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
When I was serving as an on-call hospital chaplain, I was often called on to simply “hold space” for a patient, family members, or a staff person. In many ways, offering spacious, compassionate presence is of the essence of chaplaincy, of pastoral care, of the work of our lay pastoral associates. Frequently, there is “nothing else” we can do, but in that moment, it is everything that is truly needful. I remember particularly one late-night call into the emergency department. The woman was young, probably early twenties. She was there alone. She had awakened to find her small baby dead from what was likely SIDS. When I arrived, she was sitting on the gurney holding her baby and sobbing, her heart cracked open. I introduced myself quietly and expressed my sorrow for the death of her baby. None of which she even heard. The small room was far too full of grief for there to be any room for words. I sat behind her on the gurney and held her while she held her baby. Her sobs vibrated through my own body. I don’t remember how long we sat there. Eventually, she was ready to leave, and I walked her to the door. I could not take away her pain; I could not make the unthinkable right. But I could be with her, alongside her, and that was enough. In part, I learned to do this as an aspect of my professional training. But I have learned the most from the people
It’s been quite a year! We saw a new US president elected, a president who is trying to redefine what this nation is and what the presidency is. We discussed, discussed some more, and discussed yet again the prospect of having two services here at UUCM, and voted to try it for a year. Those strike me as the two major things that have occurred from a national and a congregational perspective. There have, of course, been others as well. I, for one, feel like I’m still catching my breath. I want to look back at my columns from 2016-17 as a way of gathering up the past and reflecting on where that past may lead us in the coming year, and what gifts it might offer. Appropriately for what was to come, we began the church with our September theme, change. And there certainly have been changes. Nonetheless, there are constants as well. As one of our long-term members said to me recently, “This is the most wonderful congregation!” That’s a constant for me. As I concluded my September column, it’s both, change and constancy. “The wind of change forever blown across the tumult of our way” (hymn # 183), and “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within. And we will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will” (hymn #1020). In October, I tried to sort out true humility from false. True humility serves us well through change.
“Uh-oh! The delivery person left my picnic table in the front yard!” Kristen Schnell, of Austin, Texas, had certainly meant for it to be delivered to her back yard where her family planned to use it. Nevertheless, there it sat. Then she had an idea. What if she left it where the delivery person put it? What if her family moved some of their usually-indoor activities like homework, reading, and just hanging out from inside the house to their front yard? She painted the table a brilliant turquoise and later on sat down at her table. A neighbor whom she had not met, despite living three houses apart, stopped by. Her turquoise table became more and more a focus for neighborhood gatherings. Eventually, she founded theturquoisetable.com with the goal of enabling more people to connect in this easy, casual way. She’s also written a book, The Turquoise Table. I recently read the account of her venture in the June issue of Good Housekeeping. Like Schnell, I remember growing up in a neighborhood in which residents were “front yard people” who routinely spent time outdoors, in their front yards, where everyday interactions with neighbors and friends happened easily. As time has gone on, we’re become both “indoor people” and “back yard people.” Those of us who spend time outdoors are more likely to sit on our back patio or deck, or play in our back yards, than in the front. Older houses were usually or often built with large, sweeping front
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
These have been and are tough, trying times. On an international level, need we say more than “North Korea” and “Syria”? Nationally, to name but a few things, there is the refugee/immigrant crisis, climate change, changes that make people uneasy (with good reason) about their health care coverage, threats to LGBTQI rights, and this list could go on at length. Locally, we’re impacted by everything that happens on the global and national levels, to which we can add the Muncie Public Schools situation and the FBI carrying files out of City Hall. Our own beloved community hasn’t been immune to conflict, either, with tensions evident regarding the proposal to move to two services and concerns recently lifted up by our secular humanists. Denominationally, we’ve seen the resignation of a President and increased concern over how well we’re dealing with racism at the highest levels of staffing. Individually, too, hard times inevitably arise. It’s vitally important to do what we can and what we feel called to do to help take care of the myriad challenges we face. It’s equally crucial to take care of ourselves in such times (as in all times). Self-care means care of ourselves as whole persons. That includes caring for that deepest core of our being, where we find and/or make meaning and value, the dimension that some people call “soul.” Most of us don’t have the time or the flexibility in our schedules for a lengthy retreat, and many of us also don’t have the desire for that
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
In my previous role as a hospital chaplain here in Muncie, I was with a family gathered at the bedside of a dying family member, keeping vigil as families do at that point. The conversation and associated emotional tenor changed back and forth, sometimes quite rapidly, between sadness, grief and mourning their loved one’s impending death, and laughter, sometimes deep belly laughs, as they brought to mind humorous anecdotes from his life. At one point, one of the daughters looked at me and said something to the effect that “You must think we’re nuts by now with all these conflicting emotions.” I assured her that I thought nothing of the sort, that what they were experiencing was quite common and indeed healthy. Another example, closer to home for me: My late husband’s death was one of the most crushing blows life has dealt me. However, it also made it possible for me to be a part of this wonderful community of faith and connection, and to be in ministry, both deeply meaningful aspects of my life now. When I think about ambiguity and paradox, I immediately think of mystery as well. Both ambiguity and paradox invite us to step out of our certainties and the comfort they may provide into the unknown. They ask us to look at what we do not know, rather than what we do know. Both call us to hold the tension of (seeming) opposites and not rush to choose one over the other. Both ambiguity and paradox,
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?
* * * * *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
My relationship with my own name, or, more accurately names, is something of a saga. It mirrors the relationship between name, identity, and story as it has played out in my own life. It’s a story I’ve not told often. I hope it encourages you to reflect on story, change and continuity in your own life. In the beginning (don’t all good stories start this way?), I was born Julia Kay Sheridan. Sheridan, of course, was my father’s name; in the 1940s, what else would it have been? The whole process of naming kids was pretty automatic. When I married (at the tender age of 19, but that’s another story), I never gave a thought to doing anything other than taking on my new husband’s name: Kinschner. In my mind, we women were still properly identified with our husbands, and adopting his name legally embodied that identification for all the world to see. It never occurred to me to do otherwise. It was the 1960s, but I was stuck in the 50s alongside June Cleaver. Fast-forward through several years of marriage, one child, the rest of college and then seminary, and the (very) faint rumblings of greater consciousness. Oh, and graduate school. When my first husband and I divorced during my graduate school years, I kept his name, in part because it seemed easier if my daughter and I had the same last name. But then he remarried, a lovely woman who was the new Mrs. Kinschner. That felt odd to me,