Hard-Earned Hope

I struggled in my teenage years and early twenties with what was most likely undiagnosed mild depression, undiagnosed anxiety of some sort, or both. I remember as a teenager feeling crushed under the weight of my feelings, of just wanting to go to sleep all the time. As a young adult, I would numb myself with busyness, sometimes having two social engagements even on workday evenings, and using books, movies and the internet to keep myself constantly engaged with something, anything, until I was so exhausted I would fall asleep… anything to avoid being present to my feelings. Though of course, I wasn’t able to name for myself that that was what was happening at the time – I was just stuck in the grind, in pain, trying to make it day by day. Mornings were the worst. I was tired of course, from having stayed up too late. But the paralyzing fear was what was really awful. I’d wake up, and lay there, checking the time, coaching myself over and over that I desperately needed to get up or I was going to be late, my stomach tied up in knots. Ten minutes past when I absolutely had to get up or be late would come and go. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Thank god I had a forgiving boss… I would regularly show up thirty to forty-five minutes late for work. It was not a very happy way to live my life. It is amazing how my life has transformed
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Stream or Swamp?

Once, a long time ago, there was a river that flowed through the land, over hills and through valleys and across fields, finally ending up at the sea. It was a quite happy and contented stream – it had plenty of fish swimming in it, quiet pools with aquatic plant life, and lots and lots of fresh, clean water. Things were going swimmingly for this river, until one day it came to realization. “Hey, I do all this work, carrying fish and freshwater across the land, and then everything just ends up disappearing into the sea. That’s not fair. I want to keep my freshwater… the sea is already huge, why does it need even more from me? I want this to change.” And so where the river joined the sea, it spoke to its friend the forest, and asked if it might fell a couple of older trees across the river mouth to stop its flow into the sea. That slowed things down a little bit, but the water still kept flowing out, out, out. So the river decided to find some contractors – the beavers arrived two weeks later. Slowly, day-by-day the river was pleased to see that the flow of its water to sea was diminishing. Finally, after a week’s worth of work, the dam was complete, and the sea stopped receiving fresh water. The river was ecstatic! Finally, it could keep all the water it had worked so hard to carry so far. The stream’s satisfaction did not
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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“I’m not very creative.” This was my statement to our staff, last fall during our staff retreat, when we were talking about ways in which we could bring more creativity to our work. Our wonderful, caring, thoughtful staff – they pushed back at me: “That’s not true, you’re very creative administratively. You come up with ideas in terms of doing new things administratively that would never have occurred to us.” My story of non-creativeness was very strong though. “Sure, ok, but that doesn’t count. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, or sculpt, or…” They kept pushing. “Is art really the only way that someone can be creative?” Me: “Ummmm….” <pause to think> “Hmmm.” <more thinking> “I guess not.” In my head, I understood the logic of what they were saying. My emotion, my body, my spirit was rebelling though. I was finally able to acknowledge, after they pointed out several specific examples, that it did seem like I was fairly creative in terms of leading the administration of the church. Reflecting about this later, I totally get where my story of non-creativeness came from. Growing up, I was good at math, and school, and following directions, and not as good at the “typically creative” stuff, like drawing, painting, or any kind of typically artistic things. That was my sister, she was the free spirit, the painter, the drawer… the “creative one.” Me, I still draw stick-figures to this day. So I can see where this story comes from, and, I recognize
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The Practice of Welcome

What does it mean to be welcoming? One might think, for example, that a long-time Unitarian Universalist who moved to a new city and joined a new UU church might fit into and feel welcome in their new community rather easily, since they know the ropes. One longtime UU shared with me though his experience, where in his new UU congregation, he showed up at a couple different committee meetings, looking forward to being able to contribute – and immediately felt like an outsider. Everyone assumed that since he was UU, he knew exactly how everything worked in this new congregation, and no one made an effort to try to explain to him “how things were done.” The difficulty, of course, is that there are wide variations between UU churches, and of course each congregation has its own version of “that’s how we do things around here.” Things which everyone who has been “here” for a while knows how they go, and often assumes that everyone else does too. Welcoming people into our congregation often isn’t just as simple as a warm greeting to newcomers, or engaging them in conversation during coffee hour, though of course those things are still important. Welcoming new people to our community, even people who have signed the book and officially become members, even people who are UUs already – it extends beyond the initial embrace. Welcoming is an intention, an attitude, that needs to persist far beyond the initial hellos and deep into our life
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Care of the Soul

Our theme this month is “Care of the Soul,” which leads me to ask: what do you, and we collectively, need to do to care for our innermost needs? In his book, appropriately titled Care of the Soul, psychotherapist and soul psychologist Thomas Moore suggests that much of what we experience as difficult feelings and emotions in our lives is in our fact our deepest self trying to send a message about what we truly need. Whether it’s leaving a relationship, going back to school, changing careers or spending more time outdoors, more time alone, or more time creating the art that brings vitality to your life… Moore suggests that beyond the confines of our daily life, we often have deeper needs that are going unmet. It’s possible of course that every single one of your deepest needs are being met, and if so, you are blessed and fortunate indeed. I wonder though, how many of us have one or more deeper unmet needs. And for those of us who do have them – what are they? Are we aware of them? And can we change something our lives to try and meet them? *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          * Of course, Care of the Soul isn’t always going to be about deep philosophical questions that reach into the core of who we are and what we need out of life. Sometimes caring for our souls, for ourselves, is simply about making sure we doing just
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Ambiguity & Change

One of the things about undergoing a process of change is that it often brings with it a significant period of ambiguity and uncertainty. There are some changes that as fast as flipping a light switch – boom! we’ve made the transition from A to B, light to dark, hot to cold. When we make the decision to create more significant changes in our lives though, things are rarely as clear cut. Usually leaving one job for a new one involves some uncertainty along the way. Entering into a relationship, either at the beginning or as far as marriage, is rarely an unambiguous process. Nor is leaving one, whether a break-up early on, or a divorce down the road. Choosing to go to college, or back to school for a graduate degree, or deciding to have children – these are all usually considered positive things, but even they involve uncertainty and change along the way for many of us. So, it should be come as no surprise that for us as a church, when we began a process of looking at the possibility of change by adding a second service, that it brought up experiences and feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity for many of us. And just like when we experience uncertainty and ambiguity in our lives, especially when it relates to change – it can be uncomfortable, scary, and anxiety-producing. While there are some folks who truly do enjoy periods of uncertainty and change in general, more often many of
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Who Am I?

If asked to answer the question “Who am I?” – how would you answer? No context, no setting, no defined purpose for asking, just the question: who am I? If you haven’t already, stop reading and take a moment to think about it, right now. What would your answer be? Who are you?

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Identity is such a tricky thing – it’s fluid, and our answers to the question of who we are both change and don’t change over time. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have answered “minister,” but now that’s a central part of who I am. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have answered “husband,” but my marriage is now a central part of my life. Three years and one week ago, I wouldn’t have answer “father,” but now parenting is a central focus of my day-to-day activities. On the other-hand, male, straight, white, and Unitarian Universalist are all identities that have remained a constant throughout my life. Even those though – my understanding of them has changed over time. For example, I have a much more nuanced understanding of my whiteness now than I did ten years ago. And the way that I am Unitarian Universalist in the world has evolved considerably across my lifespan. So even my relatively “fixed” identities have changed. And yet, despite all this change, I still feel like the same me at my core. A changed me, but me nonetheless. And, there are other ways to define ourselves still. When
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The Responsibilities of Being Human

One of the main tenets of Humanism is that we need to be focused on the here and now. Humanists have long argued that there is no heaven and hell or afterlife, and more importantly, given that that’s the case, that we need to spend our lives making the world a better place right now, instead of trying taking action trying to earn merit for our post-death destination. Though both sides come at it from opposite ends of the spectrum, this perspective actually meshes beautifully with our Universalist heritage. The core tenet of Universalism is that God loves everyone, and specifically back in the day when belief in heaven and hell were the norm, that that meant God sent everyone to heaven. So the Universalists came to a very similar conclusion – since we were all going to be saved, the focus can shift from trying to earn a good afterlife, to living a good life now. Humanism, our theme for this month of March, takes things a step further, of course, and places responsibility for creating the best possible here and now on us human beings. And that’s a pretty awesome responsibility – awesome responsibility, both in the sense of being amazing cool, and in the sense of being amazingly large and serious. Most of have probably seen the quote incorrectly attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi’s actual quote was a little bit more subtle and nuanced than that, but we like
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The Power of Feelings

There’s been a trend in much of United States more liberal or “emotionally-tuned” in culture to lift up and celebrate the importance of feelings. The standard line goes something like this: “There’s no such thing as an invalid feeling. All feelings are valid.” The reason for this pushback, of course, is that there has been a tendency in our culture to invalidate people’s feelings, to ignore them, pretend they aren’t there, or actively require people to invalidate them. And the pushback is good; invalidating and ignoring our feelings is absolutely unhealthy. Feeling, naming, and being present to our feelings, and the having the ability and a safe space to share our feelings with others – all of these are an important part of a healthy human experience. I’m not so sure about the second part of that statement though, “All feelings are valid.” I’m not so sure, for example, that shame is a “valid” feeling – at least not one that should be honored and accepted just the way it is. Shame, of course, is feeling bad about who are as a human being, that there is something wrong with the essence of you. Guilt on the other hand is feeling bad about a behavior or a choice we’ve made. It’s the difference between saying to a misbehaving canine, “bad dog” and “no, don’t do that.” Or in human terms, between saying “I’m stupid, I’m such an idiot,” versus “I made a mistake.” Shame addresses the essence of who we are,
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What Does It Mean to Belong?

Belonging means to be accepted some place for who you are, whereas fitting in means you have to change who you are in some way to be accepted. In a sense then, belonging is the feeling we get when we are the recipients of unconditional love – when we are loved just for who we are. That belonging feeling can also happen under other conditions though, such as when we’re in a gathering or community that values us for just the way we are. Whether it’s through unconditional love, an accepting community or some other way, feeling like we belong is a powerful experience. My hometown Unitarian Universalist congregation was probably the place where I felt like I most belonged when I was a kid. I would roam the halls before and after the service, playing with my church best friend, the Director of Religious Education’s daughter, Megan McDonald. Church was a safe place, a place where I could be myself, a place where I was unconditionally loved and supported by an amazing community. Which is a good thing, because I sure didn’t feel like I belonged at school. And I even had a hard time feeling like I belonged as a young adult, after college. I had a great group of friends when I lived in Philadelphia, and I certainly belonged with them to a large degree. And I was a member of and belonged to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia when I lived there. But the place where
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