A philosopher has said, the line between good and evil goes through the center of each human heart. Martin Luther said it just slightly differently—simul Justus et peccator. Simul—simultaneously, Justus—justified, et peccator—and yet a sinner.
At one moment we are entirely whole in our beauty and brokenness – the tradition of our ancestors reminds us of our humanity – fully beautiful, fully broken; imperfect and yet proclaimed: beloved of earth, of sky, of God.
Sin is an edgy topic—especially for religious liberals. The practice this month, of turning, comes from traditional understandings of “sin” in philosophy and theology. To sin was to turn away: from the Holy, from the good, to fail to live up to your own hopes. And then to repent, which means to turn, was to turn back toward the Holy, the good, your highest aspirations and your best self.
When I was leaving Lutheran seminary I met with the Dean of the Seminary. I explained I had come to believe that Jesus was one among many mediators of God in the world. He said, “Sure. There are a hundred ways to understand Jesus—that’s not too radical.” I was a bit surprised.
And what he said next has stuck with me since: “I think the major difference we have with the Unitarian Universalists is human nature. We human beings are constantly failing to be our best selves, and regularly drawn to the vices of greed and hatred and division – and unless we name it as something as deep and substantial as sin, I think it becomes quite difficult to respond to it in any constructive way.”
And I said, “Yes, Sir.” And I babbled about each person having the capacity for good or evil; that it’s not “original sin,” and he said, “You know as well as I that original sin is a metaphor for why humans fail to be their best selves all the time. We’re not evil—we are just as flawed as we are good—and yet God always calls us beloved.”
And I said, “Yes, Sir.”
I think I like the edginess of thinking about sin because it forces us to re-examine the overly optimistic view of human nature in liberal religion. It challenges us to look at our language; how do we speak of individual and communal brokenness, wrongdoing, missing the mark, failing to be our best selves? Each day, we experience a world in which there are heart-shattering stories and experiences—loss, grief, destruction of our communities and the planet itself.
So I still wonder, and wrestle with the question: how might we use the language of sin, whether we end up using that word or not, as a gateway to deeper reflection on how to name and respond to our broken world, and our broken souls. Perhaps we can find language that names both struggle, personal and communal, as well as resilience.
I am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
…but i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love
and i leave to forgive me
- Lucille Clifton
Looking back, even just a week behind, I am filled with gratitude for the dozens and dozens, literally hundreds, of members and friends who helped in so many ways to make beautiful holidays here: the Choir and the Youth Choir, Harmonia and solo musicians; friends who donated trees and wreaths, and others who wrangled them into place (and out again) ; readers, speakers, ushers, greeters; those who made coffee and baked and swept, and welcomed returning young adults home for Christmas Eve; snow shovelers, fire tenders, young drummers at the Solstice fire; folks folding orders of service and assembling, then disassembling, little candles; and everyone who wrote a heartfelt wish on a cut-out paper star.
I’m grateful to those from our church who went down to Minneapolis to stand for racial justice while all this was going on, and those from our pastoral care team who sat with others close to home.
This is a cherished community.
Looking forward, more gratitude, as the circle of community expands yet more. We are very close to launching the Special Campaign you approved by congregational vote in October.
Five committees, your Board, and many volunteers are already at work: the Special Campaign Committee, chaired by Dale Anderson; the Annual Pledge Committee, chaired by Jeff Nelson and Chris Nelson; the HVAC advisory group, which has been working for 3 years on a sustainable, affordable design; the HVAC Building Committee, which will oversee bidding and construction; the Financial Oversight Committee, chaired by Jack Juvette with Jane Harper as Treasurer; and the Board, with President Steve Kahn leading the way. Already, two dozen volunteers are in the process now of approaching more than 100 households for lead gifts in advance of the Campaign’s official launch – and the early pledges are deeply inspiring. When the Campaign opens officially in March, we will be more than ready to meet our goal to replace the old furnaces, pay down the mortgage, and fund a prudent increase to the annual operating budget.
On a snowy morning, I am filled with gratitude—for lovely old traditions, exciting innovations, solid longtime members who step up again and again and newer faces, newer hands, to carry forward so much good work. Hundreds of people, young and old, year in, year out, and all together make this church a holy place. As the Great Wheel turns our world once more, may the new year bring more light, more love, more joy and hope.
Where is the Light?
Sunday, December 20 morning services at 9:00 and 11:00am
music from the Choir, directed by Thaxter Cunio and from the Youth Choir, directed by Russell Packard
Stories from Amy Peterson Derrick, Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, and others.
We’ll sing “Solstice Song” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – cherished White Bear traditions.
Winter Solstice Night
Sunday, December 20: Come back to church to celebrate the longest night!
Celebration at 5:00pm
POTLUCK SUPPER at 6:30pm
We’ll mark the turning of the year and welcome Yule with a magical tree, music from Harmonia, solstice stories for all ages and an outdoor starry circle round a solstice bonfire.
Then – we’ll warm up inside over a shared winter meal.
Adults and children of all ages are welcome. Dress warmly!
O Holy Night
Christmas Eve Candlelight Services
Wednesday, December 24 at 4:00pm 6:00pm 10:00pm
at 4:00 and 6:00pm
Songs and carols, stories and wonder, with music from the Choir, directed by Thaxter Cunio
at 10:00 pm
The winter night deepens, with readings, carols, candlelight, and music from Margo Berg and Carol Caouette.
Welcome a Guest at Your Table
Special Collections for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee on December 20 and 24.
On Christmas Eve, please bring your Guest at Your Table boxes and/or checks made to WBUUC!
The UUSC empowers justice work nationally and globally, supporting communities as they transform oppression into hope and lasting change. Learn more at www.uusc.org.
Throughout December, bring new hats, mittens, scarves and socks to adorn our Mitten Tree!
At the new year, we’ll bring these to families, children and teens at the Tubman Center.
love to walk in graveyards at this time of year. In an old one that I know, there was a little marker for a child, with a lamb made of stone lying on the top—a familiar motif in the early 19th century. The engraving read OUR LITTLE FRANK with the day of his birth and his death—one single day. Next to it was another little stone, and it, too, said FRANK. Their second son, born a year after the first, and given the same name, lived only to age three. And next to them their parents, and the stones of other children who lived on to adulthood, and the children’s children, and there they are now all together—and anyone I’ve ever known, or seen on any street, or any one of you, might be their descendants—or maybe there were none.
In another row I found the stone of a man who was married twice and widowed twice, and his two wives were sisters: not uncommon long ago, but strange to read the news in granite. You find all these threads of stories, bits and pieces, on little humble gravestones and big impressive marble monuments.
I like the quiet air in cemeteries. All the drama of the living has died down, settled into soil and grass and birdsong. Sometimes you can hear traffic on the highway just beyond the fence, or the shouts of children in a schoolyard, dogs barking, airplanes, hip-hop music wafting out of the land of the living, but where you are is quiet. You can feel a deep sympathy in such a place, for all their struggles, all their loves and losses, the failures that won’t be etched in any stone and over time are worn away and all forgotten, and the victories as well, all settled down into a congenial democracy.
These people have become part of something larger than themselves, and sometimes, walking in a graveyard, I remember I am too; my life, also, is a small, fleeting chapter of a larger, older story—something that goes on and on. It’s not a sad thought.
If the dead do come back to haunt us, I believe they’re begging us to tell the truth: that all of us are human, all of us are mortal, and life is very short—it is breathtakingly short—and most of us are trying, despite sorrow, grief and loss, to lead joyful, useful lives. Made stronger by our losses, or more wise, or gentler, we’re trying to lead lives that bring honor to the memory of the dead. Soon enough, under one sky, we will be restored to common ground—the same ground upon which we stand today, breathing in, breathing out, as one.
from “Remember Who You Are”
Sermon on the Ordination of the Rev. Laura Smidzik
September 19, 2015
As religious people we’re called to sacred patience and at the same time to a holy impatience; to quiet and disquietude; to the radical stillness of cupped hands and also to the clamor of raised voices shattering all silences.
As religious people, we dwell within a glad and awkward paradox: action and reflection, say the liberation theologians; ora et labora, prayer and work, say the Benedictines; waking and sleeping, says the rising of the sun and then its going down. Love till you’ve loved it away: this day that you’ve got, this life you’re given. You cannot rest; you have to rest. You must speak up, and you must shut up—and listen. We dwell within this paradox.
As people religious, you are called to the life of the spirit, and to the work of justice, and the fact is, it is all one life. We are here to grow our souls and to serve the world, we say. We are here to help each other do this.
What’s your story? What’s your prayer? Is there a thread you can trace, a way of seeing, being, and believing, the lifeline holding you steady through every day, as you sway between the call to prayer and the call to action? Teetering, as we all do, somewhere between “Be still my soul” and “Wake now, my senses,” how do you hold your ground, center your spirit, give voice to your power? That is not a question for ministers to answer; it’s a question for human beings to answer. The job of the minister is to keep asking it, over and over, and out loud in public at least once a week, to inflict upon people both affliction and solace, in equal measure, for as long as the people will have us.
These are intimate questions. We come to church, I think, to congregations, to community, to get help with our answers, to remember who we are, to find ourselves in a context that is larger than ourselves.
Most of us have come to this place, and to Unitarian Universalism, from some other point of origin. Children may be rooted from their birth here, but we adults come stomping the dirt from our travelling shoes. We fling ourselves down and say we’re so glad to be at home at last, even though it is a brand new place for us. It is not the house we grew up in. Nor do we enter empty-handed.
Each of us comes carrying a cup, a plate, a prayer, a hole in their pocket or their heart where their riches used to be; some come with abundance to share. Our memories come in with us. We come with all sorts of baggage, some of which can be checked at the door now, and some we’ve carried for so long it’s embodied now, incarnate, for better or for worse. Under one roof, under one sky, we bring in all our stuff and set up housekeeping, mindful (or maybe not) that the house is already amply furnished with a long tradition of its own.
We’re glad to know others and be known, to begin to trust both what is said and what will not be said (namely judgment) ; to begin to lean toward what’s required (mutual support, personal integrity, respect) and to trust that some things (conformity of thought or faith, for example, or unremitting shame) will never be required.
This is a religious way in which to be “at home” means your spirit feels absolutely free to wander and to wonder, to roam around and maybe in the end land right back where it started, with those same essential questions that you held when you were small, in synagogue or Sunday School, or in the quiet woods: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
To be at home in this Unitarian Universalist house means that you feel free to wander widely, and return with gratitude, over and over and at least once a week, to a safe hearth built of love and joyful service.
Welcome back, friends.
I’ve been watching the images from Pluto this month, and thinking about distance and proximity, the spaces between planets, and coherence. What holds things in their orbits? What makes a group of planets (and their sun and moons, and moods, their quirks and quarks) a solar system, not just a random bunch of big orbs in the sky?
What holds us in our orbits, binding us across our differences, our strangeness, loneliness, distractions, into a community, a congregation, and not just a random bunch of people passing through?
We’re held by covenant: the promises we make to one another, but mostly to ourselves, about the kind of people that we mean to be, the kinds of persons, one by one, within intentional community. We’re bound, by choice, to the history of our congregation, and to the liberal religious experiment within which it dwells, and we are bound to its future, mindful that we shape it with our own hands as we go.
We’re held as well by more practical connections, and summer is the time when staff and lay leaders plan and ponder all the tangible links that help us to cohere: the newsletter and weekly email blasts, social media and sermon podcasts, bulletin boards and tables in the social hall, even posters on the wall. How can we connect 1000 children, youth, young adults and elders, and everyone in between, to one another and to our larger purpose? How can we stay clear and focused, sharing enough information, but not so much that the news from church just adds to the streaming cacophony of everybody’s over-crowded inbox?
Beginning in September, our monthly newsletter will take new form: it will be shorter, with deeper and more thoughtful articles linked to our monthly Sunday themes; there will be more pictures, and more live links to information on our website. The weekly insert in the Order of Service (currently, “The Purple Pages”) will expand and be more organized, full of current news. These publications will be available both online and in print. A new online monthly journal called Show Your Soul will feature the writing and artwork of this congregation’s wondrously creative members and friends, and it, too, will follow the cycle of monthly themes around the year. (I hope you’ll contribute! Click here to learn more.)
How can we connect more meaningfully, making space in busy lives to deepen friendships, be of service, and to grow our souls? What does it mean to be a member of a church community, one small planet in relation to the others?
This year Wednesday nights will shift their shape to make the mid-week dinner more inviting to families with young children, to people coming straight from work, and elders, and the rest of us. We’ll be eating in the Atrium, a more spacious, gracious, light-filled space, surrounded by gallery art, and every Wednesday after dinner there will be a 50-minute forum in the Social Hall, led by members or ministers on a variety of topics, with concurrent programs for children. The Choir will still practice, and committees will meet from 7:30 – 9:00. You’ll see this schedule printed soon. To me it feels more deliberate, more exciting, more accessible, and ultimately simpler—a welcome island just where we need it, in the middle of our week.
Like stars and planets, we are held together by relationships. Gravity keeps our feet on the floor, but we’re connected also by bonds of grace and deep intention. You’ll hear more soon about communications and fall programs, ways to connect with one another, with generous service, and with your heart’s own longing for the sacred. For now, may your summer days be filled with light.
Mobile number? Current e-mail? Street address?
Keeping in touch and helping your church reach you are key responsibilities of membership in our community!
Contact Jody Karlen at 651.426.2369 or firstname.lastname@example.org to update your information.
An Invitation to Beloved Conversations
In June, I bought these buttons as a gift for our congregation. In two weeks, we distributed over 500 buttons, and I have just ordered more. I invite you to take one, and to wear it over the summer, as often as you will, as often as you can.
Pay attention to the conversations that open up around your button. Watch not only other people, but your own interior reactions.
Takes notes and write to me this summer. [ email@example.com 651.587.8481 ]
Tell me how it’s going.
If you wear your button, tell me what that feels like. If you don’t wear it, tell me why.
In the fall I’ll gather your responses and on a Sunday in September (without quoting you by name) we’ll hear how this is going, this small attempt to shift the conversation about racism, violence and fear.
From Ferguson to Baltimore, Staten Island to Selma, Madison to Minneapolis, from Cleveland to Charleston to the very heart of your own town, we have got to shift the conversation. We have got to start the crucial, painful, holy conversations about white privilege, policy, prisons, the economy, one by one, with neighbors, workers, strangers, family, friends – and then walk our talk, in faith, with hope and courage.
As I write, our hearts have been broken and our spirits shaken by the killing of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina – an act of terrorism born of cowardice, ignorance and centuries of systemic, culturally-acceptable racism, fueled by a national gun culture that is irrational, immoral and recklessly out of control. Wearing a button is the least of the responses we are called to now, as people of faith, a people of courage and radical hope.
May our broken hearts be strengthened for the work ahead. As ever, I am grateful to be walking with you on this journey. - Victoria
A Prayer for the People of Charleston and All People
Spirit of life and love,
A church is a harbor of refuge, a shelter and a sanctuary.
It is a place where people speak to God, silently, aloud.
It is where, trembling, they listen.
A church is a house of hope and history,
consecrated by the people’s faith:
lift up joy and thankfulness
lay down weariness and sorrow.
Babies are welcomed.
Couples are blessed.
The beloved dead are sanctified and
in the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we will remember them.
We wake to devastation, desecration.
Wild with grief and holy rage,
we pray for courage now, and renewed strength
to preach this morning’s gospel truth:
black lives matter.
In the rising of the sun, and in its going down,
may we remember what we know for sure -
in spite of, and precisely because of,
the awful evidence of other tragic truths.
The Annual Meeting of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church
SUNDAY JUNE 7, 2014 at 10:15 a.m.
The meeting convenes in the Sanctuary immediately following the 9:00 a.m. service. Hear the highlights of the year reported by President Nancy Ver Steegh and Victoria Safford; honor the commitment of dedicated lay leaders with your presence and the power of your vote as they stand for elected office; own the vision and mission of our congregation by affirming the budget and the program it empowers for the coming year. All are welcome and encouraged to take part in the Annual Meeting.
If you are a member of our church, please make every effort to attend and establish the required quorum! With 761 members, we will need 153 just to open the Meeting.
Annual Congregational Meeting Agenda
Sunday, June 7, 2015 10:15 a.m.
- Lighting of the chalice
- Call to Order and recognition of parliamentarian
- Approval of minutes of June 8, 2014 Annual Meeting
- Recognition of new members
- Report of the President
- Report of the Minister
- Recognition of the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 Pledge Chairs Carla Scholz, Chris Nelson, Jeff Nelson
- Report of the Treasurer
- Presentation and approval of 2015-2016 operating budget
- Election of new Board officers and directors
- President Steve Kahn
- Vice President Laurie Kigner
- Secretary Dana Boyle
- At-Large Susan Miles
- Youth Representative
- Rebecca Edwards
Election of new Nominations and Leadership Development Committee members: Annie Vail and Jason Sem
11. Green Sanctuary vote
12. Finding Home Task Force report
13. Hallam Avenue purchase vote
14. New Business
16. Closing words
Save the Date!
The Annual Meeting is a throw-back, a remnant of a simpler time when it was still possible to imagine governing a congregation—or any other complex institution—in person, voting with a literal show of literal hands, discussing and debating and applauding what deeply matters in a community face-to-face and heart-to-heart, when showing up was a sign not only of one’s own agency and self-interest, but a real sign, too, of caring for the institution and the people in it, a sign of caring and respect. In New England, many towns still are governed in this way: the citizens who live in a place and love it show up in person, once a year, to demonstrate that love. They call it “turning out to vote, ” but you can see the love. They elect a city government, allocate a budget, wrangle over public schools and potholes—but by the very act of showing up, they show faith in one another, concern for one another and the “common wealth, ” and deep love for democracy, the great experiment which relies first and always on engagement—everybody at the table.
Built on this same democratic model, Unitarian Universalist congregations are governed by congregational polity: the congregation rules, the members holding in their hands all authority to raise and spend money; elect leaders; ordain, call, and dismiss ministers; and discern their own direction, to determine who they are and who they’re called to be.
It is a beautiful, humble, and humbling process, and it can only work if you show up. It’s not for lack of innovation or imagination that the congregation governs in this retro way, convening once a year not virtually and not online, but in person in the sanctuary: it is sacred work you do, an honor and a privilege. To offer to each other your most precious gift, the gift of time (real time) and presence, is a sign of deep respect, and even reverence.
Please come. If you have signed your name in the membership book, you need to come to make the needed quorum. You need to come and vote. Don’t assume that someone else will be there in your place—please come and own your church. If you are a friend or guest, please come. We need your voice, too, and your presence and support; you are part of this community. You show up all the time: for Sunday services, for choir practice, for teaching in RE and cooking in the kitchen. You show up for Sharing Circles, for funerals and weddings, for demonstrations at the Capitol and quiet prayers when someone’s sick or needing help. It is such a retro throwback, to place your very body in the very moment— but that’s what church is all about. Once a year, at the Annual Meeting, the members of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church show their love, their dedication, their mutual respect and care by showing up to ratify a budget and elect leaders for the year ahead. Please come. I’ll see you there!