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Insights: “Pausing” by Rev. Dr. Marjorie Matty

This last Sunday I shared my experiences of being on sabbatical with those who gathered at First Parish. I shared how my writing required that I unpack my life, which caused me to feel a gamut of emotion and hooked me in a chain of reaction and self doubt. It was the wisdom offered by the Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chodron that helped me to pause long enough to break out of old patterns. Chodron encouraged, in her book ‘Taking The Leap’, “to get comfortable with, begin to relax with, lean in to, whatever the experience may be.” She was speaking specifically about those reactions that hook us and lead us down a path that is not necessarily where we want to go. Chodron calls us to, “drop the storyline and simply pause, look out, and breathe. Simply be present to a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, a whole lifetime, with our own shifting energies and with the unpredictability of life as it unfolds, wholly partaking in all experiences just exactly as they are.” I believed that this was far easier said than done and yet I realized that it can be easy to pause when we realize that we are hooked. When we feel anxious or frustrated or any emotion that hooks us, just take a few moments to let go and allow our natural intelligence, that part of us that knows what the logical “right” next move might be, take control. When we are hooked or caught in the chain of reaction it can be difficult to think clearly, pausing brings us home to a sense of calm and frontal lobe sanity. This practice of pausing helped me to find my way and I am thrilled to be back at First Parish and look forward to finding a place of calm and creating home with you.

This journey that we are on begins with our individual work with recognizing, “an opportunity for transformation, an open doorway. When we realize that we are triggered, think of it as a neutral moment, a moment in time, a moment of truth that can go either way.” Which way will we choose to go? Which wolf will we choose to feed: the wolf of vengeance and violence or the wolf of patience, love and compassion and how will this choice inspire us to respond?

May the honesty held in this one precious life be yours.

Happy summer!

Rev. Marjorie

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Insights by Michele Barkhauer, Dir. of Religious Exploration

Empowerment is a Four-Letter Word

This past week I found myself having two seemingly unrelated but poignant conversations at First Parish. The first, about the struggles our younger congregants are facing and the second, about how each one is a tiny, autonomous being with feelings, desires, fears, and opinions. I can recall many times in my life, both as a child and as an adult, when I can remember thinking “I wish there was something I could do”. Looking back as I write this, I can think of no less than three occasions in the past couple of weeks to be more exact. Each day that I wake up I’m faced with an onslaught of news and media covering this crisis or that faux pas and I find myself frustrated; I believe I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

What would you say if I told you being a kid today is harder than when I was young, and is exponentially harder than when most of us were young? Some of you may disagree but hear me out: kids today are wrapped in what I like to call ‘the everything’, and it’s worrisome. Each of us can remember being a child and growing up dealing with child stresses. Things like bullies and homework, chores or whatever was expected of us and that bar that was set by ourselves, our teachers, our parents was what we aimed to achieve. The difference is, in most cases, our bar was obtainable with hard work, focus, simply trying our best, because the people setting our bar often had our best interests in mind.

While this desire to perform hasn’t dwindled it has taken a new face, the face of the everything. It’s no longer enough to be smart you must be smarter, and it’s no longer enough to be pretty or a good person because your sense of self-worth isn’t just coming from your family and friends. With the trend of social media and ‘going viral’ the whole world gets a say and they’re eager to weigh in on just how unworthy a person is at a moment’s notice. The bar is high, and it’s ever moving, and the people doing the moving have one goal, to see you stumble and become the next accidental viral sensation. I remember teachers telling me that I wouldn’t have a dictionary and a calculator in my pocket everywhere I would go in my life; never could they have imagined the small device I carry with me now (joke’s on her). Seemingly innocuous, a cellphone is many things, not the least of which is a lifeline to the world and to the everything–good or bad, true or false–that’s in it.  So how do we help our children and young people prepare themselves for a world where whatever they say and do can be screenshot into posterity, can be recorded for public consumption and judgement? Empower them.

If I’ve learned anything working with children and youth it’s this: when you empower kids, kids give you hope and that is a four-letter word worth betting on. How many Malala Yusufzais do we have among us, how many David Hoggs, how many Emma Gonzalez’? Children have an incredible tenacity and an unwavering ability to speak up when they truly find their voices. Children can break the cycle of violence, they can shatter the wheels and cogs of a society that tries to oppress them, they can effect change, children can make a new future. We, as a family, as a congregation, are tasked with something difficult, to step back and allow our young people to choose, to decide, to speak. We are charged with helping them realize themselves and reach their potential even if that means getting out of their way sometimes. Each generation is taught about the world by those that are one generation too late to fully understand what it means to live and grow in that time. I am in awe of the Parkland shooting survivors, I am in awe of the children tackling climate change, pollution and immigration. I am in awe of those kids who spoke up at Standing Rock, of those who continually look for ways to put their own skin in the game in the hopes that they will make the world better. These kids are making documentaries, creating inventions, marching on Washington, debating politics. Where did it start? They felt empowered by someone, or many someones in their lives, to do the impossible. How many of our own young congregants might change the world in large or small ways? We don’t yet know but if we look very hard, we can see small opportunities. When we allow our children to make choices, when we honor their opinions, when we listen and engage with them in meaningful ways remembering they are people who bring amazing things to the table, we show them that what they feel, what they think, and what they say has value. The children of the world and of our own congregation are reaching out, they are trying, and the smartest thing we can do is let them.

Michele Barkhauer, Director of Religious Exploration

 

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Insights by Rev. Leslie Takahashi

Marginal Wisdom

They teach us to read in black and white.
Truth is this—the rest false.
You are whole—or broken.
Who you love is acceptable—or not.
Life tells its truth in many hues.
We are taught to think in either/or.
To believe the teachings of Jesus—OR Buddha.
To believe in human potential—OR a power beyond a ­single will.
I am broken OR I am powerful.

Life embraces multiple truths, speaks of both, and of and.
We are taught to see in absolutes.
Good versus evil.
Male versus female,
Old versus young,
Gay versus straight.

Let us see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.
Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.
Let us make our lives sanctuaries, to nurture our many identities.

The day is coming when all will know
That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome,
That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course,
That the margins hold the center.

 

Rev. Leslie Takahashi

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Insights: “The Art in Letting Go” by Michele Barkhauer

The Art in Letting Go

Imagine for a moment that you have a single rope wrapped around your hand, and that you’re gripping that rope in order to hold onto what is at the other end dangling over a precipice. At the other end of the rope is a thing that was once important to you, or a part of you, but that no longer serves you. Perhaps it’s an old t-shirt that’s threadbare and well-loved after years of use that you can’t bring yourself to part with, or a letter or photo from a time better left in the past. Perhaps it’s the weight of a grudge you’ve carried, the pain of a secret hurt you’ve harbored in silence, or a voice in the back of your mind telling you that you can’t do something your soul is begging you to do. Imagine that each moment you hold the rope the items at the other end become just a bit heavier than the moment before, and as they become heavier the rope wraps tighter around your hand until you can feel the weight drag you down, constricting your fingers; holding it brings you pain. Now imagine you loosen your grip. You make a choice to take a breath, unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders from your ears and allow your fingers to loosen their death grip. As you do this, the rope begins to unfurl from around your hand and slowly it falls away; your hand is free. The pain goes and with it goes the heavy burden and you feel at ease.

The art of letting go lies in knowing what serves you in this life and what doesn’t. It is in being able to differentiate between what we want to bring with us into our future and what is better left in our past. Each moment is a teacher and each item a lesson; some things we bury in our bones until they become a part of us, but this doesn’t mean we must bear the burden of shouldering them to the grave.

I recently found myself watching a Netflix series on “tidying up”. Most of my friends made fun of Mari Kondo’s methods of “tidying” as she calls it because she states emphatically that you should thank your belongings before packing them away, giving them away, or throwing them away. To many, speaking to a threadbare t-shirt seems silly, but seeing her lovingly touch each item to see if they “sparked joy”, and thanking those that did not for their service to her before letting them go reminded me of the Shinto belief that everything possesses an energy or spiritual essence called “kami”. Some of the participants were hesitant to touch and to speak to their possessions but as they did something amazing happened, they began to find peace. Letting go became easier. I watched as they became more in tune with themselves, their environment, and their inner joy as they easily sorted between what would be carried forward in their lives and what would not.  What I noticed was that as they let each possession go, they appreciated them for the role they played but recognized that the time in their lives for those possessions was over now. I feel that mental and emotional clutter can be tidied up in the same way our possessions can; take stock and ask yourself ‘does this spark joy?’. If the answer is no thank it for its lessons and let it fall away.

I will leave you with one word of caution as you let go: if it sparks joy keep it; this is Mari’s rule. Touch the thing, hold it, speak to it, or if it is inside of you like mine was, close your eyes and check in with yourself. If a thing sparks something inside of you, a tiny ember of happiness or fulfillment, hold onto it. This is the art of letting go, the beauty of choice, of self-realization, of recognizing what you need and what you don’t; it may be the single kindest thing you can do for yourself.

Bill Maher recently tried to shame millennials claiming that their love of video games and comics was childish; he claimed they needed to ‘grow up’. A woman named Catherynne shattered this idea on social media asking Maher why on earth millennials, who are living in an era of #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, questionable politics, global warming, crushing student debt, and a poor economy, would give up what is “good & joyful & rich in the art and accoutrements of childhood in exchange for a yawning grey void?” and she’s absolutely right. Never let go of what sparks joy in your life simply because other people fail to recognize its worth in your life. The value of your joy should never be based on someone else’s exchange rate.

by Michele Barkhauer, Director of Religious Exploration

 

 

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Insights: “Our Sabbatical”

By the time that you read this article I will be on sabbatical and please believe me when I tell you that I will miss you and my ministry at First Parish more than I can say. A Sabbatical is a time when a settled minister steps back from the day-to-day of their parish to refresh and reflect in order to move forward into, what some might consider, the next phase of one’s ministry. A sabbatical is not just about the minister… it is a time for the members and friends of First Parish to take your relationships, your commitment to Unitarian Universalism and your goal of growing the congregation to the next level. A sabbatical is not just about holding down the fort while the minister is away, it is about being fortified by one another as you engage deeply in your shared ministry.

This is a time to invite friends and neighbors to Sunday services and other events that you will envision and manifest. It is a time to support one another during times of joy and sorrow. It is a time to go deeper into your understanding of what it means to be a member of First Parish and for those of you who have been on the fence about joining… what is holding you back? Join, First Parish needs you! Over the next few months, with the help of the Board of Trustees, you will envision how First Parish might evolve and what role you may want to fill in this process. First Parish is what you make of it because it is yours. It is up to you and your representatives on the Board to be self governing. This is nothing new. We do this governing each and every day and at our annual meeting. The Unitarian Universalist Association, I affectionally refer to our national organizing body as the “mother ship,” explains a bit about the goal of our governance.

Governance is spelled out in the fifth Principle, which calls for “the use of the democratic process within our congregations.” Just as Unitarian Universalists emphasize-in our theology and history-the independence of each congregation rather than our interdependence through the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), we emphasize the independence of each person more than our interdependence as members of a congregation. Under congregational polity each congregation is self-governing, choosing its own leadership, handling its own finances, and choosing its own delegates to the (UUA) General Assembly… How we relate to each other as individuals within a congregation mirrors the interrelations among congregations, entailing the same issue: balancing independence with interdependence. Difficult decisions such as actions for social justice, balancing the annual budget or a new location for the congregation spark (ie: new minister) bring the need for congregational polity and the democratic process to the forefront. Too often members of congregations believe that the only model for democratic process is for everyone to gather in one place and make all decisions by consensus. Although consensus may be appropriate for a small fellowship, it restricts both the size and development of the congregation. Rabbi and psychotherapist Edwin Friedman states the case: “[Consensus] tends to value peace over progress and personal relationships over ideas. . . . Emphasis on consensus gives strength to the extremists.” (https://www.uua.org/leadership/learning-center/governance/polity/47009.shtml)

As your settled minister I offer recommendations to the Board of Trustees and to the various committees that I meet with, but ultimately your direction, your goals, your hopes and dreams are yours, together. I am sure that you will learn so much independently and interdependently as you take your shared ministry to new places.

Over the next couple of months my hope is to rest, reflect and begin writing a book that studies the intersection of adoption, DNA and identity. These are all complicated issues taken one at a time, but the complexities and interconnections between these concepts together will be fascinating to unpack. As part of this very personal work I have committed to writing every day as well as journaling. I will hopefully be traveling to France and England at some point over the next few months to do some hands on research. I expect to be delightfully busy working on this passion that I have been only able to spend spare moments on over the last few of years.

I encourage you to reflect over this time as well, work on your credo that we talked about in October, which we will share in June, and endeavor to find your rhythm. You are each amazing people that have so much to share with one another.

Remember that I love you, be safe and I will miss you until we see one another again!

Rev. Marjorie

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Insights: “Peace”

How do we find and cultivate peace? Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor also known as the Philosopher explained that, “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the world.” Building upon this teaching Thich Nhat Hahn shared that, “Nonviolence and compassion are the foundations of a peace movement. If you don’t have enough peace and understanding and loving-kindness within yourself, your actions will not truly be for peace. Everyone knows that peace has to begin with oneself, but not many people know how to do it.” The roots of peace are anchored within us… The Buddha explained that love, compassion, kindness, enlightenment, fear, greed, anger are all small seeds that reside within each one of us, the seeds that we water and feed are the ones that will grow. He encouraged humankind to focus on the seeds that we want to sprout and ignore the seeds that we want to wither.

When I think of peace, this months theme, I envision the Peace sign created in 1958. This symbol was created to support the movement of denuclearization in Europe, but ultimately was adopted by those who sought peace against war and violence around the world. Throughout history there has been constant unrest and war with a few periods when there was notable peace. The first acknowledged peace movement began in 989 ce. It was a movement that endeavored to restrict violence towards monasteries. This early movement had the foresight to understand that peace in general was difficult to achieve so they proposed to restrict the use of violence by the nobility to a certain number of days per year. Humankind has not stopped seeking the means to create peace ever since.

I am not sure about your life but in mine I truly seek peace and especially during this time of year. During the dark times we cloister and look for ways to create inner peace for oneself and our loved ones. What energy and commitment might we put towards creating peace in our lives? Thich Nhat Hahn explains that, “The practice of peace should address suffering: the suffering within yourself and the suffering around you. They are linked to each other. When you go to the mountain and practice alone, you don’t have the chance to recognize the anger, jealousy and despair that’s in you. That’s why it’s good that you encounter people—so you know these emotions. So that you can recognize them and try to look into their nature. If you don’t know the roots of these afflictions, you cannot see the path leading to their cessation. That’s why suffering is very important for our practice.”

I believe that during this time of year when we face challenges, anxiety, frustration, and suffering we receive an opportunity to look within and realize what seeds we are feeding. If we want a life of peace and happiness we cultivate within and then we spread the seeds of peace and happiness out into the world. To reduce the suffering of others we must be able to listen to one another to better understand how we can help/commiserate and to create peace within and with one another.

‘Tis the season my friends to let the ground rest and become fertile once again, it is a time to pick and choose what we will seed and grow together. It is a time to listen and give generously from our hearts to one another.

May the peace of the season be with you!

Love and Light,

Rev. Marjorie

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