Jonalu’s Journal August 2018

Why are you a Unitarian Universalist?  (assuming you are!)  Maybe you came for religious education for your children.  Maybe the social activism drew you in.  Maybe you were looking for a community of support after a difficult time in your life.

I stumbled onto Unitarian Universalism forty years ago when the  Southern Baptist theology I grew up with no longer worked for me, but I still loved church.  I continue to love the idea that people can come together to support one another and make a difference in the world.  That’s one story, but only one.  Everyone has their own particular story.  Together, we are writing a new story that includes us all.

“We are co-creating the faith we long for,” says Rev Meg Riley, Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, a UU church without walls, primarily on the web (https://www.questformeaning.org/clfuu/).  Most religions say, “Here is our tradition, and here’s how you can fit it.”  We say something different.  We invite each person to start from where they are. It’s not that we don’t have a tradition–we do.  Our rich history extends back hundreds of years. But we are not tied to that tradition in a rigid way.  We look more towards the future than towards the past. Yes, we are co-creating something.

Specifically, we UU’s here in Manhattan are co-creating the UU Fellowship of Manhattan.  Yes, people before us established it, bought a building, hired staff and looked toward a future.  We are forever grateful to them, and to everyone who has shaped UUFM through the last sixty-one years.  There’s no way they could know who would be here now, or what their needs might be.  Much less who will be here in another sixty years and what their needs might be.  The only way we can make sure that needs keep being met is to continue the co-creation.  UUFM doesn’t look like what it did fifty years ago, and will not look the same as it does now in another fifty years.  If it did, then we would be failing at the continuing co-creation.

During August, when newcomers tend to arrive in Manhattan, we’ll be talking about our UUism and what it means.  We’ll have testimonials from some of our members, along with sharing our core values through our history, religious education, and activism.  If you know someone who you think ought to be a Unitarian Universalist, this is a perfect time for them to visit with us on a Sunday morning.  Pick up a postcard from the Visitors’ Table in the narthex to share with them.

In the meantime, think about why you are a Unitarian Universalist.  I hope that it brings something rich to your life.

In faith and freedom, Jonalu

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Jonalu’s Journal – July 2018

Perhaps you’ve noticed we’ve tried some different things during Sunday morning services.  We had some testimonials about how and why people are active in the world.  We had a band do special music one week.  We had a flower ceremony where we created a piece of art with our flowers.  We had an activity as part of the reflection on blessing, where we wrote to someone who had blessed us.  We had a call and response song that was sprinkled through the service, instead of doing all verses at once.  And, outside of services, we have added sharing some joys and sorrows (with permission) on the list serve.  Soon, we will be using a new audio-visual system in the sanctuary.

Our Sunday Services Committee has been dipping our toe into multi-sensory worship, finding ways to make Sunday services more diverse, welcoming people with different styles of learning and ways of connecting.

In May, I shared with you some of the feedback that came from our feedback circle.  Since then, we have more information from the survey the Two Services Task Force did.  Overall, those who responded to the survey are pretty content with our current format, though hymns, the story and readings did not receive strong support.  Performed music is really popular!  There is some sentiment that a shorter, one-hour service would be enough.  The Sunday Services Committee will be looking at all of this, as we move forward learning more about how to be more effective for more people.

As part of that effort, we are putting together–and invite anyone interested to–a workshop on July 28 at the UU Fellowship of Topeka.  Both Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, their minister, and I attended an intensive workshop by worship designer Marcia McFee.  We want to share some of what we learned about how to better integrate music, video, story, drama, and art into our Sunday morning experience.  And we’ll do it experientially.  Talk to me or Katie Kingery-Page if you want to know more.

In the meantime, let me share what I think our Sunday mornings together are about.  I know the word “worship” is controversial.  Rather than adoring some deity, I believe worship is considering what is worthy of our attention, and maybe even our devotion.  My hope for each service you attend is that in some way it helps you consider what you feel is worthwhile in your life, that it helps you in some way to live a life that is better, deeper, and more meaningful.

That, to me, is the measure of success on Sunday mornings.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

P.S.  I will be on vacation July 17-25.  In case of emergency, our Office Administrator Sue Turner and Chair Jessica Sievers will know how to reach me.  Have a great summer!

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Beatitudes for Today

Rev Jonalu Johnstone offers a summary of Beatitudes for Today, drawn from her reflections on Sunday, June 17:

  • Blessed are black lives because they matter.
  • Blessed are indigenous people because their connection to the earth leads us to redemption from our environmental sins.
  • Blessed are queer people because they celebrate their pride and build their own families.
  • Blessed are survivors of sexual assault and harassment because they are believed.
  • Blessed are refugees because their families will be restored.
  • Blessed are immigrants because they recognize and value home.
  • Blessed are survivors of mass shootings and street violence because they know the value of life.
  • Blessed are the indebted because they will be made whole.
  • Blessed are the imprisoned because they understand liberation.
  • Blessed are the restaurant workers and cashiers and farmworkers and hotel maids and childcare workers because without them, the world as we know it would stop.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted, monitored, arrested and abused for the sake of justice because they will be honored like the prophets who came before them.
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Jonalu’s Journal – June 2018

I have been asked how it felt to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign direct action.  Many of you know that the Poor People’s Campaign is a reawakening of a campaign that Martin Luther King, Jr, was planning at the time of his assassination.  The effort, led by Rev Dr William Barber and Rev Dr Liz Theoharris, seeks to remind our people and our government that many people in our country continue to suffer under poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental devastation.  We can only end these oppressive practices through a moral call to action.  Rev Barber speaks about a fusion coalition, a group that comes from various racial, religious, and economic backgrounds that unites around belief in the power of love and the need for compassion to fuel our policies, particularly towards people who are poor, but including all who are marginalized by race, sexual orientation, gender, or other status.

The first week of the 40 Days of Action, I led one column of people willing to be arrested from the state capitol onto Topeka Avenue, where the group of about thirty people blocked an intersection.  I served as a marshal, helping people know where they should be to either facilitate or avoid arrest, coordinating and watching.

How did it feel?  Adrenaline rushed through my body, heightening my awareness.  I went in and out of the chants and songs, depending on what was happening and where my attention was needed.  There was an odd combination of power–who knew it was so easy to shut down an intersection?–and fear.

The small group blocking the intersection was more white than the crowd of 200 who took part in the rally and stood on the sidelines of the action.  People with the most privilege need to be prepared to make more sacrifices for change to come.  At the same time, the voices of those who are most affected have to be at the center of events, as they were in the rally and press conference.

Civil disobedience is often used to demand a particular course of action.  In this case, though there is a long list of demands (you can review the full list at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/demands/), the goals are more about organizing a movement and getting the word out about how people are suffering.

About the original Poor People’s Campaign, Dr King said:

I choose to identify with the underprivileged.  I choose to identify with the poor.  I choose to give my life for the hungry.  I choose to give my life for those who have been left out.

Too often in our political climate today, people identify with the rich, embracing a “need” for tax cuts or concern about supporting the business climate. T oo few of us are willing instead to consider how policies and laws affect “the least of these,” those whose needs are greatest and most often go unmet.

I try to make the commitment that Dr King did to those who are poor.  If you want to join the campaign, let me know.  Events continue into June.

In faith and freedom,   Jonalu

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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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