Some of you have told me that you worry I am working too hard and maybe neglecting my own self-care. "We don't want you to burn out, get sick, leave us." It is true that I can check a lot of boxes on the stress inventory! As I adjust to a new role in a new congregation, to a new marriage and a new family in a new home in a new town, to a new regime for my R(heumatoid) A(rthritis) and a new diagnosis (fibromyalgia), I am, by definition, off-balance and vulnerable. And, I know, yes, I know, oh, how I know: if I want to care for you responsibly, I need to take care of this body and soul. Part of my job as minister is to model (ugh!) a way of living that honors the body, sustains the spirit and builds mental and emotional IQ.
I Confess: I am not very good at listening for and to the voice of this aging body. My body's messages often express inconvenient truths, easy to miss or dismiss. I hear them and, often, I ignore them: "I'm thirsty!" "Gotta lie down!" "Let's take in a movie tonight." "How about a swim?" "Ow!" "Please give me some real food!" "Can I just have a minute to think this over?" Somehow, again and again, I allow even the most minor urgencies of the daily scramble to override the wise longings of my body. But this body, at nearly 55, is neither as tolerant nor as resilient as it used to be. Neglect is increasingly risky.
I Promise: I am on the path. Recently I made a personal commitment to strengthen my relationship to my body, to listen to her messages and honor her needs. My emerging strategies address the needs of the whole Margie -- body, spirit, mind, and heart. I want you to have a partner in ministry who is as physically fit, as spiritually fortified, as mentally sharp, and as relationally present as she possibly can be.
I've started working with a personal trainer and cardio-training at my target heart rate regularly. For the time being, I have eliminated most sweets and desserts from my diet. I am drinking more water, and practicing Michael Pollan's "food rules." (Google it!) I am honoring the Sabbath - Wednesday, my day of rest. Friday and Sunday afternoon and evening are working out to be family time. I participate in the newly-formed UUFSB Buddhist sangha, my "church." I have plenty of personal, collegial, medical, spiritual and continuing educational support. And rest happens! A couple of vacation weeks are coming up in February (13-20) and May (15-22). (They'll be spread out and earlier next year.) This summer I'll have two additional weeks of rest, recreation and restoration and four weeks of study leave for reading, spiritual renewal and preparation for the new church year.
So, my friends, you will see me getting better and better at taking care of myself. If I am for you (and I am) then I must be for myself. And it works the other way as well. Love the bodies you are and make them strong. We are partners in a ministry that calls our best selves, body and soul, into rigorous service.
Strong in this faith,
Here is something I have noticed about you as a community: you are hard and dedicated workers. Once you set your mind to something, you accomplish itâ€”and with uncommon flair. You commit to a product of very high quality and you will wear yourself down to a nub in the process of cranking it out, whatever it is you promised to do. And I feel that I am in good company here, because I am like that too. Between us, we can haul the loaded wagon of our ministry quite a distance before we all drop from exhaustion.
So you see the problem. Our all-out alliance has some uncomfortable implications. A roomful of "nubs" is a pretty shocking sight even when the food has come in and the fire is out, as Marge Piercy puts it in her poem "To Be of Use." We are made to be of use, to have "work that is real," but we must also have rest, play, fun, nourishment. We must be fed by our work, restored and renewed. Best case scenario, in fact - ”our work together produces more energy for life than it expends!
Some of you may have seen me rolling a three-shelf office cart up and down the halls of the Fellowship from meeting to meeting. It took me awhile to get it all together, but now I can bring to you single-serve coffee (caf or decaf), white and dark hot chocolate, spiced apple cider, herbal and black teas and an electric kettle, different kinds of sweeteners, half-and-half. This hot drink cart is a symbol of my intention for all of us. We will take care of ourselves. We will take on work we love that will grow us as individuals and touch lives beyond our walls. We will have a full complement of partners in that work so that each component job is perfectly doable. We will celebrate our accomplishments. We will eat and sleep and frolic about and laugh a lot. We will bring what we make together to the world and we will bask in the light we make together.
I have lots of strategies up my sleeve. Here is another one. This winter and spring on ten Mondays and Tuesdays, I will be offering a series of workshops called Spirit in Practice, an exploration of the meaning and nature of spiritual practice in our lives. This is NOT about dipping into tai chi in one session, yoga in the next, journaling and mindfulness meditation after that. This series will help you name your own experiences of the holy and discover spiritual practices that already sustain you in your life. Might you identify others in the course of the series? Yes, certainly, and there is much more to learn and share. So join me 7-9 PM, February 1, 7, 22; March 1, 7, 22, 29; April 5, 12; May 3 in a Fellowship room TBA. I'll bring the hot drink cart. We'll pool some snacks. If you come hungry and cold in spirit, know you will be fed and warmed in good company.
Happy New Year!
Deb Little sat in the back seat of the car as Pat Killian drove me back to the ferry after my interview with the search committee last spring. She wanted to know my thoughts on congregations as instruments of social justice in the world. How could minister and congregation work together most effectively? We'd barely begun the conversation before I was out the door and dashing down the pier toward the boat and a stunning sunset.
Complex congregational issues are embedded in Deb's question. How important is social justice to our mission as a Fellowship? What is the relationship between politics, social justice and religion? What legal boundaries apply to us as a religious institution? How can minister and lay leaders use our free pulpit responsibly in addressing social justice issues before a diversely aligned membership? When can minister, individuals and groups speak for the congregation as a whole on issues? How do we balance charitable responses to injustice with advocacy and action for root change? Can we use the power of our numbers to increase the effectiveness of our social justice initiatives? Will the day come when members and friends support the Fellowship through annual pledges and every dollar from public congregational fundraisers funds our social justice efforts? I hope we will be able to discuss these and other questions in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the Social Justice Committee is undertaking something new and different this winter: a "common read" of a book on the topic of immigration. Delegates at the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis selected "Immigration as a Moral Issue" as our Association's 2010-2014 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI). A CSAI is not a statement. It is a question, an invitation for congregations to confront this topic, reflect on it, learn about it and respond to it - each in its own way.
Our common read, The Death of Josseline, begins with the story of a 14 year-old girl who died in the Arizona desert as she tried to bring her 10-year-old brother to their mother in Los Angeles. We begin our four years of engagement with this CSAI with a collection of stories about real lives in the context of one immigration dilemma. From there we will take our inquiry deeper and wider. The read will begin this month. Buy or borrow your book. Read it after the holidays. Engage in one of a number of discussion opportunities in January and February. Participate in a collaborative Sunday service on the topic in March.
I, like most of you, just ate my way through a holiday that reminds us of the perennial tensions that immigration inscribes on a culture and a land. The Christmas story gives us another such story. Is there room at the inn for a stranger to be born among us - a prophet and teacher of peace, compassion and hospitality?
We are survivors, all of us. Life can be brutal. We have all been through the ringer, run the gauntlet, held on through some horrible experience at some time in our lives. Some of you who are reading this are living through such a time right now. If you feel trapped in what seems to you a hopeless situation and are suffering, feeling isolated and afraid - please don't give up on life. If you are dwelling in despair and maybe contemplating extreme measures to end your pain - please, please reach out to someone in our faith community whom you have reason to trust. Do it today, right now. Trust one of us with your heart's story: your shame, your fear, your secret, the betrayal, the loss, your outrage.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
This soft loving animal is Shamas, the Westie puppy that former UUFSB member Kathy Nashleanas (formerly O'Farrell/Lotten) wrote about to a friend not long ago. Shamas and Mike, Kathy's husband, are among those who survive the loss of their beloved Kathy to suicide this week. Mike was a UUFSB member for many years. Kathy belonged to the Bellport Fellowship. They moved to Florida three or four years ago. While at UUFSB, they participated in Couples Group activities. Mike was a Worship Associate and active member of the Men's Group, which he has replicated at the UU Church of St. Petersburg. Kathy worked as a Fair Housing Investigator, and in a volunteer capacity for Casa de la Paz, PeaceSmiths, South Country Peace Group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of LI, and the New Century Singers, among other regional and global initiatives.
The "purposeful companionship" that is the center of our community life is, at its core, a means to a richer, more liberated, meaning-filled and hope-lit life. The chalice flame we light together on Sunday mornings lives throughout the week - warm and illuminating - in our connection to one another. "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person," Albert Schweitzer wrote. If your light is dimming, call someone, meet with him or her. Open the chalice of your heart to the love that can revive your own failing flame.
I know you have seen many examples in recent weeks of letters, videos and news stories reminding us that "It Gets Better." These are responses to the recent rash of suicides among teenagers and young adults who have been) bullied, harassed, abused into mortal despair. It does get better. As you talk, as you sing and walk, as you fast and feast with others, as you begin to trust once more, as you come to love again your vulnerable, resilient self, you will relax into life's wild ride. You will come to trust that "meanwhile the world goes on" -- that something good is coming up and you are expected there.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-from Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese"
And You, who are alive and alight, write Mike at 9300 50th Terrace North, St. Petersburg, FL 33708, and reach out to those who are suffering near you in their own private darkness. You are a survivor. Offer your light.
Be ye lamps,
Between the mixing and the first rise - while the dough takes a short rest - I am taking a minute to write you. I am so interested in process, in how things get done, each time a little more expertly, with a little more joy in the work, with a little more love in the mix.
I have been making bread since I was little. My mother loved and had mastered one Fleischmann's recipe and she taught me to make it - Oatmeal Molasses Bread - a yummy sweet caramel-colored sandwich loaf. As a young teenager I sold loaves of bread to people in our summer neighborhood, prided myself on making whatever type of bread they asked for, but only yeast breads.
I knew the moment I laid my little girl hand on the baby softness of a well-worked round of dough that bringing a loaf of bread into the world is to dabble in real life magic. The love born in that moment has never left me. Once upon an organic garden, I grew and harvested, threshed and winnowed my own wheat berries.
Though I mill my whole wheat flour these days using store-bought berries, I still smell and taste and feel the earth's goodness plucked up and ground into mix, destined to rise again as tomorrow's toast and sandwich. When you make a loaf of bread you conspire with the Spirit of Life in a complicated process. Different ingredients come together, give their individual gifts to the whole, form together a structure capable of holding the energy that is released, and then they become something entirely new. The ingredients are changed by their association. They become.
We are becoming something together we could not have become alone or in any other combination or circumstance, my friends. The energy we are producing in the process will move us, shape us, change us and make of us a new gift to the world in which we live. What gift or gifts shall we become in the next three years? The next ten? What goodness will you bring to the mix? How will you give yourself to the magic and the fire?