Our theme for the month of November is “Blessings”, and I find myself asking “What can I say about blessings that hasn’t already been said a million times?” I admit- I probably have nothing to say about blessings that you haven’t already said yourself or heard said far better than I ever could. But that’s not going to stop me from writing this! So here goes:
Each year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving our congregation has our annual “Count Your Blessings” potluck, and we’ll certainly have it again this year. It kicks off the “Holiday Season” and I look forward to it each year.
We’ve heard the word “blessings” so often, in so many contexts, perhaps we’ve become “immune” to the it. Are some more valid than others? After all, people use it in all sorts of contexts varying from the silly (saying “bless you”
when somebody sneezes) to the profound (“Choose to bless the world in the spirit of love”). Perhaps all of those ways are valid, so I shouldn’t disparage any of them. (I am reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s line from Alice in Wonderful: “When I use a word it means exactly what I want it to mean, neither more nor less.”)
In any case, what “blessings” will you include when you count your blessings?
Do you include your family? Many of us do, but for many of us, family is a “mixed blessing” at best, and for some, family doesn’t feel like any kind of blessing. Relationships of any kind can range from wonderful to toxic, from a blessing to… something else.
For some, good health is one they might consider, while that may not be true for all. For some, it’s a comfortable place to live, even as others are struggling.
The other night I was lying in bed, preparing for sleep (You know that quiet moment when your body has settled down, you’re relaxed, and your mind just sort of drifts along). And, as I was lying there, I began to think about the many “blessings” in my life. Some are certainly trivial- I’ve got
chocolate cake on hand (which shouldn’t be underestimated, in my humble opinion!). But others are more important- I live in a community of relative safety, I have friends and family whom I love, and I don’t have to worry too much about where my next meal is coming from.
And I thought about the people who have blessed my life. Some were nameless strangers who simply did something lovely that touched my heart. Others were people who had a profound impact on my life, and still others were simply dear friends whom I love just for being themselves.
There have been so many! Good, decent, kind, loving people who have blessed my life in ways large and small!
And I am so grateful. Grateful that I have had the opportunities I’ve been given, grateful to have met you, my beloved community here at UUFS, and grateful for the many beautiful souls that graced my life.
It seems to me that blessings and gratitude go together like peanut butter and jelly. When you realize the blessings in your life, you almost can’t help but be grateful. And when you are grateful for what you have, you realize that
those things have, in fact, blessed your life. And that, my friends, is what “thanksgiving” is all about, don’t you think?
Wishing you peace and blessings, Rev John
May’s theme will be “Vision”, and we’ll certainly be talking about what that means throughout the month. But because this will be the last UUtopia before the “Summer Break”, I’d rather delve into what will be happening in the coming months and give you some insight into the interesting and exciting things that are planned.
So here goes:
First, let’s look at May- May’s programming will be, not surprisingly, looking at our future. On May 7 I’ll be exploring the entire concept of “vision” and how that might look for the coming year.
On May 14 – Mother’s Day, so Happy Mother’s Day to all those who “mother” in any capacity- “the 2 Jeffs” (Jeff Hampton and Jeffrey Matthais) will be exploring what YOUR vision of the coming year might be.
On May 21 we’ll be focusing on “The Past, The Present, And The Future”. We’ll honor those of our community who have joined the ancestors, we’ll celebrate those leaders who have served us so wonderfully this year, and rejoice with those who have joined our beloved community this year. Let’s bring flowers to decorate the sanctuary in celebration! We’ll follow that up with our Congregational Meeting immediately after the service.
As you know, we have “congregational polity”- that means that OUR MEMBERS are the ultimate authority on what happens in this beloved community. And it is at the Congregational Meeting that we collectively chart the course for the coming year and into the future for UUFS. YOUR VOTE COUNTS! So please plan to attend this important meeting.
Than, on May 28 comes our annual celebration of another year of being together as we join in our Festive End-of-Year Potluck Picnic. We’ll grill some hotdogs, you bring something to share, and we’ll have a lovely gathering of fun and fellowship.
So then it’s on to the “official” Summer schedule.
June- You’ve already been hearing from Cheryl Lang about June programming, when we’ll be exploring “Neighboring Faiths”. We be looking at the crazy quilt of faith traditions that make up that is our dear Delmarva.
June is also Pride Month, and so there will be LGBTQ+ Pride events all over the area. Salisbury Pride will take place on June 24, where we will, of course, have a table and participate in the parade. Last year was fabulous, and this year promises to be just as great. There’s also the Pagan Pride Festival being held in Dover on June 4, Delaware LGBTQ+ Pride in Dover on June 10, and Salisbury’s Juneteenth Celebration on June 17. It’s a fully packed month of Pride, to be sure!
July- Our theme for the month of July will be “Arts and Religion”. We’ll take a look at how various kinds of art inspires, informs and illustrates religious traditions, and has done so throughout history. Jeff Hampton is the “go to” person for that month’s services, so if you have an idea you’d like to explore, he’s the person to talk to.
For August our theme will be “Social Justice”. Think of it this way- the emphasis could be on the “social” part, or the “justice” part. Ron Pagano will be our go to person for this month, where we might have a social day, or a justice day, or a social justice day! Chat with him to plan something wonderful.
August 5 will also be the Delmarva “UU Family Fun Day” at Killen’s Pond in Delaware. Joint fellow UU’s as we come together for a day of fresh air and fellowship. There’s hiking, fishing, paddle boating and a water park- and of course picnicking! Please join us.
That’s what I know so far. I know it’s only of taste of what’s in store for us. So check out our website (www.uufsalisbury.net), our Facebook page, and make sure you read your Wednesday weekly announcements to stay up-to-date on any new developments or changes.
All-in-all, I think it’s a pretty great vision of what’s to come for our beloved community, don’t you? We’ll see you on Sunday!
Wishing peace and blessings,
Dear Ones- Welcome to March! It's going to be a great month, with special guest preaching, musical guests, and, of course, our “Spring Fling” potluck and entertainment to kick off our pledge campaign. Our theme for the month is “Vulnerability”, and so I'd like to take a moment and consider what that might mean. I suppose in some contexts it could mean “defenseless”. If your computer is “vulnerable” to virus attack, clearly that's not a good thing and needs to be fixed ASAP. You don't want your computer to crash from a virus.
And that's certainly true for computers. But we humans are not computers (at least, not yet!) So we might look at vulnerability a little differently. Rather than looking at it as a weakness, might we look at it as a potential strength?
When we make ourselves vulnerable to one another, we open ourselves up to the potential for deeper relationship. And while there is, certainly, the potential for harm, might it be worth the risk?
That's why there are some other things that MUST accompany making yourself vulnerable.
Vulnerability is NOT weakness. Being willing to be vulnerable means that you are strong enough to accept the risk.
Being vulnerable means trusting that the other person will not harm you. I think one reason it's so very hard to be vulnerable is that in our past we have been hurt by those whom we've trusted. It may not have been intentional, nor might it have been a huge, crushing betrayal. It might have only been a thoughtless word. But it hurt, and led to a hesitancy to be vulnerable to either that person, or to people in general.
I know- some of us are very resistant to that word! But I'm not talking about faith in a supernatural being, or even a religious tradition. I'm talking about faith in the potential for good; I'm talking about having a positive attitude about the potential outcome. Whatever your religious/spiritual inclinations, being vulnerable is an act of faith.
Being vulnerable requires an act of bravery. You know you're opening yourself up to potential harm. But you trust this person, and you believe that deepening the relationship will be fulfilling and important. So you “screw your courage to the sticking place”(to quote Shakespeare) and dive in. That is the very definition of bravery, in my opinion.
Doing this- being vulnerable- is usually pretty scary. So a vital part of being vulnerable is knowing that you're not alone; that there's a “safety net” to catch you if you trust is misplaced, or your bravery fails. If the relationship sours(or whatever you're being vulnerable about) and you end up hurt and angry, it's important to know you're not alone; that there are people who will support you, encourage you, and help you to heal.
Research Professor Brene Brown talks a lot about vulnerability. We'll be talking more about her on March 12. In an interview she did for Inc Magazine, she says, “ ...to really put ourselves out there, ...I just don't think it gets more courageous than that”.
May each of us have courage, strength, bravery, faith and trust enough to be vulnerable. And if we should fail, may our beloved community be there to help us heal!
Wishing you peace and blessings,
Dear Ones- Our theme for the month of February is “LOVE”.
Generally, I use this space to talk about the month’s theme, and give you some thoughts on it. While this article may do that to some extent, it will probably only happen tangentially. Mostly, I’m going to talk about the proposed changes to Article II of the UUA bylaws (bear with me- it’s more interesting than it sounds!)
So what’s Article II, and what’s all the fuss?
Here’s the deal: Article II is that section of the UUA’s by-laws that includes our Principles and Sources. Another section of the bylaws say that it’s supposed to be reviewed “not less than every 15 years”. Now, after a lot of discussion(the Commission was established in 2020), the Article II Study Commission has finalized its recommendations to the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Rewriting Article II is not really that radical an idea. It has actually seen a number of changes throughout the years. The original language from 1961—six Principles, with no Sources cited—was overhauled as the result of a review in the early 1980s, and the seventh Principle(affirming the interdependent web of all existence) and five Sources were added at that time. The sixth Source (earth-centered traditions) was added in 1995, according to an article in the UU WORLD from 2006.
The proposal is, I think, a really good attempt to clarify “who we are, what we’re about, and who we want to be”. It’s not perfect, of course. I’m sure UU’s across the country are picking it apart and writing scathing reviews of how terrible it is. The Commission itself recognizes that some will grieve for what is lost with the changes.
But this is also not the end of the story- keep in mind that the proposal now needs to go to the UUA Board, and then needs to be reviewed at this year’s General Assembly for delegates to discuss and vote on. So it’s not a “done deal” by any stretch of the imagination.
Admittedly, the proposed changes in Article II are substantial. Rather than listing seven Principles, the proposal lists 6 single words- Equity, Transformation, Generosity, Pluralism, Justice and Interdependence, with longer explanations of those terms. There’s also a very nice graphic surrounding a chalice with “Love” superimposed. As the graphic tries to illustrate, at the core of all we do is love.
The proposal also eliminates the admittedly unwieldy and ever growing list of “sources” section completely, in favor of this:
“Section C-2.3. Inspirations.
As Unitarian Universalists, we use, and are inspired by, sacred and secular
understandings that help us to live into our values. We respect the histories,
contexts and cultures in which they were created and are currently practiced. These sources ground us and sustain us in ordinary, difficult, and joyous times.
Grateful for the religious ancestries we inherit and the diversity which enriches
our faith, we are called to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.
So, what does that mean for us? While I certainly can’t speak for you, for me it doesn’t really mean all that much. My Unitarian Universalist faith is not dependent on the UUA, or the UUA’s bylaws. I might need to change my “elevator speech”. But saying something like, “We stand for Equity, Transformation, Generosity, Pluralism, Justice and Interdependence as expressions of Love” is actually easier than trying to list all Seven Principles and Six Sources.
We still have the freedom to believe what we must, we are still an independent congregation with a covenantal relationship with one another and with the UUA, we are still Unitarian Universalists. Love still can (and must!) guide us in all we do.
If you would like to see the proposal, here’s the link:
Wishing you peace and blessings,
A while back I read a New Year's sermon by Clarke Dewey Wells. In it he writes: “We cannot enter the New Year clean and pure as the shiny babes pictured in illustrations of New Years Eve. Neither we nor the world work that way. We enter the new year bearing the encrustations of our timeworn past”.
I found this a provocative statement. The new year has always struck me as one of potential. With the new year comes new possibilities. We have the opportunity to give ourselves and each other a fresh start. We can let go of old slights, old habits, old ways of doing things that do not serve us. I suppose that's why people make New Year's resolutions. Each of us, I suspect, has one or two things about ourselves we would like to change. We might lose a few pounds, or stop some bad habit we've acquired. Perhaps we could consider the New Year to be an opportunity to change those things, to be “reborn”, as it were.
But I can also see Well's point. Our first UU Principle speaks of the “inherent worth and dignity of every person”. That includes YOU and ME- right now- just as we are- scars, warts and all. We are not perfect- none of us are perfect. We are, almost by definition, imperfect creatures. Yet we are caring, good, decent, loving people. We each carry, for lack of a better term, a spark of divinity.
Certainly, there are major changes we might make- moving to a different country, changing jobs- things that would impact our lives in dramatic ways. But the reality is that the things we'd like to change about ourselves are, for the most part, relatively minor.
We cannot change the core of who we are. We cannot let go completely of our past, nor, I suspect, would we even want to, if we are to be completely honest. Babies only become fully functioning adults as they gain experience. Our past informs who we are. It is a part of us. We carry the experience, the lived wisdom, the psychic scars of the accumulation of our lives with us into each new year. It gives our lives richness and depth.
I very much like that phrase Wells uses: “encrustations of our timeworn past”. It conjures for me an image of barnacles attached to a pier. The wood of the pier is weathered, maybe not as smooth as it once was, but still strong. It stands firm against the wind and current. Occasionally we think to scrape off some the barnacles, but it's not possible to detach them all. And those we do manage to scrape off leave an unmistakable scar that never truly disappears.
The reality is that life is a struggle. Like those barnacles, the experiences of our lives leave scars- even if they are invisible. And it is the accumulation of those experiences that make us such interesting creatures- at once both vulnerable and tough, scarred and beautiful, needing and needed.
As Wells writes: “We cannot enter the New Year smooth as babes, but we do enter as survivors, often enriched, tougher, wiser, and, seasoned by life's struggles, readier for the time to come. Our scars signal more than lamentation; not injury but renewal, not grief but reconciliation, not ruin but restoration, not the old year's accumulation of woe, but the new year's reality of healing, strength, and hope.”
As we enter into this new year, may we have both the unblemished curiosity of the newborn babe and the strength of the seasoned wood, may our accumulated wisdom serve to give us new insights and may the reality of the new year bring us healing, strength and hope.
Wishing you peace and blessings,
Recently, as I was going into a store, I passed a display of fresh cut green wreaths they they were selling. It was the most lovely smell! That fresh pine scent filled my nose and “awakened my senses”, as the old hymn goes. For me this is a season filled with sensual delights. The smells of pine and cinnamon, the delight of surprise, the sound of familiar songs, and the warm embrace of friends. It’s the triumph of warmth over cold, of light over darkness, of delight over cynicism.
One of my favorite parts of the Holiday Season are the lights. Strung from trees and arranged outside homes, as candles in windows, the candles of the Menorah, they all give the holiday its warmth and cheer. They send the message that this time of the year is different. They seem to say, "This is a special time of year. Welcome!" The holidays are all around us. You can tell by the lights.
Unfortunately, though, for some people that light does not extend to their faces, or their hearts. The lights don’t seem to be able to penetrate into those dark places. That's where the brilliance of this time of year is often the most dim.
There is certainly pain in the world. I don’t want to minimize that. This seems to be a particularly difficult year. There are many, many souls on this planet who are suffering in ways we cannot begin to imagine.
There is loneliness, hunger, poverty, despair, torture. All of that should be in our consciousness, in our hearts, in our minds, in our very souls.
Typically, also, this is a time of year when folks are stressed. People are rushing about trying to find that perfect gift. They are worrying about the holiday meal. There is over-spending, over eating, over...well you get the idea. What if the party doesn’t go well? What if Uncle George and Aunt Irma get into a fight again this year? What if somebody starts talking politics?
So much stress! So much anxiety! So many things to worry about!
But there is also compassion, empowerment, healing, peace, love and joy. There is generosity of spirit. There are strangers doing random acts of kindness. There are sappy, sentimental stories and sappy, sentimental songs. And there are those beautiful, warm, lovely lights lighting the world and warming our hearts.
If we allow the suffering of the world to completely drown out the delights of this joyful time of year, then evil has triumphed. If we become so stressed out that we no longer take time to focus on the true wonder and joy of the season, then the commercialism has taken over. If our faces and our hearts cannot reflect, even for a single moment, the beauty of the lights, then the cynics have won.
Our theme for the month of December is “peace”, so in this season of light, I urge you to find a way to sit quietly some night, if only for a moment. Find a moment of peace. Just sit quietly and smell the scents of the candles- even if they’re in your imagination. Listen for the sounds of the angel’s singing even if they’re singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”. And notice the beauty of those beautiful holiday lights, even if they are simply the stars above our heads.
May you all have a warm, beautiful, lovely and loving holiday season.
Wishing you peace and blessing,
Dear Ones- In Jewish tradition, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Days of Awe”. And while this year those High Holy Days fell in September and October, we have chosen “Awe” as our theme for the month of November. So for us here at UUFS, the entire month will be “days of awe”.
But what does that mean?
For Jews, the Days of Awe are time to focus on repentance- to look at their lives and to “turn themselves around”. It is a time of introspection and self-reflection. It is a time when Jewish folks try to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings.
It is intriguing that this period of time should be described with the word “Awe”, don’t you think? I’ve actually seen others perhaps more accurately describe it as “Days of Repentance”.
But I do believe there is some wisdom in the description, as well. Self-reflection is a pretty amazing thing, isn’t it? Looking at your life, realizing that, yes, we have perhaps not lived up to our highest values, and acknowledging out short-comings, and “wiping the slate clean” to start again- that’s pretty awesome!
For Unitarian Universalists, “awe” is usually not into the idea of repentance. In fact, we don’t typically talk much about repentance and atonement, though we probably should.
Perhaps that will be a discussion for another day.
For today, I wonder, what might the word mean for Unitarian Universalists?
UU Minister Rev Carol Hepokoski writes: “Many of us experience a deep sense of awe before the mystery of life and death, those powers greater than ourselves.” She’s speaking specifically of Humanists, but I’m certain this applies to (almost) all Unitarian Universalists.
I’ve certainly felt that, and I know you have, as well. Seeing Mt. Rainier for the first time, holding our new-born children and grandson, seeing the Acropolis, hearing Holst’s “The Planets” for the first time- all of those were truly awe-inspiring events in my life.
But there have been smaller ones, as well - fireflies, bumblebees, a brilliant sunset.
Life can (and certainly should!) be filled with moments of awe- both large and small. These experiences evoke wonder and amazement. They aren't just pleasurable, they're transformative, encouraging us to contemplate the meaning of life and see ourselves as part of a larger picture.
Awe is that feeling when you stand in a dark night, look up at the sky, and see millions of stars glowing. You may not be able to define the word, but you certainly know it when you feel it.
May you find abundant moments of awe in your lives and may you recognize them when they come!
Wishing you peace and blessings,
Dear Ones- Our theme for the month of October is “Finding Our Center”, and in thinking about this theme, I’m reminded of a children’s playground. In any playground worthy of the name there’s always a “see-saw” (also known as a “teeter-totter”, and I’m sure other names, as well). You know what I’m referring to, of course. It’s essentially a fulcrum, on which 2 people bounce up and down at each end of a plank. If the children are essentially the same weight, they pretty much balance each other out. However, if, for example, a small child is at one end, and an adult is at the other, well- the kid just doesn’t have a chance!
I remember, though, as a child, alone, crawling along the plank, finding the exact center of the see-saw. At that point, both ends are exactly in balance.
It’s actually much harder than you might think- particularly if the plank is a heavy one. The least shift in weight throws off the balance, and there is the tendency to then overcompensate.
Life is sometimes like that, isn’t it? Life just seems completely out of balance. You don’t seem to be able to catch a break. Crises arise that need our attention, and so we have to put our focus there. Then something else comes up that reminds us that we should have done this other thing. Then something else comes up, and so on and so forth until you feel like you’ve completely lost control.
Sometimes things happen which are completely outside of our control- the death of a loved one, illness, an unexpected financial burden, the car breaks down. These things can certainly throw us off balance.
But sometimes there are some things that we can control, things that don’t have to be a crisis- things that are only a crisis because we allow them to be. We sometimes give far more power to a small trouble than it deserves.
Finding a balance, coming back to equilibrium, is often (always?) difficult. It’s a continual challenge and process. But, it seems to me, the key to finding balance starts with finding our center.
And so this month we’ll be focusing on exploring exactly what “finding our center” means and how we do it- both individually and in community.
And to help you with that, don’t forget that after our service on the first Sunday of each month(that’ll be Oct 2), Jeff Matthias will lead a discussion group on that month’s theme to go “A Step Further”.
Please join us!
Wishing you peace and blessings,