Minneapolis. (I spoke about this and more in my sermon from last Sunday.)

I wasn't sure what to expect, but as a person of faith, committed to truly growing in my faith, I have to confess that the "Universalist spirit of love and hope” invited me to show up.

Because right now, our political, economic, and financial systems aren’t working; our government no longer represent the interests of the American people; rather, money has polluted our political process and the government is more responsive to the needs of corporations than to its citizens. As a result, too many people are suffering, the planet is suffering…and I think faith communities have a role in creating a future that works for all people.

So I showed up. It was peaceful. I talked to people. There were students, unemployed folks, families, grandparents, veterans, and hundreds of others - a really diverse crowd, as you can see from the pictures. 

When people asked why I was there, I told them I was a Unitarian Universalist Minister, that my faith brought me there. That I believe in a vision of a just and fair world. 

It felt good to be there, to step out of my routines and my habits, to engage with my fellow citizens, to dream of a future that might work for our son, for all children, for all people, to occupy a public space with our bodies and our voices. To stand for justice and equality, and systems that better serves all people. 

I left feeling like this is a significant movement taking shape in our country and that the faith community has an important role to play.

I'll be back next Friday. If any First Universalist folks are interested in a "faithful field trip" down to the people's plaza, let me know. 

In the meantime, here are some other informative articles you might check out: 

1) this piece about the values and principles behind the Occupy Wall Street movement
2) this article from Rev. Marilyn Sewell, former minister of First Unitarian Portland, about how the church might respond to this movement.  
3) For you religious professional types who are reading, this one, about "Protest Chaplains."
4) And this one: "These Occupy Wall Street Protesters have a message"

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this movement and the role of the faith community...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Growing into Love's People

 The Mission Statement of First Universalist church of Minneapolis is: “In the Universalist spirit of love and hope, we give, receive, and grow.”

This isn’t “grow” as in growing from a baby to an adult. It’s not “grow,” as in, “Come on, grow up!” where the subtext is, “Quit complaining!” It’s not “grow,” as in mergers and acquisitions.

There’s a deeper meaning to “grow” here. It points to the reality that it is possible to grow in our ability to live with compassion at the center of our lives, to listen deeply to one another, to practice forgiveness, and to be able to transform suffering into something of meaning.  

But we can’t “grow” alone. We need a practicing faith community to help us grow.

There’s a story from James Luther Adams (one of the best know Unitarian Universalist thinkers of the 20th century) that gets at this perfectly. The time-frame of this story is the late 1940s when the Board of Trustees of the First Unitarian Church in Chicago was debating about whether to encourage African Americans to become members of their church.

In Adams’ words: “Some years ago I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the First Unitarian Church in Chicago.  And another member of the board often complained about the minister’s preaching too many sermons on race relations. This board member often said that academics of course know little of the world of reality.

One evening at a meeting of the board he opened up again, with this same critique. So the question was put to him, ‘Do you want the minister to preach sermons that conform to what you have been saying about Jews and blacks?’

‘No,’ he replied, ‘I just want the church to be more realistic.’

Then the barrage of questions opened up, ‘Will you tell us what is the purpose of a church, anyway?’
 ‘I’m not a minister…I don’t know,’ the man replied.
‘But you have ideas, you are a member here, a member of the Board of Trustees, and you are helping to make decisions here. We can’t go on unless we have some understanding of what we are up to here.’

The questioning continued, and items on the agenda for the evening were ignored. “At about one o’clock in the morning, our friend on the Board,” says James Luther Adams, “became so fatigued that the Holy Spirit took charge. And our friend gave a remarkable statement regarding the nature of our faith community.”

He said, ‘The purpose of the church is to get hold of people like me and change them.’

Then “Someone suggested that we should adjourn the meeting, but not before we sang, ‘Amazing grace… how sweet the sound. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.’


This is a story about “grow.”
Initially, there’s a man saying, “I wish the church would be more realistic about things.”And we’ve been there, right? Someone is pushing and challenging us with new ideas, or has called us back to core values we profess, but aren’t living, and we say, “Come on, be realistic! We can’t do that…it won’t…it’ll never…”

That’s what’s happening here and I’m guessing it doesn't feel real comfortable for that man.

But that church and its values – that community - had created an environment where the spirit of love and hope worked on him until he could say, “The purpose of the church is to get hold of people like me and change them.” (I would say, “grow them.”)

This was no easy thing to confess, I suspect.
Think about how hard it is to back down from a position you’ve taken.
If  you can’t think of a time, try asking your partner, or a friend, or your kids – I’m pretty sure they could help you out!

But something miraculous happened. This man was willing to be changed – to grow – because of his faith and his community. "Growth" is about the dynamic dance of faith, values, and community. It’s about being willing to be changed by what we’ve received…and to give something different than we normally give...and it can be profoundly uncomfortable. 

But that’s the purpose of our liberal faith communities. The church isn't in the “being realistic” business! The Universalist spirit of love and hope is not about being realistic - it is about a vision that will completely change the world if we embrace, live it, and let it work on our hearts.) 

And that’s the whole darn point, I think:  for this unrealistic liberal faith to get a hold of people like us, change us, and help us grow into Love’s people.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Letting the Gift In

Last Sunday, in her sermon, the Rev. Kate Tucker issued an invitation. She said, "Pay attention to how you're letting the gift in this week...how you're receiving the gifts of this world."

I've been trying to pay attention. Here are the gifts I know that I really truly let in this week:

1) I put our son down for bed the other night. We did our usual routine of books, brushing, and singing (three songs sitting next to him in bed; he picked Twinkle Twinkle little star, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and Hush Little Baby). After I sang, I left the room. At the doorway, I stopped and turned around. "I love you, sweet boy," I said. A long pause. Then, in a sleepy voice, he said, "I love you, too." I just stood there, talking some deep breaths, letting those words really wash over me. It felt like....magic...joy...a moment of grace. I let it in.

2) I've been out on the bike a bit this week and have let in the incredible beauty of the fall colors. I rode my bike under a fall canopy of yellows and greens and oranges. It was so bright and colorful, it felt like I was under some kind of special light. Again, a deep breath, and a prayer of gratitude that I was alive for this. (Deep breaths seems to help the gift really sink in, I'm noticing!)

3) Since writing this blog post, I've stopped by OccupyMN and have had a dozen wonderful conversations with a wide variety of people who were there...I feel like I've really let their stories in, stories about hope, about pain and suffering, stories about wanting a better world for their children to grow up in. Each of those stories was a gift, and I really tried to let it in.

What gifts did you really let in this week? What gifts were you truly able to receive?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Would Jesus Occupy? (Thoughts on #occupywallstreet and the faith community's response)

(NOTE: For a look at the values and principles behind this movement, check out this article from Yes! Magazine. I'll post other articles soon and will do a "Part 2" to this post soon, as well. Thanks for reading.)

Today, I found myself wondering "what would Jesus occupy?"

I'm not really comfortable speaking on behalf of Jesus, but I can easily imagine him in Zuccotti Park in New York City's Financial District.. 

I can imagine him saying "Mic Check!" And people around him saying "Mic Check!" And if you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the deal: There's an ordinance in Zuccotti Park that prohibits amplified sound, so the people who have been meeting there are conducting their meetings and communication without bullhorns or sound systems. They're using a "the people's mic," or the "human mic." Whenever someone has the floor, he or she speaks in 4 to 6 word sentences, then pauses. Those gathered around the speaker repeat what they've just heard, so those further back can hear what's been said, and so on.(This article explains how the human mic works.) It takes a long time to communicate, but everyone hears the message. And there's something about the "people's mic" that really moves me. 

Here's what I think it is: People are speaking up, lifting their voices and putting their bodies in the public square in a way that demands attention. They're doing it in creative, life giving, community supporting ways, it seems. And those occupying Wall Street, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis (starting Friday), and dozens of other places, are hitting a chord that's resonating deeply with all sorts of Americans. In fact, these gatherings include union members, grandmas, professors, the unemployed, the employed, military veterans and so many others.  

People are speaking out against a financial system that has essentially wrecked the American economy, destroyed the pensions of countless Americans, and decimated the American Dream (not to mention much of the middle class). They are speaking out against the corporate hijacking of our government and how corporate money has poisoned our political process.

People are speaking out on behalf of the planet, on behalf of a just and fair legal system that ensures that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. People are speaking out on behalf of their neighbors...on behalf of a living wage, affordable health care and housing for all, and for a new economy that works for everyone.

Since this all started on September 17, no one is using much religious language that I've heard yet (and that's not a criticism), but it feels pretty clear to me that this movement is about two choices: either turning toward the creation of the beloved community, the community of justice, equality, and mutuality ("Love's Kingdom," if you will), or turning our back on God's vision (or Love's vision) and returning to the land of the broken American dream, where a few prosper, and the majority suffer. 

I realize this movement is just emerging, and the mainstream media has been slow to pick it up, and that there are lots of differing opinions about all of this, but none the less, my question is: where are the faith communities in this conversation? What is a faithful response to this growing movement, institutionally and personally? What is your faith calling you to?

And Twin Cities folks, there's an occupymn, which starts on Friday. Who's interested in going to learn more, see what it's all about, and explore what role faith communities might play?

Monday, October 3, 2011

So what is the Universalist spirit, exactly?

Our Mission Statement begins with, “In in the Universalist spirit of love and hope…”

So what is that Universalist spirit, exactly?

Well, simply put: Universalism is the idea that all people are loved and embraced by God. It's not a new idea: Universalist thinking has been around for thousands of years. But it really took root in America, in the 1700 and 1800’s.

These early Universalists could not imagine a loving God who would damn them to hell. But this notion of a loving God was in tension with the dominant thinking of the time, which was that that God was an angry God, and there was only so much love to share with sinful creatures; thus, only some would be “saved.”

The early Universalists said, “Uhm..not so much,” to the idea of an angry, violent God. And as they truly began to imagine and understand the reach of God’s love, they realized that everyone was within that inclusive reach.

So love is at the heart of the Universalist Gospel.  
This is blow your hair back, life changing love.
As Bishop John Shelby Spong says, "Love is the essential power that deepens our relationships and simultaneously expands our humanity. The more we are freed to be ourselves [and that happens when we know we are loved, doesn’t’ it?] the more we are enabled to give our lives and love away to others." 

And that’s what these early Universalist preachers did; knowing themselves to be loved, they preached hope, not hell. Being loved, they gave their lives and their love away to others.  

Many of these early Universalists worked on prison reform, the abolition of slavery, and women's rights. And is it any surprise that Universalists and Unitarians today are involved in immigration issues, are leading the faith based response to the proposed Minnesota Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and are involved in affordable housing issues (and much more)?

Because if love is at the heart of the Universalist Gospel, then all people matter – even if they’re in prison, disabled, or among the outcasts or invisible of society – all people matter and creation itself matters.

That’s what we inherit from our Universalist forbears: God loves everyone. 

It’s mind blowing. 

‘Cause there are some people I think God (Big Mystery, Source of Life, Love, Deep Peace, that which is unnameable, which is in all and bigger than all) probably shouldn’t love. I’m sure you’ve got your list, too! But that’s just my little human brain casting judgment and trying to put things in a box I can understand.

That source, call it what you will, loves the whole creation.

And I 'm pretty sure that we're called to do the same thing...to be called out and stretched by Love, to grow into Love's people.  

Not Hell, but Hope

Heidi Mastrud, First Universalist's Director of Congregational Life, has started blogging! You can check out her first post at http://nothellbuthope.blogspot.com/. It's a spot on first post about the very real "hells" of this world, and why a liberal, inclusive faith community can help save us from those "hells." Go check it out!