Sunday, June 25, 2017

What is YOUR intention in your UU Faith?

I think I was always meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. I know that now. I didn’t know that…then. Then, when I was younger. Then, when I struggled with belief. Then, when I dealt with the stuff that has made me who I am today.

This year, I served as a General Assembly delegate of Pathways UU in Hurst, TX. It is the first time I have served in this capacity. I was literally asked by a board member if I would serve as one of two delegates, and I very quickly said “Of course!” We Aries do not muck about. We tend to be swift in our decision making, even if later it comes back to bite us on the heel. I did not know what I had gotten myself into.

Because money is tight this year, I was not able to attend GA in person. Instead, I attended as an “offsite delegate.” It was interesting. It was thoughtful that the UUA has made this as an option for those who are either financially incapable of attending or cannot travel due to the health or other restrictions. It wasn’t the experience I had hoped for, but it certainly allowed me to be present virtually. For that I am thankful. The experience really opened my eyes to many things.

As a former priest, I complained A LOT at how I spent so much time doing administrative stuff. It seemed like I was always traveling 3 hours (one way) to get to the diocesan offices to attend (often times boring) meetings. I was on committees where we would spend hours debating the same stuff that we had debated a year, or two years or even three years ago. Catholics are funny that way. We would spend hours working on amendments (not that much ever got amended) at Convention and many times the discussions would get heated.

So, when it came to my first exposure to GA, I was rather appreciative of the processes – even when it seemed like folks were getting mired down in the minutia of it all: even when grammatical errors were more important to tackle than the intention behind the words.

Processes are important. Assembly is important. Coming together is important. Exposure to it all is important.

I was proud to be fully engaged, even though I was confined to my chair in my home office for hours and hours at a time. While others at GA did this too, I had easy access to a bathroom and my Keurig all day and could still remain in my jammies if I wished. And when moments got too serious (and there were times when it did), I deferred to my 3 cats to provide comic relief and therapy.

Through the voting on amendments, through engaging in the wording of the Statement of Conscience, through the exchange of delegates and other kibitzers in the off-site portal, through the sermons, services and Bryan Stephenson’s Ware Lecture (which will go down, I’m sure, in UU history), something very interesting happened to me. Something that is possibly life changing. I began to question several areas of my life as a UU.

Some of you know my story, that I became UU in the first year of seminary in the Orthodox Catholic Church. Four years after I was ordained to the priesthood, I resigned from such as I became honest with myself and the organization that I did not share its beliefs. It was another four years before I came back fully to the UUA when I discovered the Church of theLarger Fellowship.

So, for the last five years I have really thrown myself back into my faith as a UU – or so I thought. In the last five years, I have been part of CLF, First Jefferson UU in Fort Worth and Pathways UU in Hurst (a suburb of Fort Worth). I have been on worship committees, lay leadership teams, spirituality groups, served as an instructor before classes, have given a number of sermons, worked with children, and have even had voice in church business (without serving on any board). I have felt fulfilled in the last five years as I have settled back into what I sought out 15 years ago when I first joined the Unitarian Universalist faith at a small congregation known as the UU Fellowship of Abilene (Texas).

And then GA happened.

There were so many wonderful speakers who talked about their experiences – both good and bad – in the UUA. So many had talked about walking away and coming back into the fold. We worked together as a group on language around dismantling white supremacy – a subject that matters to me as a white person whose Godmother is a black woman. In the Ware Lecture, UU and lawyer Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative) gave us a charge to truly live out our principles by being taught mercy through the broken.

And I wept. Tears streamed down my face. There were times I wept so hard that I couldn’t pay attention to the monitor in front of me. I was overcome by all that I had digested mentally and emotionally that by Saturday evening (around 10 p.m.) I had surrendered myself to great inquiry of a necessary inventory of my UU self.

“What am I truly doing in my congregation?” “How do I exemplify myself outside of my church to others as my UU faith calls me to do?” “How much do I really know about UU?” “What am I doing to learn more about the UU on the national level?”

And then the big question hit me right between the eyes.

Over the last year, UU clergy and laity have asked me WHEN I was going to get serious about going into ordained ministry in the UUA. In May of this year, I led the entire service and gave the sermon at Red River UU in Denison, TX near Lake Texoma. While there, the Rev. Doug Strong, with much sincerity, engaged me with this inquiry.

The truth is that the idea of going back into full ordained ministry (in and of itself) scares the hell out of me.

At Pathways UU, where we are lay-led, we depend on having different speakers each Sunday. Today’s speaker was the well-spoken UUChristian minister Rev. Craig Roshaven. He charged us with the question (as was the title of his sermon) “Where is your Jerusalem.” He reminded us how Christ feared Jerusalem but knew that he had to face it and go there, where he met his end. His end had purpose. Metaphorically, Jesus had to die to his fear and make an ultimate sacrifice for others to have hope.

My Jerusalem is before me. I fear a lot of things as I wrestle with this idea of going back into ordained ministry. It is very expensive going to seminary. I have a spouse. There are many things we may both have to sacrifice to make this a reality. We are much older now and a little more settled. This would upset that way of living. And are we both on the same page about this? 

I am on a cliff side looking down at my Jerusalem. The question of how to get there is the biggest before me.

GA brought about necessary discussion in several areas. The main discussion I participated in was and is the discussion that is with myself. Where am I going? What am I doing? What are my goals and hopes as I move forward in this inspiring faith? And what am I going to do about all of it?

In her candidacy before becoming the newly elected President of the UUA, The Rev. Susan Frederick Gray said, “To the Presidency, I bring an abiding love and respect for our faith and tradition and the unwavering commitment to see it grow and thrive.” I am sure that is not an easy statement for her to make. I am sure it is not an easy statement for anyone in church leadership to make. One simply can’t make off the cuff statements like this without true discernment.

And this is where I – and possibly many others who came away from GA feeling renewed – stand: in discernment. A place of discernment is not unsteady but can be uncomfortable. Discomfort is important because it removes chances for complacency. Complacency keeps us from making good and honest decisions whatever they may be.

I think I was always meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. If anything ever offered me salvation it is UUism. While I may not be a deist, UU allows me to stand at the great buffet table where there is so much to offer. I am not limited to agnosticism or new age spirituality which entices me. At the same time, UU also challenges me. It calls me to question my intentions in this faith and my intentions of involvement. It calls me to wrestle with who I am and who I hope to become. It calls me to be challenged by others and live in covenant with so many different expressions of faith and reasoning. UU makes me want to be better. And that is scary at times.

So as we enter into a new era of the UUA, I hope to use this as a time to truly focus on my existence within this necessary organization in my life. I hope that you will also look at what UU means to you and discern those things that you might feel called to do – whether it be joining a committee at church, getting vocal in a local political organization, speaking out for reproductive health, getting active on a national committee, or even answering the call to ordained ministry.

This is YOUR faith. This is MY faith. What is your intention in your faith? What is your intention in your involvement? I invite you to seek that out. I invite you to be so moved by your faith as a UU that you are brought to a place of discernment and discomfort so that new and exciting decisions can be made for your future in this inspiring and necessary faith.

Namaste! Shalom! Blessed Be! 

New Posts are Forthcoming!!! Stay Tuned!!

I have not posted on here for a while now – not because I was neglecting my blog but because life called me to tend to other things in my ministry. 
Thank you for your patience as I have taken a short absence.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Our Resurrected Selves: A UU Experience

NOTE: This is the sermon that I gave at Pathways Unitarian Universalist Church in Hurst, Texas, on Easter Sunday 4.16.17. 

Happy Easter! On this day, most Christians (not all) celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – a much debated teaching that after he had been dead for three days he then came back to life and continued his ministry for several more days until another debated teaching when he ascended into heaven.
Now, I am not going to get into the theories or theological assumptions of what happened or if it happened regarding this teaching. I would like to borrow this idea of ‘resurrection’ from our Christian heritage in Unitarian Universalism for the sake of helping each person here – including myself – identify more closely with the UU experience.
Most people know that I served for four years as a priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church. I resigned (9 years ago) at the age of 33. I had also joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation while I was in seminary (about 15 years ago) – because my spouse was already a member of the local UU. I had resigned in 2008 because I felt like a salesman who didn’t believe in his product (It’s hard to sell something when you have little faith in how or if the product works). This is not to say that I disbelieve in certain teachings within Christianity but I knew that I could no longer use the church that I was ordained in to try to convince myself of things like the divinity of Jesus, the existence of heaven or hell, the second coming, or even the resurrection.
And so it is interesting today that I am speaking on Easter Sunday – a day set aside to give memory and honor to the story of a man that liberated Jews and Gentiles alike of his day in a particular region. This story that spread throughout the Middle East, throughout Israel, throughout Greece. It is a story that continues to spread.
The story of resurrection (in the metaphorical sense) gives hope and gives meaning to new beginnings, to absolution, to the dying away and to new birth. In many ways, resurrection is important to Unitarian Universalists because how many of us have had our own deaths? Our own, true, real, painful and sorrowful spiritual deaths? How many of us were handed something to believe by our parents or family members only to choose another path or to be enriched by UUism?
I can honestly say that I endured the pains of death from my history of Christianity. I desired so much to ‘be better.’ I desired so much to ‘know more.’ I desired so much to be a ‘good example.’ I would attend conferences, retreats, write inspiring articles, lead workshops, and even provide pastoral care that I was trained to provide – and it would not work! And I tried! I am telling you I tried! Dear God – I tried!
So for a few years, I camped out on Sundays in front of my laptop and was a member of The Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online UU church without walls. At the time, I was living in North Richland Hills, Texas. I had been planning on visiting Pathways UU many months prior. As it happened, I was able to attend the very first Common Ground service at Pathways in the current "new" location. From the very beginning, I was hooked.
But as I reflect on the period from leaving the faith I once knew and proclaimed (in part at least) to my time of taking refuge in the Church of the Larger Fellowship to even coming to Pathways and attending First Jefferson in Fort Worth, I realized during those years that I needed to get real with myself. I needed to take a spiritual inventory – not of what I do not believe in but that which I do believe in.
Sometimes, we hear UUs saying things like “I don’t believe in that Jesus stuff” or “All of those Pagan gods and goddesses confuse me – how can anyone keep up?” or “I support your path I just don’t want to hear about it every Sunday.” Spiritual inventory is a necessity for all Unitarian Universalists as it gives us a time to pause and reason out the things that speak to our very souls. It is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, about others, learn about other belief systems – even if we do not choose to go down those paths. It gives us a chance to stand at the great buffet table and sample teachings from humanism, paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on.
And so in that time, I realized that there are certain teachings in Christianity that I actually do find comfort in – like loving my neighbor, treating everyone the way I would like to be treated, teachings of hospitality and promoting world peace. These are similar in the teachings of the Buddha. These are similar to the teachings which Gandhi lived out and expressed.
It is through these opportunities that we see that we are spiritually rising. We are being birthed into a new reality. We are dying to that which we once knew, or were taught, or even understood. We have veered onto a new path and we accept what turns or forks we may come to along the way.
In our reading this morning, Ruiz points out this very thing. “The dream you are living,” he says, “is your creation.” He advises that this is our reality that we can “change at any time.” What this tells me as a UU is that I have so many different opportunities in which to expand my thinking, my spirituality, my mind as I make the decisions in this very moment or even over time of which part of the spectrum I belong to. This may change 5 or 20 years from now or may even be enhanced. The joy is that I am in control of my thinking, I am in control of my reasoning, I am in control of my own creating. I am in control of my own reality.
And while this liberation theology entices and draws us in, it does not excuse us of our “destiny of being human,” as Ruiz reminds. He advises that we do have two choices in life: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny. We can either suffer altogether in our human experience or we can choose to love and be happy – no matter what life has thrown or will throw at us.
I wrote a few weeks ago about Joy-Theft and what it means to let others steal one’s joy. The topic had to do with a family member, who is a Southern Baptist, who had the audacity to attack my beliefs (or in her opinion, the lack thereof) and I went further to defend and explain to her why I do not believe in the same thing she believes in. I felt it necessary to prove my point.
We don’t do this to each other (or shouldn’t) in the UUA. We don’t persecute others for what they believe or do not believe. We hope that others outside of these walls will do the same. That they will not bring us spiritual injury – but sometimes they do. And sometimes we let them. Sometimes we walk away and sometimes we stay and argue. And it is hard that just as we are here to respect everyone on his or her path inside UU, our principles call us to respect everyone on his or her path outside of UU – even those who are out to bring us spiritual harm.
For many of you, situations like this resonate all too well – whether it be with a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or other acquaintance in your life. And it is hard sometimes to coexist with those whose religion or philosophy or viewpoint calls them into action and give them what they may view as a right to say whatever they want to say regardless of how much it may hurt others. But for UUs, we always take the high road, we always look past that person who is uttering things that may result in negative energy, we look past the pain.
We return to our anthem that so many UUs have repeated over and over and over – in some form – when we say “Love is the doctrine of this church.” UU gives us a different perspective in life.
And that is why I am inviting you this day to celebrate what resurrection means to Unitarian Universalists. I invite you to rise from the ashes. I invite you to claim yourself. I invite you to claim your own reasoning and your own truth. I invite you to coexist with others inside and outside of our faith. I invite you to continually seek without being robbed of your own personal integrity.
“The dream you are living is your own creation.” Today is a day of rising again either from a death of a reality you once knew or maybe because you have been dead inside and have not sought out true meaning within your identity as a Unitarian Universalist. Or perhaps your resurrection is discovering new things about yourself – like accepting new challenges, beginning new chapters in your life.
Whatever resurrection is calling you to rise from in your life, know this: you are among good company while you sort that all out in your life. And if you need someone or some folks to assist you along this journey we can help with that too.
If you are visiting with us for the first time this Sunday or if this is your first Unitarian Universalist experience or if you have only been here a few times, know that we surround you with love and acceptance and do not expect you to prove yourself. We welcome your inquiries and we welcome your struggle. That’s who we are. This is what resurrection is.
So mote it be.
The Blessing:
And as we ponder upon these words in our hearts, I invite you to be filled with the discernment that the Rabbi Jesus experienced in the desert, the joy that the Buddha experienced in the forest, the happiness that Mohammed experienced on the mountain. In all things, may this day bring you love and peace.

Namaste! Shalom! And Blessed Be!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Would You Harbor Me? Would I Harbor You?: Interfaith Relations, Racism, and the Quest for Sticking to our Principles

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the first interfaith gathering in the cluster of suburbs that lie between Dallas and Fort Worth, known as the Mid-Cities. The gathering was hosted by St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (on Harwood Road, Hurst) and included three panelists representing: Christianity/Episcopalians, Islam, and Unitarian Universalism.
It was a small gathering but well represented by all three religious groups. It was a great opportunity to hear what each faith group believes, a great opportunity to ask questions, and to get to know one another. The common theme among all three groups seemed to show that all believe in doing good, all believe in promoting justice, and all adhere to universal love toward all people. Another common theme among each group is that each is often times misunderstood.
Initially, I was going to this event to sit among the assembly as a UU but that quickly faded when I realized that each person was assembling as an inquirer. I quickly shifted my focus and my personal intention so that I could engage wholly in the purpose of the day’s event. While caught up in the talks from each presenter, I was not a UU, not an Agnostic, not Earth-Centered, not Christian – I was one engaged in learning and an individual among a small crowd of inquiring minds.
Yesterday’s gathering reminded me of what it means to be UU. Each Sunday we gather as a diverse thinking people – different beliefs, different philosophies, and different backgrounds. We come together for a common goal, a common purpose. We come together as a community united in love, bonded in covenant with one another. We adhere to the sacred promises we have made and continue to make with one another to uplift and support one another on his/her spiritual journey.
President Jimmy Carter once said that we become “…a beautiful mosaic.” He goes on to say that this is because we are “different people” and have “different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”
I had a conversation with a friend (that I grew up with) after I attended the interfaith gathering on Sunday. He is a staunch atheist. Most of his atheism has to do with pain left over from his growing up in the Bible belt and having religion shoved down his throat. When I shared that I had attended such a gathering, he immediately quipped, “Any chance they’ll agree to just give it up?” While he was being snarky there was a bit of intended opposition.
I responded, "The purpose of interfaith relations is to see that despite differences we are all the same. We all need to work toward a common goal. I think to make statements of 'giving it up' because of your viewpoint somehow robs another person of his/her path.” I then went on to explain in my position that as a Unitarian Universalist where we have a vast number of Atheists and Humanists in the faith we care deeply about others of various other religions and philosophies. We mustn't be fundamentalist or evangelical atheists so as to tear down others who belong to a faith system. When we do this, it creates barriers and the door to healthy dialogue becomes closed. We all have to work toward a common goal and it has nothing to do with what one person believes or disbelieves.
Our common goals in UUism is sometimes blindsided. While we work hard to establish support and care for one another, we still find at times that some are torn down by others – by questioning one’s beliefs in a negative way, by racial insensitivity, and a lack of social justice. This past week we were saddened at the news of Peter Morales’ resignation as President of the UUA due to controversy over hiring practices regarding a white-skinned majority. I am concerned over the message this sends not only to those within our Faith but those outside of it as we are to be a Faith that provides equal opportunities and lives out our Principles and Sources.
We hold banners and have signage on our churches that say “Black Lives Matter,” “Welcoming Congregation,” “Love is the doctrine of this church,” and yet we tend to allow darkness in at times. Where does this darkness come from? Is it hidden in the cracks? It is lurking in the corners just waiting to attack?
It is more than just promoting a free faith or allowing each person to journey down his/her path for spiritual liberation. There is a great responsibility that EVERY member within Unitarian Universalism holds toward one another – not just toward those within the organization. Whether it be on the national level or in the congregation, we must adhere to our covenant of respect and love and seek out that which makes a whole people.  
We come together despite our differences. We recognize those differences. We draw upon those differences. We learn from those differences. We seek the value and the worth of each person’s differences. It should be our intention to position ourselves to truly live in harmony with one another. Even if one’s skills may not be up to par, we must make it our goal to seek out each individual’s wholeness as a gift to the overall integrity of our organization. Everyone has something to offer and we must be willing to search that out. Not doing so may lead to compromise in other areas.
All of this reminds me of my favorite song sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, “Would You Harbor Me?” (which can also be found in our Tapestry of Faith and written by Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell). The words go like this:
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew
a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a run away woman, or child,
a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee,
a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth
a fugitive or a slave?
Would you harbor a Haitian, Korean or Czech,
a lesbian or a gay?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?

                What is your answer? What is our answer as an organization? Will we stand together? Truly stand together? Will we see one another as a piece of the beautiful mosaic? Are we simply giving lip service or just belonging to an organization because it is where we feel the “most comfortable?” Believe me folks: we’re not here to be comfortable. We’re not here to be safe. We are here to live out and to do the hard and vigilant work of seeking out justice for everyone. There’s nothing cute or fun or self-serving about this work. It is necessary and it is something that will be ongoing. As long as there are humans who will muck up the hard work that many have done before them, the work will never be complete. This is what struggle is all about.
                That being said, I know that I am a privileged white person. I know that I am sheltered in many ways as a Unitarian Universalist living in the Texas Bible Belt. I know that I have a long way to go in seeking out women’s rights, racial equality, bridging interfaith relations and even living out what we refer to as the “Living Tradition” in UU. And it is for these reasons and others that I am standing up to remind all of us that there is something at stake here. 
                It is going to take all of us working hard together and not just sitting on our butts in a chair or in a pew on Sunday morning for worship at our local UU and then going home when the service is over. Each of us are called to be part of and uphold the 7th Principle of our Faith, to have “respect for the interdependent web of all existence.” The Rev. Forrest Gilmore wrote in his book The Seven Principles in Word and Worship that “we make a profound mistake when we limit it to merely an environmental idea. It is so much more. It is our response to the great dangers of both individualism and oppression. It is our solution to the seeming conflict between the individual and the group.”
                Gilmore goes on to say that “Our seventh Principle may be our Unitarian Universalist way of coming to fully embrace something greater than ourselves. The interdependent web—expressed as the spirit of life, the ground of all being, the oneness of all existence, the community-forming power, the process of life, the creative force, even God—can help us develop that social understanding of ourselves that we and our culture so desperately need. It is a source of meaning to which we can dedicate our lives.”
                This is the message of harboring one another. This is the message of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. This is the message of peace. This is the message of hope. This is the message the suffragists, the civil rights fighters, the LGBT equality seekers, the reproductive rights advocates have fought to secure. This is the message of those who have gone before us. This message can be quickly torn down and quickly left to shrivel. We must be diligent and teach our children to be diligent in preserving every aspect of said principle. We must be diligent in harboring each other and not picking and choosing. We must diligent in our work by doing what we mean and meaning what we say.

John Lennon said it this way in his timeless song, “Imagine”
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

As we ponder on these words and the words of ‘Harbor Me,’ let us take time to really think long and hard what it truly means to be UU. It’s more than belonging to a congregation. It’s more than being part of a covenant group, a quilting group, or a social action committee. We must circle the wagons and stand together and bridge the gap for everyone. The time is now to truly be who we say we are. What will your answer be? Who will you harbor? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Joy-Theft is Real: Keep it Safe!

It is so important to not only seek out joy but to live in it. There is so much in this life that can bring us joy. There are also moments, events, and people who can knowingly or unknowingly steal our joy at times. We must hang on to our joy at all times. 

I got a little bent out of shape earlier this week. I was being challenged by a very close family member not just on my beliefs but because I do not believe the way the majority of the people believe in my family. This very thing pops up at least 2 or 3 times a year and it is tiring. It happens. Most of the people in my family are Southern Baptist – you know, the people with all the answers (pardon my attitude). I then vented about it on Facebook only to delete the post.

As Unitarian Universalists, we find comfort in our Faith knowing that no one persecutes us within our organization's walls where beliefs are concerned. We are hoping that others outside of our walls will not bring us spiritual injury – but some do. Sometimes we let them. Sometimes we walk away. Sometimes we stay and argue. I think for those of us who take UUism to heart, we truly do work to respect each person on his or her path – even those people who are so dead-set on converting the world to what he/she believes. We respect each person’s path – even those who are out to bring us spiritual harm. 

As a former minister in the Christian faith, I had to be quite vocal in advising this family member that while I find value and merit in many of the teachings of the Rabbi Yeshua (or Jesus), most of the teachings from institutional Christianity I discarded a long time ago. As one who still keeps Christianity tucked away as part of my spiritual history and part of my dualistic spiritual path, I had to explain that I am not a literalist when it comes to sacred text.

The literal teachings of heaven and hell, Satan, the Second Coming, the Resurrection of Jesus – these are areas that have always challenged my mind. I am just not sold on these areas of belief. Whether these things exist or whether these events have happened or will happen are of very little interest to me. I do not say that with arrogance or to tout disbelief. I say this because it is not something I wish to invest in. I have never understood it.

Just as fundamentalist Christians enjoy picking and choosing which verses from the scriptures they will use to abuse others with or exercise privilege with, I have taken delight in picking and choosing which ones make sense to me or are relevant to my personal path. Modern day interpretations certainly have infiltrated and bastardized the original translations from the original Greek. The same is true from my Earth-centered beliefs. I do not consider myself Pagan or Shamanistic, even though a lot of what I believe and practice draws from those systems (and my spouse and I were married by a Shaman). I do not call upon a God/Goddess/Lord/Lady, for example. But it is my Agnostic self that takes over in most instances – allowing me to question, seek, learn, draw from others, and yet not be so quick to label particular aspects of the spiritual.

It is interesting how many religions focus on death and the afterlife – the preparation for such in the earthly life. Growing up in Christianity – this is all I ever heard about. Getting one’s “soul right” with Jesus/God was the hot topic. Living a life of sacredness coupled with fear were ingredients of spiritual discipline. And I tried HARD to do all of this. I tried HARD to understand it. I even went into ordained ministry to see if I could get it to work. I prayed. I went on retreats. I underwent spiritual counseling. I met with bishops and priests in my faith to discuss it to get it “right.” I just always felt like I was staring at a blank wall. That always made me feel guilty – especially since I eventually wound up with a collar around my neck and a congregation to care for. Meanwhile, I was bleeding to death inside.

It is for these reasons alone that I find comfort and draw strength in Unitarian Universalism. In UUism, I’m not the oddball in the room (just one of many!). In UUism, I am not looked down on because of what I believe or how I believe it. This is expressed each Sunday when Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Pagans, and other Seekers all come together under one roof to share Common Ground at the local UU meeting house.

A dear friend of mine said to me this week to not let others steal my joy. What is interesting is that when I have provided spiritual counseling to others I have advised them of the same thing. The teacher becomes the student. And all of us – ministers and laity alike – need to be reminded of these simple truths. Joy is something that is precious – like a fine jewel – that can be easily stolen if not protected. This protection comes from knowing yourself, standing in your personal truth, and not allowing the outside world with all of it various beliefs and cares stab you in the heart. It will try to wound you, convert you, rob you – but you hold the key to true love and joy. I was thankful for that reminder this week. It was what I needed to hear.

As you go about your journey this week, I wish you love, joy and peace in all things. I wish for you mindfulness. I wish for you comfort and serenity – even when it seems like there is so much turmoil or negative energy rustling around near your feet. The Buddha reminds us that “You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy.” Let us focus on that. Let us think about the things in our personal lives, in our communal lives that bring us that to that state of gratitude and joy.

Namaste/Shalom/Blessed Be. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Springing Forth New Growth

It's my favorite time of year: Spring!! I was a Spring baby - born in April. A very proud Aries (with the tattoo to prove it)! It is this time of year that I come alive. I love all of the green and purple and red and yellow and pink that is popping out everywhere. All of my irises, jonquils, buttercups, crossvines and redbud trees are in full bloom. The bees are busy buzzing around, the birds are singing, the woodpeckers are pecking away and the squirrels are running up and down the trees. Spring is here! 

Today, at Pathways UU, where I attend, we had our labyrinth walk (something that is done 4 times a year when the earth changes seasons). The labyrinth has become an important message in the life of Pathways - a time of reflection, a time of focus, a time of energizing. While some were walking the labyrinth others were focusing their energies playing drums, tambourines, and other noisemakers to cheer in the season.

As we experience Spring and exercises such as the labyrinth, it gives us a new opportunity to stop and reflect on our path or our journey. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on new growth in our spiritual lives, our personal lives, our careers, new experiences, and the like. 

One of the areas that I am usually called to is working in my yard. I grew up in the country (and I do mean country!) where we lived on about 5 acres of land with about 2 acres that was our vegetable garden. One of the memories I have of my childhood home are all of the flowers that mother planted everywhere. Along the property line along the lane on the outset of the fence my mother planted all different colors of irises. Up near the house in the flower beds she had a mixture of spider mums, lilies, and roses. Driving into our property we had two large bricked columns where mother had planted beautiful rose bushes. Every Spring when I start working in the yard my mind always takes me back to where I grew up. 

Working with the dirt, planting new plants and flowers, fertilizing the soil, finding new life (like bugs and lizards) - it is all very prayerful to me. There is a deep connection that I have with it all. There is something about this work that puts me in a particular state of obedience, a reverence, as if I am entering the great sanctuary of Life - doing my part to bring nurturing care to each element. Working in the yard is not easy work. It is tiring, it is messy, your clothes get dirty and you sweat - a lot. Especially here in Texas (here it is the last week of March and the temperatures are already in the upper 80s).  

Today I worked in the front yard trimming the shrubs that line the front of our house. I did a lot of cuttings, removing a lot of extra growth. I cleaned out the flower beds that had a lot of small leaves left over from the autumn and winter that were hanging on tight to the dirt below the shrubbery. I removed old yard ornaments, such as the globes that light up at night that have stopped working. I removed the things that were hindering new growth. 

Spring gives us that opportunity - to prune, to dig in the soil, to plant, to prepare, to see life. Spring gives us the opportunity to clean out flower bed and get ready for new plants to be added. Spring gives us the opportunity to fix up new areas. It's a time of Life. It's a time of Growth. It's a time of Newness. It's a time of New Growth in various areas of our lives. 

It reminds me of the Spring hymn that starts:
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Spring is the rising of the green blade after it has been dormant during the Winter. The lesson is that even though we may have felt dead in certain areas in our life, we have so many opportunities for new growth, new life. 

As you ponder about Spring and revel in the colors, the sounds, the activities - use this as a time to reflect on the areas of growth taking place in your life. Or use this as a time to plan for what areas of growth you would like to see rise up like a green blade from deep in the earth. What seeds would you like to plant? 

As Spring comes to greet us, I wish each of you a blessed season filled with new opportunities and new growth. 

Namaste/Shalom/Blessed Be!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Love IS our Doctrine

You can wander into any Unitarian Universalist congregation and find different beliefs - even among the first ten people you meet. There are some UU congregations that are primarily secular. Some UU congregations are primarily Pagan or Earth-Centered. Some are primarily Christian. It is the goal of most (and hopefully all) that even where a majority may be of a particular leaning, anyone can feel and be accepted. This is because of a commonality among UUs: our doctrine is Love. 

When many of us in the UUA hear that term, doctrine, some may have a response in which the muscles in one's face may tend to tighten. For those of us who have fought hard to escape dogmatic views where we may have surrendered to spoon-fed doctrines, the beauty of UU is that we have a more simplistic understand that speaks to probably the greatest universal truth: Love. 

Doctrine comes from the Latin word doctrina which originally had a meaning of instruction or teaching. One of the definitions, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states it as "a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief." And while that is generally applied to dogmatic thinking, in UU we use this term as a tenet of our universal faith to describe our devotion to Love toward the human spirit. Instead of being bound to rules, we are called into action by truly loving each person. 

We live in a difficult time. I am deeply affected by the orders by the 45th President of the United States in the edict to ban Muslims from particular countries and regions from entering the U.S. I am bothered at his need for building a wall. I am bothered at his administration's very "white power" persona. It bothers me tremendously and I am waiting for the other shoe to drop...because it will. These actions of targeting people because of their religion and the color of their skin is upsetting to UUs because it violates our doctrine of Love. It is upsetting to us because it violates our first, second, sixth and seventh principles. 

There is a big responsibility in our congregational covenant. It is not just intended for those who congregate within the walls of every independent fellowship. It is a call to action to those on both sides of the wall. Let's revisit this covenant: 
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine-
Thus do we covenant with each other.
What if we were to see our neighborhoods, our homes, our hearts as this church? How might that translate on a more global scale? What if we were to seek out truth in various areas where our neighborhoods are located, with those we may dwell with in our homes, or the full examination of our hearts? How might you do service in each of those areas? What if we were to dwell together in peace in our neighborhoods, in our homes, in our hearts? What if we were to seek knowledge in freedom in these areas? What if we were to serve the need of each person - truly serving the needs of each person - in our neighborhoods? What if we were to truly serve the needs of those dwelling with us in our homes? By doing these actions, wouldn't that allow each of us to grow in harmony with the Divine? Could we build this covenant with our church without walls? 

There is a big responsibility in our congregational covenant. It calls us to truly live our lives in covenant with our global family. It gives us the opportunity to reach beyond the pews. It gives us the opportunity to truly carry the flame from the chalice out into the world every day and every moment of the day. 

So, I invite you to examine your heart in this moment and think of some creative and definite ways that you may live out this covenant with non-UUs. How can you coexist in a world that may not see things the way that UUA (as a whole) sees things? How can you coexist in a world that the 45th President seems to want to destroy? How can you coexist with a people who want to remove those who belong to a certain religion or skin tone? I invite you look deep within the chasm of your heart for this well of love, this doctrine, this universal teaching, that you may be inspired to share it with others. 

Namaste/Shalom/Blessed Be!