Our Second ‘First Year’ Together

Our Second ‘First Year’ Together

Dear WUUC Community,

It’s September, which means our ingathering service is just around the corner. Ingathering is the time each year when we return from summer adventures, students prepare to return to school, and we ramp up our church programs and activities. It is a time of joy and celebration at our returning to community again. 

I know it was my hope, and the hope of many in our congregation, that we would be able to celebrate our ingathering this year in person. The rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19, however, has made that plan unsafe; and so, we find ourselves preparing for a virtual ingathering for the second year in a row. 

Though necessary, this is disappointing to many of us who were hoping to return to worship and fellowship in our beautiful building, and to see each other’s smiling, maskless faces. That day is still coming, just not as soon as we’d hoped. 

This year’s ingathering also marks the start of my second year with you as your settled minister. And while it will be the second time going through the cycle of the church year, this year will still hold a lot of firsts. We still have yet to have a worship service in our sanctuary together. I have yet to meet many of you in person. I have yet to teach an Adult Religious Education class, or attend a potluck. Many of the tried-and-true ways of being together in community are not available to us right now, and so, in many ways, our first year together was just a “getting to know each other as we get through this weird and difficult time together” year.

The year we are now beginning together (albeit, still virtually for now) will likely hold more of the hallmarks, practices, and customs that we will engage in together for years to come. And so, I like to think of this coming year as our second “first year” together. We still have a lot of “getting to know you better” to do. We have a lot of breaking bread to do. We have a lot of learning and growing and serving to do. And we will. We will do all of these things in due time. 

This year holds many opportunities. I know our hearts are ready and our spirits our willing, but our bodies are vulnerable. So we will wait just a little bit longer. And I know this: our patience will be rewarded. When we do finally have that first worship service in the church building, when we attend that first potluck, or sing together for the first time in months, it will have been worth the wait. Our sacrifice will be rewarded, and it will taste all the sweeter knowing that we did what we had to do to protect ourselves and others. 

It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but that second step is just as important. As we continue our journey together, may our second first year hold much-longed-for reunions, many beautiful firsts, and abundant blessings for all.

Peace and Blessings, 

Dan

Changing Your Mind as a Spiritual Practice

Changing Your Mind as a Spiritual Practice

Dear WUUC Community,

General Assembly, the annual meeting of Unitarian Universalists from across the country to conduct the business of our denomination, usually takes place the last full week of June, and this year was no exception in that regard. It was exceptional for another reason though, because it took place virtually for the second year in a row, due to the pandemic.

This year’s General Assembly was the third one I’ve attended, and while I was impressed with the Unitarian Universalist Association’s ability to create such a huge event entirely online, it still lacked some of the magic of years past. (Nothing quite compares with needing a sweater in the summer because you’re in an air-conditioned convention center all day.) Usually, a different city hosts the gathering each year, and UUs flock by planes, trains, and automobiles to spend nearly a week in a convention center, busily moving about between auditorium-sized spaces for worship and business meetings, to smaller conference rooms to attend workshops, classes, and smaller social gatherings. And of course, the exhibit hall is always a great place to pick up the latest UU merchandise and learn about partner organizations. I’m looking forward to next year’s in-person General Assembly just down the road in Portland, Oregon to restore some of that “magic” feeling.

This year, in the lead up to General Assembly, one particular item in the business agenda seemed to get a lot of attention here at WUUC: the proposed Statement of Conscience called Undoing Systemic White Supremacy: A Call to Prophetic Action. Through email discussions and during a listening session after a Sunday service, our community shared thoughts, feelings, reactions, and opinions, and you listened as others shared theirs. Many of you spoke passionately, and it was clear how strongly you felt. Some of you advocated strongly for the statement, and some of you were opposed to the wording and/or the tone of the statement. And under those points of disagreement, I heard plenty of agreement on the goal of the statement: to actively oppose systemic racism and oppression.

In group conversations like this, I often remind people that the only mind anyone can change is their own. These situations tend to go better when we stop trying to convince others to agree with us, and focus instead on sharing deeply from our own feelings and experiences, and listening deeply when others do the same. Personally, in my own spiritual development, I’ve begun to practice Changing My Mind as a spiritual practice. To be more accurate, it’s really more about being open to changing my mind, and not as much about changing my mind just for the sake of it. It’s about cultivating a willingness in myself to let my experiences with other people have an effect on me. A wise colleague of mine, who works as a chaplain, once shared that before she enters a room to provide pastoral care to someone, she asks herself, “How open is my heart to this experience?” And mine is similar, but a little different: “How open is my mind to being changed?”

But ultimately, it’s an illusion. Because cultivating a willingness to change our minds is really heart-work more than head-work. It’s more emotional and spiritual than intellectual.

I can’t make anyone say or do or believe anything. However, I encourage you to try Changing Your Mind as a spiritual practice, and see if cultivating that willingness to open your heart and mind will deepen and enrich your life, as it has for me.

Peace and Blessings,

Dan

The Business of Being Human

The Business of Being Human

Dear WUUC Community,

In the second half of May, Emily and I took Natalie on vacation through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas to see my parents and Emily’s parents. We call it the Grandparent tour of 2021.

In the last few days of work before vacation started, I was trying to complete all of the church-related tasks I had on my to-do list so I could be distraction-free during our trip. However, as the last day of work arrived, I realized there was still more to do than I would be able to get done that day; so I decided that I would spend the first few days of vacation “wrapping up loose ends.” Well, as tasks often do, finishing one created another, and I never did get everything done that I had on my list. In fact, it got longer, not shorter.

A week into the vacation, I realized how the unfinished work was affecting my family. Not only was my to-do list keeping me from being with them, but even when I set the work aside, I was still distracted and thinking about what I needed to get done. It prevented me from being fully present with my family.

When I realized what was happening, I set the list aside, truly for (most of) the rest of our vacation. And I’m so glad I did. I got to see Natalie bond with all of her grandparents, try guacamole (she liked it!), learn to drink from a straw, and meet a cat for the first time. I got to be part of these precious moments because I put the list aside and decided to be present.

All too often, I find myself caught in the daily to-do list of tasks and deadlines. I find this is especially true in our approach to church work, teams, and committees. On the one hand, it is important to do the things we set out to do, the things we decide are important. Some of these tasks are the things that make our community sustainable. But sometimes it’s worth pausing and reflecting to decide if the deadlines we’re facing are truly necessary, or if they are self-imposed and more flexible than we believe them to be.

What happens if the annual meeting is in June instead of May? What if we take a month longer to finish a project, but it allowed us to bring someone to the table who wasn’t there before, and whose perspective was needed? What if a meeting was an opportunity to do something together, rather than a gathering to get something done? Can it be both?

Is our community oriented more toward getting stuff done, or about getting along? Can we find ways for the “doing” to enhance the “being”? We don’t have to choose “either or.” This is one of those “both and” situations. And striking the balance between doing and being is the business of being human. So let’s practice together, right here in our community. Let’s practice being present as much as we can, to each other and ourselves, right where we are, right in the moment. And maybe we can even get some stuff done in the process.

Peace and Blessings,

Dan

Minister’s Musings: So Close… But We’re Not There Yet

Minister’s Musings: So Close… But We’re Not There Yet

Dear WUUC Community,

This week marks one year since we had our Candidating Week (which was actually 12 days!), which ended in you voting and calling me to be your settled minister. That week was the first time I met many of you. It was the first time we worshipped together. And because of the pandemic, all of this happened virtually.

And here we are, a year later. We still haven’t worshipped together in our church building. With a few exceptions, I have still only met most of you virtually. A year ago, we had hopes that we would be able to gather again by now; but none of us knew how this last year would play out.

Who knew that wearing a mask would become politicized? Who knew that people would willingly resist a life-saving vaccine? Even now, with many folks in our community vaccinated (yay!), we still belong to a broader community. And unfortunately, in that broader community (King and Snohomish counties) we are likely about to go backwards in the reopening plan, from Phase III back to Phase II. This means that despite the vaccination efforts here, the number of COVID infections and hospitalizations is still too high, and they’re going up, not down.

And one more important thing to note: at the beginning of the pandemic, it was the older folks among us and those with previous health conditions who were most at risk. Now that all adults are eligible for the vaccine, it is our children and youth who are most threatened by COVID. And with variant strains of the virus emerging, our kiddos may be more at risk than we previously thought.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Health experts believe older kids may be able to be vaccinated by as soon as this fall, and younger kids by the end of the year, or possibly sooner. So while there is hope that the end is within reach, we’re not there yet. Even though it doesn’t feel fair, we have to double down and re-commit to the health of our community; because our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. That certainly includes our children and youth.

Now here’s the hard part: It also includes those folks who won’t wear masks, and who won’t get vaccinated. I know it is harder to see the inherent worth and dignity in people who don’t see it in us, but we still have to try, because we live by our values, not theirs. We don’t have to agree with (or condone) their actions or choices. But we still have to see their humanity. And maybe (just maybe), a message delivered with compassion will reach them in a way that a message of confrontation won’t. So let’s be patient, and let’s be compassionate. It’s a tough time for everyone.

We are a resilient people. We will get through this, and better days are ahead. I look forward to the day we can be together. It’s not here yet, but it is coming soon. Blessed be that day.

Peace and Blessings,

Dan

The Promise of Spring

The Promise of Spring

Dear WUUC Community,

The signs of spring are beginning to peek gently from their winter hiding places. The sun is becoming a frequent visitor; the days are getting longer. The flowers are starting to bloom: cherry blossoms, daffodils, and tulips are gracing us with their presence, bringing bright, vibrant colors to a backdrop of evergreen and lake-blue. I’ve never lived in a place so beautiful.

And all of this beauty reminds me of something beautiful about the seasons: they are a cycle of death and resurrection. The cold winter, a time of hibernation, of hiding, of going within, and, yes, of death, is necessary, but always temporary. In time, winter turns to spring, a renewal of life. Consider these beautiful words by Rev. Mark Belletini, which are the lyrics to hymn #73 in Singing the Living Tradition:

Winter rains have turned the starwheel, springtime is upon us.
Sharp the smell of loam, bursting in our eyes the turrets of the tulip.
Winter rains have turned the starwheel, springtime is upon us.
Greening is the grass; soft upon our brows the sunlight warm caresses.
Winter rains have turned the starwheel, springtime is upon us.

The winter rains always bring us spring. Life always returns.

Ours is an optimistic faith tradition. Unitarian Universalism exists in a world that we know can be a deeply painful and difficult place. And we also know that the better world we dream about, and are working to bring about, is possible. Our work is not in vain. We know that suffering, like the winter, is temporary. We know that joy, peace, justice, and love will always follow injustice, grief, and despair.

After the pain of loss and death, comes resurrection and new life. And so, when we look to the spring, to all the beauty and new life that is rising all around us, let it bring us hope. For this is the promise of spring; it justifies our optimism. It is a reason to be hopeful.

Happy spring, everyone. May we be renewed by the beauty and promise of the season.

Peace and Blessings,

Dan