Monday, December 27, 2010

Finding Abundance

The spiritual theme for January at my congregation is abundance and I will be leading a multi-generational worship service on this topic this coming Sunday.  So I have been thinking a lot about abundance and scarcity and how that plays out in my life.

I keep coming back to how do we find abundance in what we already have in our lives.  This is no easy task particularly as we are bombarded by advertisements and media whose very premise is scarcity, whose very premise is that what we have now, is not enough.

It is hard when money or time or energy feels scarce, and most of us experience that kind of scarcity.  At times it is difficult to believe that it is enough just the way it is.  It is a nearly universal premise of religion that the abundance we seek is within us and that if we can’t find what we are searching for within, then we will certainly never find it without.  Easy to say and quote when things are going along well, not so easy when one is struggling to have time to spend with family, run the errands and still keep up with work.  Easy to say when there is enough money to pay the bills or maybe there is even something left at the end of the month.

I know that too often I prey victim to that there is never enough money, or time or energy -  that all I see around me are undone tasks, and that life is just a whole series of problems.  Not much abundance there!

So what are we to do it?  How are we to appreciate what we have?  To believe that who we are and what we have to offer are enough?  That actually there is more than enough, that our true selves are exactly what is needed.

Well I think it begins with even brief moments of insight, remembering those times when we experienced abundance.  For example, when I was on silent retreat in May, it was so amazing to just spend my days reading, walking, praying.  I did not miss talking.  I did not miss television or e-mail.  It was enough to just enjoy the sunshine, the books I was reading.  Sometimes, when things are just too stressful, I will remember those days at Richmond Hills, remember when it was enough to just stop and unplug.  I also then promise myself to go again, to take the time away.

So for my New Year's resolution, I am going to resolve to look for the abundance already present.  I want to live into what I have is enough. I resolve not to do some great new project or start some new self-improvement program.  I resolve to see what I already have, what I already am and believe that it is enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meaning of Christmas for Unitarian Universalists

Of course I have to begin with the caveat that I cannot speak for all Unitarian Universalists. One of the primary values of our free faith tradition is the freedom and responsibility to each search for truth and meaning on our own. We come together in community to do so with other seekers, to test our ideas and know that we are not alone.   Not all Unitarian Universalists celebrate Christmas or some may celebrate Christmas in addition to Hanukkah and Winter Solstice. 

For this piece however I want to focus on how Unitarian Universalists understand the story of the birth of Jesus.  The moral teachings of Jesus are one of the six sources that Unitarian Universalists draw upon for the search for truth and meaning.  Unitarians early on stressed the importance of Jesus’ moral teachings and his life as an example of how each of us should live.  Universalists stressed the universal love of God through Jesus – his life as an example of God’s deep love for humanity.

For Unitarian Universalists, Jesus’ humanity and his life serves as an example of the goodness of humanity and the potential each of us possess to make this world a more just, loving and peaceful place for everyone.  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who addition to a being a great speaker and writer was a Unitarian minister.  He said this about Jesus in his famed Divinity School Address:  “Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world.”

So for Unitarian Universalists, Jesus serves as example of the divine indwelling in all of humanity – that each person is made in the image and likeness of God.  Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978), Unitarian Universalist minister and religious educator tells us that each night that a child is born is a holy night, for each child a manifestation of the holy in the world.  She wrote “Each night a child is born is a holy night: A time for singing, A time for wondering, A time for worshiping, Each night a child is born is a holy night.”  So on Christmas as we honor the birth of one child, Jesus, we honor all the children born, each person born.  Christmas reminds us that each of us has the capacity “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

This Christmas, may we honor the miracle of each child born!

Blessed Be!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning to Value Professional Religious Educators

Kari Kopnick wrote two excellent blog posts on the Care and Feeding of Your Professional Religious Educator (part 1 and part 2).  I am grateful to Kari for her humor, wise words and for speaking up for all of us who do the hard and often unappreciated work of professional religious education.  Unfortunately I think Unitarian Universalism in particular has resisted treating religious educators with the respect, pay and professionalism they deserve. We have gotten better but we still have a long way to go before we are truly valuing those people who answer the call to serve as professional religious educators.

I say Unitarian Universalism in particular because one thing most professional religious educators have in common, whether we are ministers, lay people, credentialed, un-credentialed, full time, part time, lifespan or not, all of us in some way are responsible for faith development programs for our children and youth.  Since most Unitarian Universalists are people who have come into our faith as adults, there is ambivalence about what is to be done with the children.  We are unclear about whether or not we (as a faith) want to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  I think one way this ambivalence plays itself out is the ways we treat religious educators - or those that would be charged with the task of creating programs that would hopefully give children, youth and families the tools to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  I have seen that as a movement, with leadership from LREDA and the UUA, we have become clearer that our task is to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists.  The clearer we articulate that and do not apologize for it, then we will go a long way to recognize and value the role of the professional religious educator.

The other reason that professional religious educators are not given all the professional respect, pay and benefits that are appropriate to their positions is rooted in problems not limited to Unitarian Universalism or religion.  First we are in the business of education, a historically undervalued and underpaid vocation.  Secondly, just like most secular educators, we are mostly women and women are still underpaid and undervalued.

I feel like my work, my ministry is some of the most important work we do in religious community.  Our programs are charged with helping with the faith development of our youngest and most vulnerable members (yes I know we don't count our children as members but that topic is for another post).  We are not just babysitters, we are not charged with just keeping the children busy while the adults do the important work.  And yes, I believe that I am charged, that is a part of my vocation, to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism with our children and youth so that they will want to be Unitarian Universalists as adults.

So thank you Kari and all my colleagues who share this work with me.  I am grateful for your work and that I get to serve in such high company.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Resisting the Descent into Winter

I have found myself at war with the season.  The fall colors here in Virginia were absolutely amazing this year and yet I found myself feeling melancholy about it.  Now that the color is gone and the temperatures are dropping to the 30's and lower at night I am downright resistant.  Winter is always a hard season for me. I don't like being cold and I just love the long, warm days and nights of summer.

Winter is also a time of slowing down, hibernation, looking within.  Yet as a culture we seem to get busier and busier.  We pack the days and nights.  Why is it that we resist so strongly the call to slow down, to hibernate?

I know that in part there is something that is calling me to slow down, to look within and yet I am resiting.  As a spiritual practice I use Tarot Cards this year is my hermit year. A year to journey within, to explore my inner self and seek solitude.  Yet I have been busier than ever, immersing myself in my outer life.

Parker Palmer in his book A Hidden Wholeness, describes winter as a time "to name whatever feels dead in us, to wonder whether it might in fact be dormant--and to ask how we can help it, and ourselves, 'winter through.'" (Palmer, 82)  

I/we run so far from the inner life, running from what I/we might find within.  Yet the soul it does not stop calling and I/we know that.  I know that i can choose to stop and listen or at some point the soul will just make me stop.  Can I learn to stop resisting, to stop fighting? Can I learn to face my fears of looking within> 

Could one day I learn to love the winter?