“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)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Conversations about the Marriage Prohibition Amendment

Back on September 30, 2012, at the "Standing on the Side of Love" worship service we had at First Universalist, we declared our support for all families, and for all loving relationships. During that service, I committed to having at least 10 more conversations with people about the Marriage Prohibition Amendment and why I was voting "No."

I meant to blog about this much earlier, but life's been busy, our son's been sick, and the pace has been non-stop. But now, I want to take a few minutes to share some stories.

As it turns out, most of my conversations have come about through phone-banking. I was part of the "clergy calling clergy" put on by MN United for All Families several weeks ago, as we reached out to other ministers around the state to offer support, encouragement, and a listening ear. We reminded clergy that in previous states where this type of Amendment passed, religious people, especially Christians, hadn't spoken up enough in support of marriage for all people. We reminded them that now was the time to write letters to the editor, to preach about God's love for all committed couples, for all people.

(And as a quick aside, I'm pleased to say that there are now over 600 clergy who are a part of the MN United for all Families coalition!)

I also spent some time phone-banking last Sunday, calling people to coordinate the get out the vote effort. Being involved in a campaign like this is new for many people, so half of the work is just explaining how it works, offering encouraging words, and asking people to share the story of why they're voting "No." Remembering the very real people that will be hurt by this Amendment helps all of us say "yes" to door knocking, phone banking,  or doing whatever else we can do help defeat this Amendment.

I've also had good conversations at the local coffee shop I spend time at. It turns out, most people are already voting "No," but I've definitely met more of my neighbors, and stretched myself by reaching out.  There are still a few neighbors to talk to. I'll report back on those conversations.

In all of these conversations, I hold in my minds' eye all the faces and stories of the incredible LGBT people that I know and love...whose love, commitment, and relationships are no different than mine, but who would be permanently excluded from marriage if this Amendment passes, and I tell myself to pick up the phone and to start the conversation.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Violence and Suffering

Before I read the full details of the Accent Signage shooting in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis this afternoon, I thought to myself, "I'll bet this is another angry white guy." It's not always the case, and I don't mean to be over simplistic here, but the vast majority of the shooters that go on rampage seem to white guys.

And sure enough, that's what the reports confirm.

And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to think that this is the only way these men know how to deal with their anger and frustration. It breaks my heart that this keeps happening again and again. It breaks my heart that this kind of violence is seen as a solution and a way to solve the problem, whatever that problem might be. And it breaks my heart that innocent lives were taken and families torn apart. I condemn gun violence in all it's forms, whether it makes the public news, or it's simply the gun violence that happens every day across this country.

It's true that we live in a time of great suffering; many have lost their jobs; many have lost their homes; many are suffering. People are hurting. But gun violence doesn't end the hurting. It only adds to the hurt.

Several months ago, I heard author Parker Palmer speak at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. He said that violence, whether it's war or personal violence, is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering.

There is a lot of suffering in the world right now, here, and abroad. May we have the courage to hear those who are in pain and to acknowledge their suffering and to help how we can. May we acknowledge our own suffering. And may we find a way to turn our suffering, our tears, grief, anger and fear, into something life giving and life affirming. May it be so.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What makes a church (a faith community) indispensable?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a church (any faith community, really) relevant and indispensable. I don't just mean relevant and indispensable to the people who come to the church, those who worship there, and attend classes, and are touched by the church and its ministries. I mean the wider community, the neighborhood.

What makes a church relevant and indispensable to the wider community?

As I begin my 4th year at First Universalist, we are beginning to take significant steps to truly engage with the wider community, in a more intentional and sustained way, but we're still a long, long way from were we might be...from where we dream of being.

My greatest fear is that if the church disappeared tomorrow, the neighbors right around us would say, "Hmm...I think there was a church there...I'm not sure. I don't really know." That's a heartbreaking thought.

Instead, if we disappeared, I love to imagine that the neighbors in the community might instead say something like this: "That church was incredible...they will be missed...they provided a great space for community gatherings, and cook outs and concerts in their parking lot; their community garden brought a whole bunch of us together and we'll maintain that no matter who moves into the building! And their after school program for children was such a gift to the community, too. They were engaged in their neighborhood: they help rebuild homes; they hosted block parties; they partnered with others in the community to work on racial justice issues..."

I'm dreaming here, throwing out ideas, but you get the sense of where I'm going with this question.

So what makes a church indispensable and relevant? What are your thoughts/experiences? What makes a church truly indispensable to the neighborhood and community, as well as those who attend?

Please share your stories, ideas, and call out the amazing things that churches (faith communities) are doing to be engaged in their wider communities.

Let's start a conversation! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Faith Perspective on the Two Amendments Minnesotans will Vote on in the Fall

(NOTE: This is a longer post than normal. It's a rough draft of the sermon I preached on August 26, 2012. As a person of faith, I'm voting NO on both the constitution amendments on the ballot. This sermon explains how my faith informs my thinking.)

Two weeks ago, Jen Crow, our Minister of Program Life, shared an image of cupped hands in her sermon. She talked about being held in cupped hands – literally, by the cupped hands of an elder in our congregation, who gently held Jen’s face, leaned in, and said, “Welcome, we’re so glad you’re here.”  

And in that same sermon, Jen talked about how Thomas Potter, on the shores of New Jersey, over 200 years ago, welcomed the Universalist preacher John Murray in his own cupped hands, saying to John Murray, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.”  

You see, Thomas Potter believed in Universalism, the idea that God loves everyone, no exceptions, and he’d built a chapel for such a message to be preached in; and he was sure that John Murray was that preacher.
I’ve had dozens of conversations with many of you in the past two weeks, and this image – cupped hands - has resonated deeply.

Cupped hands. Love’s hands: welcoming, holding.  If you open these hands wider, and then wider still – then the cupped hands become Love’s embracing circle. And that – that sense of expanding the embrace - that points to the heart of our work as people of faith.  

What is that work, exactly? The work is becoming Love’s people, of casting a wide circle, and saying, “Come in; know that you are held by a love that will not let you go.”This points to the heart of our faith. Indeed, our central religious claim is that we are all Love’s people. That Love (or God), holds all of us, no exceptions.  That’s our religious claim. We are all Love’s people.
As Love’s people, we come together, here, to do holy work:

We welcome, affirm, and protect the light in each human heart. 
We act boldly outside our walls. 
We listen with our whole being to where Love is calling us next. 

We’ve been about this work for 153 years, and it is more important now than ever before. This is the foundation of our faith.

Two weeks ago, Jen Crow spoke about John Murray, one of the founders of American Universalism. And today, I want to tell you about another one of our founders – a man named Hosea Ballou. Ballou, like Murray, didn’t start out as a Universalist.  But in his early years, Ballou had a conversion moment, a turning in his heart. He understood through study and personal experience, that the God of wrath preached by angry ministers was a human-made God, a false God.  By removing the false teachings and the flawed, theology, Ballou felt the enduring God of love.  It was a powerful experience for him.

Once he began to preach and believe that once we know ourselves fully and deeply loved, then we are able to love, to do good in the world. Perhaps impossible to believe, but true, insisted Ballou.

To give you a sense of his fervent believe in Universalism, let me tell you a story. One day, he was out riding on the preaching circuit (preaching Universalism), when he stopped for the night at a New England farmhouse. The farmer, it turns out, was in deep distress. He confided to Ballou that his son was a terror who got drunk in the village every night and who fooled around with women. The farmer was afraid the son would go to hell.

"All right," said Ballou with a serious face. "We'll find a place on the path where your son will be coming home drunk, and we'll build a big fire, and when he comes home, we'll grab him and throw him into it."
The farmer was shocked: "That's my son and I love him!” Ballou said, "If you, a human and imperfect father, love your son so much that you wouldn’t throw him in the fire, then how can you possibly believe that God, a perfect father, would do so!" (as told by the Rev. Linda Stowell).

Obviously, we no longer think of God as a father. But this story speaks to the heart of our faith: Hell is not in the equation. Knowing we are loved, the church, then, becomes a place where we practice truly becoming Love’s people. Church is where we bring our broken, hurt, and confused selves, and where we learn to hold each other in cupped hands, where we learn we can rest in a deep ocean of love.We believe in a God, or a Love, that holds ALL souls, not just SOME souls.This understanding impacts all we do.

So today, through the lens of our Universalist faith, I want to speak about the two proposed Amendments to our State Constitution that will be on the ballot in November.

“But aren’t these political issues?” you might be asking. Yes; and they are clearly religious issues, as well, because at the heart of both of these amendments, there is a question about inclusion, about who is worthy of love and dignity, about who can easily participate in our democracy;  in a real sense, these amendments are about who’s in and who’s out.

And I want to remind you, in case you don’t know, that at our annual meeting in June, this congregation passed resolutions in opposition to both these amendments. The first Amendment, as many of you know, is the Marriage Prohibition Amendment.  This Amendment which would change the State Constitution to prohibit same gender couples from marrying. It asks, “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"

Before I dig into the religious issues here, this is what you need to know: 
  • Should this Amendment pass, it means that the Government is essentially taking religious sides, saying that one particular religious interpretation belongs in our State Constitution. 
  •  Constitutions are about protecting freedoms and rights, not taking them away.

There’s more I could say, but I want to talk about this Amendment from a faith perspective, not a secular one.

Some of you may have seen on Facebook that I recently joined 150 other clergy, just outside the State Fair Grounds, at a Press Conference.  Together, as a people of Faith, we said that we believe in a God of Love, of inclusion, that love and commitment are sacred and that all loving people should be able to get married.
This Amendment, if passed, would cast a very tight circle, that would hold some, but others would be permanently excluded from. 

My Universalist faith compels me to vote “No” on the Marriage Prohibition Amendment.” My Universalist faith says, “When I take my faith in to the voting booth, I want to expand the circle of inclusion, of the circle Love, not shrink it.”   

And when I go into the voting booth, I’m thinking of so many of you, and so many on our staff, that are in committed, loving relationships with a same gender partners.  You raise children, you take care of your neighbors, you contribute to our community - and your love and commitment is real and holy. I will vote “No,” on this Amendment.

And the only way we’ll defeat this Amendment is if we talk with others to share how we, as people of faith, believe in a God of inclusion and love, and how we believe marriage is a sacred covenant between two loving people.

You might be thinking: “I don’t know who to talk to?”

Well, have you talked to your neighbors? Your co-workers? Have you talked to the barista you see every day, or the parents you know from your children’s classes? If you’re feeling stuck, try this: when someone at the grocery checkout, or anywhere else says, “How you doing?” You can say, “Well, as a person of faith, I’ve been thinking about why I’m voting NO on the Marriage Amendment.” Bam - there you go, conversation started!

There are undecided religious people out there, torn between what they have been told the Bible says, and their lived experience of knowing and loving a gay or lesbian person. Your conversation might move them to vote “No.”

This is Love’s work in the world.

The second Amendment on the Ballot is the Voter ID Amendment, which is in many ways, perhaps worse the Marriage Amendment. While this Amendment might seem sensible on the surface, it’s actually terrible for our democracy and election participation.

Some quick background on this Amendment:  The Voter ID Amendment claims to be about stopping voter fraud, and thus would require that everyone to show a government issued photo-id before they vote.
Seems harmless, right? Proponents of this Amendment claim that’s it’s about preventing Voter Fraud. But voter fraud is not a problem is MN, or the rest of the country.

Here’s what true: Since 2000, in Minnesota there have been 10 total cases of reported fraud, and no cases of voter impersonation.  Nationally, since 2000, there have ten cases of voter impersonation. That’s out of 150,000,000 registered voters. One impersonation out of 15 million prospective voters.  In the 2008 U.S. Senate election recount, lawyers for both Norm Coleman and Al Franken looked for fraud in the election – looked hard for fraud - and, they found none.

Voter fraud and voter impersonation is not a problem in MN or in the country. Maybe some of you have seen the Jon Stewart piece, on the Daily Show, about all of this concern about voter fraud and these Voter ID amendments that are being passed in other states.

He says this is like making peanut butter with tons of hydrochloric acid to dissolve any potential dragon bones that might have gotten in there in the manufacturing process. Will you lose some people who will die from eating hydrochloric acid? Of course. But isn’t it worth knowing that your peanut butter is dragon bone free?

There are no dragons, and there is no voter fraud.          

That’s not what this Amendment is about. This Amendment is about putting barriers in place to make it harder to vote for certain people. It would prevent balance access for Minnesotans without a current address on their ID.

Here’s what that looks like according to the League of WomenVoters: This would have a significant impact on elderly citizens. On college age student. On eligible African American citizens.  On people with housing instability, men and women serving overseas, and many others do not currently have a government issued photo ID with their current name and address.  This could impact 500,000 people in MN. And if passed, this Amendment would essentially eliminate same day registration and voting – an incredible strength of our current system. 

If passed, the Government would be required to issue free IDs (we’d pay for those through increased property taxes) – but citizens would have to pay for the documents they need to get an ID, such as a certified birth certificate. For many, this would, in essence, be a 21st century poll tax – the price you pay to vote.

In light of the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement, and the steps we’ve taken as a country to eliminated barriers to voting, this is a huge step backwards. Our democracy and hundreds of thousands of citizens would pay a huge price as we solved a “problem” that doesn’t even exist.

There are no dragons. There is no voter fraud. That’s the background.

And here’s why this is a faith issue for me: when I walk into the voting booth, as a person of faith, I want to stand on the Side of Love. As a person of faith, I ask myself, if this Amendment passes, does the circle of inclusion shrink, and push people out, for no good reason, or does it expand? If we’re called to be Love’s people in the world, then I think we have to say, “We stand with all people, and every vote and voice matters - nothing is broken, so leave it alone!” Love’s people draw a circle that takes everyone in. Love’s people say, “We’re making room at the Welcome Table, and at the voting table.”

And for those of you who are interested, we have a chance to act on this issue. Members of the Community and the Kingfield Neighborhood will be gathering between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Sabathani Center at 3rd Ave South 38th Street, just a few miles from here.  We’ll gather to march to Martin Luther King Park at 40th and Nicollet, where we’re hear speakers and rally together to say NO to Photo ID.

I’ll be there, wearing my yellow standing on the side of love t-shirt. I hope some of you will join me as well.  

Let me end with another story about Hosea Ballou.

He was riding his horse on the preaching circuit in the New Hampshire hills one afternoon with a Baptist preacher.They argued theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, "Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I'd still go to heaven."

Hosea Ballou, quick on his feet, looked over at him and said, "If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you." (As told by the Rev. Elizabeth Strong.)

We’re Universalists. And love is our guide.
And we’re here to say: There is no hell. There are no dragons and there is no voter problem.  And there is no reason to amend our constitution to limit the freedom to marry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Building Houses, Building Relationships - Report on staff work day with Habitat for Humanity

In 2011, First Universalist entered into a 4 yearpartnership with Habitat for Humanity.We have committed sweat and money to help Habitat and other individuals, corporations and faith communities build 230 homes by 2014.

Many of these homes are in foreclosure-impacted neighborhoods. First Universalist has committed to raise and contribute $8,000 in each year of this partnership. 

We’ve committed to monthly builds, and a weeklong build each summer. Hundreds of First Universalist members have been involved in these efforts.

Recently, the First Universalist staff spent a day together working on our current build, in north Minneapolis. 

It was good to do this work and after a full day, it was clear to all of us: we are not simply building homes; we are building communities, and relationships; we are building up lives and neighborhoods. We're grateful to be in this partnership with Habitat for Humanity, grateful to get to know the soon-to-be-home-owners, and grateful for the small role we can play in helping to make the world a better place.

One nail, one relationship, one house at a time – this is one way we do Love’s work in the world. 

8 Hope Journals Still Missing

Last year, First Universalist launched 10 Hope Journals out in into the wider community. The launch coincided with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. When they were launched, we invited people to reflect on what the 10 years since Sept 11, 2001 had been like (two wars, lives lost, increased religious intolerance), and to dream about what the next tens years might be like. We invited people to share their hopes and dreams for what our shared future might look like.

So far, 2 Hope Journals have returned with some beautiful thoughts, pictures, and stories.

But eight are still out there! Do you have one? Have you written in it? Will you return it to the church in the next week or two? I'd love to share stories of hope during our Sunday services on Sept 9 or later in the year.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Monarchs and Miracles

What a full day it's been! This morning, as we continued our "Standing on the Side of Love" summer sermon series, Heidi Mastrud, our Director of Congregational Life, preached a wonderful sermon about being an ally and what that means. (The sermon will be posted here, soon.)

It's been a full day of Pride related events, including being a witness to the incredible momentum that is building in the effort to defeat the freedom limiting Marriage Amendment that will be on ballot in November.

And I've been following the events and reports from Phoenix, as the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly meets there.

But the thing that made my heart sing today was this:

A few weeks ago, a neighbor gave our son a monarch caterpillar to raise, watch, and learn from. A few weeks ago, the caterpillar stopped eating and transformed into a chrysalis. This morning, as our son and I were eating breakfast, he noticed how dark the chrysalis was (a stark contrast to its normal translucent golden/green color), and how he could see the outlines of orange and black wings. After breakfast we removed the netting on the top of jar the chrysalis was in and took it outside.

Shortly after that, a monarch butterfly emerged. If you've never seen this before, it's remarkable. What initially emerges hardly looks like a butterfly. The wings are shriveled and wrinkled, just little stubs, really. But after a few minutes, they fill out, and before long, there's a beautiful monarch butterfly hanging from its empty chrysalis.

It's stunning. But what's even more stunning is how the caterpillar turns into "goo" inside the chrysalis, essentially disintegrating; in the middle of that "goo" the sleeping "imaginal cells" awaken and over a few weeks turn the "goo" into a butterfly.

It was a gift to be with my son for this experience, to witness this butterfly's emergence.

I was reminded that there's a lot of "goo" in the world, a lot of brokenness, heartbreak, injustice, and despair. Our sacred task, our imaginative task, is to wake up, to see differently, to begin to organize our compassion, empathy, commitment and love - so that together, we might create a new world. Justice is love in action.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Can Unitarian Universalism become a multiracial, multicultural world wide faith?

Twin Cities and First Universalist folks, you're invited to a "Samuel Morgan Community Forum" (I'll be there, and I hope to see some of you there, as well.)

Here's the scoop:

The Sacred and the Profane in Music and Ministry

How can Unitarian Universalism become a multiracial, multicultural worldwide faith?

Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister, All Souls, Tulsa
Saturday, May 5, 9:00 a.m. – noon
Unity Church–Unitarian * 732 Holly Ave, St. Paul *Free and open to the public.

More details here. 

Please join Rev. Lavanhar for a multimedia exploration of the boundaries of the tradition we call Unitarian Universalism. Why is it that most UU’s feel completely comfortable clapping and raising their hands in the air and waving them at a rock concert, but would never think of doing the same at church? Whereas, many Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians will dance and clap and wave hands high at church, but would never consider attending and doing the same at a rock concert?

In 2000, Marlin Lavanhar was called to All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa as their Senior Minister. In 2008, All Souls welcomed into its church a congregation of mostly African American Pentecostals who had become universalists theologically. Since that time All Souls has become one of the most racially diverse institutions in Tulsa. Several of their services are strongly influenced by Pentecostal Christianity and raise significant questions about what is possible within the American Unitarian Universalist tradition.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Additional resources from today's sermon (April 22)

UPDATE, April 26: Here's a link to the sermon from Sunday, April 22. 

I'll be adding more in the next few days, but here are some links to additional resources that explore the connections between environmental justice, immigration, and food justice.

http://www.uua.org/documents/uumfe/1106_2088_reflections.pdf (connecting environmental justice and immigration)

Van Jones GA Lecture, about environmental justice. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"The Good News" - a sermon preached on April 15, 2012

(Note: this is a rough draft version of what I preached on Sunday, April 15. Enjoy.)

On this Sunday after Easter, that reading from John O’Donohue, “For a New Beginning,” seemed like just the right one…because in the days leading up to Easter, it seems as if hope, love, and possibility are crushed and destroyed.

A great teacher, a reformer, one who welcomed all to the table, has been murdered, crucified. Despair is in the air and all seems lost. But then something happens on Easter; there’s a resurrection of the spirit, if you will.

Everything is different, but not all is lost. Hope is still alive in the world. Love, somehow, survives. 
Death does not have the final word. And that is good news.
And whatever darkness we had been entombed in, after Easter, we sense a New Beginning, a chance to, as John O’Donohue says,
“Awaken our spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk…
As our soul senses the world that awaits us.”

So it feels right to follow Easter with a sermon series called “The Good News” – and to focus on what our good news is as a faith community.

And I have to tell you, every Sunday, I meet many you in the receiving line, often guests, and the conversation goes something like this: “Welcome! How’d you find us? What did you think of the service?”

And the response to that question is almost always positive…(and maybe that’s because it’s hard to tell the preacher, straight up: “You know, preacher, that service was a C, maybe a C+”. Or, “Yeah, you know, that sermon didn’t really working for me!”)

But what I do hear is positive and it seems like there’s something about this faith community, the way we’re doing religion here, that speaks to you. This seems to be a faith that is relevant – that can hold your pain, your questions, that can speak to your life in deep ways. You seem to sense that there is good news here - for you, your family, your life, our world.  

So that’s what we’re digging into in this sermon series: Taking time to call out, to name the Good News of Unitarian Universalism.

And here’s a story that points to just a piece of our good news. A few weeks ago, I was biking home with a church member; we were headed in the same direction, and had about 10 minutes to talk with one another. She’s one of our youth advisors and she shared that the youth always have lots of questions. Good questions.

At some point in time, one of them asked her, “Ok, so you say you’re an atheist? Why come to church, then? Huh? What’s the deal with that? Why would an atheist come to church?”

Now, I know that a number of you identify as “atheists,” and that there are a variety of reasons you come to church…so there’s no one right answer to this question. But here’s what this congregant said, as we rode bikes together:

“As an atheist,” she said, “I come to church because I want help figuring out the right questions to ask about life, meaning, and purpose.” “Simply put,” she said, “church is the place that helps me focus on and ask the right questions.”
I love this. I love this.on’t you love this?!

This is a new way to do religion. Atheists, theists, Buddhists, Christians, Universalists, we all come to church because this is the place that helps us figure out the right questions to ask, that helps us learn to live with love and compassion at the center of our lives…so that despite loss, heartbreak, even death, love is what is left, love is the final reality. It’s a love beyond belief.

What we believe matters, of course, but how we are – how we live - matters even more. It reminds me of this poem from Hafiz, the 14th Century Persian Poet:

I Have Learned So much from God
That I can no longer
Call Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim
A Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel
Or even pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

Beyond the labels, there is only love. And every Sunday, we remind ourselves of this, when we say, “In the Universalist Spirit of Love and Hope, we give, receive, and grow…”

What that means is that held by a grace, and a love that will not let us go…we are free to give our attention, treasure and hearts to needs that are greater than our own…Held by that love, we are invited to receive the blessings and gifts of this world…And held by that love, we are invited to grow into Love’s people…and we become love’s people, as we serve one another and the wider community…as we build houses in North Minneapolis with Habitat for Humanity, as we serve at Simpson Shelter and Project Homeless Connect…
as we stand on the side of love with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender brothers and sisters, in opposition to the discriminatory marriage amendment that will be on the ballot in November.  

Our “Good News” is that we really believe that God is not a Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Hindu.
We believe God is love, and we believe in the gospel of inclusion.

And I think you all sense this, know this, and that’s why you’re here…Because we believe that at the end of the day, love has the power to defeat racism and homophobia; love can bind up the broken, and shape us all into new people.

We want to be a part of that story.    

And as I say that, say these things about love, I think to myself: that is a ridiculous, na├»ve, silly, absurd claim…it’s a bunch of horse hooey…and yet…and yet, I’ve felt that love work in my own life; felt that love crack me open; felt that love make me a new person. I have felt its power in my own life. 

So the essence of our good news is that love can transform us and the world. 

I’ve gone pretty deep into the good news and have gotten a bit ahead of myself here. So I want to back up, and take just a few minutes to locate Unitarian Universalism in the broader religious landscape, so we have some context for our “Good News.” So we can understand it in a different and deeper way.

So just a tiny bit of history. Hang on with me here - I’ll going to zip through 2000 years of religious history in 5 minutes. Many of you may know that for the first 300 years of Christianity, there were all sorts of different groups that had different ideas about the Trinity, Jesus, and much more. There was no set party line, no monolithic faith.

Then, by the early 4th century, the Doctrine of the Trinity – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit - was established. Soon, the notion of original Sin become part of church doctrine. During this time, the Roman Catholic Church came into its full power, and for roughly the next 1000 years, remained in power.
Roman Catholicism was the religion of Western Europe.  But after the invention of the printing press, in the 15th Century, the Bible became available to more and more people. And as they read it and began to interpret it for themselves, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church was called into question.
Before long, there were dozens of religious groups splintering away from the Catholic Church, in what was known as the Protestant Reformation. Calvinists, Lutherans, Baptists, Unitarians, and Universalists all essentially emerged out of this reformation.  

Here’s an image that might help explain this; imagine a tree; if the trunk of the tree is Roman Catholicism, then some of the bigger branches are Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists… and the Unitarian Universalists are a much smaller branch, maybe a twig, pretty far away from the trunk…we’ve left behind popes, religious hierarchy, and dogma.

So that’s where we are in the religious landscape.

And as Unitarian Universalists, we fall under the category of “Liberal Religion.” Much of our good news comes out of being a Liberal Religion. Let me tell you what I mean by that.

James Luther Adams, a well known liberal religious thinker, and a Unitarian Universalist, suggested that there are some key characteristics of Liberal Religion. Here are the 4 key components of liberal religious:

1) Revelation and truth continue to unfold. A religious fundamentalist would argue that there is one final, ultimate truth, revealed in a sacred scripture or person. Religious liberals believe that wisdom and truth are still on folding. For example, the United Church of Christ, a liberal religious community, says that, “God is still speaking.” And we would say that truth and wisdom are all around us, in poetry, in sacred scripture, in our own lives, in the cosmos.  A final, definitive truth has not been captured…as we have new insights and understanding, truth continues to unfold.

2) Relationships between human beings are at their best when mutual love and care is present, and people are not coerced to think or believe a certain way. Freedom of conscience matters. Freely choosing one’s religion matters. This is in contrast to fundamentalist religion where you must believe certain things.
3) We have a moral obligation to help create a just and loving community, to live our faith in the world, to help create the beloved community, heaven, if you will, here on earth. We’re not waiting for paradise in some other world. We must be the hands of love and justice in the world.

4) Religious Liberals live in hope.We trust the abundance of the resources around us, both human and divine resources, we trust the resources are there that can help us change the world…and so we live in hope.

Remember this line from John O’Donohue poem:

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

It's not always clear how we'll get there - but we live in hope.

Here’s the recap:
Truth is unfolding. Non-coercive, loving relationships matter in a religious community. We have an obligation to work for a just and loving world, and because we trust that the resources are there to help create such a world, we live with hope.

So that’s the picture of where we sit in the religious landscape and what it means to be religious liberals (and there are lots of other religious liberals in the world.).

Now, back to our good news!
In a world that breaks us down, isolates us, turns us into little consuming units, we offer good news is that there is another way to be in this world. We can know wholeness in our lives…in this religious community…as we welcome one another, listen to one another, serve needs greater than our own, always making room for one more.

Our good news is that we proclaim the supreme worth of every human being. Black, white, brown, homosexual, heterosexual, young, old, atheist, theist, agnostic…we are an inclusive faith.
Our good news is that:
Love is the spirit of this church,
And that we are here to dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, and to help one another.  

And as we live more deeply into that promise, that covenant, our hearts wake up, and break open to the issues of our time…homelessness, housing, racism, immigration reform, human rights. And we are beginning to deeply engage in the community, in partnership with others, willing to learn, take risks, and even fail as we serve needs greater than our own..

We take these risks because the good news is that grace (and love) are operating in our lives and in the world. What do I mean by this?

I think Unitarian Universalist minister Tony Lorenzen says it best,

"A theology of grace is built on the trust in and dependence on something bigger and beyond the individual. Call it God, Life, Love. I trust that a love, an unbounded, uncontainable, constantly available, all-accepting love will hold me up in my life’s adventure.  I trust that there is nothing I can do to earn this love and nothing I can do to cause this love to abandon me.  It gives me room to fail. It doesn’t make failing easy and it certainly doesn’t eliminate my personal struggles with self-esteem or trusting others, but it does allow me to keep going and see the difference between failing and being a failure. It allows to me to be adventurous and take risks. 
It allows me to dream big dreams and make big plans and not accept “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a valid reason for not loving others, especially when that love calls me outside me comfort zone.”

Our good news is that when we leave this place, held by love, we are different people – we are love’s people, “spirit of life” people, risk takers for love and justice. 

Our good news is that we “Don’t have to think alike to love alike.”
May it always be so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Voices from the Margin, Pentecostals, and Unitarian Universalists - some great upcoming events

Hello First Universalist readers,

There are a couple of upcoming workshops that relate to Unitarian Universalism and diversity. I'm be attending and hope some of you will join me. 

It's all happening the weekend of May 4, 5, and 6. 

First, Whitebear Unitarian Church is hosting the Rev. Mark Morrison Reed. Mark is the author of: Been in the Storm So Long, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination, Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism, and In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby.

On Friday, May 4, at 7:00 p.m., he’ll be reading from his book, Voices from the Margins. And on Saturday, May 5, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 pm, he’ll be leading a workshop, on “The Perversity of Diversity.”

Also on Saturday, May 5, the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Sr. Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, in Tulsa, OK, will be speaking at Unity Church Unitarian in Saint Paul, about his experience with a multi-racial congregation (you may remember that a Universalist Pentecostal African American Church church merged with All Souls several years ago.) He’ll be talking about the merger of these two churches, how it has changed them, impacted their worship life and more. This is from 9-12 on Saturday. (Here's an article about All Souls in Tulsa.)

Right now, I am planning to attend the Friday reading, as well as the workshop at Unity. (I do hope a contingent of First Universalist folks might attend the Saturday workshop at Whitebear.) If you're interested in going, let me know!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Follow up post to today's sermon

(This post is related to today's sermon....)

James Luther Adams, a well known liberal religious thinker, and a Unitarian Universalist, suggested that there are some key characteristics of Liberal Religion.

Here are the 4 key components of liberal religious (James Luther Adams actually lists 5, but I’ve condensed them down to 4):

1) Revelation and truth continue to unfold. A religious fundamentalist would argue that there is one final, ultimate truth, revealed in a sacred scripture or person. Religious liberals believe that wisdom and truth are still on folding.

For example, the United Church of Christ, a liberal religious community, says that, “God is still speaking.”
And as Unitarian Universalists, would say that truth and wisdom are all around us, in poetry, in sacred scripture, in our own lives, in the cosmos.   A final, definitive truth has not been captured. As we have new insights and understanding, truth continues to unfold.

2) Relationships between human beings are at their best when mutual love and care is present, and people are not coerced to think or believe a certain way. Freedom of conscience matters. Freely choosing one’s religion matters. This is in contrast to fundamentalist religion where you must believe certain things. 

3) We have a moral obligation to help create a just and loving community, to live our faith in the world, to help create the beloved community, heaven, if you will, here on earth. We’re not waiting for paradise in some other world. We must be the hands of love and justice in the world.

4) Religious Liberals live in hope. We trust the abundance of the resources around us, both human and divine resources, we trust the resources are there that can help us change the world…and so we live in hope. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Living in the Holy Tension

Well, I sure stepped away from blogging for longer than I intended! But I'm back now.

I'm still buzzing from our recent sermon series, "Living in the Holy Tension." Based on the feedback and comments from many congregants, this sermon series really landed in people's lives, naming some of the "holy tensions" we all live with, both individually, and even as an institution. For a quick explanation of what we mean by "holy tensions," check out this article from our March newsletter. Essentially, we're talking about living in that space between two things...that space where creativity, possibility, the holy, and new insight reside. The trick is often to live there, without moving toward resolution too quickly. It often seems that out of that tension, something remarkable and life giving can be born.

In case you missed the sermons, here they are, linked to the podcasts:

*On March 4, 2012, Rev. Kate Tucker kicked off this sermon series with "Living in the Holy Tension." 
*March 11, Rev. Meg Riley preached a great sermon about race, privilege, love, and much more, called "Unpacking Love."
*On March 18, I preached about the holy tension between "Spirit and Justice."
*On March 25, I preached about "Blessing in Wounding."

This last sermon started a conversation on Twitter and Facebook about the tensions between blessing and wounding...how they are so often woven together. And I'd love to open up a space to deepen that conversation here, as well. How has this whole sermon series spoken to your life? What did it awaken? What new "holy tensions" have you become aware of? What's stirring in your spirit?

Let's continue the conversation here!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 26 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: The Practice of Saying No

Well, I'm a few days short of the finish line. I set out on this blogging journey thinking I'd blog every day for the whole month of January, and I've just run out of steam. Or, maybe a better way to say it is this: I've decided to say "no" to this project, so I can really focus my time and energy on some other things that really need my attention right now. So I can really say "yes" to those things, and make that "yes" count. I'll still be doing my own spiritual practice work on a daily basis, but not blog every day.

I will still get to some of the questions you all have left, and will no doubt include further reflections on such things as "eating as a spiritual practice..." I actually think our relationship to food, and food and table fellowship especially, are worthy of multiple blog posts.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who were regular readers. I hope your own spiritual practice has been deepened in some way, or you've begun a new spiritual practice. Thanks the those of you jumped in with comments and questions. Reading your comments and thoughts made this meaningful and fun.

This Sunday, we wrap our "Living Resolutions" sermon series, with a sermon called, "Losing Weight: Casting Out Demons." Come find out what that's all about. We worship at 9:30 and 11:15. I hope to see some of you there.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 25 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: The Practice of a Good Goodbye

This morning, I'm thinking about the spiritual practice of saying goodbye (and related to it, the practice of saying hello).

If you're a part of the First Universalist faith community, you know that our Associate Minister, Rev. Kate Tucker (who has served First Universalist for 15 years), will be completing her ministry with us in June. Her leaving is a significant transition in the life of our congregation, a significant "goodbye" that we'll saying together. 

And as we're saying goodbye to Kate, we'll be looking forward to August 1, as we prepare to welcome the Rev. Jennifer Crow (and her family) as our new Minister of Program Life. (Jen Crow will have oversight of the Program Life of the Church, including responsibility for Congregational Care. Some of her portfolio will be the same as Kate's, but with an overall focus on Program Life and Unitarian Universalist Faith Formation in the church.)  

All of this has got me thinking. Done well, goodbyes can be part of a meaningful spiritual practice. A good goodbye, although hard and perhaps similar to a miniature "death," can help us stop and see the whole of what we’ve experienced, lifting to the surface what’s been important and meaningful, how the relationship has touched and changed us. A good goodbye gives us the chance to name the joy and gratitude (or even shared heartbreak) we've experienced - to reflect upon and name what we've learned and appreciated because of the relationship.

Learning how to do endings well, in a meaningful, healthy way (whatever the ending may be: the loss of a dream, moving to a new house, leaving a job, losing a favorite pet, saying goodbye to children leaving for college, the death of a loved one), helps prepare us for the ultimate ending - our own death. In some sense, every goodbye - and how well we do it - is a practice run before our own final goodbye. 

It makes me think we should practice saying goodbye more often – monthly, weekly, daily - to the things and people we love. Like in the children's story, “Goodnight, Moon,” when we go to bed, we should say goodnight and goodbye to everything in the room, and everything we love - because there’s no guarantee of a new day.

Thus, a heartfelt, loving goodbye, for the day we’ve had, for the people we’ve spent time with, for whatever it might be, gives us room to let go – and then to greet the new day, the new job, the new house, whatever it is, with a friendly “Hello.” 

Done well, goodbyes and hellos put us directly in touch with our own mortality and the truth that all life is change - a dance of gently holding on, gently letting go, gently holding on, gently letting go. As the poet Mary Oliver says, “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: “To love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; And, when the times comes to let it go, to let it go.” 

I'm sad that Kate is leaving; she has been an incredible colleague to work with. I've been touched and shaped by her deep and playful spirit. I am grateful she has faithfully served First Universalist for 15 years, and that we've been able to work together for three of those years. I am excited for her as she begins to imagine what the next chapters of her life might look like. And I'm looking forward to saying "Hello" to Jen Crow in August, as she and I begin our new ministry together, serving the First Universalist Universalist.     

I'm wondering: What are you saying goodbye to in your life? How well do you "do" goodbyes? What makes a goodbye good for you? What are you learning about the goodbye process? And finally, what are you saying hello to in your life?  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 24 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Some invitations to Give (Or: Giving as a spiritual practice)

Back in October, during our "Mapping a Life" worship series, I said this about gratitude and generosity: 

“All that we have is a loan from life itself…. The world doesn’t owe us anything…. We owe the world and its abundant miracles…our gratitude, our praise…. The spirit map suggests that we live with humility and gratitude at the center of our lives. 
Gratitude opens the heart to generosity. When we’re really grounded in gratitude, we can remember that it’s all on loan. We don't get to take it with us; it’s not ours to keep—it’s not our to begin with—so we might as well share the blessings; we might as well become generous.” (You can listen to the whole sermon here.)
For the past five years, I have been focusing on truly living from a place of gratitude and generosity. It's not always easy, but as I've written about before, almost every morning, when I write, reflect, and spend some time in prayer, I try to identify at least three things in my life that I'm grateful for. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. But living from this place of gratitude changes my inner life and how I am in the world. Gratitude invites me to give back, to serve the world. As a faith community, we strive to practice giving, gratitude, and generosity. Here are a few of the ways we do that: 

If you're a part of the First Universalist community, I hope you'll join us for our Day of Service, Feb 4. We have over 30 different projects going on that day, as we serve (give back) to the wider community. We've challenged ourselves to give 2000 hours of service to the community on Feb. 4, and we've got service projects for families, youth, and people of all ages. If you're in the Twin Cities, I hope you'll sign up and participate. And feel free to invite a friend to join you, too! (It's worth noting that many of these Day of Service groups continue to work and give together throughout the year, so it's not just a one time event.)

The Day of Service is part of First Universalist's Annual Giving Campaign (our Pledge Campaign). During the month of February,  not only are we invited to give our time and energy to the wider community, via the Day of Service, but we're also invited to give generously to the church (3-5% of our income) to support its mission and work in the world. 

Finally, each Sunday, as a faith community, we have a chance to practice giving and generosity, as we give away the majority of our Sunday offering. This past year, as a faith community, we've given away over $60,000 to non-profits and organizations in the wider community.

(And I haven't even mentioned the hundreds of congregants who give their time and energy to serve on the Board or as Small Group Facilitators, or Religious Education Teachers, or Strategic Plan Working Group Facilitators, or ushers, greeters, or coffee servers...)

Ultimately, none of the numbers truly matter; what matters is the story behind the numbers: how our hearts are changed, opened, and stretched by gratitude, giving, and generosity. What matters is how the church helps us become "Love's People," grounded in gratitude and generosity.

How has your heart been opened/expanded by gratitude, giving, or generosity? How can you imagine deepening your practice of giving, of generosity?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 23 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: What new practice are you engaging in the new year?

I really appreciated Scott Marshall's comment from yesterday's blog post: 

I'm inspired by the "practicing" theme that has run through January's sermons. This month the same message has come through my work to be a better writer - something else I think I'm working on. Thinking about writing and now about my spirituality, I realize how little "practicing" I do these days (and the dearth of practice isn't limited to spirituality and writing unfortunately!).  
I'm going to put those two things together and commit to/set aside time to practice writing about faith, God, Spirit, church in a reflective, wandering way. Four times a week for 30 minutes.   
Looking forward to the adventure...
I love that Scott's committing to a practice of intentional writing and reflection four times a week for 30 minutes. That's a huge commitment, but I suspect it will pay meaningful dividends. 

I'm curious, readers, First Universalist members, and frequently blog visitors: what new practices are talking shape in your own life? What new practices (or old practices resurrected) are you moving into the new year with? I'd love to know - feel free to leave a comment! Or have you been engaging in a particular practice for the past week or two? How is that going?

P.S. It was great to meet Scott yesterday at church. I've so enjoyed making virtual connections with folks (via this blog and Twitter) and then meeting them at First Universalist. If you're a frequent reader and visitor at First Universalist and we haven't met yet, please do introduce yourself one of these Sundays.

P.P.S. I've got a few ideas for the final posts in January, but I'm curious if there are topics you'd like to see addressed? Let me know. 

P.P.P.S. Following up from the resource list of Day 21, I highly recommend Sharon Salzberg's book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. Also, Love and Death, by Unitarian Universalist Minister Forrest Church is quite good.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 22 of Spiritual Practices and Reflection: Making Time

I know, humans can't really make or destroy time, but we use that language all of the time. "I need to make time..." or "There's isn't enough time..." or "I've run out of time..." or "When I have some time in my life, then I'll do that."

It's been a few Sundays since I've walked into church. I was doing it very regularly right up until the holiday season, but I haven't done it yet in the new year. I'm going to do it today, because despite the preparation work I still need to do for today's sermon, I know I'll be more grounded, centered, and grateful if I walk to church today. So I'm "making" time to walk into church today, rewriting the narrative that says "I don't have enough time."

What would you like to make time for in your life? What is an easy first step you can take to make this happen?

P.S. Today is the last day to sign up for Small Groups at First Universalist for the winter/spring semester. We have groups for newcomers (folks who have been at the church less than a year), groups for parents with young children, two men's group, a group for parent's of teens, and many groups open to everyone. I blogged about this here, and you can learn more at the church's website, here

Day 21 of Spiritual Practices and Reflection: What does Spiritual Practice Mean?

A few days ago, Nancy Jones left this comment
...I'm wondering how you're defining "spiritual practices?"
I probably should have defined this back on day one, when I launched this month of blogging. But better late than never. Roughly, here's how I understand spiritual practices and spiritual disciplines:

  • More than anything else, spiritual practice has to do with a particular kind of attention and awareness. It has to do with how we're showing up in the world and how present we are. I return again and again to this quote from Mary Oliver: "The first, wildest, and wisest thing I know is this: that the soul exists, and it is made entirely of attention." Spiritual practices/disciplines are about growing the soul, about paying attention in such a way that the "soul" expands. Spiritual practices are about noticing the ways our inner lives, the world, and something larger than ourselves are woven together.  
  • With this understanding, parenting young children (any age, really, but especially young children) can be seen and understood as a spiritual practice. Gardening can be understood as a spiritual practice. Prayer can be understood as a spiritual practice. Any of these things can be vehicles that help us see a bigger picture, that help us subdue the ego, that locate us in mystery, wonder, and awe. 
  • A spiritual practice/discipline often has a deeply reflective component. So tap dancing (to take an example from the previous post) could become a spiritual practice, if one understood "God "or the "Spirit of Life" to be found in the dancing itself, in that playful, noise-making, rhythm making, dancing...and understood, through tap dancing, that one could participate in something larger than one's self, then that could become a spiritual practice.
These are just some early morning thoughts...I'm sure I've missed dozens of things. 

Dear readers: How do you define and understand "spiritual practice/spiritual discipline?"

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 20 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Resources and More

Several of you have asked me to share resources about spiritual practices, both people and books/poems, etc. that I return to again and again. (And if you're new to the blog, visit this post to see what I'm doing this month.)

So here's a short list with a few words of explanation:

1) An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor. Incredible book. Each chapter is about a spiritual practice/discipline. Taylor is compelling and easy to engage with. This is an outstanding book.
2) Mary Oliver; her poetry book, Thirst is great, as if her book of collected poems. Anything by her generally speaks to me.
3) I've been returning to the Psalms, trying to read one a day. I'm using this book: The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation.
4) I love Rachel Naomi Remen's books. Powerful stories about listening, healing, and love. She understands medicine and healing as a kind of spiritual practice and discipline.
5) John O'Donahue's book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
6) Risking Everything, 110 Poems of Love and Revelation
7) And I love Parker Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak.
8) I'm also in a Small Group at church (made of staff); this helps center and ground my life. If you're at First Universalist, I hope you'll join a group - you can sign up right now.

There's a lot of Unitarian Universalist authors and ministers I turn to, as well...and back in the post about prayer, there is a great resources by Erik Wikstrom, a Unitarian Universalist minister and author...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 19 of Spiritual Practices and Reflection:Inhabiting the Body

Astute readers might have noticed that I haven't posted much about spiritual practices and the body. I've posted a lot about practices of reflection, of contemplation, and of writing, but my practice life doesn't include much "body practice." That is to say, I rarely do yoga, tai chi, chi gong, or something else more deeply rooted in the body. 

This morning, though, I did about 10 minutes of yoga. I'm a complete and total novice, so it was just some simple stuff that I know my body likes - sun salutation, pigeon pose, tree, and some downward dog. I loved closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing as I did the sun salutations. It was grounding, the in-out, in-out, as my breath found a rhythm in my body. 

I'd like to do more of this - make it a more regular part of my practice.

I'm curious - in what ways do you inhabit your body as a spiritual practice? What spiritual practices connect you with your body and your breath? Do you walk a labyrinth on a regular basis? (We have a fabulous one at First Universalist, if you're ever interested.) Do you do walking meditation? Yoga? How is body awareness part of your practice or discipline?  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 18 of Spiritual Practice and Reflection: Walking with Death, Part II

Way back on day three of this month of blogging, I wrote about walking with death. I'm returning to the topic of death and end of life for today's post.

I just read this little piece in the Christian Century's "Century Marks" section:
Bonnie Ware has long worked in palliative care, spending time with the dying during the final weeks of their lives. Over the years she's heard the same regrets from the dying. They wish they had had the courage to be themselves, rather than trying to meet expectations. They say they should not have worked so hard - a lament heard especially from the older generation of males. They regret not having had the courage to express their feelings, even if doing so would have caused others pain. They say they should have stayed in touch with their friends and given more time to nurturing friendships (Activist Post, November 30).
This piece really resonates with me, really prompts me, in little ways, to make some adjustments in my day to day living. I don't feel too far off course; reflecting on this piece can help keep it that way.

As you move into this new year, what courage would you like to summon? In what ways can you cut back on work, if you're working too much? What friendships can you nurture or re-engage in? How can you do more of what truly feeds you and brings you joy?

Thinking about the end of life can be a powerful vehicle to help us occupy our lives in new and transforming ways. (If you're looking for additional resources, last March we had a whole sermon series on Death and Endings. Here's one of the sermons I preached.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 17 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Why Love Matters (or: "Why Marriage Equality is a Religious Issue")

Last Thursday, I gathered with other Unitarian Universalist clergy to learn about the marriage amendment (that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman) that will be on the ballot in November, and ways that we can work together to defeat this amendment as we celebrate love, families of all configurations, and loving, committed relationships.

It was a good training, and what really became clear to me during the hour was this: I didn't get married for the rights that marriage brings (although the rights are terribly important). I got married because love opened my heart in the deepest way I've ever known. I got married because I wanted to journey through life with someone who was a true partner, who helped me be the best person I can be (and who I helped as well), through thick and thin. I got married because of love, not because of the rights. Again, the rights matter, in this training it became clear to me that it's the bigger framing of this issue, as one of love, commitment, and growing old with someone, that really changes people's minds around this issue. As the website of Minnesotans United for all Families says, 

We believe marriage and family are about love and commitment, working together, bettering the community, raising children, and growing old together. We believe in a Minnesota that values and supports strong families and creates a welcoming environment for all Minnesota
That's why marriage equality matters.

I'm curious, if you're married: why did you get married? What caused you to take that leap of faith? Was it love? Was it because your partner felt like a soul mate? Why did you get married? Was it for the rights? 

And as I think about working to defeat the marriage amendment, and all that is ahead of us in the coming months, it's clear to me that this is not a "head" argument. This is a "heart" argument. As people of faith, who believe that love matters can be at the center of all we do (we're Universalists for heaven's sake!), we need to tell the story of love, the stories from our hearts - so we can move beyond the "rights" argument (as important as that is), and understand that this is a "love argument." And the spiritual practice then, is to tell our story, to talk about why love matters and how love has shaped and formed us. The practice is to have the courage and discipline to do this, dozens and dozens of times before next November's vote, so we engage in "heart" conversations with our friends, families, and neighbors...and talk about why marriage matters and why love matters. (And if you're looking for some inspiration about love, try this from Kathleen Norris: "Here's the gospel is seven words: God is love; this is no joke.")

If you'd like to join us, congregants of First Universalist Church will be gathering on Wednesday, Jan 18th, at 7pm, to explore the role that we have, as people of faith, in celebrating love and defeating this amendment. 

Day 16 of Spiritual Practice and Reflection: Taking a Day of Sabbath

Turns out, I really needed a "sabbath" day yesterday, a day of rest. Early on Sunday night, I could tell that I needed an "unplug day," a "sabbath" day. So on Monday, I didn't go online, I didn't check email, I didn't write up a new blog post. The internet and the online world whirled on without me for a day

Yesterday, I took a long walk. I journaled for over an hour. I read poetry. I had some prayer time. I reflected on the life and ministry of Dr. King. I spent time with my family, doing lots of puzzles with our son. And it was exactly what I needed. 

(And if you're interested in learning more about sabbath time, you might enjoy a sermon I preached several years ago on "Living a Sustainable Life.")

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 15 of Spiritual Practices and Reflection: Pick One, and Stick with it

Even though I'm offering lots of spiritual practices and ideas on this blog, I invite you to pick one, stick with it for a while, go deep with it. Practice praying for the month. (Imagine the fun you'll have when people ask, "How are you? What have you been up to?" and you can answer, "I've been practicing prayer.")

Or really dig into lectio divina for a while. Sit with a poem or scripture for a couple of mornings. Really let it speak to you. Let it come alive in your heart and body. Or start a daily gratitude journal, or send a letter of gratitude to someone every day. Or go back to the opening post in this series, and re-read the article about our Unitarian Transcendentalist forebears, and how they engaged in many of these practices, as a way to grow and cultivate their souls. Get inspired by them, and pick a practice. Stick with it. Go deep.

I'm curious - what are you practicing? What's your discipline? How's it going?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day 14 of Spiritual Practices and Reflection: Serving others (or: "It's not all about you")

On Feb 4, 2012, First Universalist will hold its 2nd annual day of service. Last year, during our day of service, over 400 congregants helped contribute 1500 hours to our community. We served with Habitat for Humanity, Simpson Shelter, Ascension Place, Harriet Tubman Center, and dozens of other places. It was a remarkable experience, as we came together to serve the wider community. 

Here's a video, made by a youth team in our church, that invites members and friends to participate in this year's Feb 4th day of service: 

Rachel Naomi Remen, medical doctor and author, says this about service:
Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others...service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us...in serving we find a sense of gratitude.
Serving is a way of being in the world, a practice. It's not about us or our needs; it's about wholeness, relationships, partnering with others, and it changes our orientation in the world. It's about getting outside of ourselves and entering the larger current of life. And when we serve together, I think we understand ourselves as a faith community in new and powerful ways. I'll never forget last year, on the Sunday after the day of service, when we invited everyone who had served on the day of service to stand up - and more than half the congregation stood. It was remarkable, the joy, energy, and gratitude we all felt.  

In what ways do you serve in your life? How has serving changed your life? Do you regularly make time to serve others, in ways large and small? How do you feel when you are served by another? Are you able to receive their gifts, their loving service?

If you're in town, I hope you'll join us for our day of service on Feb 4, 2012. Invite a friend! And if you're willing to be a point person for a project on the day of service, please let me know.