Rev. Ellen's Reflections, January 2018

Welcome to 2018! I hope that everyone had a happy and safe New Year’s. And that you are staying warm. The Big Chill came early. Usually, this kind of cold is February weather.

Looking back on 2017, it felt many times like a year I was trying to get through with some sense of hope intact. The political and social conflicts in our country have felt divisive and bitter. It is hard to trust that our political leaders have the will to come together to lead us a country, to work for the best interests of the whole people instead of the few. The national and regional leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association has also been going through crisis and change, struggling to figure out how to live into the UU principles while facing the realities of racism in our own history and current structures. Our congregation has had to deal with a crisis of our own, a breach of trust that challenged us but also deepened understanding of our values and the meaning of covenant. We had to put the accessibility building project on hold for a year as we try to figure out how to handle the unexpected increase in the cost of the construction. And we have had to figure out how to do some things we “have always done this way” in new ways.

Over the holiday break, Josh, Sam and I watched Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary on Viet Nam. During the war, I was too young to understand what was happening except that it was going on overseas and that it divided the country. As I watched the series, I became aware of the complexities of the Viet Nam War, the social and political issues that accompanied it, and how we are still dealing with them to this day. In some ways, it was helpful to see that our country has survived much greater political and social turmoil than today. It was amazing to see how Viet Nam has rebuilt itself from the terrible destruction. Things today are not the worst that they have ever been. It was also frustrating to see that we can’t seem to learn from our past, our human tendency to fear and make enemies of those of who are different, to justify the use of violence and the abuse power in the name of righteousness. It was interesting to learn about something that I grew up with through the lens of history. I wonder fifty years from now how this time will be understood, how the story, or the many stories really, will be told.

For it is in the many stories that I find hope. The men in power made the decisions about the war and their decisions had terrible consequences for those who had to fight it and those who were caught in the crossfire. They had the power of distance, to view the lives involved in terms of numbers and statistics. Yet as I listened to all the different and complex stories of the individuals involved—Americans, South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese—the things that they had to live through, the choices they had to make, the losses they suffered, the consequences that they have had to live with, I realize that they each had to make meaning out of all this for themselves. Each person brought their own humanity to bear. And that some of them, maybe even many of them, over time, chose humanity over inhumanity.

May it be true for our time as well.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Rev. Ellen's Reflections, December 2017

I hope that everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. Our Thanksgiving was busy, as our schedule is driven now more by our sons and where they need to be. Our eldest, Sam, was home briefly from college, and tried to visit with as many relatives and friends as he could before he headed back early on Saturday. Henry is in his high school's marching band where, it turns out, Thanksgiving is one of their busiest weekends. We watched him play for the half-time show on Thanksgiving Day before driving out to Stockbridge for a visit with Josh's parents. Sunday, we drove into Quincy to watch him in the Christmas Parade. I never imagined that I would ever be doing either of these things during Thanksgiving.

When I was pregnant with Sam, my mom told me that the hardest part of parenting is the letting go. As I watch my boys grow into young men, I think about that more and more, and how this letting go, as hard as it is sometimes, is also infused with gratitude. I am well aware that this may the last Thanksgiving for a while where Sam will be able to join us, given the career in the Army that lies before him when he graduates this June. While this makes me a little sad, I am also so glad to be with him and Henry, and to just watch them grow into the young men they are becoming. I am grateful not only to be their mom, but to all the people who have been part of their lives-Josh, my partner in parenting; my parents; my in-laws; our extended families, all their teachers and mentors; and of course, this congregation, which has been such an integral part of their lives, offering them a place to explore their values and their faith. As I must let them go to live more and more into their own lives, I find that any sadness or sense of loss I may have is graced by this experience of gratitude.

Letting go-and the experiences of sadness, grief and loss that accompany this process, is a constant. It is not just in parenting, but in so many things in our world, where change seems to come so quickly. At our congregational retreat, one issue that came up was how to deal with the reality that the increasing busyness and stress of people's schedules made it harder and harder for us to "do church" in the ways we used to because we just don't have the volunteer time and energy. In making the decision to change the way we do the Holiday Fair-to piggy-back on the town's tree lighting ceremony on Sunday December 3rd with the selling of donuts and greens instead of the full-blown event we had been doing-is a concrete example of how we are facing this truth. This decision certainly comes with loss. We are having to let go of some fun traditions and community building that came with doing a full-blown Holiday Fair. I think it is important that we honor that we are letting go of something precious here. By naming what is precious, we are also naming what we are grateful for in these traditions. Perhaps this can illuminate how we can give these precious things expression in new ways as our traditions take new forms. Who knows what will emerge?

Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite biblical scholars, said: "We think in terms of systems and continuities and predictability and schemes and plans. The Bible is to some great extent focused on God's capacity to break those schemes open and to violate those formulae. When they are positive disruptions, the Bible calls them miracles. We tend not to use that word when they are negative, but what it means is that the reality of our life and the reality of God are not contained in most of our explanatory schemes. And whether one wants to explain that in terms of God or not, it is nonetheless the truth of our life that our lives are arenas for all kinds of disruptions, because it doesn't work out the way we planned." The stories of this season, whether from the Solstice, Hanukkah or Christmas, are about trusting in a time of unknowing and darkness, in a Spirit of Mystery, in the possibility of these positive disruptions and what might emerge that we do not expect. Hope is born out of our letting go and meeting with gratitude more than fear the unexpected possibilities that find an invitation to emerge.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824