Love is our source and our destination–our call and our response.

“Love is our source and our destination–our call and our response.”

— Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker

“In Unitarian Universalism, we have a legacy of ‘deeds not creeds.’ Our work for a better world calls us to unexpected places as we harness love’s power to stop oppression. From grassroots community organizing to interfaith Washington advocacy, in protest marches, prayer vigils, and press conferences, in homeless shelters and in prisons, Unitarian Universalists put their faith in to action. We work in interfaith coalitions and partnerships locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally to affirm and promote ‘the inherent worth and dignity of every person,’ ‘justice, equity, and compassion’ and ‘the interconnected web of all existence.’

“Our commitment to justice also led to the creation of a powerful public advocacy campaign to oppose oppression in its many forms and counter fear with love. The Standing on the Side of Love campaign grew out of the Unitarian Universalist community’s response to a shooting at a UU congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since then, we have stood on the side of love with immigrants, same-sex couples, transgender people, American Muslims, people of color, and other members of our faith and our wider communities who face oppression–all working together for more justice and more love.”

— from www.uua.org/beliefs/justice/

We certainly felt the power of our progressive faith community as Charles and I moved forward with our decision to marry. While there are practical reasons that motivated us to marry, it is love that brings meaning and true purpose to the reality of being married. Making a public vow to love someone, especially someone you have loved for forty years, dissolves defenses and cynicism. Hearing the person you love vow to love you brings tenderness and vulnerability to long established habits. Marriage is more than I thought.

Let us be a community that not only stands on the side of love, but helps bring its warmth into every cold corner of the world. This is a gift worth giving and having.

Much peace and much love,

Michael

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As each state affirms the right for same sex couples to marry I rejoice

The Rev Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), issued the following statement applauding the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey:

“Today, New Jersey becomes the 14th state to allow marriage equality ensuring equal rights for its citizens. It is a historic day and a victory for all who support justice and equality.

“Many couples who have waited so long for this day are already applying for marriage licenses, and weddings are being performed by many Unitarian Universalist ministers across the state.

“More and more Americans realize that marriage equality strengthens families, protects children, and ensures basic rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples. I applaud the work of those people and organizations, including our Unitarian Universalist congregations and ministers, who have fought so hard for so long for this cause.

“New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to drop his appeal against the court ruling is just another indication that marriage equality is here to stay. As always, Unitarian Universalists will continue to stand on the side of love, and we look forward to the day when marriage equality is the right of all families.”

As each state affirms the right for same sex couples to marry I rejoice and I mourn. I am so happy for all the same sex partners who have been living and working together for years who now have the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

The sadness rises from the 39 years Charles and I have worked to legitimize our relationship with each other, our families, our friends, banks. The odds have never been in our favor. Charles was never able to speak of our relationship with his father before he died. Luckily we are stubborn. Now that the odds are becoming favorable state by state I feel the punishing nature of the constitutional amendment that passed in Kansas to ban same sex marriage more acutely than ever before. We are determined to do what we can, with your help, to overrule this ban.

The ability to love fully is an art which requires continuing effort and the support of family, friends and communities. It is not something that comes easily. So much of our culture promotes division, competition, greed, insular thinking … We need places which challenge us to love with less reservation and support us in our efforts to do so. My call to Unitarian Universalist ministry asks me to be mindful of my capacity for compassion. Ahhh, it sounds so nice, but not so easy to practice. Our progressive faith community inspires me to keep on trying and to do what I can to make my ability to love authentic and healthy.

Charles and I will be married in California on November 17th. We hope to have a ceremony in May at the Fellowship where you, family and friends can help us celebrate love between equals.

Michael

CELEBRATING LOVE … This month, Michael Nelson begins his scheduled sabbatical leave, returning December 4. While away, Michael and his long-time partner Charles will be united in marriage on November 17, in California. Congratulations, Michael and Charles, with all our love and best wishes!!!

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Grasshoppers are a real problem

Grasshoppers are a real problem for the country gardener. Munch, munch, munch they eat eight times as fast in proportion to their weight as cattle do in the Flint Hills. And a bazillion of them chomp down on the corn, chard, kale, eggplant, beans. Fall signals the females to deposit their egg pods into the soil. The male is about half the size of the female. The hens love them no matter what size. When I approach their pen they go mad with desire for the grasshoppers I bring. Whoever catches one races and darts with a madcap agility so that it can gobble it up. Often the grasshopper, dangling in its beak, is snatched by another hen.

My dad told stories of grasshoppers during the drought in the thirties eating the paint off the side of their house in Lindsborg. Even lead poisoning didn’t stop them from eating holes in shirts on the clothesline. They eat through the mesh screening on the back porch. Their industry amazes me.

Over 18,000 species of these critters can be found, and in almost every climate. They cycle through three stages of development: egg, nymph and adult. They spend most of their time in the egg and they emerge as nymphs without wings. They shed their skin many times before becoming an adult. They have two kinds of eyes. Their large, compound eyes are made up of thousands of little eyes that allow them to see forward, backward, and sideways for a long distance. They also have three small single eyes. They are well designed to thrive and prosper.

While they can make gardening tough, their resilience and ability to see in all directions inspires me. Mainline churches face rapidly declining membership. The number of people who are not aligned with a faith community grows larger. Yet people remain hungry for connection to community and meaning in their lives. Unitarian Universalism provides so many access points for people to find their way to our progressive faith. If we follow our vision statement we will be vibrant, open, and inspirational in what we say and do. We will, with a deep understanding of our heritage, who we are today, and focusing on who we want to become, be industrious builders of bridges across faith; a visible beacon of liberal religious messages of hope and meaning; a bold model of love!

Our Fellowship is well designed to thrive and prosper. Let us take full advantage of our diversity, our many ways of seeing and focus with compassion to help keep a young woman who comes out to her family as a lesbian from killing herself, helping immigrants find safe pathways to citizenship, visiting those whose mobility confines how much they can do and let’s celebrate our ever deepening connection! Let us like grasshoppers jump twenty times our length.

Michael

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All I really know is that I don’t know

In a recent interview with the film star Greta Gerwig, who grew up in the Sacramento UU Church, she said, “I think I keep returning to a UU Church again and again because it resonates with something deep inside of me that feels that all I really know is that I don’t know … (it is) the best place for me to experience the fullness of the sentiment of not knowing.” As a human being, a writer, a minister, a gardener I become increasingly aware of the power of not knowing.

At the New York Writer’s Institute this summer a number of highly acclaimed writers who work in various genres spoke about how important it was for them, as they write, to not know what happens next. The real juice often comes from characters that do something unexpected or a slant that brings a perspective to their work they never imagined; approaches that shift their understanding of what they are trying to do. This “not knowing” brings life to their creation. Of course at some point you do know, but a mistake many writers make is to overwork passages. This often extracts the juice. Yet, it is also true that this magic, the passage of grace, can open as you delve deeply into the process of revision. When something doesn’t feel quite right, authentic, fresh, you move into it from as many angles as possible until its inner coherence, logic and beauty reveal themselves.

The garden at Three Oaks is in its fourth season. The basic design is in place. The foundation plantings provide a structure from which all kinds of surprises emerge. This year the old fashioned Nicotiana Alta, (related to the tobacco plant), has stationed itself in an intersection of the garden I’d never have guessed would create such wonder. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen that spot. Its profligate nature casts seeds in all kinds of places. The triangle of five six-foot plants with trumpets of white blooms releases a mesmerizing scent at twilight when the hawk moths love to dive deep into its blossoming center. The white flowers glow in the dusk.

It surprises me that Charles and I are making plans to get married in California in November. What’s even more surprising is that we are deliberating about how to elevate the issue of marriage equality in Kansas so that it is not another progressive value that’s sidelined. This civil rights issue deserves a place in our public discourse. Lambda Legal, a national organization, which often works with the ACLU to file lawsuits for marriage equality told me this week that Kansas was a state that they would not consider offering legal counsel to on this issue. Kansas is in the tier of states they categorize as hopeless.

I do not feel hopeless. Do you? Will you help us to advance the progressive ideals of equality for all people? Can we become the beacon of hope that brings strength and optimism to the people who lament the erosion of human rights in this beautiful state? I don’t know what’s possible, but I dearly would like to find out. I am willing to bet there are many sweet surprises that will pop up if we liberal Kansans work and dream together. Let us find out what’s possible when we do not have second-class citizens.

Michael

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Thinking about privilege

I’ve been thinking about privilege.

Anna, my cousin, who works in Chicago’s inner city school system, said that over two thousand teachers and aides were fired this year. As a specialist, her job, funded by a grant, was on the chopping block. She just learned that her principal found the money to keep her; a valued teacher devoted to the welfare of the African-American kids she serves.

A few years ago she applied for a job at a prestigious private school on the north side, which provided better pay and benefits. She was tempted, not by the money, but the relief from despair. She’s lost count of the number of kids she’s loved who’ve been killed. It was clear that their new hire would be well qualified; whether it was her or another teacher, it wouldn’t make much difference to the kids. The elitism implicit in the hiring process was distasteful. When she said no to their job offer, the principal couldn’t believe that Anna chose to stay in the ghetto.

As Chuck rose through the ranks of the criminal defense system I grew tired of hearing about how new laws made it increasingly difficult for people of color to get a fair trial. Profiling by police was and is a major problem. When the red lights flashed on I-70 he would check to see the person’s color; it was often a person of color and if it was, often the trunk was open and a search for drugs was in process. I became sensitized to prejudicial behavior and now, I too, always look.

The Trayvon Martin case sets the problem of race in full view. When President Obama shared how it felt to see women clutch their purses and hear that click of locks on cars as he walked by–that he could have been Trayvon–I felt furious and sad.
While in a master’s poetry class at the New York Summer Writer’s Institute taught by Frank Bidart, I met a black man enrolled in a nonfiction workshop. A senior in college with a triple major in philosophy, gender and African-American studies, he’s bright and driven. He’s applying to ten graduate schools. When I realized that none of the writers, which included Ann Beattie, Robert Pinsky, Phillip Lopate, Joyce Carol Oates, Jorie Graham, were African-American, I asked him how he felt about that. He said he’s used to it.

Isn’t the fact that we tacitly accept the assumptions of privilege a prime cause of racial inequality? Feeling helpless and in despair over cruel inequities doesn’t help. It will not save one of the 12-14 kids shot dead in Chicago each week. What will? What can we do to make a difference? Having Obama as our president certainly helps. We also need to elect people who share our progressive values. What else?
I hope that collectively we can make a difference, there is that.

Michael

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WHERE IS OUR ENERGY? WITNESS FOR EARTH, OUR COMMUNITIES, AND OUR FUTURE

The Public Witness at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (our annual international gathering) in Louisville, Kentucky, focused on Environmental Justice. Preceding our march to the Ohio River we gathered in a worship service lead by the Kentucky/West Virginia Ministers Coalition; featuring Wendell Berry, Tim DeChristopher, Rev Cynthia Cain, and Rev Mel Hoover.

We did this for Earth, our communities and our future generations. It is essential for us to know where the energy comes from when we turn on a light switch in own home and at the Fellowship. How we harness and use energy in this country causes our climate to change in ways that imperil our well- being. We are causing harm to our planet, our communities, our neighbors, and our future. “We need to stop the harmful effects of practices like mountaintop removal, hydraulic fracturing, mining, and drilling. They are hurting all of our communities, and most especially, communities of color, low- income neighborhoods, and rural towns. We can find new ways forward together. But in order to change how we get our energy, we must first use the energy within all of us to make a change,” it was said. This commitment is central to our faith, our theology, and our respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Walking with thousands of Unitarian Universalists to the river was simultaneously solemn and jubilant. We were joined in mind and spirit. This public witness and its call for change stopped traffic for blocks and blocks. Kids hung out the car windows, wondering what was going on. The drivers in rush hour traffic were puzzled at this cavalcade of people, some in wheel chairs, others in scooters, babies in back packs and strollers, kids, teenagers, young adults, the gray haired all ambling to the mighty Ohio. All of us in our own way making the journey, asking by our moving presence for others to join us in our call for environmental justice. This action made us a community that values the health of our brothers and sisters and all life.

Wendell Berry asked us to ponder the healthy connection between local and global. “The principles of neighborhood and subsistence will be disparaged by the globalists as ‘protectionism’ — and that is exactly what it is. It is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local consumers. And the idea that local needs should be met first and only surpluses exported does not imply any prejudice against charity toward people in other places or trade with them.”

The principle of neighborhood at home always implies the principle of charity abroad. And the principle of subsistence is in fact the best guarantee of givable or marketable surpluses. This kind of protection is not “isolationism.” As we are asked to think about the source of our electricity, we are asked to know who grew our food and to buy what we can from local farmers. This is a primary step in achieving environmental and economic justice.

Let us be good neighbors and take good care of one another!

Michael and Charles

Reverend Michael Nelson and Charles Dedmon recently attended the UUA General Assembly, held this year in Louisville, Kentucky. They continue their travels through the month of July as Michael takes some time for study.

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Look into the lens of deep space…

Look into the lens of deep space, a cosmos intent on increase. Let forty million galaxies come into focus. Rivers of fire, the orbit of release, how this life moves round, one to the next and the many turns one.

What’s visible and can’t be seen, never separate. No line divides the mystery from the known. A call at the core of our existence seeks to expand our perception so that we leave nothing out–so that we feel how we are the interconnected web of existence; all of time.

These thoughts and images move through my psyche as infants enter our world and old friends leave. A perspective that spans larger than my ability to think or imagine allows for everything to settle into the patterns that allow me to follow the golden thread of my existence. How easy it is to collapse into the particular and be trapped. On the other hand, one can lose a sense of place and purpose if the floating carries you too far. This intricate balancing act, our lives, needs this tension between the finite and infinite. It provides a way to shape and give meaning to what we do and why we do it.

These late spring days and their intense green bring me into a place of such gratefulness for this earth that I fear any attempt to express it, will diminish its sweet potency. But gratitude is central to a healthy life. In the last rays of the sun a cottonwood seed drifts by. I wonder how many times it will lift and fall before finding its place in the earth. This puzzling ecstasy, the not knowing as a kind of freedom, allows the heaviness of my body to lift. To allow wonder to be a channel that conveys gratitude keeps it mostly honest.

So for all that comes into the world, all that moves within us, in our days and nights, and for that which leaves, I am humbled and locate that place in my heart where I want to be of service to this wild and fine mix, the ineffable, the babies grip and the hand that has held on for a long time.

Thank-you dear friends. Thank-you,

Michael

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Begin with the earth that sustains us…

Anyone looking for the holy land might best begin with the earth that sustains us …

Rev Forrest Church, UU Minister

The holy holds you in stillness, calms all the mental chatter, the anxieties and fears that press. It focuses the power, mystery and beauty of the universe. It connects you brilliantly to the interdependent web of all existence. If for only a moment you have no questions or answers. The infinite unification of the cosmos dissolves separation. You are at home. Approaching this state becomes easier when the hills and woods slip from winter duff to the green of new life, when the turkeys call and the creek sings after a long silence. Yesterday evening Chuck and I sat up by the old smoke house and watched the last of the sun sink beneath the swelling buds of the oaks. In the presence of this tranquility enervation seeps out as I hear the myriad birds and the new calves calling to their mothers, smell the fecundity of the warming earth and bite into asparagus fresh from the garden.

Recently Bill Moyers interviewed Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., ecologist, author, cancer survivor and authority on environmental links to human health. Married to an artist and the parent of two children she dedicates her life to finding the holy balance between those things she loves and that which threatens its health. She doesn’t hang out in a doomsday world. As a scientist she understands that the reality of global warming is worse than predicted, yet she chooses love to guide her as she gives herself to the joys of being a mother and an environmental activist willing to go to jail for acts of civil disobedience.

Steingraber knows the tension of how love can spill over into frustration, when she asks a New York congressman to release public health reports on fracking in the Finger Lakes area of New York where she lives. He just turns and walks away from her. She has sent him dozens of requests for the public health impact statement on fracking and storing the gas. She has gotten no response. He refuses to engage in an honest conversation on the subject at a public hearing. She begins to yell at him, “Why, why, why won’t you release this study?” He won’t answer.

Weeks later she links arms with a number of protestors to prevent the progress of the Kansas City based company hired to assist in the fracking work. Instead of paying the $385 fine she resists any complicity by going to jail for 15 days. Her second day in jail is Earth Day. She celebrates it by writing a letter to the world. Check it out.

I love this woman, her passion and the courage to do what her conscience requires so that she can balance her moral duty to her family, public and ecological wellbeing of the earth. It’s not enough for me to just sit on the high ground of the Flint Hills and revel in its wonders. Atrazine one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. is banned in the European Union. Approximately 75 percent of our stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested in an extensive U.S. Geological Survey study contained atrazine. The U.S. EPA’s inadequate monitoring systems and weak regulations compound the problem, allowing levels of atrazine in watersheds and drinking water to rise to extremely high concentrations. It is being sprayed a couple miles from me as I write this.

Asking questions and getting true answers about the use of herbicides and pesticides that are linked to cancer, miscarriages, and increased health risks to the newly born as well as the old must be a democratic right, a holy right. But it means nothing if we don’t participate in the democratic process of protecting what we find holy. What can we do as religious liberals to help create the holy balance between reverence and action? How can we collectively be more responsible stewards of the Northern Flint Hills, the Kaw Valleys and its bodies of water that we rely on for our existence?

In honor of all that is truly holy,

Michael

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Let’s try an experiment.

Let’s try an experiment. Make a list of what brings you joy/ fun. Without too much thinking jot down what opens you to joy and leads to fun. 1) The birds at the feeder, morning, noon and dusk. 2) Chuck whistling. 3) Poppy running full speed over the hills. 4) Norah (my 5-month-old grand niece) laughing. 4) Hearing the UUFM choir sing. 5) The first crocus. 6) The return of the eastern phoebe. 7) Seeing bald eagles close to home. 8) A warm hen’s egg in a cold hand. 9) Dusk, sunset. 10) A rollicking talk with a friend. 9) A newborn calf wobbling after its mother. 11) The unimpeded Milky Way. 12) A story of someone overcoming adversity. 13) Old Maxi Cat in a game of chase with young Freja. 14) When a hidden connection reveals its truth. 15) Fireflies undulating over the meadow. 16) 10 foot bluestem. 17) When UUism saves someone’s life … 18) Looking at Chuck’s drawings … 19) A night fire with a coyote and owl chorus … 20) When communication is clear and loving …

Title the next list grief/sad and proceed. 1) My neighbor shooting coyotes. 2) When my mother feels forgotten. 3) When people I care about fail to seek common ground when they share similar visions. 4) Allowing the petty to obstruct big dreams. 5) Moments of impatience when Chuck can’t recall something we have agreed upon recently. 6) A cruel remark. 7) The cutting down of a grand old tree. 8) When I get travel anxiety. 9) A society that fails to care for its children, the elderly, racial inequality in prisons … 10) When an LGBT teen kills themselves. 11) Whenever anyone kills themselves because of isolation, fear, treatable depression … 12) When anyone loses a loved one, friend, partner, spouse, mother, father, cousin, pet … 13) Poorly funded schools. 14) Gun violence. 15) Pollution. 16) Loss of songbirds and the wild. 17) When people do not understand anxiety disorders and brain damage; lack of empathy. 18) Perfectionism that kills the spirit. 19) Collapsing the richness of diversity into a thinness of possibility. 20) Poverty mentality, the sense that we do not have the resources, the will to do more than we are doing …

Wow! What a difference between how I feel after completing the first and second lists. I should have started with the second one, because now there is a pain in my back, a heaviness in my heart, I don’t feel like moving … When I finished the first I felt the possibilities of spring in my bones, a lightness, an eagerness, ready for what comes …

What we focus on makes a difference in our individual and shared lives. If we focus on what we can’t do, what has gone wrong, the losses, forward energy sinks into inertia. When we focus on what brings a smile, cheer, warmth, goodness, then the feeling that we can do more rises. This is not to imply that the practical, a hard look at reality is worthless, but it does suggest that if one does not turn toward what brings joy and a sense of fun it is very difficult to move forward.

Optimism does not come naturally to most people, but it is a skill that one can develop. It enables one to refine the way they use their energy and resources that create more possibilities for success. Becoming proficient at being positive, expert at enjoying, fine at having fun, expands the capacity to be fully in the world. It is much easier to face the problems and challenges of life with a supple and reliable capacity for joy. Progressive faith fails if everything is reduced to limitations. Confidence in what is possible generates hope and increases the chances for good things to happen. Experiences of sadness, loss and failure provide opportunities for wisdom to root but to make them a dwelling place is to ensure despair. It is what we make out of our suffering that counts. Liberal religion asks us to find meaning in whatever happens and to position ourselves towards the bright side of hope.

Michael

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Mrs. Berry

When I was 3 we moved from Lindsborg, Kansas, to the NW edge of Chicago. Working farms were within a mile of our house. Mrs. Berry lived across the dirt road and lived on what remained of her small farm. She had chickens, ducks and geese. As the roads were paved, more houses sprung up and the farm of my friend’s family, Brock, was sold to a developer that built Parkway Bank and high-rise apartments. Finally Mrs. Berry sold the last bit of land and next to her farm house and ramshackle sheds a brick house rose from the ground with a manicured lawn. The new kids believed that Mrs. Berry was a witch. She wore old-fashioned housedresses and her long gray hair tilted on her head in a disheveled bun. She seldom came out of her house that needed a paint job. Her curtains were closed and blinds drawn. Her yard, a thick tangle of bushes and trees, was dark and foreboding.

At first the name-calling seemed harmless. It became more menacing when Irene, a fiery red head, accused Mrs. Berry of killing her cat. She rabble roused and got a number of kids to terrorize Mrs. Berry by sneaking up to her front and back door, knocking and running. Stones were thrown at her windows. Kids stole her mail.

This felt wrong to me. I decided to go on a fact-finding mission. I knocked on Mrs. Berry’s old screen door with my heart pounding and my mouth dry from fear. Finally Mrs. Berry pulled the curtain aside to look at me and then opened her door. She wanted to know why I was there. I asked if she had killed Irene’s cat. She said, “No, I would never do such a thing.” I explained the situation to her and she replied, “You kids should know better. You shouldn’t be bothering an old woman.”

My fear subsided and my curiosity took control. “So if you don’t use that barrel full of dark water to drown cats, what do you use it for?” Mrs. Berry chuckled and said, “It is the best water to use for washing your hair. It makes it soft.” I asked her how old she was, but she didn’t think that was any of my business. Then I asked when her birthday was. She said in a couple of weeks.

When all the neighbor kids gathered to plan their next attack on Mrs. Berry, I declared that Mrs. Berry did not kill Irene’s cat. This made Irene furious, but somehow I prevailed and the harassment stopped.

For her birthday I dug up one of mother’s sedums. We called this plant the “Mother of Millions.” I put it in a pot and knocked on Mrs. Berry’s back door. She asked me what I wanted. I told her that I had brought her a birthday present. She opened the door and invited me in. I gave her the “Mother of Millions.” She had tears in her eyes and to avoid embarrassment poured us both a glass of lemonade. The joy of giving to Mrs. Berry registers with more potency than any gift ever given to me. May we all share our gifts in ways that create greater connection and joy.

Michael

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