From the Minister's Study
I sit in my office and look out at the polar vortex, or at the inhospitable weather visited upon us by the P.V. YUCK! I hope that by the time this article is published my uncharitable thoughts about the weather and the relentlessly harsh, windy, cold atmosphere have become outdated. Is it silly to hope that by March 1 we will have a few balmy days of thirty–plus degrees? I believe that no spring in recent memory will be as welcome and celebrated as this one will be. In my mind I look to the future and envision maypole dancing, gentle breezes on my cheeks, and much front porch sitting.
At the same time I am mindful of the present moment. I am thinking of the life inside the trunks of the cold trees and the rush of energy deep in the roots. I know that sometimes life, with all of its problems and challenges, feels as bleak as those naked trees. And I know that that is not the whole story, at least for me. I have found warmth, excitement and energy by learning about what is going on in North Carolina. Have you heard the good news?
A few weeks ago 75,000 to 100,000 folks, including a number of Unitarian Universalist ministers, came to Raleigh, North Carolina to protest what is going on in that state and to hold legislators accountable. In 2010, right-wing Republicans took over the legislature. The new legislature quickly reworked the voting system in their favor and then in 2012 elected Republican Pat McCrory as governor. Whereupon they imposed a radically conservative agenda.
First they attempted to repeal the voting power gained in the civil rights movement by redistricting the state for future elections, aiming to weaken the hard-won power of African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters.
They imposed a far-reaching voter-suppression law, making it harder for all but the wealthy to vote. They imposed crippling restrictions on women's right to health care and on abortion providers. They passed legislation undermining union rights in the private and public sectors. They rejected the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, cutting health care for poor people. They created an open door for unregulated fracking. They made it harder to reconsider death-row sentences even if racial bias in trial could be proved. They cut unemployment compensation. They cut taxes on the rich -- and imposed new tax burdens on the middle class and the poor. They cut funds for education -- while subsidizing vouchers for privatized schools. They have also gone after environmental protections, and have undermined the rights of immigrants and LGBT North Carolinians. As you can see they have been busy these past two years.
And what they did and the speed in which they did it took many of the regular middle–of–the–road folks by surprise. Because of this, a number of groups have come together to build a coalition with what they call the People’s Agenda. Their numbers are made strong by participation from faith groups, labor unions, LGBT rights organizations, women's groups and environmentalists. What is new and exciting in this state coalition is that while many of these movements have developed independently, they are coming together with the African Americans and Hispanics. When you add all these people up it represents a heck of a lot of people. They don’t agree on everything but they agree on enough stuff to keep building momentum and expect to have a measurable and favorable outcome in the midterm elections.
And I am proud to share with you that many of my colleagues as well as our UUA president, the Rev. Peter Morales, also went to Raleigh to join in the super big march. This is the kind of thing that gets my life sap running in this long crawl towards spring.
Speaking of crawling, I see myself, mole–like, coming out of my mole hole in serious need of sunglasses, perhaps the wrap–around style that go over regular prescription glasses. Did you know that those glasses, available at any drug store, are the new hip accessory? If that is not good news, I hope the coalescing around Unitarian Universalist values that is happening in North Carolina is, as we prepare for spring inside and out.
The Great Experiment
Democracy was and is a great experiment. As Unitarian Universalists our ways of being religious and making meaning in our lives is a great experiment. One could even say, and I do, that UCN is a great experiment. There are no guarantees that this church of ours or this church community that we know and cherish will be here indefinitely.
We have inherited our faith from ancient earth–based spiritual communities that told stories around fires about the meaning of life and death, as well as from theologians, philosophers and scientists from the past 4000 years. We have inherited our building from the founders and generous donors of our recent past. It is up to us to hold this tradition and religious community close to our hearts and to support it financially in a way that is generative and generous.
By generous I mean really generous, giving boldly. By generative I mean sharing enough money with UCN so that we can move from scraping by to responding with money to support a vibrant church. I don’t want to see us have to cut anything else out of the budget. It was hard for me to see us unable to support a very part–time choir director. I would like to see this community respond so generatively and generously that we can expand our mission rather than cut more pieces off of it. Quite frankly, we cannot suffer any more cuts to the infrastructure of this organization if we want to maintain what we have. This is all part of the experiment.
I write about this to you in the February newsletter because of the timeline involved in creating our budget for next year. I’m going to share some of the timeline with you because it makes more sense that way. Our next fiscal year starts on July 1. By that time, the budget needs to be approved by the voting members of the congregation. In order for that to happen, it needs to be created by the finance team in March and presented to the board by April for their comments, suggestions and approval. Then they send the budget to you ahead of the congregational meeting in May so you have a chance to familiarize yourself with it before voting to approve it.
That is why we are asking you to turn your attention in a thoughtful way toward your financial contribution for the 2014–2015 year. Within the week, you will be mailed your financial commitment form. I ask that you go to the outer edges of possible when you make your decision about what to share with this community next year. We go to the outer edges of what is possible all the time in our spiritual journeys together and can continue to do so with your bold support. It is also important that you get your forms back to us by the end of February so that your finance committee can continue its work.
We bind up the broken, proclaim that wholeness is available to all; we celebrate the gifts of life and we contemplate the mysteries of creation. Together, we make our world a better place. With your financial support we can continue.
Greetings from a Lotus Flower Laboratory
Some people don't believe in miracles, but I do. The miracles I believe in are the miracles of real transformation in peoples’ lives. Each of us comes to this process of transformation from different starting points, but each of us goes through the same kind of growth. The life force is awakened, the realization of our interconnection becomes more pronounced, more real, our ability to love and connect grows. These things unfold in us like a lotus flower lifting up its face joyfully towards the light as it rests upon the muddy waters. We are like lotus flowers opening toward light and goodness and springing up from the mud and tears of life to share our beauty and wholeheartedness with our world. That is one of the most important things that we do here at UCN. We work small miracles on ourselves and others. We are a lotus flower laboratory.
Everything that we do here at UCN is geared toward supporting this process. Our theology, our committee work, our building, our community time together, our worship time together, the religious education of our children, even the folks we share our building and grounds with, all are part of our lotus laboratory.
This work takes time, heart, intelligence, money and commitment. It does not happen without your financial support. Supporting UCN with a generous financial gift is an investment in the kind of world you want. Over the next two months we are going to be asking you to have an important conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, “How generous can I be?” I urge you to stretch yourself on this and to be bold with your financial contribution. Too often, fear of not having enough stuff, or fear of the future gets in the way of our being generous with our money. In order for this church community to be a healthy organization, it requires significant financial generosity from everyone. From folks that are members, from folks that come but are not members, from folks in the community that come to services once in a while, and from folks that may be reading this message for the first time. The money you invest insures that we will be here, growing and strengthening spiritual health now and in the future.
Your spiritual health and the health of those around you are worth the money. And, living generously is a reward in and of itself that is worth experiencing.
Over the last two years, financial contributions toward keeping UCN going have been trending down instead of up. This needs to be reversed and this is the year to make it happen. Positive change most often evolves slowly, like a watershed brought into being by raindrops falling, one drop at a time, until the volume of water eventually gathers into a crescendo and forms rivers that flow on to create an ocean. We all contribute to this ocean of enlightenment one thought, one word, one deed, one prayer, one smile, one generous financial contribution at a time, day by day, moment by moment and year by year. Please let this year and this upcoming annual budget drive be a surge forward. It is time. I know we can do it.
The December Holidays Approacheth
The December holidays approach. Depending upon your heritage, there are a lot of different ways to participate in the festivities. Some folks celebrate Kwanza. Some celebrate Hanukah, which began before December even arrived this year. Some engage with a festival of lights with pagan abandon. Some use this time to celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus. Some engage in gift giving and family time, with food and Christmas music.
I have had a complex relationship with the December Holidays. One of the things I love most about the holidays is the music. I collect Christmas music and have been doing so for at least 25 years. I have sacred Christmas music, children’s Christmas music, spoof Christmas music, including some songs played with tools like saws and drills. I have Jazz, Electronic, Soul, Rap, Country and Alternative as well. Finally I have Christmas Blues music. So all of it, the corny, the kitsch, the child-like hope and wonder, the improvisational, and the sad and lonely perspectives are covered in the Christmas music I collect and encompass the range of emotions I have felt.
Some people look forward to the holidays and some do not. There are some of us who relish taking time out of our normal work-a-day schedules and traveling to spend time with family or host family, who have traveled to be with us. Some of us get excited about holiday feasts and treats. Others, especially kids, look forward to receiving gifts and having time off from school. But for each of the aspects of the holidays that some of us cherish, there are others amongst us who struggle with them. Some folks don’t have family to be around. Some don’t like to be around the family that they have. Some of us struggle with the pressure to buy stuff and over-eat as we try to be more mindful in our lives about material consumption and our ecological responsibilities.
The big word for this month is mindful. My prayer for us is that we remember that there are a number of different ways to engage with the December holidays and that there is diversity amongst us. One of the images in a sermon I preached for UCN a few weeks ago got Brenda Wingard into a wrestling state of mind about these upcoming holidays. We met and I invited her to share her perspectives on the upcoming holiday time. I am delighted that she did so. To read Brenda's article, click here: http://www.ucnorth.org/news/normal-brenda-wingard
You are welcome to submit a story about how you have engaged or will engage with the December holidays. If we don’t use them this year, we will in the future.
May you find peace in the paradox,
Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
I’m not sure, but, I think I may have had the best October ever. Going to Vermont to get legally married was more joyful than I had been expecting. The weather and the gorgeous trees did their part, and both sides of our family were well represented. And, it was such a pleasure to share some of my story with you and to feel such warmth, support and care from you collectively and in my individual interactions with you. Adding to my joy, your board of trustees started our October meeting with a toast to celebrate my marriage to Maren. All this has me thinking about relationship and how it is at the crux of everything we do in our lives, both personally and professionally.
We are focused on relationship at UCN in several exciting ways. Our chalice circles have begun. Twice a month folks that might not know each other very well get together and have deeper conversations about what is going on in their exterior and interior lives. In addition we come together and worship at one service on the first Sunday of every month. After that we share a meal together around small tables. I am looking forward to sitting with different folks every month.
And, beginning in November, your board of trustees will be hosting small gatherings here at church. We hope that every single one of you will make it a priority to attend one of these groups. This will be a time for you to talk with other folks in the congregation about what kind of concrete behaviors we want to see at UCN and what we don’t want to see. During these meetings you will be creating the building blocks for UCN’s behavioral convenient. A covenant is a promise made between people to abide by certain stated behavioral norms. It deals with concrete behaviors. I am glad that we are engaging in this work together. Creating a covenant by the members, for the members of a congregation is considered a best practice for congregational life by the UUA. It is all about valuing our church community and taking care of it by being respectful and by practicing respectful behavior with each other.
These meeting will take approximately an hour and a half. Some will be held on the weekend, and some will be during the week, some at night and some during the day. I hope that you will make it a priority to attend and participate in the meeting that is most convenient for you. All work on relationships is good work and I when I reflect on all that I am grateful for this month of thanksgiving, I know that this work will be a part of my gratitude celebration.
In gratitude for our church life,
Going to the Chapel
Some of us remember where we were when big historical events in the world, or in our country happened. Many people of a certain generation remember Pearl Harbor. Others remember where they were when they heard the news about the Kennedys’ and MLK being shot. Many of us remember that first moon landing. (I ran outside to see if I could see the astronauts up there.) Well, I remember where I was when I learned about the Supreme Court ruling that The Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, was unconstitutional, by a 5-4 vote.
I was in San Diego with a gaggle of Maren’s relative on the west coast time zone. I knew the decision was supposed to come at 10:00 Eastern but did not have the TV on. I got a call from Sammy, one of my nieces, there was a lot of noise in the background. “Aunt Julie! Aunt Julie! The ruling just came down. DOMA has been defeated.” There were whooping sounds coming from her room, which Ruby was sharing.
Then a few months later the Federal Government, including the IRS, the Social Security administration, and the Armed Forces interpreted the decision in ways that include people like Maren and me, who do not live in a state that recognizes our marriage. So it finally made sense to get married.
This is a joyous, exciting time; so exciting that it wants to burst forth from me like a bird that just can’t help singing or a dolphin that jumps into the air and makes that noise that Flipper used to make. Yes, I’m going to the chapel and Maren and I are going to married.
And I want you to celebrate with me. I wish I could take all of you to the UU church in Brattleboro, Vermont. And if you do happen to be in Vermont the weekend of Oct. 12, we would love to see you there. However, we can celebrate together on Sunday Oct. 6 after church at the first Sunday Lunch. Let’s turn that into a DOMA-defeated, Rev.-Julie-and-Maren-are-getting-married party.
Maren and I don’t need a toaster or a waffle iron, but if you want to give a gift to acknowledge this huge life event, please consider donating to Fair Wisconsin, which is working to make marriage available to all people, without them having to leave the state, and to have our marriage recognized in Wisconsin. The folks at Fair Wisconsin have even set up a website with our picture on it, for your donation. How cool is that? Check it out! http://bit.ly/revjulieandmaren
Yours in joy,
Past Posts by Rev. Julie
At the Intersection of Now
I have been reflecting on reflecting. I cast my mind back to the 1950’s. I had a pretty good idea of what this country was like, both good and bad. Elvis was the king. Senator McCarthy was scary. Big, round, roomy cars were the main form of transportation. I then reflected 50 years before that to the 1900’s. We had yet to have the two world wars, the atomic bombs, or even cars. I think about the differences between 1900 and 1950 and then I think about the differences between now and 50 years ago in the 1960’s.
In part I have been thinking about these different times because 50 years ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The Beatles would soon come to this country and appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Massive cultural shifts were just a breath away. How is 2013 like 1963? How is it different? 1963 was a year of promise and heartbreak. How have we lived into that promise and how have we continued to suffer from the heartbreak, of war, racism, and the assassination of President Kennedy.
I could spend hours thinking about these things. How society is different and how it is the same. And I do spend hours listening to the music. The music of the 1960’s has always been really important to me. It gave birth not just to cultural change, but changes in consciousness. Yet, fond as I am of this time period, no less a man than Willie Nelson reminds me that I may have been happy yesterday morning, and I may be happy about how yesterday turned out, but I can't be happy yesterday. I can only be happy today, this hour this minute… Now.
Happiness exists at just one time, and that time is now.
Perhaps because he tours the country in a bus, Willie likes to think of life as a road trip. When he talks about life on the road he says, “I have had untold opportunities for joy, learning, sharing, and lots of fantastic sunsets and sunrises. And every one of these opportunities will be at the intersection of the road I’m on, and the road called now.”
True happiness lies at that intersection of the now. For me, true happiness lies with my ministry here with you, and the life I have with my family. I am delighted to go forward into the year with joy in the present and a confidence in the ways we are going about being a vibrant church community.
I cherish the past, I am nourished by it. I am excited about the future and what we can do together, to increase the common good now and in the coming generations. There are so many creative ways to do this and room for all of us. I invite you to join with me on this road called now.
In faith and love,