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.
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.
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.
I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this divided country we live in, and how the divides and polarization seem to be happening at every level; certainly, we see it at the national level, in our congress and senate. It’s happening at the state, county, and municipal levels, too. So it would be silly to think that our communities and families aren’t also affected by it.
I’m trying to understand the dynamics behind all of this divisiveness that, sadly, all too often results in distrust, hate, and violence. Why and how is this happening? How can we do things differently so that this is not the result?
One thing I’ve noticed is an inability (or an unwillingness) to tolerate someone who thinks differently than we do. We each seem to have our particular issues that we use as litmus tests for determining whether we can include a person in our life (if a person doesn’t agree with me about Y, then there is no room for them in my life). I agree that our time and energy are limited resources, and we must be mindful and intentional of where we invest them. But I am somewhat worried that we are experiencing a tendency toward surrounding ourselves with only those who think like we do, and intentionally excluding from our life and experience those who think differently. I find this worrisome because I believe it is exactly the opposite approach to what my faith tells me is necessary to build the Beloved Community.
I have heard many Unitarian Universalists (here at WUUC and in other places and congregations) share that they enjoy belonging to “a community of like-minded folks.” I like that they like their community, but I worry that the source of that feeling of belonging comes from like-mindedness. I worry about this, because what happens then when we come to something we disagree about? Is that it? One of us has to leave the community? Our basis for acceptance of one another cannot hinge upon whether we are like-minded. Can we shift, instead, toward being like-hearted? I am reminded of the quote often attributed to Unitarian Francis David (but likely actually came from John Wesley, a Methodist; either way, it’s a good quote):
“We need not think alike, to love alike.”
I hope we can sit with this, and see how it affects us. See if what I’ve been observing you also are seeing. If you are, and if you are as troubled by it as I am, I wonder if we can consider making a shift from being like-minded to being like-hearted? If we can start by accepting the person, even if we don’t accept all of their ideas? My hope is that this is the shift that will change the trajectory of our divided nation. And it starts, not at the top, but right here in our homes and communities. Grass-roots, not trickle-down. I don’t know if it will work. But I’m hopeful, and that hope inspires me to try.
We were hoping for a better 2021 when the year kicked off, but it’s been a rough start.
The insurrection at the United States Capitol was a scary thing to watch. And despite two vaccines, the COVID19 virus is adapting and spreading even more quickly than when it first arrived in the country; and after months of “pandemic fatigue,” it is even harder for many folks to double down and stay apart, even though that’s exactly what this moment calls for. We hit the 400,000 mark for COVID deaths, and projections show us hitting 500,00 deaths in a month. When numbers get this high, they become statistics, and it becomes hard to even imagine tragedy on such a broad scale. There is so much suffering, so much loss. And sadly, I sense that many of us are beginning to feel a numbness in response because continuing to express our true grief for such a prolonged period feels impossible.
Despite of all of this, we go on. We try to live our lives. Hold regular church services. Check in with each other by phone, email, and Zoom. Go for socially-distanced walks. Work. Eat. Play, however we can.
This moment has me reflecting on why we are a church. What are we here to do together? What are we supposed to be doing, for each other, and for those beyond our church community? How much of that can we continue to do during this pandemic, and how much has to wait?
How much of what we are going through now will we carry with us when the pandemic ends? What are we learning about ourselves and our community? About resiliency? About spiritual and emotional sustenance? About our need for each other?
Lots of questions. The answers are coming more slowly. But this I know: we are figuring it out together. Even in our loneliness, we are not truly alone.
I invite you to take some time to reflect, and not just on my questions, but your own. What questions are coming up for you? Where do your thoughts go when you pause and sit for a few moments? It may be that, like me, you have more questions than answers. And that’s okay; that’s where we are right now. So bring your questions, your answers, and your whole self. Our community needs you more than ever, just as you are, right now.