Jonalu’s Journal – May 2018

The image I found for this month’s theme of creativity shows a brick wall with graffiti proclaiming, “Together, We Create!”  This is true in many aspects of our congregational life, perhaps nowhere more than in Sunday morning worship services.  We create on Sunday mornings with our music and with the weaving of words.  More, though, we create community and we create opportunities to find new ways to understand our world, our aspirations, our limitations, our callings, and so much more.  Sunday morning services are meant to help us make meaning.

Our Sunday Services Committee has been exploring creativity in that context, to bring in more multi-sensory experience and to play with our expectations and yours.  This is the context in which we recently held a feedback circle about worship.

We heard many things in that feedback circle, and I will report more of it in the blog on the website, but I want to focus in this column on reactions to changes in Joys and Concerns in our service.  Both in that feedback circle and in other contexts, the Sunday Services Committee and I have been receiving both complaints and praise about moving to a system of written cards, rather than an open mic.  Some people feel that hearing the person’s voice feels more interactive and they want to be able to speak through their own voice, not someone else’s.  Others appreciate the organization that having cards offers, and believe that even shy people have a chance to share in this version of the rite.

We are not the first congregation to struggle around Joys and Concerns.  It may be helpful to think in a broader way about the purpose of such sharing.  Often, sharing of Joys and Concerns is seen as a small church practice that thickens bonds among the participants, though often to the exclusion of others.  Visitors may get the impression that everyone knows everyone else and the particulars of their lives.  They may feel left out, or they may be reluctant to be that close to people and feel threatened.  I found particularly helpful these words from Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz, two long time UU ministers in their book Worship That Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists:

Even in small congregations there is no way that all the pastoral issues and personal feelings of those present will be expressed through a Joys and Concerns ritual.  It will always be a sampling from people who are the most motivated and expressive.  The idea that it is a sampling makes it easier to understand the ritual as having a symbolic role in the liturgy, rather than a functional one.  There are better ways for the congregation’s pastoral ministry leaders to hear about something going on in a member’s life than a public announcement in worship.

So, that raises another question. How do we learn about what care people need?  And how do we extend it? In a small congregation, caring is organic and comes out of the group as people learn about one another’s joys and sorrows.  As a congregation grows, much more of the care people receive comes from small groups they are part of.  The small group setting allows more time to address issues and concerns and offers the opportunity of appropriate intimacy that is more than a false promise.  At the same time, one of the functions the minister serves is to provide a different kind of pastoral care than friends are able to do; part of that is trying to keep an awareness of who might be falling through the cracks.

With more than hundred members, we have let go of the illusion that we are all close friends and that Joys and Concerns provides an adequate way to know what caring needs to happen in the congregation.  If we reconceive of Joys and Concerns as a symbolic rite, what does that mean about how–and perhaps even if–we retain that in our Sunday morning services?

The conversation continues.  Please share your perspective.  The Sunday Services Committee (Katie Kingery-Page, Dick Beeman, Dave Lambert, Elke Lorenz, and Diane Barker) and I are listening.

In faith and freedom,   Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – April 2018

What might UUFM emerge into?

The world of religion today is different from the world many of us grew up with.  Church–or any religious institution–feels optional to most people.  More and more people define themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” or as “nones,” having no particular affiliation.  A lot of people find themselves moving from one religious group to another, sometimes in very wide jumps–Methodist to Mormon to Muslim, Baptist to Buddhist to Baha’i; often with stretches of nothing at all in between, or as the final destination.  And many people decide they don’t need or want a religious home, preferring to explore at their own pace, or not at all.  On top of that, people are skeptical of religious organizations, afraid they are after their money or have some hidden agenda.

So, religious communities are increasingly finding themselves floundering.  Numbers like attendance and new members flag.  Volunteers are stretched so thin in their lives that it’s hard to find time to help out.  And, congregations are notoriously slow to adapt to new technologies.

We UU’s may be unsure of what to do with these societal trends, but we like skeptics.  Many of the spiritual explorers out there could find connection and community within Unitarian Universalism, if we are open and inviting to them.  That also means fearlessly stepping outside of old patterns and approaches and finding new ways to connect.

The Soul Matters packets this month emphasize how emergence doesn’t come by force but by leaving the space to allow a natural opening up.  We can watch that in plants that grow out of the ground.  They need to have enough space and protection to push their heads up out of the earth.

How does that apply to where our fellowship is?  We have been in discussions about the potential of moving from our current building.  We are exploring possibilities for two different styles of worship services.  Our leadership is considering how to reorganize to move away from unwieldy committee structures that no longer work well in a digital world.  We are keeping our eyes open for what may come.  And trying to change with it.  We can’t rush to decisions but have to allow what is right to emerge.

I can’t imagine what UUFM will look like twenty years from now.  What I know is, that something different from how we look today will emerge.  It must, if we intend to thrive as the future evolves.

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Jonalu’s Journal – March 2018

Throughout March, Christians are celebrating Lent, a season that most UU’s are not very clued in to.  We struggle enough with how to celebrate Easter, with its incredible central story of resurrection.  What are we to do with Lent, a time of preparation for Easter that features self-denial, repentance and introspection?

Facebook reports to me that I have UU friends who are giving something up for Lent.  Some of the sacrifices are unsurprising, like soda, sugar, or meat.  Others caught my imagination:  phone notifications, Facebook, plastic, mom guilt, and meanness and snarkiness.  You see, UU’s can be creative when they adopt a spiritual practice.  What might it mean to let go of mom guilt, that awful feeling of never being able to do enough for your kids?  What difference would there be in your life if you tried to shift from plastics to natural materials?  What experiments might be worth undertaking?

Too often we see spiritual practices as something imposed and rote rather than opening to the possibilities of what could be.  Spiritual practice can be any activity we engage in to open ourselves to deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.  Often, such practice takes routine and turns it on its head so that we have new insights.  If I have to think, for example, about what I’m eating and why, it changes my experience from a routine practice to something more mindful.  If phone notifications are keeping me from fully living in the present moment, or if meanness is clouding my relationships, then maybe it’s time to experiment for a while with a different approach.  That’s what some of my UU friends are using Lent to do.  There’s even a Facebook page (if you haven’t sworn off Facebook!) devoted to a UU interpretation of Lent (UULent), that features a daily photo practice, and the invitation “to spend the Season of Lent engaged in a spiritual discipline of deep intention and appreciation of our world, our place in it, and an openness to Grace in our daily lives.”

What’s exciting about being Unitarian Universalist is that we have no bounds placed on our freedom.  No one requires you to observe Lent, or anything else.  We do not have to accept a particular definition of Lent, or any other spiritual practice.  Everything is your own choice.

That’s what can be hard about UUism, too.  How do you choose?  How do you find a path that’s meaningful for you?

Choosing to engage with something to bring more meaning and mindfulness in your life might make sense.  I’m always happy to talk with you about those choices

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

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The Promise and the Practice

On January 28, we participated in “The Promise and the Practice,” a UUA recommended service of reflection and commitment about the black experience of Unitarian Universalism. As part of that service, people wrote their hopes and fears. Reading them inspired me and I thought might speak to others. Maybe it will remind you of your own heart’s desires and dreads. Maybe someone else’s words will speak to you. Maybe you will see something you don’t understand or agree with. That’s OK. We move forward by sharing our experiences and feelings. I have not tried to put these in any particular order (I hope I got hopes and fears classified correctly!):

Hopes:

  • That we help and interact with black people and organizations that work for justice.
  • That public education continues strongly part of integration
  • Work on politics that support justice.
  • Hope that I can recognize bias and privilege with recognition we can change the world for the better.
  • I’m reaching out to be with our community.
  • Black Lives Matter: My hope is to see this phrase on our UUFM building. I saw it, a huge sign, on Rev. Sinkford’s UU church in Portland! So welcoming!
  • I hope for better understand among all people.
  • Hope I’ll be a friend of the BSU [Black Student Union on campus].
  • I hope to do my own part and more.
  • I hope everyone could just get along.
  • I hope for the words to help change lives.
  • Fairness/equality in practice/policy.
  • I hope that the 12 to 1 inequality in wealth between white and black households is eliminated in the USA.
  • I want to reach out when I see injustice – I hope I have the courage to do so.
  • Hope that we can help people be less threatened by differences.
  • I hope for racial equality and the courage to be happy when moves are made in that direction.
  • My sincere hope for love and harmony in our country.
  • I hope to open my love of all people.
  • Extend my circle of friends to include more people of color and demonstrate my commitment to inclusivity in daily action:
    • Speak to my neighbor weekly.
    • By the end of the month find info on local Black Lives Matter chapter.
    • Attend BLM meeting in Feb.
    • Leave my comfort zone and speak to people I do not know well specifically those who are of other ethnicity from me.

Fears:

  • My fear is for what we are leaving for our future generations if we do not change our country’s course of hate and revenge.
  • I fear being a part of “the problem.”
  • I fear for the fate of our Democracy. We need all of us to keep her breathing.
  • Exposure.
  • Adjusting to my own and partner’s failing physical and mental abilities with grace and kindness.
  • Fear that people will feel that the success of others will threaten their own well-being.
  • Racial profiling will not change or end.
  • Good intentions are hard to carry out. I do not always follow through.
  • My fear is that I will continue to be thought of as privileged because I am white, even though I have lived a life anything but privileged. My privilege is to still be alive. My confession is that I will continue to champion underprivileged of all types.
  • I have not given wholeheartedly to this gift of life.
  • I fear that I cannot make change in my community.
  • Fear: that I stay within my comfort zone of like-minded people. I should expand the diversity of my friends and not feel like a fraud while I do it.
  • That those who hate prevail.
  • To not offend black lives anymore.

Thanks for your commitment to the work,

Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – February 2018

No one doubts that the religious scene is changing faster in this country than anyone can keep track of.  First, the mainline churches hit decline, and now, even evangelical churches are fighting to maintain their numbers.  Church is no longer central to people’s lives.  While UU congregations are holding their own in this challenging atmosphere, it’s clear that the traditional ways of gathering on Sunday mornings for a service of hymns, sermon, and ritual is the way of the past rather than the future.  (On a personal note, I hate saying this, because I have always loved this kind of church!)

Still, though, people long for community and connection and for meaning and purpose in their lives. How do we answer these needs?  How do we create ways for people to connect, join our community, and find the meaning and purpose they seek, in the 21st century and beyond?

No one has a definitive answer.  Different people and different denominations approach it in different ways.  Let me tell you about recent discussions and thoughts I have had.

In mid-January, seven of our leaders met together to discuss a webinar by our regional UU staff person Phil Lund (you can view it at https://youtu.be/Z-Ge-71sohI).  We learned about innovative efforts such as dinner churches, service organizations, on-line communities, co-living and working spaces and more.  These efforts have components like openness, authenticity, service, participation, and more.  The UUFM members who gathered felt we do well at UUFM on some counts; we are welcoming, open, experiential and unashamedly liberal.  As we got to the question of how we serve the community we live in, we struggled a bit more.  Our OWL program received enthusiastic endorsement, though.  Not only do we serve the children of our congregation, but we always have a few others from other congregations involved.  How might we better showcase OWL and what it accomplishes?

We do give money to nonprofit groups and have built relationships with them.  Could we build on that through a monthly social action/service project and literally be Helping Hands?

Finally, what kind of gathering might invite people looking for both meaning and connection?  We talked about “Religion with a Twist,” holding a non-service kind of service where we relate to our theme, maybe even include a particular reflection–but use it as a springboard for discussion and interaction.  The Two Services Task Force will follow up on this idea.

Other things loom.  Interfaith relations and cooperation.  Social media presence.  Worship with stronger threads of creativity.  There was also a sense among those gathered that we need to more clearly and succinctly define ourselves–maybe as a community that helps people grow or a community that challenges by posing questions.  Or … ?

I’d love to hear your input.  I look forward to more discussion.  And making a difference in how we do church together.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – January 2018

By now, you have probably heard some of the feedback from the Developmental Ministry evaluation, in preparation for the congregational vote on January 7 about continuation of Developmental Ministry. The most heartening tidbit from the evaluation for me was the extent to which people are involved in the community. Over half the members of the fellowship answered surveys and of them, 61% had attended local rallies for social causes, 30% had attended City Commission meetings, and 27% had attended statewide rallies.

These numbers tell me that we have a congregation committed to making a difference in the world. I regularly see letters to the editor and social networking posts from many of you, addressing issues of concern. Members of the congregation also volunteer in a wide variety of charitable community causes–Happy Kitchen feeding people in need; CASA advocating for at risk children; Shepherd’s Crossing, Fairy Godmothers and Guardian Angels helping people access financial resources, Peggy Bowman to help women needing abortions, and so many more. UUFM folks care and work to bring their values into the world.

There are multiple reasons this matters. First, our world desperately needs our values, including respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, commitment to justice, equality, and democracy, respect for the interdependent web of all existence. These need to be championed at every opportunity. Second, our congregation needs the outward focus. We do not want to be an inward-focused group, because that leads to atrophy. Finally, the way we grow into being the best individual people we can be is through engagement with the world. Working to transform the world changes us. So, applying ourselves to the work of the world is good for the world, good UUFM and good for us individually.

In keeping with these commitments, I invite you to consider two upcoming opportunities for participation. First, I encourage anyone who can to join the Kansas People’s Agenda, Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, and Kansas Interfaith Alliance at the People’s State of the State 2018–Wednesday, January 10, at the capitol in Topeka [more on page 6 of January newsletter]. The rally is scheduled for 11:30 to 1, with opportunities beforehand for training in citizen lobbying and afterward, time to meet with your legislators. See kansaspeoplesagenda.org for more information or to sign up. If you want to ride along with others, you can sign up at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeWfuNpElLJlkChvy03cX_dAyomncmdGk-KR5is0_HYfJnXOA/viewform.

The second opportunity to consider is making a commitment to dismantling racism by joining our Beloved Conversations team, which will be engaged first in learning through a retreat and classes.  More information is available about that elsewhere in this newsletter [more on page 5 of January newsletter].  I am happy to talk with you about it if you have questions.

However you are engaged in changing the world, I invite you this month to consider it intentionally. All of us are called in different ways. What’s yours?

In faith and freedom,       Jonalu

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A Holiday Message

Robert Fulghum, a UU minister best-known for “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” speaks about that “funny feeling you get when you know that once again Christmas has come to you.” It comes in different ways. One year, I got it from Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. Other years, I’ve had it when George Bailey realizes what a Wonderful Life he has. I’ve had it surrounded by candles piercing the darkness while the strains of “Silent Night” drift around me. I’ve had that feeling driving home after 10 from a long day, greeted by a city light display that used to blink near the apartment where I used to live. I’ve had it as snow started to fall as I left midnight mass with a friend, snow blunting everything, softening it. I’ve had it sitting in my living room, watching colored lights shine on my Christmas tree and soaking in the quiet of darkness and December. I can’t be sure I’ll get that special feeling every year, but I put myself in situations where it could happen. Because though I could live without it, I do like when I get it.

But why? We UU’s can get confused about the season. What are we celebrating? What do we do with the theology, with the meaning of Christmas? Do we celebrate the birth of a divine Savior, as all the songs say, or of a human teacher Jesus? Do we mush Christmas together with Hanukkah and Solstice and Kwanzaa, celebrating hope and joy and the return of the light? Do we reject the religious meanings altogether and simply celebrate “the season,” sticking to “Deck the Hall” and ornamenting the tree with plain balls or commemorative Hallmark ornaments — from Star Trek or Harry Potter — anything as long as we avoid stars and angels and mangers?

We have choices. We can get in touch with the miracle of birth, or the persistence of the human spirit through the harshness of winter. We can celebrate love — love for one another, love for newborn babies, love we show through gifts and card, even love for Jesus. We can seek peace. Christmas has plenty to offer, even if Jesus is not a full-blown divine Savior. And so does Solstice.

As W. H. Auden wrote, “Let us allow Christmas to overtake us in all our haste and unpreparedness and renew the miracle of love once again in our lives.”

So may it be.

Happy Holidays,

Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – December 2017

We’re in the midst of what has come to be known as “the holiday season,” sometime between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Perhaps no time of year brings higher expectations and anxiety. Some of the expectations come from outside ourselves–the in-laws who want to include you on “the” day, the children with their list of presents, the work place parties that feel required, whether they are or not.  Other expectations are internal–the need for an outdoor light display, special cookies, or standards around the wrapping of gifts.

Then, there are the layers of discomfort around religion.  Even as we set aside the ridiculous notion of a war against Christmas, we can’t help but notice that Christmas is a religious holiday, and as UUs, we can chafe against some of the theology around it.  We may be able to accept it as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, particularly as he represents the birth of the divine in every child, but we may not accept him as Lord and King, or God.  Those Christmas carols, then, even when we love them, can irritate or trouble us.

Extended family, too, can create conundrums.  Scheduling who to be with when, dodging the religious fervor of people we love, compromising on ideas of the right foods and activities–all add stress to a time that is supposed to “merry and bright.”

Acknowledging the challenges is the first step.  Then, we have to make plans according to our immediate family’s needs and wants. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Talk with family members about what each person thinks is the most important holiday tradition. Maybe walking through the Festival of Lights, frying potato latkes, or singing carols around the piano.  Be sure this season to do what each family member thinks is most important, but let go of traditions that no longer hold excitement for anyone.
  2. Find weekend day or weeknight evening during the holidays to just be together as a family at home.  Play games, bake cookies, or take a walk.  Keep the TV and computers off, and let the voicemail get the phones.
  3. Think of something to do for someone else.  Pick a child to shop for who might not get gifts otherwise, visit a relative you don’t normally see, take some food to the Food Bank, or decide as a family to forgo one gift each to make a donation to a good cause that matches your values.
  4. Reflect together on your year.  What were your favorite times?  What do you wish had been different? Consider setting goals for the coming year.

The holiday season can be full of expectations.  If we consciously decide how we choose to spend those holidays rather than being at the mercy of internal and external expectations, we may find the holidays a reward rather than a hassle.

Happy Holidays,     Jonalu

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Lament on the Mass Shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX

I hate that I’m writing this. I hate that I feel like I have to.

The unthinkable has become routine. Mass shootings occur so frequently that we hardly even let them into our consciousness. Which is tragic. We have witnessed too many family members and friends crying at the site of deadly mayhem. We have lit too many candles. Spoken of thoughts and prayers too often. Ranted about the need for gun control too many times. It’s as if we’ve gone numb. Or maybe that’s just me.

This particular time I’m seeing concerns from my colleagues about how we implement safety plans in our congregations. We don’t want to do this. None of us does. We don’t want to change an attitude of hospitality and openness into an attitude of suspicion. We don’t want to wonder if an unknown guest is going to shoot the place up. We don’t want to feel responsible for our members’ lives.

In this particular instance, the red flags around the shooter couldn’t have been much clearer. History of domestic violence. History of violent threats and attempts to carry out such threats. History of psychiatric danger to self and others. Yet, he could buy guns, no problem.

Clearly, we have a problem with our background check system. It’s not taken seriously by people who are required to report, and what does it matter, because if you really want a gun, you can always find a way to get one without a background check – gun shows, private sales, plenty of ways to get around it.

And what do we do with someone so violent they crack the skull of their stepchild, not to mention assault their spouse? Clearly, time spent imprisoned and a bad conduct discharge from the military did nothing to improve the shooter’s state of mind.

Gun proponents are encouraged that a bystander with a gun helped to bring this incident to an end. The NRA’s insistence that guns are the answer to gun violence has grown louder and more commonly accepted. That only increases the pressure to tell a different story, a story that maybe we can change the American worship of guns and the myth of self-protection that goes with the myth of self-sufficiency.

I wish I had a word of comfort in this, but I don’t. It’s time for lament, not comfort. I did contact my federal legislators with the message to fix the background check system and outlaw bump stocks. I will continue to push to change values and worldviews that extol guns and self-sufficiency at the cost of lives. I wish I could do more. But maybe lament is the only option left.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – November 2017

The deaths of armed service members in Niger brought to light the military presence of our nation in an unexpected place. When I noted to a group of local people, “We don’t even know–our Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t even know–where we are militarily involved,” the response from one person was, “The question may be where we are not militarily involved.”

The prophet Jeremiah, when his people were exiled in Babylon, wrote about the priests and prophets, “They offer healing offhand for the wounds of my people, saying, ‘All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” At least, that’s the Jewish Publication Society (JPS)’s translation. You may be more familiar with the words, “They say, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

Though the words were written millennia ago, they apply today. We hear from our leaders, essentially, “All is well. We’re doing what we have to do.” But nothing is well. Niger, Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia–immersed in or threatening conflict. So many places in the world, some where we are closely involved, others where we watch and wonder–and maybe are involved without knowing it. The world is not looking good for the peaceniks.

The “all is well” refrain used by the JPS reminds me of one of my favorite spiritually grounding sayings, from the medieval mystic hermit Julian of Norwich: “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” Julian lived in a time of plagues and warfare, a desperate time. The peaceful mantra, she claimed, came not from her but from God, assuring her of ultimate security. A tough teaching to embrace and believe.

In times of anxiety, it’s very hard for me not to soak it up and sink into it. I want to run and hide, or strike out and hurt someone–anyone. The larger anxieties of the world magnify the smaller but much more immediate anxieties of the fellowship or of my own life–disagreements, slights, omissions, fears of scarcity. When I stop myself, though, center, meditate, and remember the gratitude of this particular moment, the sense of “all will be well” can return to me.

What I realize, though, is that others may hear that hard fought for spiritual assurance as a dismissal of their real concerns. They hear me acting like the priests and prophets Jeremiah referred to, saying “’All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” “All is well” may sound like a mother’s “there, there,” dismissive and urging an artificial calm, a denial of emotional realities. The problem is particularly acute if there are differences between me and the person hearing my reassurances. Especially if we are different in race or class, for example, they may think, “Sure it’s fine for you. I’m dying here.” And they may be right.

As we approach Veterans Day, when we honor those who have taken on the military fight, in the midst of controversy and confusion around how the military carries out its mission of security, we have to acknowledge the lack of peace, even as we continue lives of relative security and comfort. I plan to join the Mennonites on November 10 in their witness for peace [see page 6 of this newsletter] and would welcome others who feel uneasy about war and peace.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

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