As I prepare to take a study leave to plan the 2022-23 church year, I am excited about the opportunities that are possible as we continue to emerge slowly and cautiously from the pandemic. For the first time since I arrived two years ago, I am able to consider putting in-person activities on the calendar. Adult RE classes, social gatherings, postponed celebrations. Meetings over coffee instead of Zoom. And with so many possibilities, I know I will have to fight the temptation to put too much on my calendar (and the church’s calendar) too quickly. At a week-long community organizing training I attended years ago, the lead organizer asked a question on the last day of the training: what did you learn here that you are excited to take back and implement in your community? Many people raised their hands to share their answers. Then he asked a follow-up question: what is going to come off your plate to make room for the new thing you want to do? The hands didn’t go up as quickly to answer that question.
It is easy to get excited and want to dive right in to new and inspiring projects and plans. But before we do, it is worth reflecting on what we are letting go of to make room in our lives for the new. It can be tempting to think, “I’ll just squeeze this one more thing in. I can make it all fit in my life.” And that may be true; but we’ll only know if we ask the question of ourselves and reflect on the answer. And it is definitely true that this can’t be the answer every time, to just squeeze in one more thing. Eventually, something will have to give in order to make room for something else.
There are so many things I want to see and make happen here at WUUC. And, I know that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. If we are doing it right, we will have many years together to plan, gather, and build; to connect, learn, and transform ourselves, our community, and our world. There is time for all of it, as long as we take it a little at a time.
I’m so glad to be on this journey with all of you.
As the 2021-22 church year came to a close in June, it would seem like a natural next step to turn our attention to the coming year, and focus on getting the 2022-23 church year started. But before we do that, just wait a second. Pause. Breathe. I know it’s tempting to want to jump from one thing right into the next; but when we do that, we skip a very important part of the rhythm of life: the part where we rest.
Rest is essential to our well-being. And not just physically, but emotionally, socially, and spiritually as well. When I decided to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, I had to finish my undergraduate degree before going to seminary. It took me two years of coursework to finish a degree I had started nearly a decade earlier. I graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in December of 2013, and three weeks later I started my Master of Divinity program at Iliff School of Theology. I had barely finished my BA before beginning the next phase in my ministerial formation path. I was excited and motivated, and because of this I didn’t rest. I didn’t think I needed it. And I did fine in seminary, so this is not a cautionary tale of how wrong things can go if we don’t rest. But I do regret not slowing down a bit. It took me more than a decade to finish my college degree, a significant milestone in my life. And I just jumped right into the next thing. I wish I had taken some time to reflect and process what I had been through; what I had accomplished; how I felt about it. I wish I had taken the time to mark and celebrate that achievement. Ironically, I went on quickly to the next thing because I didn’t want to miss out on the next part of my path; but in doing so, I actually missed out on the appreciation and reflection part that would have enhanced the whole experience. I missed out on the resting part, and the spaciousness that resting creates. I missed out on the emotional and spiritual growth I might have gained if I had
So now, as we end our church year (one in which we returned to in-person services, gatherings, and activities), I know there is a desire to launch ourselves fully back into a version of community we have been missing for the last 2+ years. And. This is a significant milestone in the life of our church community. We’ve been through a lot. Rather than rush into the next thing, let’s pause. Breathe. Rest. Let’s reflect on what we’ve just been through together, and how it has affected us. Let’s share our stories, and listen to each other. And let’s give ourselves an opportunity in the spaciousness to grow emotionally and spiritually as individuals, and as a community.
Last month, our Worship Team collaborated with the folks at Evergreen UU Fellowship in Marysville to do a collaborative service honoring Easter and Passover. It went well, and I think everyone involved learned a lot by shaking things up and doing things a little differently than we normally would. The EUUF folks taught us some things about how they do worship, and we showed them some of what we’ve learned from transitioning to hybrid (in-person and virtual) worship services.
The lesson that sticks with me most from that experience, however, wasn’t about how to use our technology better, or how to construct the Order of Service differently; the lesson that sticks with me most is about the mindset we approach our worship planning with. The Evergreen folks live by the mantra: It’s about connection, not perfection.
I’ve noticed that since going to hybrid services, there have been a lot more roles and volunteer positions added to the Sunday morning worship team. We’ve got people who operate the cameras, people who run the sound board, a Zoomkeeper managing the online experience with the help of a Zoommate ready to jump in if needed. And then there’s the Worship Leader, who works with me to plan the content of the worship service. There are a lot of details to manage, and if I’m being honest, sometimes we get bogged down in the details. Sometimes we get so focused on making sure that all of the details are perfect, that we forget that our goal with the Sunday worship service is not about creating a slick, highly-produced piece of entertainment; it is an opportunity (an invitation, really) to come together, have a communal experience, and renew our spirits. It’s about connection, not perfection.
Now, of course I want our worship services to be interesting and engaging. I want them to be warm and welcoming, whether you attend virtually or in person. But I do find that when I plan and lead worship, I show up more authentically (and the services generally are better quality) when I remember the mantra that Evergreen uses: It’s about connection, not perfection. When this is my orientation, the end result is often better.
I think that this applies to other areas of church life too, not just worship. Have you ever been to a committee meeting that had way too much of the agenda left at the end of the meeting because everyone discussed the details of one item for way too long, trying to get it just perfect? Or have you ever missed the point of what someone tried to share with you because you were focused on the way they worded their statement, rather than what they were trying to express?
I’m guilty of all of these, by the way. And that’s why, when the folks at Evergreen shared their mantra, it really resonated deeply with me. It spoke to a truth that I hold close: we are in community to connect with each other. To support and love one another. We are not in community to perfect (or fix) each other. This is why those “religious” words like Grace and Forgiveness are important: they help a bunch of imperfect people (and we are all imperfect people) get along together. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.
For now, just remember: It’s about connection, not perfection. Repeat as necessary.
When I arrived here in Woodinville in August of 2020, I heard that our Black Lives Matter sign had been defaced, destroyed, or disappeared a number of times prior to my arrival. However, since my ministry here began, the sign has been on display and undisturbed at the bottom of our driveway on Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Until now. Sometime over the weekend, someone spray painted a red X right across the middle of our sign.
Tension has been rising here and all across the country due to ideological differences for awhile now; tension over race, tension over vaccines and mandates and mask wearing. On the surface, these tensions seem to be rooted in differences about having the right thoughts or beliefs. However, I have to wonder about the feelings that are beneath these assumptions.
Why is such a simple, straightforward, and non-threatening statement (“black lives matter”) perceived as a threat, and enough of one that someone thinks it needs to be spray-painted over? Clearly, the vandal associates our sign with more than the simple statement that is on it. This person must associate it with a whole movement, a whole way of being in the world that they disagree with, and probably feel threatened by. I’m guessing that this person is motivated by anger; and under that, fear.
Our response to this anonymous act of vandalism is to clean up our sign, or replace it if it is beyond repair (with gratitude to our Building and Grounds team for prioritizing this among their many responsibilities). The spray paint will not prevent us from affirming that Black Lives Matter. We will continue to say, and normalize, this simple message.
But what can this incident reveal about our internal response? If this person was motivated by anger and fear (as I am only guessing is the case, but have pretty good reasons for thinking so), then what are we motivated to do when we are angry and afraid? How do those emotions impact our actions when we feel them?
I don’t want to presume how any of you might answer that; but for me, I often do not act as my most authentic and best version of myself when my motivation is anger and fear. And so, in those moments when I recognize that I am feeling anger and fear, I can pause for a moment (taking a couple of deep breaths helps), and then ask: what would a response motivated by love look like? What if I act out of love, rather than out of anger and fear? This reframe can often shift me away from the fear, and toward curiosity and compassion.
It’s not enough to take an ideological stance. In fact, taking that stance and digging in can often do more harm than good, as in the case of the spray-painting vandal. We have to be reflective, and go beyond what we believe. We have to be curious about why we believe what we say we do (the feelings that behind the beliefs), and then understand how that motivates us to act. This is as much the purpose of religious community as anything: to seek the truth and learn together. And the truth of our emotions (and how they affect us and motivate us) is just as real as provable facts. So let’s practice, together, being motivated by love.
It is December now, which means we are well into a season of celebrations and gift-giving. If presents are a part of your holiday observances, please remember to add one more person to your list of gift recipients: you!
And (if I may be so bold and presumptuous), I know exactly what you can get for yourself; and that is the present of presence. This time of year is often a busy one, and the ‘hustle and bustle” seems baked in to the season. Amidst this busy (and sometimes frantic) energy, one of the best things you can give yourself is a moment of pause, a moment to be still, a moment to breathe and just be.
A mentor of mine taught me about two kinds of spiritual practices. The first kind she called “on cushion” practices, which are practices that you plan and prepare for, and build into your schedule to do regularly. “On cushion” practices are things like sitting meditation, yoga, and praying before meals or bedtime.
The other kind of spiritual practices she called “off cushion” practices, which are practices that you can keep in your back pocket and use whenever you need to ground and center yourself. These can be as simple as stopping what you are doing to take three (or five, or ten) intentional, slow, deep breaths in… and out. Another one that is popular among Unitarian Universalists is the metta meditation (also called the loving-kindness meditation), which you can recite to yourself: “May I be filled with loving-kindness; may I be well; may I be peaceful and at ease; may I be whole” (then repeat it, but replace the “I” with “you”; then repeat it again using “we”; on the last time through use “all”). This is a way to return our attention and our energy to kindness when we sense ourselves slipping into frustration and anxiety.
I hope this season brings you joy and peace. However, I know that there are more difficult emotions that come along at this time of year too. Whatever you are feeling, it’s okay. The best thing you can do is be attentive and notice, and then be gentle with yourself.
I am thinking of you, and sending you loving-kindness.
A farmer lived in a small house with his wife, many children, and his aging parents. The house was always crowded, noisy, and often messy. The farmer could never seem to find a moment of peace and quiet; so he went to see the rabbi.
“Rabbi,” he said, “my house is full of noise and mess. I cannot get even a moment of peace!”
And the Rabbi told him, “Farmer, you should bring your chickens inside and let them live in the house with you.”
The farmer did this, but did not find peace. Instead, the noise and mess got worse. So he went back to the Rabbi.
“Rabbi,” said the farmer, “I have brought the chickens into the house to live with me and my family, but the noise and the mess have gotten worse, not better. What should I do?”
And the Rabbi told him, “Farmer, you should do the same with your goat as you did with your chickens. Bring it into the house and have it live inside with you.”
The farmer did this, but did not find peace. The goat was not just noisy and messy, but also destructive. So back to the Rabbi he went.
“Rabbi,” said the farmer, “I have done as you told me. The goat and the chickens all live in the house now. But now, the house is not just noisy and messy, things are getting broken. What should I do?”
And the Rabbi told him, “bring your cow into the house to live with you, your family, the goat, and the chickens.”
The farmer did as the Rabbi said, and brought the cow to live inside the house. But the farmer still did not find peace. Instead, the house was noisy and messy, things were getting broken, and it smelled like a barn. So off to the Rabbi he went again.
“Rabbi,” pleaded the farmer, “I don’t think I can take it anymore. I have done as you told me, and brought the chickens, the goat, and the cow to live inside the house with my family. But every time I have done what you said, conditions get worse, not better. I cannot take the noise, mess, and smell any longer!”
And the Rabbi replied, “Farmer, go home now and return the chickens to their coop, the goat to the barn, and the cow to the pasture.”
The farmer went home and did this. And suddenly, his house was so much quieter and less crowded. He felt a sense of peace wash over him.
– – – – – – – – –
I’m excited that we are on the verge of something great: being together again for worship.
And who would have thought that the prospect of simply going to church would be so exciting, or take so much time and energy to plan? Just 20 months ago, going to church was completely unremarkable. And now, the prospect of returning to our church building for worship services feels like a monumental task; and when we do it, we will celebrate it as a huge achievement.
We are going to do something that we have easily done before: we are going to return to in-person church. But like the parable, after a noisy, messy, destructive year and a half that really stunk, we are going to appreciate what we have with a renewed sense of gratitude. Enduring this pandemic has given us a new context, and a new lens through which to see our community.
Right now, most of my time, attention, and energy is going toward our reopening process. It seems strange to me that so much of my ministry right now is doing things my ministerial preparation never prepared me for.I’m looking forward to the peace on the other side of this transition, which is really a transition back to somewhere we’ve been before.
And, it won’t be just like it was before. We can take what we’ve learned (and dare I say, some of the things we liked) about our pandemic time (sweatpants all the time, less traffic/commuting, etc.), and keep them, even as we return to the things we miss from pre-pandemic times, like seeing each other in person.
We’re very close to taking a very big step. My hope is that we are back to in-person services (while retaining the option to attend virtually) by early December. There are just a couple more logistics to work out, but I assure you, we are working on them. In the meantime, just try to tolerate the goat, the cow, and the chickens a little longer. Soon enough, we’ll have our house back.