Honoring Past Memories

It was one of those days where the sky had opened up and the water was coming down in droves. The rain had finally tapered off some, to a light drizzle, but it was still grey and gloomy, and more importantly, cold and wet. It was one of those days where you really didn’t want be outside unless you had to. One of those days where the best place to be was inside, preferably at home, warm and cozy. Thankfully, home was where we were headed, me, my sister and my mom. That is, that was where we were headed, until something caught my mother’s eye. She stopped, turned around, then started driving in the opposite direction. “Where are we going?” I asked. “To get a cup of coffee,” she replied. Which was very confusing. Because my mom didn’t drink coffee. She pulled into Burger King of all places, and took us through the drive through. “One large cup of coffee, with cream and sugar on the side in the bag please.”  Coffee safely procured, we returned back the way we came. And then we stopped again, this time in the middle of an intersection. And my mom rolled down the window, because this was back in the day when we still rolled down windows, and she handed the coffee to the police officer who as standing directing traffic since the power had gone out. I can still see him, standing there in the rain, covered head-to-toe in a giant
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“We [Can] Believe Her” and Ourselves

Rev. Seth recently alluded to there being only 5% of sexual assault survivors’ memories later proven to be false. I want to highlight some of the scientific research into traumatic memory that supports this. The question of the reliability of survivors’ memories has come to national attention with high-profile cases. Many, perhaps most, survivors have faced similar questions, if not from others, then within our own minds. In response to a question, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said she is 100% certain” that it was indeed Brett Kavanaugh who assaulted her. The context of the discussion was that some people acknowledged that she might have indeed been assaulted but she was mistaken about the identity of her attacker. This allegation escalated when two men came forward to say that it was really they, rather than Kavanaugh, who had been the perpetrators. My response to this part of the story is twofold: I can assure you from experience that the face of our attacker is burned into our brain cells. If we were able to see the attacker’s face, that face will not be forgotten. We just know. Second, it is an amazing confirmation of just how far the patriarchy and the “old boys” network will go to protect one of their own. Taking one for the team? Really? Senator Amy Klobuchar (D—Minnesota) pointed out that many people were putting the focus on what Dr. Ford could not remember about that horrifying night. The senator stated the she was more interested in what Dr. Ford
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Creating Sanctuary

Sanctuary is our theme for October, and one of the first things that comes to mind for me when thinking of sanctuary is safety. And the particular area I want to look at right now is safety in relationships – where does that safety come from? In part at least, it comes from unspoken agreements about what is acceptable and what is not. Sure, we’ve codified some things into law – physical violence is generally illegal. But there’s plenty of agreements that differ from culture to culture. For example, personal space – different cultures have different expectations about how close it is acceptable to stand to one another. If you were to encounter someone from one of those cultures with a different sense of personal space and they “got right up in your grill”… it’s possible you might feel a little less safe, especially if the person in question was substantially bigger than you. Most cultures don’t have explicit conversations about where that invisible boundary is, and yet everyone who grows up in a particular country learns it, and generally abides by it. In our church, we don’t make anyone sign a contract where they commit to treating others respectfully and with kindness, and yet it is an expectation we have. People who spend time in our community observe how we treat one another, and act accordingly. Even in our day-to-day relationships, whether it’s family or friends, we have a certain level of expectations that typically aren’t formalized. When we become
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A Tale of Two People

A 30-year-old man fell from a ladder while he was cleaning out the rain gutters on his two-story house. He tore several ligaments, was bruised up, and had x-ray results that were inconclusive. He was in a great deal of pain, having trouble walking, and later went to a hospital emergency department as a precaution. The emergency physician went over the x-rays with him and explained the evidence for various hypotheses about what his injuries were. Medical personnel assumed he had fallen because he was on a ladder and lost his footing. Period. There was no mention whatsoever of his age. He was hospitalized a couple of days as a precaution. His pain was reasonably well-controlled by medication, and he was given medication to help him sleep. Two days later, when the discharge planner was getting things in order so that he could be released from the hospital, they asked him for his ideas about what arrangements he needed for going home. He left the hospital with a referral to a physical therapist at his own discretion. There was no discussion of nursing home placement. An older woman fell while hurrying across a gravel parking lot. She tore several ligaments, was bruised up, and had x-ray results that were inconclusive. She was in a great deal of pain, having trouble walking, and later went to a hospital emergency department as a precaution. She was admitted for a couple of days “because she wouldn’t be able to care for herself.” Age was
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Seeing with Humility

Sitting, on a nice green lawn outside the Salt Lake City, UT convention center at General Assembly 2009, was one of many moments where I have been gifted with someone else’s wisdom in a way that has helped me see and understand the world with greater clarity. I had been talking with a friend of mine, Tomoko, when I said something that I thought demonstrated what an evolved human being I was. “I don’t see color, I see people.”  The distressed look on Tomoko’s face was immediate. I don’t remember her exact response, but it quickly moved to “we need to have a serious conversation.”  Serious enough that she took me outside, and sat me down in a shady spot on the nice green lawn. I would love to report that she, a person of color, offered me some guidance about how to be a better ally in my anti-racism, anti-oppression work, and that I heard her immediately, shifted my position, and thanked her for helping me deepen my understanding. Unfortunately, I argued. “But I don’t see color. I don’t see age either – I treat everybody the same, regardless of their age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity… it’s not a race thing for me, I see people as people.”  The problem of course, is that her point wasn’t that I was making it a race thing, it’s that all those differences I was naming, age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity – they do matter. Of course we want to recognize
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Just Don’t Do It!

We’re all-too-familiar with the Nike slogan, “Just do it!” Get out there and DO something. Reverend Seth’s sermon on August 19th, “Controlled by the Clock,” touched off reflections for me that might well be summarized with the slogan “Just Don’t Do It!” In the interest of full disclosure, I function best when I have a fair amount of structure in my life, and this often leads me to make a to-do list. Then the list takes on a life of its own and can generate feelings of “I have to get these things done. And I don’t have time to get them all done!” On the other hand, I also cherish my unstructured time. Especially as I’ve matured, become more comfortable with myself, and learned better how to manage life with chronic pain, “down time” has taken on greater importance for me. I realize how fortunate I am. Not everyone has the privilege of having as much flexibility with their time as I do. We’re all at somewhat different stages in our lives. The days our grandchildren stay with us remind me that those with children have far less control over their time than I do. Caregivers may have to struggle to find even a few hours. Many people are financially unable to retire, or even semi-retire. Farmers, especially those who have livestock, can’t easily take a day off; cows and pigs must eat and be watered, and the barn be mucked out! Other factors are even more complex. Our culture equates busyness
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What I Have Learned from the Waters

August typically brings the Water Ceremony to our church calendar. This year the ceremony moves to September 9th. Over time, it’s undergone changes, but it remains as an important symbol of the connections we cherish as a congregation. It also symbolizes our diversity. Water has always symbolized connection for me. My understanding is that all water is, in the final analysis, connected. The oceans are not locked away from each other but join in one great expanse of ocean that goes by different names in different areas. Rivers flow into bigger rivers, and those into bigger rivers yet, the water from the smallest brook finally making its way to some sea. And it’s all joined in the cycle of evaporating water that returns to the earth as rain and snow. Then there’s the connection with our own bodies: We begin life floating in the waters of the amniotic sac. Something like 70% of us is water, and the saltiness of the oceans echoes in the saltiness of our life’s blood, in our tears of sorrow and of joy. All living beings must have water, or we will die as all our life processes shut down, unable to continue. I’ve liked being around water for as long as I can remember, especially ocean waves and inland waterfalls. I used to live by a river, and I still miss its many moods. A shallow stream in summer’s drought, a cracking crystal river of ice in the winter, dark with fallen leaves in
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Service Journey: Powerful and Heartbreaking

Many of you know that I was fortunate earlier this month to accompany members of our youth group to the Arizona-Mexico border for their Service Journey trip focusing on immigration. Many of you have also then asked me how it went since we’ve gotten back. I definitely encourage you to talk to the youth who went if you haven’t had a chance to already – Riley Taylor, Carter Hollems, Emma White, Josh Sander, Eloise McKean, Iris Chalk, and Emily Klein. They represented our church community beautifully, and are the best sources of information. They will be leading a Sunday morning service in the early fall on immigration, as well as looking at other ways in which to address this challenging issue which our country is grappling with. I wanted to offer a brief initial report though, given that you all – the congregation – invested so much in helping make this journey happen. Thank you, all of you, for your support. And I’ll say, I’ve struggled with my response to the question of how it went. Because the trip was amazing and wonderful in so many ways – but it’s hard to use words like “amazing” and “wonderful” to describe a trip where we witnessed so much inhumane treatment of people. Can I really use positive words to describe a trip that so often made my stomach turn to see how awfully our government treats people choosing to migrate to our country? There were many examples I could share, which we will
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Looking Back, Moving Forward

I often recap previous Unigram columns in my July column, a “church year in review” kind of thing. This isn’t quite the usual month-by-month recap. This time, I’ve woven together excerpts from three previous columns that seem to me to be especially relevant as we reflect on the church year that is ending and look forward to the growth and challenges of the coming year. We can all learn to be more present for each other and with ourselves, to “hold space.”  One author describes holding space this way: “It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.” In short, it’s being present, fully, unconditionally present, without judgment and without trying to fix the person or situation. When we offer this gift to each other, we can feel safe and supported even when we make what we see as mistakes, especially when we make mistakes. We need the kind of safety that allows us to risk making mistakes. Sometimes, perhaps often, the person for whom we are holding space will make a decision we would not make, and that’s OK too. Others’ decisions aren’t ours to dictate or control. We can hold space for others only if we are able to give ourselves the same gift. We cannot
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“Bless you.”

“Bless you.” “Bless you.”  “Bless you.”  “Bless you.”  The quiet was quickly filled with a veritable cascade, a shower, of blessings, after a stray sneeze emerged from me during my morning yoga class last week. For many if not most who say it, offering a “bless you” when someone sneezes is the automatic, polite response. We don’t typically give much thought though to what a blessing actual is or means, nor do we typically talk much about blessings on a day-to-day basis. What does it mean to bless someone? What does it mean to receive a blessing? Why do we bless houses, or marriages, or children? And perhaps most importantly, if we do offer blessings, where do they come from? I look forward to exploring these questions together with you this month as we examine this month’s theme of Blessing, but for now will simply offer one definition of blessing which speaks to me, which I gratefully received from my colleague and Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Scott Taylor. Scott suggests that blessings are a transfer of power, a gift of some sort of goodness… whether that gift be the gift of god’s presence, or simply the gift of our own love, or maybe just the gift of kindness. A blessing offered is the transfer of the power of that goodness, whatever it is, from the person offering, to the person receiving. A blessing of course could also be turned down, it is not something that is forced by one person on
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