From the Board President – Sheryl Stuart, 3/1/2024

I’ve been reflecting on the beautiful work of our RE team over the past several years in helping us be more attentive to the needs of multiple generations within the Fellowship, recognizing that there are differences in experience, expectations and more between different generations. As we’ve been blessed with more, younger children being present, especially in our Sunday services, I wonder how we can best accommodate the diverse needs of people of all ages who experience hearing and attention challenges in the service. I suspect this is one of those perennial conversations that is worth contemplation now and again.

First, I thought about the ubiquitous cell phone ring tones and notifications that happen during service. No matter how often we remind people to silence their phones, it is a rare service that doesn’t have some type of electronic interruption. I easily fall into righteous indignation about these interruptions…until I remember the unfortunate time that it happened to me.

I recalled a time when I sat next to someone who had a nervous habit that caused them to crack their knuckles often and repeatedly during the service. It drove me crazy! I never said anything, but I vowed never to sit next to that person again. I’ve subsequently gotten to know them and am quite fond of them. I don’t know if they still crack their knuckles in service, but I suspect my tolerance would be much higher.

I recalled several years in which we had a member who used an oxygen generator that made a loud noise periodically during the service. This also was annoying, but I reminded myself that the device was allowing the person to live and that helped me stop focusing on the distraction.

A friend once told me that a technique for dealing with these kinds of distractions is to consciously grant permission. I’m not sure this has ever totally worked for me, but I continue to try. And this reminded me of another congregant sharing during joys and sorrows about their experience in a hospital room in Portland. Their roommate was very loud and distressed. They said that they helped themself by repeating a version of the Metta prayer: may I be well, may I be peaceful…may you be well, may you be peaceful…and so on.

I’m so glad to see, and hear, babies coming with parents on Sundays. I confess that my heart literally aches for these parents. I remember the exhaustion of parenting young children and I’m so impressed that not only have families made time to join us on Sunday mornings, at least two parents have made the effort to contribute to our Fellowship by joining the choir. My immediate reaction is “How can we help you?!? How can we make your time at the fellowship a little lighter, so that you will continue to participate?” Supporting children and youth has always been one of our main focuses, and without new families, what will the future UUFC be?

I know that for some adults, especially those seeking quiet or contemplative moments, distractions can be distressing. I also realize that distractions come from many sources, and I am left with questions. Might there be a technology fix associated with the sound system that would help some of us hear better over background noise? Can we look at distractions differently? Is it possible for us to try to honor each distraction and then set it aside?

Building on its continuing work, our RE department has prepared a set of guidelines to help us all navigate differences and distractions. It’s a good place to begin to imagine and live into good possibilities and new ways.

Between Us, 2/25/2024

(I wrote this in 2016. Re-reading it during this Black History Month was helpful – as if I had written a reminder to myself check in some years later..)

I’ve heard that as we age and mature, the best we can do is replace one habit with another habit. That doesn’t sound very promising, but it certainly can be. If the habit is projecting anger on others by use of physical force, and it’s replaced with a practice of walking away and cooling down on your own, the effects are immense. If the habit is to address sorrow and grief with alcohol and drugs, and that habit is replaced by finding someone to talk and cry with instead of reaching for a bottle, the effects can be life-changing and life-giving.

Replacing destructive habits with less destructive or nurturing habits is not limited to big problems, or to those with the most intense emotional content. Often our smaller habits are what get in our way – sometimes because we can’t even see them, much less name them as habits. Racism is like this most of the time, and sexism, and ageism, and homophobia, and religious prejudices, and other similar habits. For example, simply calling our approaches to diversity ‘habits’ might be something new. It is usually quite a challenge, for any of us, to recognize that what we might think are facts about the way things are – such as “those people are……” are simply habits that we have been taught, that we have learned, that we have internalized. Why for example, do White people almost never say “I met a White person”, when we nearly always say, “I met a Black person,” as if white is an accepted and therefore unspoken norm for what a person looks like? (The reverse is true in many black-dominated cultures and societies.) Of course this represents a limited perspective, which we have definitely been taught somewhere, which we have internalized so that it is a habit. If you think this doesn’t make sense, try changing it, for at least one whole day, by describing the skin color of EVERY person you meet.

Many of us at the UUFC are challenging ourselves to be more active in living our religious values in our daily lives. We keep aiming to live in right relations with others who are of different faiths, ethnicities, persuasions, personality types, etc. Right relations sometimes requires challenging truths that others hold, and sometimes having our own truths challenged. Right relations often requires being able to hold two opposing truths in order to simply stay together. This requires going beyond our initial reactions to things and people (which give evidence of our own habits), and it is often uncomfortable. That is the work of right relations.

While he was serving as a ministerial intern at a UU congregation a few years ago, a seminary student named Ricky Klein noticed how hard this work can be for both individuals and congregations. He wrote, “The greatest challenge to counter-oppression work is that (some people want) to see greater diversity without doing the deeper soul work to understand why and what that would mean.”

Deeper soul work. Perhaps that’s what it means to replace one habit with another habit. Perhaps that’s the most important thing we can be doing, the soul work or emotional work, of understanding how our habits can both help and harm. I know this requires calling on all our resources – intellectual, spiritual, and physical – and I know from experience that it’s something I can almost never do on my own. That’s why I love being part of this congregation with you. May we continue to help one another in this work.
See you Sunday — Jill

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder

To begin a day with notes of thanks is never a waste of time. It is a courageous way to orient oneself to a day, given how easy it is to start with complaints. To sit quietly for a few minutes to see what gratitudes emerge can feel like what the phrase “heart song” might mean. Thanks for the chorus of frogs and the response of an owl last night; for the shape of Marys Peak on the horizon; for the snow drops and crocuses and three tall daffodils already in bloom; for the busyness of birds who share this place; for the smell of moisture-filled morning air; for the thriving vibrant green of lichens; for gifts from friends and family – a poem, a photo, a message; for the wisdom of teachers and of students; for being part of a supportive working team; for knowing I am held in a circle of connection and love. I try to begin the day smiling, which is always what happens when I pause to count blessings. As I’m smiling, I’m bowing my head to my heart in a spontaneous prayer for so much that is so painful – for people living in wars in Ukraine and Gaza and elsewhere; for children in danger; for families struggling to survive; for generations of trauma of racism and patriarchy; for losses and mourning; for the state of the earth’s living systems. I look to this day with hope, and words from W.E.B DuBois as encouragement: “ The prayer of our souls is a petition for persistence; not for one good deed but deed on deed and thought on thought, until day calling unto day shall make a life worth living.” May this be our daily practice.

The Worshiping Community

Is religion dying out? Some say it is – others say it should. Since I consider religion to be an innate human process, I doubt it will disappear, but there’s no question in my mind that its forms will continue to change – as has been true forever.

To understand why the Fellowship is so important to so many people and will continue to be so requires recognizing the unique characteristics of a liberal religious community. I remember some of my mentors describing this: we are like a school because we offer educational opportunities, we are like a hospital because we offer care and support for healing, we are like club because we offer social stimulation and connection, we are like a charity because we do charitable works (we call it justice work now.) But we are not merely any of these: not a school, or hospital or club or charity. We are a religious community. First and foremost we are a worshiping community; worship is at the heart of our congregational life.

I know – the terminology can be challenging. What do we mean by worship? It’s easy to get hung up there. What’s much more important than the word is the act, or acts of worship. Here’s a way to think about it: to join with others around a commitment to values in order to support one another in living up to those values. To not participate regularly in worship is to miss some very important things. For example, to not be present in a Sunday service is to not enter into the shared effort of support for others, especially for dealing with hard things. The courage it takes for many of us to name our fears and troubles is made possible, is called forth, by the compassionate listening presence of others. And to be present in that process is to be part of bringing forth truth and working to understand more of it. To be part of worship is to be part of considering life and living, together, including the parts that words cannot express.

The religious life is not merely an intellectual exercise, not limited to discussion of religious, theological or political ideas. The religious community is more than a club or a school or a shared project of justice-making. Religious life, and especially shared worship, are practices which turn us ever closer to living in right relations. Both depend on learning more about the truths of our own minds and thoughts, more about the truths of our relatedness to all others, more about the truths of how we are part of Life. To be part of this religious life is a choice, which is offered to us daily, weekly, and more. May we choose to be present, intentional and committed, that our lives may be blessings to each other.

Between Us, 2/2/2024

When I answered the call to ministry here at the Fellowship in 2013, the letter of call which became the Letter of Agreement between minister and congregation included this as its second point:

1.2 “Anti-Oppression Awareness
This congregation accepts its responsibility to continue to offer its members and minister(s) opportunities to increase their ability to function in a multiracial, multiethnic capacity and to address the systemic nature of oppression within Unitarian Universalism. On-going opportunities for growth and reflection will be offered to ensure the success of the professional ministry and will be scheduled in consultation with the Committee on Ministry.”

Having most recently served a congregation in Michigan which had increased its commitments to understanding and addressing systemic racism, I was very happy to move to a congregation which shared that awareness and commitment. Part of my own work to understand systemic racism had begun very early in my career, when I made a commitment to myself to undertake an annual study of the works of and about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I’ve now been engaging in this study for nearly 25 years).

Here at the Fellowship, my commitments have only increased, as have those of the Board and many members of the congregation. Now, Black History Month is part of my own “liturgical year”; I set a learning goal during this month each year. This practice has influenced how I learn and study throughout the year. I think that 85-90% of what I read is related to the study of systemic racism and other forms of bigotry. I read predominantly non-white authors, in a wide variety of genres – mostly because I realize that my own perspectives, based on my own experiences in life, are still very limited.

Several years ago, soon after the strong emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I invited everyone in the congregation to join me. “If you are White like I am, read something – anything,” I said, “that will begin to broaden and deepen your understanding of the nature of systemic racism. Many of you did, and we have been engaged in communal learning and discussion ever since.

This year, this Black History Month, I offer the same encouragement. If you have never made a commitment to learning about Black History, I invite you to begin. In case it might help, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last couple of years, which I highly recommend.

“We Were Eight Years in Power” – Ta-Nehisi Coates
“How the Word Is Passed “ – Clint Smith
“The Radical King” – Cornel West, Editor
“Homegoing”, and “Transcendent Kingdom” – Yaa Gyasi
“The Book of Delights,” “The Book of More Delights,” and “Inciting Joy” – Ross Gay
“Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World – and How to Repair It All” – Lisa Sharon Harper
“Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering” – Rachel Elizabeth Harding

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder, 1/21/2024

Things don’t always go as planned.  Right?  Life is always going in its own ways, which are bigger, wider and more complicated than we understand.  And yet we still, constantly, expect something different. Something expectable.  As if our own expectations are the measure and priority of Life.  My goodness, the self-centeredness of the ego is incredible!

I’ve been studying recently with a Zen teacher, and have been reminded that one of the most important of daily spiritual practices is to allow what is real to be present.  To allow.  Snow and ice are perhaps easy examples – we can see and feel and touch them, and so it’s not hard to be convinced that they are real. (And that we must dress accordingly, move (or not) accordingly).

Yet even with awareness of their realness, we can find ourselves negotiating with that realness, trying to tailor it to our expectations – that the snow and ice should come and go quickly, for example. 

One of the best ways to soften expectations – perhaps even to set them aside for a while and begin to understand their unnecessary urgency – is to allow ourselves to become still.  If we can quiet our bodies enough, becoming aware of the breath as it comes and goes, the mind can follow and take a break from its constant organizing, planning, worrying, expecting.  This doesn’t happen immediately – it takes time – which is what daily practice is for. 

Here in the Fellowship, we have religious ideals and commitments – to the freedom to be safe and to thrive, to justice, to continual learning as a way to become more compassionate, more loving.  None of these can be accomplished through the strategic machinations of the mind, nor merely through expectations.  All involve greater understanding of what is real – within us, between us and around us, all of which take practice.  In the week ahead, may we allow ourselves more time for stillness, for the quieting of body and mind, for allowing the way things are to become more clear.  May we help each other in this practice!  

Between Us, 1/14/2024

In our Inquirer’s Series – the after-Sunday-service sessions designed for newcomers (and everyone else too)– one of the sessions is devoted to learning about the “Liturgical Year” of the Fellowship.  The idea of “liturgy” (which is most commonly defined as “the work of the people”) comes from our Christian roots where it refers to both the order of service for Sunday worship and the annual calendar of holidays and holy days. Unitarian Universalism does not have an official liturgical calendar, though some celebrations are widely shared among congregations – for example the Czech Flower Ceremony, the Joining of the Waters, and National Pride Month.

In my own liturgical year, two of the most important days are the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the holiday which remembers it. (This year they are the same day).  I was only ten years old when King was killed: I still have strong memories of his face and voice on television, and the scenes of his funeral. When I became a student for UU ministry, I began to read his collected sermons and writings, and I have been doing so ever since.  I imagine that I will continue to study his life and work for the rest of my life. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929.  If he had lived, he would have been 95 years old. He was murdered 56 years ago, at the age of 39. How different would our country have been, would we all be, if he had lived this long?  We have now been observing his birthday as a holiday for 38 years – nearly as long as his short life.  So much has changed since his death, and so much has hardly changed as all.  Washington Post writer Perry Bacon, Jr noted last year that “the protests after the murder of George Floyd led to a society-wide rethinking of America’s policies toward Black Americans, but not much policy change.”  In truth, the justice King advocated, and died for, remains elusive too much of the time. 

The annual observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. day is an opportunity for learning and contemplation of where we’ve come from and where we’re going, in this particular history, this specific tragedy of American racism. A day to listen again to his words and the words of others and to acknowledge our own lives within this history, which includes right now.  What will we do with this day, for the promise which still calls?  What can we do, beginning now?      

In 1966 King wrote:  “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”  May this be a year in which we  see  changes in our souls, in ourselves, and in the communities we are part of, including the Fellowship.  Let us begin again.  

Between Us 1/7/2023

Much of the following I have said before – maybe you’ve heard me say it or maybe not. I come back to these ideas often, and so want to share them again with you: 

“Remember that every day is a new beginning. Make time to reflect upon your choice of this path, and upon your commitment … and give yourselves the chance to choose it again and again.”  

I use these words most frequently in wedding ceremonies, but they are appropriate for any new beginning, including the new year before us. In terms of ethical living, it is clear that the choices we make day after day are where ethics and right relations become real, or not. As we enter a new year, in these continually tumultuous times, we are called to strengthen our commitments to the religious life, which means to living in right relations as much and as often as we can.

The call of liberal religion – the highest aim, especially of a liberal religious congregation such as ours, is not theology or dogma or charisma or tradition, but covenant—the agreement to walk together and work together, in service to the highest ideals of justice, equity, compassion, and wisdom. The call is to a commitment, and a way of life.

Living in covenant means living in active engagement with each other. In marriage, this is obvious, though not always easy. In a religious community it is an ideal, but often without shared understanding of the practices and skills it requires. All relations of mutuality and respect require both commitment and practice. I think of a few friends, for whom I am especially grateful, each of whom I have come to trust for their willingness to be generous and honest with me. We do not agree on everything—in fact two of us disagree on a great deal—but we have come to appreciate greatly how much we need and depend on the loving offering of different perspectives, to challenge and to nurture one another. We have ventured out on limbs of trust together, and because of that we have each changed and grown. The gift of this trust is priceless. It is the currency needed in the search for truth.

If you’re new to the Fellowship, or if you’ve been with us for years, I want to say to you that this is what the Fellowship can mean to you. It is a community where you can find others who are equally committed to the search for wisdom and truth. It can be a place to find trustworthy companions to respectfully nurture the best in you, if you will do the same for them.

As the new year begins, I invite you to come as often as you can. Come to help build this network of trust, which the world desperately needs. 

See you Sunday — Jill

Between Us

There are many levels of wisdom in an annual calendar: for example the recognition of being part of a universe, on a planet orbiting a star in a regular pattern, and the recognition of seasons within particular earthly ecosystems, and the recognition that we can assess our lives and create new intentions. All of these movements affect how we live. At the very least, they help us remember that we are in constant motion, always being moved.

Within these continual cycles, we can consciously move ourselves toward what I’ll call spiritual maturity. This movement is a combination of continual action and reflection – a process of continual learning. Learning to be less fearful and more courageous, less judgmental and more respectful, less self-centered and more aware of others, less reactive and more curious. These movements require intention and dedication. 

A new year, according to whichever calendar is used, is always a chance to reflect, learn, and begin again. To see ourselves in new ways within the much larger patterns and cycles we are made of – as part of the universe, part of the seasons, part of a species, part of a community – inextricably related to all that is. We can learn to tell bigger stories about who we are – stories that are deeper, both older and newer, more detailed, and more true in terms of our relatedness and how we have been shaped. What new stories are unfolding within us and around us this year? What will we learn, and how will we grow? Perhaps we can begin with this, from Sr. Mary Goergen, OSF:  “We are called to live with the knowledge and awareness that we are part of all that is and that our decisions have an effect on the quality of life for all beings. We are called to live this connectedness that exists between all members of creation… We are called to remember loveliness for one another until each of us can remember, believe and live in love.”

Once again we are blessed by the possibilities of new beginnings. May we help each other move forward.

Winter Earth and A New Year Coming, 12/31/2023

Seasons  make a difference in how we live, even if only a little. Winter has its gifts and challenges, and its particular Pacific Northwest offerings. It’s good to appreciate each season in its turn. And since our calendar changes at this time of year, we’ll consider what may be in store for us in the coming year. All ages are welcome at this service which will conclude with multi-generational activities.

with Rev. Jill McAllister