From the Ministers

March From the Minister

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Spirituality | 0 comments

In this church we are all held in community, by a fabric stronger than our own thin cloaks. In this church we are held in a graceful and forgiving theological narrative that insists without exception that all are beloved. In this church we’re held by each other and by a larger Love that will not let us go. That is the radical, heretical, saving message of Universalism. We ourselves, in human form, in mortal, messy, clumsy form, are not just the image of God, but the very shape, the actual ears, eyes, hands, beholding you and holding you when the weight of the world is too much.

In this house we uphold and we are held within a graceful, hopeful, laughing, weeping, forgiving, saving faith. These are lofty things. Esoteric. Spiritual. They need a tangible container, sacred space, a house. The work of the spirit, when done in community, and in the real world in real time, needs a roof and a floor, with governance, bylaws, and a little light but serious bureaucracy; space for children, tables and chairs, a coffee pot and coffee; it needs salaries and benefits that are fair and that you’re proud of for the staff, and lights and computers and a parking lot; sheet music for the Choir, matches for the chalice, and furnaces that work and are as green as they can be to keep the people warm.

A vibrant Unitarian Universalist congregation in this corner of the heartland in this decade of the 21st century, plus or minus 1500 people striving to serve the world and anchor their hearts in love, in principle, in conscience, in reason and faith, and in a long, historic line of radical hope and inclusion—made as we are of flesh and blood, dreams and bones—requires brick and stone to hold it safe and house it. Think of what these walls have seen and heard and held: the aspiration of a people, which like inspiration comes from the same root word as spirit, which means breath, as ephemeral and real as wind, and different from the wind, because it’s gathered here, in one strong body.

This month, when the pledge committee asks us all to make a pledge of financial support, I hope you will join me and my family in saying, Yes. Absolutely. With gratitude and gladness. Yes. We are all in.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

February – From the Minister

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Spirituality | 0 comments

“There’s no academic way of making someone compassionate…It happens through experience.”
-Tony McAleer
Cofounder of LifeAfterHate.org

In a spate of articles after the 2016 election, speculations were made about why so many big cities went blue and so many rural areas went red. Some speculate that people who live in big cities are more likely to be younger and more educated, because they moved there to find work, so they are inherently more liberal and adaptable. Some speculate that living in areas with denser populations make people more likely to think beyond their immediate needs because competition for resources make people invest more in their futures. And some argue that those people who live in proximity to people who aren’t like them are more compassionate, and thus more liberal in their politics.

When living our lives, if we don’t encounter people who need our compassion, how can we develop compassion in ourselves? Time and again, studies show that people who change their mind about social issues do so because they are influenced by a positive relationship with someone different than themselves. When we can see beyond our own needs, when we can see a perspective different than our own, that is when we can start to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of another.

This month, I am considering how crossing borders, pushing boundaries, and coming into proximity to people who are different than myself can teach me compassion. I am also considering how my compassion can be used to gain awareness of my privilege, and use that privilege to make life better for everyone.

-Rev. Sara Goodman

January – From the Minister

Posted by on Jan 1, 2019 in Spirituality | 0 comments

What do you want to be when you grow up? When we were little, we were encouraged to say astronaut, astronomer, dancer, doctor, lawyer, writer, waiter, President, pianist, plumber. Without knowing it, we were rehearsing for all the awkward moments later on when a surface answer will suffice if someone asks, “So what do you do?”

Even if your job—if you have a job—is one you love, still your work is just a partial story; it might say everything or nothing about the state of your soul. But if someone asked you now, not “What do you do?” but the children’s question, “What do you want to be?” your most deeply honest answer might be very different. You might say, simply, “healthy,” depending on what you’ve been through, what you’ve seen, whom you’ve loved or lost. You might say, “I’d like to have my health—mental health, physical health, emotional health.” You might say “safe.” Safe from danger, safe from agonizing self-doubt, safe from the violence of poverty, safe from other violence. You might say “beloved.” You might say “befriended,” worthy of friendship. You might say “content,” as in:

To live content with small means,
to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion,
to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich,
to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,
to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart,
to hurry never… 

…the words of Unitarian William Henry Channing, more than a century ago. If someone asked not “What do you do?” but “What are you wanting to be?” you might say, “Independent.” or “Interdependent.” “Dependable.” “Forgiven,” or “Forgiving.” You might say, “Calm at the inmost center of my being, peaceful in my conscience, grateful in my spirit.” What is your calling at this moment in your life? What do you want to be as you grow not up, but upward?

-Rev. Victoria Safford

December – From the Minister

Posted by on Dec 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

On a Wednesday evening here, we sat in a circle, about eight people, very quiet, very still. It was a perfect silence, companioned and deliberate. We heard the rain outside, clattering softly into sleet. We heard cars on the road. We heard a distant dog. We heard someone laughing in the Social Hall. We heard the heat come roaring on. We heard the choir practicing, and the clamor of chatter and farewells. We heard children racing in the hallways, and the clink and clank of dishes in the kitchen.

These were not intrusions, just signals of our common life, its right location in the midst of hustle-bustle. We rode the silence, and it held us. After a time, we opened our eyes. No one rushed to speak, but when someone said “Thank you, thank you all,” we were ready to return, ready to join our solitudes in noisy, glad communion once again.

This busy season, don’t forget to listen for the silences. Don’t forget to stop talking, texting, thinking, shopping, planning. Don’t forget to leave a margin on the crowded page, the crowded screen, of every day. Don’t forget to guard the coastline of your spirit. Don’t forget to remember who you are, and what you are, and where you come from, which is where all things come from, the deepest and most holy quietude. Maybe this is prayer or meditation, maybe quiet walking, or just three conscious breaths before you fall to sleep. Don’t forget to listen for the still small voice within you, speaking without words, singing silent music, the music of the spheres and stars, the rocks and snow, the frozen waters and the waiting, sleeping earth. Don’t forget to breathe before you set your hands again to all the work of joy and peace and love that the days ahead require and deserve.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

November – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 31, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I am terrible at remembering people’s names. When I first meet someone, I try and try, I know all the tricks, but until I see their name and their face and put the two together several times, I am likely to forget. The name. Not the person. Because I am actually really good at faces. Once I’ve seen someone and spoken with them, once I’ve noticed something significant about you, I will remember you. If you show me a piece of yourself, I will remember you.

It’s one of the complexities of work like mine, relational work, where what matters is how you know people, and how they know you. I want to know the deep stories that make up your identity. And I forget your name, one of the basic identifiers of you. And that’s how it can be with Identity. We can know each other’s stories, we can share our deepest parts, and still not quite remember some basic facts.

Identity is both the name tag that you wear (or forget at home) and your face, both the story of the name that was given to you, and the deeper, even more meaningful stories you tell about yourself. It’s more than one thing. It’s not even static—identity shifts and changes as we grow, as we change. The sculpture of our identity gets uncovered more and more as the chisel of life chips away the unnecessary stone around the internal structures. As we learn, as we meet people and love them, get our hearts broken open, as we find ourselves dropped from great heights, and held by warm and loving hands, we shape and share our identities.

Our name, the most basic identifier of us—the two or three or more words that help us distinguish who is who—our name is not the totality of our identity, nor should it be. But it is significant and holy. And I will remember it better if you wear your name tag.

-Rev. Sara Goodman

October – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.

These lines from Jane Hirschfield are from her poem, “Optimism, ” which is no sunshiny, easy thing in these darkening, disturbing times. Optimism, hope, resilience—these are hard choices in harsh days, religious in their rigor. Our theme this month is faith—not easy, breezy, witless wishful thinking—but the resilient resolve to stay focused and bright.

We say yes to the future, even when the present is very cloudy; we say yes to the present, even when the past has all but crushed our spirit. We go on faith more than we admit, not goofy faith in crazy out-sized outcomes, nor in fact in any outcome, but faith in this good day, this good earth, these good companions, good work, good bread. We place our trust in small habits of the heart, and in something larger than ourselves which might be God but might also be community, present, past and future, the good work of good and decent people. It might just be love.

We’re part of that same resilient earth the poet writes about. We’re wired for resilience, designed to turn toward light. Not like Pollyannas, but sequoias. Oaks. Sycamore. All the deliberate ferns that have persevered since prehistoric times—the seemingly delicate ferns, curled and brown as fall draws down, waiting to explode with life in spring.

What do you turn toward? What do you believe in? What saves your life? In what good ground is your faith planted?

-Rev. Victoria Safford

September – From the Minister

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

The Sanctuary is quiet as I write this afternoon, nothing moving in the woods beyond the great window facing east, the steady oaks and cottonwood still sparkling from the drenching rain that came at last this morning. No deer today, no Cooper’s Hawk, none of the monarchs that have come back to us in golden clouds this summer, flashing hope around the milkweed near the stream. It’s quiet here today, as if the house were waiting for its people to come home.

The room is rarely empty, though, even in the summer now, this sacred space we cherish, this home we call our own. Yesterday guests gathered here all day for a mindfulness retreat with Buddhist monks from Plum Village; the day before the room was filled to overflowing for a funeral, the gracious walls holding safe the people’s sadness for a man who died too young. Weddings filled the space all summer, and memorials, and a fancy quinceañera for a shy 15 year old, whose congregation from St. Paul said, Thank you. Gracias. God bless you a hundred times that day for the simple welcome that they found here. De nada, we said. It’s the least we can do—and that’s the truth, in fact. What else could our space be for, than to be filled with life and love and celebration? Piano students sneaking in to practice. The drumming circle once a month on Tuesday nights, inviting all the stone and wood and glass to echo back the beat. Solitary meditators at all times of day. And on summer Sunday mornings, the powerful voices of guest ministers, seminary students, music, joined in August by the strong and steady presence of Sara—your new minister. The space holds all of this, all of us, and more: the memories, dreams, and wonder of a gathered people.

The Sanctuary is our refuge, our safe harbor, and the point of departure for lives called to service and gladness and hope. Here we rest and restore and replenish, we renew our commitment to sacred resistance, and our covenants with one another and with all that’s sacred.

Welcome home. Welcome back. Come, come, whoever you are – ours is no caravan of despair, but a house of hope and history, made holy by your presence.

With gratitude and love, Victoria

Summer 2018 – From the Minister

Posted by on Jun 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

In her extraordinary and prescient sci-fi novels, The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler wrote about a beautiful, dystopian word, like and yet unlike our own, and set in what was, at the time, the not-toodistant future: the early decades of the 21st century. Writing more than 30 years ago, Butler saw with eerie clarity what for her was not far-fetched to imagine, the rise of a boorish tyrant in the midst of American uncertainty, numbing the people with platitudes and terrifying them with reckless, ego-laced, crude, cruelty. One of the books’ most intriguing inventions is a genetic human ailment, causing those afflicted to experience a kind of hyperempathy. They are nicknamed “sharers:” people who feel the pain of others literally, in their bodies, their nerves, their muscles and bones. It is a risky condition, easily exploited by others, and thus hidden by those who carry it. It’s also the source, in these books, of some of the characters’ deepest wisdom and wildest creativity, for “sharers” must always be imagining how other people feel, and above all, how to avoid inflicting harm.

“Wonder” is our summer theme: the practice of opening the windows. It’s about imagination and reverie and lazy, hazy dreaming. “Wonder” in the summertime means hammocks in the afternoon and Northern Lights at night, paddling in silence for hours with a friend, or listening to your taste buds sing with joy at the first peach, tomato, watermelon, sweet corn. Summer wonder holds questions that the anxious winter can’t contain or bother with: How long can loons stay underwater? What happens if we take that trail? What human, living where, was the first to see the Perseid meteor showers and what was their response? When will these berries be ripe? Sometimes, with enough open space in a day and in your mind, wonder just happens, which is why it feels so summery, so childlike and free.

But wonder is also a serious spiritual practice. You can cultivate it, hone that flabby muscle into readiness, learn to see and hear and smell and taste —and feel—as if the windows of your heart and mind and soul were open, not slammed down and shuttered against anything that might catch you by surprise, or startle or confuse you. We can cultivate the open heart and mind and soul, and relearn how to be astonished, how to be amazed.

It’s a risky business. Like the “sharers” in those novels, we’re wary of feeling too much these days, seeing too much, learning too much, holding too much rage or grief or fear for the daily devastations of the earth and all the people on it. If you open the windows of your heart and let the world rush in, you could be swept away with sorrow, swept up in despair. But the risk of staying closed is even greater. I think part of why we come to church on Sunday morning and at other times, is to open our closed and weary spirit, which sometimes is a fearful spirit, to the wonders of life in community; to spacious, wide ideas and other points of view; to the joy of saying yes to helping someone else, when all along we thought we were too busy or too tired; to music, poetry, silence; the quiet breath, and even tears, and even joy, of other people.

From Sophia Fahs, Unitarian Universalist minister and teacher: Fling wide the windows, O my soul! The bright beams of morning are warm.

May – From the Minister

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

This is the sixth year in a row that I’ve had to say goodbye to a community I’ve grown to love. And every time is as hard as the last. At the end of things, I think, “I’ll never love anyone as much as I love this community. ” And every time I am wrong. I spend the summer grieving and then begin again discovering the stories and dreams and heartaches of those I am with—and in this I love them. My heart is broken open again, perhaps a little more each time, and in gratitude I add my voice to the song of another beloved community.

One of my favorite movies, and a family Christmas tradition growing up, is The Sound of Music. (Maria Von Trapp was my first real crush!) At times like these— the ending of this part of our journey together—I am reminded of a line from the movie: “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. ” To me, this is the reckoning—the blessing in disguise, the silver lining, the balance the Universe enacts between heartbreak and joy. I should be grateful for the light at the end of the tunnel, the vision of a window opening into a new relationship with a new community.

But that’s not actually the sort of God I believe in. That theology doesn’t fit for me anymore.

I have been re-reading some J. R.R. Tolkien in preparation for a sermon I’m writing and came across the Ainulindalë, Tolkien’s account of the creation of the world. In this story the One gathers the Ainur, the Holy Ones, declaring to them: a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed…Then [the One] said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will know that ye make in harmony together a Great Music.

And the Ainur, in unison and harmony and yet each with their own distinct voice, sang the world into being, emboldened by the “Flame Imperishable” that the One had kindled within each. The Ainur, like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of dwelling were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

Throughout my life I’ve been a part of countless bands, orchestras, choirs, ensembles, and theater companies. Each performance, when everyone surrenders to the larger vision, is an intense experience of unity and harmony. Each individual offering flows into and out of all the others. Each player brings their unique gifts to the table. Certainly it was always hard to leave a group that I had these experiences with, but I never doubted that another opportunity would come along and that the moments of connection with them would be just as moving. All of this is to say, I’d like to believe that instead of closing one and opening another, Love is constantly offering us invitations to create Great Music with others. Sometimes this music is joyful. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s both. As Buddhism posits, suffering exists. Our grief and anger add depth to our songs and a power to any gratitude we may be able to muster out of heartbreak.

And so, once again, I prepare to say goodbye, gradually withdrawing my voice from the choir of this community, allowing us all to feel the sadness in that loss. In the letting go, we enable our hearts to begin listening for the notes of a different song, trusting that the breath of Spirit moves gently among us always, singing softly, an exhalation of Love.

With love, I thank you for letting me sing with you this year and for the work you do to create Great Music that echoes throughout the world. I am deeply grateful for this time with you and very much looking forward to listening from afar as your song continues with new voices, new harmonies, and new rhythms.

-Rev. Shay MacKay

April – From the Minister

Posted by on Apr 2, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

Our theme this month is Promise: the practice of creating the world. A promise is a kind of pact, a vow, a spoken symbol of intention—a giving of your word. We live in cynical and jaded times, when vows spoken and heard are easily retracted, pledges (on the campaign trail especially) are easily denied, and promises carelessly dismissed. The world we inhabit really is created and defined by promises honored and broken, silent and spoken. A promise is an act of faith, for everyone involved. Long ago, and in congregations still, a promise was a covenant.

A covenant is not a contract. It is not made and signed and sealed once and for all, sent to the attorneys for safekeeping or guarded under glass in a museum. A covenant is not a static artifact and it is not a sworn oath: Whereas, whereas, whereas…. Therefore I will do this, or I’ll die, so help me God. A covenant is a living, breathing, aspiration, made new every day. It can’t be enforced by consequences but it may be reinforced by forgiveness and by grace, when we stumble, when we forget, when we mess up. Every Sunday here we repeat in unison the affirmation of James Vila Blake, “Love is the spirit of this church… ” Each week, quietly, aloud, I promise that I will “dwell in peace, ” and then I don’t live peacefully at all: by Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the latest, I’m living fearfully again, or acting meanly or self-servingly. I say that I will “seek the truth in love,” and then proceed to act quite otherwise, closing my ears and shutting down my open mind and heart, seeking instead the validation of my own narrow, safe opinion. I say, “our great covenant is to help one another,” and then I forget to do it. I’ve “broken my vows a thousand times,” as Rumi’s line from the old hymn reminds me, and yet, because I am held in and hold to a covenant, with the people in my church and with others whom I love, with convictions I cherish and principles I mean to practice, I turn to a different page in the same hymnal. I sing the line, “We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love, ” and I remember: a covenant is a promise, it is an aspiration, to go deeper in relation to ourselves, to our best intention, to our God, and to each another. A member of our congregation told me once, “Covenant is a promise I keep to myself, about the kind of person I want to be, the kind of life I mean to have, together with other people, and with all other living things.”

When we welcome babies in our church, when we welcome new members into the community, when we celebrate the love of beaming couples, when we ordain new ministers, we speak not in the binding language of contract, but in the life-sustaining fluency of promise, of covenant, from co-venir, to travel together. We will go together with you, child; we will travel together with you, friend; we will move together with each other toward the lives we mean to lead, toward the world we mean to have a hand in shaping, the world of compassion, equity, freedom, joy and gratitude. Covenant is the work of intimate justice, and we come to church to help each other keep the promises we’re proud of.