It is my birthday, a refreshingly cool and blustery cloudy Cape Cod day. This morning at 7:00 a.m. I completed my 57th year (+ 9 months) on this earth. I am feeling very happy to be alive, grateful for everything I love and savor in life and for the energy I have to see that loving and savoring gains ascendency in the world over excluding and exploiting. Here is the house I stay in here in Brewster. Before 1960, it was a garage. It is just across the yard from “the blue cottage,” where mostly summer renters stay these days.
The work I do with you and our larger movement is a gift that dawned rather far along in my life, and is proof that good things sometimes do come in big packages. This work allows me to live very close to the bone, to muck around in the real of life with you, in the crazy beauties and the ugly torture and the tedious ruts and the overwhelming joy of our lives together. It is work that could easily occupy twenty-four/seven if I let it, but if I did I would be reduced to smoke and grease before long.
That’s why our Association encourages “letters of agreement” between congregation and minister that allow the minister plenty of time to rest and study and drink deeply from the well of Spirit that sustains good ministry. You give me four weeks of vacation every year and four weeks of study leave, a blessing I know every one of you could use as well! The least I can do for you is to make sure that I use the time you give me well. Here’s my formula: a mix of solitude and family, special places, flowers and trees, regular NPR radio, museums/shows/movies, lots of reading (especially novels and poetry), TED talks, Krista Tippett’s On Being, mining for preaching stuff everywhere, treating my body to naps and other good sleep, to swimming, biking, walking, and kayaking, just sitting and looking, eating earthy garden food and reading and listening and reading.
This is shorthand for my personal “defragging” method. By the end of June my cellular disk drive needs a little dust-up. During these weeks I reorganize the mess in my head and heart and take in new stuff that will become the classes and Sunday services and celebrations and conversations of our new year together. It takes peace and beauty and deep breaths and long days with nothing else in them in order to accomplish that. And I thank you for your gift of time away.
My challenge—and maybe yours too—is to find ways to balance work and renewal all year round. It takes discipline, self-love, forethought, creativity. But a life and a world that loves and savors more requires that kind of balance. Life is more than grease and smoke.
See you soon,
At the very end of June, through July and part of August, your hard working minister gets a little breathing time. During the summer, I take the second two weeks of vacation time (the first two weeks I schedule during the winter or spring) and four weeks of “study leave,” time for preparation and contemplation, free (except in the case of emergency pastoral care needs) from my usual duties as minister. This allows me a leisurely think about my goals for spiritual leadership in the year to come and time to lay out the worship topics and schedule, read up on topics I want to address, plan adult education classes, and tee up various projects for the fall. So study leave means work in a relaxed setting, but no less importantly, it means replenishing the well of spirit, energy and wisdom from which I minister. To that end, I find as many ways as I can to wrap that work in beauty, nature, exercise, rest, novels and poetry, art of all kinds, travel, and play. So here is what June, July and August look like for me.
6/17-6/23, General Assembly in Louisville, KY (with Linda and a cadre of UUFSB lay leaders)
6/24-7/6, study leave (2 weeks)
7/7-7/13, UUFSB work week (I preach July 7 on our “transformation” theme and lead a memorial service for Mitsi Cullver on July 13)
7/14-7/27, vacation (2 weeks)
7/28-8/11, study leave (2 weeks)
8/12-14, back to work with a three-day training for ministers at the Walker Center, Boston MA
8/15, back in the office!
8/18 and 8/25, reoccupying the pulpit starting with these two August services.
Two important messages about September services:
FIRSTLY: Wendy Engelhardt and I are organizing an intergenerational trip to the Labor Day weekend (8/30-9/2) Shinnecock Powwow out on the south fork of Long Island. We are not sure which day we will go (Fri, Sat or Mon) as the powwow schedule is not yet set. Stay tuned for more information!
SECONDLY: Sunday, September 8 is HOMECOMING SUNDAY!!! We will be celebrating a Water Communion together that morning. Please collect water from one or more of your summer adventures to bring to the service. Also, please wear clothes in colors associated with water: blue, green, teal, sparkly, wavy, iridescent hues.
Wishing all of you a safe and delightful summer season!
Here is a picture I drew when I was a hospital chaplain and was in intimate contact with the suffering of others every day. Mine was the hand reaching as far as I could across the barriers that separated the sufferer from sustenance, choice, connection, hope, from self and life. Where the fingertips of the pink hand penetrate the bricks and wire and fence pickets, they lose their color, drained by the depth of the sufferer’s despair. Suffering is like that. We’ve all been both the sufferer and the caregiver.
A recent op-ed article (Susan Silk and Barry Goldman, “How Not To Say The Wrong Thing,” LA Times, 4/7/13) suggested a “ring theory” for caregiving. The one good thing about being the sufferer in the center of the circle is that you can react in an uncensored way to any aspect of your experience. Caregivers can also freely express their reaction to the suffering, but only to people in larger rings. If you want to talk about your shock or discomfort with what you see; lament all the comparable terrible things you’ve experienced; say to the sufferer “It’s not just about you!” that's fine. Those are perfectly normal responses. Just say those things to someone in a bigger ring.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to say something, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down." Comfort IN, dump OUT.
The fact that suffering is hard to touch doesn’t mean you stop reaching in, stop bringing water and bread, wings and warmth to the starving, the thirsty, the cold and the trapped. Sufferers feel the vibration of love long before they dare to open their eyes to see the gifts love brings.
Love matters most. One day it will be you who will open your eyes after days in the dark to see a hand reaching out through the barriers that isolate you in your suffering. Sufferers: Hold on to hope, reach out, drink deep of the love that comes to you. Caregivers: Comfort IN, dump OUT, support one another in the challenge and grace of loving others well.
Loving you all (I hope well),
Circulation sustains life. Lots of things circulate. The first things I noticed circulating in my life were knowledge and stories. Everywhere I looked on the college campus on which I was raised, I saw people sending stories, old and new, into the flow of information that was maturing a new set of young adults every year. What they sent out (and, paradoxically, also kept) came back to them in a new and equally nourishing form. Everyone on campus, not just our professor parents, was a node of knowledge on the web we all lived together there.
Later I learned how water circulates through our biosphere—the body of our Earth, how the nutrients that roots take in are drawn up the whole length of a tree to the leaves and buds and developing fruit, how every entity takes what it needs and gives in exchange what others in its community need. As a nurse taking care of people recovering from cardiac surgery, I learned about the circulation of blood. I saw what happens when the pump muscle weakens or the channels are blocked or leaking or the organs that collaborate with the heart fail to hold up their end. We had to act fast to repair the damage, to restore flow, to balance the intake and output in the whole intricate system.
As a minister who deeply respects the power of ritual, I have learned that spiritual energy circulates too. In order for a ritual to accomplish its end, everyone in the circle must risk serving as an open and generous channel through which the energy we are raising can flow. Every person absorbs some and creates some as the group energy moves them as it moves through them. If the flow is blocked anywhere in the circle, the whole group can become depleted and the ritual purpose defeated.
When you have your pledge card in hand and are thinking about how much to pledge for 2013-14, think about how everything circulates, even money. Money is, after all, just another form of the energy it takes to get things done. The money you give teaches, nourishes and grows us all as it circles back to you. And what you get back is so much the richer for the work it has done and the change it has catalyzed along the way. Now that is money well spent: money that pays us back in caring and attentive community, in ethically and spiritually grounded young people, in a world made a little safer and fairer by our collective ministrations, in lives deepened by belonging, focus, practice, commitment and risk.
We are beginning an exciting new chapter in the history of the Fellowship. A year of visioning awaits us. A heart-y infusion of financial gifts right now will give us so much more choice about how we want to live that vision. Please give as generously as you are able.
97.5% of a 70% quorum of the UUFSB voting membership cast “YES” ballots on Sunday, January 13th, to call me as your settled minister. Board President Rich Hall asked me “Do you?” and I said “I do.” And then I stood in the wind of your applause and didn’t know what to do except clap along with you, open my arms in a big embrace and put my hands together in the mantra that means namaste—“the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.” This is how I want it to be with us for a long time: exuberant celebration, abiding affection and mutual respect that honors our spirits’ source.
Thank you for the strength of your call, for your confidence and commitment, for the fabulous post-vote cake and the party Joan threw later on, and for the many excited messages and loving congratulatory cards. Thank you for being both the people that need what I have to offer and the people that offer what I need! The 13th was yet another UUFSB day that my family and I will remember for a long, long time.
Three years ago, Consulting Minister Carol Wolff’s “transition team”—Gil Hanson, Joanne Hammer, Marie Baltz, Shelly Psaris and John Williams—was charged by the Board of Trustees to respond to her desire to stand for a vote to call. Their challenge was not one for the faint of heart. They had already supported congregation and ministers through an unsuccessful search process, two interim ministries and 18 months of Carol’s consulting ministry. Hire-to-call consulting ministry was a new phenomenon in the Association, so they were really inventing a process about which even the UUA was unclear. The team addressed their charge with a high level of integrity and determination, accepting with complete faith some not-so-helpful advice from outside “experts,” and handling the unexpected consequences with patience, compassion and resilience.
The process that culminated in the vote to call me as settled minister was deeply informed by the experience of Carol’s transition team. Please take a minute to thank them next time you see them for their devoted and difficult service to the Fellowship.
At 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, 2013, we will gather for the Service of Installation, the public ceremony in which we formally covenant together as partners in ministry. We’ll be joined by local interfaith clergy, regional UU clergy, and officials from the UUA and District. Afterwards, of course, we will party in the presence of good food. Be sure to mark your calendars now. You won’t want to miss it.
Congratulations and love to you all, my Congregation,
For five summer days in 2008, I served on the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry Team that responded to the shooting at our congregation in Knoxville, TN. Jim David Adkisson had entered the sanctuary during a Sunday morning children’s performance of Annie Jr., taken a 12-guage shotgun out of his guitar case and opened fire. Two adults were killed and six wounded, but all 25 kids survived uninjured.
President Obama, in his statement at the 12/16 prayer vigil in Newton, CT, named “love for our children” as the ultimate value we fail to honor when we permit the conditions that make terrible massacres like this possible. (See Rev. Tom Schade’s blog, http://www.tomschade.com/2012/12/barack-obama-liberal-theologian.html)
“There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have – for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child's embrace – that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger – we know that's what matters. We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness. We don't go wrong when we do that.”
Our faith calls us to stand on the side of this “boundless love…that binds us to something larger.” I wrote the poem below for the vigil held at the Unitarian Church in Westport after the Knoxville shooting. May it inspire you, inspire us, to do all we can to reverse this horrifying trend in American life.
You Have the Strength
Sometimes there is no warning, or none that you are likely to notice.
Suddenly it just happens and it can be very bad,
Bad, bad beyond any reckoning.
And there you are, in that small body of yours.
Your eyes see. Your ears hear and your heart breaks,
knowing this horror cannot be undone,
only met head-on and grappled with fiercely.
In that moment between comprehending and responding,
you will know that I am with you.
I am Life, the power of the atom and the star,
the bone and breath and pounding heart of earth’s being.
Call me what you will – I have many names,
as many as I have detractors and disciples.
But right now, my name is your name, because
as your faith demands,
you have, over and over again, called me, honored me, claimed and rejected me, damned me, wrestled with me, sung me, studied me, worshipped me.
As your faith demands, you have become me.
And because you have become me,
you have the strength to stop the bullet on its path,
to throw down the shooter, to see to the wounded,
to keep the unharmed safe, to call for help,
to comfort the grieving and frightened,
to make the meals, plan the service, change the laws,
to be there, just be there, listening and watching,
no matter what happens next.
When there is no warning and you must act, must choose, must speak,
know that you are neither alone nor helpless.
The whole of Life flows through you. Together we are One –
Together wise, strong, courageous, compassionate, capable.
Together we can make what is broken whole again.
Standing with you on the Side of Love in this New Year,