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Author Archives: jennifersponderings

On This Day

When I was a child I remember my mother telling me her memories of where she was when she heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. She remembered exactly where she was in her family’s yard, she remembered the message coming over the radio. When she talked about it there was a hushed reverence in her voice for all that was lost that day – the people, the resources, the hope. There was a hush in her voice as she remembered how her life and the life of all Americans changed that day.

I bet if you are old enough you remember where you were the morning of September 11, 2001. I was a stay at home mom at that point with a one year old. My husband and I had an appointment that morning to meet with a lawyer to talk about a will. It was bizarre watching the TV coverage of the planes hitting the towers with a baby in my lap. It was surreal to then go to the lawyers office and talk about a will as the news played in the background. I remember thinking would we really need a will?

Our lives changed that day on September 11, 2001. There is no denying that. Many lives were lost that day. Many families were forever torn apart. The ripples from that day have affected many from people who lost their jobs, people who lost their homes. The first responders, heroes, have suffered many many health related issues.

I have taken many moments today to remember as best I can those who lost so much that day. It is a fitting thing to do.

And it is also a fitting thing to remember when New Yorkers came together to help each other, to remember Americans who came together to help each other. One of the things that makes this a grand country is our ability as a people to work together even in the midst of diversity and crisis.

For me September 11th taught me that violence is not the way. It only begets more violence. What is important for me to remember is that it is time to worker harder to find peaceful resolutions. Fourteen years later there is still way, way too much violence in this world. For my part I recommit myself to work toward peace.

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Invitation

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I am lucky to serve a wonderful congregation, First Unitarian Universalist Society of Syracuse.  We are a smallish, vibrant (no ish), friendly supportive community.  We are open and welcoming to folks who are searching.  We may not give you answers but we will help you find the answers.  We cannot solve the problems of the world but we will be part of the solution.  First UU is a great community.

We want to invite folks to come join us because we are excited and happy and that just kind of bubbles up and out and demands to be shared.

Inviting people is an interesting thing.  It used to be (or so the lore goes) that if you were a church all you had to do was open your doors and people would show up.  I am not so sure that is totally true.  Still nowadays we have to do more than open our doors to invite people in. We need to be actively inviting people into our community.  And what does that mean?

We need to be visible.  No longer does having a steeple make you visible.  We need to show up in the community outside of our church walls and show up in a way that lets people know who we are. And so our church shows up at parades, and at festivals, at soup kitchens, at fundraisers, at hospitals at graduations.  We show up.

We need to be welcoming.  We need to look at our building with fresh eyes like we were looking at it the first time.  Is the parking lot manageable or is it iced over?  Can we understand where the bathrooms are?  And are those bathrooms well lit and clean?  Or are they dark with chipped paint and rust?  Is it clear where people can put their coats.  When they walk through the door is there someone there with a smile who says welcome!  Is the Sanctuary set up so that you can get to a seat easily.  If a family with children is visiting is it clear what is available to their children?  Do we announce hymns so that newcomers who do not know the hymnal can find the hymns?  At coffee hour do we put our congregational work aside and instead say hello to folks who face we do not recognize?  It is a simple as a smile.  Pretty much everyone likes being smiled at.  All of these things are part of being hospitable.

We have been blessed with a lot of love in our community.  And so we are in the process of building a longer table with a place for you.  Come on over and give us a try.  There is a space for you at our table.

ONE PLATE, ONE CUP, ONE FORK

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I love my family – I really do.  We are an ever changing, always interesting group of people.  I love sharing meals with them, helping them out, watching the children grow and mature.  I love the snuggles and hugs, the reminders for the kids to pick up after themselves, the homework and practices, and rehearsals, the phone calls, the lunches to pack, and I love my family.

But every once in awhile I get time alone.  Maybe you get time alone often.  For me it is different.  I have had children living with me for 33 years.  That is a lot of shoes, a lot of tissues for runny noses, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of wash to fold, a lot of dishes to wash.  A. Lot. Of. Dishes.

For the next few days I have the luxury of chosen aloneness.

There will be some reading.  There will be some writing.  There will be some pondering.  Truth be told I can do all of that with family around.  I learned to write sermons with a baby on my lap.  But what I can’t often do is give myself a stretch of time where no one is going to need me – where there is no interruption to the meanderings of my soul.

I learn a lot about life, love, God from my family.  But there are moments when it is good to turn inward, to let life move at a different pace.  It is good to catch up with oneself in the same way we catch up with old friends.  Set aside some time and give oneself a bit of undivided attention.

One plate, one cup, one fork.  I shall savor it.

The sky has one more guiding star today

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Yesterday we lost a great man.  My uncle Gene died.  And when I say my uncle I really mean my husband’s uncle but in this chosen family of mine I was happy to call him uncle.  And, I think, he was happy to call me niece.  The reality is we had kind of lost him a long time ago.  He had Alzheimer’s and it had slowly sapped him of the thing that was him.  I and my family are glad that he is not suffering any longer.  And we will choose to remember him as he was just a few short years ago.

The picture above is of 4 generations of Navias men and one of my favorite. The photo seems to capture just each of their spirits.  Gene is the man in the blue striped shirt.

When I met my, as not yet, husband he at one point told me that his uncle was a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I being a UCC minister at the time laughed.  At the time I thought the idea of a UU minister was funny – how can one be a minister without a God.  How can you have a religion without a creed?  UUs to me were people who just could not commit.  And this is what the Karma fairy taught me – be careful what you laugh at.

My, as not yet, husband graciously did not respond to my pomposity.  For he knew that I would meet his uncle and I would understand.  He learned a lot of his graciousness from his uncle.

The man I met, who would end up marrying Geoff and I, and dedicating our two children, was a man formed in the UU faith.  He taught me so much about what it meant to be welcoming.  When I came to this faith and was greeted with some very sharp anti-Christian sentiment (much of it earned but still hard for a Christian like me who does not identify with the reactionary part of Christendom) it was Gene who could talk to me about it.  It was he who knew the history and had seen the shifts and changes.  He could connect the dots for me.  And he could lift up our Universalist heritage that has sometimes been so not heard.  He showed me what it means to be radically hospitable and hold your ground at the same time.

As an example I share this story.  When Geoff and I were first living together we hosted the family for Thanksgiving.  It was a wonderful exhausting experience.  All the family members contributed food and took turns cooking and cleaning.  Gene and his partner Stan took us all out for dinner one night (what a gracious reprieve from all the prep and cleaning).  I in my innocence  asked him, “So how did you and Stan meet?”  His eyes twinkled and he smiled at me – if you knew him you know that look – and he said “Well that can be quite a question to ask a gay male!  You never know what kind of answer you might get and if it can be shared in a setting like this.  But in this case it can Stan and I met at a meeting of folks who had a family connection with South Africa.”  He said this in a way that was warm and caring, not pejorative or finger wagging.  He answered my question and gently let me know that the way I asked the question belied my hetero-normative assumptions and privilege.  And he loved me in spite of it, or maybe because of it, or maybe both.

He was a wonderful support to me as I went through the process of becoming fellowshipped as a minister with the Unitarian Universalists.  He respected and affirmed all that I was my Christian faith and my desire to broaden that faith experience.  He never in any way expected me to leave some part of me at the door in order to be a UU.  And for me that is one of the powerful cores pieces of this faith of ours.  Each of us is welcome in our totality – we are not expected to hide some part of us.  We do not need to leave some part of ourselves at home.  We can be who we are fully.  And that is hard because sometime the person who I fully am does not like or get along with the person who you fully are.  Uncle Gene taught me that it isn’t about liking or agreeing, it isn’t about competition, winning or losing.  He taught me that it is about looking beyond our differences, looking beyond our similarities to the spirit of love that resides in each one of us.

In my own small way I hope I can carry on some part of that loving hospitable presence that Gene had.  He is missed.  But he lives on when we practice that open hospitality that Gene so easily shared.

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Recently in the Patheos webpage this article entitled “I Want My Religion  Back You can Keep the Ugly Baggage.”  You should read it.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/2014/07/i-want-my-religion-back-you-can-keep-the-ugly-baggage/

The article is written from within the Christian tradition.  I resonated with it because I am a UU-Christian. But it is also a good article for any UU to read – we simply need to substitute “Religious” for “Christian.”  Let me show you what I mean in this excerpt from the article

“I don’t like telling people I’m a [Religious].

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being [Religious]; I’m not – at all. It is just that the word “[Religious]” comes with so much ugly baggage.

Telling someone I’m a [Religious] means I must immediately follow it up with, “but not that kind of [Religious].” It’s like saying, “Yeah, sure, these are some mind bogglingly ugly suitcases, but I’ve got the coolest stuff on the inside of them. No, really, I do.”

I have had this kind of conversation sooooo many times.  I hear so many times – “I’m not religious – I’m spiritual but not religious.”  What does that mean really.  I think it often means “There is more to this world than I can see and touch, but I do not want to be getting up early on a Sunday morning to gather with a bunch of cranky people, who aren’t very friendly so I can be told how I am doing things wrong.”  There are many religious conservatives who are loudly yelling at folks about how they have done it wrong.  But let’s be clear here there are many on the relgious left, the liberal religious tradition who get all judgey too.  We don’t yell as much mostly it is socially acceptable quiet glares of steel, well placed condescension in a conversation, or simply non-engagement – a kind of quiet shunning.

But. We. Are. Better. Than. That.

The author goes on to point out the the religious right has hijacked the word Christian and religious. With all this religious baggage around, the author points out, it is as if the conservative religious folks have shown up with the lime green baggage on the carousel.  No one notices the sensible shade of grey piece of luggage (that would be the mainline Protestant model).

“If we want a [Religion] that doesn’t come so unnecessarily cluttered with all of this ugly baggage, we are going to have to start standing up more consistently and begin challenging these power plays wrapped in religion.”

We don’t need to yell back.  We don’t need to feed the binary either/or thinking.  We can lead the move to a both/and way of being religious in this day and age.

And we UUs we are set for this.  We are standing up.  We are Standing on the Side of Love.  On the religious baggage carousel we have the old beat up piece that someone has duct taped a SSL sign to.  You aren’t going to miss that one.  That may not be the prettiest shade of orange – but man is it ever visible!  When we pick up this baggage people know who we are – we know who we are.  We are the People Who Stand of Love.  Come stand with us


For Everything There is a Season

I have just spent 6 months away from my work. My church graciously granted my request for a 6 month leave so that I could deal with my father’s terminal illness and his death. Except for maternity leave (not really down time BTW!) this is the longest I have not worked outside the home.  It has been a good time away.  And I am so happy to be returning to work.

I learned some things during this time. One, I am totally not ready for retirement. Good thing since I don’t think I am close to retirement age. Second I learned that I need to change some of my habits.

And so I’ve started something new. I am actually claiming a day off. Working in a church offers me some wonderful flexibility in my schedule. If I need to be at my children’s school for something I can do that. I can run household errands on a day besides Saturday (I really dislike Saturday crowds). This is a wonderful perk of my position.

The downside of the flexibility is that I can really be always “on”. This has always been the case for ministers. Their time is not their own and a crisis or sudden need of a congregation member can interrupt a day off, vacation, or even a trip to the grocery store.

I might sound like I am whining but really I am not. There are upsides and downsides to being a minister. And for me the upsides outweigh the downsides. Being part of a covenanted community is an honor.

But I have come to a place in my life where I crave some time lived a different pace, lived in a different way. And so I am claiming a day off. Sunday evening is really like my Friday evening, and so Monday will be my day off as I return to work. And on Mondays I will not go on Facebook, or social media, I will not answer emails, I will stay off the phone.

I tried this on this past Monday and it went quite well. The world did not fall apart, my children did not run amok. I was able to put the to do list aside for the day. It did allow me to breathe a little deeper. I got things done just not with the relentless beat of the todo list in my head. I did spend some time in the spiritual practice I call puttering.  I like my electronics and my gadgets.  But I found that taking a little time away from them helped me to slow down just a bit.  I found it re-creative.

I am looking forward to next Monday!

Fairy Wings and Tutus

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This past weekend the youth  (meaning grades 14 y/o – 18 y/o) of my congregation hosted a “Con”.  The name was UUnicon, and the theme was mythical stories and animals.  Youth arrived in varieties of outfits with many Fairy Wings and Tutus in display.  There were squeals of delight and greeting, there were hugs and back slaps and full body lifts.  There were oohs and ahhs of appreciation for the different outfits

For those who are not UUs a con is a district wide youth weekend hosted by a local church youth group.  The youth arrive on Friday evening and stay until Sunday morning.  There are small groups, worship, workshops, lots of fellowship, and lots of fun.  I have not been involved in lots of denominations but I have talked with a lot of youth workers.  And I think that it is true that cons are unusual.

For sure there are adults who are there at the con and there are adults to help with the preplanning and the implementation of the con.  And here I would like to give a shout out to Ardena, Sherri, Richard, Adam (GREAT FOOD!), and Brian.  They were the advisors who walked with these youth as they did the planning, organizing prepping and implementation.

We had about 65 youth at our church all weekend and about 20 or so adults.  65 YOUTH FOLKS!!  When is the last time you were able to gather 65 adults from 10 churches for a weekend?

These people are youth and are so expert at creating community.  Returning youth welcome each other.  New youth are marked with a “V” – usually on their forehead.  The first time I saw that I was a bit put off.  My thought was maybe it wasn’t good to single someone out.  But the returning youth all reached out to the newbies and helped them feel welcome.

Everyone is given an orientation, youth adults, V’s, returning youth.  Everyone starts off on the same page.  The adults do not run the orientation.  The youth run it.  Adults are there if need be.

The youth run the small groups – touch groups.  This is the place where youth get to process what is going on.  There are trained youth chaplains who are there for youth if anyone needs more in depth conversation about whatever.

The youth run the committee, The SPirit Committee, that oversees the rules of the con and is in charge of dealing with any infractions of rules.   And they take this job seriously.  The rules are laid out clearly and how the rules are to be dealt with are laid out clearly.

Are getting this?  The youth run and police their own cons.  Some of them stay up all night some of them don’t.  But each youth is expected to be responsible for their misery or comfort.  The adults are not put in the spot of being the bad adult who is always grumpy.  The adults really are advisors.  The teens take such leadership – they own it.

These youth understand that to create and nurture community you must be transparent in your rules.  I don’t know that I hear very often from youth “Well everyone knows that!”  They know that you must always be in the business of welcoming and including the newcomer.  Don’t just leave it up to the newcomer to find their way.

These youth know that community when created well and nurtured is a precious and wondrous thing – not to be taken lightly.  They know that this kind of community is a lifeline for many and you don’t just yank that lifeline away.  When there are problems, you deal and you face them together.  You don’t pick a fight and storm off.  You work the problems out.

These youth know how to include each other.  Some of our youth don’t necessarily identify as male or female.  Our group could have made one bathroom gender neutral.  Instead they opted to make all bathrooms gender neutral.  I was so proud of them.  They know how to make the circle larger to include all.

I learn a lot from the youth at my church.  If I don’t know something say so.  If I am tired and lonely seek out a friend.  If someone is new smile at them, say hello, ask them what they need, show them the ropes.   Deep community nourishes the soul.  And really I should wear fairy wings and tutus more often.

We UUs, at least the adults, worry a lot about what will happen to our denomination in the future.  We fret that our numbers will drop off and that … We fret.  Here is what I think let us each take time with the youth in our congregation.  We may not admit it but they have their hand on the rudder of our future we just haven’t recognized it yet.   Learn from them because they are the heart of our denomination.   Let us listen to our heart and follow it.