Reflections 10/6/13

Being Unitarian Universalist is not about reaching a specific point or place. If “revelation is not sealed”, then as UUs, we can always learn more and grow deeper in terms of living out our faith and values. For those relatively new to Unitarian Universalism, the focus may be about exploring how one’s own values, beliefs, and spirituality intersect with Unitarian Universalism and how to be part of a covenantal religious community, rather than a creedal one. We created a mentoring program, “The Intentional UU” as a way to support new members in moving from the “foyer” of Unitarian Universalism, into the living spaces.

In time, we can move from exploring what Unitarian Universalism means for us as individuals to how we can embody Unitarian Universalism, how we can live out it within and beyond the congregation. If we trust that Unitarian Universalism has something important, something life-giving and life-saving for our world, then we need to commit beyond the personal to the prophetic, to put into practice the world as we imagine it can be, even as we love the world as it is. We need to become leaders.

When we hear the word “leader”, we often think of a title or a job. And sometimes leaders have these things. But, in the context of our Unitarian Universalist communities, leadership is more than that.  Quaker teacher and writer Parker Palmer writes: “Like many people, I reserved (the term leadership) for the special few. But at some point I had an insight that revealed how distorted my youthful standards for leadership were and how natural and widespread leadership actually is...The insight was simple: we are not autonomous individuals...Yes, there are differences in social status among us, but they have more to do with perception than reality. And yes, those perceptions breed a version of ‘reality’ that we have to cope with. But that version is only veneer. The deep and abiding reality—the reality we do not invent, the reality we have to cope with—is that we are interconnected beings born in and for community. If that is true, and surely it is, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it is an evasion to claim that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads. Leadership, I now understand, simply comes with the territory called being human.” (from Leading from Within, Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, eds.)

If leadership is part of being in community, then leadership is part of our religious, spiritual and faith development as Unitarian Universalists. John Schneider, Bonnie Rankin, Deidre Heck, and myself (along with the help of several others) are piloting a new program entitled “The Soul of a Leader” that explores what it means to embody our Unitarian Universalism beyond our individual beliefs and spiritualities into leadership in our communities. So, be on the look out for more information if you are interested in this experiment.

There are a couple of other upcoming events that may be of interest. First, I will be participating in an interfaith service about people with disabilities and religious community, on Saturday, October 19th at 4 pm at St. Patrick’s in Lowell. If you are interested in attending or want to know more, please feel free to contact me. Also, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance will be holding its annual interfaith Thanksgiving service and multiethnic meal at 4 pm on Saturday, November 16th.  The service, “Ways of Praise” will be held at Central Congregational, just up the street from us, and will include a performance by our bell choir, the Meetinghouse Ringers. Then, participants will be invited to join in a procession of lights over to First Parish for a multiethnic meal. This is a real opportunity for us to host an interfaith event that will include all kinds of religious communities from around the greater Lowell area. We have not had our Unitarian Universalist voice present in such events for a long time, and I hope that we open our doors and make our hospitality felt. If you are interested in helping set-up, cook, and/or clean up for this meal, please let me know.

In faith,


Reflections 9/1/13

Usually, when I write this column, I have a theme that has emerged in which to ground my ministry for the coming year. This summer, the theme has been slow and stubborn to reveal itself. Instead, I have been presented with an image. I have attended a couple of retreats where I have taken different kinds of group inventories. At each debrief of the results—whether on working styles, learning styles, or cultural norms and expectations—the presenter has put up a picture of iceberg. This image reminds us that when it comes to dealing with our fellow human beings, what we see is only the tip of what is going.  Our own behaviors and our interpretations of the behaviors of others are grounded in experiences, assumptions, learning styles, personality, family, generation, culture, and a whole lot of other things that we cannot possibly know about the other in the few seconds we engage to respond. At first, I found this all very troubling. I had this image of ministry as steering a Titanic-like ship, around these icebergs, while hopefully keeping everyone on board safe. But, I realize that actually, there is a deeper and more meaningful opportunity here if I dare: to dive below and explore, to learn more about what makes us each who we are, and to reveal more of our humanity, to acknowledge and risk what divides us, and reconnect what binds us more honestly and more clearly than before. The purpose of religion, by definition, is to reveal, reaffirm and retie what binds us to what matters most, to what is sacred and demanding of our ultimate loyalty and commitment—whether we use the language of spirit and divine calling, the language of ethics and principles, the language of community and relationship, or, as I find helpful, some combination of all of the above. In religious community, we make meaning out of life as we experience it, the world as we live in it. So, it seems to me that making deep and thoughtful meaning, grounded in trust, risk, and exploration reflects the heart of our Unitarian Universalist tradition and faith.  So, I see that I do have a theme for the year, as well as the work of a lifetime.

I am also aware that we cannot spend all of our time diving into deep and cold waters. Such work requires careful preparation, time, and guidance in and back up. We also need to attend to the practical, day-to-day stuff that meets us. So encountering icebergs also involves learning to skillfully traverse the surface around them, with awareness of and adaptability to what is below, rather than just plowing through, unconcerned and unaware. I hope to explore this year both the practices of risking the deeper experiences and traversing the surface with greater adaptability and awareness.
I will extend and end this metaphor with a quote by my colleague, the Reverend Vanessa Rush Southern, from a sermon she gave at this past UUA General Assembly in June about the future of Unitarian Universalism in this postmodern, multicultural, globally connected, social media savvy world: “Before you dive, the instructor tells you there are two things you have to remember, only two. The first is just to remember to breathe. Breath-- that word so close to spirit, that which ties you to life and its call. The second thing to remember, he says, is never to dive alone. Once you're in, you can take my hand, he tells you. So you reach up to secure your mask. You walk to the edge, and you do that crazy leap they tell you you must. When you land, he reaches out and takes your hand. And breath and that hand will be what makes the scary possible. And so the adventure begins. And the rest, the rest is still unwritten.”

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

In faith,


Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824