There is so much need in the world and I am personally inundated via email and phone on a daily basis with requests for financial support. I am shocked that so many people and organizations reach out to me when I am barely able to have the resources to make an impact, but I try with what I have to be generous. I remember reading somewhere that those that reside at or below the poverty line are, based on proportion, some of the most generous people on the planet. They give and give and give even though they have so little. I would venture a guess that the “poor” are only poor in monetary means and wealthy where it counts most. I am not poor but I am inspired by the commitment to such acts of generosity. Personally, I have to triage the requests I receive for financial, emotional and physical aid in a methodical way because my heart could bankrupt me if I let it run rampant. At times I fantasize that I use discernment like a fine surgeon deciding on why, how and where my financial support will be most effective. I wish that I was able to fund every single campaign and cause that comes my way but it is impossible to balance all of the requests and needs. I wonder why and what it is that affects me when I am making such impossible decisions about where to send money and spend time and what I should refuse? It is hard to refuse even the inebriated homeless person on the street who pulls at my heart strings. But it is true that I have to be judicious with my generosity. My methodology begins with the obvious… I try to first act locally with friends and family and donate time and treasure to those I love, then I expand out my reach to those organizations and people who can make a difference in the lives of those in my town, county and state. Lastly, I donate to organizations that have a global impact with regard to racial, Identity and economic equality, environmental justice and animal rights. This strategy does not preclude sponsoring someone participating in a fundraiser for a good cause, such as last week’s concert for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at First Parish.
So where is the spiritual in generosity and stewardship? When we are touched by the needs of others we make a choice whether or not to respond, whether to care enough to be compelled to give of our time and treasure. The ideals that we lean on in that moment of inspiration to give, and to give till we feel it, is a spiritual act of caring and commitment for something outside of our self and our closest loved ones. If we give till we feel it we are reminded of the importance of our connection to what we are called to support and believe in, this is what makes our intention and commitment more meaningful.
As pragmatic as I wish I could be about generosity and stewardship I ultimately turn to my heart, I turn to my spiritual self to help me make informed decisions about how and what to give myself over to. The reason that I am writing about generosity is because March is traditionally the time of our annual canvass at First Parish of Sudbury. As members and friends of First Parish I hope that you feel compelled to share your talents and treasure with this community that is literally yours. It is true that just like every other non profit we contact you frequently asking for your support: can you do coffee hour, usher, greet, serve on a committee, build a habitat house, walk in a fundraiser, come and donate to the auction, make soup or help with the Harvest Fair and share your talents once again?
This month we will be asking for your annual commitment for financial support. Regardless of what you like about First Parish: Sunday service, Religious Exploration, Social Hour, Craft Group, Meditation, Salon, Seekers Gatherings, AA or a program that we have not yet conceived, First Parish is an important part of our weekly experience. Last week, as we brought new members into our community I asked what it is that you like most about First Parish and invariably the answer always is, “you like one another.” First Parish and its members and friends are what should inspire us to be generous. The membership of First Parish supports all of the work and programming of the volunteers and staff of the Meetinghouse as well as the actual cost of the maintenance of the historic building and grounds. Together with a small staff (your guides) we adventure into this life mindfully with an open heart as our covenant calls us to do. We operate with a financially conservative mindset, we run on a very lean budget and we need friends and members to share your wealth so that we may carry the load of this community together.
This year the leadership and I are going to ask you to be a bit more generous. Our strategy calls for us to expand the hours of a specific staff member in the coming year 2017-2018. First and foremost we are hoping to offer Chris Scheller, our director of religious exploration, an increase in hours to 35 per week (he currently has 25 hours per week). The Religious Exploration program has been consistently growing and we expect it to continue to grow in the coming year. We would like to engage Chris in continuing to lead an adult meditation class on Tuesdays at 12:00 and we would like to offer more staff-led adult exploration experiences in the upcoming year. There is also some painting that needs to take place on the Meetinghouse and of course we really would love to do an update on the Parish Hall kitchen. You will hear more about our plans as we share them in the upcoming month of March.
Therefore, I ask you to be generous to one another this year as we endeavor to grow and continue to evolve as a community.
One last point, we do not have a large membership, we do not receive funds from some guiding ecclesiastical body, we do not have some ancient endowment in large measure we are on our own as the stewards of First Parish and we are planning for the long haul. So when you think of giving this year remember that organizations such as Amnesty International or the American Cancer Society need our donations, however, what the general public offers is a drop in a very big bucket, very large donors are truly their focus. These non profit organizations have large staff needs, program and event budgets. For First Parish to continue to exist, survive and thrive we need each and every member and friend to participate because we are such a lean “sharing the love” machine. We need one another to show up and give till we feel it because at the end of the day we are the ones who support our needs and journeys and acts of spiritual care and kindness.
Thank you in advance for your continued commitment and generosity for this community of reason, hope and love.
Be The Light!
There are two “U”s in Unitarian Universalism. Our denominational name is probably one of our biggest stumbling blocks for most visitors and new members. Our name is long and unwieldy and does not speak easily to what we all might believe in, without a long clarifying elevator speech. I remember stumbling over the name for this new amazing community that I had joined, Universalistic Unitarians was what I initially told people when I first came out about where I spent my Sunday mornings. For the life of me I just couldn’t get the name right. Not to mention that I did not understand what it really meant to be a UU, I kept waiting for someone to bring out the Kool-Aid because nothing could be this good and not be some kind of crazy cult. I remembering wondering where that other shoe was that was going to drop from some high height to crush my enthusiasm… I remember taking the “new UU class” at Arlington Street Church when I first decided to become a member. The first night I asked a simple question, “Why is the trinity such an issue that we chose to call ourselves, Unitarian?” As you might imagine there were sputters and some attempts to answer with the telling of the history of UUism that did not fill my need to know. My follow up statement was, “there are a lot of cool trinities like Mind, Body, Spirit” that I aspire too – the number three is pretty important in my book. That statement just hung in the air unengaged. Here is the important take away from that night… no one condemned me for asking “why” and ultimately I was the one who needed to seek the answer to my questions about Unitarianism.
With that very first question, asked in earnest, I was clearly destined to become a Unitarian Universalist where one of our guiding tenets is to “question authority.” The secondary symbol of UUism, directly after our sacred chalice, is the question mark – ?. Early on in my “conversion” (I say this tongue-in-cheek with a lot of humor thrown in for good measure) I got involved in and caught the fever for social justice because I felt safe for the first time in a community that held my personal story and my identity sacred. I believed that if society could value all of its citizens, documented or undocumented alike, and work to make the country safe for all of us to flourish without fear, that would be a good thing–a spiritual triumph of sorts. As UUs, or aspiring UUs, we are called to see this world for what it is – the good, the bad and the worst kind of ugly, and we are called to stand up, tug up our shirt sleeves and work to make things better, to aim higher. This was what compelled me to leave my career in high tech and to attend seminary to become a UU minister. I believed that sharing my story of facing fear, loss, and challenge set within a framework of contemporary events and worship could possibly help others reframe their own experiences. For me this life that we know is incredibly spiritual because I choose to see it that way. But, in truth, I also hold that science, mythology, poetry, numerology and every possible belief in-between are equally as amazing, spiritually held or not. That is what I think is amazing about Unitarian Universalism: we endeavor to hold the tension between all beliefs, we encourage evolution of belief. This does not mean we do not hold a singular belief sacred, we just choose not to exclude another’s beliefs in order to be the “winners” or the ones who are right. The one thing that I am certain about for sure in this experience of life is that nothing is certain or permanent. This is scary I know but it gives us a place to begin on a journey to self understanding and soothing.
This month the First Parish of Sudbury, Unitarian Universalist will honor those who are seeking… seeking what you may wonder? How about a spiritual community that believes in the hope that Universal Love can save us all, believes that we can defrost the hardened cynical hearted, believes that all are welcome to bring their differences to the table as long as each of us is willing to have an open heart and mind.
This month is about seeking safety, compassion, a reasonable belief system that you, yes you, craft and evolve as your life evolves. Ultimately we are each responsible for our lives and to intercede in care for others in need. This month we will be reviewing our illustrious history and how we progressed from being part of the congregational church, now known as the United Church of Christ or as one of my UCC colleagues once shared “Unitarians Considering Christ” to this community filled with expansive belief. This month we will be offering stories from new members and those who have stayed with First Parish for half a century or more. This is a month of investigation, questioning, suggesting, walking or rolling together. Also, this is a month to invite those who you have wanted to invite but were afraid or too shy to ask. This month expect a member brunch and a host of discussion about a plethora of topics. If you are interested in engaging in such a conversation and have a specific topic, please let me know.
As much as the world outside of First Parish seems a little scary at times it is our place as UUs to question “why” and to mindfully craft ways in which we can care for those who are in need and whom we need right back. There are two “U”s in Unitarian Universalism because we need one another and we cannot do this work of making meaning alone. We need all of the “you”s that we can gather.
Peace, Beloved Ones.
By Chris Scheller, M. Div., Director of Religious Education
Our spiritual theme for the month of January is “staring into the face of the sacred”. What does the sacred mean to you? My own view of the sacred was decidedly influenced by South Asian religious thought during my travels there between high school and college.
Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, famously quoted a passage of Hindu scripture before the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, saying, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which people take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” In Hinduism, four of the most common paths to approach the sacred are through selfless service to others, devotional practices of love and adoration towards the sacred through practices such as prayer and song, knowledge and discrimination of the sacred, and meditation. In our own Judeo-Christian heritage, we can find parallels to these four approaches to the sacred.
Like the different images of light we see through different stained glass windows, the sacred looks a little different to everyone depending on our perspectives and beliefs about what is sacred. As Unitarian Universalist Rev. Paul Rasor points out, sacredness is that which we perceive is worthy of the highest respect and reverence and “a vehicle through which we may experience ourselves in deeper relationship with the divine.” Now, we may prefer other words to “divine”, such as simply life, truth, love, the interconnected web, mystery, or that which is. The name isn’t important. What is important is the feeling and experience of the sacred, as Rev. Gretchen Haley writes, in our call to be awake to suffering, in our opening our hearts, in the process of transformation, and in the way that each and every one of us throughout all space and time is simultaneously connected and the same, yet also more diverse and unique than we can ever know.
In our Unitarian Universalist heritage, we have been taught to look for the divine everywhere. Thoreau wrote in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “The ears were made, not for such trivial uses as men are wont to suppose, but to hear celestial sounds. The eyes were not made for such groveling uses as they are now put to and worn out by, but to behold beauty now invisible. May we not see God?” Of course, as Rev. Harold Babcock reminds us in reflecting on this passage, learning to see in this way will take practice.
So let us marvel in the exquisite uniqueness, the exquisite sacredness, of everything and everyone we encounter. Let us see all life as sacred, whatever that means to you, and approach the sacred in all the ways we can. For there is saving grace there, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. And let us approach and live the sacred in our own unique ways as we relish the hard-fought religious freedom that is our heritage as Unitarian Universalists. For by doing so we live our truth, we express our own most exquisite uniqueness, and we bring the whole world alive by coming alive ourselves.
Amen, and Blessed Be.
My Dearest Friends,
Be Love, Bring Love, Share Love this was the sermon that I offered on Homecoming Sunday in September; LOVE is the foundation that we must endeavor to build upon. In my experience there are two root emotions from which all other emotions stem, Love or Fear. If you feel hurt or angry or lost, in some way or another, when traced back to the root emotion one will most likely find fear. The same is true of love… if one feels happy, confident, inspired when traced back the feeling one usually comes to is love. Reading an article on the website psychcentral.com
I uncovered this wisdom, “When it comes to love versus fear, the only way to is through. In other words, I must first acknowledge and allow myself to deeply FEEL my fear before I have any actual chance of – not replacing but transforming – the fear into an experience of love.”
My hope for this fall has been to cultivate within us a sense of loving kindness for oneself and for all other beings on this planet – it is a tall order but it needs to be done. I endeavor, on a daily basis, to cultivate a sense of wonder and love. The teachings for September centered on seeking and finding love in our respective communities and lives; love for oneself particularly. October held the key to forgiveness as a means to personal healing, how without forgiveness we can have little personal peace and spiritual advancement. November’s teachings coalesced with taking risks in our lives as a means to cultivate love in this world – sitting in our fear until we transform it. During November we faced our fear of the other and handed out LOVED buttons to friends, family and strangers. I also encouraged us to not remain silent about what you believe to instead share our passions, risky for sure. If you were unable to attend all of the worship services this fall I would recommend that you check out our website and the worship archive. Since September we have been conciously building towards December’s theme, Embodiment.
Embodiment is about taking all of the learnings and experiences that we have cultivated in our lives and mindfully assimilating them into a way of being, to truly embody them. This month we begin with Joy and Awareness in our Revels service, then we move into a place of realization and acceptance of our spiritual connection with all beings and to answer the call to be what I am calling an “Earth Angel.” You know those people who inherently know what their call to action and are inspired to follow that call towards action, inspired by loving kindness, compassion, and mission. All fall we have been working towards this moment of embodiment… To let go of all of those things that hold us back, to truly heal and then to begin the work of healing a broken world one person at a time. Through the work of unpacking and re-membering our lives we will have an opportunity for transformation of fear and all of its resultant emotions into love. First and foremost on this journey we begin by realizing, accepting and stepping into the fear of self and others. Instead of expecting to be disappointed in others as a means of protection let us accept the call to let go of the fear and instead embrace our vulnerability – risky yes but absolutely transformative.
I invite us, over the next week or so, to catch up on or review the teachings held within the sermons from this fall and participate fully during the month of December. This is the foundation that we will need to enter into the work of the new year fully “charged” and ready to be the agents of change, the earth angels, of our time.
If you feel slighted or if you do not feel loved take this moment to imagine and realize that you truly are LOVED.
I am including a mediation on personal transformation:
Release the harsh and pointed inner
voice. it’s just a throwback to the past,
and holds no truth about this moment.
Let go of self-judgment, the old,
learned ways of beating yourself up
for each imagined inadequacy.
Allow the dialogue within the mind
to grow friendlier, and quiet. Shift
out of inner criticism and life
suddenly looks very different.
i can say this only because I make
the choice a hundred times a day to release the voice that refuses to
acknowledge the real me.
What’s needed here isn’t more prodding toward perfection, but
intimacy – seeing clearly, and
embracing what I see.
Love, not judgment, sows the
seeds of tranquility and change.
Peace and Love,
This upcoming week is an especially important one in the Jewish religious calendar it is considered to be a time to reach out to those whom we may have slighted or afflicted in some way to make amends. The practice begins on Rosh Hashana (October 2 at sundown), which is known as the Jewish New Year, one has ten days to atone until Yom Kippur (October 11-12). On Yom Kippur, Yahweh (God) writes, in very permanent ink, in either the book of life or death how we have done this year. The ten days before Yom Kippur is a time when one can make a difference in their life and in the lives of others.
Being Unitarian Universalists we do not have a specific time where we intentionally review our year to see if there have been times and ways that we have faltered, or hurt others, on our path. I have often shared that in each moment we have the opportunity to begin again in love but I am interested in this time known as the “Days of Awe.” What can and should we atone for? In many ways it feels like a healthy practice to do a yearly review and ask/receive forgivenesses allowing us to really begin again on Yom Kippur with a lighter and atoned for heart.
The word atone is a special one if dissected it means “at one.” So just maybe if we take the time to review and atone we might find that we can be at one with our spiritual understanding of Self, which I often shorthand as Spiritual Self.
Here is an important note about this time of the year, if Jews repent during the Days of Awe and are found worthy by Yahweh their name will be written in the Book of Life and they will be granted another year of life. If one does not repent satisfactorily then on Yom Kippur their name will be written in the Book of Death, which as you might imagine would have dire consequences in the upcoming year. Therefore, during the Days of Awe what one does and how one atones is literally a matter of Life or Death. These days that we are about to enter are considered the most high holy days in the Jewish calendar.
One has to wonder why the early Christian community left this practice behind? I believe that it was because Christianity is based on an eschatology of the end times, Christians were and are are expecting the end and believe that people are sinners by nature so atonement is through confession to an intermediary. Thus no need for an annual atonement.
Early Christian Unitarians believed that humankind could work, atone and make oneself more Jesus-like; whom our forebearers and we consider was a human prophet. Christian Universalists on the other hand believed that God was so loving that (S)he would never damn their creation. As a denomination, spiritual community, we have come a long way from our Christian roots. Some of us still define ourselves as Christian while others self define as Buddhist, Humanist, Aetheists, Muslim, Sufi, Agnostic, Pagan-nature centered, Mystic, Zoroastrian, Transcendentalist, the list goes on and is long. Personally, I “Self-identify” as Unitarian Universalist (UU), I do not claim an identity beyond this because my journey is ever evolving and UUism allows me to follow wherever my heart and mind might lead me without boundaries to hold me back. This enables me to seek in the sacred practices of Judaism and to find a practice that holds meaning for me such as the Days of Awe and to embrace this time and make them a part of my own practice.
As with every part of my journey I invite you to join me in thinking about the year that we have each had and to ask and offer forgiveness to those whom we have friction or conflict with and then to heal as we become at one once again on the path of discovery and meaning making.
Peace to you my dearest ones,
Tuesdays from 6:30-7:30pm in the Brackett Room
Join the Minister’s Meditation group if you want to start a practice and you need a place to seek. Join the Minister’s meditation if you have been practicing for a long time but would like to share your practice with others. Each Tuesday night is a bit different as we share readings, thoughts and practices from sitting to qigong. All are welcome.